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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May or May not be John Donne

He was the Word, that spake it:
He took the bread and brake it;
And what that Word did make it,
I do believe and take it.

Both the picture and the quote may or may not be John Donne.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 23

I have been, all this year, posting one free Powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background each week.  You are free to use these images for your own personal, church, school, or business projects.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Birthday Unicorns

I don't usually paint unicorns. Not unless I'm painting the side of a van.  But I've been commissioned by a friend to paint a unicorn for her daughter's birthday.  I posted my original sketch about a month ago.  Here is the (nearly) finished painting.  I tried to "girlie" it up a bit.  My original sketch was a bit too intense for a 6 year old girl.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

What Kind of Car did Jesus' Disciples Drive?

What kind of car did Jesus' disciples drive? Why it was a Honda, of course.   Acts 2:1 says that they were all "in one Accord."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ante-Nicene Fathers – Fragments of Papias – Creating and Confounding Traditions

It’s a shame that, though Papias – Bishop of Hierapolis – wrote a five volume work of collected sayings of Jesus and the apostles, all that remains to us is a few isolated fragments scattered in the works of Eusebius and Irenæus.  We know of Papias only by hearsay. And he himself knew Jesus only through the stories and recollections of those he interviewed. 

“But I shall not be unwilling to put down along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and store up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth.   For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself.  If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings, - what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples…” [i]

These collected sayings he recorded in a five volume work – what New Testament scholars call a logia.  But apart from the few fragments quoted by Eusebius and Irenæus we have no idea what sayings of Jesus may have been recorded in these works. 

It has been suggested (but not universally accepted) that this now-lost five volume work might have been the hypothetical Q document that provided a common source of material for the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. 

Though we have little of Papias’ work, what does remain is interesting.  It’s from Papias that we get the tradition that Mark was Peter’s secretary and that he “wrote down accurately whatever he remembered.  It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ.” [ii]  Papias identifies Matthew as the author of the Gospel according to Matthew – “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.”[iii]  The earliest copies of Matthew’s gospel that we have are in Greek, but some scholars believe that they were translated from Hebrew or Aramaic (but, again, this is not universally accepted…)

We have, in the New Testament, two different accounts of Judas’s death (in Matthew and in Acts).  Various attempts have been made to harmonize the difference between these two stories into one narrative – some with more plausibility than others…  But Papias further confounds the issue by relating a third tradition of Judas’ death – one that is difficult to reconcile with either of the canonical accounts.

“Judas walked about in this world as a sad example of impiety; for his body having swollen to such an extent that he could not pass where a chariot could pass, he was crushed by the chariot, so that his bowels gushed out.” [iv]

When I finish the time machine I’m building in my garage, I think I’ll go back and find a copy of Papias’ five volumes. 

[i] Fragments of Papias Chap. I
[ii] Chap. VI
[iii] Chap. VI
[iv] Chap. III

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In and Out of Time - Ableton Beat the Clock Contest

What can you create in one day?  The rules of this contest limited participants to 24 hours from the time they download the samples to the time they upload their completed work.

Here is my entry - In and Out of Time

If you like it, you should download it - for free. And if you have a Soundcloud account, I'd really appreciate it if you'd give my entry a vote.

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 22

Once again, here is this week's Powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background image.  I've been making one each week and sharing them with the world. You are free to use these images for your work, school, business, church, or personal projects; use them anyway you like. I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ante-Nicene Fathers – The Epistle of Barnabas – Early Crack-Pot Theology

So I’ve been carting these Ante-Nicene Fathers (the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325) volumes around for a few years.  If you are interested, you can purchase them new for about a hundred dollars.  Of course, they are in the public domain by now, so you can read them online for free.  I was given them by someone who was clearing out their shelves (someone who didn’t want to carry them around any longer…) I prefer to read actual physical books to e-books so I’ve kept them – even if that means that I have to pack them up every so often.

But I’ve never, until now, read through these books. I’ve been carrying them around for a couple of years.  I’ve consulted them and checked in them for information, but I’ve never really read and studied them.  I’m changing that now.  I’ve decided that I will read all 10 volumes.

I have just finished reading The Epistle of Barnabas in volume one.  This epistle should not be confused with either The Gospel of Barnabas or The Acts of Barnabas  and the “Barnabas” of this anonymous epistle should not be confused with Saint Barnabas – the companion of Paul in the book of The Acts of the Apostles.  He is sometimes identified as “Barnabas of Alexandria” (but this, too, is a guess.)

It is suggested that this Barnabas is from the Egyptian city of Alexandria for two reasons:  1) he utilizes the system of allegorical interpretation that was popular in Alexandria and 2) the earliest references to it in other works are found in writers from Alexandria.

It’s often difficult to pinpoint a date for ancient texts but The Epistle of Barnabas provides a couple of clues that allow us to locate it in history with some degree of accuracy.  In his discussion about the Temple in Jerusalem “Barnabas” writes: “For through their [the Jew] going to war, it was destroyed by their enemies; and now they, as the servants of their enemies, shall rebuild it.” [i] The city of Jerusalem and the Temple contained within it was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 C.E., and until the failed revolt of the Jewish rebel Simon bar Kokhba in 132 C.E. the Jewish people held out hope of rebuilding the temple. Using those dates we can bracket The Epistle of Barnabas somewhere between 70 and 131 C.E.  Further, John Dominick Crossan suggests that the epistle’s lack of quotations from New Testament books argues for an earlier date of composition – perhaps even in the first century.[ii]

I struggled to read The Epistle of Barnabas, for a couple of reasons.  First, his writing style is confused; he drifts from topic to topic – sometimes without completing his arguments.  I thought at first that I was struggling with the archaic qualities of the translation – with the thee’s and thou’s – but I didn’t have this difficulty with the other works I’ve read so far.  I discovered online that I’m not the only one to have difficulty with Barnabas’ writing.

From a literary point of view the Epistle of Barnabas has no merit. The style is tedious, poor in expression, deficient in clearness, in elegance, and incorrectness. The author's logic is weak, and his matter is not under his control; from this fact arise the numerous digressions.” [iii]

But even more than that, I struggled against his interpretation of the Old Testament.

The Epistle of Barnabas is written to recent converts to Christianity – known personally by “Barnabas” – who have come under the influence of Jews (or Jewish Christians) who have been telling them that the Mosaic covenant and the rituals and laws of the Jews are still in effect for Christians.  To which Barnabas replies (and here I’m paraphrasing) “The Jewish covenant can’t be still in effect – because they never received it.”

In his own words:

“I further beg of you , as being one of you, and loving you both individually and collectively more than my own soul, to take heed now to yourselves, and not to be like some, adding largely to your sins, and saying, ‘The covenant is both theirs and ours.’  But they finally lost it, after Moses had received it. For Scripture saith, ‘And Moses was fasting in the mount forty days and forty nights, and received the covenant from the Lord, tables of stone written with the finger of the hand of the Lord;’ but turning away to idols, they lost it.  For the Lord speaks to thus to Moses: ‘Moses go down quickly; for the people whom thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt have transgressed.’ And Moses understood [the meaning of God], and cast the two tables out of his hands; and their covenant was broken, in order that the covenant of the beloved Jesus might be sealed upon our heart…”  [iv]

Nearly every part of the Judaic law and tradition is allegorically reinterpreted by Barnabas – away from the Jews and given to the Christians. 

He explains to his readers that the Jewish mark of circumcision was based on a delusion foisted upon them by an evil angel and that the 318 servants that Abraham circumcised in his house was actually a reference to Jesus.  Since Greek letters also served for numerals (like Roman numerals), 318 could be read as IHT - and this is, obviously, the first two letters of Jesus' name in Greek (IH) and his cross (T)!   [v]
The kosher dietary laws weren’t actually about meats to avoid but were really about types of people to avoid.  When Moses gave them the law that said “don’t eat swine” what he really meant was “Thou shalt not join thyself to men who resemble swine. For when they live in pleasure, they forget their Lord, but when they come to want, they acknowledge the Lord. And [in like manner] the swine, when it has eaten, does not recognize its master; but when hungry it cries out, and on receiving food is quiet again.”   The prohibition against eating rabbit actually means that we shouldn’t associate with promiscuous people- who breed like rabbits… The prohibition against eating weasel was really against associating with people who practice oral sex. “Thou shalt not be like to those whom we hear of as committing wickedness with the mouth, on account of their uncleanness; nor shalt thou be joined to those impure women who commit iniquity with the mouth.  For this animal conceives by the mouth.” [vi]

Barnabas of Alexandria, like the apostle Paul, uses the allegorical approach to interpreting the Jewish bible in order to find the basis for Christianity [vii].  But this Barnabas does not understand the Apostle Paul at all.  Where Paul found the Gentiles being added to and included with the Jews in order to make up the full people of God, Barnabas found the Christians completely replacing the Jews. 

It’s strange to realize how quickly the fledgling Christian community disassociated itself from its Jewish roots.  There were, of course, numerous reasons for this movement – the increasing number of Gentile converts who had little or no understanding of Judaism, the hostility of traditional Jews to Jewish followers of the Way (Jewish Christians), the desire of Christians to politically disassociate themselves from the Jews who’d attempted an ill-fated rebellion against the Roman Empire, etc,  and etc… But still it’s strange.

We will never – Never- understand what Jesus taught if we do not understand his Jewishness.  Christianity and the Church have not “replaced” Israel as the chosen people of God.  Nor are there two separate peoples of God with distinct and separate covenant relationships with God.  There is one God, one Savior, one faith for Jew and Gentile alike. 

And here’s a lesson:  It’s not a good idea to put the “Early Church Fathers” on some sort of theological pedestal.  Some of them were idiots.  Some of them were crack-pots. Some of them were bitter old men nursing grudges against perceived enemies. 

[i] The Epistle of Barnabas Chap. XVI
[ii]  John Dominic Crossan The Cross that Spoke: The Origins of the Passion Narrative
[iv] The Epistle of Barnabas Chap. IV
[v] Chap. IX
[vi] Chap. X  This strange note about the weasel is based on the erroneous idea that weasels copulate via the mouth
[vii] See Galatians 4: 21 - 31

Monday, May 21, 2012

Another Exquisite Corpse - Ignatius Gives Advice

Part of the fun of an Exquisite Corpse is to find connections and themes carried through in a completely unconnected and random process.

None of the four participants in the creation of this picture was able to see what had gone before them and yet... the image seems to have a certain unity.

My contribution to the picture is at the bottom this time.  What I've been reading of Ignatius influenced my work.

The title of this corpse is:

Aeronautical Hi-Jinks - Future is Fragile - In Peculiar Taste - Ignatius Gives Advice

Stupid Things I've Heard

This may or may not become a 'regular' thing ... but here are some Stupid Things I've Heard People Say Recently:

I don't know why the gays want to get married...they're just going to get divorced like everyone else.


Jesus went to England [during the so-called missing years] with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea; that's where he learned to be a carpenter. That's in the Bible.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ante-Nicene Fathers – The Martyrdom of Ignatius - Ignatius vs. Bertrand Russell

I’ve been thinking about this quote from the philosopher Bertrand Russell for a couple of days now, contrasting it in my mind with the apparent eagerness of Ignatius of Antioch to become a martyr for his faith.  I’m not sure which of these two attitudes I would more closely align myself.

On the one hand, I greatly respect Russell’s honesty and humility.  What if I’m wrong?    There’s no delusion of grandeur in that attitude, no arrogance. But on the other hand is Ignatius’ certainty – a certainty which has inspired him to live and to die in the manner of his lord.  He is not ashamed. He is not afraid. 

“All the ends of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing.  It is better for me to die for the sake of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth.  ‘For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?’  I long after the Lord, the Son of the true God and Father, even Jesus Christ.   Him I seek, who died for us and rose again.  Pardon me, brethren; do not hinder me in attaining to life; for Jesus is the life of believers.  … Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither I shall indeed be a man of God.  Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of Christ my God.”[i]

The Martyrdom of Ignatius claims to have been written by eyewitness to his death in the Roman coliseum – though some have challenged this claim.   One argument in this challenge is that no Christian writer before the 7th century quotes from or makes reference to the text. 

The Roman Emperor Trajan (98 – 117 CE) had recently won a series of victories over the Scyhthians and the Dacians and “…thinking that the religious body of the Christians were yet wanting to complete the subjugation of all things to himself, and [thereupon] threatening them with persecution unless they should agree to worship demons, as did all other nations, thus compelled all who were living godly lives either to sacrifice [to idols] or to die.” [ii]

Ignatius, unwilling to sacrifice to demons and altogether willing to sacrifice himself as a martyr was taken by ship and overland to Rome where he was brought to the coliseum and devoured by wild beasts before a crowd of spectators.  His bones – “only the harder portions of his holy remains were left,” [iii]  were gathered up and taken back to Antioch.

I admire Ignatius – but his eagerness (not just a willingness) to die is surprising, and maybe a little discomforting. Even Jesus, whom Ignatius wanted to imitate, was reluctant to face his own death.  I also admire Russell’s self-critical “I might be wrong…” approach because I know that I have an incomplete understanding of many things.  I can relate to his uneasiness with committing himself absolutely (in death) to a potential error.

There’s probably a balance somewhere between these two – neither a zealous eagerness to die as a martyr, nor a doubting uncertainty, unwilling to commit to a belief.   

[i] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans Chap. VI
[ii] The Martyrdom of Ignatius Chap. II
[iii] Chap. VI

An Exquisite Corpse

This is an example of an exquisite corpse.  A series of collaborators (in this case, four of them) take it in turns to add a "slice" to the whole -without being able to see any more than just a sliver of what the previous artist has done (in this case - 15 pixels.)

I was given the privilege of beginning this corpse - so the first quarter of the image is mine.

I love that The Life of Brian has been brought into it.

The complete name for this corpse is as follows:

The Third Son - Never and Always - What They Say - West of Venus

Ante-Nicene Fathers – Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Smyrnæans, and Polycarp – Three Themes

After reading four of Ignatius’ epistles, I’m beginning to see a series of connected themes in his letters.  His concern for 1) the honor and obedience due to the church bishops, 2) preserving the unity of the Christian faith and community and 3) his warnings about heresies and heterodoxies are present in each of his letters.  These concerns are connected and related to each other.  Ignatius encourages his readers to honor their bishops because they are God’s representatives.  If the people will listen to him and obey his instructions then they will be able to keep and preserve the unity of the common faith, and they’ll be aware of the threat from a variety of false teachers.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians

The ‘authentic’ epistles of Ignatius[i] have come to us in two languages – Latin and Greek – and they have come to us in two versions of differing lengths – a shorter and a longer version.  The difference between the shorter and longer version is especially noticeable in the epistle to the Philadelphians, though it’s still not clear whether the shorter version is a summery of the longer or if the longer is an expansion of the shorter.  And this difference in length is especially noticeable in chapter VI.  In this chapter Ignatius provides his readers with a list of heresies and how to identify them.  In the longer version this list includes six different groups, the shorter only one.

The shorter versions list[ii] of heretics to avoid mentions only the Jew, described here as “a liar even as also is his father the devil.”[iii]  Again, the tradition that connects Ignatius to the Apostle John may be confirmed in the use of this phrase.

The longer version list of heresies, in addition to the Jew, also includes the disciples of Simon Magus, Ebionites, Gnostics (maybe), Docetists, and the so-called “Nicolaitians.” 

If anyone confesses that Christ Jesus is the Lord but deniest the God of the law and the prophets saying that the Father of Christ is not the maker of heaven and earth, he has not continued in the truth any more than his father the devil, and is a disciple of Simon Magus, not of the Holy Spirit. 
 These disciples of Simon Magus – were probably not actual students of the Samaritan sorcerer described in Acts 8: 9 – 24.  The enigmatic Simon Magus (Simon the Magician) became a sort of figurehead for all kinds of esoteric and occult philosophies and was eventually regarded by Christians as “source of all heresies.”

If anyone says there is one God and also confesses Christ Jesus, but thinks the Lord to be a mere man, and not the only-begotten God, and Wisdom and the Word of God, and deems Him to consist merely of a soul and body, such a one is a serpent, that preaches deceit and error for the destruction of man.  And such a man is poor in understanding, even as by name he is an Ebionite.” 
 The Ebionites (from the Hebrew word for “poor”) were Jewish Christians that insisted upon the following of Jewish laws and rites. It’s difficult to know for certain what they believed and practiced, but it seems that they rejected much of what would later be affirmed at the council of Nicea – particularly Jesus’ pre-existence, divinity, virgin-birth, and physical resurrection. 

If anyone confesses the truths mentioned but calls lawful wedlock and the procreation of children destruction and pollution, or deem certain kinds of food abominable, such a one has the apostate dragon within him.
I’m not sure who Ignatius is referring to here.  If I had to guess, it sounds something like a Gnostic dualism in which things of a spiritual nature are all good and pure and things of a physical nature (eating, marriage, procreation, etc…) are to be avoided.

If anyone confesses the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost and praises the creation but calls the incarnation merely an appearance, and is ashamed of the passion, such an one has denied the faith, not less than the Jews who killed Christ.
Ignatius really had strong feelings about the Jews and the Docetists; he refers to these two groups in several of his letters.[iv]

If anyone confesses these things and that God the Word did dwell in a human body, being within it as the Word, even as the soul also in the body, because it was God that inhabited it and not a human soul, but affirms that unlawful unions are a good thing and places the highest happiness in pleasure, as does the man who is falsely called a Nicolaitan, this person can neither be a lover of God nor a lover of Christ, but is a corrupter of his own flesh, and therefore void of the Holy Spirit and a stranger to Christ.
Again, it’s unclear who the Nicolaitans (first mentioned in Revelation 2:6 and 15) were or what they taught – and it’s further unclear who Ignatius’ “so-called Nicolaitans” were – but it seems that they encouraged a less rigid interpretation of sexual mores than Ignatius was comfortable with.

These heresies / heterodoxies all look a lot like Christianity; they each have facets of the whole truth (as Ignatius understands it) but the differences, the variations they introduce into the faith are significant enough to Ignatius for him to describe their followers as “monuments and sepulchers of the dead upon which are written only the names of dead men.” [v]

Ignatius encourages his readers in Philadelphia to “…be ye all joined together with an undivided heart and a willing mind, ‘being of one accord and one judgment,’ being always of the same opinion about the same things…[vi]

But is this even possible?  The history of Christianity (and, perhaps we could add, the history of any religion) would seem to indicate: No.
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnæans

Ignatius affirms that the Christians in Smyrna are doing very well.  “For I have observed that ye are perfected in an unmovable faith as if ye were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ both in the flesh and in the spirit…” [vii]   But even so, his three themes pervade this brief epistle. 

The heresy addressed in his letter to Smyrna is, once again, Docetism – the idea that Jesus only ‘appeared’ as a human. His suffering and death were not real but only an illusion, they only seemed to be real.

But Ignatius refuses to call out by name those who are teaching this heresy, “inasmuch as they are unbelievers; and far be it from me to make any mention of them until they repent.” [viii] This was not his thinking when he wrote to the Trallians (LINK). 

Though he won’t call them by name, he does refer to them as “beasts in the shape of men[ix] and “offspring of that spirit who is the author of all evil,” [x] and he encourages his readers to flee from people like this, people that would cause schisms within the church.

The Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp

This letter differs from the others in that it is written to an individual rather than a church – and to an individual that Ignatius seems to know personally.  The letter is warm and friendly and filled with advice for his friend and fellow bishop.  And even in this more personal communication, Ignatius’ three themes are present.

“Seek by meekness to subdue the more troublesome [disciples].” [xi]

“Let not those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrine, fill thee with apprehension.  Stand firm as does an anvil which is beaten.  It is the part of a noble athlete to be bruised and yet to conquer.” [xii]

“Labor together with one another, strive in company together, run together, suffer together, sleep together, and awake together as the stewards and associates  and servants of God…Let your baptism endure as your arms, your faith as your helmet, your love as your spear, your patience as a complete panoply.” [xiii]

[i] As opposed to the spurious ones that were added later, perhaps in the 6th century CE
[ii] Can one entry be called a ‘list’?
[iii] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians Chap. VI
[iv]  Ignatius frequently mentions the Jews and the Docetists – but not these other heresies.  This might suggest that the longer version of this letter is later expansion of Ignatius original – shorter – letter.
[v] Chap. VI
[vi] Chap. VI
[vii] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnæans Chap. I
[viii]  Chap. V
[ix] Chap IV
[x] Chap VII
[xi] The Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp Chap. II
[xii] Chap. III
[xiii] Chap. VI

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 21

Here it is - another free powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background image.  You are free - absolutely free - to use these images for your own personal, school, business, or church projects. I only ask two things - 1) that you share them freely and 2) that you tell others you found them here.  Thanks.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ignatius Sails to Rome

This is a song for the martyred Ignatius.

"I write to all the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me.  I beseech of you not to show an unreasonable goodwill towards me.  Suffer 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 am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the true bread of God. "

-The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans Chapter IV

If  you like the music,you may download it here.

Ante-Nicene Fathers – Ignatius to the Trallians and the Romans - Heretics and Martyrs

So I’ve been carting these Ante-Nicene Fathers (the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325) volumes around for a few years and I’ve never, until now, read through them.  I’ve consulted them and checked in them for information, but I’ve never really read and studied them.  I’m changing that now.  I’ve decided that I will read all 10 volumes.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians

En route to his death in the Coliseum in Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters to various Christian communities and individuals.  He wrote to the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, and Philadelphia – as well as his friend, Polycarp (the bishop of Smyrna).

Ignatius’ letter to the Christians in Tralles begins with a exhortation that they should honor and obey their bishop, the presbyters and the deacons.    This is a common theme in Ignatius’ letters.  Of the seven ‘authentic’ letters from Ignatius’ pen, six include this admonishment.  

In Ignatius’ mind there could be no church without proper leadership. “Apart from these [bishops, presbyters and deacons] there is no elect Church, no congregation of holy ones, no assembly of the saints.” [i]

Perhaps his insistence on proper honor and obedience to the church leaders grew from his concern over the heresies and heterodoxies that were – even at that early point in Christianity – infiltrating the churches.   He warns the Trallians to be wary of “vain talkers” and “deceivers” who were “bearing about the name of Christ in deceit and corrupting the word of the gospel while they intermix the poison of their deceit with their persuasive talk, as if they mingle aconite with sweet wine, so that he who drink, being deceived in his taste by the very great sweetness of the draught, may incautiously meet with his death.” [ii]

Though he says that he is unaware of any of these teachers in Tralles [iii] he writes to give them warning and so that they may be able to protect themselves from the snares that are being laid for them.  

It’s difficult to say what particular heresy Ignatius was addressing – or if he was referring to any specific deviation from “orthodoxy.”  His description of these “Christ betrayers” [iv] sounds like the Docetists who believed that Jesus’ humanity wasn’t genuine, that he only appeared (from the Greek dokeo –“to seem”) to be human.

“For they alienate Christ from the Father, and the law from Christ.  They also calumniate His being born of the Virgin; they are ashamed of His cross; they deny His passion; and they do not believe His resurrection.  They introduce God as a Being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten; and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists.  Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power.” [v]

As a tonic to this idea that Jesus’ body, suffering and death were only illusions, Ignatius insists upon the reality of Jesus’ life and recalls many of the physical and historical details of Christ’s life in words that sound similar to the Apostle’s Creed.

“He truly assumed a body… and lived on earth without sin… He did in reality both eat and drink.  He was crucified and died under Pontius Pilate.  He really, and not merely in appearance, was crucified, and died…” [vi]

And for Ignatius, who was on his way to die in Rome, this was vital.  If Jesus had only suffered and died in appearance; if was only an illusion, then Ignatius’ faith and his life (and his impending death) were all in vain and he was “guilty of falsehood against the cross of the Lord.”

“I do not place my hopes in one who died for me in appearance but in reality.” [vii]

Ignatius also has some harsh terms for those he considers heretics – and he calls some of them out by name.  He writes of “those wicked offshoots” of the devil, “Simon ... Menander, and Basilides, and all his wicked mob of followers,” as well as the “impure Nicolaitans” (presumably that same group referred to in Revelation 2, but it’s hard to be sure) and of the “children of the evil one, Theodutus and Cleobulus, who produce death-dealing fruit…”  They are “an accursed brood” and “enemies of the cross” and “those who killed the Lord of glory.” [viii] 

Do these phrases connect Ignatius with the sectarian Apostle John and his animosity towards “the Jews,” describing them as “children of [their] father, the devil” [ix] It seems plausible…

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans

Ignatius’ most famous words are found in this particular epistle. 

“I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the true bread of God.” [x]

We don’t, in contemporary American Christianity, think about martyrdom very often.  It’s something that happened a long time ago, or in far away places or maybe we think of it with some disdain as something connected with suicide bombers and other religious fanatics and terrorists.

But Ignatius was determined to be a martyr for God.  In fact, he was so determined to ‘go out in a blaze of glory,’ as it were, that he begged the Christians in Rome NOT to pray for his release.  “For if ye are silent concerning me, I shall become God’s; but if ye show your love to my flesh, I shall again have to run my race. Pray, then, do not seek to confer any greater favor upon me than that I be sacrificed to God, while the altar is still prepared.” [xi]

Granted, at the time that Ignatius was writing these letters, he already stood condemned to death and was on his way to Rome where he would face the lions in the coliseum, his eagerness to die is both slightly unsettling and somewhat admirable.  I don’t know if I’m horrified by or envious of Ignatius and his martyrdom.

A few years ago I wrote a short little poem:

If Only

If only I could, like the ancient martyrs
(by flame, and spear, and club)
make my life a declaration to God
with one bold step into the lion’s mouth
or by one swift stroke of the sword
instead of the tedious thousands
of slow painful deaths
as I gradually die to myself.


[i] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians Chap. III
[ii] Chap. VI
[iii] Chap. VIII
[iv] Chap. VI
[v] Chap. VI
[vi] Chap. IX
[vii] Chap. X
[viii] Chap. XI
[ix] John 8:44
[x] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans Chap. IV
[xi] Chap. II

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Puny God

My family and I went to see the Avengers movie this afternoon, and it really is as good as everyone is saying that it is. 

But here’s how my mind works. 

When Loki used his powers to attack and intimidate a crowd of people in Germany, forcing them to kneel, if not in worship, then at least in terror of his power, he shouted:

“Kneel! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation… You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

I was reminded of something I just recently read in the Ante-Nicene Fathers – specifically in The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus:

“This [messenger] He sent to them.  Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror?  By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as a Savior He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God.  As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. 

In the one we have a god (a “puny god” as the Hulk called him) who used his power to cause fear and terror, who desired to rule and to rule by the force of violence and fear, and in the other we have a God who desires to rule –but not through the compulsion of fear and tyranny. 

How powerful is God?  Powerful enough to get what he wants without resorting to the compulsion of fear and violence and terror?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Knife to a Gunfight

Fanfare for Another Day

This is a Fanfare for Another Day - because there will always be another one.

If you like it, you should feel free to download it and to share it with a friend.

I used one sound from the Freesound Project:
Gated Chord Glitch 
The rest I created in Ableton Live 8 (lite).

Ante-Nicene Fathers – Ignatius to the Ephesians and the Magnesians – Be United in Love and Wary of False Teachers

So I’ve been carting these Ante-Nicene Fathers (the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325) volumes around for a few years and I’ve never, until now, read through them.  I’ve consulted them and checked in them for information, but I’ve never really read and studied them.  I’m changing that now.  I’ve decided that I will read all 10 volumes.

The fourth section of volume one (of the ten volume set) contains the Epistles and an account of the Martyrdom of Ignatius – Ignatius of Antioch, that is… let’s not get confused with that later Ignatius of Loyola.  Ignatius of Antioch (who also called himself Theophorus - “God-Bearer” or “Carried by God”) was the third bishop of Antioch and, like Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, may have been a student of the Apostle John.  One tradition about Ignatius says that he was one of the children that Jesus picked up in Mark 9:35-37 (which might explain the nickname) but it is more likely that Ignatius was born around 35 CE – some years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  He was arrested for being a Christian and taken to Rome where he faced death by lions in the coliseum in 108 CE.

En route to Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters to various Christian communities and individuals.  He wrote to the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Magnesia , Tralles (modern day Aydin), Rome, and Philadelphia – as well as his friend, Polycarp (the bishop of Smyrna).

Later several spurious letters were added to this collection of seven “authentic” letters.  These included letters to the Virgin Mary, the Apostle John, Mary of Casobalae, Hero (a deacon in the church in Antioch), and the churches at Philippi, Antioch among others.

The authentic letters have come down to us in a variety of ways.  There are versions of these letters in both Latin and in Greek.  Additionally, there are shorter and longer versions of these letters in both languages.  It’s not clear whether the shorter versions are the originals and were later elaborated, or the longer texts were later summarized. And then to further complicate the issue, in the 1830’s a Syriac version of three of these letters was discovered in Egypt – but was different than the both the shorter and longer versions of the letters.[i]

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians

To the Christians in Ephesus, whom he called “followers of the love of God towards man”[ii] and thanked them for sending their bishop, Onesimus (who may have been the runaway slave of Paul’s letter) to meet him in Smyrna as he travelled to his martyrdom in Rome.  He refused to “issue orders” to them “as if I were some great person,” but instead wrote to them as “fellow servants,” encouraging them to “run together” in unity.

This Christian unity is a common theme of Ignatius’ epistles.  The Christian communities were facing persecution and animosity from all sides and they needed to hold together.  They may have been poor; they may have been weak, but if they could maintain the bonds of love and unity, then the Christian church would be strong.  Ignatius encouraged his readers to continue to meet together frequently for prayer and common worship and for communion – which he described as “the medicine of immortality, and the antidote which prevents us from dying.” [iii]   I imagine these words had an urgency for Ignatius, writing, as he was, on his way to his own death.

He also addressed the problem of some “worthless persons” who professed to be Christians but practiced things unworthy of God and held “opinions contrary to the doctrine of Christ.” [iv]  Ignatius didn’t describe with any detail the teaching or practice of these “worthless persons” but instead drew a contrast between them as the “spirit of deceit” and the Holy Spirit.  He described the false teachers as one who “preaches himself, and speaks his own things, for he seeks to pleas himself. He glorifies himself, for he is full of arrogance.  He is lying, fraudulent, soothing, flattering, treacherous, rhapsodical, trifling, inharmonious, verbose, sordid, and timorous.”  [v]

By contrast, the Holy Spirit “does not speak His own things, but those of Christ, and that not from himself, but from the Lord; even as the Lord also announced to us the things that He received from the Father.” [vi]

The Christians of Ephesus – a city known for its interest in magic and the occult - would have found Ignatius’ description of the effects of Jesus’ life and death.  “Hence worldly wisdom became folly; conjuration was seen to be mere trifling, and magic became utterly ridiculous.” [vii]

The issue of Jesus’ divinity would be settled at the council of Nicaea some time later, but already Ignatius seems to understand Jesus of Nazareth to be one and the same (though separate from) as God Almighty.  “Our Physician is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.  We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the Virgin.” [viii]

And this is one of several mentions of the “virgin Mary” in Ignatius’s epistles.  If, as tradition states, Ignatius was a student of John – whom Jesus entrusted to care for his mother after his death, then Ignatius may have known the mother of God.  But that may be a house of cards built on tradition and speculation.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 

Ignatius’ epistle to the Magnesians is short (even in the “longer” version.)  He doesn’t seem to know the congregation except through his meeting with their bishop Damas, and some of the other church leaders who’ve come to visit him.[ix] 

He writes, first, to encourage them to honor their bishop, even if he is a young man.  He builds his advice from a selection of stories from the Hebrew Bible (Samuel, Jeremiah, Solomon, and Josiah), from the Christian New Testament (Timothy) and from the Apocryphal stories of Daniel. [x]

He also encourages them “not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality. For it is not the being called so, but the being really so, that renders a man blessed.” [xi] And, as in his advice to the church in Ephesus, he encourages them to love in unity[xii] and to be wary of the teachers of false doctrines,[xiii]

The false doctrines of this epistle seem to be of a “Judaizing” type – and it is here that Ignatius has some pretty severe things to say about the Jews.  Ignatius argues that Judaism has passed away with the “old things” and has been replaced by the “new thing” – that is Christianity. 

“It is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has now come to an end.” [xiv] This could be described as “Replacement Theology” (or if you like big college type words: Supersessionism) which is the idea that God’s new covenant with Christians has replaced the old Mosaic covenant with the Jewish people.

If (and that’s a big if) Ignatius were indeed a student of John, he may have picked up this very sectarian approach from his teacher…but he seems to go further with it – going so far as to refer to the Jewish people as “Christ-killing Jews” [xv], a term that has been used throughout the centuries by Christian anti-Semites.

While I was vaguely aware of this kind of attitude among the early church fathers, reading it like this was a bit of a shock.  It’s surprising how quickly Christianity rejected its Jewish heritage – though still clinging to the Jewish scriptures and a Jewish Messiah. 

But the recrimination seems to have gone both ways (at least to some degree.) The euphemistic Birkat haMinim (“Blessing” on Heretics) recited in Jewish synagogues seems to be specifically addressed against Christians or Jews who have converted to Christianity. 

For apostates who have rejected Your Torah let there be no hope, and may the Nazarenes and heretics perish in an instant. Let all the enemies of Your people, the House of Israel, be speedily cut down; and may You swiftly uproot, shatter, destroy, subdue, and humiliate the kingdom of arrogance, speedily in our days! Blessed are You, O Lord, who shatters His enemies and humbles the arrogant.[xvi]

So much for “unity” I guess. 

[i] Since I’m not competent to judge which might be the original, I’ll simply quote from the longer version and leave the decision to the experts.
[ii] The Epistles of Ignatius to the Ephesians (longer version) Chap. I
[iii] Chap. XX
[iv] Chap. VII
[v] Chap. IX
[vi] Chap. IX
[vii] Chap. XIX
[viii] Chap. VII
[ix] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians Chap. II
[x] Chap. III
[xi] Chap. IV
[xii] Chap. VI
[xiii] Chap. VIII
[xiv] Chap. X
[xv] Chap. XI
[xvi] Though, as with much in the study of ancient texts, these conclusions are not universally agreed upon…
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