Martyrdom In Ignatius Of Antioch’s Epistle To The Romans

In our previous discussion of the Ignatius of Antioch’s Epistle to the Romans [1], we briefly noted that this letter standards apart from the other six letters from the author on two grounds.  For one, this letter is the only one that does not acknowledge the presiding bishop of the congregation or seek to encourage or bolster the authority of the bishop in his congregation.  This is sufficient to make this letter an unusual one in the author’s intriguing if short body of work.  However, there is another difference that deserves some extended treatment, and that is the approach of Ignatius towards martyrdom in his letter to the Romans.  Indeed, Ignatius’ view of martyrdom is so distinctive and even troubling that it is worthwhile to let Ignatius (at least in translation) do as much of the discussion of his view as possible.  When one finds troubling texts, it is best not to try to insert oneself into the interpretation of that text except as necessary and to let an author speak for themselves as much as possible to define themselves in their own words.

When we wonder what view Ignatius had about martyrdom, it is best to let him speak in his own words, and before offering up commentary on this view, I think it would be best to read what Ignatius himself has to say on the subject:

“My prayers that I might live to see your devoted community face to face have been answered; indeed, I have been granted more than I asked for, since I can now hope to greet you in the very chains of a prisoner of Jesus Christ, if His will permits me to reach my journey’s end.  So far, things have made an admirable beginning; and now all depends on whether I can reach the goal and secure my inheritance without hindrance (85).”

“For by staying silent and letting me alone, you can turn me into an intelligible uttarance of God; but if your affections are only concerned with my poor human life, then I become a mere meaningless cry once more.  This favour only I beg of you:  suffer me to be a libation poured out to God, while there is still an altar ready for me (85-86).”

“For my part, I am writing to all the churches and assuring them that I am truly in earnest about dying for God – if only you yourselves put no obstacles in the way.  I must implore you to do me no such untimely kindness; pray leave me to be a meal for the beasts, for it is they who can provide my way to God.  I am His wheat, ground fine by the lions’ teeth to be made purest bread for Christ.  Better still, incite the creatures to become a sepulchre for me; let them not leave the smallest scrap of my flesh, so that I need not be a burden to anyone after I fall asleep.  When there is no trace of my body for the world to see, then I shall truly be Jesus Christ’s disciple (86).”

“How I look forward to the real lions that have been got ready for me!  All I pray is that I may find them swift.  I am going to make overtures to them, so that, unlike some other wretches whom they have been too spiritless to touch, they shall devour me with all speed.  And if they are still reluctant, I shall use force to them.  You must forgive me, but I do know what is best for myself.  This is the first stage of my discipleship; and no power, visible or invisible, must grudge me my coming to Jesus Christ.  Fire, cross, beast-fighting, hacking and quartering, splintering of bone and mangling of limb, even the puverizing of my entire body – let every horrid and diabolical torment come upon me, provided only that I can win my way to Jesus Christ! (87)”

“Intercede for me, then, that I may have my wish; for I am not writing now as a mere man, but I am voicing the mind of God.  My suffering will be a proof of your goodwill; my rejection, a proof of your disfavor (88).”

What do we read when we see these statements?  It is hard to consider such statements as the mind of God for at least several reasons.  For one, we know from Ignatius’ writings that he was hostile to the Sabbath and this alienated him in some way from the mind of God because of his disobedience of God’s clear commandments.  For another, we do not know of martyrdom being the main or only way that someone could reach God’s kingdom.  We do know, from reading passages like Hebrews 11, that the godly often faced unjust persecution from a world that was not worthy of them throughout history, but the martyrdom was a sign of the world’s unworthiness and not strictly a sign of the worthiness of those believers.  Whether or not God chose to deliver someone from martyrdom was a matter of His decision, and there is no biblical warrant for judging that those delivered from possible martyrdom (Daniel in the lion’s den or his three friends in the fire of Nebuchadnezzar) were less godly and less righteous and less blessed for being delivered than those who suffered the extreme horrors as a result of their faith (like the martyrs during the persecution of the Seleucids).

Where, then, did Ignatius get the idea that his ticket to the front of the line in the kingdom of heaven was being martyred?  Was his death a necessary one or did he court it unnecessarily?  It is one thing to live honorably and to find death the only way that one can preserve one’s fidelity to God’s ways in the case of persecution, but generally the Bible counsels that people flee and live and worship God somewhere else and raise godly offspring and all of that.  Martyrdom is to be an option of last resort, not to be a choice made impulsively and unnecessarily, as may have been the case for Ignatius.  Having made that choice, it is little surprise that Ignatius should defend that story personally and vigorously, but the question is whether he was right to do so in the first place.  The Bible indicates, at least if we take Hebrews 11 as our model, that it is not the manner of death that is most fundamental to one’s place in God’s Kingdom but rather one’s faith and obedience in the way one lives life.  If one is not godly enough in one’s manner of living to enter into God’s kingdom, then one’s horrific death will not earn one a speedy ticket there.

After all, did not Jesus say to those who rejected His ways the following in Luke 13:26-28:  “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’  But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.”  Did He not also say in Matthew 7:21-23:  ““Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”  Since we do not believe that Ignatius’ making a spectacle out of dying was doing the will of God and we know that his hostility to the Sabbath was contrary to God’s ways and practicing lawlessness, Ignatius’ attempt to enter the Kingdom of God by dying in imitation of Christ was in vain and was not the sort of example that we should follow ourselves. Quod erat demonstradum.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Matrix And Philosophy: Welcome To The Desert Of The Real

The Matrix And Philosophy:  Welcome To The Desert Of The Real, edited by William Irwin

As someone who is a pretty regular reader of the pop culture and philosophy series of books [1], I have in mind a certain standard of excellence or at least amusement in the series.  But every series has to start somewhere, and this book is certainly evidence that at the beginning of the series the various authors were not yet fully aware of the sort of writing that would be necessary to both bring at least some honor and glory to themselves as philosophers while simultaneously appealing to a mass audience of readers.  This book manages to fall into the uncanny valley of writing, both too wonky to appeal to widespread readers and not sufficiently glorious to benefit the c.v. of the vast majority of the writers here.  In general, what one tends to find here is rambling essays that go on for way too long and people who can’t stay on topic, as well as the usual biases in the approach of the authors and conflicting positions held by different people about the same topics of study.  Unfortunately, this book doesn’t provide much to enjoy, and its subtitle is definitely all too accurate.

The contents of this book are a bit over 250 pages divided into twenty essays that deal with only the first of the Matrix movies.  These essays are divided thematically into five “scenes.”  The first four essays look at questions of epistemology and how it is that anything can be known in the Matrix, along with some tie-ins to Socrates and other philosophers.  The second part of the book examines the desert of the real and looks at questions of metaphysics, the Matrix’s philosophy of mind, materialism, and issues of fate and free will.  The third part of the book looks at the question of ethics and religion in the Matrix, pointing out Buddhist and pluralist elements as well as the question of whether ignorance is bliss and Kantian approaches to ethics.  The fourth part of the book looks at questions of nihilism and authenticity and the problematic nature of real response to fiction and the genre complexity of the Matrix story.  The fifth and final section of the book subjects the Matrix to various types of deconstructionism, comparing the Matrix to a forgotten film released around the same time that one of the essayists prefers for its far more adventuresome and unconventional handling of sexuality, looking at a Marxian view of the Matrix, and wrestling with questions of postmodernism and perversion.

Overall, this book does not hit its mark.  Even more than usual, the authors show a great deal of bias that makes this a much less enjoyable book to read than most of the books are in the series.  For one, the book has too little of a context to deal with, as all of these essays draw their commentary on a small set of quotes and incidents in one movie.  Later books in the series would have a larger scope to deal with, which made their books less monotonous and repetitive, even if not necessarily more true.  The hype that came from the first movie was not supported by the sequels to the film, and that makes this book a bit too quick off the mark, and not of lasting enough value.  This book neither has the style nor the substance to make it a truly worthwhile volume, and it was good that the editors of the series learned some lessons from the failure of this book to make better and more enjoyable books later in the series.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: James Bond And Philosophy

James Bond And Philosophy:  Questions Are Forever, edited by James B. South and Jacob M. Held

As someone who has read a few books in this series of pop culture and philosophy crossovers [1], I went into it with the proper set of expectations.  This book, and the other books in the series, are generally written by slumming philosophers who are trying to get something published and perhaps help pay the bills while using pop culture as an empty vessel in which to display their own particular philosophical views.  I go into these books finding many of the pop culture elements themselves somewhat problematic in one way or another and the philosophies even more so, but I also read them in order to see how it is that people seek to put an accessible facade over their often complicated philosophical views and demonstrate that anything that can be analyzed can also be used as a trojan horse for one’s worldviews.  The philosophers in this book have worldviews that are no better or worse than contemporary philosophers as a general lot, and that is not a terribly high standard.  Questions are forever, perhaps, but the answers won’t be found here.

The contents of this book are as self-contradictory and sprawling as one would expect for a book of this nature, but at somewhat over 200 pages, it’s not a terribly long book to read at least.  Many of the titles of the articles show some clever puns on quotes from the James Bond series either in print or from the movies.  The book begins with a section on Bond, exstitentialism, and death that includes three essays that wrestle with the meaningful life and the omnipresent threat of death.  The second section looks at the man behind the number 007 with four essays on such issues as phenomenology, Nietzsche, and a view of Bond as a comic and chivalric hero.  The third section of the book contains three essays that wrestle with the relationship between James bond and issues of law and politics.  The fourth section contains three essays that look at the connection between knowledge and technology in the James Bond series, and the fifth section closes the book with two essays that examine issues of multi-culturalism, misogyny, and a kinder gentler James Bond in more recent portrayals.  The supplementary material of the book provides some information that shows that this book only covers up to Casino Real and nothing past that in terms of films, making it somewhat obsolete.

Obviously, this book is aimed at people who are both philosophically inclined and who are fans of James Bond.  I tend to have ambivalent feelings about both James Bond and philosophy and the implications of both, although I did find some aspects of these essays to be worthwhile.  For example, I was deeply intrigued by the ongoing popularity of James Bond and his retributive violence and the implications this has for views of criminals as lacking some sort of human rights as a result of their criminality.  Other essays point out that James Bond directs his violence not so much against people from other states in a narrowly Cold War fashion but against outsiders who have sought to use criminality as a protest against the injustices they see in James Bond’s England other states.  Even though this is a deeply uneven collection of essays, there is still a great deal worthy of reflection here, which means that the book is at least somewhat enjoyable despite its flaws.  If only all books on philosophy could be this thought-provoking and this aware of the ephemerality of what they were dealing with.

[1] See, for example:

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O Tinnitus (After Gerard Manley Hopkins)

O Tinnitus, buzzing in my ears–
Wretched blasted buzzing thickets–
Haunted my life for years
With a sound like chirping crickets.

Does this sound come from playing
The noble viola for too long?
Or is the sound due to laying
In bed listening to many a song?

I must say I do not know
How to get rid of this persistent sound
Or how far my ears will go
To make it hard to understand those around.

But lest it be thought that in such a place
I should only repine and whining whine,
Let it simply be said I will manly face
The buzzing in these poor, poor ears of mine.


Those of you who read this poem and are at least somewhat familiar with other poems that I have written [1] will be able to see that this poem is quite different in its somewhat rigid and even stilted rhyme scheme and sprung meter elements.  I have, for the sake of the reader and the comprehension of this poem, avoided the use of accented speech to try to force the reader a certain way, and to allow him or her to take the lines of the poem as seems most appropriate.  Such concessions to the sensibility of the reader are, alas, all too unfamiliar from the model of this poem that I drew from in a somewhat mocking way, and will likely not be appreciated by those who have not bothered to see how unfortunate a model this ode to tinnitus has.

The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins is something that must be read to be appreciated.  Fortunately, that body of work is not a particularly large one, or else I would feel bad about urging someone to waste too much time in it.  At any rate, though, the poetry is not good.  The attentive reader may note that I made a pun (Hopkins was fond of puns, as he was of eye rhymes and tedious alliteration and eliding the relative pronoun that in his writing) on the author’s name by noting at the end of that I will manly face the buzzing of my ears.  Specifically, the last note of the poem is a reference to the last line of his poem “Cheery Beggar,” but I hope that my poetry is far less incomprehensible than that of Hopkins.  Those readers who are familiar with the model may understand.  Those who do not, I trust will understand that there is something larger afoot than merely an ode to a troublesome and frequent buzzing in my ears and leave it at that.

This particular poem may be judged as a pastiche, and hopefully not an unkind one.  Hopkins himself was known to take ridiculous lines and to mock them in a rather intriguing way and this poem may be taken as giving that treatment back to Hopkins, after a manner.  The pastiche, for those who are not aware, is an effort that takes the form of someone else’s writing and mimics it in a comic or ridiculous aim.  As a high school student I took the closing scene of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” and turned it into an incestuous parting between two sibling-lovers.  Perhaps more daringly, I turned it in for an assessment that was sent overseas to be scored, which was in retrospect perhaps not the best of ideas, but even as a young and inexperienced writer I was quite cheeky, no doubt.  Suffice it to say that pastiche is an approach to writing that I am not unfamiliar with, and I thought it worthy to assay such a method here as well, as Hopkins’ style is so well suited to parody and imitation, although hopefully not too much of it, lest the poetry become popular merely as a meme.

Yet although the poetry of Hopkins is definitely memeworthy, without a doubt, I trust as well that at least some readers will note that there is some seriousness in the poem as well.  I did not choose tinnitus to talk about merely at random, but in fact after reading the poems of Hopkins I was lying in bed with that dreadful ringing wondering if it would keep me from falling asleep (it didn’t) or whether it would persist for a while (as it does while I write these lines even now).  If I write as a bit of a joke towards a long dead late Victorian Jesuit poet, let it be said that at least the joke hits close to home in my own concerns about my hearing and the persistent buzzing that my ears often have.  Perhaps then, as it so often is, that the joke of this poem is on me, for who else reads obscure poetry from people who are long dead and then tries to imitate their style to whine about one’s own issues?  Only such a writer as myself, I suppose.

[1] See, for example:

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I, Plastic Dino, Do Solemnly Swear…


[Note:  Image, originally from Facebook, courtesy of]

“I, Plastic Dino,
do solemnly swear
that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States
against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States
and the orders of the officers appointed over me,
according to regulations
and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
So help me God [1].”

“If it is right and proper
that someone gains their citizenship
through service to this great nation
of ours, how can it be wrong for
a plastic T-Rex of a maligned race,
whose relatives are hunted on
jungle islands and bombed to
destruction in movies to join
in a willingness to adhere to this nation
and to obey the orders of our President
and to follow regulations as well
so that you may know that plastic dinosaurs
are as willing to endure hardship to
serve our nation as anyone else here,
even if my arms are short and my teeth sharp?”


It appears that there has been a bit of a brouhaha concerning a somewhat silly re-enlistment video out of Tennessee where a re-enlistment, to the extent that the person who made the oath in the above photo was fired and there are other repercussions that are possible.  There are at least a few replies that are possible to this.  One response, and I think this will be the most common one from civilians as a whole, is to wonder why the military doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.  Most civilians, after all, do not solemnly swear to anything, and probably do not have the sort of seriousness about military matters that one would assume would be the case among those who are paid and honor bound to defend our country from enemies, foreign and domestic.  One would expect that those who are or have been in the military would view this sort of thing as a profanation of a very serious oath.

In light of that, I thought it would be worthwhile to picture the military oath from the point of view of the poor and lamented plastic dino whose presence in a solemn ceremony has caused such trouble.  For one, I thought it worthwhile to quote the oath that the person bringing the dinosaur likely said, and put it from the point of view of the plastic dino itself.  Let us note that this is an immensely serious oath.  It is an oath of commitment taken before God, something I take seriously at any rate when it is done at baptism and marriage, and that someone should take seriously given the life and death importance of obedience and acting in defense of a country.  Given that the oath is a commitment to follow the orders of superiors and at least implicitly to act in ways that do not bring dishonor upon the institution as a whole, it would appear that a plastic dino would not be fitting for such a serious time, and suggest that the people who approved of such a video do not take their service particularly seriously.

As someone who likes to imagine myself in somewhat maligned or unusual perspectives [2], I thought it would be worthwhile to think of what the plastic t-rex on the hand of the former air force public relations sergeant would speak in its defense if it could speak.  Plastic dinos are creatures of fiction and imagination, and one could easily see such a being lamenting the negative portrayal of the T-Rex in the Jurassic Part series, for example, and confusing such fictional treatment with the real life seriousness of making an oath to defend one’s country.  It is somewhat striking, moreover, that the former airman at the base of this worked in public relations.  Perhaps all that time spent trying to think of ways to make the Air Force look cool to those outside of the air force led her to fail at thinking of what was necessary for her as someone inside the Air Force to uphold the honor and reputation of the institution she served.  Sometimes when we look outside to what might go viral and appear funny or cute, we fail to realize the seriousness of what we are about.

There is certainly a time and place for a plastic dino in the Air Force.  One can amuse oneself with imaginary dialogues between oneself and said dino in the hours of boredom that exist when one does not want to read or watch television or anything else.  One could, for example, at a post-enrollment party held at the local Px Exchange have a fun time with a plastic dino on one’s hand.  However, the solemnity of the oath and the sensitivity of institutions to looking silly or ridiculous, especially when they deal in life and death matters of the utmost seriousness, are not appropriate places for plastic dinos to be.  Would such a dino be out of place or inappropriate if one were going under oath in a courtroom, giving the oath of office if being elected to political office, or making a commitment before God and others at a baptism or wedding or ordination?  I would think so, and in that light, the dino was definitely a bad idea.  Too bad the dinosaur is the only one involved who is unable to give a perspective of what it is like to be at the center of such storm and trouble.

[1] Enlistment oath quoted above cited from:

[2] See, for example:

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Ignatius Of Antioch: The Concerns Of A Dying Man

In the short series of letters by Ignatius Of Antioch we have a striking and unusual picture of the concerns of a man who knew he was going to his death.  Although we will examine the Epistle to the Romans separately on its own, as that letter is quite distinct from the rest and is more diplomatic and logistical in nature, the remaining letters of Ingatius as he made his way from Antioch through the cities of Asia Minor on his farewell tour towards Rome that were collected by Polycarp and assembled together as part of a collection [1] make for deeply interesting reading that is worthy to examine in some detail.  After all, Ignatius knew he was dying and (as we will see later) relished his approaching death, but at the same time he had earthly concerns to deal with in the here and now before he died, and these concerns are worth looking at to see what it is that Ignatius was trying to accomplish even as the day of his demise approached.

The first of the letters of Ignatius went to Ephesus, and he opens this letter with praise for the encouragement that the congregation gave him upon their visit.  He comments at some length about the church leadership in the congregation, and asks the favor of Burrhus staying with him along the journey.  He humbly comments on his own pretensions to scholarship and tells the Ephesians that they need to obey their bishop.  After this he opposes the tendency of people to withdraw from fellowship with their brethren, thus excommunicating themselves.  After this the author talks about the respect that is due to a bishop like Onesimus and criticizes the hypocrisy of some who claim to be Christian but act in a way that brings dishonor to God’s name.  After warning the Ephesians not to be misled, he then turns to warning the congregation about those who preach heresy but enjoins them to pray for the well-being of the world as a whole.  With a firm belief in the soon-to-come end of all things, the author discusses his own peril and counsels the Ephesians to give thanks to God, show love, and to keep quiet and live decent and honorable lives.

In the shorter Epistle to the Magnesians, Ignatius begins by praising the disciplined life of the congregation and gives particular praise to the excellence of their leadership.  He advises the congregation not to take advantage of their bishop’s youth and inexperience and says that the readers ought not only to have the name but also the character of Christians.  Pointing to the reality of death and judgement, the author urges unanimity among the brethren as well as obedience to the clergy and resistance to paying heed to false teachings and “antiquated and useless fables (72)” of Judaism.  Speaking out against Sabbath observance, he spends a great deal of time discussing his hostility to various unspecified Jewish customs.  He then closes his letter to this congregation with a desire that the hearers be confirmed in hope and encourages them to remain firm in Christ and to remember Ignatius in their prayers.

To the congregation of Tralles, Ignatius begins by praising their good character as well as their obedience to their bishop.  He then tells them to be obedient to their deacons as well and hopes that he can avoid boasting, as he considers that a temptation of his.  Seeking to avoid speaking about high and heavenly topics, he encourages the readers of his letter to only study true Christianity and not heresy and to guard themselves against heretics, even though he is careful not to claim that he had heard that they were afflicted with an overabundance of tolerance for that sort of person.  Urging his readers to shut their ears to anyone who denies Christ, he tells them moreover to flee from such people and not even stay around them before closing with his customary well-wishes and his discussions about those who were around him in Smyrna.

In his letter to the Philadelphians, Ignatius begins by praising their bishop and his virtues and then counsels the congregation to avoid all heresies and to have nothing to do with people whose false doctrines make them like weeds.  Enjoining them to celebrate the Passover together, he speaks of his love for his readers/hearers and tells them to avoid Judaism.  He claims a sort of spiritual infallibility despite his ability to be deceived concerning personal matters and is dedicated to unity and criticizes those who would demand that the Gospels correspond with the Hebrew scriptures.  He then points to the superiority of Christ to the priests of old and celebrates the peace present in Antioch after their recent troubles, before closing with praise of the brethren at Troas, where he wrote the letter.

In his letter to the congregation at Smyrna, Ignatius begins by giving glory to God for the wisdom of the congregation and discusses some matters of Christology with them and his own belief that Jesus Christ had flesh after the resurrection.  He urges them to be safe from heretical preachers and those who “in their blindness still reject Him (102)” and comments on the judgment of both people and angels yet to come.  He talks again about the self-excommunication of those who refuse to attend the Passover and public services and tells the congregation to avoid factionalism.  He encourages people to repent and turn to God while there is time and praises the welcome that the congregation gave to a couple of people and thanks them for their prayers for the congregation of Antioch as a whole before closing with well-wishes from Troas and the usual salulations.

Finally, in his short letter to Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna at this time and all the way to his own later martyrdom, Ignatius praises Polycarp for his mind but urges him to be strenuous and diligent in calling his congregation to obedience.  He cautions Polycarp not to spend all of his time on the best of his congregation but to encourage the growth of more troublesome members as well.  He tells Polycarp not to get upset by the smooth words of heretical leaders and to avoid neglecting the widows and to urge his congregation to avoid boasting.  He urges Polycarp to pay attention to his bishop in the same sort of obedience and respect that he would want from his own brethren and urges unity in that part of the church.  He thanks Polycarp for his prayers concerning the peace of the congregation at Antioch and urges the calling of a local church council to approve someone as a courier to Syria.  Writing in a bit of a hurry, as he expects to leave by sea for Neapolis, he urges Polycarp to write notices on his behalf to the congregations along his route to Rome before closing with a touching farewell.

What concerns can we find in the six representative letters of Ignatius to five congregations in Asia Minor and the leader of one of them?  We can note that Ignatius seemed to have a consistent set of concerns that he mentioned over and over again:  he urges believers to continue in fellowship, avoid heretical preaching, avoid factions and live in unity with other believers, and he has some negative things to say about Judaism in quite a few of the letters.  By and large he follows the general organization of letters during his time period, quotes some scriptures, and seems to be writing in a bit of a hurry.  He comments about his chains and the approaching judgment not only of himself to death but also of humans and (rebellious) angels in particular.  Given the similarities between the letters and their concerns it is unsurprising that these letters were all understood to be genuine despite the fact that later forgeries were for some reason attributed to Ignatius by later writers.  Even if these letters have some troubling elements, they are certainly all consistent and demonstrate what was on Ignatius’ mind as he approached his death–and most of that was concern for what he saw as the spiritual well-being and peace of his home congregation and of the brethren and their leadership where he traveled.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Overcoming Addiction

Overcoming Addiction:  A Biblical Path Towards Freedom, by Elizabeth A. Shartle

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This is a book that definitely lives up to its name.  From time to time I read books that relate to addictions and overcoming them [1], and I often find it difficult to relate to them personally.  To be sure, addiction is common, and it is entirely understandable that books are written to help encourage those struggling with addiction to seek help and treatment, but much of the time the approach can be somewhat superficial in nature.  Addictions are immensely varied in nature, but tend to spring from a small set of common circumstances, and this author does a great job in examining, in a sometimes painfully personal way, the root causes of the addictive behaviors that people struggle with.  And it is in wrestling with those root causes that the author does a great deal of service in connecting a lot of related phenomena together, although this book will likely not be a comfortable read for many people because it is so personal both as far as it goes with the writer and the reader.

This book is about 150 pages in length and is divided into sixteen chapters.  The author introduces herself as both a counselor and a lawyer and ten provides a detailed discussion of the beginning of her life (1) in ways that ought to be relatable to the author’s reading audience.  By describing her own struggles with relationships and the lack of concern she saw from others, including people in the churches she attended as well as her family of origin, the author wins a lot of goodwill and sympathy from the reader.  After this the author looks at the root causes of addiction including our search for pleasure (2), the way that substances and habits and appetites often control our minds (3), our struggles with knowing God is good (4), and our need to find beauty in life (5).  The author switches into good advice for dealing with a lot of addictive behaviors including a healthy diet (6), exercise (7), and learning how to cope with stress (8).  The author then looks at some of the moral issues that deal with the context of addictions like developing humility (9), learning how to communicate well (10), and forgiving others (11).  The rest of the book consists of somewhat miscellaneous material like the author’s thoughts on the opiate crisis (12), how to properly love someone with an addiction (13), a (very) brief word on sexuality (14), traditional treatments for addiction (15), and the author’s closing comments (16).

Much of this book, properly speaking, does not deal with the expected psychological approach to dealing with addictions.  Notably, the author points to addictions as frequently springing from issues of trauma and her thoughts on that are both hard-nosed and tender-hearted.  One can see a great deal of nuance in the author’s concern that people face up to sin at being at the root of a wide variety of addictions ranging from emotional eating to browsing the web too much to more traditional drug and alcohol addictions and also her note that treatment be undertaken with a focus on avoiding a dependence on medicine while also using it in its proper place.  At times this book gets uncomfortably real in looking at the sort of excuses and dodges that are made for people not to deal with their addictive behaviors as well as the genuine longings and needs of the body that tend to lead people astray into fulfilling those longings and needs in an improper fashion.  This is a book that is definitely well-worth reading, and one could easily imagine the author developing a workbook and program that seeks to combine the author’s insights into human sinfulness and the manifestations of that sin in troublesome and problematic behaviors.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Rivets Of The Warsaw Pact

Rivets Of The Warsaw Pact, by Russell Phillips

As someone who has read quite a great many of the author’s books [1], I was moderately puzzled by receiving a .pdf with a short seven-page book that was marked as essential reading for rivet counters.  Of course, the book was the author’s mildly droll version of an April Fool’s Joke, and should best be read as a short work of comedy.  The author can be praised for not having taken the joke too far and made it too long.  It is enjoyable to read a seven page joke volume promoting the author’s upcoming work, and hopefully the others who received this book and read it had the same indulgent smile that I did when viewing the book.  It would have been a vastly less enjoyable volume had it gone on for hundreds of pages or if it had been written in Cyrillic script or something like that.  As it was, the joke book was executed in good taste and thus has considerable value not only as a humorous text but also as an advertisement of the author’s reading (more on that below) as well as a possible collector’s item for those who are fans of the author’s work and want to see his more humorous side as a historian of military equipment.

The contents of the book are brief and somewhat random in nature.  As noted above, the book  begins with a title page that recommends this book as essential reading for rivet counters.  After this there is a rather straightforward and sparse title page, which could have easily included an ISBN number or something relating to it to make the joke even more serious.  After this is a discussion of the rivet patterns of the SSh-40 helmet with the face of a soldier fuzzed out in the accompanying photograph, and then a discussion with photo of the Mi-2 transport helicopter with its riveted design.  Another riveted vehicle, the ZSU-23-4 Shilka, follows, by which point the reader should be clued in on the fact that this book is even more random and scattered than the author’s works usually are.  It is at this point, mercifully, that the author then explains that this short .pdf book was a joke book, advertises his mailing list, and gives a plug for an upcoming book on the artillery of the Warsaw Pact that he is working on, followed by the image credits used for the joke.

Although in general I do not tend to be greatly fond of April Fool’s Jokes, I thought this one was used for a good purpose.  It combines a good deal of whimsy with a bit of actual research, albeit of a random and somewhat unconnected kind (aside from the frame joke of rivets).  The work as a whole combines topical/seasonal humor along with references to the author’s interest in military technology and the author’s skill at advertising and marketing his works.  Although short, this book is essential reading for those who like to combine April Fool’s humor with reading on military history, and is the sort of work that might bring a smile even if it is read later.  If you are fortunate enough to have received this e-mail and its accompanying joke e-book, it is a book with saving and worth savoring as well, for military history is often far too serious a matter for people to joke about.  This book, in taking a humorous approach to such matters, is well worth enjoying and appreciating not only now but in the future as well.

[1] See, for example:

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On (Not) Writing To Bishops In The Letters Of Ignatius Of Antioch

Ignatius of Anticoh is one of the most intriguing and certainly controversial of the Apostolic Fathers, and one of the areas of controversy that is particularly notable is his choice of recipients of his letters.  On the course of his path from Antioch to Rome in order to face martyrdom, Ignatius wrote seven letters, to the congregations of the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaens, and to Polycarp [1] personally.  These letters are highly intriguing, especially in the way that they demonstrate some of the concerns that early Hellenistic Christian leaders had over questions of authority and legitimacy within the Church.  To be sure, Ignatius is not the only person who has courted controversy throughout history over the recipients of his letters, but sometimes it is worth noting that even the omission of a name can cause problems, as it does here in our understanding of Ignatius and his roles in church authority.

In the letters of Ignatius along his path to martyrdom, we can note the recipients of his letters and notice which of them is not like the others.  For example, when writing to the Magnesians, Ignatius writes:  “It was my privilege to have a glimpse of you in the persons of your saintly bishop Damas and his two clergy, the worthy Bassus and Apollonius, as well as my fellow-servitor Zotion the deacon (71).”  When writing to the Trollians, he mentions that “I had that from your bishop Polybius (79).”  Not only does Ignatius write a letter to the church of Smyrna, but he also pens a personal letter to Polycarp, their bishop, who was responsible for collecting the various letters and passing them on to others, which helped the letters to spread and to remain recorded.  Yet it is striking that although Ignatius pens a personal letter, and it is a lovely one, to the congregation of Rome, in that letter he does not mention anything about the bishop of Rome.  It is that point which I would like to discuss in greater detail, as it is often the case that what we choose not to mention or deliberately refuse to mention is every bit as important as that which we mention casually, like the names and some of the writer’s thoughts about other bishops in the place where he has gone.

It is striking that not only does Ignatius not refer to the bishop of Rome in his letter, but he never indeed refers to the importance of brethren obeying the bishop either.  This is all the more notable because preaching obedience to church leadership was a frequent theme of Ignatius in his letters on his way to martyrdom.  For example, he begins his letter to the Philadelphians by writing:  “Your bishop’s office, which exists for the good of the whole community, was never obtained by his own efforts, as I know very well, nor by any other human agency, still less in any spirit of self glorification; but it was conferred upon him by the love of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (93).”  Likewise, near the beginning of the letter to the Trallians, Ignatius writes as follows:  “Your obedience to your bishop, as though he were Jesus Christ, shows plainly enough that yours is no worldly manner of life, but that of Jesus Christ Himself, who gave His life for us that faith in His death might save you from death (80).”  Likewise, he has some very personal advice to the brethren of Magnesia concerning their young leader:  “For your part, the becoming thing for you to do is to take no advantage of your bishop’s lack of years, but to show him every possible respect, having regard to the power God has conferred on him (72).”  And, as we have already noted, Ignatius wrote an entire personal letter to Polycarp, who was the bishop of Smyrna, in addition to his letter to the entire congregation.

In light of the fact that talking about authority was very much a matter of considerable importance to Ignatius as he traveled towards his death, it is very striking that Ignatius has nothing to say about the bishop of Rome or the authority that exists in that congregation.  This is all the more unusual because if there was a congregation in the ancient world that gave a great deal of importance to propriety in dealing with matters of authority, it was the church of Rome.  After all, an entire letter (1 Clement) that is part of the collection of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers deals with the question of authority and which authority should be respected by the letter’s recipients.  The spirit of 1 Clement and the general tone of Ignatius’ letters and his attempts to bolster the respect that was held by the pastors and leaders of the congregations he wrote to would seem to be very similar, if not identical, and it is all the more striking given this similarity that Ignatius does not think to mention anything about the importance of strong church leadership in his otherwise very personal letter to the Romans.  In urging the Romans not to interfere with his desire to be martyred in Rome, the refusal to mention the bishop is rather striking.

How are we to account for this?  There are at least a few possibilities of why Ignatius was so interested in focusing on the authority of the leaders of the congregations he passed through in the province of Asia but was silent on the leader of one of the most powerful congregations of them all, that of Rome, whose leaders would before too long consider themselves the pontiffs over all of Christendom and were even at the time of Ignatius showing a definite sense of their power and influence.  On the one hand, it is possible that, knowing of the great power of the leaders of the Church of God at Rome, Ignatius did not feel it necessary to bolster that power through his worn words.  He may have seen the leaders of Rome as strong enough that they did not need him to urge obedience to them through his own writing efforts.  On the other hand, given that Ignatius was a man who was conscious of seeking his own authority and influence, that he might have been a bit jealous of Rome, given that as the leader of the Church in Antioch that he viewed the bishop of Rome as an equal and had written to the other bishops as a way of increasing his own authority over the churches of Asia Minor.  Not wishing to increase the authority of Rome, and perhaps realizing that any efforts of his to act like an authority figure over the bishop of Rome would be unwelcome, perhaps he thought it best to be silent, even if that silence is awkward when one looks at his pattern of caring very much about the authority of leaders within their congregations as a whole.

[1] See, for example:

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Two Conversations Concerning The Relationship Between Obedience And Divine Favor

In a lonely and remote Alpine valley
two learned peasant bible scholars talk
while ploughing the soil with a couple
of oxen shared by themselves and their
much persecuted fellow brethren.  One
of them says to the other, “Brother, have
you ever read in the good book that those
who follow God and obey His laws are to
be blessed for their obedience?”  His friend
bowed his head in mute agreement.  The
first then continued, “Why then are we and
our brethren hunted like dogs all over the
countryside, tortured as heretics, treated like
the scum of the earth, living in caves and dens
and finding only in the remotest countryside
any relief from continual persecution.  Do you not
think that maybe we are doing wrong?”  At this
point the second thought for a bit and then spoke
with his fellow about the promises that God made
in the Bible that those who followed Him would
not be popular among the world at large because
the ways of God and the ways of man were so
generally opposed to each other and they spoke
of divine providence and eventual blessing and
of the unworthiness of the world concerning
those whom the world treated so harshly.

Meanwhile, not far away in Milan, two
learned Catholics were walking away from
a sermon by the noted Bishop Ambrose, and
one of them said to the other in his usual formal
tones, “Beloved friend, have you ever considered
in light of what the scripture says, that those who
follow God and believe in Him will be hated and
persecuted by the world, that we are perhaps
behaving amiss because we are the powers in the world,
with the offices of respect and honor in church
and state, assisting the emperors and bishops
and generally serving as the examples for the
common hoi polloi around us, subjects of envy
perhaps, but not particular hostility.”  At this his friend
turned to him open-mouthed and at length replied,
“No, I have never thought that we were wrong
at all.  Why do you think that following God
would not mean that we would possess all of the
resources of both church and state together?  Do you
think that God would want us to starve in some
valley, hunted like dogs, when we could enjoy the luxury
of the world as privileged believers?”  “Not exactly,
but should we not feel some hostility for ourselves
personally as a result of following God?  Do we believe
that God’s authority has completely spread throughout
this fallen world?”  At this there was silence, and after
an awkward pause, the first man learned to keep his
doubts to himself, for there was no answer to be found
in the privileged world in which he served God and
emperor as he best knew how.


Perhaps it would be worthwhile to set some context of this poem.  On the last day of Unleavened Bread [1], the retired pastor of our congregation spoke about the contrast between the persecution suffered by those whom we consider to be part of the true Church of God and the way that Hellenistic Christianity seemed to seamlessly blend into the structures of power in the Europe of the Middle Ages and beyond.  I was struck by an obvious contrast between the lives of those who lived in remote valleys seeking to avoid a political and religious system that actively persecuted them and those who lived in a great deal of privilege without even the threat of persecution for their cosmopolitan practices and their smooth ways and their political ambitions.  I wondered to myself whether those who lived privileged lives often wondered to themselves if they were doing something wrong given the Bible’s statements that following Him would be no soft bed of rose petals.

To be sure, we see such guilt for being a privileged believer present in certain elements of contemporary Hellenistic Christianity and those of us who are students of history can read of such situations occurring throughout the previous centuries as well.  Indeed, while those who sought to take God’s Word seriously and obey it have always suffered persecution because some aspect of God’s ways were directly contrary to the ways of the world around us, the absence of persecution for believers of Hellenistic Christianity, so quick to trim its sales to the prevailing philosophies and ethics of the world around them, led to a belief in a white martyrdom of monastic vows and private piety to replace the black martyrdom of death that resulted from holding on to any profession of Christianity when it was being persecuted by the authorities.  And we see that approach being sought even today among those privileged believers who feel as if there should be some material sacrifice made for following God, something that drives a lot of the inner angst of those who hold to a social Gospel [2].

And yet those who hold to the Social Gospel, even if they feel some tension between the way that believers are promised to be viewed in a corrupt world and the lack of such treatment in their own lives, seldom seem to get the full point of these passages or the reason that genuine believers have always suffered persecution.  One does not need to be obnoxious and intensely hostile to contemporary economic and political elites in order to find persecution, although speaking from some personal experience this is a great way to ensure oneself persecution anywhere one happens to be.  Often, even without political activism, simply holding to biblical beliefs concerning personal morality as well as justice are sufficient to earn one everlasting hostility from both the right and the left, even if one is rather uninvolved in the squabbles and ambitions for political power.  Simply holding to biblical morality will make one an outsider.  This has always been the case in human history, for all civilizations have been corrupt and/or unjust in some fashion, it certainly is the case now, and it will likely remain the case so long as imperfect human beings seek to govern other imperfect human beings.  We have no cause for optimism given the melancholy course of human history that we have finally solved the problems of human nature that led to problems between believers and the state in the past.

It is not too hard, moreover, for some of us to imagine a time when a powerful government that is hostile to biblical morality and that represents a politically powerful but morally corrupt religious establishment makes it unsafe for genuine believers in God’s ways to live anywhere outside of remote mountain valleys or other places where people simply do not want to go.  The accumulated burden of history does not allow contemporary pietists to feel at ease in any larger political situation, and the tendency of human worldviews to enforce those worldviews according to law does make the public proclamation of God’s ways potentially dangerous in almost all circumstances, as there are invariably some ways that a contemporary society is falling short of the divine standard in tragic and massive ways.  This is true whether we look at questions of personal or social morality.  Since the unrepentant have never appreciated being told how they depart from God’s ways when they want very much to believe that God is on their side, at some point, persecution and exile is the inevitable fate of the godly in an ungodly world.  We should not expect that this melancholy truth is no longer in operation, and so, while these two conversations took place in fourth or fifth century Northern Italy and Switzerland, we can expect that their kindred conversations are happening now and will happen in the future in some other place.


[2] See, for example:

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