Early Christian Writers 40-200
The table below is patterned after a figure in Svigel: 2006 and puts a graphic perspective the fact that the teachings of the church were handed down in an organized fashion. We read in II Timothy 2.2: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." The pastoral epistles which are some of the later writings in the New Testament, generally present a notion that the faith must be handed down and in a careful fashion.
There were, no doubt, more people involved in the early church than are shown in the figure. There were certainly more writings than those that have survived for us. From what has come down to us we can show a continuous succession of writers defending Christianity. That this material was preserved by the Church it doubtless true. Monasteries were the center for learning and scholarship for many years and the scholars there also preserved much of classic Greek literature. That this fact should condemn the Christian writings as not historical or biased is overstated at best as the example of the Greek classics would indicate. Some today claim that the early church destroyed the writings of the alternative 'Christianities.' But we do have some Gnostic writings that are dated by some between 125-225. While it is true that there were purges of heretical literature it seems more likely that in the main the church just failed to preserve the writings of opposing groups. (The preservation of that material would actually be the job of the opposing group. The Christian Church today does not strive to preserve the Hindu scriptures.) A quick read through the material below will be enough to demonstrate that even much of the early orthodox writings were not preserved either. Copying books by hand was the only way to preserve them and is quite a laborious process. It should be noted that the folks that were engaged in this copying were skilled professionals and did a much better job than you or I would. Add to that political instability and wars and it is rather amazing that we have the material that we do.
Papias of Hierapolis (c. 70-155) Little is known about Papias. He is, however, one of our most important witnesses for the origins of the canonical gospels. According Eusebius, Papias wrote this:
Papias is reckoned among the apostolic fathers although his writings survive only in citations by later authors as above. He is only known to have written five books, called the Exegesis of the Oracles of the Lord.
Papias was a contemporary of Ignatius and Polycarp and, according to Irenaeus, a hearer of the Apostle John.
Hegesippus (c. 110 – c. 180), was a Christian chronicler of the early Church and wrote against heresies.
His works are lost to us except for some passages quoted by Eusebius. Eusebius tells us that he wrote Hypomnemata (Memoirs) in five books.
Hegesippus work was also known to Jerome. His work was written to refute the new heresies of the Gnostics and of Marcion. He appealed principally to tradition as embodied in the teaching which had been handed down through the succession of bishops, thus providing much information about the earliest bishops that otherwise would have been lost.
Eusebius says that Hegesippus was a convert from Judaism, for he quoted from the Hebrew and also cited unwritten traditions of the Jews.
Polycarp of Smyrna (c 65-155) was the writer of an epistle to the Philippians, commonly called The Epistle of Polycarp, and he is the subject of the book The Martyterdom of Polycarp. Both works are part of what is commonly called the Apostolic Fathers. The year of his birth is reported as anywhere from A.D. 65 to 81, and his martyrdom is recorded as being from A.D. 155 to 167. According to tradition, he was burned at the stake in Smyrna. He is said to have been a disciple of the Apostle John.
Melito of Sardis (c. 110-190) was the bishop of Sardis, near Smyrna in Asia Minor, he produced the earliest list of the Old Testament cannon. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that "Melito's Canon consists exclusively of the protocanonicals minus Esther". If this missing book is restored, this represents the same canon used by the Jews and most Protestants. Melito's canon excludes the deuterocanonical books which are used by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.
Although only fragments of his works survive, Melito was a prolific early Christian writer, judging from lists of his writings preserved by Eusebius and Jerome. He wrote a celebrated Apology for Christianity which he sent to Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. He was also one of the earliest writers to write on the dual natures of Christ.
Aristides of Athens (c. 80-140) is primarily known as the author of the Apology of Aristides.
Until the 19th century there were no known copies of his work. He was known only through the works of Eusebius and Jerome. Eusebius wrote that Aristides and another apologist, Quadratus, delivered their Apologies in person before the Emperor Hadrian. Aristides is said to have remained a philosopher in Athens after his conversion to Christianity. He is also credited with a sermon on Luke 23:43.
In 1878, the Armenian monks of the Mechitarite convent in Venice published the first two chapters of the Apology, which they had found in a manuscript in their collection. They accompanied the text with a Latin translation.
In 1889 Rendell Harris found a complete Syriac translation of the Apology at the monastery at St. Catherine's in the Sinai. This not only proved the authenticity of the Armenian manuscript, but also led to the realization that the Greek had long been extant, as a passage of the 6th century novel, The Life of Barlaam and Josaphat. A further Armenian fragment was discovered in the library at Edschmiazin by F.C.Conybeare in a manuscript of the 11th century.
In his Apology, he argues that there must be a single God as creator and that Christians apprehend, understand, and practice God's commands better than either the Jews, Greeks, Barbarians, or Pagans.
Athenagoras of Athens (c. 120-190) was a Christian apologist of the second half of the 2nd century of whom little is known for certain. He was apparently lived and worked in Athens (though possibly not originally from Athens). He was a philosopher, and a convert to Christianity. There is some evidence that he was a Platonist before his conversion, but this is not certain.
Of his writings, of which they were likely many, there have been preserved but two: his Apology or Embassy for the Christians, and a Treatise on the Resurrection.
Justin Martyr. Born at Flavia Neapolis, about A.D. 100, converted to Christianity about A.D. 130, taught and defended the Christian religion in Asia Minor and at Rome, where he suffered martyrdom about the year 165. Two "Apologies" bearing his name and his "Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon" have come down to us. Irenaeus tells us that Justin Martyr wrote a work against Marcion, which is now lost.
His apology is dedicated to Emperor Antoninus, who ruled from 138-161. His apology may be dated internally from the statement in chapter 6 that "Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago under Cyrenius." Since Quirinius entered office in the year 6 A.D. according to Josephus, the apology may be dated to the year 156 A.D.Ignatius of Antioch (martyred between AD 98 - AD 117) is said to be the third Patriarch of Antioch, after Peter and Evodius.
Ignatius called himself Theophorus ("bearer of God"), was most likely a disciple of both Apostles Peter and John. Ignatius was arrested by the Roman authorities and transported to Rome. The Roman authorities hoped to make an example of him and thus discourage Christianity from spreading. Instead, he met with and encouraged Christians who flocked to meet him all along his route. He also sent letters to the Churches in the area while on this journey. He was fed to the lions in the arena.His writings that have survived for us include:
Tatian wrote many works. Only two have survived. One of these, "Oratio ad Graecos" (Pros Hellenas), is an apology for Christianity, containing in the first part (i-xxxi) an exposition of the Christian Faith with a view to showing its superiority over Greek philosophy, and in the second part a demonstration of the high antiquity of the Christian religion. The tone of this apology is bitter and denunciatory.
The other extant work is the "Diatesseron", a harmony of the four Gospels containing in continuous narrative the principle events in the life of Our Lord. The question regarding the language in which this work was composed is still in dispute. Lightfoot, Hilgenfeld, Bardenhewer, and others contend that the original language was Syriac. Harnack, Burkitt, and others are equally positive that it was composed in Greek and translated into Syriac during the lifetime of Tatian. The "Diatesseron" or "Evangelion da Mehallete" (the Gospel of the mixed) was practically the only gospel text used in Syria during the third and fourth centuries.
Several other works written Tatian have disappeared. In his apology (xv) he mentions a work "on animals" and (xvi) one on the "nature of demons". Another work in refutation of the calumnies against the Christians (xl) was planned but perhaps never written. Eusebus says he also wrote a "Book of Problems" (Eus., "Hist. Eccl.", V, 13), dealing with the difficulties in the Scriptures, and one "On Perfection according to the Precepts of Our Saviour" (Clem. Alex., "Strom.", III, 12, 81).(http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14464b.htm)
Irenaeus (c. 115–202) was bishop of what is now Lyon, France. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of the Apostle John. Born in the first half of the second century (the exact date is disputed: between 115 and 125 according to some or 130 and 142 according to others), Irenaeus is thought to have been a Greek from Polycarp's hometown of Smyrna in Asia Minor, now Izmir, Turkey. He was raised in a Christian family.
Irenaeus wrote a number of books, but the most important that survive are the five-volume Adversus Haereses ("Against Heresies"). If Irenaeus was Greek he would probably have written in Greek. Only fragments of the original Greek text exist, but a complete copy exists in Latin along with an Armenian translation of Books IV and V.
The Gnostics produced a large volume of “other gospels” and Irenaeus weighs in on those:
But it is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the church has been scattered throughout the world, and since the "pillar and ground" of the church is the Gospel and the spirit of life, it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing incorruption on every side, and vivifying human afresh. From this fact, it is evident that the Logos, the fashioner [demiourgos] of all, he that sits on the cherubim and holds all things together, when he was manifested to humanity, gave us the gospel under four forms but bound together by one spirit. (Against Heresies 3.11.8)
Irenaeus cites from most of the New Testament canon, as well as the noncanonical works 1 Clement and The Shepherd of Hermas; however, he makes no references to Philemon, 2 Peter, 3 John or Jude.Clement of Alexandria (Titus Flavius Clemens), born about the middle of the 2nd century, and died between 211 and 216.
Born in Athens of wealthy pagan parents he was highly educated as shown by his constant quotation of the Greek poets and philosophers. He traveled in Greece, Italy, Palestine, and finally Egypt. He became the colleague of Pantaenus, the head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, and finally succeeded him as the director of the school. One of his pupils was Origen.
Clement wrote several works in Alexandria, the most important being:
Clement of Rome (c 35-100)
The Roman Catholic Church considers Clement of Rome to be the fourth Pope. He is called Clement of Rome to distinguish him from Clement of Alexandria. The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us he is the “first of the successors of St. Peter of whom anything definite is known, and he is the first of the ‘Apostolic Fathers’”. Of the two so called Clementine epistles, I Clement is a letter to the Church of Corinth, and considered genuine. The book commonly called II Clement is more likely a sermon and many question whether it is from the pen of Clement of Rome. These are the earliest of Christian writings that are not in the Bible.
On Scripture Clement wrote: "You have searched the scriptures, which are true, which were given by the Holy Spirit; you know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them (I Clement 45.2-3)." Showing the high regard he had for scripture.Theophilus, Patriarch of Antioch (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History iv. 20; Jerome Ep. ad Algas. quaest. 6). His death probably occurred between 183 - 185 (Lightfoot, S. Ignatius, vol. ii. p. 166).
We gather from his writings that he was born a pagan, not far from the Tigris and Euphrates, and was led to embrace Christianity by studying the Holy Scriptures, especially the prophetical books (Apologia ad Autolycum i. 14, ii. 24). He makes no reference to his office in his existing writings, nor is any other fact in his life recorded. Eusebius, however, speaks of the zeal which he and the other chief shepherds displayed in driving away the heretics who were attacking Christ's flock, with special mention of his work against Marcion (Ecclesiastical History iv. 24). Eusebius and Jerome mention numerous works of Theophilus existing in their time. They are: