Wednesday, August 27, 2008

St. Ignatius and Bishops

St. Ignatius of Antioch (50-117AD *at the latest) was a bishop in the VERY early Church, he was the 3rd in line of succession to the apostles themselves as bishop of Antioch meaning that the church there was ruled by St. Peter then Evodius, then Ignatius, he was a friend of Polycarp (a disciple/successor of St. John himself, who lived with and was taught by Christ).

All this to say, he was in very early church history. By the end of the second century there were bishops over the priesthood/presbyteries in all areas of Christendom.

"Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself" - St. Ignatius (epistle to the Ephesians 6:1.)

"It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil." - Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 9

"See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. " -Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 8

In the beginning of Acts we see Judas' place in the apostles filled in with the Consecration of Matthias in his place. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Traditional Anglican teaching say that this is the first consecration of a bishop, and thus has the line of bishops proceeded until this very day, and that in essence they are the successors to the apostles, not equal in power or authority, but authorized as their successors, and as such have the authority to cast out demons (authorize exorcisms), interpret Scripture (church councils/ecumenical councils, as well as things like the Lambeth conference), discipline the church and excommunicate (see Catholic bishops and Pro-Choice politicians), and appoint priests.

St. Irenaeus said that the bishop had "charisma veritatis certum" - that is "an infallible charism (gift) of truth", and St. Cyrian... well we all know what he thought about them. And clearly St. Ignatius challenges the idea that we can have a valid priesthood/pastorate, Eucharist/Communion, or any assurance of truth without being subordinate to a bishop in the line of the apostles. So the question is -for one who respects the Tradition of the Early Church- Catholic? Orthodox? Anglican? (or European Lutheran)?

sorry Presbyterianism, and Congregationalism, you've been put on notice! (as St. Stephen Colbert would say)


  1. I think the Episcopate has very early formative support. However, looking at Phillipians, where Paul addresses multiple episkopos in one city, it is clear in Paul's time, there was not a one bishop per city form as later. Also, the Letter of Clement belies more of a group of elders writing to another group of elders (at least according to Michael Holmes, who edited the 3rd edition of the Apostolic Fathers). An Episcopacy is not a Scriptural mandate or a prohibition. I see a strong case for Presbyterian government in Acts 15, and so have preference for it (or the synod government of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod). Hans Kung, a catholic, also said there is no Biblical specific structure mandating Episcopacy. I do believe independent churches have little support in Scripture, so would stay in the Presbyterian/Synod or Episcopal side of the question as Biblically compatable answers. Presbyterianism also fits my anthropology: better to have multiple leaders since men are evil and perhaps that can be dilluted with multiple elders rather than one bishop (case in point: Pope Leo X).

  2. But Jared's explanation is contrary to what the Apostles actually handed on to the world: a strong episcopacy, which is a historical fact and is universally present in the Early Church. Perhaps Protestants understand something that the entire Early Church didn't, but I would rather err on the side of the people who knew the Apostles than those who do not.

  3. I think that many Catholic Theologians have stated that the Episcopate is not directly explicit in Scripture, however it is implicit, there is that passage in Acts 1, there is the Church government explained in 1 Timothy. Christians have always believed that solitary leaders were sinful and could be corrupted, however that is a secondary doctrine to the Infallibility of the Church, and thus it is a risk worth the bargain of orthodoxy. Though there is no debate that bishops have abused their power. (see almost every pope)