The Apostolic Fathers were core Christian theologians among the Church Fathers who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, who are believed to have personally known some of the Twelve Apostles, or to have been significantly influenced by them. [ citation needed ]Their writings, though widely circulated in Early Christianity, were not included in the canon of the New Testament. Many of the writings derive from the same time period and geographical location as other works of early Christian literature which came to be part of the New Testament. Some of the writings found among the Apostolic Fathers appear to have been as highly regarded as some of the writings which became the New Testament.
The label Apostolic Fathers has been applied to these writers only since the 17th century, to indicate that they were thought of as representing the generation that had personal contact with the Twelve Apostles.The earliest known use of the term "Apostolic(al) Fathers" was by William Wake in 1693, when he was chaplain in ordinary to King William and Queen Mary of England. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia , the use of the term Apostolic Fathers can be traced to the title of a 1672 work by Jean-Baptiste Cotelier, SS. Patrum qui temporibus apostolicis floruerunt opera ("Works of the holy fathers who flourished in the apostolic times"), which was abbreviated to Bibliotheca Patrum Apostolicorum (Library of the Apostolic Fathers) by L. J. Ittig in his 1699 edition of the same.
The history of the title for these writers was explained by Joseph Lightfoot, in his 1890 translation of the Apostolic Fathers' works:
...[T]he expression ['Apostolic Fathers'] itself does not occur, so far as I have observed, until comparatively recent times. Its origin, or at least its general currency, should probably be traced to the idea of gathering together the literary remains of those who flourished in the age immediately succeeding the Apostles, and who presumably therefore were their direct personal disciples. This idea first took shape in the edition of Cotelier during the last half of the seventeenth century (A.D. 1672). Indeed such a collection would have been an impossibility a few years earlier. The first half of that century saw in print for the first time the Epistles of Clement (A.D. 1633), and of Barnabas (A.D. 1645), to say nothing of the original Greek of Polycarp's Epistle (A.D. 1633) and the Ignatian Letters in their genuine form (A.D. 1644, 1646). The materials therefore would have been too scanty for such a project at any previous epoch. In his title page however Cotelier does not use the actual expression, though he approximates to it, SS. Patrum qui temporibus Apostolicis floruerunt opera; but the next editor [Thomas] Ittig (1699), adopts as his title Patres Apostolici, and thenceforward it becomes common.
|New Testament apocrypha|
| 1 Clement · 2 Clement |
Epistles of Ignatius
Polycarp to the Philippians
Martyrdom of Polycarp · Didache
Barnabas · Diognetus
The Shepherd of Hermas
|Ebionites · Hebrews · Nazarenes|
|James · Thomas · Syriac · Pseudo-Matthew · History of Joseph the Carpenter|
|Judas · Mary · Philip · Truth · Secret Mark · The Saviour|
|Thomas · Marcion · Nicodemus · Peter · Barnabas|
| Paul |
Pseudo-Methodius · Thomas · Stephen
1 James · 2 James
| Apocryphon of James |
Apocryphon of John
Peter to Philip
Paul and Seneca
| Andrew · Barnabas · John · Mar Mari · The Martyrs |
Peter · Peter and Andrew
Peter and Paul · Peter and the Twelve · Philip
Pilate · Thaddeus · Thomas · Timothy
Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca
| Diatessaron |
Doctrine of Addai
Questions of Bartholomew
Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Prayer of the Apostle Paul
|Bartholomew · Matthias · Cerinthus · Basilides · Mani · Hebrews · Laodiceans|
|Nag Hammadi library|
The following writings are generally grouped together as having been written by the Apostolic Fathers:
All or most of these works were originally written in Greek. Older English translations of these works can be found online in the Ante-Nicene Fathers series on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website.Published English translations have also been made by various scholars of early Christianity, such as Joseph Lightfoot, Kirsopp Lake, Bart D. Ehrman and Michael W. Holmes. The first English translation of the Apostolic Fathers' works was published in 1693, by William Wake (1657–1737), then rector of Westminster St James, later (1716) Archbishop of Canterbury . It was virtually the only English translation available until the mid-19th century. Since its publication many better manuscripts of the Apostolic Fathers' works have been discovered.
There are several Greek text editions:
The First Epistle of Clement (c. AD 96) was copied and widely read and is generally considered to be the oldest Christian epistle in existence outside of the New Testament. The letter is extremely lengthy, twice as long as the Epistle to the Hebrews, and it demonstrates the author's familiarity with many books of both the Old Testament and New Testament. The epistle repeatedly refers to the Old Testament as scripture and includes numerous references to the Book of Judith, thereby establishing usage or at least familiarity with Judith in his time. Within the letter, Clement calls on the Christians of Corinth to maintain harmony and order. Tradition identifies the author as Clement, bishop of Rome, and scholarly consensus is overwhelmingly in favor of the letter's authenticity. Early church lists place him as the second or third bishop of Rome, although "there is no evidence for monarchical episcopacy in Rome at so early a date".
The Second Epistle of Clement was traditionally ascribed to Clement, but it is now generally considered to have been written later, c. AD 140–160, and therefore could not be the work of Clement, who died in AD 99. Whereas 1 Clement was an epistle, 2 Clement appears to be a transcript of an oral homily or sermon, making it the oldest surviving Christian sermon outside of the New Testament.[ citation needed ]
Ignatius of Antioch (also known as Theophorus, from the Greek for God-bearer) (c. 35–110) was bishop of Antioch. He may have known the apostle John directly, and his thought is certainly influenced by the tradition associated with this apostle. En route to his martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of the theology of the earliest Christians. Important topics addressed in these letters include ecclesiology, the sacraments, the role of bishops, and the nature of biblical Sabbath. He clearly identifies the local-church hierarchy composed of bishop, presbyters, and deacons and claims to have spoken in some of the churches through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He is the second after Clement to mention the Pauline epistles.
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Polycarp of Smyrna (c. AD 69 – c. 155) was bishop of Smyrna (now İzmir in Turkey). His student Irenaeus wrote that he "was not only instructed by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but was also appointed bishop by apostles in Asia and in the church in Smyrna", and that he himself had, as a boy, listened to "the accounts which (Polycarp) gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord". The options for this John are John the son of Zebedee, traditionally viewed as the author of the Fourth Gospel, or John the Presbyter. Traditional advocates follow Eusebius in insisting that the apostolic connection of Papius was with John the Evangelist, and that this John, the author of the Gospel of John, was the same as the apostle John. Polycarp tried and failed to persuade Anicetus, bishop of Rome, to have the West celebrate Easter on 14 Nisan, as in the East. He rejected the Bishop's suggestion that the East use the Western date. In 155, the Smyrnans demanded Polycarp's execution as a Christian, and he died a martyr. His story has it that the flames built to kill him refused to burn him, and that when he was stabbed to death, so much blood issued from his body that it quenched the flames around him. Polycarp is recognized as a saint in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
The Didache (Greek : Διδαχή,, translit. Didakhé, lit. 'Teaching') is a brief early Christian treatise, dated anywhere from as early as AD 50 to the end of the 1st Century. It contains instructions for Christian communities. The text, parts of which may have constituted the first written catechism, has three main sections dealing with Christian lessons, rituals such as baptism and the Eucharist, and church organization. It was considered by some of the Church Fathers as part of the New Testament, but rejected as spurious (non-canonical) by others. Scholars knew of the Didache through references in other texts, but the text itself had been lost; it was rediscovered in 1873.[ citation needed ]
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The 2nd-century Shepherd of Hermas was popular in the early church, and was even considered scriptural by some of the Church Fathers, such as Irenaeus and Tertullian. It was written in Rome in Koine Greek. The Shepherd had great authority in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The work comprises five visions, 12 mandates, and 10 parables. It relies on allegory and pays special attention to the Church, calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed it.
Barnabas, born Joseph, was according to tradition an early Christian, one of the prominent Christian disciples in Jerusalem. According to Acts 4:36, Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew. Named an apostle in Acts 14:14, he and Paul the Apostle undertook missionary journeys together and defended Gentile converts against the Judaizers. They traveled together making more converts, and participated in the Council of Jerusalem. Barnabas and Paul successfully evangelized among the "God-fearing" Gentiles who attended synagogues in various Hellenized cities of Anatolia.
Ignatius of Antioch, also known as Ignatius Theophorus or Ignatius Nurono, was an early Christian writer and bishop of Antioch. While en route to Rome, where he met his martyrdom, Ignatius wrote a series of letters. This correspondence now forms a central part of the later collection known as the Apostolic Fathers, of which he is considered one of the three chief ones together with Pope Clement I and Polycarp. His letters also serve as an example of early Christian theology. Important topics they address include ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the role of bishops.
Polycarp was a 2nd-century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to consume his body. Polycarp is regarded as a saint and Church Father in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. His name means "much fruit" in Greek.
Pope Clement I, also known as Saint Clement of Rome, is listed by Irenaeus and Tertullian as Bishop of Rome, holding office from 88 to his death in 99. He is considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the Church, one of the three chief ones together with Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch.
The Shepherd of Hermas is a Christian literary work of the late first half of the second century, considered a valuable book by many Christians, and considered canonical scripture by some of the early Church fathers such as Irenaeus. The Shepherd was very popular amongst Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It is part of the Codex Sinaiticus, and it is listed between the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of Paul in the stichometrical list of the Codex Claromontanus.
The Epistle of Barnabas is a Greek epistle written between AD 70 and 132. It is preserved complete in the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus, where it appears immediately after the New Testament and before the Shepherd of Hermas. For several centuries it was one of the "antilegomena" writings that some Christians looked on as sacred scripture, while others excluded them. Eusebius of Caesarea classified it as such. It is mentioned in a perhaps third-century list in the sixth-century Codex Claromontanus and in the later Stichometry of Nicephorus appended to the ninth-century Chronography of Nikephoros I of Constantinople. Some early Fathers of the Church ascribed it to the Barnabas who is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, but it is now generally attributed to an otherwise unknown early Christian teacher, perhaps of the same name. It is distinct from the Gospel of Barnabas.
The Didache, also known as The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations, is a brief anonymous early Christian treatise written in Koine Greek, dated by most modern scholars to the first century. The first line of this treatise is "The teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the twelve apostles". The text, parts of which constitute the oldest extant written catechism, has three main sections dealing with Christian ethics, rituals such as baptism and Eucharist, and Church organization. The opening chapters describe the virtuous Way of Life and the wicked Way of Death. The Lord's Prayer is included in full. Baptism is by immersion, or by affusion if immersion is not practical. Fasting is ordered for Wednesdays and Fridays. Two primitive Eucharistic prayers are given. Church organization was at an early stage of development. Itinerant apostles and prophets are important, serving as "chief priests" and possibly celebrating the Eucharist. Meanwhile, local bishops and deacons also have authority and seem to be taking the place of the itinerant ministry.
The New Testament apocrypha are a number of writings by early Christians that give accounts of Jesus and his teachings, the nature of God, or the teachings of his apostles and of their lives. Some of these writings have been cited as scripture by early Christians, but since the fifth century a widespread consensus has emerged limiting the New Testament to the 27 books of the modern canon. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches generally do not view these New Testament apocrypha as part of the Bible.
The Apostolic Constitutions or Constitutions of the Holy Apostles is a Christian collection of eight treatises which belongs to the Church Orders, a genre of early Christian literature, that offered authoritative "apostolic" prescriptions on moral conduct, liturgy and Church organization. The work can be dated from 375 to 380 AD. The provenance is usually regarded as Syria, probably Antioch. The author is unknown, even if since James Ussher it was considered to be the same author of the letters of Pseudo-Ignatius, perhaps the 4th-century Eunomian bishop Julian of Cilicia.
Antilegomena, a direct transliteration of the Greek ἀντιλεγόμενα, refers to written texts whose authenticity or value is disputed.
The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians is an epistle attributed to Polycarp, an early bishop of Smyrna, and addressed to the early Christian church in Philippi. It is widely believed to be a composite of material written at two different times, in the first half of the second century. The epistle is described by Irenaeus as follows:
The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden (1926) is a collection of 17th-century and 18th-century English translations of some Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and New Testament Apocrypha, some of which were assembled in the 1820s, and then republished with the current title in 1926.
The First Epistle of Clement is a letter addressed to the Christians in the city of Corinth. The letter was composed at some time between AD 70 and AD 140, most likely around 96. It ranks with Didache as one of the earliest—if not the earliest—of extant Christian documents outside the canonical New Testament. As the name suggests, a Second Epistle of Clement is known, but this is a later work by a different author. Neither 1 nor 2 Clement are part of the canonical New Testament, but they are part of the Apostolic Fathers collection.
Christianity in the ante-Nicene period was the period Christian history following the Apostolic Age of the 1st century down to the First Council of Nicaea in 325.
Christianity in the 2nd century was largely the time of the development of variant Christian teachings, and the Apostolic Fathers who are regarded as defenders of the developing proto-orthodoxy. Major figures who were later declared by the developing proto-orthodoxy to be heretics were Marcion, Valentinius, and Montanus.
Historiography of early Christianity is the study of historical writings about early Christianity, which is the period before the First Council of Nicaea in 326. Historians have used a variety of sources and methods in exploring and describing Christianity during this time.
The canon of the New Testament is the set of books Christians regard as divinely inspired and constituting the New Testament of the Christian Bible. For most, it is an agreed-upon list of twenty-seven books that includes the Canonical Gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and Revelation. The books of the canon of the New Testament were written before 120 AD.
The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were ancient and influential Christian theologians and writers who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity. There is no definitive list. The historical period during which they flourished is referred to by scholars as the Patristic Era ending approximately around AD 700.