#40: Early Church Fathers (Pre-Nicaea)

On today’s episode, we discuss the early church fathers (pre-Nicaea). Dan covers St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus and Tertullian. Kevin covers St. Clement of Rome, St. Barnabas and St. Justin Martyr.

Saint Quotes of the Week

“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God… They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” – St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 6

“The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes…..” – St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus haereses

“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation . . . [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” – Tertullian, Adv. Prax. 23, PL 2.156-7

“For thus says the Scripture a certain place, ‘I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.’…Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those ministers already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry…For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties.” – St. Clement of Rome, Epistle to Corinthians, 42-44 (A.D. 98)

“Again Moses maketh a type of Jesus, how that He must suffer, and that
He Himself whom they shall think to have destroyed shall make alive
in an emblem when Israel was falling. For the Lord caused all manner
of serpents to bite them, and they died (forasmuch as the
transgression was wrought in Eve through the serpent), that He might
convince them that by reason of their transgression they should be
delivered over to the affliction of death.” – Epistle of St. Barnabas

“But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.” – St. Justin Martyr, Apology 1: 65

Recommended Reading

Faith of the Early Fathers: Three-Volume Set by William Jurgens. Volume 1 ends circa 382; Volume 2 concludes with Julian of Eclanum (d. 454); Volume 3 ends with St. John of Damascene (d. 749).

Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers by Penguin Classics

The Fathers Know Best – Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church by Jimmy Akin

New Advent: The Fathers of the Church

The Tertullian Project

Internet Sacred Text Archive

Challenge of the Week

Pick one church father that we talked about and read one of their writings online. Refer to the resources in the recommended readings above. Find a Catholic doctrine that stands out to you and share it with a friend.

Dinner Table Questions

1. Have you ever read the early church fathers? If so, which ones?
2. Do you think the early church fathers would be an effective evangelizing tool for lapsed Catholics and Protestants?
3. The early church fathers were known for defending the truth in the face of heresy. Has the modern church lost its zeal for defending the truth? Is there a particular approach or technique that the early church fathers used when defending the truth that we can learn from?

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