St Athanasius the Great — May 2nd

April 27, 2012

Several priests tell the story of the  life of St Athanasius the Great (feasts May 2nd and January 18th):

For further reading:

St Athanasius’ classic work On the Incarnation, translated by C. S. Lewis.

Fr. John Behr: The Shocking Truth About Christian Orthodoxy

April 8, 2012

We’re constantly hearing about reconstructions of the life of Christ or of early Christianity — where we are told “the real truth” about Jesus and the early Church. Fr. John Behr, dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary delivers an incisive critique of these views in a lecture given at Augustine College last month:

Seeds of Doubt for Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Name Jehovah # 2

March 24, 2012

Recently, a very good friend, knowing my background, asked me this question:

What would be a good thing to say to Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come to the door?  I don’t want to engage them, but I don’t want to offend them either . . .

I replied along these lines:

I guess that depends on what your goal is. If you don’t want to engage
them, then a polite and kind “no thank you” is sufficient.

However, if you want to plant a seed of doubt but don’t really want to get into discussions with them, you could ask something along this line:

“I really don’t have much time to discuss now. But, I do have a question that I’d like to ask. Perhaps we could discuss it briefly now or we could discus it at another time. My question, however, relates to your name: Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I understand that you guys believe that Christians are identified by using the name “Jehovah.”

[They might give a simple agreement to this statement or a more elaborate answer. It is imperative that you don’t allow the conversation to get side-tracked here. You still need to ask your question.]

“I’ve read the New Testament and I’m curious: I’ve never seen the name “Jehovah” in it. I understand that your translation has the name “Jehovah” in the New Testament but from what I’ve read there are no Greek manuscripts of the New Testament which have the name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in them.”

[Here is where you can ask your question. It is essential that you don’t go down other rabbit trails in discussing this topic. Stick to the question as it’s one that there really is no satisfactory answer for:]

Romans chapter 14 from the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (published by Jehovah's Witnesses)

“My question is: Is that true? Does the name “Jehovah” appear in any of the New Testament Greek manuscripts?”

[Now, it’s possible the conversation could take a few turns here. You’ll want to stay focused on your question and come back to it if the conversation strays. Some background: Witness leaders realize the liability of admitting that the name “Jehovah” does not appear in any of the Greek manuscripts. So, they have developed an elaborate theory that the name “Jehovah” was originally in the Greek New Testament but was removed. Did they find early New Testament Greek manuscripts with the name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” to prove their claim? No, they did not. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and not one contains “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.” This is your main line of evidence. Keep coming back to the New Testament Greek manuscript evidence. All the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have either “Lord” or “God” where the Witnesses’ Bible has inserted “Jehovah.”]

[If the Witness at your door declines to discuss this further, let them go and let them ponder your question. If they continue the discussion or return later with some answer, always come to the New Testament Greek manuscript evidence that shows there was no use of “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in the Greek New Testament. They may show you photocopies of Greek Old Testament (from the Septuagint version) with the name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.” That doesn’t answer your question about the Greek New Testament. Yes, there are a few Old Testament fragments of the Greek Septuagint which have “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” (YHWH) in them. The name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” occurs thousands of times in the Old Testament. That’s not related to the question you asked. You are asking about the Greek New Testament. The Greek New Testament, with over 5,000 manuscripts to establish its text, has no record of “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in it.]

[If you’ve decided to continue discussions on this subject: ask the Witness if they have an interlinear Greek-English New Testament. Most of them do and you can use it to your advantage. A sample page from their Interlinear is shown above. On the left is a standard Greek New Testament text with a word-for-word English translation underneath. On the right is their Bible version with the name “Jehovah” inserted. You can ask them:]

“What does the Greek text say? Does it say “Jehovah” or “Lord”?”

[Clearly it says “Lord.” Ask them if the name “Jehovah” appears anywhere in the Greek text of their Interlinear. It doesn’t. It only appears in the right hand column, which is their Bible version which has replaced “Lord” with “Jehovah.” They may possibly try to cite some later Hebrew versions of the New Testament for support of using “Jehovah” in the New Testament. You can see them listed in the footnotes of the page above, with the letter J. These are translations into Hebrew from the Greek New Testament and are only a few hundred years old. These Hebrew translations have no antiquity that compares with the Greek New Testament. Again, keep your topic narrowly focused to discussing the Greek New Testament and the Witness will have no substantial answer they can give. Many of them probably have never realized the liability or the implications of this. Additional questions you can ask:]

“So, we’re agreed that of the over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts we have available there are none that contain the name “Jehovah”?”

“If we accept the evidence as it exists, then don’t we have to admit that the early Christians did not emphasize the name “Jehovah” since it does not appear in any Greek New Testament manuscript?”

If you claim the name “Jehovah” was removed from the New Testament, do you have any evidence of New Testament Greek manuscripts that contain the name “Jehovah”?

“Which New Testament version would be more accurate: one which follows the Greek New Testament manuscripts or one that doesn’t?”

“How essential is it that Christians use the name “Jehovah”? If it doesn’t appear in the Greek New Testament manuscripts and since there are no early manuscripts of the New Testament with the name “Jehovah” in them, then is it really that important?”

If you refuse to get side-tracked onto other issues you will succeed in establishing an important contradiction to the Witness at your door. There are few issues more central to their belief system as emphasizing the name “Jehovah.” You will have shown that there is absolutely no New Testament Greek manuscript evidence that supports their contention that the early Christians used the name “Jehovah.” Instead, their explanations to counter this rely on a hoped for new manuscript find, a veritable “missing link,” which will finally vindicate their theory the name “Jehovah” was there in the New Testament, but was later removed.

Don’t expect the Witness to admit defeat in your presence. Instead, be content to have planted a seed of doubt about one of their most basic and distinguishing doctrines. If you want to continue discussions with them, there are some links below to suggest other similar contradictions you can point out in their teachings. But, having made your point that the early Christians did not emphasize the name “Jehovah,” you can stop there and pray that the seed you’ve planted may come to fruition someday.

For further reading:

Seeds of Doubt for Jehovah’s Witnesses — The Name Jehovah # 1

Jesus/Yahweh: The Name Above Every Name

Seeds of Doubt for Jehovah’s Witnesses — The 144,000 — Part One

Seeds of Doubt for Jehovah’s Witnesses — The 144,000 — Part Two

What’s Wrong With the Witnesses

A Memorial to a False Prophecy

Reading Recommendations re: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Some Lectures from the 2012 Winter Pastoral Conference of the Diocese of the South

February 18, 2012

Some outstanding lectures from the 2012 Winter Pastoral Conference of the Diocese of the South have just been posted online. More info on the conference can be seen in  this pdf flyer.

Speakers included Fr. Thomas Hopko and Dr. Albert Rossi, both of St. Vladimir’s Seminary — Fr. Hopko was dean of St. Vladimir’s up until 2002. In the last lecture, Fr. Hopko was a guest speaker at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Role of Gender and Sexuality in the Christian life

Purity: Youth, Family, Parish

The Power of Weakness: Reflections on Salvation, the Meaning of the Cross, and the Necessity of the Crucifixion

Florovsky on St. Ignatius of Antioch

November 11, 2011

Fr Georges Florovsky (1893-1979), a prominent Orthodox theologian, also taught at Harvard and Princeton

From the chapter, “The Earliest Christian Writers” in The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century by Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky:

The commonly accepted seven letters of St. Ignatius in their shorter form are exceedingly important documents in the history of Christian theology. They were written before 107, the commonly accepted time of his martyrdom in Rome. His letters are therefore an undisputed witness to the faith of the early Church. Those who find the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils difficult to accept will encounter difficulty with the thought of St. Ignatius. Again, it must be noted that these are not theological treatises but rather letters written by St. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, on his way to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts. They are in a very real sense existential letters written by one about to die, existential letters, which just happen to touch on theological subjects as well as moral ones. Indeed, it was the so-called “developed doctrine” contained in St. Ignatius’ letters, which caused some Protestant theologians to question their authenticity until Lightfoot and Harnack established the authenticity of the seven epistles. It was especially the 1885 edition by Lightfoot, which established permanently the authenticity of the seven letters in their Greek shorter versions.

In his Letter to the Ephesians (7), St. Ignatius writes, “There is only one physician — of flesh yet spiritual, born yet uncreated God become man, true life in death, sprung from both Mary and from God first subject to suffering and then incapable of it — Jesus Christ our Lord.” He is God Incarnate. In the same letter, he writes (18-20): “For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary, in God’s plan being sprung forth from both the seed of David and from the Holy Spirit. He was born and baptized that by His Passion he might sanctify water for God was revealing himself as a man to bring newness of eternal life. What God had prepared was now beginning. Therefore, everything was in confusion because the destruction of death was being executed.” “The New Man Jesus Christ is Son of man and Son of God.” In his Letter to the Romans he writes that Jesus Christ is the “only Son of the Father” and he is the Father’s thought — γνώμη.

In his Letter to the Magnesians, St. Ignatius writes of the co-eternality of Jesus Christ (6): “…Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from all eternity and in these last days has been made manifest.” The union of the Father and Son is explicitly stated (1): “I desire that they confess the union of Jesus with the Father.” “The Lord was completely one with the Father and never acted independently of him” (7). “Make speed, all of you, to one temple of God, to one altar, to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from the one and only Father, is eternally with that One, and to that One is now returned” (7). “God is one he has revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ, who is his Logos issuing from the silence” (8).

In his Letter to the Trallians, he poignantly describes the reality of the humanity of Jesus: “Be deaf, then, to any talk that ignores Jesus Christ, of David’s lineage, of Mary, he was truly — άληθΰς- — born, ate, and drank. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate. He was truly crucified and died in the sight of heaven and earth and of the powers of the nether world. He was truly raised from the dead, the Father having raised him, who in like manner will raise us also who believe in him — his Father, I say, will raise us in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have no true life” (9).

He writes more forcefully in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, “I extol Jesus Christ, the God who has granted you such wisdom… Regarding our Lord, you are absolutely convinced that on the human side he was actually sprung from David’s line, Son of God according to God’s will and power, actually born of a virgin, baptized by John and actually crucified for us in the flesh, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the Tetrarch. We are part of his fruit, which grew out of his most blessed Passion. And thus, by his resurrection, he raised a standard to rally his saints and faithful forever, whether Jews or Gentiles, in one body of his Church. He truly suffered, just as he truly raised himself. It is not as some unbelievers say, that his Passion was a sham. Those are they, who are a sham! For myself, I am convinced and believe that even after the resurrection he was in the flesh. Indeed, when he came to Peter and his friends, he said to them, Take hold of me, touch me and see that I am not a bodiless phantom.’ And they at once touched him and were convinced, clutching his body and his very breath. For this reason, they despised death itself, and proved its victors. Moreover, after the resurrection he ate and drank with them as a real human being, though even then he and the Father were spiritually — πνευματικώς — one.” In this same letter he writes that Jesus Christ is Perfect Man — τέλειος.

In his Letter to Polycarp, St. Ignatius writes, “You must not be panic-stricken by those who have an air of credibility but who teach heresy. Stand your ground like an anvil under the hammer.” He refers to Jesus Christ as the “Timeless, the Unseen, the One who became visible for our sakes, who was beyond touch and passion, yet who for our sakes became subject to suffering, and endured everything for us” (3). These are indeed a collection of powerful and explicit statements on the reality of the full humanity and the full Divinity of Jesus Christ. It is, as it was, a preamble to Chalcedon already at the turn of the first century. It is not an exaggeration to claim that his expressions foreshadow the later doctrine of άντίδοσις των ιδιωμάτων.

Such are some of St. Ignatius’ explicit comments on Christology. If one looks carefully at what he writes about the Eucharist, the hierarchy of the Church, the unity of the Church and the Church’s unity with the unity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, a deeper and even more vital Christology obtains. Everything, for example, that he writes about the Eucharist becomes meaningless without his belief in the Divinity of Christ. The Church is the “place of sacrifice” — θυσιαστήριοι — and the Eucharist is θυσία. He writes in his Letter to the Ephesians (19-20): “Meet together in common — every single one of you — in grace, in one faith and on Jesus Christ (who was of David’s line in his human nature, son of man and son of God) that you may obey the bishop and presbytery with undistracted mind; breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, our antidote to ensure that we shall not die but live in Jesus Christ forever.” In his Letter to the Philadelphians (3) he writes, “Take great care to keep one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup to unite us by his blood; one sanctuary, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons.” And in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, he writes (8), “All of you follow the bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father and the presbytery as the Apostles. Respect the deacons as the ordinance of God. Let no one do anything that pertains to the Church apart from the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist, which is under the bishop or one whom he has delegated. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, just as wherever Christ Jesus may be, there is the Catholic Church.”

This is the first written use, which has come down to us of the term “Catholic” Church. The word “catholic” means in Greek “universal” but the conception of catholicity cannot be measured by its world-wide expansion — “universality” does not express the Greek meaning exactly. Καθολική comes from καθ’ ολου, which first of all means the inner wholeness, not only of communion and in any case not of a simple empirical communion. Καθ’ ολου is not the same as κατά παντός. It belongs not to the phenomenal and empirical, but to the nominal and ontological plane. It describes the very essence and not the external manifestations. If “catholic” also means “universal,” it certainly is not an empirical universality but rather an ideal one: the communion of ideas, not of facts, is what is meant. St. Ignatius’ use of the word is precisely this. This word gives prominence to the orthodoxy of the Church, to the truth of the Church in contrast with the spirit of sectarian separatism and particularism. He is expressing the idea of integrity and purity.

Grillmeier correctly observes that St. Ignatius foreshadows the later definitions of the Ecumenical Councils. Grillmeier writes that from “Christ’s Godhead and manhood there arises the antithetic, two-member formula, so well loved in the later history of the dogma of Christ,” which emphasizes the distinction between the Divine and human nature in the one Lord. σαρκικός και πνευματικός; γεννητός και άγγένητος; εν άνθρωπω θeoς; εν θανάτω ζωή αληθινή; και εκ Μαρίας και εκ θeov; πρώτον παθητός και ποτε απαθής εστίν Ίησοΰς Χριστός ό Κύριος ημών.

Martyrdom of St Ignatius of Antioch — fresco detail from a church in North Africa

There is a tendency among some scholars to assume that if something is not mentioned in a text, the author had no knowledge of it. This is a fundamentally erroneous presupposition and hence an erroneous methodology. The assumption of this methodological approach or perspective misses the prime reality — a living Church was already in existence since Pentecost and that living Church knew the deposit about, which they preached, knew the tradition, which they had received and continued to impart in their missionary activity. Again, the statement by Karl Adam is significant: “Even if the Bible [the New Testament] did not exist, a Christian religious movement would be conceivable.” Indeed, not only conceivable but it actually existed without the New Testament as we know it for decades. And during that time, the Apostolic and Sub-Apostolic Church flourished with and in the fullness of faith. St. Ignatius is an excellent example of this precisely because his seven occasional letters were written so early and especially because of what he has to say about the “documents,” “the archives.” In his Letter to the Philadelphians, St. Ignatius writes (8): “When I heard some people saying, ‘If I do not find it in the original documents, I do not believe it.’” Here, the essence of the dispute was that the Old Testament, the Bible for the early Christians in its Greek Septuagint version, was the reference point of validity. The New Testament is not the criterion, precisely because it was still in process in the days of the early Church and it was certainly not used as a canonical authority in the earlier days of the life of St. Ignatius. It is the reality of the living Church, which gives rise to the New Testament and it is the Church, which determines the “canon” of the New Testament — there were numerous writings circulating, which claimed apostolic authorship and it was the Church, which determined, which of those were authentic. St. Ignatius then makes a statement, which confirms how the early Church understood its reality, its faith, its tradition, its authority: “To my mind it is Jesus Christ who is the original documents. The inviolable archives are his Cross and Death and his Resurrection and the faith that came by him.” St. Ignatius needs no written “documents,” needs no written “archives.” The historical, existential, and ontological reality of the God-Man Jesus Christ and his redemptive work is the truth of the faith — he is oral “document” of the living God. He knows of this through the tradition, through that which was delivered, through the deposit, which was preserved and handed down in its original purity of content and fullness.

It is historically interesting to take even a casual look at St. Ignatius’ occasional, ad hoc, non-systematic, hastily written letters, for in these seven brief letters St. Ignatius just happens to touch on many of the basic principles of the faith of the living Church, a faith not recorded in a “document” but a faith that has been preserved and delivered faithfully from Christ to the Apostles to the episcopate. The main purpose of all seven letters is two-fold: it is to urge unity and also to convince the churches to which he writes not to interfere with his desire for martyrdom, his desire to “imitate the Passion of Christ God.” And yet we find in these brief pages a rather broad Christian theology in skeletal form. The reality of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is mentioned (in “Son, Father, and Spirit;” “to Christ, to the Father, and to the Spirit;” the Spirit “comes from God;” “the most High Father and Jesus Christ, his only Son”). He has no hesitation to speak of grace and deeds, of a justification by grace and one of deeds, implying an existential understanding of the synergistic relationship between grace and spiritual freedom, between grace and “works.” And from the totality of his seven brief letters, it is clear that everything is a gift from God. It is also clear that man participates in this gift, in his salvation. St. Ignatius also has no hesitation in speaking about predestination, election, and freedom. They all cohere for him in one theological vision. For him there is no tension between predestination and freedom. This is not a result of his inability to see a potential theological problem. Rather it is natural, instinctive, intuitive, and apostolic understanding of the vision of salvation, a salvation which comes from God and in which man participates, a salvation which is a gift but one, which must be received.

St. Ignatius speaks equally of the spiritual nature and the external structure of the Church — the bishops, presbytery, deacons (the “bishops reflect the mind of Jesus Christ;” the Church has a unique “intimacy” with Jesus Christ, as Jesus Christ has with the Father; the Church is “a choir, so that in perfect harmony and with a pitch taken from God,” it “may sing in unison and with one voice to the Father through Jesus Christ”). Jesus Christ is our inseparable life — το αδιάκριτον ημών ζήν, without whom we have no true life — το αληθινόν ζήν ουκ εχομεν.

St. Ignatius’ stress on the “imitation of Christ” is a theme that will be repeated often in the history of Christian spirituality. His specific idea of the “imitation of the Passion of Jesus Christ” is expressed in vivid, fervid terms (“Let me be fodder for wild beasts — that is how I can attain to God. I am God’s wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ;” “Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil — only let me get to Jesus Christ!”). This has struck many as an exaggerated form of spirituality, as one of arrogance. Yet St. Ignatius is quite humble in this respect. For him the process of salvation is dynamic and he in no sense sees his desire as a superior spirituality (“I am only beginning to be a disciple;” — “I am going through the pangs of being born Do not stand in the way of my coming to life”).

He is ever conscious of the importance, the necessity of a spiritual solidarity among Christians (“I needed your coaching in faith, encouragement.” — “Do not try to convince yourselves that anything done on your own is commendable. Only what you do together is right. Hence, you must have one prayer, one petition, one mind, one hope, dominated by love and unsullied joy — that means you must have Jesus Christ!”). He knows the pain he is to face, yet he is ever mentioning the God-given joy and the overflowing mercy of God. He is on guard against pride and boasting: “I keep my limits, lest boasting should be my undoing. For what I need most at this point is to be on my guard and not to heed flatterers. Those are my scourge.” He is fully aware that his desire is an “impetuous ambition” and this causes “all the more a struggle” within him. He exclaims that what he needs is “gentleness.” For those who think his desire is extreme, it must be admitted that his attitude towards it is spiritually balanced: “I endure all things because he gives me the power who is Perfect Man.”

The relics of St. Ignatius of Antioch were transferred to the church of St Clement in Rome in 637 AD

St. Ignatius stresses that we must “not only be called Christians but we must be Christians.” For him the Christian life was Christocentric, for through the God-Man all things come from the Father and return to the Father. The Christocentric emphasis of the Christian life is a constant motif in his letters — the constant mention of “the blood of Christ;” “love” as a hymn to Jesus Christ; the “mind of Christ” is “the Father’s mind;” “Jesus Christ is God’s knowledge;” the “Name” of Jesus is sacred; the Cross, the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection of Christ are the foundations of our “Hope,” creating, through the Incarnation, the path to our redemption; “if we live in union with him now, we shall gain eternal life,” we shall rise with him. Through “initiation” into the mysteries [sacraments], through faith, love, continual prayer, and fasting, we can have Christ “within us.” And, through union with Christ, “in faith and love in the Son and Father and Spirit” we shall have “increasing insight” and we shall rise with him, for true freedom is only in union with the Risen Christ.

St. Ignatius highlights a basic theology of worship and sacramental, liturgical life. The Eucharist is for him “the medicine of immortality.” He has, as is apparent, a developed theology of the unity of the Church. Conversely, he has a theological attitude towards heresy: “He who fails to join in your worship shows his arrogance by the very fact of becoming a schismatic… If then, those who act carnally suffer death, how much more shall those who by wicked teaching corrupt God’s faith for which Jesus Christ was crucified. Such a vile creature will go to the unquenchable fire along with anyone who listens to him.”

A theology of faith and love weaves its way through his letters: “Your faith is what lifts you up; while love is the way you ascend to God Faith is the beginning, and love is the end.” The dynamism in the process of salvation is constantly emphasized: “For what matters is not a momentary act of professing, but being persistently motivated by faith.”

St. Ignatius has an interesting theological insight into the spiritual importance of silence: “It is better to keep quiet and be real than to chatter and be unreal… He who has really grasped what Jesus said can appreciate his silence. Thus, he will be perfect: his words will mean action and his very silence will reveal his character.”

The great exclamatory Easter hymn in the Byzantine liturgy Χριστός ανέστη εκ νεκρων, θανάτω θάνατον πάτησας — is adumbrated by St. Ignatius: Christ’s death is described as “the destruction of death.” This realism carries over to the sanctification of the material world in the theology of St. Ignatius: Christ’s baptism “sanctifies water” and the pouring of ointment on the Lord’s head passes on “the aroma of incorruption to the Church.”

The deepest parts of the interior life of a person are not neglected in his thought: “all secrets are known and will be revealed.” But repentance and forgiveness by the overflowing mercy of the grace of God are not neglected either: “The Lord forgives all who repent.”

It is clear that the Church already at the time of St. Ignatius believed that marriage must be approved and blessed by the Church: “it is right for men and women who marry to be united with the bishop’s approval.” Already there is implicit here the sacramental nature of marriage.

Simultaneous with his theology of the active Christian spiritual life of continual prayer, humility, love, faith, constant participation in the sacramental life of the Church, simultaneous with his theology of the “imitation of the Passion of Christ God” is a theology of the “social gospel.” He places great stress on concern and care for widows, orphans, the oppressed, those in prison, those released from prison who are in need of help and guidance, those who are hungry and thirsty. His social concern extends to slaves who must not be treated “contemptuously.” He even emphasizes the spiritual importance of “taking an interest in those to whom you talk.”

This sketch of some of the subjects St. Ignatius just happens to address in his seven occasional letters reveals that he certainly had a grasp of the fullness of the Christian life and faith. The early date of these letters and their spontaneous, occasional nature cannot be overstressed. They are vital “documents” of a faith that was not rooted in “documents” or “archives” but rather rooted in the delivered tradition about the living person of Jesus Christ, divine and human, yet One Lord and One Eternally with the Father. It is not an exaggeration to point out that the definition of the Council of Chalcedon can is foreshadowed in general idea in the brief, occasional letters of St. Ignatius, letters, which predate 107.


Resources on St. Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch (Wikipedia)

Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch (Lake translation — parallel Greek/English)

Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch (Lightfoot/Harmer translation)

Audio recordings of the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch (Lightfoot translation)

St Ignatius of Antioch — audio lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald

Ignatius of Antioch’s View of the Trinity

The Eucharist in the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch

Is Jesus Christ a Myth? Part Four

January 8, 2011

By James Hannam

Editor’s Note: The first part in this series introduced the question of whether Jesus Christ was an actual historical person or a mythological fabrication, the second part discussed the allegation that the Jesus story is assembled from bits and pieces of pagan mythology, and the third part considered what evidence can be gleaned from the letters of Paul. The present installment employs the rhetorical strategies of the Jesus Mythologists to ‘prove’ that Hannibal never existed.

In the first three parts of this series, I have discussed the evidence for Jesus in non-Christian sources, the flimsiness of alleged pagan parallels with Jesus’ life, and the evidence for the historical Jesus in the letters of Paul. In this last post, I want to consider how it would look if we used the kind of logic that Christ Mythologists employ to examine another figure in ancient history.

When I published this spoof a few years ago on the Secular Web’s discussion board it was taken seriously even though, with hindsight, it seems absurd. The comments in italics are annotations to bring out points of similarity with the various Christ Myth theses in currency. I would invite any Christ Mythologist to explain to me the substantial differences between their theory and the spurious one below.

Did Hannibal Really Exist?

To ask whether or not the great Carthaginian general Hannibal ever actually existed might seem rather pointless. It might be an exercise for a student learning about the nature of historical evidence, but not something any serious scholar would waste time on. But maybe we should not be too hasty in acquiescing with the opinion of establishment historians (in other words, there’s a plot by academics stifling debate).

In fact, although there is plenty of writing about Hannibal, none of it is contemporary and there is no archaeological evidence for him at all (not surprising given the Romans razed the city from whence he came). Furthermore he is not mentioned in any Carthaginian sources, which is incredible, given he was supposed to be their greatest leader (there are no Carthaginian sources as the Romans burnt their city down)! We find when we actually try to pin him down he tends to recede further into the mists of time. His exploits, such as leading elephants over the Alps, are clearly legendary (the skeptic pretends to be incredulous but seems happy to buy his own amazing theory) and it is not hard to find a motive for the creation of this colorful character by Roman writers (as long we can invent a motive for fabrication we can assume that fabrication exists).

Rome and Carthage were great trading rivals in the Western Mediterranean and it did not take them long to come to blows. Rome signed a peace treaty but, under the leadership of the elder Cato, desperately wanted to rid itself permanently of the competition (this is actually true and so helps to conceal the moment when we slip into fantasy). The Romans needed an excuse and the idea they developed was brilliant. Like many ancient civilizations, the Romans rewrote history as it suited them to exhibit their own prowess (a useful and exaggerated generalization). Consequently we should not be surprised to find that they invented a great enemy from Carthage to demonstrate the threat still existed and justify a further war to wipe them out.

The author of the fiction was Cato himself (we need someone to point the finger at; note also how there is no distinction made between the background material above and theorizing here), as Cato wrote the earliest Roman History (true as well, as it happens). But it was intended simply as a justification for a further war with Carthage. It contained the details of Hannibal’s alleged campaigns against the Romans, including his victories on Italian soil (Cato’s history has conveniently not survived so we can speculate freely about what it contained). Cato brilliantly combined the truth with his own anti-Carthaginian propaganda with the intention of goading Rome into another wholly unjustified war with the old enemy (give the fabricator lots of credit for his invention). Once the war was over and Carthage was razed to the ground, the Romans were able to ensure that only their version of history survived (this is important as it enables all other sources to be declared forgeries).

Therefore the myth of the great Carthaginian war leader became an accepted fact. Later Roman historians like the notoriously unreliable Livy (we have to denigrate counter sources) simply assumed Cato’s fabrications were true (because the ancients were stupid and simply could not do any research themselves).


In history there is little that is certain, but there is also a level of skepticism that makes the task of the historian impossible. With such skepticism, we could happily reject the existence of almost anyone we like, including such influential figures as Hannibal. Furthermore, the thesis that Jesus never existed requires selective skepticism about which sources are reliable and how others are interpreted. In the end, if Jesus did not exist, the rise of Christianity is even more incredible and all but impossible to explain.

Reprinted with permission of the author. Source.

James Hannam earned degrees in physics and history from Oxford and London universities, and his doctorate in the history of science from Cambridge University. He blogs at and recently published God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (London, 2009), the first history of medieval science written for the layperson. The book was recently shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize for 2010.

Is Jesus Christ a Myth? Part Three

January 4, 2011

By James Hannam

Editor’s Note: The first installment in this series introduced the question of whether Jesus Christ was an actual historical person or a mythological fabrication, and the second part discussed the allegation that the Jesus story is assembled from bits and pieces of pagan mythology. The present installment considers what the letters of the apostle Paul attest about the life of Jesus.

The Non-Silence of Paul

The theory that Jesus never existed started life in pseudo-scholarly circles with the fact that Paul does not say very much about Jesus’ life or ministry. The earliest Pauline letters are generally believed to have been written within twenty years of Jesus’ death. So, it is instructive to find out what Paul actually did say. With that in mind, here is a list of what Paul had to say about Jesus in his letters, together with the scriptural reference.

  • Jesus was born in human fashion, as a Jew, and had a ministry to the Jews. (Galatians 4:4)
  • Jesus was referred to as “Son of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
  • Jesus was a direct descendant of King David. (Romans 1:3)
  • Jesus prayed to God using the term “Abba.” (Galatians 4:6)
  • Jesus expressly forbade divorce. (1 Corinthians 7:10)
  • Jesus taught that “preachers” should be paid for their preaching. (1 Corinthians 9:14)
  • Jesus taught about the end-time. (1 Thessalonians 4:15)
  • Paul refers to Peter by the name Cephas (rock), which was the name Jesus gave to him. (1 Corinthians 3:22)
  • Jesus had a brother named James. (Galatians 1:19)
  • Jesus initiated the Lord’s Supper and referred to the bread and the cup. (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
  • Jesus was betrayed on the night of the Lord’s Supper. (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
  • Jesus’ death was related to the Passover Celebration. (1 Corinthians 5:7)
  • The death of Jesus was at the hands of earthly rulers. (1 Corinthians 2:8)
  • Jesus underwent abuse and humiliation. (Romans 15:3)
  • Jewish authorities were involved with Jesus’ death. (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)
  • Jesus died by crucifixion. (2 Corinthians 13:4, et. al.)
  • Jesus was physically buried. (1 Corinthians 15:4)

It turns out that careful analysis of his letters shows that Paul was not actually all that silent about the historical Jesus at all. The first reaction to all this from the Christ Mythologist is to dispute that Paul wrote very many of these letters. But seven of the Pauline letters are completely undisputed, and all of the facts about Jesus’ life listed above come from these seven. It is ironic that the pastoral epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, which many scholars insist are late (and date from after the synoptic Gospels), contain practically no details about the life of Jesus at all.

As there are still rather a lot of details about the historical Jesus in the undisputed letters, the Christ Mythologist will use special pleading to try and explain them away, as though Paul himself were constructing the Jesus myth. But as we can see, Paul is not attempting to tell Jesus’ life story, he is just using the odd snippet about Jesus where it is helpful to illustrate his point. He knows that his readers are aware of what happened because all of his letters are addressed to people who are already Christians. He is not trying to convert them and he is not engaged in apologetics.

If we look at the letters of the early Christian fathers, they rarely have details about the life of Jesus except in passing because they know their readers are familiar with the Gospels. What we today call the Gospels had not, of course, been written down at the time that Paul was preaching. However, oral communication was considered to be more reliable than the written word at the time. The people to whom Paul wrote had heard about Jesus already. They did not need a revision primer but specific advice about problems and controversies. Of course, none of this will convince the Christ Mythologist who just cannot understand why Paul does not just repeat verbatim to his correspondents what he has already told them in person.

In short, the silence of Paul about Jesus is something of a myth in itself.

The fourth part in this series, which uses the methods of the Jesus Mythologists to ‘prove’ that Hannibal never existed, will be published soon.  Reprinted with permission of the author. Source.

James Hannam earned degrees in physics and history from Oxford and London universities, and his doctorate in the history of science from Cambridge University. He blogs at and recently published God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (London, 2009), the first history of medieval science written for the layperson. The book was recently shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize for 2010.