The Apostolic Fathers were Christian theologians 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. Their writings, though popular 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 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.
...[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.
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.[note 2] 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.[note 3] 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.[note 4]
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,[note 5] 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[note 6] 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.
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.
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. translit. Didakhé, lit., 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.
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.
The Ante-Nicene Period (literally meaning "before Nicaea") of the history of early Christianity was the period following the Apostolic Age of the 1st century down to the First Council of Nicaea in 325. During this period Proto-orthodoxy developed.Christianity in the 2nd century
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.
While the Jewish Christian church was centered in Jerusalem in the 1st century, Gentile Christianity became decentralized in the 2nd century.Although the use of the term Christian is attested in the Acts of the Apostles (80–90 AD), the earliest recorded use of the term Christianity (Greek: Χριστιανισμός) is by Ignatius of Antioch about 107 AD, who is also associated with modification of the sabbath, promotion of the bishop, and critique of the Judaizers.Church Fathers
The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were ancient and influential Christian theologians and writers. There is no definitive list. The era of these scholars who set the theological and scholarly foundations of Christianity largely ended by AD 700 (John of Damascus died in 749 AD, Byzantine Iconoclasm began in 726 AD).In the past, the Church Fathers were regarded as authoritative and more restrictive definitions were used which sought to limit the list to authors treated as such. However, the definition has widened as scholars of patristics, the study of the Church Fathers, have expanded their scope.Didache
The Didache (; Greek: Διδαχή,, translit. translit. Didakhé, lit., lit. 'Teaching'), also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a brief anonymous early Christian treatise, dated by most modern scholars to the first century. The first line of this treatise is "The teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles (or Nations) 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 Didache is considered the first example of the genre of Church Orders. The Didache reveals how Jewish Christians saw themselves and how they adapted their practice for Gentile Christians. The Didache is similar in several ways to the Gospel of Matthew, perhaps because both texts originated in similar communities. The opening chapters, which also appear in other early Christian texts, are likely derived from an earlier Jewish source.The Didache is considered part of the group of second-generation Christian writings known as the Apostolic Fathers. The work was considered by some Church Fathers to be a part of the New Testament, while being rejected by others as spurious or non-canonical, In the end, it was not accepted into the New Testament canon. However, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church "broader canon" includes the Didascalia, a work which draws on the Didache.
Lost for centuries, a Greek manuscript of the Didache was rediscovered in 1873 by Philotheos Bryennios, Metropolitan of Nicomedia, in the Codex Hierosolymitanus. A Latin version of the first five chapters was discovered in 1900 by J. Schlecht.Edgar J. Goodspeed
Edgar Johnson Goodspeed (1871–1962) was an American theologian and scholar of Greek and the New Testament. He taught for many years at the University of Chicago, whose collection of New Testament manuscripts he enriched by his searches. The University's collection is now named in his honor.
He is widely remembered for his translations of the Bible: The New Testament: an American Translation (1923), and (with John Merlin Powis Smith) "The Bible, An American Translation" (1935), the "Goodspeed Bible". He is also remembered for his translation of the Apocrypha, and that translation was included in The Complete Bible, An American Translation (1939). Finally, Harper & Brothers issued his widely heralded The Apostolic Fathers: An American Translation (1950).
Edgar J. Goodspeed was born in Quincy, Illinois. He graduated from Denison University in 1890 (where he also received a doctorate in Divinity, 1928) and the University of Chicago (Ph.D. 1898).
Edgar J. Goodspeed died in 1962 and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.Epistle
An epistle (; Greek: ἐπιστολή, epistolē, "letter") is a writing directed or sent to a person or group of people, usually an elegant and formal didactic letter. The epistle genre of letter-writing was common in ancient Egypt as part of the scribal-school writing curriculum. The letters in the New Testament from Apostles to Christians are usually referred to as epistles. Those traditionally attributed to Paul are known as Pauline epistles and the others as catholic (i.e., "general") epistles.Epistle of Barnabas
The Epistle of Barnabas (Greek: Βαρνάβα Ἐπιστολή) is a Greek epistle written between 70–132 CE. 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.Epistle to Diognetus
The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (Greek: Πρὸς Διόγνητον Ἐπιστολή) is an example of Christian apologetics, writings defending Christianity from its accusers. The Greek writer and recipient are not otherwise known; estimates of dating based on the language and other textual evidence have ranged from AD 130 (which would make it one of the earliest examples of apologetic literature), to the late 2nd century, with the latter often preferred in modern scholarship.First Epistle of Clement
The First Epistle of Clement (Ancient Greek: Κλήμεντος πρὸς Κορινθίους, romanized: Klēmentos pros Korinthious, lit. 'Clement to Corinthians') 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.
The letter is a response to events in Corinth, where the congregation had deposed certain elders (presbyters). The author called on the congregation to repent, to restore the elders to their position, and to obey their superiors. He said that the Apostles had appointed the church leadership and directed them on how to perpetuate the ministry.
The work is traditionally attributed to Clement I, the Bishop of Rome. In Corinth, the letter was read aloud from time to time. This practice spread to other churches, and Christians translated the Greek work into Latin, Syriac, and other languages. Some early Christians even treated the work like scripture. The work was lost for centuries, but since the 1600s various copies or fragments have been found and studied. It has provided valuable evidence about the structure of the early church.Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch (; Greek: Ἰγνάτιος Ἀντιοχείας, Ignátios Antiokheías; c. 50 – c. 98/117/145), also known as Ignatius Theophorus (Ιγνάτιος ὁ Θεοφόρος, Ignátios ho Theophóros, lit. "the God-bearing") or Ignatius Nurono (lit. "The fire-bearer"), was an early Christian writer and bishop of Antioch. 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.J. B. Lightfoot
Joseph Barber Lightfoot (13 April 1828 – 21 December 1889), known as J. B. Lightfoot, was an English theologian and Bishop of Durham.Letter to the Romans (Ignatius of Antioch)
The Letter to the Romans by Ignatius, an early-second-century Bishop of Antioch, was written during his transport from Antioch, Syria, to his execution in Rome. One of seven extant epistles written by Ignatius, Romans is Ignatius’ most detailed explanation of his views on martyrdom.List of early Christian writers
Various Early Christian writers wrote gospels and other books, some of which were canonized as the New Testament canon developed. The Apostolic Fathers were prominent writers who are traditionally understood to have met and learned from Jesus' personal disciples. The Church Fathers are later writers with no direct connection to the disciples (other than the claim to apostolic succession). Apologists defended Christianity against its critics, especially Greek and Roman philosophers. Dates given, if not otherwise specified, are of their writings or bishopric, not of their lives.Maranatha
Maranatha (Aramaic: either מרנא תא: maranâ thâ' or מרן אתא: maran 'athâ' , Greek: Μαραναθα) is a two-word Aramaic formula occurring only once in the New Testament (see Aramaic of Jesus). It appears in Didache 10:14, which is part of the Apostolic Fathers' collection. It is transliterated into Greek letters rather than translated and, given the nature of early manuscripts, the lexical difficulty rests in determining just which two Aramaic words constitute the single Greek expression, found at the end of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (16:22).Martyrdom of Polycarp
Martyrdom of Polycarp is a manuscript written in the form of a letter that relates the religious martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (the site of the modern city of Izmir, Turkey) and disciple of John the Apostle in the 2nd century AD. It forms the earliest account of Christian martyrdom outside of the New Testament. The author of Martyrdom of Polycarp is unknown, but it has been attributed to members of the group of early Christian theologians known as the Church Fathers. The letter, sent from the church in Smyrna to another church in Asia Minor at Philomelium, is partly written from the point of view of an eye-witness, recounting the arrest of the elderly Polycarp, the Romans' attempt to execute him by fire, and subsequent miraculous events.The letter takes influence from both Jewish martyrdom texts in the Old Testament and the Gospels. Furthermore, the Martyrdom of Polycarp promotes an ideology of martyrdom, by delineating the proper conduct of a martyr.Polycarp's letter to the Philippians
The Letter to the Philippians (often simply called Philippians) is an epistle composed around AD 110 to 140 by Polycarp of Smyrna, one of the Apostolic Fathers, from Antioch to the early Christian church in Philippi. The letter is described by Irenaeus as follows:
There is also a forceful epistle written by Polycarp to the Philippians, from which those who wish to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth.The letter is one of a number believed to have been written by Polycarp, but is the only extant document. The letter was composed in Greek, but the Greek text has not been preserved in its entirety; there is also a Latin translation of the letter. Moreover, a few quotations of it are preserved in Syriac.Quadratus of Athens
Saint Quadratus of Athens (Greek: Άγιος Κοδράτος) is said to have been the first of the Christian apologists. He is counted among the Seventy Apostles in the tradition of the Eastern Churches.
According to Eusebius of Caesarea he is said to have been a disciple of the Apostles (auditor apostolorum).In his Ecclesiastical History, Book IV, chapter 3, Eusebius records that:
1. After Trajan had reigned for nineteen and a half years Ælius Adrian became his successor in the empire. To him Quadratus addressed a discourse containing an apology for our religion, because certain wicked men had attempted to trouble the Christians. The work is still in the hands of a great many of the brethren, as also in our own, and furnishes clear proofs of the man's understanding and of his apostolic orthodoxy.
2. He himself reveals the early date at which he lived in the following words: But the works of our Saviour were always present, for they were genuine:— those that were healed, and those that were raised from the dead, who were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were also always present; and not merely while the Saviour was on earth, but also after his death, they were alive for quite a while, so that some of them lived even to our day. Such then was Quadratus.
In other words, Eusebius is stating that Quadratus addressed a discourse to the Roman Emperor Hadrian containing a defense, or apology, of the Christian religion, when the latter was visiting Athens in AD 124 or 125, which Eusebius states incorrectly moved the emperor to issue a favourable edict. The mention that many of those healed or raised from the dead by Christ were still living seems to be part of an argument that Christ was no mere wonder-worker whose effects were transitory.
Eusebius later summarises a letter by Dionysius of Corinth which simply states that Quadratus was appointed Bishop of Athens 'after the martyrdom of Publius', and which states that 'through his zeal they [the Athenian Christians] were brought together again and their faith revived.P. Andriessen has suggested that Quadratus' Apology is the work known as Epistle to Diognetus, a suggestion Michael W. Holmes finds "intriguing". While admitting that Epistle to Diognetus does not contain the only quotation known from Quadratus' address, Holmes defends this identification by noting "there is a gap between 7.6 and 7.7 into which it would fit very well."Because of the similarity of name some scholars have concluded that Quadratus the Apologist is the same person as Quadratus, a prophet mentioned elsewhere by Eusebius (H. E., 3.37). The evidence, however, is too slight to be convincing. The later references to Quadratus in Jerome and the martyrologies are all based on Eusebius, or are arbitrary enlargements of his account.
Another apologist, Aristides, presented a similar work. Eusebius had copies of both essays. Because he was bishop of Athens after Publius, Quadratus is sometimes figured among the Apostolic Fathers. Eusebius called him a "man of understanding and of Apostolic faith." and Jerome in Viri illustrissimi intensified the apostolic connection, calling him "disciple of the apostles".Second Epistle of Clement
The Second Epistle of Clement (Ancient Greek: Κλήμεντος πρὸς Κορινθίους, romanized: Klēmentos pros Korinthious, lit. 'Clement to Corinthians') often referred to as 2 Clement (pronounced "Second Clement"), is an early Christian writing. It is considered canon by the Coptic Orthodox Church.The Shepherd of Hermas
The Shepherd of Hermas (Greek: Ποιμὴν τοῦ Ἑρμᾶ, Poimēn tou Herma; sometimes just called The Shepherd) 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 work comprises five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables. It relies on allegory and pays special attention to the Church, calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed it.
The book was originally written in Rome, in the Greek language, but a first Latin translation, the Vulgata, was made very shortly afterwards. A second Latin translation, the Palatina, was made at the beginning of the fifth century. Of the Greek version, the last fifth or so is missing.
The shepherd is one of the meanings that is probably attached to some figurines of the Good Shepherd as well as an epithet of Christ, or a traditional pagan kriophoros.
of the faithful