I’ve been giving renewed attention to the Church fathers, particularly the earliest apostolic Fathers. This led me to the following highly speculative question. Reading the letters of Ignatius, two key points that seem to recur with frequency in his writings seem to be (very roughly): (1) obey your biship, and (2) stay away from heresy. This led me to wonder: What do you think Ignatius would tell someone to do if his bishop openly taught, say, docetism or Judaizing (to pick two concrete examples of heresy that Ignatius emphatically warned against)?

Thanks for any thoughts you might have about this.


We are bound to obey the bishop.
However, if he theoretically taught heresy, we would not be bound to follow him in that heresy.

Remember what St. Paul teaches in Galatians 1:7-9
***"But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ. ***
***But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach (to you) a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed! ***
As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!"

Elvisman, thanks. Do you think it would be fair, then, to summarize the thinking of Ignatius as indicating that you have to obey the bishop as a general matter, but the individual Christian retains the need to evaluate the bishop’s doctrines for conformity with orthodoxy, and to reject the bishop’s doctrines if they depart from orthodox Christianity? (The degree to which principle (1) was subject to, and limited by, principle (2) in Ignatius’s mind seems relevant to me in evaluating the idea of authority in this Father’s thinking.)



I don’t think Ignatius envisages heretical bishops. Certainly the later development of the doctrine of episcopal authority went in this direction.


Ignatius might have instructed the Christian who thought that his bishop had fallen into heresy to appeal the highest authority on earth, to the Church of Rome, “which presides over love.” (Ignatius, To the Romans) :wink:

“Do as they say, not as they do.”

But weren’t there heretical bishops by this time? Two examples, from the top of my head are:

a) the leaders or Corinth who had replaced the priests and bishops of Apostolic Succession (the ones that Pope Clement dealt with circa 80-90AD).
b) The gnostics. I’m not sure, but I think gnosticism was around by now, but I’m less certain that it had invaded the bishoprics.

Exactly. Clement treats them as upstarts.

b) The gnostics. I’m not sure, but I think gnosticism was around by now, but I’m less certain that it had invaded the bishoprics.

Ignatius refers to people who don’t believe in the real humanity of Christ (“docetists”), and this does sound like an early form of Gnosticism. Both Ignatius and Irenaeus seem to think that the episcopate (in the case of Irenaeus the sees of apostolic foundation in particular, with Rome as the prime example) are adequate bulwarks against heresy. I don’t think heretical bishops were a problem until later, but I could be wrong.

Here is a way to look at the development of the doctrine of papal infallibility that turns the usual debate on its head. Perhaps the initial assumption was that all bishops in apostolic succession were infallible (or at least indefectible), and as it became clear that they weren’t it got narrowed down to Rome.


Thats the most simple answer, basically if it is heresy and you recognize it dont assent to it, but at no time do you have the authority to depose that bishop.

You didn’t ask me, but I would say that he would refer them to the teaching authority of the Church to find out what the “orthodoxy” is, not just to scripture. The heretics were using scripture alone in their beliefs, while the fathers were using scripture and the traditions handed down as their criteria of what orthodoxy Christianity was.

Very Orthodox.:wink:

And very Catholic. :thumbsup:

It seems to me that the bishops that went astray from the teachings of the church were condemned, declared heretics, or excommunicated, by the church hierarchy itself, not the individual believers.
Most of the heresies died a slow death on their own, but others had to be dealt with in church councils, just like we see in Acts chapter 15.

Yes, very Orthodox indeed, except we must keep in mind that every head bishop of all of the ancient churches, including Constantinople fell into heresy, except for the bishop of Rome, which had never fallen into heresy. So with that I would agree with runandsew: very Catholic.:thumbsup:

So you don’t have to follow a vagrant bishop but don’t worry about the Bishop of Rome because he can’t fall into heresy?..nothing Orthodox about that.

My understanding is that we are to obey our bishop (and priest) in those areas over which they have legimate authority to rule, etc. No bishop, not even the Pope, has authority to change teachings of the Church once they have been infallibly defined/declared. Therefore we have no obligation to accept a bishop’s heretical teaching.


So who decides if what the bishop is teaching is in accordance with the teachings of the Church?

Due to the promise of Jesus in Matthew 16, he can’t.

Why, the Church does!

Actually it’s the Magisterium and the Pope.

Official Church teaching is available for everyone to read. First place to start is the CCC. There are any number of sources available for those who wish to go further (Papal decrees, council declarations, etc. where doctrines defined.)


So if your bishop is teaching something you think is in opposition to the official Church position how do you know who is right.

What if they’re isn’t an official Church position? Everything isn’t spelled out word for word in a papal or conciliar decree.

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