Church History: Persecution, Schism, and Plague

The Post-Apostolic Period (also referred to as the Ante-Nicene Period.) Is the span of Christian History that begins after the death of John (100 a.d.) and ends just before the Council of Nicaea (325 a.d.) This period of Christian history has not been studied as well as other periods of Christian history.

Part of the difficulty of discussing this period of Christian history is the lack of materials and writings. One notable collection, The Writing of the Ante-Nicene Fathers fills nine volumes partially because it includes the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. The writings of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers fills twenty-eight volumes. (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ante-Nicene_Fathers)

In this point of time, there was a wide diversity of beliefs and practices. In some places, proto-orthodoxy existed side-by-side with proto-heresy; the sorts of beliefs that would mark the next age by defining what “orthodox” is and what “heretics” believed. There was a wide-spread teaching that divorced Christianity from it’s Jewish roots – especially found in ‘adversus Judaeos’ literature.

By 160 a.d., most communities had a bishop in charge who based their authority on the chain of succession from the apostles to himself. Bishops had considerable freedom of interpretation. Some churches Bishops agreed to unite their theology and discuss differences among themselves in synods. These regions developed metropolitan churches – important centers of Christianity were in Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome.

Church Fathers in this period are seperated into two categories, those who wrote in Greek, and those who wrote in Latin. The ones that wrote in Greek include:

Irenaeus of Lyons
– was a bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (now Lyons, France)
– was a hearer of Polycarp, the disciple of John
– he wrote ‘Adversus Haereses’ (Against Heresies) to defend Christianity against Gnosticism and more specificially, the gnostic beliefs of Valentinus
– one of the earliest writers to claim all four gospels as cannon
– his only other surviving work is The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching which is an instruction to recent converts of Christianity. All of his other writings have been lost.

Clement of Alexandria
– he taught at the School of Alexandria
– He wrote: the Protrepticus, the Paedagogus, and the Stromata
– Protepticus (Exhoratation): it is an exhortation to the pagans of Greece to adopt Christianity. In it, Clement displays his extensive knowledge of pagan myths and theology.
-Paedagogus (Tutor): refers to Christ as the teacher of all mankind, and uses an extended metaphor of Christians as children. He also argues for the equality of the sexes and an active leadership role for women. (This was written circa 198 a.d.)
– Stromata (Miscellanies): it is a series of seven books (the eighth was lost) on a variety of topics.
– he was influenced by Plato and the Stoics, but he had an influence on Origen and Alexander of Jerusalem.

Origen of Alexandria
– technically is not a church father becuse of his heretical views, but was an important contrubitor to early Christian thought.
– also called Origen Adamantius
– taught at the School of Alexandria
– his views of a hierarchical structure in the Trinity (among other ideas) was declared anathema in the 6th century (anathema meant that not only were the views heretical, but there was to be a complete seperation from the techings and the church; like excommunication.) (We know this idea as the Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father – ESS)
– he interpreted scripture both literally and allegorically, he wrote comentaries on almost every book of the Bible.
– considered to be the first theologian.
– he fought against the gnostic idea that the Old Testament was inferior to the New Testament.

The ones that wrote in Latin include:

Tertullian
– he was the oldest writer to use the term Trinity and helped define the foundation of trinitarian theology.
-technically, he is not a church father as he adopted a Montanist theological stance which was deemed heresy and his teachings directly contradicted the church’s teachings.
– he disliked marriage, said many misogynistic things about women, and this was related to his split from the church. Montanism had a prohibition against re-marriage and held that it’s own ‘New Prophecies’ could supercede whatever teaching was handed down from scripture. They taught that virgins should remain veiled but they recognize the authority of female bishops and presbyters.

Cyprian of Carthage
– he was a bishop of Carthage
– in his time, a severe persecution broke out against Christians in his area. He fled. His flock ‘lapsed’ and chose to sacrafice to the Roman gods rather than face having their goods and property confiscated. Many were re-admited to the flock without being asked to repent.
– a schism also broke out, Cyprian found himself up against two other bishops who had been eleted to take up the position of bishop of Carthage in his absence.
– a plague also occured, wiping out a great number of the population. At the height of this plage, some 5,000 people were said to die daily in Rome. Carthage was also greatly affected by this plague.
– a second round of perseuction occurred, this time he did not flee and set an example, refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods. He was banished, imprissoned, and eventually martyred.
By the end of the Post-Apostolic age, there were many questions that Christians were trying to answer:

What is orthodoxy? What is heresy? What is the trinity? What ought to be done about lapsed Christians? What ought to be done about the scisms? How should the church treat heretics? What will Christianity look like in the centuries to come? These questions would all be answered in the age to come … starting with the Council of Nicaea.

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