Ignatius on the flesh of Christ.

Docetism and the proto-orthodox reaction.


Ignatius in several sections of his epistles insists on a nondocetic approach to christology. Docetism is the belief that a divine being such as Jesus Christ could not possibly have taken on actual human flesh; he must therefore have taken flesh on only in appearance; he only seemed (Greek δοκεω, giving us our term docetic) to possess a real human body. Ignatius opposes such a belief, asserting that Christ was both human and God.

These are the passages, then, in which Ignatius outlines the most important events of the career of Jesus from the perspective of his humanity; they are the passages that deal both with his birth and lineage and with his death and suffering, as well as with his other human features.

Ignatius to the Ephesians 7.1-2:

Ειωθασιν γαρ τινες δολω πονηρω το ονομα περιφερειν, αλλα τινα πρασσοντες αναξια θεου· ους δει υμας ως θηρια εκκλινειν. εισιν γαρ κυνες λυσσωντες, λαθροδηκται, ους δει υμας φυλασσεσθαι οντας δυσθεραπευτους.

For some are in the habit of carrying the name around in evil deceit, but rather practice things unworthy of God; you must turn from them as you would from wild beasts. For they are ravenous dogs, biting in secret, whom you must guard against, since they are uncurable.

Εις ιατρος εστιν, σαρκικος και πνευματικος, γεννητος και αγεννητος, εν ανθρωπω θεος, εν θανατω ζωη αληθινη, και εκ Μαριας και εκ θεου, πρωτον παθητος και τοτε απαθης, Ιησους Χριστος ο κυριος ημων.

There is one physician, fleshly and spiritual, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first to suffer and then not to suffer, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Ignatius to the Ephesians 18.2:

Ο γαρ θεος ημων Ιησους ο Χριστος εκυοφορηθη υπο Μαριας κατ οικονομιαν θεου, εκ σπερματος μεν Δαυιδ, πνευματος δε αγιου· ος εγεννηθη και εβαπτισθη ινα τω παθει το υδωρ καθαριση.

For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to the economy of God, from the seed of David, but of the holy spirit. He was born and baptized so that by his passion he might cleanse the water.

In 20.1 Ignatius reaffirms that Jesus Christ was the one from the race of David according to the flesh, son of man and son of God (τω κατα σαρκα εκ γενους Δαυιδ, τω υιω ανθρωπου και υιω θεου).

Ignatius to the Magnesians 11[.1]:

Ταυτα δε, αγαπητοι μου, ουκ επει εγνων τινας εξ υμων ουτως εχοντας, αλλ ως μικροτερος υμων θελω προφυλασσεσθαι υμας μη εμπεσειν εις τα αγκιστρα της κενοδιξιας, αλλα πεπληροφορησθαι εν τη γεννησει και τω παθει και τη αναστασει τη γενομενη εν καιρω της ηγεμονιας Ποντιου Πιλατου, πραχθεντα αληθως και βεβαιως υπο Ιησου Χριστου, της ελπιδος ημων, ης εκτραπηναι μηδενι υμων γενοιτο.

But these things, my beloved, are not since I knew any of you to be in such a way, but rather, as less than you, I desire to guard you beforehand lest you fall upon the hooks of empty doctrine, but rather that you be fully assured as to the birth and the passion and the resurrection which happened in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate, being truly and certainly done by Jesus Christ, our hope, from which may no one of you become turned aside.

Ignatius to the Philadelphians 4[.1]:

Σπουδασατε ουν μια ευχαριστια χρησθαι· μια γαρ σαρξ του κυριου ημων Ιησου Χριστου, και εν ποτηριον εις ενωσιν του αιματος αυτου, εν θυσιαστηριον, ως εις επισκοπος, αμα τω πρεσβυτεριω και διακονοις, τοις συνδουλοις μου, ινα ο εαν πρασσητε, κατα θεον πρασσητε.

Take heed, therefore, to keep one eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup unto the unity of his blood, one altar, as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow servants, so that, whatever you do, you may do it according to God.

In 5[.1] Ignatius writes of fleeing to the gospel as to the flesh of Jesus and to the apostles as to the presbytery of the church (προσφυγων τω ευαγγελιω ως σαρκι Ιησου και τοις αποστολοις ως πρεσβυτεριω εκκλησιας).

Ignatius to the Romans 7.3:

Ουχ ηδομαι τροφη φθορας ουδε ηδοναις του βιου τουτου. αρτον θεου θελω, ο εστιν σαρξ του Χριστου του εκ σπερματος Δαυιδ, και πομα θελω το αιμα αυτου, ο εστιν αγαπη αφθαρτος.

I am not pleased by corruptible food, nor by the pleasures of this life. I wish for the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ, who was from the seed of David, and I wish for the drink, his blood, which is incorruptible love.

Ignatius to the Trallians 9.1-2:

Κωφωθητε ουν οταν υμιν χωρις Ιησου Χριστου λαλη τις, του εκ γενους Δαυιδ, του εκ Μαριας, ος αληθως εγεννηθη, εφαγεν τε και επιεν, αληθως εδιωχθη επι Ποντιου Πιλατου, αληθως εσταυρωθη και απεθανεν, βλεποντων των επουρανιων και επιγειων και υποχθονιων.

Be deaf, therefore, when anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was from the race of David, and was from Mary, who was truly born, and both ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died, while beings in heaven and on earth and under the earth looked on.

Ος και αληθως ηγερθη απο νεκρων, εγειραντος αυτον του πατρος αυτου, ος και κατα το ομοιωμα ημας τους πιστευοντας αυτω ουτως εγερει ο πατηρ αυτου εν Χριστω Ιησου, ου χωρις το αληθινον ζην ουκ εχομεν.

He was also truly raised from the dead, his father raising him, who will also, as the father, according to like manner raise us who believe in him in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not have the true life.

Ignatius to the Trallians 10[.1]:

Ει δε, ωσπερ τινες αθεοι οντες, τουτεστιν απιστοι, λεγουσιν, το δοκειν πεπονθεναι αυτον, αυτοι οντες το δοκειν, εγω τι δεδεμαι; τι δε και ευχομαι θηριομαχησαι; δωρεαν ουν αποθνησκω; αρα ουν καταψευδομαι του κυριου.

But if, as some say who are without God, that is, faithless, he only seemed to suffer, they themselves only seeming to be, why am I in bondage? And why do I even pray to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not rendering falsehoods against the Lord?

Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 1.1-2:

Δοξαζω Ιησουν Χριστον τον θεον τον ουτως υμας σοφισαντα· ενοησα γαρ υμας κατηρτισμενους εν ακινητω πιστει, ωσπερ καθηλωμενους εν τω σταυρω του κυριου Ιησου Χριστου, σαρκι τε και πνευματι, και ηδρασμενους εν αγαπη εν τω αιματι Χριστου, πεπληροφορημενους εις τον κυριον ημων αληθως οντα εκ γενους Δαυιδ κατα σαρκα, υιον θεου κατα θελημα και δυναμιν, γεγεννημενον αληθως εκ παρθενου, βεβαπτισμενον υπο Ιωαννου ινα πληρωθη πασα δικαιοσυνη υπ αυτου.

I glorify Jesus Christ as God, who has made you so wise. For I have observed that you are perfected in an immoveable faith, just as if you were nailed on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love in the blood of Christ, being fully assured that our Lord was truly from the race of David according to the flesh, son of God according to the will and power, truly born from a virgin, baptized by John in order that all justice might be fulfilled by him.

Αληθως επι Ποντιου Πιλατου και Ηρωδου τετραρχου καθηλωμενον υπερ ημων εν σαρκι, αφ ου καρπου ημεις απο του θεομακαριστου αυτου παθους, ινα αρη συσσημον εις τους αιωνας δια της αναστασεως εις τους αγιους και πιστους αυτου, ειτε εν Ιουδαιοις ειτε εν εθνεσιν, εν ενι σωματι της εκκλησιας αυτου.

He was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed in the flesh on our behalf, from which fruit we are by his divinely blessed passion, so that he might set up a standard unto the ages through the resurrection unto his holy and faithful ones, whether among Jews or among gentiles, in the one body of his church.

Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 2.[1]:

Ταυτα γαρ παντα επαθεν δι ημας, ινα σωθωμεν· και αληθως επαθεν, ως και αληθως ανεστησεν εαυτον, ουχ ωσπερ απιστοι τινες λεγουσιν το δοκειν αυτον πεπονθεναι, αυτοι το δοκειν οντες· και καθως φρονουσιν, και συμβησεται αυτοις ουσιν ασωματοις και δαιμονικοις.

For he suffered all these things for our sakes, so that we might be saved. And he suffered truly, as he also truly resurrected himself, not, as certain unfaithful ones say, that he seemed to suffer, they themselves only seeming to be. And, just as they think, so it shall befall them, being rendered bodiless and daemonical.

Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 3.1-3:

Εγω γαρ και μετα την αναστασιν εν σαρκι αυτον οιδα και πιστευω οντα.

For I know that even after his resurrection he was in the flesh, and I believe that he [still] is.

Και οτε προς τους περι Πετρον ηλθεν, εφη αυτοις· Λαβετε, ψηλαφησατε με και ιδετε οτι ουκ ειμι δαιμονιον ασωματον. και ευθυς αυτου ηψαντο και επιστευσαν, κραθεντες τη σαρκι αυτου και τω αιματι. δια τουτο και θανατου κατεφρονησαν, ηυρεθησαν δε υπερ θανατον.

And, when he came toward those around Peter, he said to them: Take, feel me and see that I am not a bodiless demon. And straightway they touched and had faith, being convinced by his flesh and by his blood. On this account they even despised death, and were found over death.

Μετα δε την αναστασιν συνεφαγεν αυτοις και συνεπιεν ως σαρκικος, καιπερ πνευματικως ηνωμενος τω πατρι.

And after the resurrection he ate and drank with them as fleshly, although spiritually he was united to the father.

Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 4.1-2:

Ταυτα δε παραινω υμιν, αγαπητοι, ειδως οτι και υμεις ουτως εχετε. προφυλασσω δε υμας απο των θηριων των ανθρωπομορφων, ους ου μονον δει υμας μη παραδεχεσθαι, αλλ, ει δυνατον, μηδε συνανταν· μονον δε προσευχεσθε υπερ αυτων, εαν πως μετανοησωσιν, οπερ δυσκολον. τουτου δε εχει εξουσιαν Ιησους Χριστος, το αληθινον ημων ζην.

I advise you in these things, beloved, knowing that you also hold thus. But I guard you beforehand from the beasts in the form of men, whom you must not only not receive but also, if possible, not even meet with; but only you must pray on their behalf, if somehow they might repent, which is very difficult. But Jesus Christ, our true life, has the authority in this matter.

Ει γαρ το δοκειν ταυτα επραχθη υπο του κυριου ημων, καγω το δοκειν δεδεμαι; τι δε και εαυτον εκδοτον δεδωκα τω θανατω, προς πυρ, προς μαχαιραν, προς θηρια; αλλ ο εγγυς μαχαιρας εγγυς θεου, μεταξυ θηριων μεταξυ θεου· μονον εν τω ονοματι Ιησου Χριστου. εις το συμπαθειν αυτω παντα υπομενω, αυτου με ενδυναμουντος του τελειου ανθρωπου.

For, if these things were done by our Lord only in seeming, am I also bound [only] in seeming? And why have I also given myself over to death, unto fire, unto the sword, unto the wild beasts? But rather he who is near the sword is near to God, he who is in company with wild beasts is in company with God, only in the name of Jesus Christ. I endure all things for [the sake of] suffering together with him, the perfect man himself empowering me from within.

Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 5.1-3:

Ον τινες αγνοουντες αρνουνται, μαλλον δε ηρνηθησαν υπ αυτου, οντες συνηγοροι του θανατου μαλλον η της αληθειας· ους ουκ επεισαν αι προφητειαι, ουδε ο νομος Μωσεως, αλλ ουδε μεχρι νυν το ευαγγελιον, ουδε τα ημετερα των κατ ανδρα παθηματα.

Some deny him in ignorance, but have rather been denied by him, being the advocates of death rather than of the truth. The prophets have not persuaded them, nor the law of Moses, nor even the gospel until now, nor our sufferings of those things, man by man.

Και γαρ περι ημων το αυτο φρονουσιν. τι γαρ με ωφελει, ει εμε επαινει τις, τον δε κυριον μου βλασφημει, μη ομολογων αυτον σαρκοφορον; ο δε τουτο μη λεγων τελειως αυτον απηρνηται, ων νεκροφορος.

For they think also the same thing concerning us. For what does it profit me if someone advises me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that he was borne by flesh? But the one who does not say this denies him perfectly, being borne by death.

Τα δε ονοματα αυτων, οντα απιστα, ουκ εδοξεν μοι εγραψαι. αλλα μηδε γενοιτο μοι αυτων μνημονευειν μεχρις ου μετανοησωσιν εις το παθος, ο εστιν ημων αναστασις.

But it did not seem good to me to write their names, since they are unfaithful ones. But rather may it not fall to me to make mention of them until they repent unto the passion, which is our resurrection.

Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 6.1-2:

Μηδεις πλανασθω. και τα επουρανια και η δοξα των αγγελων και οι αρχοντες ορατοι τε και αορατοι, εαν μη πιστευσωσιν εις το αιμα Χριστου, κακεινοις κρισις εστιν. ο χωρων χωρειτω. τοπος μηδενα φυσιουτω· το γαρ ολον εστιν πιστις και αγαπη, ων ουδεν προκεκριται.

Let no one be deceived. Both heavenly things and the glory of the angels and the princes, both seen and unseen, if they should not put faith in the blood of Christ, there will be judgment even for them. Let the one who has room for it make room for it. Let not place puff up. For the whole thing is faith and love, than which nothing should be judged better.

Καταμαθετε δε τους ετεροδοξουντας εις την χαριν Ιησου Χριστου την εις ημας ελθουσαν, πως εναντιοι εισιν τη γνωμη του θεου. ευχαριστιας και προσευχης απεχονται, δια το μη ομολογειν την ευχαριστιαν σαρκα ειναι του σωτηρος ημων Ιησου Χριστου, την υπερ των αμαρτιων ημων παθουσαν, ην τη χρηστοτητι ο πατηρ ηγειρεν.

But learn from those who are of a different opinion unto the grace of Christ which has come to us, how opposed they are to the opinion of God. They abstain from the eucharist and from prayer, on account that they do not confess that the eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ, which [flesh] suffered for our sins, which [flesh] the father in his great goodness raised.