Session 3: Apostolic Fathers
Session 3 Apostolic Fathers
We will look at the “Apostolic Fathers” who wrote before A.D. 170 and helped define the faith of the church.
• become familiar with the writings of the Apostolic Fathers
Assignment to be done before class
Email your response paragraphs to firstname.lastname@example.org by the Sunday before the class session.
A. Read: Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, chapters 4, 5 and 9
Write a big idea paragraph on your reading in Shelly.
B. Read the following articles and give a one paragraph answer to the question asked.
3. The Apostolic Fathers
What was the theology in relation to sanctification?
C. Write in your journal. Reflect on and respond to the following:
AUGUSTINE’S CONFESSIONS, READING `2
The Apostolic Fathers
The Early Church leaders who personally had known the apostles, or who had known direct disciples of the apostles, and who left writings, are known as the
“Apostolic Fathers.” They include Ignatius, Clement of Rome, the Shepherd of Hermas, Polycarp, Papias, and the writers of the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle to
Diognetus, Second Clement, and the Didache.
The designation “Apostolic Father” dates to 1672, when Jean Cotelier, a scholar, collected some of the church’s earliest writings. Though some of these writings were in the form of tracts or catechisms, most were letters. They possessed a literary simplicity and evidenced earnest religious conviction. At the same time, they showed little influence of Hellenistic philosophy.
These early writings were intended, primarily, for those in the church, which as the writings indicate, was under attack and needed order. They depict a more exactly organized church than described in the New Testament. They indicated the church’s need to preserve the apostolic witness in order to guard the church from extremes. The writings of the Fathers indicate a rising sense of unified consciousness about both ethics and doctrine. The creeds imbedded in these early writings were extrapolations upon baptismal formulas.
IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH (c. 35-107)
Ignatius was a disciple of the apostles and was bishop of Antioch—the second to be appointed there “in succession to Peter” [per Eusebius]. Ignatius was arrested (about A.D. 96-98) and sent bound to Rome to be fed to the lions. Along the journey to Rome he wrote his several letters. Ignatius stopped at Smyrna on the way, meeting with the church there and their Bishop Polycarp. Ignatius wrote an epistle to Ephesus—which had sent their Bishop Onesimus to greet him—and possibly also another to the apostle John who was still residing in Ephesus at that time, along with a third to Mary, who may have still lived there with John.
Ignatius sent epistles to the churches at Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome. From there he went on to Troas and wrote letters to the Smyrneans, to Polycarp, and to the
Philadelphians—seven “canonical” letters in all. These letters reveal much about the life of the church in that day, particularly the significance of the role of the
bishop, and the unity of the church and the sacraments.
The Lord’s Supper was important to Ignatius. He believed “the bread that is the flesh of Jesus Christ” became present in the Lord’s Supper, and he believed it must be administered with the authority of a bishop. In this as in other matters, a bishop helped to safeguard the unity of the church.
Ignatius believed the goal of salvation is “union” with God, and that the goal of this union was Christlikeness. The principle means of gaining this was through the
Lord’s Supper. His view of Christian life was so high that he believed “no one who professes faith sins, nor does one who has gotten love hate.” The perfection of love maintains Christian unity. The Holy Spirit, Ignatius wrote, joined in the work of redemption in the life of the believer.
Ignatius’s letter to the Ephesians included a hymn. Though Ignatius may not have authored the hymn, it reflects the early beliefs of the church regarding Christ. The later Apostles’ Creed incorporated many of the ideas of the hymn, leaving in the paradox of the full humanity and full deity of Christ:
Uncreated, and yet born;
God-and-Man in One agreed,
Fruit of God and Mary’s seed;
At once impassible and torn
By pain and suffering here below:
Jesus Christ, whom as our Lord we know.
As bishop of Antioch, Ignatius had a wide influence on Christianity in Syria and eastward. Jesus, Ignatius emphasized, was not an angelic being, but one who truly ate and drank. Ignatius believed the Christian’s imitation of Christ and union with Him must become so complete that he or she is ready to die. While they lived, Christians must be like Christ in acts of kindness and charity. Tradition says Ignatius was martyred at the Colosseum in Rome.
THE LETTER OF BARNABAS (c. 70-100)
This epistle by an unknown author of the first two centuries was attributed to Barnabas, Paul’s companion. The epistle depicts a doctrine of Two Ways—the way of the Jews and the way of Christ. The way of animal sacrifices, the material kingdom, and other aspects of Judaism were mistakes. The Jews had taken too literally what God had revealed to them. While the epistle’s tone was antagonistic to the Jews, it depicted Jesus as a rabbi and showed how the Prophets and L aw of the Old Testament pointed to and culminated in Christ. Jesus had been destined to
suffer. The picture of the church in the epistle does not indicate a rapidly expanding church, but emphasizes to prove from Scripture that Jesus fulfilled prophecy, the letter bears characteristics like those of Alexandria.
CLEMENT OF ROME (d. c. 100)
Clement is considered the third or fourth “bishop” of Rome. Roman Catholics consider Peter the first bishop, and record that he was followed by Linus, who was
mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21, and who served from A.D. 66 to 78. Linus was followed by Anacletus, who served from 79 to 91, and Anacletus by Clement, who
tradition reports, was taught by the apostles Peter and Paul, and is identified as the one referred to by Paul at Philippi (Phil 4:3). Yet the epistles of Clement do not
mention either Paul or Peter in connection to the founding of the church in Rome, or link them to the unique position of the Roman church.
Clement wrote letters to various churches outside of Rome. The tone of the letters was fraternal, yet authoritative. Churches apparently appealed to Clement for advice, and Clement’s advice constituted a kind of intervention in the life of the churches beyond Rome.
Clement’s epistle to the Corinthians, called “First Clement” was written about A.D. 95. Like Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Clement’s letter deals with a
situation of strife in the church. Clement severely reprimands the Corinthians for unlawfully deposing their elders, thereby cutting themselves off from the apostolic faith and the unity of the church. Clement issues a call for repentance and the reinstatement of the elders. Those who possessed authority in the church should be obeyed. Clement emphasized maintaining Christian tradition as a way of preserving right order. Clement’s arguments for order and organization reflected the concerns of the western church.
At the same time, Clement sought to balance law with love. He wrote:
Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony. By
love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to himself. On account of the
love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave his blood for us by the will of God; his flesh for our flesh, and his soul for our souls.
Clement continued along this line in describing perfection in terms of perfect love:
Ye see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has
vouchsafed to render so? Let us pray, therefore, and implore of his mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. All the generations from Adam even unto this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ.
Clement further defined the purpose of this love:
Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile. This blessedness cometh upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Clement closed with this benediction for the Corinthians:
May God, who seeth all things, and who is the ruler of all spirits and the Lord of all flesh—who chose our Lord Jesus Christ and us through him to be a
peculiar people—grant to every soul that calleth upon his glorious and holy name, faith, fear, peace, patience, long-suffering, self-control, purity, and sobriety, to the well-pleasing of his name, through our High Priest and Protector, Jesus Christ, by
whom be to him glory, and majesty, and power, and honor, both now and for evermore. Amen.
Clement’s writings indicate little regard for the outside world. He assumed the church to be loyal to the Roman Empire, that it would remain at peace with it.
At the same time, there is no stated concern in his writings for the return of Christ.
It is debated whether he also wrote “Second Clement,”which was composed in Rome about A.D. 100. This epistle or sermon stressed almsgiving. It also made
creedal-sounding statements directed against heresies. Clement’s writings were considered canonical by several early writers, including Irenaeus, Clement of
Alexandria, and Origen. The early Syriac church, as well, treated the letters as biblical.
PAPIAS (c. 130)
Papias was bishop of Hierapolis about A.D. 130. Irenaeus writes that Papias was a disciple of the apostle John and a companion of Polycarp. Papias composed at least five treatises, none of which still exist, except for quotes by Irenaeus and Eusebius.
From Papias, apparently, the church remembered that Mark’s Gospel was dependent on Peter, and that Matthew composed materials in Hebrew.
At the Second Coming, Papias believed, there would be joys for Christians and material benefits. Furthermore, there would be a millennium in which the messianic kingdom would be established, with the saints enjoying fruits on earth.
SHEPHERD OF HERMAS (c. 140-155)
The letter was probably written 140-155, perhaps by a brother of Pope Pius. It drew its name from an angel who visited Hermas in the form of a shepherd. The
book was widely used in the Greek-speaking church and served as a textbook for those seeking baptism. The writer was a one-time Christian slave sold in Rome
to a woman, Rhoda, who set him free. He married and became a wealthy merchant, but lost all in a persecution of Christians.
The book has three parts: the first deals with visions, the second with mandates, and the third with similitudes. It teaches the necessity of penance and the possibility of forgiveness of sins after baptism. It indicates that perfect love is an expected norm, and out of this perfect love there flowed acceptance for repentant ones fallen into sin. Hermas expected those baptized to be able to live without sin, but the church inevitably had to deal with those who did not avail themselves of the grace. More than other writers of the time, Hermas emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit in believers. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to live pure lives. This was not just an ideal, but a norm.
POLYCARP (c. 69-155)
Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was a leading churchman of his time, probably a disciple of John, and a staunch defender of orthodox faith against the heretics. On his way to martyrdom, he wrote several letters; only one remains, written to the church in Philippi. Polycarp recognized his own leadership over the Philippians and urged Christians to obey the word of righteousness and accept discipline. He argued against those who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh,
and those who supposed that Christians, being under grace rather than under the law, were excused from right behavior. The letter emphasized salvation through adherence to tradition and orthodox faith. It also emphasized conduct as a crucial means of salvation and demonstrated continuities between the Old and New Testaments.
EPISTLE TO DIOGNETUS
This letter was probably written by an unknown Christian—possibly Quadratus of Asia Minor—in Asia Minor in the second century, to an inquirer by the name of Diognetus—possibly Emperor Hadrian. The letter uses Johannine categories in speaking of Christ and the revelation of God. The author explains why Judaism and paganism cannot be tolerated and calls Christians the “soul of the world.” Salvation comes through God’s love. The letter also included the Logos doctrine that later would be become prominent among Christian apologists.
These early writings helped to define and shape the beliefs of early Christians. They depict a church in the process of
1) developing liturgies and rituals, and
2) defining a Christian’s place in the world.
They show a church that very consciously understood itself as standing apart from the cultures in which it existed. The church was developing Christian doctrine—its
beliefs, teachings, and confessions—based on the word of God.
Preparation Before Session 4
Email your response paragraphs to email@example.com by the Sunday before the class session.
Read Bruce L Shelley, Church History in Plain Language Chapter 6, 10 and 11
Write a Big Idea paragraph from you reading.
Read the following articles and give a one paragraph answer to the question asked.
1 Development of the Canon
How can we help people to distinguish between the inspired nature of the
Word of God and other “inspirational” writings?
2.Reason and Revelation: Early Church Apologetics
What are the ways in which the Christian church in your culture today has
used contemporary thought
3. The First Five Councils and Early Creed
What role does an understanding of tradition have within the Wesleyan-holiness and broader evangelical heritage?
Write in your journal. Reflect on and respond to the following:
AUGUSTINE’S CONFESSIONS, READING 3 BOOK TWO
He concentrates here on his sixteenth year, a year of idleness, lust, and adolescent mischief. The memory of stealing some pears prompts a deep probing of the motives and aims of sinful acts. “I became to myself a wasteland.”
1. I wish now to review in memory my past wickedness and the carnal corruptions of my soul—not because I still love them, but that I may love you, O my God. For love of your love I do this, recalling in the bitterness of self-examination my wicked ways, that you may grow sweet to me, your sweetness without deception! Your sweetness happy and assured! Thus you may gather me up out of those fragments in which I was torn to pieces, while I turned away from you, O Unity, and lost myself among “the many.” For as I became a youth, I longed to be satisfied with worldly things, and I dared to grow wild in a succession of various and shadowy loves. My form wasted away, and I became corrupt in your eyes, yet I was still pleasing to my own eyes—and eager to please the eyes of men and women.
9. Theft is punished by your law, O Lord, and by the law written in men and women’s hearts, which not even ingrained wickedness can erase. . . . Yet I had a desire to commit robbery, and did so, compelled to it by neither hunger nor poverty, but through a contempt for well doing and a strong impulse to iniquity. For I pilfered something that I already had in sufficient measure, and of much better quality. I did not desire to enjoy what I stole, but only the theft and the sin itself. There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night—having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was—a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart—which you did pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess to you what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error—not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in you to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.