Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Church Fathers

Q. What does the term “Early Church Father” mean?   

A. The terminology “Church Fathers” or “Early Church Fathers” is used to describe some of the earliest Christian leaders, theologians, and/or writers. They can be divided into three basic categories, commonly described as: (1) Apostolic Fathers, (2) Ante-Nicene Church Fathers, and (3) Post-Nicene Church Fathers.[i] 

The Apostolic Church Fathers were contemporaries of the apostles. They were possibly discipled by them, and are considered their direct successors (at the least chronologically). Some Apostolic Fathers include Clement, Ignatius, Papias, and Polycarp. Sometimes these are simply included as Ante-Nicene Fathers.[ii]

The Ante-Nicene Fathers came after the Apostolic Fathers (i.e. they were not contemporaries of the apostles). They are called “Ante-Nicene” because they lived after the apostles and before (ante) the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. Some Ante-Nicene Fathers include Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Novatus, and Tertullian.

The Post-Nicene Fathers are so-called because their lives or ministries follow after (post) the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. Post-Nicene Fathers include Augustine, John Chrysostom, Jerome, and Eusebius.

In general, those considered “Church Fathers” are Christian theologians who lived in a time frame from the end of the Apostolic Age (circa AD 100) until the time of the Second Council of Nicaea in AD 787. Those who lived after than time may be but are not usually called Church Fathers. Who are legitimate “Church Fathers” and who are “Heretics” is often in the eye of the beholder.

[i] “Church Fathers” are also categorized by their locations and/or languages – Greek, Latin, Syriac, etc.
[ii] For practical purposes “Apostolic Fathers” and “Ante-Nicene Church Fathers” are both Ante-Nicene – that is, those of both groups lived before the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. Sometimes writings not attributed to a specific writer, such as the Didache, are considered the writings of “Apostolic Fathers.”

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