The Apostolic Fathers. The Church Fathers.
I want to introduce you to a group of leaders during first three centuries of the church known as the apostolic fathers or the church fathers. These men often wrote to combat heresy and to establish orthodoxy. The only problem is that sometimes their orthodoxy wasn’t based on the teaching of the Apostles. So, when the read the Apostolic Fathers, you have to read with a discerning mind.
There are so many church fathers to cover that we will not be able to talk about all of them in class. Allow me to list a few of their names and focus on one of them in this blog. I think you will find his words encouraging.
A partial list of the Apostolic Fathers:
Clement, Bishop of Rome. Wrote c. ad 95-96.
Ignatius of Antioch (30/35 to 110/117).
Papius. Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia. He wrote c. ad 130.
Irenaeus. Born 115 or 130 died around 200.
Tertullian. From Carthage in North Africa. c. ad 160-220.
Clement of Alexandria, c. 150 – 215
Origen, c. 185–254. From Alexandria.
The Epistle to Diognetus.
An anonymous author wrote this letter to the Romans as an apology, a defense of Christianity. The letter was written between AD 150-225. The epistle is written to Diognetus, who might have been the tutor to Marcus Aurelius the philosopher emperor who persecuted the church.
The epistle notes how Christianity is perceived by the world. But the author defends the actions of Christians, noting the good they do for society.
The letter speaks of the folly of idolatry, the inadequacy of Judaism, and the superiority of Christianity. The author posits that Christianity builds character. Therefore, Rome ought to appreciate Christianity because it heightens the morals and character of people. The author believes that Christianity is to the world what the soul is to the body.
Here is an excerpt from the letter. The author describes what Christians were like in the second half of the second century.
Description of Christians:
“They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend laws. They love everyone, and by everyone, they are persecuted. They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life. They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything. They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in dishonor; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated. They are cursed, yet they bless; they are punished as evildoer; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life. By the Jews they are assaulted as foreigners, and by the Greeks they are persecuted, yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility.”
“In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world.” (Lightfoot, p. 299).
Conclusion: Ask yourself–Can the same be said of Christians and Christianity today?