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‘I Have Heard from Some Teachers’: the Second-Century Struggle for Forgiveness and Reconciliation

  • Christine Trevett (a1)


In the close-knit valleys communities of South Wales where I was brought up, some fingers are still pointed at ‘the scab’, the miner who, for whatever reason, did not show solidarity in the strike of 1984-5, cement the definition between ‘them’ and ‘us’. In trouble-torn Palestine of the twenty-first century, or among the paramilitary groups of Northern Ireland today, suspected informers are summarily assassinated. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee continues its work in the post-apartheid era. In second-century Rome and elsewhere, the ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ who made up the fictive kinship groups – the churches – in the growing but illicit cult of the Christians were conscious both of their own vulnerability to outside opinion and of their failures in relation to their co-religionists. The questions which they asked, too, were questions about reconciliation and/or (spiritual) death.



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1 Subsequent generations remain tainted by association, as in ‘her father was a scab’.

2 See below, de Gruchy, John W., ‘From Resistance to National Reconciliation: the Response and Role of the Ecumenical Church in South Africa’, 36984 .

3 Ignatius, Ephesians, 11.1 [hereafter Eph]. All Apostolic Fathers’ writings referred to, i.e. Ignatius’s Letters, 1 Clement, 2 Clement, Polycarp’s Philippians, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Hermas’s The Shepherd, Didache and The Epistle of Barnabas, are accessible in The Apostolic Fathers, ed. and transl. Kirsopp Lake, Loeb Classical Library, 2 vols (London, 1972). The Epistula Apostolorum even sets a date. On this latter document see Miiller, D. G., ‘Epistula Apostolorum’, in New Testament Apocrypha I, ed. Schneemelcher, W. and Wilson, R. McL., 2 vols (revised edn, Cambridge, 1991), 24984 ; Hill, Charles E., ‘The Epistula Apostolorum: an Asian Tract from the Time of Polycarp’. Journal of Early Christian Studies 7 (1999), 153 and the literature there.

4 See e.g. Hermas’s treatment of the Beast in Vision 4 of The Shepherd. This work is in three parts: Visions [hereafter Vis], Mandates [hereafter Man] and Similitudes [hereafter Sim].

5 E.g. Hermas, Man 4.1.

6 Seen in the Ignatian letters which are discussed below. Cf. Sancti Irenaei Episcopi Lugdunensis, Adversus omnesHaereses, ed. W. W. Harvey (Cambridge, 1857, repr. Ridgewood, NJ, 1965), 1.13.5 [hereafter Irenaeus, AH]: the wife of an Asiatic deacon, defiled theologically and physically by the Gnostic Marcus, was weaned back to the fold and spent all her time in public confession and weeping over her lapse.

7 I borrow the phrase ‘Big Three’ from Everett Ferguson, ‘Early Church Penance’, Restoration Quarterly 36 (1994), 81-100. Adultery, idolatry and homicide become unpardonable sins for Tertullian in the early third century.

8 Canon 5 of the early fourth-century Council of Elvira. For a discussion of its severities and inconsistencies, see Dallen, James, The Reconciling Community: the Rite of Penance (Collegeville, MN, 1991), 5862 .

9 The word and related forms occur in 1 Clement 11.2; 23.2-3; 2 Clement 11.2 and 5; 19.2; Didache 4.4; Barnabas 19.5; but especially in The Shepherd: Vis 2.2.4; 3.2.2; 3.3.4; 3.4.3; 3.7.1; 3.10.9; 3.11.2; 4.1.4 and 7; 4.2.4 and 6; Man 5.2.1; 9.1; 9.5-12; 10.1.1; 10.2.2 and 4; 11.1; 11.2.4; 11.13; 12.4.2; Sim 1.3; 2.2.7; 6.1.2; 8.7.1-2; 8.8.3 and 5; 8.9.4; 8.10.2; 8.11.3; 9.4; 9.18.3; 9.21.1-3; 10.2.

10 In The Shepherd, for example, business affairs, riches and friendships with heathens, Man 10.1.4-5.

11 Pliny (Ep 10.96), 112 CE, had tortured two female household servants (ancillae) who were ministrae (deacons) for evidence about the new religion.

12 Martyrdom of Polycarp, 6.1 records the arrest of two ‘lads’ (male slaves). Under torture one revealed Polycarp’s whereabouts. The letter from the churches of Lyon and Vienne, in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, ed. and transl. H. J. Lawlor and J. E. L. Oulton, Loeb Classical Library, 2 vols (London, 1973), 5.1.14 [hereafter HE], told of non-Christian slaves who succumbed to fear of suffering as they saw the Christians doing. When prompted they provided the accusations of incest and cannibalism of children which the authorities were looking for. On slaves accusing Christians of immorality, see too Justin Martyr, Iustini Martyris Apologiae pro Christianis, ed. Miroslav Marcovich, Patristische Texte und Studien 38 (Berlin and New York, 1994), 2.12.4.

13 Hermas, Sim 9.26, tells of those who denied (under duress?) in time past and who had not returned to God and their church but were ‘living alone’. For such, provided that they had not ‘denied from their hearts’, there was opportunity for repentance.

14 Frances Young puts matters simply: ‘Reconstructing exacdy what was going on is not easy’, The Greek Fathers’, in Ian Hazlett, ed., Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to AD 600: in Honour of Frend, W.H.C. (London, 1991), 13547, 139 .

15 Cf. Tertullian, de Paenitentia 7-11 and de Pudicitia 13.18 [hereafter de Paen and de Pud]: all the works of Tertullian are edited in Tertulliani Opera, CChr.SL 1-2 (Turnhout, 1953-4); Origen, Contra Celsum, ed. Henry Chadwick (Cambridge, 1980), 6.15; Eusebius, HE 5.28. 10-12. Irenaeus told of those who were ashamed to make public confession, lost hope of a Christian life and fell away or lived lives of vacillation (AH 1.13.7).

16 Eusebius, HE 4.26.2.

17 Martyris, Iustini, Dialogus cum Tryphone, ed. Miroslav Marcovich, Patristische Texte und Studien 47 (Berlin and New York, 1997), 8 and 38.1; 112.4 [hereafter Justin, Dial].

18 The earliest of Tertullian’s Christian writings date from the final few years of the second century.

19 For a review of the earliest evidence, see the introductory observations of Dallen, The Reconciling Community, 5-24 and the useful overview by Ferguson, ‘Early Church Penance’ (see n. 6). Other and some ‘classic’ studies include Watkins, O. D., A History of Penance, 2 vols (London, 1920), Haslehurst, I; R. S. T., Some Account of the Penitential Discipline of the Early Church in the First Four Centuries (London, 1921); Hon, Josef, Die kirchliche Busse im II. Jahrhundert: eine Untersuchung der patristischen Busszeugnisse von Clemens Romanus bis Clemens Alexandrinus (Breslau, 1932); Poschmann, Bernhard, Poenitentia Secunda. Die kirchliche Busse im ältesten Christentum bis Cyprian und Origenes. Eine dogmengeschichtliche Untersuchung (Bonn, 1940), with texts, and, in English, his Penance and the Anointing of the Sick (London, 1964); Telfer, W., The Forgiveness of Sins: an Essay in the History of Christian Doctrine and Practice (London, 1959); van der Paverd, F., ‘Disciplinarian Procedures in the Early Church’, Augustinianum 21 (1981), 175213 ; Rahner, Karl, Theological Investigations: vol. XV. Penance in the Early Church (London, 1983); Goldhahn-Müller, Ingrid, Die Grenze der Gemeinde: Studien zum Problem der zweiten Busse im Neuen Testament unter Berücksichtigung der Entwicklung im 2. Jahrhundert bis Tertullien (Gottingen, 1989).

20 Streeter, B. H., The Primitive Church (London, 1929), 203 .

21 The term Montanism does not emerge until Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century. Tertullian, even when a Montanist, was always a Catholic, a view which is not peculiar to me: Trevett, Christine, Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy (Cambridge, 1996), 6676 and 11416 on forgiveness; arguing similarly, Rankin, David, Tertullian and the Church (Cambridge, 1995).

22 Tertullian, de Pud 20.

23 The Shepherd has been variously dated between 60-160 CE. Many writers now assume its evolution over several decades. A few assume multiple authorship (which I do not). I take it to date from around 90-120 CE and to have been created over an extended period.

24 It proved to be probably the most widely-read document of the first five Christian centuries, outside of (now) canonical writings.

25 Carolyn Osiek’s work on The Shepherd includes Rich and Poor in the Shepherd of Hermas: an Exegelical-Social Investigation (Washington, DC, 1983); The Genre and Function of The Shepherd of Hermas’, in Collins, Adela Yarbro, ed., Early Christian Apocalypticism: Genre and Social Setting, Semeia 36 (1986), 11321 ; The Early Second Century Through the Eyes of Hermas: Continuity and Change’, Biblical Theology Bulletin 20 (1990), 116-22 and The Shepherd of Hermas: a Commentary, Hermeneia Commentary Series (Minneapolis, MN, 1999).

26 Most writers on first- and early second-century Rome ( Brändle, Lampe, and Jeffers, Stegemann, Maier among them) acknowledge the existence of a number of different house churches in Paul’s time and later. Maier, Harry O. has drawn attention to the differences between Clement’s circle and that of Hermas: The Social Setting of the Ministry as Reflected in the Writings of Hermas, Clement and Ignatius (Waterloo, Ont., 1991). Cf. also Christine Trevett, ‘Charisma and Office in a Changing Church’, in Kreider, Alan, ed., The Origins of Christendom in the West (Edinburgh, 2001), 179203 .

27 Some writers have been dismissive of Hermas’s intelligence. Dibelius, Martin, DerHirt des Hermas (Tubingen, 1923), 423 , thought he lacked any theology, while others have called him ‘blundering’ and ‘careless’. See Wilson, J. Christian, Toward a Reassessment of the Shepherd of Hermas: Its Date and Pneumatology (Lewiston, N.Y., and Lampeter, 1993), 14 and Wilson, William Jerome, ‘The Career of the Prophet Hermas’, HThR 20 (1927), 2162 , 35: ‘If men such as Hermas had become the real leaders of Christianity, if such books as his had made up the New Testament, the church could hardly have survived. For the intellectual quality of its leadership has been one large secret of Christianity’s success’.

Carolyn Osiek, The Oral World of Early Christianity in Rome: the Case of Hermas’, in Donfried, Karl P. and Richardson, Peter, eds, Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, 1998), 15172 , 152 on ‘ordinary’ Christians.

28 Hermas, Vis 1.2.3. He had also been over-indulgent as a parent and unassertive.

29 See the survey article on the city by Patterson, J. B., ‘The City of Rome from Republic to Empire’. Journal of Roman Studies 82 (1992), 186215 ; Jeffers, James S., ‘Jewish and Christian Families in First-Century Rome’, in Donfried and Richardson, , eds, Judaism and Christianity, 12850 , 132, states: ‘The majority of Jews and Christians of necessity would have lived either in tiny apartments several stories above ground floor, in the homes of their masters or former masters, or in tahemae where their shops were located.’ See too idem, Conflict at Rome: Social Order and Hierarchy in Early Christianity (Minneapolis, MN, 1991), ch. 1, for a vivid picture of the life of the lower classes in the insulae tenements and the ground-floor tahemae.

30 I consider all such matters in my forthcoming book from University of Wales Press, Christian Women and the Time of the Apostolic Fathers (pre-160 CE): Corinth, Rome and Asia Minor, Part Two.

31 Writers have noted that Hermas’s picture of the churches in Rome suggests the same kinds of problems which are found in much later documents. See e.g. Frend, W. H. C., Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: a Study of a Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus (Oxford, 1965), 181 .

32 The Shepherd has many elements of an Apocalypse in it but is not a true one. On Great Tribulation, see Bauckham, R. J., ‘The Great Tribulation in the Shepherd of Hermas’, JThS NS 25 (1974). 2740 .

33 Failure in the face of persecution was a special case. Cf. Hermas, Vis 3.2-4; Sim 6.2.2-4 and especially Sim 9.19.1. Hermas, though not guiltless, had never gone so far (Vis 3.2). In Vis 3.3 one Maximus, who had formerly denied the faith, was challenged about the coming persecution.

34 I am not here discussing the extent to which the biographical details of Hermas and his family may be literary devices.

35 Fox, Robin Lane, Pagans and Christians (London, 1986), 3889 .

36 Hermas, Vis 2.2.1-4. See too Man 4.4 on post-widowhood continence and the remission of sins. Lifelong continence became a requirement in some later penances.

37 Hermas, Vis 6.2.4-7. Luxury was broadly defined in terms of all acts (such as the satisfying of a bad temper) done with pleasure (Sim 6.5.5). Useful, life-giving luxuriating (including enjoyment of doing good) was distinguished from the unrepentant, harmful, death-bringing sort

38 Bauckham, R. J., ‘The Apocalypse of Peter: an Account of Research’, in Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt II.25.6 (Berlin and New York, 1988), 471250 [hereafter ANRW]; idem, ‘Jews and Christians in the Land of Israel at the time of the Bar Kochba War, with Special Reference to the Apocalypse of Peter’, in Stanton, Graham N. and Stroumsa, Guy G., eds, Tolerance and Intolerance in Early Judaism and Christianity (Cambridge, 1998), 22838 ; Müllier, D. G., ‘Apocalypse of Peter’, in New Testament Apocrypha, 2: 62038 [hereafter Ap Pet].

39 Bauckham, Richard, The Fate of the Dead: Studies on the Jewish and Christian Apocalypses, Supplements to Novum Testamentum 93 (Leiden, 1998); Himmelfarb, Martha, Tours of Hell: an Apocalyptic Form in Jewish and Christian Literature (Philadelphia, PA, 1983). This Apocalypse was also considered authoritative by some. See e.g. the Muratorian Canon, II. 71-4, and Clement of Alexandria according to Eusebius, HE 6.14.1 The text is considered in Buchholz, Dennis D., Your Eyes Will Be Opened: a Study of the Greek (Ethiopic) Apocalypse of Peter (Atlanta, GA, 1988), 1942 on early witnesses to its use and 43ff. on secondary ones.

40 Gray, P., ‘Abortion, Infanticide, and the Social Rhetoric of the Apocalypse of Peter’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 9 (2001), 31337.

41 The Greek Rainer Fragment of the Ap Pet offers the ‘curious doctrine’, subsequently edited out (Buchholz, Your Eyes Will Be Opened, 348, comparing Epistula Apostolorum and Sib Orac 2. 330-38), of universal salvation, in that any of the saved may request others’ release from punishment. See his Supplement on this issue, 348-51.

42 Repentance was open to such people until the last day, however: Hermas, Vis 2.2.4-5.

43 Justin, 2 Apol 2. See Macdonald, Margaret Y., Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion: the Power of the Hysterical Woman (Cambridge, 1996), 20513 ; Lampe, P., Die Stadtromischen Christen in den ersten beiden Jahrhunderten: Untersuchungen zur Sozialgeschichte (Tubingen, 1987), 2003 .

44 Hermas, Man 4.3.1; Man 4.3.3-5 seems to imply a separation, like that made later by Clement of Alexandria, between baptismal ‘remission’ of sin and penitential ‘purgation’: Clemens Alexandrinus, Stromata Buch I-IV, ed. Otto Stählin, revised edn Ludwig Früchtel, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller 52.15 (Berlin, 1985), 2.13; 4.24 [hereafter Strom and GCS]. Cf. also Eusebius, HE 5.28.12. It witnesses to a Church wrestling with the dangers of inconsistency and hypocrisy. See Rahner, Penance, 77; Poschmann, Poenitentia Secunda, 159-68; idem, Penance, 28-9; Snyder, Graydon F., The Shepherd of Hermas, The Apostolic Fathers 6 (Camden, NJ, 1969), 36, 6972 ; Ferguson, , ‘Early Church Penance’, 94; Osiek, Shepherd of Hermas, 11415 .

45 Heb. 13: 24: They who are of Italy’. There are parallels between passages in Hebrews and the Roman Clement’s Letter to Corinth (36,1-6) also. Useful sources are Bruce, F. F., ‘To the Hebrews: a Document of Roman Christianity’, ANRW II.25.4, 34963601 ; Attridge, Harold W., The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia Commentary Series (Philadelphia, PA, 1989); Lane, William L., Hebrews, Word Biblical Commentary 47, 2 vols (Dallas, TX, 1991), 1: Hebrews 18 .

46 Heb. 6: 4-6; 10: 26-27 (RSV).

47 Once enlightened (Hebrews makes no mention of water or baptism, cf. 10: 32) but straying, a fresh start, or renewal (anakainizein), in repentance was impossible. Cf. also Heb. 10: 28-31; 12:16-17 on the fate of Esau who desired repentance.

48 Characterized by sharp boundary definitions, careful scrutiny pre-membership, rites of discipline and graded periods of exclusion. See Forkman, Goran, The Limits of the Religious Community: Expulsion from the Religious Community within the Qumran Sect, within Rabbinic Judaism and within Primitive Christianity (Lund, 1972).

49 Second-century reservations about the authority of this document may be related not just to its anonymity and the distinctive nature of its exegesis, but also to its uncompromising stance.

50 Another point of contact between Hebrews and The Shepherd is the use of the unusual (for early Christians) term hegoumenoi for leaders (Heb. 13: 7. 17 and 24; Hernias, Vis 2.26; 3.9.7f). Ecclus 30: 18 (cf. 17: 17; 4: 17) may lie behind both and the term occurs also in 1 Clement 1.3 (cf. 21.6). Whether and to what extent Hermas was associated with the circles which produced or received Hebrews is not easy to establish. He shows no knowledge of the kind of quotation and exegesis of Scripture which Hebrews contains and quotes only a (lost) non-canonical writing, The Book of Eldad and Modat (Vis 2.3.4). The words The Lord is near those that turn to him’ may suggest that the work contained teaching on forgiveness.

51 In The Shepherd, the truly repentant sinner might be received back (Man 4.1.8-9) and not even the adulterer, the teacher of false doctrine and the apostate were wholly beyond the pale (Sim 8).

52 There should be lifelong penance, but only in the hope that God would forgive at death (de Pud 2 and 4). Others, in Rome (or Carthage or both) were teaching differently (de Pud 1). It was too much for Tertullian that the ‘bishop of bishops’ (presumably in Rome) had declared remission of the sins of adultery and fornication for those whose penitence was complete (possibly, though we do not know this, as part of an on-going engagement with New Prophecy and other rigorists). In the mid-third century there were North African bishops who, like Tertullian, would not offer reconciliation to adulterers (Cyprian, Ep 51.21). It is beyond the scope of this paper to consider whether and to what extent Tertullian was innovatory in treating some sins as not remissable, though there is much debate on the matter.

53 Tertullian, de Paen 12.1, but contrast de Pud 6. 7 and 13. Tertullian, de Paen 7, had initially allowed a single post-baptismal repentance. It was a view which became widespread in the Church. Release from penalty (poena) was achieved through ‘satisfaction’ made, in compensatory penitence (poenitentia: see de Paen 5 and 6): see below, Bossy, John, ‘Satisfaction in Early Modern Europe, c.1400-1700’, 10618, 106 . The idea of remission through compensation had as its paradigm the death of Christ For Origen (Homiliae in Lev. 2; de Oratione 28; Exhoratio ad martyrium 30), acts of penitence and not just martyrdom acted as a second baptism for remission of sins. Day and night the penitent’s couch was tear-drenched. Similarly, Clement of Alexandria likened a Christian-turned-outlaw’s repentant tears to his second (self-) baptism, followed by prayer and fasting by others for and with him, until he was restored (see Alexandrinus, Clemens, Quis dives salvetur, ed. Otto Stahlin, revised edn Ludwig Früchtel, GCS (Berlin, 1970), 3942 , especially the last chapter).

54 Cf. Irenaeus, AH 3.4.3. Here Cerdon, predecessor of Marcion in heresy, was said to have been in the Roman church for some time, frequently making public confession, once confessing after having been teaching in secret and finally being denounced for wrong doctrine.

55 Cf. Clement, Strom 2.13. Hermas gives no details of a process. 2 Clement tells of acts of penitence—fasting, prayer and almsgiving (16.4 and cf. Didache 4.6; Ep Bam 19.10). 1 Clement (90s of the first century) mentions confession (52), seeking pardon from the offended (51.2; 57.1), humility and receipt of correction (56) from the presbyters (57). Origen {Contra Celsum 3.51) writes of a disciplinary period prior to reintegration.

56 Though, as Carolyn Osiek notes in The Shepherd of Hermas, 115, this should not be treated too literally — The Shepherd allows that what is difficult, in terms of salvation, is not impossible.

57 See especially Hermas, Sim 9.19.1: those who are apostates, who betrayed ‘the servants of God’. The Shepherd is less than clear on the matter of apostasy. Its seeming ‘shifts’ may be due to an extended period of composition.

58 Hermas, Vis 3.8.9: here during the building of the unfinished Tower (the Church) was a time when repentance and mercy and acceptance were possible for ‘all who call upon His name’; Hermas, Sim 8.6.3; 9.14.1—3. Otherwise only in Ep Bam 6.11 in the Apostolic Fathers.

59 Hippolytus Werke, Refutatio omnium haeresium, ed. Paul Wendland, GCS 26.3 (Leipzig, 1916, repr. Hildesheim and New York, 1977), 9.13.3 [hereafter Refut]. The sources are few for Élchasai, notably Hippolytus and Epiphanius (e.g. Refut 9. 13-17; 10.29; Epiphanius, Ancoratus undPanarion, ed. Karl Holl, 3 vols, GCS 25, 31, 37 (Leipzig, 1915-33), Pan 19 and 30). The possibility of forgiveness even for apostasy was common to both writers: Hermas, Sim 9.26.5; Epiphanius, Pan 19.1.8-9. See Irmscher, J., ‘The Book of Elchasai’, in New Testament Apocrypha, 2: 74550 .

60 Hippolytus, Refut 9.15.1-3.

61 Cp. Tertullian, dePaen 7, but contrast Clement, Strom 2.23.

62 See Schrijnen, Josef, ‘Die Entwicklung der Bussdisziplin im Lichte der altchristlichen Kunst’, in idem, Collectanea Schrijnen: Verspreide Opstellen (Nijmegen, 1939), 27794 . For Tertullian’s determinedly different slant on the matter of the lost sheep, see de Pud 7.

63 The stance of The Shepherd bore on the life-choices of the guiltless also. Thus the husband of an adulterous Christian wife had to divorce her (which matched both the Roman Augustan legislation and the sentiment of Matthew 19: 8-9), but not remarry in order to leave open the route to forgiveness and reconciliation. He was obliged to receive her back (which did not accord with the Lex lulia de adulteriis coercendis), for it was necessary to receive the repentant, ‘but not often’: ‘for the servants of God there is one repentance’ (Hermas, Man 4.1.4-8).

64 Hiers, R., ‘Binding and Loosing: the Matthaean Authorizations’. Journal of Biblical Literature 104 (1985), 23350 . Cf. the pre- r 50 CE Epistula Apostolorum, 47-8, which makes no reference to the part of ‘the Church’ in the process. See Epistula Apostolorum, in New Testament Apocrypha 1: 276-7.

65 Despite the latest attempts (e.g. Hiibner and Lechner) to redate the Middle Recension of the Ignatian corpus, I hold, with most writers, to an early second-century date for the letters (to Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Philadelphia, Rome, Smyrna and to Polycarp). See Schoedel, William R., Ignatius of Antioch: a Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, Hermeneia Commentary Series (Philadelphia, PA, 1985); Trevett, Christine, A Study of Ignatius of Antioch in Syria and Asia (Lewiston, N.Y., 1992), 114 .

66 Smymaeans 4.1; 5.3 [hereafter Smyrn]; cf. Philadelphians 3.1-2 [hereafter Phld].

67 Smyrn $.2; 7.1.

68 Smyrn 4.1; 5.3 cf. 7.1. In Hermas, those who introduced strange doctrine and corrupted Christians thereby might still repent and be reintegrated into the Tower of the Church (Sim 8.6.5-6). Ignatius was not optimistic that they would repent, but Jesus Christ had the power, cf. Eph. 7: 2: where a cure was unlikely, only the Lord as physician held the cure.

69 Ignatius, Phld 8.1.

70 Reference to the synedrion of the bishop in Phld 8.1 may be suggestive of those who formally ‘received’ the penitent 1 Clement 57.1 advised submission to the presbyters to receive correction, ‘bending the knees of your hearts’. Pre-eucharistic confession and reconciliation with co-religionists is mentioned in Didache 14; see the discussion in Kurt Niederwimmer, The Didache: a Commentary, Hermeneia Commentary Series, transl. Maloney, Linda M. and Attridge, Harold W. (Minneapolis, MN, 1998), 1939 . The Two Ways material in Didache 4.14 speaks of confession of sins ‘in the ecclesia’ (an [editorial?] phrase not found in the parallel Two Ways material in Ep. Bam 19.12). Ecclesiastical confession figures in Justin, Dial 141. Ignatius was describing a church order which was in its infancy and not yet universal and an understanding of the church which was not shared by all (‘orthodox’) Christians in the region. It is inappropriate, in my opinion, to discuss passages such as Trallians 6-7 [hereafter Trall]; Phld 2-3; 8; Smyrn 9 in terms of a preceding act of ‘excommunication’. Ferguson, ‘Early Church Penance’, 82, rightly sees a lack of finality in the drawing of’lines of fellowship’ in such passages about ‘rebellion and division’.

71 E.g. the oversight of Christian marriages, knowledge of a decision for celibacy, the care of widows, control of eucharistic and baptismal rites, as seen especially in his two letters to Smyrna. Cf. Brent, A., ‘The Relations between Ignatius and the Didascalia’, The Second Century 8 (1991), 12956 , 155: ‘the absence of any power of absolution in the hands of the bishop unites Hermas with Ignatius against the Didascalist’.

72 E.g. 1 John 4: 1; 2 John 10.

73 Smym 5.3. Sumney, Jerry L., ‘Those Who “Ignorantly Deny Him”: the Opponents of Ignatius of Antioch’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 1 (1993), 34565 . Cf. the interpretation of Michael Goulder in his recent articles: ‘Ignatius’ “Docetists”’, Vigiliae Christianae 53 (1999), 16-30; idem, ‘A Poor Man’s Christology’, New Testament Studies 45/3 (1999), 332-48.

74 Such ‘confession’ is publicly of faith, made, as in this case, after Christians’ prayerful support. It may also (and probably did) involve acknowledgement of sins. As usual in this period we have no details.

75 Ignatius described their present position in terms of denial (rather than confession) and blasphemy of Jesus Christ (Smym 5.1-2; 7.1).

76 Smym 7.2; 4.1; cf. 1 John 4: 2-3. A ‘bodiless’ or ‘phantasmal’ person could not truly suffer, though might ‘seemingly’ do so (cf. Smym 2.1; cf. Trail 10.1). The Greek verb ‘to seem/appear to be’ lies behind the term ‘docetism’.

77 The imperatives were insistent where this error was concerned: ‘shun’, ‘flee from’, ‘refrain from… heresy’, ‘abstain from evil growths…’; ‘beware’, ‘Be deaf…’. Cf. similar language in the anti-docetic 3 Corinthians (in the Asian Acts of Paul) 3.21 and 29: Schneemelcher, W., ‘Acts of Paul’, in New Testament Apochrypha II, 2557 .

78 See Niederwimmer, The Didache, 203: The community itself exercises the right of discipline, and the most extreme means at its disposal is excommunication’. Cf. too Poschmann, Poenitentia Secunda, 95-6.

79 E.g. ‘prayer’ and eucharist, through being at odds with (‘not confessing’) what others assumed about the flesh of the Lord (Smym 7.1). The matter was one of separate gatherings (and there were others beside these in the regions Ignatius was addressing), not one of grevious wrongdoing having brought exclusion from prayer and eucharist Cf. Tertullian’s pre-Montanist Apol 39.4.

80 Smym 7.2 (I am following the readings of MS Gg): ‘It is right therefore to refrain from (apechesthai) such and not to speak about them even privately or in public (koiné)’. Cf. Eph. 7: 1: shun them (using ekklinó) as the surreptitiously biting wild beasts that they were.

81 I.e. to avoid and not ekkleió meaning to shut out.

82 Cf. Hermas, Sim 1.5, where the city (the Church) might determine to exclude the compromising Christian who had abandoned its law but now sought to return. Also Hermas, Vis 3.9.6, where the thoughtless rich, wanting to do good and be part of the Church (the Tower), on its completion are shut out.

83 Atheoi in Trail 10.1; cf. 3.2. For Ignatius Christ is ‘our God’. The christology of these errorists is not made clear, but this may be a comment on it. See Trevett, Ignatius, 15 5-69.

84 The ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ status of the advocates of docetism is not easy to determine. I think that by the time of writing they were to be regarded as ‘outside’, but perhaps the lack of a formalized process had created opportunity for contact and uncertainty. Ignatius’s advice may have been intended to clarify some matters.

85 Paul had used the same verb in Rom. 16: 17, about avoiding contact with those who caused trouble and questioned the teaching given. 1 Cor. 5: 9-12 contained not dissimilar advice, namely, that believers should cease association with certain people presently within the Christian circle. They should not keep company or eat with them. The aim in that case was to drive them firmly from the local church (exarate; 1 Cor. 5: 13). Cf. too 2 Thess. 3: 14, where the same verb was used. This was a disciplinary move, a withdrawal of support and shaming of the individual into compliance. But that person was not an enemy (echthros). The process of exclusion in Anabaptist communities and Amish social avoidance (‘shunning’, in the German Meidung) comes to mind, based as it is on interpretation of just these New Testament passages. See Hostetler, John A., Amish Society (4th edn, Baltimore, PA and London, 1993), 857 and the literature there.

86 These are Niederwimmer’s words (Didache, 204) on Didache 15, and are applicable to Ignatius too, I think. The Greek of Didache 15.3b has its difficulties.

87 It is the nearest thing we have in second-century Christian writing to a systematic consideration of these matters, even though it is far from being that precisely and in any case offers more than a doctrinaire theory of repentance.

88 Ignatius was writing to the region where the Johannine teaching on confession and on ‘mortal’ sins may well have been known: I John i: 9; 4: 15-17.

89 See Watkins, History of Penance, 105-7. Clement was one of those on the side of The Shepherd, which he knew, reproducing much of its teaching on sin and repentance. His evidence does show that similar practices were to be found far East of Rome.

90 Polycarp’s Phil is probably a composite of two letters in its present form. The earlier of the two concerned the progress of Ignatius on his way to martyrdom. The portions on righteousness and Valens belong to the later document. The ‘classic’ study of this document was that by Harrison, P. N., Polycarp’s Two Epistles to the Philippians (Cambridge, 1936). Hartog, Contrast Paul, Polycarp and the New Testament: the Occasion, Rhetoric, Theme and Unity of the Epistle to the Philippians and its Allusions to New Testament Literature, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 2. Reihe 134. (Tubingen, 2002).

91 Cf. Polycarp, Phil 2.3; 3.3; 4.1; 5.2; 8.1; 9.1-2 and also 2.2. The kinds of behaviour he advocates and deplores as unrighteous probably contain clues to what had happened in Philippi.

92 Despite a dearth of archaeological evidence for a Jewish community on Philippi, the book of Acts and other sources indicate Jewish presence there.

93 Maier, Harry O., ‘Purity and Danger in Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians. the Sin of Valens in Social Perspective’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 1 (1993), 22947 .

94 ‘The Valens affair’ may have been the chief cause of the letter. In my forthcoming study Christian Women and the Time of the Apostolic Fathers, I suggest that the couple had formerly been part of the church in Smyrna.

95 Echoes of Psalms and Proverbs, favourite second-century sources, do appear in the letter.

96 Polycarp, Phil 11.4: ‘sobrii ergo estote et vos in hoc…’. The Latin version, which complements eight defective Greek manuscripts of this document, appears at this point in the Loeb edition of the text.

97 Polycarp, Phil 12.2; cf. Heb. 6: 20; 7: 3, wishing the Philippians patience and freedom from wrath.

98 Irenaeus, AH 3.3.4; Eusebius, HE 4.14.7.

99 We know of these ‘general epistles’ only from Eusebius, HE 4.23.

100 Eusebius, HE 4.23.7-8.

101 TertuUian, II Ad Uxor 4.

102 TertuUian, de Pud 22;pace TertuUian, in North Africa in the 250s soon-to-be martyrs in prison and some clergy were reconciling the lapsed.

103 Trevett, Montanism, 26-45.

104 Trevett, Montanism, 105-28.

105 See for example Pacian of Barcelona to the Novatianist Sympronianus (1-2) on their hostility to penance; Jerome [Ep 41 Ad Marcellam, ed. I. Hilberg, Epistulae, Corpus Christianorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinaram 54 (Vienna, 1910), 3] on their unforgiving discipline. These and other anti-Montanist sources and translations are most easily accessible in Heine, Ronald E., The Montanist Oracles and Testimonia, Patristic Monograph Series 14 (Macon, GA, 1989). Cf. also Tertullian, de Monog 2.1 and 4 .

106 Tertullian, de Jej 1 was uncompromising—it was the guts and genitals of the psychics (the Catholics) which lay behind complaints and accusations, because the Prophets taught that ‘our fasts ought to be more numerous than our marriages’!

107 Germanus, patriarch of Constantinople (715-30), Ad Antimum 5, PG 98, 41-44. Cf. Apoc.Pet. 7 and 11 (Ethiopic), 22 and 24 (Greek, Akhmim): see Müller, D. G., ‘Apocalypse of Peter’, 62832 .

108 Tertullian attributed the anonymous Hebrews to Barnabas, de Pud 20.1-2.

109 Probably so, since for example both were concerned with a city of promise (Jerusalem); but see Trevett, Montanism, 117.

110 See too Vokes, F. E., ‘Penitential Discipline in Montanism’, in Livingstone, Elizabeth A., ed., Papers Presented to the Sixth International Conference on Patristic Studies Held in Oxford, 1971, Studia Patristica 14 = Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 117 (1976), 6276 .

111 Hippolytus, de Pud 21 and cf. the challenge to mainstream tradition in de Pud 12 on the ‘washing’ of penitence. The ‘I’ of this Saying is anonymous. On other New Prophecy sayings and ‘I’ see Trevett, Montanism, 77-86, 163-70. This and other New Prophecy oracles and testimonia are collected in Heine, Montanist Oracles, 93, in his translation.

112 Hippolytus, Refut 8.19; 10.25-6.

113 Dallen, The Reconciling Community, 31.

114 It was spread ‘among many’, Eusebius reported.

115 Eusebius, HE 5.3.4; see Trevett, Montanism, 36. Essays by Bowersock, G. W., Grant, R. M., Barnes, T. D. and others on the Asian/New Prophet links with the Gallic Christians plus other background material are in Rouge, Jean and Turcan, Robert, eds, Les Martyrs de Lyon, Colloque International du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Lyon, 2023 septembre 1977 (Paris, 1978).

116 Eusebius, HE 5.1.2.

117 See also Eusebius, HE 5.4.1.

118 Eusebius, HE 5.3.2-3. For discussion of such knowledge see Trevett, , Montanism, 53, 5860, 64 .

119 Similarly the Martydom of Polycarp was sent to the church in Philomelium in Phrygia (MPol. Inscr) at its request (20.1) and contains passages which some take to be interpolations engaging in debate with Montanism. See Buschmann, Gerd, ‘Martyrium Polycarpi 4 und der Montanismus’, Vigiliae Christianae 49 (1995), 10545 and Dehandschutter, B., The Martyrium Polycarpi; a Century of Research’, ANRW II.27.1 (Berlin, 1993), 485522 ; Trevett, Montanism, 41, 123-4.

120 There are variant forms of this word in the manuscripts.

121 Eusebius, HE 5.2.2-4; cf. 5.18.6-7 (Apollonius) and 5.16.20 (Anonymous).

122 Eusebius,HE 5.2.5; cf. 5.1.45-6; 5.18.6.

123 The very-much-alive New Prophet ‘martyr’ called Alexander (Eusebius, HE 5.18.6 [Apollonius]) was alleged to have been a convicted criminal who had in time past not been ‘received’ by Christians. When Apollonius demanded challengingly whether now the prophetess forgave him of robbery or he as martyr absolved her from greed, we should probably regard this remark as biting comment on the New Prophecy’s famed rigour, rather than evidence that forgiveness was common. The Catholic ‘martyr’ Aurelius Cyrenaeus was also very much alive when he signed a document against the New Prophecy referred to by Eusebius in HE 5.19.3.

124 The North African Passio Perpetuae, post 203 in date, which was at least redacted by Montanists, is important witness to belief in the power of confessors/martyrs to intercede for the suffering dead and to bestow peace on the living. It can not be discussed here.

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‘I Have Heard from Some Teachers’: the Second-Century Struggle for Forgiveness and Reconciliation

  • Christine Trevett (a1)


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