Imitatio Christi and Imitatio Dei: High Christology and Ignatius of antioch’s Ethics

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Abstract

Scholars have long noted Ignatius of Antioch’s statements of high christology. Jesus, who as God appeared in human form (Eph. 19.3), is ‘God in man’ (Eph. 7.2) and is ‘our God’ (Eph. inscr.; 15.3; 18.2; Rom. inscr.; 3.3; Polyc. 8.3). Jesus Christ is included in such ‘nas-cent trinitarian’ passages as Eph. 9.1 and Magn. 13.1-2. Yet further treasures remain to be mined, and the specific vein I will explore is the integration of Ignatius’ high christology with his ethics. His paraenesis is rooted in ‘the mind of God’, also described as ‘the mind of Christ’ (Eph. 3.2; Phld. inscr.), who is ‘the God who made you so wise’ (Smyrn. 1.1; cf. Eph. 17.2). Ignatian moral instruction combines ‘the will of God and Jesus Christ’ (Trall. 1.1), ‘the honor of the Father and the honor of Jesus Christ’ (Trall. 12.2), and ‘the love of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Phld. 1.1). Believers are to be ‘imitators of God’ (Trall. 1.2) as well as ‘imitators of Jesus Christ’ (Phld. 7.2). Ignatius even prayed that he would be ‘an imitator of the suffering of my God’ (Rom. 6.3; cf. Eph. 10.3). Ignatian exhortation thus merges an imitatio Christi with an imitatio Dei. Arising from his particular experiences and specific circumstances, Ignatius’ contextualized paraenesis elevates the Son to an authoritative status parallel to that of the Father. The interplay of christology and ethics also underscores a multi-leveled understanding of ‘unity’ and a multivalent use of ‘flesh and spirit’.

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