Ignatius’ Letter to Polycarp

In this brief letter to Polycarp, Ignatius imparts wisdom to his brother in the Lord along with encouragement.  This is all the more moving when we remember that Ignatius is fast approaching his own death at this point.  As such, we can be sure that the coming affliction and his knowledge of the approaching end burned the dross out of Ignatius’ advice.  What we have, then, is the seasoned wisdom of a great man of God who realizes that his end is near and does not have time to waste words.

Ignatius uses Pauline imagery in ch.1 when he encourages Polycarp to “bear the infirmities of all, as being a perfect athlete [in the Christian life]: where the labour is great, the gain is all the more.”  Was Ignatius saying this just to Polycarp, or was he also saying this to himself?

Concerning those who are opposing Polycarp’s ministry, Ignatius gives wise advice:

“If thou lovest the good disciples, no thanks are due to thee on that account; but rather seek by meekness to subdue the more troublesome.  Every kind of wound is not healed with the same plaster.”

This sagely and practical advice would serve many a modern minster well, if heeded.  In fact, I have often been struck by the pastoral wisdom of these early writing and of how foolish we are to pass them by in favor of the latest fad or leadership scheme.  For instance, where can ministers find this kind of advice today:

“Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten.  It is the part of a noble athlete to be wounded, and yet to conquer.”

Interestingly, we also find what I believe is the first reference to weddings in the patristic writings.  In ch.5, Ignatius says that “it becomes both men and women who marry to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust.”  No doubt detractors would see this as evidence of increasing ecclesiastical control of marriages, but Ignatius’ concerns are no-doubt pastoral.  He is wanting to ensure that marriage bonds are created and confirmed under the guidance of godly ministers and in the name of Jesus Christ.

Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans

Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans is a moving and impassioned defense of the humanity of Christ and the reality of His sufferings against the Docetic argument that Christ only appeared to suffer but did not and could not truly suffer in His body.  Ignatius’ defense necessarily steers this epistle in a strong Christocentric and crucicentric direction.

The epistle contains yet another summary of the gospel itself:

“For I have observed that ye are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if ye were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded with respect to our Lord, that He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh.”

In ch.4, Ignatius summarizes the Docetic heresy by protesting that “if these things were done by our Lord only in appearance, then am I also only in appearance bound.”  In so doing, he masterfully blends his own sufferings with the flesh-and-blood sufferings of Christ thereby showing that his belief in the passion of Christ is not ethereal or vague but is being born out in his own person.

Ch. 7 is frequently pointed to by Roman Catholic apologists who use it as evidence of their theology of the eucharist:

“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.”

It is clear enough how such a passage could be used against (especially) the memorialist view of the Supper that many free-church Protestants embrace.  Yet is must be pointed out that Ignatius seems more concerned here with condemning the anti-materialist and gnosticizing tendencies of the Docetic heretics than he is with constructing a positive, detailed, and nuanced view of the eucharist itself.  Strictly speaking, “they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior” may simply mean that the Docetics are rejecting the Supper because they reject the passion of Christ.  Therefore, since Christ did not suffer in the flesh the meal has nothing to do with Him or His flesh.  To read a later theology of transubstantiation back into the Ignatian writings seems to me to be both premature and presumptuous.

That being said, I have written elsewhere in these summaries that it does seem that Ignatius has more than a strictly memorialist view of the Supper.  Yet, this may be granted without bowing to an eisegetical importation of later Catholic eucharistic theology into these writings.

In ch.8, Ignatius beautifully defines the Catholic Church as “wherever Jesus Christ is.”  To be fair (and perhaps to show that I’m capable of being fair!), it would seem equally presumptuous for Protestants to say that, on this basis, Ignatius would see, for instance, Baptist churches as “Catholic,” for it must be remembered that Ignatius elsewhere says (again and again and again) that the true Church is also that Church which submits to the bishop.  It would seem, then, that Ignatius’ definition of the Church Catholic is not less than “wherever Jesus Christ is,” but it is more.  That being said, as Ignatius saw the bishop as being (in a sense) Christ to the churches, he would no doubt see no fundamental dichotomy or distinction here (i.e., he would not see “and the bishop” as being an addition to “where Christ is”, but merely a logical extension of it).

Finally, I could not help but think of the modern Christian encounter with Islam when reading this epistle.  Islam too denies the passion of Christ, denies that our Lord suffered on the cross.  As such, Muslims need to hear a clear, compelling and biblical case for the suffering of Christ on the cross.  Towards this end, the Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans will be a great help to all those seeing to be witnesses for the gospel today.

Ignatius’ Epistle to the Philadelphians

In his Epistle to the Philadelphians, Ignatius is primarily concerned with guarding the unity of the church, “for where there is division and wrath, God doth not dwell” (ch.8).  He does this by (1) extolling the office of bishop and (2) denouncing schismatics (“wolves that appear worthy of credit, who, by means of a pernicious pleasure, carry captive those that are running towards God,” ch.2).

A charitable reading of Ignatius will find a deep love for the church behind his almost frantic push for the people to respect, obey, and love their bishop.  Yet it must be said that here we sense and feel a push away from the New Testament emphasis on Christ.  This is not to say that the New Testament does not extol the leaders of the church, nor that Ignatius does not exalt Christ.  Both of these ideas would be false.  But the strong emphasis on the bishop in Ignatius’ writings almost seems to overshadow Christ (i.e., “For, when I was among you, I cried, I spoke with a loud voice:  Give heed to the bishop, and to the presbytery and deacons.” ch.7)

In this epistle, Ignatius extols the meekness of the bishop, the fact that “he is in harmony with the commandments [of God], even as the harp is with its string,” his virtuous mind, his stability, and his “freedom from all anger” (ch.1).  In ch.3 we find Ignatius arguing that “as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop.”

We find a strong statement in ch.4 concerning Holy Communion:

“Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist.  For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God.”

Ignatius positions the unity of the church in the context of that most sacred meal in which and whereby we celebrate our union with Christ.  Baptist Christians would do well to consider the importance of allowing the Supper to hold binding sway in our midst.  Our factionalism and splintering is in desperate need of a tonic and I believe that Ignatius points us the right way.

There is a curious and interesting glimpse into Ignatius’ thoughts concerning the diaconate when we find him encouraging the Philadelphians “to elect a deacon to act as the ambassador” (ch.10) and to send this deacon to the believers at Antioch in Syria to encourage them in the aftermath of their persecution.  This is interesting not only because of the “ad hoc” nature of deacon tasks, but also because of the congregational emphasis we find here (“it will become you, as a Church of God, to elect a deacon”).

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

Ignatius’ Epistle to the Romans

Sometimes good friends can do a bad thing out of the best of intentions.  Ignatius expresses this concern in his Epistle to the Romans when he pleads with the Roman Christians not to keep him from his inevitable martyrdom.  “Pray, then, do not seek to confer any greater favour upon me than that I be sacrificed to God while the altar is still prepared…”  Martyrdom, for Ignatius, meant finally being worthy of the name he has tried to carry:  “Only request in my behalf both inward and outward strength, that I may not only speak, but [truly] will; and that I may not merely be called a Christian, but really be found to be one.  For if I be truly found [a Christian], I may also be called one, and be then deemed faithful, when I shall no longer appear to the world.”  And later he states, “Now I begin to be a disciple.”

Ignatius is not guilty of being in the cult of martyrs.  His desire is less for martyrdom than for Christ.  In a moving passage he says, “I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.”  “Permit me,” he says in ch.6, “to be an imitator of the passion of my God.”

We find yet again an acknowledgment from Igantius that he does not posses apostolic authority:  “I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you.  They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant.”

We also find a possible statement about Holy Communion in Ignatius, “I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”  Regardless of what Ignatius sees in the Lord’s Supper, it is fairly clear that he did not hold a merely memorialist view.

The Epistle to the Romans is a moving and personal letter.  As his martyrdom approaches and as he addresses those who will witness his last moments, he steps away a bit from his strident stress on the offices of the church and looks instead at the moment of his own death, when he can finally attain Christ.

Ignatius’ Epistle to the Magnesians

Ignatius’ Epistle to the Magnesians offers further evidence for the developing understanding of the threefold office: bishop, presbyter, deacon.  For instance, in ch.2, we see Ignatius commending (1) “Damas your most worthy bishop,” (2) “Bassus and Apollonius” the “worthy presbyters,” and (3) “my fellow-servant the deacon Sotio.”

The threefold office is illustrated thus:

“…your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ…”

It is difficult to navigate ecclesiological developments in the occasionally murky waters of the ante-Nicene church, but it is safe to say that this threefold understanding of church officers represents a departure both from the biblical witness and the earliest records of the post-apostolic age.  I do not say that these developments are necessarily anti-biblical, just that they appear to be extra-biblical.

This hierarchical emphasis in Ignatius seems occasionally forced:

“As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters.”

This strained quality will become even more apparent in the later Ignatian epistles.

Igantius interestingly notes that Sotio the deacon “is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God, and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ.”  Furthermore, we find that the bishop is a young man and Ignatius, echoing Paul, pleads with the Magnesians “not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth.”

We also find in this epistle yet another emphasis on the need to be Christians in actuality and not merely in words:

“It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality.”

Undoubtedly it was this attitude and conviction that enabled Igantius to face a martyr’s death with the dignity with which he faced it.

Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians

Ignatius was and is one of the most revered Fathers.  He was the Bishop of Antioch (Origen says he was the 2nd, Eusebius says he was the 3rd) and he wore the martyr’s crown.  Some of his “epistles” were later seen to be spurious, so I will be summarizing only those that it seems clear can actually be attributed to him.  Also, most of his epistles have a shorter and longer version.  I will be summarizing the shorter versions, as it seems likely that the longer versions contain embellishments, though I am in no way qualified to back this up.

Ignatius’ Epistles to the Ephesians is an interesting book.  It is the first of the patristic writings to use the term “Catholic Church,” though he defines it simply as wherever Christ is among His followers.  It would be a serious mistake to read Medieval Catholicism, much less modern Catholicism, back into this reference.  He uses the term in the sense that the early Baptists likewise spoke of the “Church catholick.”

I believe we also see ecclesiological development in Ignatius’ writings.  In short, I believe that Ignatius calls for a greater distinction between bishops (episkopos) and elders/pastors (presbyteros) than we have seen heretofore.

Here’s a bit of historical background from Tom Oden:

“Though it did not take long for a distinction to arise between episkopos and presbyteros, it is probable that they were used for a time more or less interchangeably…However unclear their earlier relationship, it became generally acknowledged by the end of the first century that the distinction between bishop and presbyter could serve a useful function, assuming the premise of Christian freedom to order disiplinary matters usefully and expeditiously.” (Thomas C. Oden, Corrective Love: The Power of Communion Discipline, 156-157)

It seems to me that we begin to see this most clearly in Ignatius.  For instance, in ch.4, Ignatius writes:  “Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also ye do.  For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp.”  And, in ch.21, we find a clear distinction between the two offices:  “…so that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind…”

This distinction between the presbyter and the bishop (albeit a harmonious one, in Ignatius’ thought) will become more clear as we look at his other epistles.  Regardless, it is also clear the Ignatius is wanting to establish the bishop’s authority, an idea that we have seen before him.  So, for instance, the Ephesians are to love their bishop (ch.1), imitate their bishop (ch.1), thank God for their bishop (ch.1), view bishops as “the [manifested] will of the Father” (ch.3), obey their bishop (ch.4), and “look upon the bishop as we would upon the Lord Himself” (ch.6).

Yet it must not be thought that Ignatius had a blasphemous preoccupation with bishops.  On the contrary, he is very clear that Jesus is Lord and that the church operates under His lordship.  All statements concerning church offices, then, should be read within the context of Ignatius’ strong christology.

Other noteworthy aspects of this letter are Ignatius’ strong appeal for faithful church participation (“He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride.”), his call for strong Christian commitment (“For let us either stand in awe of the wrath to come, or show regard for the grace which is at present displayed – one of two things.”), his view of worship as an act of spiritual warfare (“Take heed, then, to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise.  For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims.”), his practical wisdom (“It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one.  It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts.”), and what is possibly the first reference to the Lord’s Supper that we find in the fathers (“…breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.”)  We likely find in this last statement a growing sacramentalism in the Church.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp

Having seen a glimpse of the type of person Bishop Polycarp was in his epistle to the Philippians, we are more prepared to appreciate the tragic beauty of his martyrdom as recorded in The Martyrdom of Polycarp.  Martyrdom was considered the greatest honor that those in the early church could have, and so it is today as well.  Perhaps this is why a kind of perverse “cult of the martyrs” sprung up in early Christianity.

The Smyrnans are writing to the Philomeliuns (Phrygia) about the death of their leader, Polycarp.  Interestingly, they take the time at the beginning of the letter to condemn those who look for martyrdom, using Quintus the Apostate as an example:

“Now one named Quintus, a Phrygian, who was but lately come from Phrygia, when he saw the wild beasts, became afraid. This was the man who forced himself and some others to come forward voluntarily [for trial]. Him the proconsul, after many entreaties, persuaded to swear and to offer sacrifice. Wherefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up [to suffering], seeing the Gospel does not teach so to do.”

And so it is today:  those who bluster the most about their faith are usually the first to cut and run.  No, the early church did not seek martyrdom, but neither did they flinch in the face of it.  Thus, Polycarp consents to be moved from place to place when the church hears that his oppressors are seeking to kill him, but, when they do in fact catch up with him, he shows an amazing courage for an 86-year-old man.  He only asks the guards for time to pray and has a meal prepared for his captors while they wait.

Chapter 9 of The Martyrdom of Polycarp is achingly beautiful and should be read by every Christian today:

“Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, “Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!” No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.”  Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”

There are elements of this epistle that bear the mark of exaggeration or romanticization (his body does not burn, a dove flies out of his pierced side, etc.)…but, then again, who knows?  I’m more and more prone to listen sympathetically to the so-called “embellishments” of the early post-biblical writers.  Who knows but that we have simply grown too skeptical in our day of suspicion?  Who knows but that God might still wish to do such miracles among us, were He only able to find faith here?

Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians

Written around the middle of the 2nd century, Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians is a beautiful little letter that gives us interesting and helpful insights into the life of the early Christian community.  He was the bishop of Smyrna and the teacher of Irenaeus.  He would soon wear a martyr’s crown, much like his beloved Ignatius.

Polycarp is in possession of certain letters from Ignatius.  The Philippian believers actually request copies of all the letters he has (by this time, Ignatius has been martyred, though Polycarp does not know the details of how), obviously wanting a complete collection of the writings of this tremendous leader, and he is glad to send them.  They also ask Polycarp to pass on the most recent letter from the Philippians (the one giving rise to this epistle from Polycarp) to the believers in Syria, should anybody be heading that way.  Polycarp promises to do so when he is able.

There are some interesting aspects to this letter.  Once more we see the affirmation of the two-fold office of deacon (ch. 5) and presbyters (ch. 6).  We see Polycarp’s appeal to the Philippians to study Scripture:  “For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you…”

We also see his mysterious commentary on the lapsed presbyter Valens, who, with his wife, was involved in some sort of misconduct.  It is not clear exactly what this minister and his wife did, but Polycarp is “greatly grieved,” “deeply grieved,” and prays that he and his wife will repent of their behavior.  The sin involved a “covetousness” that leads to “idolatry.”  Perhaps this is an allusion to financial sins or greed?  Regardless, this is a welcome balance to Clement’s condemnation of the dismissing of faithful presbyters.  The people of God are not to dismiss faithful men of God (Clement).  Ministers, however, are not to use their congregations for personal gain (Polycarp).

The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus

How did the early Christians explain to their curious pagan neighbors what the Christian faith was all about?  The Epistle of Mathetes To Diognetus answers that question.  Written around 130 A.D., when “Mathetes” (we do not know who he really was) and other believers could still call Christianity “this new kind or practice [of piety]” that “has only now entered into the world, and not long ago,” the epistle represents an early apologetic attempt to explain the Christian faith to a Gentile named Diognetus.  Mathetes tells us in chapter 11 that he was “a disciple of the Apostles,” which likely means he personally knew the apostles, but we cannot say for sure.

The high points of this epistle are chapters 5 and 6, where Mathetes explains what Christians are like:

“For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.”

This is a beautiful articulation of Paul’s “ambassador” language.  I am also reminded by this that Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon have recently evoked the “resident alien” image in order to call the church away from secularization.  I would submit that Mathetes’ description of the believers could serve as a much-needed tonic for the Americanization of evangelicalism today.

One does not want to read later theological terminology back into the fathers, but there is nonetheless a strong substitionary picture in this epistle:

“He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!”

Finally, we see a simple and profound evangelistic appeal in Mathetes’ epistle:  “If you also desire [to possess] this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the knowledge of the Father.”  And later, “And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God.  He can, if he is willing.”

There is a refreshing simplicity in the Ante-Nice fathers.  Mathetes’ epistle, I would argue, is overall more moving than Clement’s and exhibits a heart-felt and passionate intensity that moves the reader even to this day.