Sunday, 10 February 2019
Fiona McMeekin: A Stoic Reading of Discipleship, Patient Endurance, and Learning by Suffering in Ignatius of Antioch.
The themes of suffering and discipleship in the middle recension of Ignatius’ letters have received much scholarly attention, particularly in relation to imitation of Christ. Ignatius associates the concept of becoming a μαθητής (‘pupil’, ‘learner’ or ‘disciple’) with that of suffering (διὰ τοῦ παθεῖν Polycarp, 7.1) and ὑπομονή (‘patient endurance’, Ephesians 3.1; Magnesians 9.1). The educational roles of suffering and patient endurance in Stoicism, and indeed wider Graeco-Roman and Jewish literature, are well-recognised. Recent scholarship has demonstrated nuanced interactions between Stoicism and early Christianity, especially in Paul. However, there remains scope to interrogate echoes of Stoicism in Ignatius.This paper investigates similarities in the vocabulary and concepts of suffering, patient endurance, and learning employed by Ignatius and Musonius Rufus, Seneca, and 4 Maccabees. It argues that Ignatius’ letters, while addressed to Christians, could appeal to wider audiences by evoking Stoic themes of moral training, discipline and education. It begins by contextualizing him within the longstanding topos of πάθει μάθος or ‘learning by suffering’(Aeschylus, Agamemnon 176-8; 250-1; Herodotus, Histories 1.207.1; Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 7-8, cf. Proverbs 3:11-12; Wisdom of Solomon 3:4-5). It then draws detailed comparison between Ignatius and Seneca (especially De Providentia 1.5), Musonius Rufus (Lecture 6), and 4 Maccabees (9.8; 10:10).Finally, it argues that these similarities render Ignatius’ readiness to endure martyrdom less alien to contemporary audiences than has sometimes been assumed. Independent of authorial intent, his letters can evoke the rational underpinnings of philosophical discipline and associated cultural capital.