Apostolic Church Fathers

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Apostolic Church Fathers The Church from 100-300AD: 

Apostolic Church Fathers The Church from 100-300AD Mike Buehrer Blacksburg Christian Fellowship Sept. 8, 2002


Overview Christian History Overview of Period (100A.D. – 300 A.D.) From Apostolic age to Constantine Age of the Martyrs Also called the Ante-Nicene period Apostolic Fathers Polycarp Ignatius Persecution of the Church The blood of the martyrs  seed of the church Lessons for today

Church History: 

Church History Christian faith is rooted in history Resurrection of Christ was preached as an historical event Story of Jesus, his disciples, the apostolic fathers, and the rest of the early church is recorded in many documents New Testament literature Literature of the apostolic fathers Writings of Roman historians Writings of Church fathers (after Constantine) History tells us how doctrine was formed, how heresies were combated, and demonstrates the incredible faith of the early church Nothing is new – many things which we face have been faced before

Timeline 100 – 300 A.D.: 

Timeline 100 – 300 A.D. 100 A.D. 200 A.D. 300 A.D. 150 A.D. 250 A.D. Trajan Hadrian Marcus Aurelius Decius Gallus Valerian Ignatius Justin Polycarp Tertullian Origen Cyprian St. Anthony Local Persecutions Tolerance Intense Persecution Christian Persecution Diocletian

Spread of the Gospel: 

Spread of the Gospel

Spread of the Gospel: 

Spread of the Gospel Churches in 100 A.D.

Spread of the Gospel: 

Spread of the Gospel Churches in 200 A.D.

Spread of the Gospel: 

Spread of the Gospel Churches in 300 A.D.

Early Church Leaders: 

Early Church Leaders Ignatius (~55 A.D. – 115 A.D.) - Bishop of Antioch Possibly a disciple of one John Polycarp (~70-156A.D.) - Bishop of Smyrna Disciple of John Justin Martyr (~150 A.D.) – Philosopher; First of the apologists Wrote Apology to the Emperor Antonius Pius Irenaeus (~177 A.D.) - Bishop of Lyons Disciple of Polycarp Wrote Against Heresies to combat Gnosticism Tertullian (~196 A.D.) – powerful thinker, philosopher in Carthage; helped formalize the Trinity Origen (185A.D. – 254 A.D.) - perhaps the greatest scholar of early church Cyprian (~250A.D.) - wrote The Unity of the Church St. Anthony (~270) – started monastic living

Early Church Leaders: 

Early Church Leaders


Ignatius Bishop of Antioch (Syria) Possibly was a disciple of John Martyred in Rome in ~115A.D. under the Emperor Trajan Wrote 7 letters during his trip from Antioch to Rome to churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna and to Polycarp Strongly argued that each congregation needed a bishop to maintain correct doctrine and prevent splits Fought Docetism (The belief that Christ was a spirit being and only appeared to be a man.) Emphasized the Eucharist since it stressed the reality of Christ’s humanity Welcomed his sacrifice for Christ


Ignatius Emperor Trajan visited Antioch in 115 A.D. and heard about the Christians there and their Bishop Ignatius. Trajan decided that he wanted to meet him. Trajan: “There you are, wicked devil, deceiver of men!’ Ignatius: “Not an ‘evil spirit’, but I have Jesus Christ in my heart.” Trajan: “Jesus Christ within you? Do you mean him who was crucified by Pontius Pilate?” Ignatius: “Yes, he was crucified for my sins” The Emperor immediately sentenced him to be transferred to Rome and to be thrown to the wild beasts.

Ignatius – Trip to Rome: 

Ignatius – Trip to Rome Known route Conjectured route Ignatius was arrested in Antioch where he was bishop He was martyred in Rome


Typical Leadership Structure Bishop Presbyter Presbyter Deacons Deacons Deacons


Polycarp ~70A.D. - ~156 A.D. Disciple of the Apostle John Bishop of Smyrna Martyred in Smyrna His letter to Philippians has been preserved Story of his martyrdom preserved in “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” written by Smyrnaean church Burned at the stake for refusing to worship Caesar and deny Christ


Polycarp Letter to the Philippians Quoted freely from the gospels, Paul’s epistles, and I Peter. While officially the New Testament was not canonized, certain writings were recognized as authentic and authoritative. Not particularly scholarly or original, but held fast to the teachings of the apostles. Also fought with Marcion over Docetism and Gnosticism. Contemporary and friend of Ignatius Visited with him on his trip to Rome for execution.


Smyrna Ruins of Marketplace in Smyrna Church established in Smyrna from early time. Bishops succeeded Polycarp until 20th century. Maintained strong Christian presence despite Moslem invasions until 1922. Turks destroyed Christian quarter in 1922 and massacred all Christians. Last bishop crucified. Now part of Turkey


Persecution Romans were typically tolerant of foreign religions However, there was no ‘right’ to religion Government reserved the right to persecute religious practice State religion was way of assuring allegiance to State Judaism was legal religion which provided some protection for Christians during early years Fall of Jerusalem put permanent rift between Jews and Christians Romans began to see Christian was its own religion For first 300 years Christians could be legally persecuted for their beliefs General, severe persecutions were sporadic but local persecution was common and always a possibility

Reasons for Roman Persecution: 

Reasons for Roman Persecution Popular opinion was against Christians Separated themselves from immorality and idolatry This particularly angered those who prospered from idolatry Refused to worship Roman Gods Had no idols or temples  brought charge of atheism Claimed to have absolute religion in pluralistic society Somewhat secretive – breeds suspicion Accused of many ludicrous fabrications Blamed for earthquakes, floods, etc. Tertullian – “We have a reputation for living aloof from crowds” Government saw them as somewhat dangerous Refused to worship Caesar – questionable loyalty Threat to state religion and thus unity of empire Unified group that proclaimed their own king (Christ) Proselytized


Persecution Laws permitted persecution of Christians but didn’t demand it. Christians weren’t sought, but could be charged. They would be released by simply denying Christ or sacrificing to the Emperor. Persecution was typically restricted to local inflammations. There were occasional intense outbreaks due to certain emperors. Nero being the first When put to death, Christians were often subjected to incredible cruelty including: Thrown to lions Burned at stake Used as torches Beheaded Tortured Crucified


Persecutions Nero (64 A.D.) blamed Christians for fire which destroyed large part of Rome. First severe persecution. Domitian (81-96) second emperor to intensify persecution. Trajan (99-117) intensified persecution in an attempt to stamp out secret associations. Hadrian (117 – 138) briefly intensified persecution of Christians when Jews revolted and were subsequently slaughtered Decius (249-251) made the thorough repression of Christianity a key part of his reign. Had Origen tortured and imprisoned leading to his death. Valerian (243-260) initially spared Christians but eventually led an attempt to execute or banish all bishops (incl Cyprian). Diocletian (303-311) resumed general persecution Roman Coliseum

Lessons for Today: 

Lessons for Today Early Christians could have avoided persecution by simply incorporating pagan worship (e.g., worshiping Caesar) into Christian practice However, they didn’t. Unlike the society around them, they believed in truth and were prepared to defend it with their lives. Greek philosophy had eroded confidence in Gods which led to religious pluralism. Today Christians are in an analogous situation We are pressured by society to accept religious pluralism We are seen as foolish and narrow-minded to think we have the truth Society has tacitly excepted religious pluralism We must be willing to stand up for truth in the face of more benign adversity.

Lessons for Today: 

Lessons for Today While there were rumors that Christians did immoral things, educated people in the Ante-Nicean period understood that Christians stood out for their morality Pliny the Younger – Chirstians “bound themselves by a solemn oath not to commit any wicked deed, but to abstain from all fraud, theft and adultery, never to break their word, or deny a trust when called upon to honor it.” Do we stand out in our society today ?


References K.S. Latourette, A History of Christianity, Prince Press 1975 B.L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Nelson 1995. H.C. Sheldon, History of the Christian Church, Hendrickson Publishers 1994. C.P.S. Clarke, St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp, Church History Publishing 2001. H. Von Campenhausen, The Fathers of the Church, Hendrickson Publishers 1998. T. Dowley Ed., Erdman’s Handbook to The History of Christianity, W.B. Erdmans Publishing Co. 1977. E.E. Carirns, Christianity Through the Ages, 3rd Ed., Zondervan Publishing 1996. A.K. Curtis, J.S. Lang, and R. Peterson, The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History, Fleming H. Revell 1991. S.M. Houghton, Sketches from Church History, Banner of Truth 1980.

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