Reviews of

Die Briefe des Ignatios von Antiochia: Motive, Strategien, Kontexte

In Apostolic Fathers, De Gruyter, Ignatius, Jonathon Lookadoo, Patristics, Peter von MOLLENDORFF, Thomas Johann BAUER on September 2, 2019 at 1:21 pm

2019.10.13 | Thomas Johann Bauer and Peter von Möllendorff, eds. Die Briefe des Ignatios von Antiochia: Motive, Strategien, Kontexte. Millennium-Studien 72. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018. pp. viii + 288. ISBN: 9783110604467.

Review by Jonathon Lookadoo, Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary, Seoul, Republic of Korea.

This volume edited by Bauer and von Möllendorff finds its origins in papers that were delivered to the twenty-fifth meeting of the Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft “Zweites Jahrhundert” at the Benediktbeuern Abbey in September 2017. Nine essays are collected that explore Ignatius’s letters from a variety of angles while simultaneously offering a cross-section of the current multiplicity of scholarly opinions on the date, authenticity, authorship, and purpose of the letters. This allows readers to gain a clear understanding of the issues that are under discussion in recent studies of Ignatius while also offering fresh insights into how Ignatius’s letters are best understood.

After the editors’ helpful introduction, Thomas Lechner’s contribution explores Ignatius alongside Second Sophistic rhetoric and in critical dialogue with Allen Brent. Josef Lössl follows this with a study of speech, silence, and listening in the Ignatian corpus. He shows how these motifs contribute to Ignatius’s rhetorical aims surrounding true doctrine, false teachings, and martyrdom. Thomas Johann Bauer follows this with an epistolary study of the prescripts and postscripts in the Ignatian corpus, demonstrating that these literary phenomena imitate the Pauline letters and present Ignatius as a second Paul. Karen Piepenbrink follows with a study of church order in the Ignatian letters. She argues that his understanding of ecclesial ministry is informed by his experience of conflict and must therefore be understood as genuinely situational.

Peter von Möllendorff explores spatial concepts in Ignatius’s letters and pays particularly close attention to imagery related to the sun. He proposes that Ignatius marks Smyrna out as the center by portraying Antioch and Rome as the eastern and western extremes. Ferdinand Prostmeier next asks the fascinating question, cui bono? By probing this question, Prostmeier aims to shed light on who might have benefitted from the Ignatian letters and in what situation they may have originated. Uta Heil examines the Lord’s Day in Ign. Magn. 9 and elsewhere in the second century. She argues that Ignatius’s understanding is not a reaction to Marcion and can be read alongside other second-century reflections on the importance of Sunday. Wilhelm Pratscher’s penultimate essay compares language about God in the Preaching of Peter (Kerygma Petri) and Ignatius’s letters, showing that there are notional similarities between the two but no hint of literary or tradition-historical links. Finally, Hanns Christof Brennecke expands the study of Ignatius to include the fourth-century long recension of the letters. After introducing the text, Brennecke argues that the long recension presents a homoean view of the Trinity and originated in the second-half of the fourth century.

Each contribution offers a wealth of knowledge about Ignatius and the world that he inhabited while simultaneously providing an insightful analysis into how the letters should be read. Yet perhaps the most beneficial element of the volume is the diverse perspectives that are put forward and that are made sharper by their juxtaposition in the same volume.

The clearest example of this may be found in the way in which contributors analyze the authorship and authenticity of the middle recension. This topic has long been disputed but has received fresh attention since the studies of Reinhard Hübner and Thomas Lechner in the late 1990s. Lechner’s essay in this volume supports his earlier arguments for dating Ignatius later in the second century by critically reviewing Brent’s thesis that Ignatius can be dated to the first-half of the second century based on similarities to Second Sophistic rhetoric. Prostmeier likewise argues that the middle recension was forged in the second-half of the second century and locates the origins of the corpus with the development of monepiscopacy in Rome. Bauer argues that the prescripts and postscripts show signs of being arranged as part of a seven-letter collection. If so, this may provide evidence for the pseudepigraphy hypothesis or would at least show that the letters had been revised. Lössl’s rhetorical analysis likewise posits an origin for the letters around 170 in Rome or Asia Minor. Hypotheses of a pseudepigraphic middle recension are not, however, the only viewpoints put forward in this volume. Piepenbrink argues that Ignatius’s descriptions of ecclesial order come from a genuine experience of conflict. If the letters are genuinely situational, this would provide strong grounds for viewing the middle recension as authentically Ignatian. Similarly, von Möllendorff thinks that Ignatius’s solar imagery is best placed alongside Revelation, 1 Clement, and the Pastorals. He thus regards a date in the first quarter of the second century as most likely.

Authorship is not the only matter on which the contributions in this volume offer fresh insights. One may first note the question of evidence when considering the issue of authorship. What evidence should one use in order to judge whether Ignatius’s letters are authentic or were forged later in the second century? Appeals are often made to the ecclesial order which Ignatius holds to so strongly, while one may also attempt to place the letters in a rhetorical or theological environment. Heil and Pratscher offer cautionary words for those attempting to do the latter. Their respective studies of Ignatius’s understanding of the Lord’s Day and language about God demonstrate the difficulties that one faces when attempting to date the Ignatian letters securely. Next, the volume opens a new question for Ignatian scholarship, namely, which letter is the center of the collection. Smyrna is proposed as the geographic center of the Ignatian compositional world by von Möllendorff. If so, Smyrnaeans and Polycarp may be given a unique place in the collection. However, Prostmeier views Romans as the center of the collection. This question is intriguing and suggests a new way in which to explore the Ignatian corpus. It does, however, assume that the letters were either composed as a collection or carefully ordered when arranged. Finally, Brennecke’s study of the long recension puts forward a strong case for viewing the forged epistles as a homoean composition. In so doing, he encourages Ignatian studies to continue to examine the complicated ways in which Ignatius’s letters were received and transmitted.

The evidence thus serves as a mirror that reflects the current controversies about the person of Ignatius and the collection of letters attributed to him. In so doing, the essays in this volume achieve the goal that the editors set out on page 7. Judged on its own terms, the book must therefore be called a success. Judged on the value that this volume has for scholars of Ignatius, it offers a series of insightful studies that provoke fresh thoughts about the Ignatian corpus and that offer a snapshot of current German-language scholarship on Ignatius. Those interested in studying Ignatius and libraries that support early Christian scholars will want to have access to this volume.

Jonathon Lookadoo
Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary
jonathon.lookadoo [at]



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