Sergio Zañartu on Life and Death in Ignatius

This week I am revisiting a draft of a paper I wrote earlier in the year, attempting to engage more fully with other literature on the topic and to tighten the argument of the paper. In the course of doing this, I have had some time to read a bit more broadly on Ignatius and finally had time to read an article that I stashed away on my To Read list a few months ago.

In 1979 Sergio Zañartu published an article based on his book [El concepto de ζωῆ en Ignacio de Antioqía (Madrid 1977)] in Vigiliae Christianae ["Les concepts de vie et de mort chez Ignace d'Antioche," VC 33 (1979): 324–341]. While I have not yet been able to get my hands on the book, the article is a condensed summary of the findings of his earlier research that packs a lot into a few pages. Today I want to briefly highlight two elements of Zañartu’s article.

Like many readers, Zañartu observes the way that Ign. Eph. 19 is a passage that stands out among the Ignatian corpus.  Zañartu’s sustained focus on life allows him to observe an intriguing difference that I have not so found in any earlier studies. After quoting Ign. Eph. 19.3, he writes, “Here is a curious text that constitutes an exception among the Ignatian writings. We normally expect the opposite: we are settled in life and it is death which arises threateningly to destroy it” (p.333–334; Voilà un texte curieux et qui constitue une exception parmi les écrits ignatiens. On attendrait normalement le contraire: nous sommes installés dans la vie et c’est la mort qui survient, menaçante, pour la détruire.). While I am not sure that the passage is quite so odd as some like to make it out, Zañartu is correct to observe that the more typically Ignatian way of speaking about life and death involves death as a new threat to a life that is already established. Ign. Eph. 19 reverses that. In this passage, the star (Jesus?) comes to bring life to a world that is surrounded by death, magic, bonds, and evil.

Another important element of life for Ignatius is that of unity. While Ignatius is perhaps best known for his calls to unity within the church under a three-tiered hierarchy of leadership, Zañartu helpfully points out that the relationship between unity and life is broader than that. Christology and life are mutually determined, and life for the Christian comes from union with Christ’s life.

“Life is unity, unity of the flesh and spirit as Christ. It is the body of Christ and the gathering overseen by the bishop. Life is Christ from its origin to its fullness. It is this definition that is most essential. The concepts of Christ and of life are mutually determined. The Christ which Ignatius presents us is a Christ-Life with cultic aspects underlined. And Christology, in turn, strongly influences the concept of life: hierarchical union of flesh and spirit, the body of Christ and Eucharist, martyrdom assimilated to the passion, present eschatology, transcendence. It is because of this that the formula “Christ our life” is an excellent synthesis” (p.335; La vie est unité, unité de chair et esprit comme le Christ. Elle est corps du Christ et réunion présidée par l’évêque. La vie est le Christ dès son origine jusqu’à sa plénitude. C’est sa définition la plus essentielle. Les concepts de Christ et de vie se déterminent mutuellement. Le Christ qu’Ignace nous présente est un Christ-vie avec des aspects cultuels soulgnés. Et la christologie à son tour influence fortement le concept de vie: union hiérarchique de chair et esprit, corps du Christ et Eucharistie, martyre assimilé à la passion, eschatologie présente, transcendance. C’est pour cela que la formule ” le Christ notre vie” est une synthése excellente.)

7 Pentecost

From the 1662 BCP (6 Trinity):

O God, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding: Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1 Cor 3.5–17

In 1 Cor 3.4 Paul asked whether the Corinthians were behaving as mere human beings when they divided up into various groups based on Paul, Apollos, or other leaders. The question, to which the clearly intended answer is “yes,” links back to the report Paul had earlier mentioned from Chloe’s people (1 Cor 1.11–12). In 1 Cor 3.5 Paul takes up this issue somewhat differently. Assuming the wise plan of God that was seen in the cross and which he has already outlined in 1.18–2.5, Paul turns to the proper relationship of Apollos, himself, and the Corinthians within that plan. He asks, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed” (1 Cor 3.5). Paul and Apollos have been given a special role in Corinth but it is not the sort of role that sets them up as leaders to be set above the rest. Their special position lowers them to the role of servants. As the cross reversed expectations of what the messiah should be and how wisdom is found, even on a cosmic level in its confusion of the ruler of this age, so leadership among the messiah’s people is also affected. In following this messiah, leaders are brought lower than the people they are leading through service. This is not some underlying masochism on the part of Paul. He explains instead that it is because the Corinthians are now part of the people of God.

To make his point more clearly, Paul turns to three images by which the various relationships among the people of God can be explained. First, he offers an agrarian image in which he and Apollos are hired men working in a field. Paul planted the crop, Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. What are the people who planted and watered to the one who can make plants grow out of the earth? As Paul already said, they are servants. These servants are paid by God because it is God’s field. Apollos and Paul are God’s fellow-workers and farmers, surely an enormous privilege but jobs that should not be confused for the owner of the field (1 Cor 3.6–9b).

Paul then switches the image to that of a building. The Corinthians are the building that belongs to God (1 Cor 3.9c). Paul has been involved in the construction of that building and has attempted to employ the wisdom which he has graciously been given in his part of the construction (recall that wisdom has been defined in terms of the cross). There is one and only one possible foundation for this building and that is Jesus himself. Depending on how one understands the meaning of Paul’s “if” statement, there may still be some question as to what Paul himself has built on top of that foundation. If so, this is a surprisingly transparent moment from the apostle. It is sometimes difficult to know precisely whether what we are doing is exactly the right thing to do. Yet all will be made clear in the end. Paul’s reference to judgment purifying by fire is not here a matter of life or death, though such references can be found in the Pauline corpus (e.g. 2 Thess 1.5–10). Here the topic under discussion is judgment of those who have built on God’s foundation. These are assumed to be believers. The implicit warning is to be careful how one builds God’s church.

The final image which Paul uses is that of a temple. The Corinthian church is the temple of God in which the Spirit resides. Although a reference to an individual believer as God’s temple is coming in this letter (1 Cor 6.19), this is a reference to the entire body as God’s temple. The temple is holy, so if anyone corrupts it, there will be consequences. The implication is clear enough—the Corinthians should live as God’s holy temple in which Paul and Apollos are servants. Rather than getting caught up in the right rhetorical or theological persona, the Corinthians should remember who makes them grow, on whose foundation they are built, and what God resides in them. Remembering these things, the significance of Paul and Apollos will be put in proper perspective.

Feast of St. James the Apostle

From the 1662 BCP:

Grant, O merciful God, that as thine holy Apostle Saint James, leaving his father and all that he had, without delay was obedient until the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him; so we, forsaking all worldly and carnal affections, may be evermore ready to follow thy holy commandments; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

5 Pentecost

From the 1662 BCP (4 Trinity):

O God, the protector of all that trust thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so surpass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake our Lord. Amen.


1 Cor 3.1–4

Paul’s language about the mature and spiritual which appeared in 1 Cor 2.6 comes more clearly into play in 1 Cor 3.1–4. However, he has a slightly different bifurcation in these verses. The topic to which he turns is the relationship between spiritual (πνευματικοί) and fleshly (σάρκινοι/σαρκικοί). Paul is frustrated that he must speak to them “like infants in Christ,” like  those who are still immature (1 Cor 3.1; cf. 1 Cor 2.6).

It is unlikely that there is any great semantic difference between σάρκινος (1 Cor 3.1) and σαρκικός (1 Cor 3.3). Both have something to do with a disposition that is closely related to the flesh (σάρξ). The question of how to translate these adjectives in 1 Cor 3.1–4 is a more difficult matter. The translators of the KJV stayed with a Latin derivative and opted for “carnal.” The ESV more closely shows the derivative of the Greek adjectival endings when it translates “of the flesh.” The NIV is slightly more paraphrastic in its choice of “worldly,” perhaps also demonstrating sensitivity to the fact that the English word “fleshly” often has sensual connotations in contemporary usage. With the advantage of having space to explain his translation choice, Thiselton translates the adjective differently at each appearance and is thus able to be more precise in each context (1 Corinthians [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2000], 286). He translates “people moved by entirely human drives” (1 Cor 3.1), “unspiritual” (1 Cor 3.3a), and “centered on yourselves” (1 Cor 3.3b). In each case the translation seems to fit the context more exactly than any single word choice is able to do.

Perhaps the more significant matter is the relationship between these fleshly people and the natural (ψυχικός) people who were in view in 1 Cor 2.14. These words gain their semantic value in 1 Cor 2.6–3.4 by their interaction with each other in a single field that is contrasted with people who are “spiritual.” In the space of these few verses, each successive move from “natural” (ψυχικός) to “fleshly” (σάρκινος), and again to “fleshly” (σαρκικός) heightens the negative contrast with those who are spiritual. Thus Thiselton proposes that “natural” is more or less a neutral term denoting an unrenewed nature. “Fleshly” is a descriptive term referring to a person who appears to be motivated only by human drives in 1 Cor 3.1. In 1 Cor 3.3, “fleshly” carries an “evaluative sense” such that the person is defined by their lack of the Spirit and their pursuit of life by their own power (Thiselton, 293; see also his extended discussion on pp. 288–291). It is important to note that these are contextual definitions based on Paul’s usage in 1 Cor 2.14–3.3 rather than broader dictionary definitions.

The question to be asked after this brief look at the important words in this passage is how do we understand what Paul says in these verses. Paul’s complaint to the Corinthians that he cannot give them solid food because they are infantile is a marked contrasted with what seems to be the Corinthian self-perception that they are seeking a more elevated wisdom. That Paul says they are only able to handle milk would likely be a shameful comment for the Corinthians to hear. But Paul is also lowering himself in these verses. He depicts himself as a wet nurse in 1 Cor 3.2. Significantly, he depicts himself as a wet nurse in large part due to the Corinthians’ inability to handle solid food. Yet this surprising depiction of Paul fits well with the surprise of the cross. In the cross, shame effects redemption. Similarly, Paul’s self-depiction as wet nurse is the way in which he intends to teach. The infantile Corinthian problems with division over major personalities in the church (problems that still plague the church!) leave one with the question, “Can such a church grow up into maturity?”

It is to this question that Paul turns in 1 Cor 3.5–17.

4 Pentecost

From the 1662 BCP (3 Trinity):

O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may by thy mighty aid be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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