THE STORY OF THE CHURCH - PART 1, TOPIC 6
- Early use of the Bible (i.e. the Old Testament)
- This section is taken mainly from Bray, pp. 77-128.
- Until about 200, there was a vague tendency towards a mostly literal interpretation, even though there was
liberal use of "types" and other sorts of nonliteral interpretation.
- Starting around 200, the influence of Origen took the church definitively towards allegorical interpretation
of the OT.
- The 2nd and 3rd century church fathers
In compiling lists of the major church fathers to present in this class, I had to concentrate on those whose
writings have survived in enough bulk to be readable. Several church fathers, such as Papias, have had most of
their writings disappear. I also had to deal with the fact that this information must be presented in 50 minutes.
The following men are representative and will appear in all lists of important "fathers of the church,"
but the list is certainly not complete. [Dates given are from Bray.]
- Justin Martyr (d. 156). He was the greatest of the Greek apologists. These were men of the generation after
the death of the apostles, the first generation of "scholarly" men who addressed the emperor and others
who were persecuting Christians
- When he converted to Christianity, he kept his "philosopher's robe"
- Wrote two Apologies
- Wrote Dialogue with Trypho, a debate with a Jewish rabbi in which Justin tries to prove that Jesus is
the prophesied Messiah and also the Logos of God, and that there is a new covenant that supercedes the old
- Other apologists
- Quadratus and Aristides were Athenians who continued the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. Aristo of
Pella was a Jewish Christian who wrote an apology against the Jews. (Schaff, vol II, pp 708-710). Quadratus' apology
is available only in a fragment; Aristides' was reconstructed in the 20th century
- Athenagoras, another Athenian, wrote Embassy for the Christians, c. 177. He is probably the most sophisticated
of the original apologists.
- Irenaeus (d. c. 200)
- Bishop of Lyons after the martyrdoms at Vienne and Lyons which we talked about a few weeks ago.
- Greatest writing was Against Heresies, which is one of our chief sources of information about the Gnostics.
His historical accuracy was verified when original Gnostic documents were discovered at Nag Hammadi.
- Used the argument about the successions of bishops against the Gnostic claim to secret knowledge.
- Tertullian (c. 155-c. 220). In Tertullian we have the first true Latin Father, that is, a writer whose native
language was Latin and whose thinking was colored by Roman thinking rather than Greek. In particular, he was trained
in the law, and his interpretations of Scripture and theology were colored by that background. He is considered
the founder of Western theology.
- Rigid in his morality, he joined the Montanists in mid-career
- Condemned the attempt to use Greek philosophy to explain Christianity. "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"
- Hippolytus (c. 170-235)
- An extremely interesting story. Hippolytus was a leader (presbyter) of the church in Rome during the bishopric
of Zephyrinus, and he attacked Zephyrinus for being a modalist. When the next bishop was chosen in 217, Callistus
or Calixtus was chosen, with whom Hippolytus was also disgusted. He also opposed them for extending penance or
absolution (the earthly declaration of forgiveness for post-baptism sin) to more classes of people, including former
- He seceded from the church with his followers, who ordained him bishop of Rome. For this reason he is called
an "antipope," a name used for persons in history who reign in opposition to the actual popes. Such nomenclature
is certainly anachronistic for this period, even though the Britannica article uses it (along with other terms
inappropriate for this period in history). Hippolytus reigned until 235, when he was sent to the mines along with
the current bishop of Rome, Pontian. While exiled with Pontian, he reconciled with him and urged his supporters
to do likewise. They both resigned so that a single successor could be chosen, and they were martyred together.
- Writings include Refutation of all Heresies and the Apostolic Tradition. The latter work is a
source for much of our knowledge of 2nd century church life, at least in Rome. I do not currently have
a copy of it, because it was not published yet at the time the Ante-Nicene Fathers were published. Nor is
the text available on the Internet.
- Clement of Alexandria (fl. c. 200)
Clement was the first major scholar in Alexandria to work Christianity and Greek philosophy together in a blend
that remained orthodox, yet appealed to the philosophically educated Greek of his day. Clement believed that philosophy
paved the way for the acceptance of Christian values, and that philosophical tools could be used to shape the presentation
of Christian truth. He approached the educated world in an appealing way, like the Gnostics, but within the framework
of traditional Christianity. He or his predecessors established a school in Alexandria to teach Christianity, like
the philosophers before him had done with their philosophies. His greatest pupil was Origen.
- Origen (c. 185- c. 254). A great scholar and theologian. Origen shaped the development of theology, but not
always in ways that proved to have lasting value.
- A great believer in allegorical interpretation of Scripture. He was influenced heavily by the neoplatonists
and Philo, a Jewish neoplatonist of the first century.
- The first textual critic. He created the Hexapla, with Hebrew, a Greek transliteration, and four Greek translations.
- The first in the Christian church to write biblical commentaries
- Cyprian (c. 200-258)
- Bishop of Carthage during the difficult time of persecution under the emperor Decius. After escaping persecution
by going into hiding, he had a conflict with the "confessors" of the church at Carthage, who were readmitting
the "lapsed" into the church on easy terms, and were claiming they had powers to do this, even above
the wishes of bishops.
- After regaining his office, he reasserted the power of the bishops at a council in 251. This council, among
the many controversies of the day over penance, established the pattern for the future. It diminished the authority
of the confessors, and set the tone for the Catholic view in the future.
- Cyprian himself was somewhat of a moderate in these matters. He was not so extreme as Novatian, the schismatic
of 251 who denied all readmittance to the lapsed, nor was he as loose as the confessors in Carthage who wanted
them all readmitted. He also would accept that the church would have unworthy members, but he condemned the idea
of allowing bishops who had lapsed to continue in their offices. He said that sacraments performed by such bishops
were no sacraments.
- Most important writing was On The Unity of the Catholic Church, which emphasized the authority of Peter
and by extension, Rome's bishops. Yet within a few years he was opposing the bishop of Rome.
- Novatian (c. 200- c. 258)
- See last week's lesson.
- Anthony (c. 251-356)
- The first major Christian monk, father of Christian monasticism.
- First went to the deserts in Egypt around 271. Subjected himself to the ascetic life.
- Went through many temptations by Satan which are immortalized in Athanasius' biography of him.
- Became an inspiration to a thousand years of monks, as well as a favorite subject of art.
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Copyright © 1997, 1999 by Mark S. Ritchie. Permission is granted
to use materials herein for the building up of the Christian Church. Bibliographic entries for published works
quoted may be found in Bibliography page.