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The letters of Ignatius were first collected by Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna,168168It would seem that the Greek, Latin, and Armenian manuscripts which preserve the genuine text of the letters have retained Polycarp's original order: Smyrnaeans, Polycarp, Ephesians, Magnesians, Philadelphians, Trallians, and probably Romans. Philadelphians and Trallians are reversed in the Armenian. Romans was often embedded in the Martyrology (see below). who sent copies of them to the church at Philippi not long after Ignatius had left that city on his way across Macedonia (Phil., ch. 13). Whether this collection contained all seven letters is not clear. Possibly Polycarp did not have access to the one to the Romans, though this was early in circulation, being quoted by Irenaeus (Adv. haer. V. 28:4), and known, of course, to Eusebius. It is likely that copies of all the letters were kept by Ignatius’ amanuensis, the Ephesian Burrhus (see Philad. 11:2), and that Polycarp obtained them from him.

We possess no pure manuscript of the original corpus, for in the fourth century the letters were interpolated and six additional ones added (Mary of Cassobola to Ignatius; Ignatius to Mary, to the Tarsians, Philippians, Antiochenes, and to Hero, deacon of Antioch). The aim of these forgeries was to gain for a diluted form of Arianism the authority of a primitive martyr. Finally, in the Middle Ages—perhaps around the twelfth century, which saw a new development of the cult of the Virgin—a correspondence between Ignatius and Mary, as well as two letters of Ignatius to John, was fabricated in the West.

The greater part of the extant manuscripts contains the seven interpolated letters along with five or six of the spurious ones, 82 some of the Latin versions adding the medieval forgeries. The first edition of the Latin was by J. Faber Stapulensis (Lefèvre d’Étaples), Paris, 1498, and of the Greek by Valentinus Paceas, Dillingae, 1557.

With the revival of learning in the Renaissance a critical spirit toward the Ignatian corpus first arose; but it was not until the labors of Theodor Zahn and J. B. Lightfoot in the nineteenth century that the question was finally settled and the genuine form of the letters of Ignatius was fully established.

A pioneer work which attempted to separate the wheat from the chaff was that of the Genevan professor Nicholaus Vedelius in 1623. He printed the seven letters known to Eusebius by themselves, relegating the six spurious ones to a separate volume. He recognized, too, that even the seven genuine ones had been interpolated. It was, however, Archbishop James Ussher who in the seventeenth century first discovered the pure text of the letters, though in a Latin version. The controversy with the Puritans over episcopacy brought the question of the genuineness of Ignatius’ correspondence into the foreground; and, in his efforts to defend this, Ussher came upon two Latin manuscripts that contained versions of the text corresponding to that known to Eusebius and other fathers. These manuscripts did, indeed, contain five of the forged letters as well; but the remarkable thing was that the text of the genuine seven had not been interpolated. Ussher published his text in 1644, and his guess that Robert Grosseteste (the learned medieval bishop of Lincoln) had been the translator has since been confirmed.

Two years later (1646) Isaac Voss in Amsterdam published the Greek text of this Latin version from an eleventh century Florentine manuscript. In this the letter to the Romans is wanting, the manuscript being defective and breaking off in the middle of the Epistle to the Tarsians. But as it was customary to separate Romans from the others and to embed it in the Acts of Ignatius’ Martyrdom, it was doubtless in the original manuscript. These Acts would have come at the end, as they do in Ussher's Latin versions. Anyway, the defect was supplied by the discovery of a tenth century Greek manuscript of the Martyrology, published by T. Ruinart in 1689.

The authenticity of the text defended by Ussher and Voss was soon attacked by French Calvinists (notably by Jean Daillé in Geneva, 1666); but a full and learned reply was offered by Bishop John Pearson in his Vindiciae Ignatianae, 1672.


Considerably later (1845) an English canon, Dr. W. Cureton, published a Syriac version of three of the letters (Polycarp, Ephesians, and Romans). This text (based finally on three manuscripts) was considerably more brief than the Vossian; and in his learned work Corpus Ignatianum (1849) Cureton argued that it represented the genuine form of the letters. His theory, however, did not win acceptance. The works of Theodor Zahn (Ignatius von Antiochien, Gotha, 1873) and of J. B. Lightfoot (The Apostolic Fathers, Part 2, Vol. I, London, 1885) have convincingly shown that Cureton's text represents a rather crude abridgment of the original letters.

To summarize: the letters of Ignatius have come down to us in three forms. There is the long recension, interpolated in the fourth century. There is the short Syriac recension, which is an abridgment of the authentic letters. Finally there is the middle recension, or genuine text.

A full description of the manuscripts (including the Armenian, and the Syriac and Coptic fragments) will be found in Lightfoot, op. cit., pp. 70–126; 587–598. To this must be added the fifth century Berlin papyrus fragment of Smyrnaeans (in Greek: see C. Schmidt and W. Schubert in Altchristliche Texte, Berliner Klassikertexte, Heft VI, 1910), and the Coptic fragments published by Carl Wessely in Sitzungsberichte der kais. Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, Vol. CLXXII, Part 4, 1913.


The Acts of Ignatius’ Martyrdom are current in five forms. Of these only two are independent, the so-called Antiochene and Roman Acts. The others are combinations and modifications of them.

The Antiochene Acts derive their name from the fact that their center of interest is Antioch, where Ignatius is tried by Trajan and whither his bones are brought back from Rome. These Acts date from the fifth century and rest on no historical foundation. Their textual history, however, is important, since the genuine text of Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans is embedded in them. They are current in Latin, Greek, and Syriac.

Even more crudely legendary are the Roman Acts, which belong to the sixth century and record Ignatius’ trial before Trajan and the Senate and his martyrdom in the amphitheater. They are extant in Greek and Coptic.



The best Greek text, and the one used for this translation, is by Karl Bihlmeyer in his revision of F.X. Funk's Die apostolischen Väter, Part I, Tübingen, 1924. More recent, but based on this, is P. Th. Camelot's Ignace d’Antioche, Lettres, Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 1944 (in the series Sources chrétiennes, with translation). Kirsopp Lake did the text with translation for the Loeb Classics, The Apostolic Fathers, London, 1912. Lightfoot's text and translation is in Part 2, Vol. II, of his Apostolic Fathers, revised ed., London, 1889.

The more important translations are as follows: by Lake and Lightfoot in the editions mentioned; by J. H. Srawley, The Epistles of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, London, 1919; by J. A. Kleist, The Epistles of St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch, Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1946, in the series Ancient Christian Writers; by Gerald G. Walsh, The Apostolic Fathers, Fathers of the Church Press, New York, 1946, in the series The Fathers of the Church. The last two versions bring out Ignatius’ meaning in modern, idiomatic English. The Letter to the Trallians has been characteristically rendered by James Moffatt in an article in the Harvard Theological Review, 29, 1936, pp. 1–38, "An Approach to Ignatius." The latest English translation (exact and pointed, but not bold) is by Edgar Goodspeed in The Apostolic Fathers: An American Translation, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1950.

The best French translation, incisive and idiomatic, is by Auguste Lelong in Hemmer and Lejay, Les Pères apostoliques, Vol. III, Paris, 2d ed. 1927. In addition there are the more literal renderings of Camelot (already mentioned) and H. Delafosse in his Les Lettres d’Ignace d’Antioche, Paris, 1927 (where he adduces a radical theory of their late date and fictitious character).

In German there are these versions: by Walter Bauer, Die Briefe des Ignatius von Antiochien, in the series Handbuch zum N.T., Tübingen, 1920; by G. Krüger in Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, 2d ed., J. C. B. Mohr; Tübingen, 1924; and by F. Zeller, Die apostolischen Väter, in the 2d series of the Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, Munich, 1918.

In Italian there is I Padri apostolici, Part 2a, by G. Bosio, Vol. XIV, in the series Corona Patrum Salesiana, Turin, 1942.

All these editions have introductions and notes, the most valuable being those of Lightfoot, Srawley, Kleist, and Bauer.


In addition to the works of Zahn and Lightfoot previously mentioned, the following are the more important recent studies in Ignatius: E. von der Goltz, Ignatius von Antiochien als Christ und Theologe (a fundamental work) in Texte und Untersuchungen, Vol. XII, Part 3, Leipzig, 1894; M. Rackl, Die Christologie des heiligen Ignatius von Antiochien (rich in bibliography) in Freiburger theologische Studien, 14, 1914; H. Schlier, Religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zu den Ignatiusbriefen (a valuable study but one that exaggerates Ignatius’ dependence on Gnostic and "mystery" sources), A. Töpelmann, Giessen, 1929; H. W. Bartsch, Gnostisches Gut und Gemeindetradition bei Ignatius von Antiochien (which further pursues the Gnostic theme), C. Bertelsmann, Gütersloh, 1940; C. C. Richardson, The Christianity of Ignatius of Antioch (a survey of main concepts), Columbia University Press, New York, 1935, and "The Church in Ignatius of Antioch" in The Journal of Religion, 17, pp. 428–443, 1937; F. A. Schilling, The Mysticism of Ignatius of Antioch, Thesis, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1932; E. Bruston, Ignace d’Antioche, ses epîtres, sa vie, sa théogie, Paris, 1897; H. de Genouillac, L’Église chrétienne au temps de Saint Ignace d’Antioche, Paris, 1907. The trinitarian question has been studied by Jules Lebreton in his article "La Théologie de la Trinité d’après Saint Ignace d’Antioche" in Recherches de science religieuse, 15, pp. 97–126, 393–419, 1925, and in his Histoire du dogme de la Trinité, Vol. II, pp. 282–331, Paris, 1928. James Moffatt has characterized Ignatius’ faith in "A Study in Personal Religion" in The Journal of Religion, 10, pp. 169–186, 1930, an essay which is supplemented by his article in the Harvard Theological Review, January, 1936, already cited. The connection between Ignatius and John has been investigated by P. Dietze, "Die Briefe des Ignatius von Antiochien und das Johannesevangelium" in Studien und Kritiken, 78, pp. 563–603, 1905; by W. J. Burghardt in Theological Studies, 1, pp. 1–26, 140–156, 1940; and more recently by C. Maurer in his Ignatius von Antiochien und das Johannesevangelium, Zurich, 1949. This last study, along with the chapters on Ignatius in J. Klevinghaus, Die theologische Stellung der apostolischen Väter zur alttestamentlichen Offenbarung, C. Bertelsmann, Gütersloh, 1948, and in T. F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, Oliver, Ltd., Edinburgh, 1948, represents a modern Protestant tendency to emphasize the decline of the New Testament faith in the post-Apostolic period, without fully appreciating the connection between the New Testament and the subapostolic 86 writers. Finally mention may be made of Th. Preiss's article "La Mystique de l’imitation du Christ et de l’unité chez Ignace d’Antioche" in Revue d’histoire et de philosophie religieuses, 18, pp. 197–241, 1938; of M. H. Shepherd's essay "Smyrna in the Ignatian Letters" in The Journal of Religion, 20, pp. 141–159, 1940; and of the note by Henry Chadwick, "The Silence of Bishops in Ignatius," in the Harvard Theological Review, April, 1950, pp. 169–172.

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