The Church Fathers

10 Jun

The early Church Fathers fall into three basic categories: Apostolic, ante-Nicene and post-Nicene. The Apostolic Fathers were contemporaries of the apostles and were probably taught by them…The ante-Nicene Fathers were those who came after the apostles but before the Council of Nicea in AD 325…The post-Nicene Fathers  are those who came after the council of Nicea. (taken from

The following is just going to provide a brief biography of each of these men. These biographical notes were taken from Who’s Who in Christian History, J. D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, Editors, Tyndale pub., AND Master Christian Library by Ages Software. There are about 40 people described on this page.

The key to remember about the Church Fathers is that their work is not inspired, but would more reflect the work of modern day Christian apologists and other scholars. The question of whether the Church Fathers were all true Christians is something to be investigated and we should be careful when reading their words.

Part One: Apostolic Fathers:

1. Clement of Rome: Clement was a presbyter (priest) and bishop in Rome who wrote a letter to the church at Corinth (96), probably the earliest Christian writing outside the New Testament. Dionysius of Corinth (170) was the first to name Clement as the author of that letter. Origen, an Alexandrian theologian, and Eusebius, the first church historian, identified the writer as the “Clement” listed in the Shepherd of Hermas, a Christian writing from the mid-second century. There are problems, however, with all attempts to identify Clement…

Clement quoted extensively from the Old Testament as “Scripture” and from the words of Jesus, using sayings found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He also quoted Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Hebrews. Thus Clement provides important evidence that books which later became part of the New Testament canon were circulating among the churches by the end of the first century. Clement’s letter also provides important evidence for the martyrdom of the apostles Peter and Paul, and for a mission of Paul to the “western boundary” (i.e., Spain).

2. Mathetes: [A.D. 130.] The anonymous author of this Epistle gives himself the title (Mathetes) “a disciple of the Apostles,” and I venture to adopt it as his name. It is about all we know of him, and it serves a useful end. Mathetes was possibly a catechumen of St. Paul or of one of the apostle’s associates. I assume that his correspondent was the tutor of M. Aurelius. Placed just here, it fills a lacuna in the series, and takes the place of the pseudo (second) Epistle of Clement, which is now relegated to its proper place with the works falsely ascribed to St. Clement.

3. Polycarp: Born of a Christian family, Polycarp claimed to have been a disciple of John, presumably the apostle. Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to Roman martyrdom (c. 116), wrote letters both to Polycarp and to the church of Smyrna. In the days of Pope Anicetus, Polycarp visited Rome as representative of the Asia Minor churches that observed 14 Nisan as Easter. Although he and the pope could not come to an agreement on that question, they maintained fellowship with each other. While there Polycarp met some of the Valentinian heretics and encountered Marcion, whom he characterized as “firstborn of Satan.” The account of Polycarp’s death (a letter from the church of Smyrna to the church of Philomelium) is the earliest extant Christian martyrology. The civil authorities importuned the bishop to apostatize because of his age, but he replied dramatically, “I have served Christ eighty-six years and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King? I am a Christian.” Miraculously the flames did not harm him, so he was dispatched with a dagger, then burned. His followers gathered up his bones as holy relics “more precious than precious stones and finer than gold,” and put them in a suitable place where they could celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom. According to the record, the Jews were as avid for his death as the pagans were. Only one of Polycarp’s letters has been preserved. Addressed to the Philippians in response to one from them, it has to do with the assembling of Ignatius’s letters into a single volume. It alludes to more than one letter by the apostle Paul to the Philippians. It is also an attestation of certain New Testament books as canonical.

4. Ignatius: Ignatius was the Apostolic Father closest in thought to the New Testament writers. He wrote seven letters while en route under armed guard to Rome to suffer martyrdom (probably 107). The letters were to churches in cities through which he passed, Philadelphia and Smyrna, and to churches that sent delegations to visit him during this final journey—namely, Ephesus, Tralles, and Magnesia. He sent a letter ahead to the church in Rome to prevent their intervention with the Roman authorities in delivering him from martyrdom. He also wrote a letter to Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. Similar to the New Testament epistles, these writings reveal a strong commitment to Christ and to the physical facts of his birth, death, and resurrection. Although Ignatius has some statement of the salvation in Christ, he did not have a clear view of grace and forgiveness. In his emphasis on his own martyrdom as “a true sacrifice,” he detracts from the finished work of Christ.

5. Barnabas: Nothing certain is known as to the author of the following Epistle. The writer’s name is Barnabas, but scarcely any scholars now ascribe it to the illustrious friend and companion of St. Paul. External and internal evidence here come into direct collision. The ancient writers who refer to this Epistle unanimously attribute it to Barnabas the Levite, of Cyprus, who held such an honorable place in the infant Church. Clement of Alexandria does so again and again (Strom., 2. 6, 2. 7, etc.). Origen describes it as “a Catholic Epistle” (Cont. Cels., 1. 63), and seems to rank it among the Sacred Scriptures (Comm. in Rom., 1. 24). Other statements have been quoted from the fathers, to show that they held this to be an authentic production of the apostolic Barnabas; and certainly no other name is ever hinted at in Christian antiquity as that of the writer. But notwithstanding this, the internal evidence is now generally regarded as conclusive against this opinion. On perusing the Epistle, the reader will be in circumstances to judge of this matter for himself.

6. Papias: The information we have about Papias and his work was given by Eusebius of Caesarea and Irenaeus of Lyons. Irenaeus stated that Papias had heard the apostle John preach and also knew Polycarp. Eusebius mentioned his Explanation of the Sayings of the Lord. In the preface to this work Papias maintains that his primary purpose is to bring forth a truthful record of a collection of the words and deeds of the Apostles that were told to him by a presbyter. Irenaeus understood him to be alluding to the apostle John, but Eusebius contended that he referred to two Johns, one who was the apostle and the other who was the companion of Aristion. Papias claimed that Mark, the Evangelist, who had never heard Christ, was the interpreter of Peter, and that he carefully gave an account of everything he remembered from the preaching of Peter. The statement that Matthew wrote down sayings of Jesus in Hebrew was affirmed by Papias. Irenaeus understood this as a reference to Hebraisms in Matthew’s Gospel, whereas Origen took this to mean that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew. The statements of Papias have raised many questions on the formation of the Gospels, a possible Aramaic version of Matthew, the possibility and identity of two Johns, and other problems in the history of the early church. According to tradition, Papias died a martyr.

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Posted by on June 10, 2017 in academics, Bible, church, comparative religions, education, history, leadership, theology


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