Church History: Apostolic Fathers

There is a whole lot of Christian history that usually goes unsaid. It’s full of people, places, times, and ideas that continue the story and explains how we we ended up here. Just as Jesus had disciples, the disciples had disciples who became the next generation of leaders in the church; they included:

Clement of Rome

– the successor to Peter
– served as Bishop of Rome from 92 to 99 A.D.
– considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the Church (means that he had personal contact with members of the twelve Apostles in his lifetime, or that he was a disciple of the Apostles.)
– he wrote 1 Clement to the church in Corinth: he asserts the apostolic authority of the bishops/presbyters as rulers of the church. He uses the terms bishop and presbyter interchangeably for the higher order of ministers above deacons. (The full text of 1 Clement)
– Likely was the Clement mentioned in Philippians 4:3 – “Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

Ignatius of Antioch

– also known as Ignatius Theophorus (God-bearing)
– a student of John
– served as Bishop of Antioch
– was the first to use the word ‘catholic’ to refer to the universal church in his letters
– wrote letters to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna.
– he modeled his writings after Paul, Peter, and John; he freely quoted or paraphrased their words when writing to others.

Polycarp of Smyrna

– a disciple of John
– served as Bishop of Smyrna
– wrote the Letter to the Phillipians (The full text of this letter)
– his role was to authenticate orthodox teachings through his reputed connection with the apostle John: “a high value was attached to the witness Polycarp could give as to the genuine tradition of old apostolic doctrine”

Other apostolic writings include:

The Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles)

– it’s full title is: The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles
– it dates back to the time of the Apostolic fathers
– chapters 1-6 are: Two ways, the way of life and the way of death
– chapters 7-10 deal with rituals like baptism, Comunion, and fasting
– chapters 11-15 are about the ministry and the treatment of traveling prophets
– chapter 16 is a brief apocalypse (an apocalypse is a genre of writing that a revelation of things that were previously unknown as revealed by angels; it was quite popular. There are many non-canonical apocalypse letters that have been found over the years: Apocalypse of James (first and second), Apocalypse of Paul and Apocalypse of Peter (also there are two Gnostic apocalypses by the same name), Apocalypse of Stephen and Apocalypse of Thomas, among others.)

The Shepherd of Hermas (The Shepherd)

– it contains five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables.

Both the Didache and the Shepherd were quoted and read to churches at various times, sometimes as cannon, sometimes not so much.

Just by researching these people and their works, I learned quite a bit. I didn’t know that apocalypses were a genre of Christians writing. I cannot imagine how confusing it must have been to read them and wonder which end-times revelation is the right one. Perhaps that is why we know so little about that aspect of our Christian history.

I also learned that the early leaders were quite content to be bishops, it was only latter that the words Pope and Father were conferred upon them. I had always wondered why the practice of calling them fathers so contradicted Matthew 23:9, “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”

The Apostolic age dates from the year 33 a.d. (Jesus Death and Resurrection) to 100 a.d. (The death of John, the last Disciple of Jesus.) Other notable events in this time period was the Council of Jerusalem in 50 a.d. to answer the question of circumcision and of Gentiles believers and the Destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 a.d. With John’s death, the believers and their leaders had to figure out how to answer questions about Christianity without having the apostles to turn to for advice or secondhand wisdom from Jesus.

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