FlorovskyOctober 17th is the feast of St Ignatius of Antioch

There is a tendency among some scholars to assume that if something is not mentioned in a text, the author had no knowledge of it. This is a fundamentally erroneous presupposition and hence an erroneous methodology.

The assumption of this methodological approach or perspective misses the prime reality — a living Church was already in existence since Pentecost and that living Church knew the deposit about, which they preached, knew the tradition, which they had received and continued to impart in their missionary activity.

Again, the statement by Karl Adam is significant: “Even if the Bible [the New Testament] did not exist, a Christian religious movement would be conceivable.” Indeed, not only conceivable but it actually existed without the New Testament as we know it for decades.

And during that time, the Apostolic and Sub-Apostolic Church flourished with and in the fullness of faith. St. Ignatius is an excellent example of this precisely because his seven occasional letters were written so early and especially because of what he has to say about the “documents,” “the archives.”

In his Letter to the Philadelphians, St. Ignatius writes: “When I heard some people saying, ‘If I do not find it in the original documents, I do not believe it.’” Here, the essence of the dispute was that the Old Testament, the Bible for the early Christians in its Greek Septuagint version, was the reference point of validity.

The New Testament is not the criterion, precisely because it was still in process in the days of the early Church and it was certainly not used as a canonical authority in the earlier days of the life of St. Ignatius.

It is the reality of the living Church, which gives rise to the New Testament and it is the Church, which determines the “canon” of the New Testament — there were numerous writings circulating, which claimed apostolic authorship and it was the Church, which determined, which of those were authentic.

St. Ignatius then makes a statement, which confirms how the early Church understood its reality, its faith, its tradition, its authority: “To my mind it is Jesus Christ who is the original documents. The inviolable archives are his Cross and Death and his Resurrection and the faith that came by him.”

St. Ignatius needs no written “documents,” needs no written “archives.” The historical, existential, and ontological reality of the God-Man Jesus Christ and his redemptive work is the truth of the faith — he is oral “document” of the living God.

He knows of this through the tradition, through that which was delivered, through the deposit, which was preserved and handed down in its original purity of content and fullness.

Georges Florovsky (1893-1979; Eastern Orthodox): “The Earliest Christian Writers” in The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century.

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