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Tag: canon law

Peter of Alexandria (and Balsamon and Zonaras)

Peter of Alexandria

We are now on our second of three days reading Peter of Alexandria. Peter of Alexandria was was Bishop of Alexandria from 300 to 311; his episcopate thus covered the Diocletianic Persecution, also called the Great Persecution — that last, great persecution of Christians by the Roman imperial powers that would leave an indelible mark upon the church’s identity and self-image ever after.

Eusebius, in Book 8.10 of the Ecclesiastical History, gives a description of the persecution in Alexandria from an eyewitness named Phileas:

And the spectacle of the outrages was varied and exhibited great malignity. For some, with their hands bound behind them, were suspended on the stocks, and every member stretched by certain machines. Then the torturers, as commanded, lacerated with instruments2542 their entire bodies; not only their sides, as in the case of murderers, but also their stomachs and knees and cheeks. Others were raised aloft, suspended from the porch by one hand, and endured the most terrible suffering of all, through the distension of their joints and limbs. Others were bound face to face to pillars, not resting on their feet, but with the weight of their bodies bearing on their bonds and drawing them tightly.

6. And they endured this, not merely as long as the governor talked with them or was at leisure, but through almost the entire day. For when he passed on to others, he left officers under his authority to watch the first, and observe if any of them, overcome by the tortures, appeared to yield. And he commanded to cast them into chains without mercy, and afterwards when they were at the last gasp to throw them to the ground and drag them away.

7. For he said that they were not to have the least concern for us, but were to think and act as if we no longer existed, our enemies having invented this second mode of torture in addition to the stripes.

8. “Some, also, after these outrages, were placed on the stocks, and had both their feet stretched over the four2543 holes, so that they were compelled to lie on their backs on the stocks, being unable to keep themselves up on account of the fresh wounds with which their entire bodies were covered as a result of the scourging. Others were thrown on the ground and lay there under the accumulated infliction of tortures, exhibiting to the spectators a more terrible manifestation of severity, as they bore on their bodies the marks of the various and diverse punishments which had been invented.

9. As this went on, some died under the tortures, shaming the adversary by their constancy. Others half dead were shut up in prison, and suffering with their agonies, they died in a few days; but the rest, recovering under the care which they received, gained confidence by time and their long detention in prison.

10. When therefore they were ordered to choose whether they would be released from molestation by touching the polluted sacrifice, and would receive from them the accursed freedom, or refusing to sacrifice, should be condemned to death, they did not hesitate, but went to death cheerfully. For they knew what had been declared before by the Sacred Scriptures. For it is said,2544 ‘He that sacrificeth to other gods shall be utterly destroyed,’2545 and, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’

However, as we see in the readings from Peter, not everyone withstood persecution so well. These people are the lapsed, much discussed several decades earlier in St Cyprian of Carthage’s works. Peter’s discipline for the lapsed in his Canons represents the standard line of what would be the mainstream tradition, that different offenders or kinds of lapse require different severities or lengths of penance and excommunication before restoration to fellowship, and clerics who lapse are to be cut off from ministry ever after.

Theodore Balsamon

Along with the canons of Peter, we find commentary by Balsamon and Zonaras. Theodore Balsamon (c. 1130 to after 1195) was Patriarch of Antioch (although he stayed in Constantinople), hegoumenos of Blachernai and the monastery called to Zipon, and a major canonist; that is, he compiled documents pertinent to canon law and commented on them, particularly those of the Nomokanon in Fourteen Titles which is the main source of Byzantine canon law, including many texts otherwise now lost and seeking to revise statements that were contradictory or obsolete. Interestingly, this is the same period as Gratian in the West and some of the major Latin canonists, as well.


Zonaras (d. after 1159) was a historian, theologian, canonist, and court official under Emperor Alexius I (1048-1118). After the death of Alexius, Zonaras left the civil service and became a monk at the monastery of St Glykeria. Besides writing commentaries on a number of sources for canon law, he also wrote an Epitome Historion, running from creation to death of Alexius in 1118. His perspective on running the empire was based on the Roman ideal of bureaucracy and officialdom, thus of meritocracy, over against the more feudal or “seigneurial” style of Alexius.

“Now I begin to be a disciple” – A week with Ignatius in review

Icon of Ignatius of Antioch

This week we read all but one of St Ignatius of Antioch’s authentic letters, having read his Epistle to the Ephesians last Saturday, and then today we started the letters forged in his name. A little review of the main themes from St Ignatius is, I believe, in order. This week, we saw martyrdom, Christology, and church order, most especially, although St Ignatius is also famous for sacramental theology.


In his letter to the Romans, we find the answer to the question I posed last week in my blog about martyrdom: Why die for Jesus? Why not just burn incense to Caesar and be done with it?

The answer, in short, is Eternity. Ignatius will not abandon Christ for whatever temporal lengthening of life that may give. His eye is beyond the arena, focussed on Eternity. For Ignatius, being a disciple is basically the full sum of his identity. Being carried off to martyrdom, he says, “Now I begin to be a disciple.” He expresses hope for prayers from the Romans that he will remain steadfast to the end. And the main point of being a disciple, of finding Eternity, is knowing Jesus.

We may find his desire to be munched in the jaws of lions like bread to be more than a little morbid, but the spirit that lies behind it should surely be seen as noble by anyone: Dying for a cause higher than one’s own self. Dying rather than surrender one’s conscience to the principalities and powers. Not allowing the government to dictate to you but allowing the way, the truth, and the life to be your main goal in life.

As Ignatius himself quotes, “If a man gain the whole world but lose his own soul, what good is it to him?” (Mt. 16:26)


Overall, Ignatius has a high Christology. The sentence with the highest Christology is, however, only present in the Latin (alas, I forget which letter that was), so I suspect it to be an interpolation. Nonetheless, for St Ignatius, Jesus is the one through whom all things were made. He is God the Son. He is worthy of worship and obedience. He came down from heaven as a real man to save us.

His Christology in the authentic letters is not nuanced — nor should we expect someone who died in 108 to have a developed, Nicene faith. However, living this side of Nicaea, it is clear to see that Ignatius stands within the tradition that would lead to the confrontation between “Arians” and Nicenes:

When we say these things about Jesus, when we worship him, when we even say He is God, do we really mean that he is YHWH? And what does that mean about the Person he calls Father?

I am not saying he is Nicene. There are ways that the party of Arius could read Ignatius and agree with him. But this is the tradition of which he is a part.

Pseudo-Ignatius, however, does not consider Jesus in terms that a Nicene could accept — it seems to me that he does not have a nascent Trinitarian faith when he differentiates between the Father and the Son. He may be rejecting modalism, but I am not sure he is compatible with St Athanasius, either.

Church Order

St Ignatius is one of our earliest, unequivocal believers and promoters of what we might call “monepiscopacy.” It is true that he imagines each church of each city having a board of presbyters (or “elders”), but he is no Presbyterian. He clearly sees the bishop of each city as being the Christ-appointed, Spirit-ordained leader of the church, with duties and obligations as well as with respect due to his office.

Ignatius, indeed, sees the bishops, priests, and deacons as being put in place over the church by God. Those who rebel against them rebel against God. They are to be submitted to and obeyed. People are not supposed to do things outside of the authority of these three orders. It is clear that he perceives a true charism coming upon himself and other bishops.

This runs contrary to much that we feel about charismatic leadership and the democratic ideals espoused in practice in many churches. Nonetheless, in episcopal traditions to this day, the bishop is consecrated by the laying on of hands and prayers for the Holy Spirit to come down and sanctify his (or her, depending on your church) ministry. And the other clergy or similarly ordained by bishops.

If one has a strong enough belief in the Holy Spirit, then beliefs like those of Ignatius are, in theory, perfectly logical outworkings of the consecration and ordination of clergy. I will, perhaps, say no more in this vein.

I would, however, like to point out that we find in the apostolic era, and some other sub-apostolic writings such as the Didache — which we’ll read in May, written c. 90 — a recognised role of prophet. I would say ‘office’, but that implies human mechanisms within the church, and neither the New Testament nor the early literature see the prophets in their role that way, unlike bishops, priests, and deacons.

Ignatius is taking into himself the role of prophet, I think. The speaking to others words of encouragement, speaking what he feels the Spirit has inspired, believing in his own anointing by the Holy Spirit — these, I would argue, are all part of what it would have meant in this same era to be a prophet.

Ignatius sees the prophetic and episcopal roles as merging — we will see this union again, at least in Cyprian, if not others.

What about you?

These are my thoughts on this week in review. What stood out to you? What do you think? Do you agree with any of my assessments?

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