Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Roger Parvus

Relief from a scribe's tomb found in Flavia Solva
Image via Wikipedia

8th post in the series by Roger Parvus. The complete series is archived here.

When I presented my first contention—that the real author of the Ignatians was Peregrinus—I argued that a proto-Catholic editor/interpolator later, probably around 200 CE, made changes to the letters to disguise Peregrinus’ authorship. To make the letters acceptable for use by his church he had to remove the apostate Peregrinus from them. In the last two posts I have presented my second contention: that the branch of Christianity to which the author of the letters belonged was Apellean. If this second contention is correct, it is to be expected that the proto-Catholic editor/interpolator had to also make some doctrinal modifications to the letters. For although Apellean beliefs, compared to those of Marcion, were definitely closer to those held by the proto-Catholics, some would have still been unacceptable, especially to the proto-Catholic church of the year 200. Doctrinal positions had hardened in the 50 years that had passed since Peregrinus wrote the letters. The church was becoming more dogmatic as is evidenced by the appearance of the so-called Apostles Creed sometime toward the end of the second century. Thus the need for occasional interventions in the letters to make them safe for proto-Catholic consumption. The changes made to remove Peregrinus from the letters were often remarkably careless. We will see that some of the doctrinal corrections were careless too.

In the passages that follow I have bolded and put in brackets ( i.e. [ ] ) the parts that seem to be proto-Catholic modifications of the text. And I have put within curly braces (i.e. { } ) words that they would have had to delete to accommodate their modifications.

TO THE EPHESIANS 18:1 – 19:3

“18:1. My spirit is your humble servant of the cross, which is a stumbling-block to the unbelievers, but to us is salvation and eternal life. Where is the wise man? Where is the debater? Where is the boasting of the so-called intelligent? 18:2. [For our God, Jesus the Christ, conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, of the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit, was born and was baptized that by his Passion he might purify water.]

“19:1. From the ruler of this age was hidden [Mary’s virginity and her child-bearing; in like manner] the death of the Lord—[three mysteries] {a mystery} to be cried out, accomplished in the silence of God. 19:2. How then was he manifested to the aeons? A star shone forth in the heavens more brightly than all the stars, and its light was greater than words can tell, and its novelty caused astonishment. And all the other stars, with the sun and moon, formed themselves into a choir round the star. But the star itself surpassed them all in its brightness. And there was confusion amongst the stars over whence came this novelty so different from themselves. 19:3. Thus began the vanquishing of all magic, the breaking of the bonds imposed by wickedness, the dissolution of ignorance, and the destruction of the old kingdom, when God was manifested [as a man] to disclose newness of eternal life. That which had been prepared by God began to take effect: Hence all things were thrown into commotion because the destruction of death had begun.”

If the bracketed sections are left out of consideration the continuity of the passage emerges. Following on allusions to Christ’s passion in the two preceding sections (chapters 16 and 17), Peregrinus here proclaims his devotion to the cross. It is “salvation and eternal life,” but also a “stumbling block to unbelievers.” And the death of the Lord on the cross was a mystery that was “hidden from the ruler of this age.” These elements as well as the questions (“Where is the wise man? Where is the debater? Where is the boasting of the so-called intelligent?”) are all drawn from 1 Cor. 1:19, 20, 23; 2:6-8 and possibly Rom. 3:27. The mystery of the death of the Lord was only manifested to the aeons at the Ascension, so the remainder of chapter 19 gives an account of that event as it unfolded in the heavens.

Proto-Catholics would not necessarily have had a problem with the idea that the ascending Christ was not recognized by the hosts of heaven. But they would have had a problem with the reason Peregrinus gives for that lack of recognition: that Christ ascended as a star of all-surpassing brightness. Apelleans believed that when Christ departed this world, he set aside the elements of his body and ascended without it. In contrast, proto-Catholics believed that Christ kept and always will keep his body. Here is the proto-Catholic Justin’s account of how the heavenly phase of the Ascension transpired:

“When our Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, the rulers in heaven, under appointment of God, are commanded to open the gates of heaven, that he who is King of Glory may enter in, and having ascended, may sit on the right hand of the Father until he make the enemies his footstool, as has been made manifest by another Psalm. For when the rulers of heaven saw him of uncomely and dishonored appearance, and inglorious, not recognizing him, they inquired, ‘Who is the King of glory?’” (“Dialogue with Trypho,” ch. 36)

Thus Justin’s ascending Jesus clearly returns to heaven with his human body. Notice too that Justin, as a proto-Catholic, has recourse to the Psalms to describe his Ascension scene. Peregrinus the Apellean, as is to be expected, makes no appeal to any book of the Old Testament for his version of the Ascension.

The proto-Catholic editor of the letters was faced with a problem: what to do with the unacceptable Apellean version of the Ascension. The solution he came up with not only disguised the identity of the Ascension star, it at the same time supplied the passage with a number of proto-Catholic beliefs that Peregrinus, because of his Apellean affiliation, lacked. The editor inserted a chunk of what Schoedel characterizes as “quasi-creedal material” (“Ignatius of Antioch,” p. 84), most of it having to do with the conception and birth of Jesus. In this way the redactor hoped to pass off the Apellean Ascension star as the proto-Catholic Bethlehem star. Apelleans did not believe that Jesus Christ was conceived by Mary, or that she gave birth to him, or that he was of the seed of David. They did not believe in Mary’s virginity. For them the flesh of Jesus was made of material that he borrowed from the starry regions in the course of his descent to this world. And it is very likely that they did not believe Jesus was baptized by the last Jewish prophet John the Baptizer. Apelles was largely dismissive of Judaism. His background was Marcionite which denied that Jesus had been baptized by John. Thus the chunk of proto-Catholic quasi-creedal material was apparently intended by the redactor to correct these deficiencies in Peregrinus’ beliefs. His insertion bluntly breaks up the continuity of the passage. And its secondary character is betrayed by the fact that Mary, supposedly the figure spotlighted by two of the “three mysteries to be cried out,” immediately drops out of sight once the text reestablishes connection with the mystery of the death of the Lord. Another indication of its secondary character is a careless fingerprint left in 18:2 by the proto-Catholic redactor: he used the expression “Jesus THE Christ” (my emphasis) in that verse. It is the only place in the letters that this designation appears. More than a hundred times in the letters Peregrinus calls the Son of God ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ Jesus.’ Only in 18:2 is he ‘Jesus the Christ.’

Alfred Loisy was right in his claim that there was originally only one hidden mystery in IgnEph. 19:1 (“Remarques sur la Litterature Epistolaire de Nouveau Testament,” p. 161). And my Apellean scenario provides the key for figuring out why the two additional mysteries—Mary’s virginity and her childbearing—were forced into the passage. They are there to turn an Apellean Ascension scene into a proto-Catholic Nativity announcement.

Here is a similar suspect passage:


“1:1. I give glory to Jesus Christ, the God who has given you such wisdom. For I have seen that you are established in immovable faith, being nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in flesh and spirit, and confirmed in love in the blood of Christ, being fully convinced concerning our Lord that he was [truly of the family of David according to the flesh and Son of God according to the will and power of God, truly born of a virgin, baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him] 1:2. truly nailed for us in his flesh under Pontius Pilate and the tetrarch Herod, of which we are the fruit, from his divinely blessed Passion, so that through his resurrection he might forever raise up an ensign for his saints and faithful, whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of his church.”

It again appears that the proto-Catholic editor/interpolator has loaded a block of what Schoedel—this time—calls “semi-creedal statements” (“Ignatius of Antioch,” p. 220) into an already overloaded passage. Once we leave that block out of consideration a common thread emerges. Peregrinus is again writing about the wisdom of the cross and, as Schoedel rightly notes, “evidently the point is that the Smyrnaeans are committed to the reality of the passion” (“Ignatius of Antioch,” p. 220). With the bracketed section removed the original flow of the passage is restored. That in 1:1 the Smyrneans are “nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ…” leads into 1:2 where the author emphasizes that Jesus was “truly nailed for us in his flesh…” Such emphasis is entirely in line with Peregrinus’ Apellean beliefs for “Apelles says Christ allowed himself to suffer in that very body, was truly crucified and truly buried and truly rose, and showed that very flesh to his own disciples…” (“Panarion,” 44, 2, 7). And Apelles said that Jesus “showed them (his disciples) the prints of the nails and the wound in his side, desirous of persuading them that he was in truth no phantom, but was present in the flesh.” (“The Refutation of All Heresies,” Hippolytus, 7,26).

The proto-Catholic editor appears to have used Peregrinus’ statement of anti-docetic belief as the occasion to add some creedal statements—proto-Catholic ones—that Peregrinus did not subscribe to. He supplies what he perceives to be lacking to Apellean belief even though his insertion clearly breaks the continuity that existed between the beginning of the passage and its end. Among the elements added by his insertion was ‘righteousness’, which as Schoedel notes, is not a theme of the letters (“Ignatius of Antioch,” p. 222). He appears to have brought it in from Matthew’s Gospel. And the expressions “according to the flesh” and “according to the will and power of God” are reminiscent of Pauline Romans 1:3-4, itself suspected by some of being a proto-Catholic interpolation.

A passage where Peregrinus’ Apellean beliefs required only a small touch-up by the proto-Catholic redactor was:


“3:2. For me, pray only that I may have power within and without; that I not only say it, but also desire it; that I not only be called a Christian, but also be found to be one. For if I be found so, I can also be called one, and be faithful then, when I am not visible to the world. 3:3. Nothing visible is good. For our God Jesus Christ, since he is in the Father, is [all the more] {not] visible.”

The last two verses of this passage, as they currently stand, are in conflict with each other. To say “Nothing visible is good” and then immediately follow it with the statement that Jesus is “all the more visible” is, logically, to deny goodness to Jesus—which clearly could not have been the intent of either Peregrinus or the later redactor. How then did such confusion arise? The confusion, I submit, was caused by the proto-Catholic redactor. In all likelihood the last two verses of the passage were originally:

“For if I be found so (a Christian), I can also be called one, and be faithful then, when I am not visible to the world. Nothing visible is good. For our God Jesus Christ, since he is in the Father, is not visible.”

This restores logic to the passage: nothing visible is good; for the one temporary exception to that rule—Jesus during his time on earth—is no longer visible. And he is no longer visible because, according to Apelles, when Jesus ascended back to his Father he restored the elements of his visible body to the higher-world sources from which he had borrowed them. Peregrinus, as the good Apellean that he is, longs for martyrdom that will make him—like Jesus—“not visible to the world.” He longs to leave his body behind and pass from the realm of the visible world to the one of pure light: “Let me receive the pure light; for when I arrive there I will truly be a man” (IgnRom. 6:2). And: “Then will I truly be a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world does not see my body” (IgnRom. 4:2).

The idea that Jesus no longer had a visible body was unacceptable to the proto-Catholic editor. He believed that the ascended Jesus was at the right hand of the Father in a glorified human body that was even more visible than the one he had one earth. Thus he changed “not visible” to “all the more visible,” even though that wrecked the logic of the passage. Orthodoxy was more important than a passage that made sense!

In the following passage another Apellean error is neutralized:


8:1. “Do not be deceived by false doctrines or old fables which are worthless. For if we still live according to Judaism, we avow that we have not received grace. 8:2. For [the most divine prophets lived in accordance with Jesus Christ. For this cause also they were persecuted, being inspired by his grace that they might convince unbelievers that] there is one God who manifested himself through Jesus Christ his Son, who is his Word that came forth from silence, who in all things was pleasing to him that sent him.

9:1. Those who lived according to the old practices have come to a new hope, renouncing Sabbath observance, but observing the Lord’s day, on which our life arose through him and through his death—though some deny it. By this mystery we received faith, and because of this we endure patiently, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher. 9:2 How could we live without him? [Him who even the prophets, being his disciples in the spirit, were expecting as their teacher; and that is why he whom they rightly awaited, when he came, raised them from the dead.]

Notice how 8:1 first equates living according to Judaism with being deceived by false doctrines and old, worthless fables. But then the passage abruptly reverses course to praise the Jewish prophets. And notice how awkward that reversal is. It in effect separates the prophets from Judaism and makes them preach that there was one God who manifested himself through Jesus. But wouldn’t that mean that he first manifested himself through these very prophets who are praised? And if so, how can it be said that “his Word came forth from silence?” What is going on here?

The bracketed section in 8:2 has the appearance of being a slapdash proto-Catholic corrective inserted to counteract the excessive criticism of Judaism’s Scripture expressed by 8:1. By praising the prophets the editor/interpolator has softened Peregrinus’ extreme criticism of it. To Apelleans “the prophets refuted themselves, because they have said nothing true; for they are inconsistent, and false, and self-contradictory” (“History of the Church,” 5,13). “Apelles … treated the writings of the Jews as fables” (Origen, “Against Celsus,” 5:54).

If we remove the bracketed section in 8:2 we are left with a smooth Apellean argument: To live according to Judaism is to be deceived by falsehoods and fables, for there is only one God and he manifested himself through his Son Jesus Christ. Thus God did not manifest himself, as Judaism would have it, through the figures spoken of in the Jewish Scripture. No, the claims made by that writing are falsehoods and fables. God was silent before he sent Jesus into the world.

Tacked on awkwardly to the end of 9:2 is further praise for the prophets. We are told that Jesus, “whom they rightly awaited, when he came, raised them from the dead.” This seems aimed at correcting a prominent Marcionite assertion. Marcion explicitly excluded the prophets from resurrection. He taught that when Christ descended to the underworld to offer salvation to its occupants, the prophets were among those who rejected the offer. They “knew that their God was constantly tempting them, so they suspected that he was tempting them, and so did not run to Jesus or believe his announcement: and for that reason he (Marcion) declared that their souls remained in Hades” (Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” 1,27,3). It may very well be that the ex-Marcionite Apelles retained this belief after his break with Marcion. That would explain why the editor goes to the trouble here of specifically correcting it.

One more:


“You are fellow-initiates of Paul, who was sanctified, approved, worthy of blessing, in whose footsteps may I be found when I attain to God, who in [every] {a} letter makes mention of you in Christ Jesus.”

Scholars commonly excuse the inaccurate “every” in this verse by chalking it up to pious exaggeration. That seems to be—at least in part—the reason, but my Ignatian theory can plausibly fill in the circumstances that elicited the holy hyperbole. If the author of the letters was an Apellean the verse would originally have related that Paul mentioned the Ephesians in “a” letter (i.e. 1 Corinthians, which in 15:32 and 16:8 mentions Ephesus), for Apelles “uses, too, only the apostle, but it is Marcion’s, that is to say, it is not complete” (Pseudo-Tertullian, “Against All Heresies,” 6). The proto-Catholic editor, writing towards the end of the second century, would have had to change that assertion in order to make it reflect the developing proto-Catholic canon. Sometime in the intervening 50 years since Peregrinus wrote his letters a proto-Catholic had created the Pauline Pastoral letters, two of which—the two letters to Timothy—made mention of Ephesus. And also in the meantime a Pauline letter to the Laodiceans had been turned into a letter to the Ephesians. Thus IgnEph. 12:2 clearly needed updating if the newly created ‘Ignatius’ was to be proto-Catholic. With characteristic carelessness the editor changed “a letter” to “every letter.”

In my next post I want to consider what the letters tell us about the prisoner’s Gospel.

The following two tabs change content below.

Roger Parvus

Roger Parvus is the author of this post. Roger is the author of A New Look at the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and Other Apellean Writings and two series of Vridar posts: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius and A Simonian Origin for Christianity. In a previous life Roger was a Catholic priest.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

3 thoughts on “[8] THE LETTERS SUPPOSEDLY WRITTEN BY IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH: 8th post in the series”

  1. For our God, Jesus the Christ, conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, of the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit, was born and was baptized that by his Passion he might purify water.

    It seems to me that the best argument for the later insertion of this sentence is that it interrupts a train of thought. Before that sentence, the writer was mocking the inability of wise men to understand the Christian religion. Where is the boasting of the so-called intelligent?

    That sentence about the boasting of the intelligent is followed logically by the next sentence From the ruler of this age was hidden … a mystery. In other words, the train of thought is that even high rank and superb intelligence cannot help a person to understand a phenomenon if the phenomenon is a mystery and also is hidden.

    Another oddity of the inserted sentence is that it seems to argue that baptisms conducted by John the Baptist were ineffective until after Jesus Christ’s passion.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading