Sunday, June 07, 2009

John Calvin's Rejection of the Epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 110)

By Dave Armstrong (6-7-09)

The Catholic Encyclopedia ("St. Ignatius of Antioch") provides an overview summary, with which we can begin our closer examination (my bolding):
At intervals during the last several centuries a warm controversy has been carried on by patrologists concerning the authenticity of the Ignatian letters. Each particular recension has had its apologists and its opponents. Each has been favored to the exclusion of all the others, and all, in turn, have been collectively rejected, especially by the coreligionists of Calvin. The reformer himself, in language as violent as it is uncritical (Institutes, 1-3), repudiates in globo the letters which so completely discredit his own peculiar views on ecclesiastical government. The convincing evidence which the letters bear to the Divine origin of Catholic doctrine is not conducive to predisposing non-Catholic critics in their favor, in fact, it has added not a little to the heat of the controversy. In general, Catholic and Anglican scholars are ranged on the side of the letters written to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrniots, and to Polycarp; whilst Presbyterians, as a rule, and perhaps a priori, repudiate everything claiming Ignatian authorship.
Calvin exclaimed in his Institutes:
With regard to what they pretend as to Ignatius, if they would have it to be of the least importance, let them prove that the apostles enacted laws concerning Lent, and other corruptions. Nothing can be more nauseating, than the absurdities which have been published under the name of Ignatius; and therefore, the conduct of those who provide themselves with such masks for deception is the less entitled to toleration.

(Book I, Chapter 13, Section 29)
And again in his commentary for Philippians 4:3:
Those who maintain this, quote Clement and Ignatius as their authorities. If they quoted correctly, I would not certainly despise men of such eminence. But as writings are brought forward from Eusebius which are spurious, and were contrived by ignorant monks, they are not deserving of much credit among readers of sound judgment.

Let us, therefore, inquire as to the thing itself, without taking any false impression from the opinions of men.

Presbyterian W. D. Killen wrote a book in 1886, entitled, The Ignatian Epistles Entirely Spurious. Here is an excerpt, where he mentions Calvin:
The question of the genuineness of the Epistles attributed to Ignatius of Antioch has continued to awaken interest ever since the period of the Reformation. That great religious revolution gave an immense impetus to the critical spirit; and when brought under the light of its examination not a few documents the claims of which had long passed unchallenged were summarily pronounced spurious. Eusebius writing in the fourth century names only seven letters as attributed to Ignatius; but long before the days of Luther more than double that number were in circulation. Many of these were speedily condemned by the critics of the sixteenth century. Even the seven recognised by Eusebius were regarded with grave suspicion; and Calvin--who then stood at the head of Protestant theologians--did not hesitate to denounce the whole of them as forgeries. The work long employed as a text-book in Cambridge and Oxford was the Institutes of the Reformer of Geneva; [Endnote 2:1] and as his views on this subject are there proclaimed very emphatically [2:2] we may presume that the entire body of the Ignatian literature was at that time viewed with distrust by the leaders of thought in the English universities.
Elsewhere in the book, he greatly extolled Calvin for his (now thoroughly discredited) opinions:
[I]t is no mean proof of the sagacity of the great Calvin that upwards of three centuries ago he passed a sweeping condemnation on these Ignatian epistles. . . . Calvin knew that an apostolic man must be acquainted with apostolic doctrine, and he saw that these letters must have been the production of an age when the pure light of Christianity was greatly obscured. Hence he denounced them so emphatically; and time has verified his deliverance.

(cited in Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, John McClintock, pp. 492-493)
Robert Ellis Thompson (Presbyterian) notes:
In 1557 Valentin Pacaeus published in Greek twelve epistles bearing the name of Ignatius of Antioch. Their genuineness was at once called into question by Calvin and other good scholars, but they were treated as an authority for primitive episcopacy by Drs. Whitgift, Hooker, Andrews, Hall and others who favored that form of government.

(The Historic Episcopate, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1910, p. 76)
Protestant historian Philip Schaff concurs:
The Larger Greek Recension of Seven Epistles with eight additional ones. Four of them were published in Latin at Paris, 1495, as an appendix to another book; eleven more by Faber Stapulensis, also in Latin, at Paris, 1498; then all fifteen in Greek by Valentine Hartung (called Paceus or Irenaeus) at Dillingen, 1557; and twelve by Andreas Gesner at Zurich, 1560. The Catholics at first accepted them all as genuine works of Ignatius; and Hartung, Baronius, Bellarmin defended at least twelve; but Calvin and the Magdeburg Centuriators rejected them all, and later Catholics surrendered at least eight as utterly untenable.

(History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325, chapter 13, § 165. The Ignatian Controversy)
William Cureton, an important and key Ignatian scholar, also confirms this assessment:
. . . others, with J. Calvin, did not scruple to denounce the whole as a barefaced and stupid forgery.

(Corpus Ignatianum: A Complete Collection of the Ignatian Epistles, London: Francis & John Rivington, 1849, p. xvii)
A recent book on the apostolic fathers reiterates not only Calvin's, but general Protestant opposition to the authenticity of the seven Ignatian letters now generally accepted:
Catholic scholars generally defended the authenticity of the letters because of the obvious polemical value of Ignatius's early date and emphasis on the monepiscopal form of church structure, while Protestants generally denied their authenticity for similar reasons. . . .
Not until the independent work of Theodor Zahn (1873) and J. B. Lightfoot (1885) was general recognition of the authenticity of the seven letters contained in the middle recension attained. Recent challenges to the current consensus have not altered the situation.

(The Apostolic Fathers, second edition, translated by J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, edited and revised by Michael W. Holmes, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989, p. 83)
So, not only did Calvin not accept what St. Ignatius taught in his epistles; he didn't even accept them as genuine. So he can hardly have incorporated the data therein into his anti-Catholic apologetic. For him, the Ignatian corpus was entirely out of the equation of Protestant-Catholic disputation.



Bryan Castleman said...

To accept all of the spurious letters as genuine is not any better than to reject them all. Is it ?

Calvin deserves some credit for being able to pick out some of the errors within the spurious epistles.

Schaff describes the details that gave some of those spurious epistles away in his "Introductory Note to the Spurious Epistles of Ignatius" within Volume 1 of ANTE-NICENE FATHERS The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus

I think it would be worse for some of those details to escape a scholar and to validate the fakes as genuine. Maybe not.

When Calvin says:
"With regard to what they pretend as to Ignatius, if they would have it to be of the least importance, let them prove that the apostles enacted laws concerning Lent, and other corruptions. Nothing can be more nauseating, than the absurdities which have been published under the name of Ignatius; and therefore, the conduct of those who provide themselves with such masks for deception is the less entitled to toleration."

(Book I, Chapter 13, Section 29)

Is he not referring to one of those spurious epistles ?

It looks like he might be mentioning the spurious Epistle to the Phillippians where the writer states:

"Despise not the period of forty days, for it comprises an imitation of the conduct of the Lord."

If that is true, than the quote only supports the discerning eye of Calvin.

I'm still not entirely convinced Calvin wrote all of the epistles of Ignatius off. If Schaff said it, I would believe he must have had good reasons. I just haven't read them myself.

I would think there would be better quotes to choose from to show that Calvin indeed rejected all of Ignatius.

But, I'm no scholar and don't pretend to be one.

Dave Armstrong said...

Good points. The most interesting aspect of all this to me is my strong suspicion that Calvin dismissed them simply because they "sounded too Catholic"; therefore could not be early or authentic. This is a strong tendency in terms of Protestant bias. If anything seems "Catholic" at all, the flags go up in knee jerk fashion.