The Epistles attributed to Ignatius have attracted greater notice, and have created more discussion, than any other uninspired writings of the same extent in existence. The productions ascribed to this author, and now reputed genuine by the most learned of their recent editors, might all be printed on the one-fourth of a page of an ordinary newspaper; and yet, the fatigue of travelling thousands of miles has been encountered, [389:1] for the special purpose of searching after correct copies of these highly-prized memorials. Large volumes have been written, either to establish their authority, or to prove that they are forgeries; and, if collected together, the books in various languages to which they have given birth, would themselves form a considerable library. Recent discoveries have thrown new light on their pretensions, but though the controversy has now continued upwards of three hundred years, it has not hitherto reached a satisfactory termination. [390:1]
The Ignatian letters owe almost all their importance to the circumstance that they are alleged to have been written on the confines of the apostolic age. As very few records remain to illustrate the ecclesiastical history of that period, it is not strange that epistles, purporting to have emanated from one of the most distinguished ministers who then flourished, should have excited uncommon attention. But doubts regarding their genuineness have always been entertained by candid and competent scholars. The spirit of sectarianism has entered largely into the discussion of their claims; and, whilst certain distinct references to the subject of Church polity, which they contain, have greatly enhanced their value in the estimation of one party, the same passages have been quoted, by those who repudiate their authority, as so many decisive proofs of their fabrication. The annals of literature furnish, perhaps, scarcely any other case in which ecclesiastical prejudices have been so much mixed up with a question of mere criticism.
The history of the individual to whom these letters have been ascribed, has been so metamorphosed by fables, that it is now, perhaps, impossible to ascertain its true outlines. There is a tradition that he was the child whom our Saviour set in the midst of His disciples as a pattern of humility; [390:2] and as our Lord, on the occasion, took up the little personage in His arms, it has been asserted that Ignatius was therefore surnamed Theophorus, that is, borne or carried by God. [390:3] Whatever may be thought as to the truth of this story, it probably gives a not very inaccurate view of the date of his birth; for he was, in all likelihood, far advanced in life [391:1] at the period when he is supposed to have written these celebrated letters. According to the current accounts, he was the second bishop of Antioch at the time of his martyrdom; and as his age would lead us to infer that he was then the senior member of the presbytery, [391:2] the tradition may have thus originated. It is alleged that when Trajan visited the capital of Syria in the ninth year of his reign, or A.D.107, Ignatius voluntarily presented himself before the imperial tribunal, and avowed his Christianity. It is added, that he was in consequence condemned to be carried a prisoner to Rome, there to be consigned to the wild beasts for the entertainment of the populace. On his way to the Western metropolis, he is said to have stopped at Smyrna. The legend represents Polycarp as then the chief pastor of that city; and, when there, Ignatius is described as having received deputations from the neighbouring churches, and as having addressed to them several letters. From Smyrna he is reported to have proceeded to Troas; where he dictated some additional epistles, including one to Polycarp. The claims of these letters to be considered his genuine productions have led to the controversy which we are now to notice.
The story of Ignatius exhibits many marks of error and exaggeration; and yet it is no easy matter to determine how much of it should be pronounced fictitious. Few, perhaps, will venture to assert that the account of his martyrdom is to be rejected as altogether apocryphal; and still fewer will go so far as to maintain that he is a purely imaginary character. There is every reason to believe that, very early in the second century, he was connected with the Church of Antioch; and that, about the same period, he suffered unto death in the cause of Christianity. Pliny, who was then Proconsul of Bithynia, mentions that, as he did not well know, in the beginning of his administration, how to deal with the accused Christians, he sent those of them who were Roman citizens to the Emperor, that he might himself pronounce judgment. [392:1] It is possible that the chief magistrate of Syria pursued the same course; and that thus Ignatius was transmitted as a prisoner into Italy. But, upon some such substratum of facts, a mass of incongruous fictions has been erected. The |Acts of his Martyrdom,| still extant, and written probably upwards of a hundred years after his demise, cannot stand the test of chronological investigation; and have evidently been compiled by some very superstitious and credulous author. According to these Acts, Ignatius was condemned by Trajan at Antioch in the ninth [392:2] year of his reign; but it has been contended that, not until long afterwards, was the Emperor in the Syrian capital. [392:3] In the |Acts,| Ignatius is described as presenting himself before his sovereign of his own accord, to proclaim his Christianity -- a piece of foolhardiness for which it is difficult to discover any reasonable apology. The report of the interview between Ignatius and Trajan, as given in this document, would, if believed, abundantly warrant the conclusion that the martyr must have entirely lost the humility for which he is said to have obtained credit when a child; as his conduct, in the presence of the Emperor, betrays no small amount of boastfulness and presumption. The account of his transmission to Rome, that he might be thrown to wild beasts, presents difficulties with which even the most zealous defenders of his legendary history have found it impossible to grapple. He was sent away, say they, to the Italian metropolis that the sight of so distinguished a victim passing through so many cities on his way to a cruel death might strike terror into the hearts of the Christian inhabitants. But we are told that he was conveyed from Syria to Smyrna by water, [393:1] so that the explanation is quite unsatisfactory; and, had the journey been accomplished by land, it would still be insufficient, as the disciples of that age were unhappily only too familiar with spectacles of Christian martyrdom. Our perplexity increases as we proceed more minutely to investigate the circumstances under which the epistles are reported to have been composed. Whilst Ignatius is said to have been hurried with great violence and barbarity from the East to the West, he is at the same time represented, with strange inconsistency, as remaining for many days together in the same place, [393:2] as receiving visitors from the churches all around, and as writing magniloquent epistles. What is still more remarkable, though he was pressed by the soldiers to hasten forward, and though a prosperous gale speedily carried his vessel into Italy, [394:1] one of these letters is supposed to outstrip the rapidity of his own progress, and to reach Rome before himself and his impatient escort!
Early in the fourth century at least seven epistles attributed to Ignatius were in circulation, for Eusebius of Caesarea, who then flourished, distinctly mentions so many, and states to whom they were addressed. From Smyrna the martyr is said to have written four letters -- one to the Ephesians, another to the Magnesians, a third to the Trallians, and a fourth to the Romans. From Troas he is reported to have written three additional letters -- one to Polycarp, a second to the Smyrnaeans, and a third to the Philadelphians. [394:2] At a subsequent period eight more epistles made their appearance, including two to the Apostle John, one to the Virgin Mary, one to Maria Cassobolita, one to the Tarsians, one to the Philippians, one to the Antiochians, and one to Hero the deacon. Thus, no less than fifteen epistles claim Ignatius of Antioch as their author.
It is unnecessary to discuss the merits of the eight letters unknown to Eusebius. They were probably all fabricated after the time of that historian; and critics have long since concurred in rejecting them as spurious. Until recently, those engaged in the Ignatian controversy were occupied chiefly with the examination of the claims of the documents mentioned by the bishop of Caesarea. Here, however, the strange variations in the copies tended greatly to complicate the discussion. The letters of different manuscripts, when compared together, disclosed extraordinary discrepancies; for, whilst all the codices contained much of the same matter, a letter in one edition was, in some cases, about double the length of the corresponding letter in another. Some writers contended for the genuineness of the shorter epistles, and represented the larger as made up of the true text extended by interpolations; whilst others pronounced the larger letters the originals, and condemned the shorter as unsatisfactory abridgments. [395:1] But, though both editions found most erudite and zealous advocates, many critics of eminent ability continued to look with distrust upon the text, as well of the shorter, as of the larger letters; whilst not a few were disposed to suspect that Ignatius had no share whatever in the composition of any of these documents.
In the year 1845 a new turn was given to this controversy by the publication of a Syriac version of three of the Ignatian letters. They were printed from a manuscript deposited in 1843 in the British Museum, and obtained, shortly before, from a monastery in the desert of Nitria in Egypt. The work was dedicated by permission to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the views propounded in it were understood to have the sanction of the English metropolitan. [395:2] Dr Cureton, the editor, has since entered more fully into the discussion of the subject in his |Corpus Ignatianum| [395:3] -- a volume dedicated to His Royal Highness the Prince Albert, in which the various texts of all the epistles are exhibited, and in which the claims of the three recently discovered letters, as the only genuine productions of Ignatius, are ingeniously maintained. In the Syriac copies, [396:1] these letters are styled |The Three Epistles of Ignatius, Bishop, and Martyr,| and thus the inference is suggested that, at one time, they were the only three epistles in existence. Dr Cureton's statements have obviously made a great impression upon the mind of the literary public, and there seems at present to be a pretty general disposition in certain quarters [396:2] to discard all the other epistles as forgeries, and to accept those preserved in the Syriac version as the veritable compositions of the pastor of Antioch.
It must be obvious from the foregoing explanations that increasing light has wonderfully diminished the amount of literature which once obtained credit under the name of the venerable Ignatius. In the sixteenth century he was reputed by many as the author of fifteen letters: it was subsequently discovered that eight of them must be set aside as apocryphal: farther investigation convinced critics that considerable portions of the remaining seven must be rejected: and when the short text of these epistles was published, [396:3] about the middle of the seventeenth century, candid scholars confessed that it still betrayed unequivocal indications of corruption. [396:4] But even some Protestant writers of the highest rank stoutly upheld their claims, and the learned Pearson devoted years to the preparation of a defence of their authority. [397:1] His |Vindiciae Ignatianae| has long been considered by a certain party as unanswerable; and, though the publication has been read by very few, [397:2] the advocates of what are called |High-Church principles| have been reposing for nearly two centuries under the shadow of its reputation. The critical labours of Dr Cureton have somewhat disturbed their dream of security, as that distinguished scholar has adduced very good evidence to shew that about three-fourths of the matter [397:3] which the Bishop of Chester spent a considerable portion of his mature age in attempting to prove genuine, is the work of an impostor. It is now admitted by the highest authorities that four of the seven short letters must be given up as spurious; and the remaining three, which are addressed respectively to Polycarp, to the Ephesians, and to the Romans, and which are found in the Syriac version, are much shorter even than the short epistles which had already appeared under the same designations. The Epistle to Polycarp, the shortest of the seven letters in preceding editions, is here presented in a still more abbreviated form; the Epistle to the Romans wants fully the one-third of its previous matter; and the Epistle to the Ephesians has lost nearly three-fourths of its contents. Nor is this all. In the Syriac version a large fragment of one of the four recently rejected letters reappears; as the new edition of the Epistle to the Romans contains two entire paragraphs to be found in the discarded letter to the Trallians.
It is only due to Dr Cureton to acknowledge that his publications have thrown immense light on this tedious and keenly agitated controversy. But, unquestionably, he has not exhausted the discussion. Instead of abruptly adopting the conclusion that the three letters of the Syriac version are to be received as genuine, we conceive he would have argued more logically had he inferred that they reveal one of the earliest forms of a gross imposture. We are persuaded that the epistles he has edited, as well as all the others previously published, are fictitious; and we shall endeavour to demonstrate, in the sequel of this chapter, that the external evidence in their favour is most unsatisfactory.
When discussing the testimonies from the writers of antiquity in their support, it is not necessary to examine any later witness than Eusebius. The weight of his literary character influenced all succeeding fathers, some of whom, who appear never to have seen these documents, refer to them on the strength of his authority. [398:1] In his |Ecclesiastical History,| which was published as some think about A.D.325, he asserts that Ignatius wrote seven letters, and from these he makes a few quotations. [398:2] But his admission of the genuineness of a correspondence, bearing date upwards of two hundred years before his own appearance as an author, is an attestation of very doubtful value. He often makes mistakes respecting the character of ecclesiastical memorials; and in one memorable case, of far more consequence than that now under consideration, he has blundered most egregiously; for he has published, as genuine, the spurious correspondence between Abgarus and our Saviour. [399:1] He was under strong temptations to form an unduly favourable judgment of the letters attributed to Ignatius, inasmuch as, to use the words of Dr Cureton, |they seemed to afford evidence to the apostolic succession in several churches, an account of which he professes to be one of the chief objects of his history.| [399:2] His reference to them is decisive as to the fact of their existence in the early part of the fourth century; but those who adopt the views propounded in the |Corpus Ignatianum,| are not prepared to bow to his critical decision; for, on this very occasion, he has given his sanction to four letters which they pronounce apocryphal.
The only father who notices these letters before the fourth century, is Origen. He quotes from them twice; [399:3] the citations which he gives are to be found in the Syriac version of the three epistles; [399:4] and it would appear from his writings that he was not acquainted with the seven letters current in the days of Eusebius. [399:5] Those to which he refers were, perhaps, brought under his notice when he went to Antioch on the invitation of Julia Mammaea, the mother of the Emperor; as, for reasons subsequently to be stated, it is probable that they were manufactured in that neighbourhood not long before his visit. If presented to him at that time by parties interested in the recognition of their claims, they were, under the circumstances, exactly such documents as were likely to impose upon him; for the student of Philo, and the author of the |Exhortation to Martyrdom,| could not but admire the spirit of mysticism by which they are pervaded, and the anxiety to die under persecution which they proclaim. Whilst, therefore, his quotation of these letters attests their existence in his time, it is of very little additional value. Again and again in his writings we meet with notices of apocryphal works unaccompanied by any intimations of their spuriousness. [400:1] He asserts that Barnabas, the author of the epistle still extant under his name, [400:2] was the individual mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as the companion of Paul; and he frequently quotes the |Pastor| of Hermas [400:3] as a book given by inspiration of God. [400:4] Such facts abundantly prove that his recognition of the Ignatian epistles is a very equivocal criterion of their genuineness.
Attempts have been made to shew that two other writers, earlier than Origen, have noticed the Ignatian correspondence; and Eusebius himself has quoted Polycarp and Irenaeus as if bearing witness in its favour. Polycarp in early life was contemporary with the pastor of Antioch; and Irenaeus is said to have been the disciple of Polycarp; and, could it be demonstrated that either of these fathers vouched for its genuineness, the testimony would be of peculiar importance. But, when their evidence is examined, it is found to be nothing to the purpose. In the Treatise against Heresies, Irenaeus speaks, in the following terms, of the heroism of a Christian martyr -- |One of our people said, when condemned to the beasts on account of his testimony towards God -- As I am the wheat of God, I am also ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God.| [400:5] These words of the martyr are found in the Syriac Epistle to the Romans, and hence it has been inferred that they are a quotation from that letter. But it is far more probable that the words of the letter were copied out of Irenaeus, and quietly appropriated, by a forger, to the use of his Ignatius, with a view to obtain credit for a false document. The individual who uttered them is not named by the pastor of Lyons; and, after the death of that writer, a fabricator might put them into the mouth of whomsoever he pleased without any special danger of detection. The Treatise against Heresies obtained extensive circulation; and as it animadverted on errors which had been promulgated in Antioch, [401:1] it, no doubt, soon found its way into the Syrian capital. [401:2] But who can believe that Irenaeus describes Ignatius, when he speaks of |one of our people?| The martyr was not such an insignificant personage that he could be thus ignored. He was one of the most eminent Christians of his age -- the companion of apostles -- and the presiding minister of one of the most influential Churches in the world. Irenaeus is obviously alluding to some disciple who occupied a very different position. He is speaking, not of what the martyr wrote, but of what he said -- not of his letters, but of his words. Any reader who considers the situation of Irenaeus a few years before he published this treatise, can have no difficulty in understanding the reference. He had witnessed at Lyons one of the most terrible persecutions the disciples ever had endured; and, in the letter to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia, he had graphically described its horrors. [401:3] He there tells how his brethren had been condemned to be thrown to wild beasts, and he records with simplicity and pathos the constancy with which they suffered. But in such an epistle he could not notice every case which had come under his observation, and he here mentions a new instance of the Christian courage of some believer unknown to fame, when he states -- |one of our people when condemned to the beasts, said, 'As I am the wheat of God, I am also ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God.'|
The Treatise against Heresies supplies the clearest evidence that Irenaeus was quite ignorant of the existence of the Ignatian epistles. These letters contain pointed references to the errorists of the early Church, and had they been known to the pastor of Lyons, he could have brought them to bear with most damaging effect against the heretics he assailed. Ignatius was no ordinary witness, for he had heard the truth from the lips of the apostles; he had spent a long life in the society of the primitive disciples; and he filled one of the most responsible stations that a Christian minister could occupy. The heretics boldly affirmed that they had tradition on their side, [402:1] and therefore the testimony of Ignatius, as of an individual who had received tradition at the fountain-head, would have been regarded by Irenaeus as all-important. And the author of the Treatise against Heresies was not slow to employ such evidence when it was in any way available. He plies his antagonists with the testimony of Clement of Rome, [402:2] of Polycarp [402:3] of Papias, [402:4] and of Justin Martyr. [402:5] But throughout the five books of his discussion he never adduces any of the words of the pastor of Antioch. He never throws out any hint from which we can infer that he was aware of the existence of his Epistles. [402:6] He never even mentions his name. Could we desire more convincing proof that he had never heard of the Ignatian correspondence?
The only other witness now remaining to be examined is Polycarp. It has often been affirmed that he distinctly acknowledges the authority of these letters; and yet, when honestly interrogated, he will be found to deliver quite a different deposition. But, before proceeding to consider his testimony, let us inquire his age when his epistle was written. It bears the following superscription: -- |Polycarp, and the elders who are with him, to the Church of God which is at Philippi.| At this time, therefore, though the early Christians paid respect to hoary hairs, and were not willing to permit persons without experience to take precedence of their seniors, Polycarp must have been at the head of the presbytery. But, at the death of Ignatius, when according to the current theory he dictated this letter, he was a young man of six and twenty. [403:1] Such a supposition is very much out of keeping with the tone of the document. In it he admonishes the widows to be sober; [403:2] he gives advice to the elders and deacons; [403:3] he expresses his great concern for Valens, an erring brother, who had once been a presbyter among them; [403:4] and he intimates that the epistle was written at the urgent request of the Philippians themselves. [403:5] Is it at all probable that Polycarp, at the age of six and twenty, was in a position to warrant him to use such a style of address? Are we to believe he was already so well known and so highly venerated that a Christian community on the other side of the Aegean Sea, and the oldest Church in all Greece, would apply to him for advice and direction? We must be prepared to admit all this, before we can acknowledge that his epistle refers to Ignatius of Antioch.
Let us attend now to that passage in the letter to the Philippians where he is supposed to speak of the Syrian pastor. |I exhort all of you that ye obey the word of righteousness, and exercise all patience, which ye have seen set forth before your eyes, not only in the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others of you.| [404:1] These words would suggest to an ordinary reader that Polycarp is here speaking, not of Ignatius of Antioch, but of an Ignatius of Philippi. If this Ignatius did not belong to the Philippian Church, why, when addressing its members, does he speak of Ignatius, Zosimus, Rufus, and |others of you?| Ignatius of Antioch could not have been thus described. But who, it may be asked, were Zosimus and Rufus here mentioned as fellow-sufferers with Ignatius? They were exactly in the position which the words of Polycarp literally indicate; they were men of Philippi; and, as such, they are commemorated in the |Martyrologies.| [404:2] It is impossible, therefore, to avoid the conclusion that the Ignatius of Polycarp was also a Philippian.
It appears, then, that this testimony of the pastor of Smyrna has been strangely misunderstood. Ignatius, as is well known, was not a very uncommon name; and it would seem that several martyrs of the ancient Church bore this designation. Cyprian, for example, tells us of an Ignatius in Africa who was put to death for the profession of Christianity in the former part of the third century. [405:1] It is apparent from the words of Polycarp that there was also an Ignatius of Philippi, as well as an Ignatius of Antioch.
It may, however, be objected that the conclusion of this letter clearly points to Ignatius of Antioch, inasmuch as Polycarp there speaks apparently of Syria, and of some one interested about Ignatius who might shortly visit that country. [405:2] Some critics of high name have maintained that this portion of the epistle is destitute of authority, and that it has been added by a later hand to countenance the Ignatian forgery. [405:3] But every candid and discriminating reader may see that the charge is destitute of foundation. An Ignatian interpolator would not have so mismanaged his business. He would not have framed an appendix which, as we shall presently shew, testifies against himself. The passage to which such exception has been taken is unquestionably the true postscript of the letter, for it bears internal marks of genuineness.
In this postscript Polycarp says -- |What you know certainly both of Ignatius himself, and of those who are with him, communicate.| [405:4] Here is another proof that the Ignatius of Polycarp is not Ignatius of Antioch. The Syrian pastor is said to have been hurried with the utmost expedition to Rome that he might be thrown to the beasts before the approaching termination of the public spectacles; and it is reported that when he reached the great city, he was forthwith consigned to martyrdom. [406:1] But, though letters had been meanwhile passing between Philippi and Smyrna, this Ignatius is understood to be still alive. It would appear, too, that Zosimus and Rufus, previously named as his partners in tribulation, continued to be his companions. Polycarp, therefore, must be speaking of the |patience| of confessors who were yet |in bonds,| [406:2] and not of a man who had already been devoured by the lions.
Other parts of this postscript are equally embarrassing to those who contend for the authority of the Ignatian Epistles. Thus, Polycarp says -- |The Epistles of Ignatius which were sent to you by him, and whatever others we have by us, we have sent to you.| [406:3] If these words apply to Ignatius of Antioch, it follows that he must have written several letters to the Philippians; and yet it in now almost universally admitted that even the one extant epistle addressed to them in his name is an impudent fabrication. Again, Polycarp states -- |Ye have written to me, both ye and Ignatius, that when any one goes to Syria, he can carry my letters to you.| [406:4] But no such suggestion is to be found, either in the Syriac version of the Three Epistles, or in the larger edition known to Eusebius. Could we desire clearer proof that Polycarp must here be speaking of another Ignatius, and another correspondence?
The words which we have last quoted deserve an attentive consideration. Were a citizen of New York, in the postscript of a letter to a citizen of London, to suggest that his correspondent should take an opportunity of writing to him, when any common friend went to Jerusalem, the Englishman might well feel perplexed by such a communication. Why should a letter from London to New York travel round by Palestine? Such an arrangement would not, however, be a whit more absurd than that seemingly pointed out in this postscript. Philippi and Smyrna were not far distant, and there was considerable intercourse between them; but Syria was in another quarter of the Empire, and Polycarp could have rarely found an individual passing to Antioch from |the chief city| of a |part of Macedonia,| and travelling to and fro by Smyrna. This difficulty admits, however, of a very simple and satisfactory solution. We have no entire copy of the epistle in the original Greek, [407:1] and the text of the old Latin version in this place is so corrupt that it is partially unintelligible; [407:2] but as the context often guides us in the interpretation of a manuscript where it is blotted or torn, so here it may enable us to spell out the meaning. The insertion of one letter and the change of another in a single word [407:3] will render the passage intelligible. If we read Smyrna for Syria, the obscurity vanishes. Polycarp then says to the Philippians -- |Ye have written to me, both ye and Ignatius, that, when any one goes to Smyrna, he can carry my letters to you.| The postscript, thus understood, refers to the desire of his correspondents, that he should write frequently, and that, when a friend went from Philippi to Smyrna, he should not be permitted to return without letters.
As it can be thus shewn that the letter of Polycarp, when tested by impartial criticism, refuses to accredit the Epistles ascribed to Ignatius of Antioch, it follows that, with the single exception of Origen, no father of the first three centuries has noticed this correspondence. Had these letters, at the alleged date of their appearance, attracted such attention as they would themselves lead us to believe, is it possible that no writer for upwards of a century after the demise of their reputed author, would have bestowed upon them even a passing recognition? They convey the impression that, when Ignatius was on his way to Rome, all Asia Minor was moved at his presence -- that Greece caught the infection of excitement -- and that the Western capital itself awaited, with something like breathless anxiety, the arrival of the illustrious martyr. Strange, indeed, then that even his letter to the Romans is mentioned by no Western father until between two and three hundred years after the time of its assumed publication! Nor were Western writers wanting who would have sympathised with its spirit. It would have been quite to the taste of Tertullian, and he could have quoted it to shew that some of the peculiar principles of Montanism had been held by a man of the apostolic era. Nor can it be said that had the letter then been in existence, it was likely to have escaped his observation. He had lived for years in Rome, and we have good reason to believe that he was a presbyter of the Church of the Imperial city. A man of his inquiring spirit, and literary habits, must have been well acquainted with the Epistle had it obtained currency in Italy. But in not one of his numerous treatises does he ever speak of it, or even name its alleged author. [409:1] Hippolytus of Portus is another writer who might have been expected to know something of this production. He lived within a few miles of Rome, and he was conversant with the history of its Church and with its ecclesiastical memorials. He, as well as Tertullian, could have sympathised with the rugged and ascetic spirit pervading the Ignatian correspondence. But, even in his treatise against all heresies, he has not fortified his arguments by any testimony from these letters. He had evidently never heard, of the now far famed documents. [409:2]
The conclusion to be drawn from these facts must be sufficiently obvious. The Ignatian Epistles began to be fabricated in the time of Origen; and the first edition of them appeared, not at Troas or Smyrna, but in Syria or Palestine. At an early period festivals were kept in honour of the martyrs; and on his natal day, [409:3] why should not the Church of Antioch have something to tell of her great Ignatius? The Acts of his Martyrdom were probably written in the former part of the third century -- a time when the work of ecclesiastical forgery was rife [409:4] -- and the Epistle to the Romans, which is inserted in these Acts, is in all likelihood of earlier date than any of the other letters. The Epistle to the Ephesians, perhaps, next made its appearance, and then followed the Epistle to Polycarp. These letters gradually crept into circulation as |The Three Epistles of Ignatius, Bishop, and Martyr.| There is every reason to believe that, as edited by Dr Cureton, they are now presented to the public in their original language, as well as in their original form. Copies of these short letters are not known to be extant in any manuscript either Greek or Latin. Dr Cureton has not attempted any explanation of this emphatic fact. If the Epistle to the Romans, in its newly discovered form, is genuine, how does it happen that there are no previous traces of its existence in the Western Church? How are we to account for the extraordinary circumstance that the Church of Rome can produce no copy of it in either Greek or Latin? She had every reason to preserve such a document had it ever come into her possession; for, even considered as a pious fraud of the third century, the address |to her who sitteth at the head in the place of the country of the Romans,| [410:1] is one of the most ancient testimonies to her early pre-eminence to be found in the whole range of ecclesiastical literature. Why should she have permitted it to be supplanted by an interpolated document? Can any man, who adopts the views of Dr Cureton, fairly answer such an inquiry?
It is plain that the mistake or corruption of a word in the postscript of the Epistle of Polycarp has had much to do with this Ignatian imposture. In some worn or badly written manuscript, Syria was perhaps read instead of Smyrna, and the false reading probably led to the incubation of the whole brood of Ignatian letters. The error, whether of accident or design, was adopted by Eusebius, [411:1] and from him passed into general currency. We may thus best account for the strange multiplication of these Ignatian epistles. It was clear that the Ignatius spoken of by Polycarp had written more letters than what first appeared, [411:2] and thus the epistles to the Smyrnaeans, the Magnesians, the Trallians, and the Philadelphians, in due time emerged into notice. At a subsequent date the letters to the Philippians, the Antiochians, the Virgin Mary, and others, were forthcoming.
The variety of forms assumed by this Ignatian fraud is not the least remarkable circumstance connected with its mysterious history. All the seven Epistles mentioned by Eusebius exist in a Longer and a Shorter Recension; whilst the Syriac version exhibits three of them in a reduced size, and a third edition. It is a curious fact that other spurious productions display similar transformations. |A great number of spurious or interpolated works of the early ages of Christianity,| says Dr Cureton, |are found in two Recensions, a Shorter and a Longer, as in the instance of the Ignatian Epistles. Thus, we find the two Recensions of the Clementines, the two Recensions of the Acts of St Andrew, ..... the Acts of St Thomas, the Journeying of St John, the Letter of Pilate to Tiberius.| [411:3] It is still more suspicious that some of these spurious writings present a striking similarity in point of style to the Ignatian Epistles. [412:1] The standard coin of the realm is seldom put into the crucible, but articles of pewter or of lead are freely melted down and recast according to the will of the modeller. We cannot add a single leaf to a genuine flower, but an artificial rose may be exhibited in quite another form by a fresh process of manipulation. Such, too, has been the history of ancient ecclesiastical records. The genuine works of the fathers have come down to us in a state of wonderful preservation; and comparatively few attempts have been made, by interpolation or otherwise, to interfere with their integrity; [412:2] but spurious productions seem to have been considered legitimate subjects for the exercise of the art of the fabricator; and hence the strange discrepancies in their text which have so often puzzled their editors.