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75

Note by the editor.

See page 27.

To remove from the preceding preface the appearance of confusion which it presents, it is enough to remark, that in the course of citing testimonies in proof that his views on the subject of the perseverance of the saints had the sanction of antiquity, Owen, after a passing blow at the Clementine Constitutions, proceeds not only to impugn the integrity of the Ignatian Epistles, but to assail the reasonings of Dr Hammond in support of Episcopacy. On the former point, admitting generally that the documents known by the name of the Epistles of Ignatius might contain much that was the production of that early martyr, Owen represents them as so adulterated that no valid inference can be drawn from their contents. His reasons are, that high authorities, such as Vedelius, who brought out the Genevan edition of them, Calvin, De Saumaise, Blondel, the Magdeburg Centuriators, and Whitaker, had pronounced much of them to be spurious; that they contained passages from the Clementine Constitutions, a forgery, and of a date subsequent to the age of Ignatius; that the passages quoted from them by Theodoret and Jerome do not accord with, or rather do not exist in, the version of them extant; that the style of them is replete with turgid expressions, inconsistent with the simplicity of the early Christian writers; that Latin words occur in them, not likely to be employed by a Syrian like Ignatius; and that they contain expressions of overweening deference to the hierarchy, a species of government not in existence in the time of Ignatius. On such grounds, our author holds that these epistles resemble those children of the Jews by their strange wives, who “spake part the language of Ashdod, and part the language of the Jews.”

No doubt exists that Ignatius was the author of some epistles warning the church of his day against heretical opinions, which had begun to disturb its unity and peace; and early fathers of the church, Polycarp, Irenæus, Theophilus of Antioch, Origen, and Eusebius, make specific allusion to these epistles. The question is, What epistles are to be regarded as the genuine writings of Ignatius among three different collections purporting to be such; first, twelve epistles in Greek and Latin, with a long and expanded text; secondly, eleven epistles in Greek and Latin, of which seven are in a shorter text; and lastly, the three epistles in Syriac published by Mr Cureton, of which the text is shorter even than that of the last-mentioned collection?

From the strong support which many expressions in the first and second of these recensions lend to the hierarchical element in church-government, these documents were of importance in the controversy between Presbyterians and Episcopalians. While the text was yet unsettled, and different editions were issuing from the press, — one by Vedelius in 1623, giving seven Greek epistles, corresponding in name to those mentioned by Eusebius; another by Usher in 1644; another by Vossius in 1646, giving eight epistles, with part of a ninth, founded on a manuscript discovered at Florence, and hence, designated the Medicean Greek text, — certain writers, such as Claude de Saumaise (1641) and Blondel (1646), laboured to prove that these epistles bore traces of an age posterior to Ignatius. Dr Hammond (1651), in four dissertations, replied to them, defending the genuineness of the epistles, and episcopal government. It is in answer to this last work that Owen wrote the animadversions which form the digression in his preface to his work on the Perseverance of the Saints. Hammond published a rejoinder, in his “Answer to Animadversions on the Dissertations touching Ignatius’ Epistles,” etc.

The most important contributions to this controversy followed, and with them for a time it ceased. Daillé, in 1666, published a learned work, designed, according to the title-page, to prove three things, — that the epistles were spurious, that they were written after the time of Ignatius, and that they were of no higher authority than “The Cardinal Works of Christ,” a production commonly inserted among the remains of Cyprian. In 1672, Pearson, afterwards bishop of Chester published his “Vindiciæ Epistolarum S. Ignatii,” — long deemed conclusive by those who were in favour of the genuineness of the epistles, in spite of an able anonymous reply by Larroque in 1674, and the doubts that continued to be felt by many scholars who had made the epistles the subject of keen and critical investigation.

From this point no advance was made in the discussion, some authors contending for the long recension and some for the shorter, till the conjecture of Usher respecting the 76probability of a Syriac manuscript was verified, by the discovery of a Syriac version of the Epistle to Polycarp among some ancient manuscripts, procured by Archdeacon Tattam, in 1838 or 1839, from a monastery in the Desert of Nitria. Mr Cureton, who discovered the epistle among these manuscripts, set on foot a new search for other manuscripts. The result was, that the archdeacon, by a second expedition to Egypt, brought home in 1843 three entire epistles in Syriac, to Polycarp, to the Ephesians, and to the Romans. M. Pacho secured possession of another copy in 1847, which afterwards came under the examination of Mr Cureton.

It is the opinion of Mr Cureton and Chevalier Bunsen that these three Syriac epistles are the only genuine writings of Ignatius; — because the Syriac manuscript, transcribed most probably before a.d. 550, is of greater antiquity than any existing Greek manuscripts; — the epistles in Syriac are shorter than the same epistles as published by Usher in the Medicean text, while the sense comes out more clearly, from the omission of the parts found only in the Greek manuscripts; — passages in the latter, to which objections have been urged, as containing allusions to heresies (Valentinianism, for example) subsequent to the time of Ignatius, and sentences insisting on a superstitious deference to the hierarchy, do not appear in the Syriac; from which it would follow, either that these passages are spurious, and inserted since the time of the Syriac translator, or that he anticipated the objections of modern criticism, and confirmed them as just by deleting these passages; — there is perfect uniformity in the style of so much of these epistles in Greek as corresponds with the three Syriac epistles, while the discrepancy of style existing in the Greek recensions between the Epistle to Polycarp and the rest, the difference of matter in the Epistle to the Romans (in the Greek six times longer than in the Syriac), and the peculiar complexion of two chapters in the Epistle to the Trallians, transferred, as it now appears, from the Epistle to the Romans, had all been noticed previous to the discovery of the Syriac manuscripts, and had thrown an air of suspicion over all the epistles; — and the three epistles in the Syriac collection are the only epistles for which the evidence of antiquity, in the shape of testimonies and allusions in the writings of the early fathers, can be cited for upwards of two centuries after the death of Ignatius.

On the other hand, it has been argued that the Syriac version is probably an epitome of the Greek epistles; that such abridgments were common in ancient times; that the scope and sense is more clear in the Greek than in the Syriac; that a manuscript printed by Mr Cureton is a Syriac abridgment of these epistles, differing from that of the three considered by him to be genuine; that the events and opinions which seem to indicate a later age than that of the martyr may be explained by reference to his age; that in the third century quotations are found from all the epistles; and that Eusebius expressly names and describes seven epistles, a testimony repeated by Jerome.

At present the amount of evidence seems in favour of the three Syriac epistles, as all the genuine remains of Ignatius we possess. It is possible that. Syriac manuscripts of the other epistles may be discovered, although the claim of the former to be not only paramount but exclusive has been argued with great force, on the ground that had the latter existed, they would certainly have been the subject of appeal in many controversies by many fathers who utterly ignore them, as well as from the closing words of the recently discovered manuscripts, “Here end the three epistles of Ignatius, bishop and martyr.” Meanwhile it is satisfactory to know that the Syriac version leaves the argument for the authenticity and genuineness of the Scriptures very nearly where it stood. It contains references to two of the Gospels, to the Acts of the Apostles, and to five of Paul’s Epistles. Both the Epistles of Ignatius to the Ephesians and to the Romans, in the Syriac version, assert distinctly the Godhead of Christ.

But how fares the question of ecclesiastical polity, — the point which brought these epistles into dispute between Owen and Hammond, — by the discovery of the Syriac manuscript? All the passages in favour of the hierarchy disappear in it, except the following from the Epistle to Polycarp, “Look to the bishop, that God also may look upon you. I will be instead of the souls of those who are subject to the bishop, and the presbyters, and the deacons.” Are we to say here, like Neander in reference to all the Greek epistles, with the exception of the one to the Romans, which he admitted to possess greater marks of originality than the others, “a hierarchical purpose is not to be mistaken,” to pronounce it an interpolation or challenge the authenticity of the Syriac document? or are we to admit its genuineness, and accept it as evidence that Episcopacy dates so early as the time of Ignatius? or are we to question the import of the term “bishop,” so as to make it quadrate with Congregational or Presbyterian views? But these questions, while they illustrate the present state of the controversy, are beyond our province. — Ed.

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