Against Roman Catholicism – Ignatius’ Extract from his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 7

Ignatius’ Extract from his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 7:

“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again”

The above quote is falsely used by some Roman Catholics in support of their Doctrine of Transubstantiation. They claim that Jesus, the apostles and the early church fathers held such a belief, so that their communion wafer -which nowadays in some churches comes complete pictorially embossed with an impression of Christ crucified- actually becomes the literal body and literal blood of Christ.

Of course, Jesus, the apostles and none of the early church fathers of the first two centuries believed this, and as we will see, once the quote is placed back in the context, Ignatius meant something entirely different.

In examining this subject we will look at the context in which Ignatius made his statement, and it may be helpful for the reader to also read my post ‘Against Roman Catholicism – Understanding the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist (Thanksgiving Meal) by looking at its context and meaning within the New Testament’ and also my post ‘Refuting Transubstantiation’

At this point one should be aware that many of the letters of Ignatius are considered forgeries of later origin. There is also contention as to which versions of the letters are genuine-some consider only the short recensions are genuine, others consider only the long recensions are  genuine.  More on this in another post- I have seen at least one example in a long recension which appears to be totally genuine, whereas the short recension differs. However, at least part of the Letter to the Romans was quoted and referred to by Irenaeus, another early church father, and so I have assumed authenticity for Ignatius Letter to the Smyrnaeans as it conveys the same belief.

Ignatius’ statement, meaning and context

The Docetists and their belief (Docetism)

Around the time of Ignatius, there were several groups of people who held differing views on the nature and manner of Christ’s presence during his lifetime on Earth. One such group were known as Docetists (Greek dokein/dokeo -to seem /dókēsis –apparition). They believed that Jesus did not come in the flesh, ie, they did not believe that he had a human body. They believed he only seemed to have a physical human body, which was illusory.

They also did not believe that Jesus suffered on the Cross, they believed that he only seemed to suffer, that he did not die, he only seemed to die. They did not believe in a bodily resurrection. This was the group of people to which Ignatius was alluding in his letter to the Smyrnaeans.

Ignatius’ Extract from his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 7 ( Bold emphasis mine):

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again

Once we place the above extract from Ignatius in the context of his letter, we see the true intent of his statement, and how it makes the claims of the Roman Catholic Church and its leader absolutely ridiculous.

Ignatius’ statement above is a continuation of a theme he had been discussing in his letter. So, let’s look at the preceding chapters of his letter to understand what he actually meant. (Bold emphasis mine):

 

Ignatius Letter to the Smyrnaeans-Extracts

(Translation taken from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0109.htm )

“Chapter 2. Christ’s true passion

Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits.”

Chapter 3. Christ was possessed of a body after His resurrection

For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit. And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He ate and drank with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father.

Chapter 5. Their dangerous errors

Some ignorantly deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being the advocates of death rather than of the truth. These persons neither have the prophets persuaded, nor th law of Moses, nor the Gospel even to this day, nor the sufferings we have individually endured. For they think also the same thing regarding us. For what does any one profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death. I have not, however, thought good to write the names of such persons, inasmuch as they are unbelievers. Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to [a true belief in] Christ’s passion, which is our resurrection.

Chapter 7. Let us stand aloof from such heretics

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the Prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.

We now see that from chapters 2,3, 5 and 7 of his letter, the context and meaning clearly shows that Ignatius was warning against the false doctrine of the Docetists.

In Ch 2, concerning Jesus, Ignatius states that “And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself” and reprimands them for saying that Jesus “only seemed to suffer”, and for not believing in the bodily Resurrection,

In Ch 3 Ignatius states “For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh”. Ignatius notes of the disciples, “For this cause also they despised death”. The disciples saw that Christ in his resurrected state was still possessed with a human body, he had been killed and had been raised to life- and was not an apparition. Naturally, the disciples took heart from this, believing that they would also be resurrected in like manner.

In Ch 5 Ignatius says “Some ignorantly deny Him” and warns against those “not confessing that He was [ truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him”

Also, later he says “Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to [a true belief in] Christ’s passion, which is our resurrection.”

In Ch 7, from which the extract we are examining was taken, Ignatius reiterates that Christ physically suffered and that the resurrection was proved and goes further to say that “Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again.”Later he goes on to say, “…but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved”.

We can now see that the whole point of Ignatius’ letter was to convey the significance of the Eucharist or Thanksgiving. It was to celebrate Christ’s bodily sacrifice and his bodily resurrection.

Ignatius’ letter was against those who denied the Passion or sacrifice of Christ, that is, those who deny that he suffered bodily and also deny the resurrection.

Is there anything else Ignatius said which would corroborate his understanding of the Eucharist? Well, let’s see what Ignatius said in his letter to the Romans.

Ignatius Ch 3 Letter to the Romans:

For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Ignatius Ch4 Letter to Romans (extract):

“I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God].

Here Ignatius provides his understanding of the Bread/Body/Blood topic – he clearly equates his martyrdom with being a true disciple of Christ and of his sacrifice:

“I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” And “…Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ,…”

Let Roman Catholic’s try and explain that in terms of the literal body and literal blood doctrine of transubstantiation!

1 Corinthians 10:1-5, 14-17 KJV

1Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;

2And were all baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;

3And did all eat the same spiritual meat;

4And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness….

14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.

15 I speak to wise men: judge ye what I say.

16 The cup of the blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

 17For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

Here, Paul continues to say that ‘the cup of the blessing’ and the ‘bread which we break’ means fellowship with Christ.

 The analogy comes after and clearly follows from verses 3 and 4, where the fathers are said to ‘eat the SAME spiritual meat’ and ‘drink the SAME spiritual drink’ of Christ.

Note also verse 17 ‘For we being many are ONE bread, and ONE body: for we are ALL partakers of that ONE bread.’

Hebrews 13:8 KJV

8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

Ignatius Ch 7 Letter to Romans extract:

..but there is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father. I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”

When Ignatius talks about a water within him “that lives and speaks”, he is not talking about drinking or bathing water, he is talking about the spirit.

When he says that he desires the bread of God and the drink of God, he is speaking spiritually- he desires the spiritual meat and spiritual drink of Christ (“I have no delight in corruptible food”) , he expresses his desire to share fully in Christ’s suffering and to do his will.

Irenaeus, a contemporary of Ignatius (he was born around the time of Ignatius martyrdom) agrees with and quotes from Ignatius’ letter to the Romans in his own work, Irenaeus Against Heresies 5:28:

“And therefore throughout all time, man, having been moulded at the beginning by the hands of God, that is, of the Son and of the Spirit, is made after the image and likeness of God: the chaff, indeed, which is the apostasy, being cast away; but the wheat, that is, those who bring forth fruit to God in faith, being gathered into the barn. And for this cause tribulation is necessary for those who are saved, that having been after a manner broken up, and rendered fine, and sprinkled over by the patience of the Word of God, and set on fire [for purification], they may be fitted for the royal banquet. As a certain man of ours said, when he was condemned to the wild beasts because of his testimony with respect to God: “I am the wheat of Christ, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God.” (Irenaeus Against Heresies, 5:28)

On this issue it would be also be useful to read Irenaeus’ view on the Eucharist in Fragment 13 (see my post ‘Against Roman Catholicism- Refuting Transubstantiation’). When he was young, Irenaeus had heard Polycarp speak, and Polycarp was said to be a disciple of John the Apostle. In Fragment 13, Irenaeus clearly says

‘‘For when the Greeks, having arrested the slaves of Christian catechumens, then used force against them, in order to learn from them some secret thing [practised] among Christians, these slaves, having nothing to say that would meet the wishes of their tormentors, except that they had heard from their masters that the divine communion was the body and blood of Christ, and imagining that it was actually flesh and blood, gave their inquisitors answer to that effect. Then these latter, assuming such to be the case with regard to the practices of Christians, gave information regarding it to other Greeks, and sought to compel the martyrs Sanctus and Blandina to confess, under the influence of torture, [that the allegation was correct]. To these men Blandina replied very admirably in these words: “How should those persons endure such [accusations], who, for the sake of the practice [of piety], did not avail themselves even of the flesh that was permitted [them to eat]?”

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Author: havefaithinjesus

I am a Christian of the Body of Christ.

2 thoughts on “Against Roman Catholicism – Ignatius’ Extract from his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 7”

  1. BOSS PAUL THE PHARISEE
    [sing it to the tune of “Rapture” by Blondie]

    I’m Boss Paul, the Pharisee
    My hypocrisy’s plain for the world to see
    I travel the land and travel the sea
    to make a convert who is just like ME

    “All have sinned” – we know that’s true
    but it never means ME – it only means YOU
    My sins are all theoretical
    “I’m the worst of sinners”- but don’t ask where

    To be more like Jesus is what some strive
    except for me – I’ve already arrived
    I’m the perfect model since the road to Damascus
    What were Paul’s sins? Don’t ask us!

    I justify everything I do
    If I testify about myself it MUST be true
    I’m the only man in all history
    whose testimony doesn’t need two or three

    If I did something it MUST be right
    Don’t use the Scripture to shed any light
    Don’t do as I say, do as I do
    and then you can be a Pharisee too.

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