The Apostolic Fathers "consists of persons and documents that interpreted and applied the apostolic message in the first apostleless generation..." (Olson,
The Story of Christian Theology, p. 41). They were acknowledged as leaders in the early church because of their close connections with the Apostles (e.g. Peter,
Paul, John etc.). Thus, they provide a link between the Apostles who knew Jesus and the later generation of Christian
apologists and defenders of Christian orthodoxy.
Common list of Apostolic Fathers
The list of Fathers included under this section varies. Agreed on by all church historians are: Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, the
Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), Epistle of Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas. It is important to note that most church historians actually call certain documents (e.g. the Didache "Church Fathers").
Others find their way to this list, such as the so-called Second Letter of Clement, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Epistle to Diognetus, and fragment writings by
Papias (Olson, p. 41). This article will focus on those accepted by all.
Clement of Rome, the third successor to Peter as Bishop of Rome, "had seen the blessed Apostles (Peter and Paul) and had been conversant with them" (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses,
III, iii, 3).
Ignatius of Antioch was the second successor of Peter in the See of Antioch (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., III, 36) and during his life in the center of Christian activity he may have met with others of the Apostolic band.
An accepted tradition, substantiated by the similarity of Ignatius's thought with the ideas of the Johannine writings, declares that he was a disciple of the
Polycarp was "instructed by Apostles" (Irenaeus, op. cit., III, iii, 4) and had been a disciple of
John (Eusebius, op. cit., III, 36; V, 20) whose contemporary he was for nearly twenty years. He later trained
Irenaeus as a disciple, thus giving Irenaeus' teachings great reliability and authority.
The Didache, also known as
The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles, or The Teaching of the (Twelve) Apostles is basically a handbook or manual of Christian ethical instruction and church order (Holmes,
Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, p. 301).
Epistle of Barnabas is an early second century document concerned with showing that Christians are the true heirs of God's covenant. Its author remains anonymous.
Shepherd of Hermas was a popular document in the second and third centuries. It's significance rests in that it sheds light on the Christian situation at Rome in the mid-second century. The author(s) is unknown.
List of writings
- The Epistle to Diognetus (this one is hard to date and might also be of a later date)
- The First Epistle of Clement
- The Second Epistle of Clement (not actually written by Clement, but still a very early writing)
- The Didache
- The Epistle of Barnabas
- Seven short Epistles of Ignatius (the longer forms of these Epistles, and those beyond the seven, are widely considered later emendations and forgeries)
- The Epistle of Polycarp
- The Epistle about Polycarp's Martyrdom
Shepherd of Hermas
- The fragments from the writings of Papias, which have survived as quotations by later writers
- One short fragment from a writing by Quadratus of Athens
Most of these works were originally written in Greek. English translations of these works can be found online in the Ante-Nicene Fathers series on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website. Published English translations have also been done by various
translators, such as J.B. Lightfoot and Michael Holmes.
- Roger E. Olson,
The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform. (IVP, 1999)
- Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids (eds.),
Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments. "Didache, The" by M.W. Holmes (IVP, 1997)