Thursday, September 30, 2010

Against Polycarp [Part Nineteen]

So once we determine that Polycarp was actually promoting the primacy of the Jerusalem Church, the fact that Irenaeus can - within one generation - make successive cases for  Antioch and then Rome as its true successor should be viewed as reflecting changing contemporary historical circumstances for the Catholic tradition.  Polycarp had no special attachment to Rome.  We have already demonstrated that the transformation of his original writings into the Ignatian corpus - first as three short letters, then the middle and then finally the long recension - must have occurred in rapid succession.  For the middle Ignatian recension has clearly only one purpose - to make Polycarp the broker for the continuation of Antiochene primacy.

In the letter to Polycarp we read Ignatius announce "I have not been able to write to all the Churches, because I must suddenly sail from Troas to Neapolis, as the will [of the emperor] enjoins, [I beg that] thou, as being acquainted with the purpose of God, wilt write to the adjacent Churches."  What is Polycarp supposedly writing to the churches to carry out?  The answer is clearly spelled out in the accompanying letter to the Smyrnaeans which follows Polycarp in most canons "Your prayer has reached to the Church which is at Antioch in Syria. Coming from that place bound with chains ... I who am not worthy to be styled from thence [declare] .... that your work may be complete both on earth and in heaven, it is fitting that, for the honour of God, your Church should elect some worthy delegate; so that he, journeying into Syria, may congratulate them that they are [now] at peace, and are restored to their proper greatness, and that their proper constitution has been re-established among them. It seems then to me a becoming thing, that you should send some one of your number with an epistle, so that, in company with them, he may rejoice over the tranquility which, according to the will of God, they have obtained, and because that, through your prayers, they have now reached the harbour. As persons who are perfect, ye should also aim at those things which are perfect. For when ye are desirous to do well, God is also ready to assist you."

Detering has correctly demonstrated that the artificiality of the Ignatian canon is most clearly demonstrated by the manner in which we can follow an idea unfold through the exact order the letters appear in the canon.  In order to see what the function of the delegate being sent by 'the churches' to Antioch is supposed to carry out we have to pass over to the third epistle in the canon - the letter to the Philadelphians where 'Ignatius' declares:

Since, according to your prayers, and the compassion which ye feel in Christ Jesus, it is reported to me that the Church which is at Antioch in Syria possesses peace, it will become you, as a Church of God, to elect a servant [diakonos] to act as the ambassador of God to [the brethren there], that he may rejoice along with them when they are met together, and glorify the name [of God]. Blessed is he in Jesus Christ, who shall be deemed worthy of such a ministry; and ye too shall be glorified. And if ye are willing, it is not beyond your power to do this, for the sake of God; as also the nearest Churches have sent, in some cases bishops, and in others presbyters and deacons.

It is critical to remember that a diakonos carries out the commands of his master.  It is important to see Christ so described in Romans 15:8 and more importantly that the diakonos in Matthew 23:11 represents the highest rank in the Church.  Even though Ignatius is often identified as the 'bishop of Antioch' and the title does appear in the Letter to the Romans, Irenaeus's clearly originally understood the throne at Antioch to stand slightly higher than the rest of the bishops.  The same is true today in the Orthodox tradition, where all the Patriarchs of the Church have the same title but the Patriarch of Constantinople is nevertheless first in honor among all the same bishops.

We can be certain then that the specific title 'diakonos' was applied to the bishop of Antioch by Irenaeus in order to designate him with as the most 'Christ-like.'  To this end, we see in the Letter to Hero the figure who was allegedly 'elected' by the Church through Polycarp's efforts to secure a replacement is called both 'bishop' and 'diakonos.'  So the epistle begins with the words "Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Hero, the deacon of Christ, and the servant of God, a man honoured by God, and most dearly loved as well as esteemed, who carries Christ and the Spirit within him, and who is my own son in faith and love" and continue to describe the same 'diakonos' Hero as his successor "keep God in remembrance, and you shall never sin. Be not double-minded (James 1:6, 8) in your prayers; for blessed is he who doubts not. For I believe in the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in His only-begotten Son, that God will show me, Hero, upon my throne. Add speed, therefore, to your course. I charge you before the God of the universe, and before Christ, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and of the ministering ranks [of angels], keep in safety that deposit which I and Christ have committed to you, and do not judge yourself unworthy of those things which have been shown by God [to me] concerning you. I hand over to you the Church of Antioch. I have commended you to Polycarp in the Lord Jesus Christ."

The fact that scholars like to pretend that the Epistle to Hero is somehow more counterfeit than the rest of the Ignatian canon is of course utterly hilarious. The material was all originally conceived as a kind of jigsaw puzzle designed to establish a precedent for papal elections in the Catholic Church. Of course, the fact that these first elections should have taken place in Antioch rather than Rome is very telling. The See of Antioch was clearly Irenaeus's first attempt to establish a rival throne to that Alexandria, which we should suppose was the real center to Christianity long before the coming of Polycarp.

It is worth noting then that almost all scholars agree that Acts is developed very much with the interest of making Antioch the center of Christianity. So F F Bruce aptly notes:

Luke certainly shows a special interest in Antioch. For example, the only one of the seven Hellenistic leaders in the Jerusalem church whose provenance is specified is "Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch" (Ac. 6:5).26 A fuller account is given of the founding of the church of Antioch than of any other Gentile church (Ac. 1:19-26). It is the only Gentile church whose leaders ("prophets and teachers") are listed (13:1).

The point of course is that while it is difficult to prove that the author of Acts already envisioned an Antiochene Papacy, it is very certain that he imagined Antioch should fill the void that resulted from the non-existence of the Jerusalem Church. While the author of Acts is ultimately unknown, one may take a stab in the dark at the idea that its addressee 'Theophilus' was Theophilus of Antioch. This idea has already been argued by Kuhn and it fits perfectly with the idea that the text was written by Irenaeus even before he started work on the Ignatian canon. How it was that Irenaeus within a generation dropped his interest in Antioch and began promoting Rome as the headquarters of the new Church is difficult to say, though the rise of Commodus must certainly be connected with it.

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