The Church Fathers

It is hoped that this page will be a helpful resource for those who are interested in short summaries about the church fathers including their various theological and philosophical positions. This page will be continuously updated with new information as it is discovered. If you see something that is factually inaccurate, please contact the web admin, and provide your source(s). Thank you.

First Century

  • Clement of Rome (35 – 101)
    – Second or third bishop of Rome.
    – Possibly the Clement mentioned in Phil. 4:3.
    – His authorship (c.96) of I Clement is not disputed.
    I Clement was read alongside the Scriptures in Corinth (c.170).
    – Refers to a phoenix. (ch. XXV, I Clement)

  • Ignatius (c.35 – c.107)
    – Second bishop of Antioch (per Origen).
    – Little is known of his life.
    – Was escorted from Antioch to martyrdom in Rome by 10 guards.
    En route he was given great honor by Polycarp.
    – The authenticity of some of his seven letters have been contested.
    – J.B. Lightfoot’s defense of seven authentic (but shorter) letters over Cureton’s three (Letter to the Romans, Ephesians, & Polycarp) has won general acceptance.
    – Insisted on both the divinity and humanity of Jesus: ό θεὸς ήμῶν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός (our God Jesus Christ).

  • Polycarp (c.69 – c.155)
    – Bishop of Smyrna.
    – Disciple of the Apostle John (per Eusebius).
    – Combated with the Marcionites and the Valentinians.
    – Visited the Roman Bishop Anicetus — it was agreed that each church should maintain its own custom regarding Easter.
    – When charged by a Roman proconsul to renounce Christ for his freedom and life, Polycarp replied “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” (Chap. IX, The Martydom of Polycarp.)

  • Papias (c.60 – 130)
    – Bishop of Hierapolis.
    – Disciple of a ‘John’ and a companion of Polycarp.
    – Stated that Mark interpreted for Peter and wrote down the words and actions of the Lord, and that Matthew had written ‘the oracles’ in Hebrew.
    – Was a chiliast (the view that Jesus will return and reign on earth for 1,000 years).

Second Century

  • Athenagoras of Athens (c.133 – c.190)
    – Athenian philosopher who had embraced Christianity.
    – He wrote an apology/supplication of Christians to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus about A.D. 177.
    – In that apology he addressed charges of atheism, Thyestian banquets (cannibalism), and Oedipean incest.
    – He was the first to construct a philosophical defense of the doctrine of the Trinity.
    – “But we, deeming that to see a man put to death is much the same as killing him, have abjured such spectacles. How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death? … And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion…” (Chap. XXXV, Apology).

  • Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215)
    – “Believe oh man in Him, who is both man and god; believe oh man in Him, who suffered death and yet is adored as the living God.”

  • Irenaeus (130 – 202)
    – Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul.
    – Considered the Antichrist to be a Jew sitting in a Jewish temple at Jerusalem.

  • Justin Martyr (100 – 165)
    – Authored First Apology.
    – “That ye might also know god who came forth from above and became man among men, and who is again to return when they who pierced him shall see and bewail him.”

  • Melito ( – c.190)
    – Bishop of Sardis.
    – Wrote Apology (a defense) for Christianity to Marcus Aurelius.
    – First OT canon (No apocrypha, Esther, Nehemiah).
    – Created the term Old Testament.
    – Melito believed Christ died on the evening of Nisan 14.
    – Supersessionist.
    – Chiliast (Belief that Jesus will reign on earth 1000 years)

  • Polycrates (c.130 – 196)
    – Bishop of Ephesus.
    – Opposed (with other Asian bishops) Pope Victor that the feast Easter should be uniformly celebrated on Sunday. (Per Eusebius)
    – He was a Quartodeciman: Passover/Easter is to be practiced on the 14th day of Nisan.

Third Century

  • Cyprian (200 – 258)
    – Bishop of Carthage.
    – Disputed with Stephen I about the baptism of heretics.

  • Tertullian (160 – 220)
    – First to use Trinity in Latin
    – Slightly different view of the Trinity: proto Arianism
    – Defended New Prophecy (Montanism)
    – Not recognized as a saint by Eastern or Western Catholic churches
    – Teacher of Cyprian
    – “the blood of the martyrs is seed” Apologeticum, 50
    – De Praescriptione: The Church, by unbroken tradition, is by its very existence a guarantee of its truth against dissenters.
    – Against Marcion
    – Expected a specific Antichrist to appear as a persecutor of the church just before the resurrection.
    – The Antichrist comes out of the church.
    Wiki link.

Fourth Century

  • Ambrose (340 – 397)
    – Bishop of Milan.
    – Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church — West.
    – On Mark X 18 “there is none good but …” Link.
  • Arius ( – 336) (heretic)
    Encyclopedia link.
    – Bishops supporting Arius at Council of Nicea: Secundus, bishop of Ptolemais and Theonas, Bishop of Marmarica (both excommunicated by Constantine).

  • Athanasius of Alexandria (296 – 372)
    – Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church — East (added later)

  • Augustine (354 – 430)
    – Bishop of Hippo.
    – Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church — West.
    – Authored The City of God.

  • Basil the Great (326 – 379)
    – Archbishop of Casesarea.
    – Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church — East

  • Damasus (c.305 – 384)
    – Bishop of Rome from 366.
    – Promulgated a Canon of Scriptural Books c.382

  • Dionysis ( – 360)
    – Bishop of Milan from 349 – 355

  • Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260 – 340)
    – Excommunicated for his faith supporting the heresy of Arius in Council of Antiochia (325).
    – Polemicized against St. Athanasius of Alexandria.
    – Condemned in the First Council of Tyre (335).

  • Jerome (347 – 420)
    – Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church — West.
    – Commissioned by Pope Damasus I to revise the Vetus Latina which had several confusions.

Fifth Century

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Last update: 9/12/18

Sources are from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church unless noted otherwise (still cleaning things up).

Where To Start?

If you’re going to engage in defending the faith as instructed by Peter and Jude (1 Peter 3:15, Jude 3), then you’re going to need to be able to communicate effectively. This will involve good listening skills as well as good speaking skills. We are, after all, called to be ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ. And ambassadors need to be able to communicate effectively.

Greg Koukl is one of the better Christian communicators that I am aware of. He has one particular book, Tactics, that does a very good job of teaching how to interact with others. And the material he presents is not just for non-believers. The skills that one can learn in this little book will carry over into many areas of your life.

But you’ll also need to learn new material for defending the faith. You’ll need to learn some facts about science, morality, philosophy, logic, and Biblical hermeneutics. The next book I would recommend is one written by Dr. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek entitled I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an AtheistThis particular book presents a number of scientific facts, moral topics, and Biblical truths that the apologist should know about.

The third book I would recommend is just a tad bit more rigorous than the previous two. This is where some of the ideas become much more focused. The name of the book is ON GUARD written by Dr. William Lane Craig. Learning the material in this book, and learning it well, will pay significant dividends in future conversations. I have referred to this particular book quite a number of times through the years. I highly recommend it as a starter book for the budding Christian apologist.

I think I’ll have more to say on this topic in the future, but until then, blessings on your journey, and study to show yourself approved!

 

What is Apologetics?

Apologetics… what a strange word if one is not familiar with it. It sounds as if someone has taken the word apology and combined it with ethics: apolog-ethics? Some have responded with dismay at the suggestion of “apologizing” for being a Christian. Thankfully, neither of these two scenarios reflect the meaning of the word.

The word apologetics derives its meaning from ancient Greek. Strong’s concordance defines ἀπολογία (apologia) as “a verbal defense,” and it appears in the original Greek New Testament eight times.

Now that there is a definition, how is this word to be understood as a Christian? If you, the reader, have ever shared the gospel and given answers to objections, or if you have given answers to arguments against Christianity or God’s existence, then you have already engaged in some manner of Apologetics: you have given a verbal defense for the faith that you have. Furthermore, in giving these verbal defenses you have obeyed instructions given by Peter and Jude (see verses below).

Regrettably, there are Christians who oppose apologetics. In fact, many times they present “a verbal defense” to do so. Sometimes the objection to apologetics is stated in this manner: “All that needs to be done is share the gospel and let God do the rest.” Sadly, this view overlooks the passages where Christians are admonished to defend the faith. And this view also overlooks the numerous passages where we see individuals in the New Testament setting an example of defending the faith.

Here are a few passages with such examples:

“On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.'”
Acts 4:5-12 (ESV)

“And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.'”
Acts 17:2-3 (ESV)

“Every Sabbath he (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
Acts 18:4 (NIV)

“When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.”
Acts 18:27-28 (NIV)

Even Jesus engaged in apologetics.

After Jesus healed the invalid of thirty-eight years in John chapter 5, the Jews of that day challenged Jesus on why He healed the man on the Sabbath. Jesus responded with several verbal defenses: His given authority from the Father, John the baptist’s testimony, and Jesus’ own works as testimony.

And as mentioned, there are passages that instruct Christians to defend the faith.

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect….”
1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Jude 3 (ESV)

With examples in the New Testament from Jesus and church leaders, and commands from New Testament authors, it seems pretty clear what Christians should be doing with the gospel and their faith … giving a verbal defense.