Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians

Ignatius begins his Epistle to the Trallians by commending Polybius, their bishop.  The office of bishop is returned to time and time again.  The bishop is pictured as the representative of the church (“I beheld your whole multitude in him.”), as the representative of Christ (“For, since ye are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ…”), and as the authorizer of Christian action (“It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing…”).  They are also to “be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ.”  Furthermore, deacons are “[the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ.”  After extolling the three offices, Ignatius declares, “Apart from these, there is no Church.”  Finally, he notes ominously that “he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.”

Yet, there is humility as well.  Ignatius recognizes that he himself is not an apostle (the end of ch.3 and beginning of ch.4), though he does possess great wisdom and insight.

Ch. 9 presents us with a beautiful summary of what would become the creed.  This certainly represents the high-water-mark of this epistle:

“Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life.”

Ignatius offers the Trallians his greetings and his prayers for their obedience to Jesus Christ.  And yet, at the conclusion of the letter, he calls again for the believers (“and especially the presbyters”) “to refresh the bishop, to the honour of the Father, of Jesus Christ, and of the apostles” and to “continue subject to the bishop…and in like manner to the presbytery.”

One can only imagine that Ignatius felt that these repeated emphases on the bishop were necessary to the survival of the early church.  Yet it must be pointed out that this developing ecclesiology sounds odd to our ears when we have just come from the pages of the

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