"Now note well those who hold heretical opinions about the grace of Jesus Christ which came to us; note how contrary they are to the mind of God. They have no concern for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the oppressed, none for the prisoner or the one released, none for the hungry or thirsty."The bishop does not offer an explicit rationale for connecting one to the other; indeed, this could appear to be an outright character assassination. I would rather suggest that this denunciation is grounded in the nature of the Docetic/Gnostic heresies: if material, physical existence is considered evil or unimportant, then Christian life and mission are essentially a matter of waiting out our present imprisonment in anticipation that God will free us from it. Therefore, there is no reason to build a positive, redemptive and redeemed common life here and now, and no impetus to alleviate the suffering of others. That would not be a Christian faith. Christian faith is a matter of believing in who Jesus is and what he has done and what he is doing and joining him in that. The Kingdom agenda is one of restoration and healing for the entire world that starts here and now in the Church.
The bottom line is that Jesus had a physical body, and this matters. It's how he saved us. We are his physical Body, who lead physical, redeemed lives in the present, and this leads to physical, redeemed lives in the future.
Ignatius continues speaking of his opponents:
"They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up."Whaaaat? The Docetists refuse the Holy Communion because since Jesus had no actual flesh and blood, it cannot be a participation in his flesh and blood. The really interesting thing here is that as early as c. AD 110, the head pastor of one of the first Christian churches took for granted that bread and wine, broken and blessed, was indeed the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Let's consider one more snippet of Ignatius' thought on the matter (Ig. Eph. 20.2):
"Continue to gather together, each and every one of you, collectively and individually by name, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who physically was a descendant of David, who is Son of man and Son of god, in order that you may obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ."Leaving aside the matter of Ignatius' enthusiasm for the monarchical episcopate, I want to make some observations about what we do and don't see in these words regarding the Eucharist.
There is no reason to suppose that Ignatius had read enough Aristotle to have in mind a technical and complicated theology that approaches anything like a Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. Indeed, any attempt to talk about the beliefs of early churches or the even the New Testament in terms of Reformation-era categories is to force people who lived more than fourteen centuries before the Enlightenment into the values and epistemology of that age. That's just poor history, to say nothing of lazy theologizing.
I find it provocative that so early in the life of the churches, one of its best-known bishops had a clearly mystical, clearly supernatural view of the cultic meal, and that Ignatius and other commentators who were so well versed in the apostolic writings would be so comfortable with it (See also Jared's essay, "Restoration, or Why I Look at the Exit Door," and To the Quiet: "Thoughts on the Eucharist").
I don't suggest that early writings are meant to be treated as canon, but that we must do business with them, as it were. Regarding the cultic practice of the Eucharist, I offer three affirmations and four denials:
- I believe in the mystical presence of Christ in and at the Eucharist, and that in our eating, we consume the life of God, and take the new life of Jesus into ourselves in a greater fullness.
- I believe that we make present again the ongoing salvation action of God in Christ at the atonement, and in so doing offer ourselves as sacrifices to God for the good of the world. The celebration of the holy mysteries shapes our live into a cruciform pattern.
- I believe that this meal is an eschatological action, which makes more real and more present the ultimate salvation and judgment of our God.
- I deny that faithfulness to and consistency with the Holy Scriptures ties me to an impoverished and minimalist theology of the sacraments. Indeed, I believe the opposite to be true: rich, sacramental theology grows out of the Scripture-reading and worship life of the Church.
- I deny the Enlightenment, modernist denial of the supernatural and mystical that has been taken up by so many faithful and well-meaning Protestant Christians.
- I deny the notion that any development in the life of the Church, regardless of how early or how broad, should be uncritically accepted and unconditionally obeyed.
- I deny the notion that any development in the life of the Church beyond the letter of the New Testament must be a deviation or a plunge down a slippery slope toward the abuses of medieval Roman Catholicism.