13. Ignatius
A Vindication by Edward Gibbon

I am accused of throwing out a false accusation against this Father, (62) because I had observed (63) that Ignatius, defending against the Gnostics the resurrection of Christ, employs a vague and doubtful tradition, instead of quoting the certain testimony of the Evangelists: and this observation was justified by a remarkable passage of Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, which I cited according to the volume and the page of the best edition of the Apostolical Fathers, published at Amsterdam, 1724, in two volumes in folio. The Criticism of Mr Davis is announced by one of those solemn declarations which leave not any refuge, if they are convicted of falsehood.

"I cannot find any passage that bears the least affinity to what Mr Gibbon observes, in the whole Epistle, which I have read over more than once."

I had already marked the situation; nor is it in my power to prove the existence, of this passage, by any other means than by producing the words of the original.

Ancient Greek Epistle to the Smyrnaeans
"I have known, and I believe, that after his resurrection likewise he existed in the flesh: And when he came to Peter, and to the rest, he said unto them, Take, handle me, and see that I am not an incorporal daemon or spirit. And they touched him, and believed."

The faith of the Apostles confuted the impious error of the Gnostics, which attributed only the appearances of a human body to the Son of God: and it was the great object of Ignatius, in the last moments of his life, to secure the Christians of Asia from the snares of those dangerous Heretics. According to the tradition of the modern Greeks, Ignatius was the child whom Jesus received into his arms (See Tillemont Mem. Eccles. tom. ii. part ii. p. 43.); yet as he could scarcely be old enough to remember the resurrection of the Son of God, he must have derived his knowledge either from our present Evangelists, or from some Apocryphal Gospel, or from some unwritten tradition.

I. The Gospels of St. Luke and St. John would undoubtedly have supplied Ignatius with the most invincible proofs of the reality of the body of Christ, when he appeared to the Apostles after his resurrection; but neither of those Gospels contain the characteristic words of Ancient Greek and the important circumstance that either Peter, or those who were with Peter, touched the body of Christ and believed. Had the saint designed to quote the Evangelist on a very nice subject of controversy, he would not surely have exposed himself, by an inaccurate, or rather by a false, reference, to the just reproaches of the Gnostics. On this occasion, therefore, Ignatius did not employ, as he might have done, against the Heretics, the certain testimony of the Evangelists.

2. Jerom who cites this remarkable passage from the Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans (See Catalog. Script. Eccles. in Ignatio, tom. i. p. 273. edit. Erasm. Basil, 1537), is of opinion that it was taken from the Gospel which he himself had lately translated: and this, from the comparison of two other passages in the same Work (in Jacob. et in Matthaeo, p. 264), appears to have been the Hebrew Gospel, which was used by the Nazarenes of Beraea, as the genuine composition of St. Matthew. Yet Jerom mentions another Copy of this Hebrew Gospel (so different from the Greek Text), which was extant in the library formed at Caesarea, by the care of Pamphilus: while the learned Eusebius, the friend of Pamphilus and the Bishop of Caesarea, very frankly declares (Hist. Eccles. 1. in. c. 36.), that he is ignorant from whence Ignatius borrowed those words, which are the subject of the present Inquiry.

3. The doubt which remains, is only whether he took them from an Apocryphal Book, or from unwritten tradition: and I thought myself safe from every species of Critics, when I embraced the rational sentiment of Casaubon and Pearson. I shall produce the words of the Bishop.

"Praeterea iterum observandum est, quod de hac re scripsit Isaacus Casaubonus, Quinetiam fortasse verius, non ex Evangelio Hebraico, Ignatium illa verba descripsisse, verum traditionem allegasse non scriptam, quae postea in literas fuerit relata, et Hebraico Evangelio, quod Matthaeo trihuebant, inserta. Et hoc quidem mihi multo verisimilius videtur." (Pearson. Vindiciae Ignatianae, part ii. c. ix. p. 396. in tom. ii. Patr. Apostol.)

I may now submit to the judgment of the Public, whether I have looked into the Epistle which I cite with such a parade of learning, and how profitably Mr Davis has read it over more than once.

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