Friday, 1 May 2015

Alexander Miller: Ignatius of Antioch's Polemic and the Refinement of Creedal Interpretation

A persistent difficulty, in Ignatius of Antioch's letters, is the number of groups claiming Christian identity without conforming to his concept of Christianity. Despite limited common resources for polemics (a universal canon or conciliar creed), Ignatius' otherwise frenetic prose is peppered with eloquent formulaic passages, and scholars have identified these as either hymn- or creed-texts used within Christian liturgy.
Ignatius’ use is not like that of later polemicists.  He does not offer citations of creedal material as proof texts; he does not even set them off as something authoritative “as it is written/said....”  Rather, I will argue, he uses creedal language as language common to Christians through its repeated liturgical use.  To speak to other Christians, Ignatius is bound by this common language, though the existence of ‘Judaizers’ and 'heretics' suggests that it can be harmonized with various interpretations.
My paper will consider how the polemical moment with 'heretical' and ‘Judaizing' Christians brings creedal formulae to the fore in such Christian discourses.  Ignatius is not free to alter the common language single-handedly while remaining intelligible and persuasive, but the resources of polemical argument allow him to narrow what is signified by creedal passages.  Through the use of derision and difference, Ignatius is able to strip away the ‘Judaizing’ interpretation of the creed; difference allows him to identify what is not signified instead of merely adding to the signifiers.  In this process, the formulaic liturgical language of the Christian community takes on a normative place in interpreting Christian life and Scripture.

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