Armchair Textual Critic

Now that school is out, I actually have a little time to do some reading while frantically searching for employment and making plans to move.

I’m reading now through my set of Apostolic fathers my parents gave me a few years ago. Currently I’m reading the letters of Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch in the early 2nd century. He was martyred in Rome around 107, and wrote seven letters en route.

The curious thing is that we have two very different versions of every one of his letters. One set is consistently short, and the other is much longer. As of the publication of my book, there had been no consensus as to which set was the letters actually penned by Ignatius. The majority seems to favor the shorter versions, but there is a vibrant minority that will not let go of the latter. I’ll give you a sample, and maybe you can see why:

Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians, Chapter 5
Seeing, then, all things have an end, these two things are simultaneously set before us – death and life; and every one shall go unto his own place. For as there are two kinds of coins, the one of God, the other of the world, and each of these has its special character stamped upon it [so is it also here]. The unbelieving are of this world; but the believing have, in love, the character of God the Father by Jesus Christ, by whom if we are not in readiness to die into his passion, his life is not in us. Seeing, then, all things have an end, and there is set before us life upon our observance of [of God’s precepts], but death as the result of disobedience, and every one according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and make the choice of life. For I remark, that two different characters are found among men – the one true coin, the other spurious. The truly devout man is the right kind of coin, stamped by God Himself. The ungodly man, again, is false coin, unlawful, spurious, counterfeit, wrought not by God, but by the devil. I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but that there is one humanity, sometimes belonging to God, and sometimes to the devil. If any one is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made such , not by nature, but by his own choice. The unbelieving bear the image of the prince of wickedness. The believing possess the image of their Prince, God the Father, and Jesus Christ, through whom, if we are not in readiness to die for the truth into His passion, His life is not in us.

Big difference, no? Most scholars (I’m guessing) favor the shorter letter because the longer letter speaks with clarity on issues we imagine weren’t considered much in those days. The long letter goes into great detail about whether a man has two natures, which sounds remarkably like the debates on the two natures of Christ, which weren’t resolved until Chalcedon in 451. Since Ignatius couldn’t have looked ahead to voice a clear opinion (could he?), then the longer letter must have been added to.

My problem with this line of thinking is that the longer letter is flat out better writing. The style is clearer, the arguments easier to follow. If the longer version was written by some monk who was mischievously (sinfully) putting his own words in Ignatius’ mouth, it’s interesting to note that he was a far better writer himself than the 3rd bishop of Antioch. But the question then is why would someone take a well written letter, and deliberately chop it down into something terse and cryptic? Ever heard of Reader’s Digest books?

In the mean time, since I’m reading this stuff on my own time, for my own pleasure and edification, I’ll be reading the longer version. It’s easier on the mind, and it actually reads faster.

Author: KB French

Formerly many things, including theology student, mime, jr. high Latin teacher, and Army logistics officer. Currently in the National Guard, and employed as a civilian... somewhere

4 thoughts on “Armchair Textual Critic”

  1. It’s great to read what you want to read, isn’t it? I think that’s the best part of being finished with school. I’m looing forward to reading your thoughts on the readings! Peace and blessings!


  2. Having read neither doesn’t keep me from sticking in my oar. 😉

    Several years ago I read the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. Very good — lovely. Until a few years later I read what she actually wrote — which was much, much better! It seems that her older sister who was her Mother Superior, took the liberty of editing her “Story of a Soul” — shortening it and making it the Roman Catholic equivilent of PC of the day. Recently someone went back to the original manuscipts and did a new version rather than merely a new translation of the sister’s version.

    I don’t remember all the differences but one that stood out to me was Therese’s avoidance of saying the Hail Mary and her prefernce for her intimate relationship with Jesus over the rituals she was supposed to be using in the Monastary. She rejected them because she found no life in them — that information was suppressed by her sister’s editing.

    It occurs to me that Ignatius might have been edited for similar reasons.


  3. I thought I made that clear — with no other authority other than my own prejudice, I am more inclined to think that some later “scholar” saw fit to edit Ignatius rather than annotate him. So I vote for the longer version being the original.

    — I’m not always right, but I’m never uncertain. 😉


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