Sins of our Forefathers, Part 5

Apostolic Fathers/Ante-Nicene Fathers

As the First Century came and went, with it went the original Twelve Apostles. The Second Century found itself with many influential people making the way for Chrisitanity to flourish, but now it wasn’t Jerusalem that was the core to all things, but Rome and with that, it’s Greek influence. The Apostalic Fathers were very concerned about proclaiming the Gospels just as the apostles themselves proclaimed it. They were just as focused as the apostles were in rooting out and exposing any false doctrine that kept wanting to rise up during the early church. This became the Patristic Era or you could simply say, the times of the teaching and writings of the church fathers.  There were still many who continued the teachings of the apostles and we are going to look at three who are called the Chief Apostolic Fathers.

Clement of Rome

Clement of Rome was one of  three chief Apostolic Fathers. Clement was said to have been consecrated by Peter the Apostle, and he is known to have been a leading member of the church in Rome in the late 1st century. Early church lists place him as the second or third bishop of Rome after Peter. Clement’s only genuine writing still in existence is his letter to the church at Corinth (1 Clement) in response to a dispute in which certain presbyters of the Corinthian Church had been deposed. He asserted the authority of the presbyters as rulers of the church on the ground that the Apostles had appointed such. His letter, outside the New Testament, was read in church, along with other epistles, some of which later became part of the Christian canon. These works were the first to affirm the apostolic authority of the clergy.  According to tradition, Clement was imprisoned under the Emperor Trajan; during this time he is recorded to have led a ministry among fellow prisoners.

Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius, was the third bishop of Antioch early in the Second Century, and he was a student of the Apostle John and also one of the three Apostolic Fathers.  Ignatius called himself Theophorus (God Bearer). A tradition arose that he was one of the children whom Yeshua took in his arms and blessed. 

 (Matthew 19:14)

 The Fourth-Century Church historian Eusebius writes that Ignatius succeeded Evodius as bishop. Theodoret of Cyrrhus claimed that St. Peter himself left directions that Ignatius be appointed to be the overseer of Antioch. But many things that were accredited to Ignatius  were not of him, for one, that anyone who celebrated the Passover with the Jews, or recieved emblems of the Jewish feast, was a partaker with those that killed the Lord and His Apostles, and yet being a student of  the Apostle John, he would have known that Yeshua said this as recorded  in John 10: 17-18,   “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it back.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it back. This commandment I received from My Father.”

Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle  John and a friend of Ignatius. Polycarp is also regarded as one of the chief Apostolic Fathers. Polycarp lived in an age after the deaths of the apostles, when a variety of interpretations of the sayings of Yeshua were being preached. Polycarp occupies an important place in the history of the early Christian Church.  He is among the earliest Christians whose writings survived. His role was to authenticate orthodox teachings through his connection with the Apostle John: “a high value was attached to the witness Polycarp could give as to the genuine tradition of old apostolic doctrine.” In 154 CE the new bishop of Rome, a man named Anicetus, attempted to force Chrisitans everywhere to abandon their observance of Passover. The Roman Chrisitans commemorated Yeshua’s death by fasting  from Friday during the seven days of Passover until midnight of the next day, Saturday, in which they celebrated Yeshua’s resurrection. When the question arose about the Passover, Polycarp traveled to Rome and spoke with Anicetus about the change. Polycarp refused to accept the change, with keeping with the Apostles and the Scriptures, that Passover was to be kept on the fourteenth day of  Nisan at evening (Exodus 12:18)

His testimony condemned  many of the heretical teachers and his testimony converted many disciples of Marcion and Valentinus, both Gnostics.

The Ante Nicene fathers also tried to stay true to the gospel, but they had additional worries. There were some writings that began to carry as much weight as Peter, Luke and Paul. Satan has been, from the beginning, determined to undermine Yeshua’s victory at the cross and what better way to do that than to divide Christians. So these false teachings would creep in and cause believers to error in their thinking.  John tells us in  1 John 4:2-3 that the spirit of antichrist was already in his day. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Messiah Yeshua has come in the flesh is from God;  and every spirit that does not confess Yeshua is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now it is already in the world.”

By these men defending the truth and exposing the lies this began the formation of church doctrine. They truly knew what it meant to defend the faith. Jude 3 says this, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”

These early fathers held beliefs that most Christians today would consider incorrect. As we go on you will see why.

Irenaeus of Lyons France

Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp. He also was  an early Chrisitan apologist. His best known book was called “Against Heresies” (180CE) in which he enumerated heresies and attacked them.  Irenaeus believed that the only way for Christians to retain unity was to humbly accept one doctrinal authority. He also proposed that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all be accepted as canonical.

The Latin Father

Tertullian 

Tertullian was one of the most important Chrisitan writers of the Second Century.

His works were highly significant in developing the basic doctrines of the church. In one of his writings called, “Against the Jews”, he blamed the entire Jewish race for the death of Yeshua. He too was a writer of apologetics, theological, controversial and ascetic works. Tertullian would denounce Chrisitan doctrine he considered heretical, but as time went on he adopted a montanism approach to life with ascetic works, which the mainstream church considered heretical. He also added the words, Old Testament and New Testament to the Chrisitan Vocabulary, along with the idea of three persons in one for the Trinity.

The Greek Fathers

There were many Greek fathers. These were those who wrote in Greek and they were very anti-Semetic. There were many who continued Paul’s work, but not everyone was in step with him.  Although there were many, we will only look at a few.

Justin Martyr

There was  a philosopher named Justin Martyr. Justin was born around the time that the beloved  John the Apostle died. Justin a Gentile lived in the area of  Samaria and yet, he was not a Jew or a Samaritan, but he came to the knowledge of Christianity. After the Bar Kochba Revolt he moved to Ephesus and began developing a philosophical apologetic form of Chrisitanity filled with Platonic ideas from Plato. He addressed his first apology directly to Antonius Pius and his second directly to the Roman people, in an attempt to legitimise Chrisitianty and to put down the lies about it. In 150 CE Justin traveled to Rome to begin  teaching a school of disciples. Ten years later Justin debated a philosopher named Crescens who was a talker who knew nothing about what he talked about and he convinced the people and the Roman  authorities that Justin  and his disciples were illegitimate and so was Chrisitanity. Justin was a Christian, but he was not for the Jews. He taught that God’s covenant with the Jews was no longer valid and the Gentiles had replaced Jews in God’s redemptive plans.

Because the Romans had given the Jewish people the right to worship their God, they also realized that many Gentiles were worshiping with them, so they made the believers worship their  Roman gods.  When Justin and his disciples refused they were scourged and beheaded.  We see this practice widely  developing later in years.

The Decian Persecution of Christians occurred in 250 AD under the Roman Emperor Decius. He had issued an edict ordering everyone in the Empire to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods and the well-being of the emperor. The sacrifices had to be performed in the presence of a roman magistrate, and be confirmed by a signed and witnessed certificate from the magistrate. An unknown number of Christians were executed or died in prison for refusing to perform the sacrifices, including Pope Fabian. Others went into hiding, while  many apostasized and performed the ceremonies. The effects on Christians were long-lasting: it caused tension between those who had performed the sacrifices (or fled) and those who had not, and left bitter memories of persecution.

Clement of Alexandria

There were many who came out of Alexandria, Clement for one. Alexandria, Egypt was one of the most important cities of the First Century. It was the center of learning anything Greek, science, literature, mysteries and Christianity. There was a theological school for the instruction of new Christians and this is where we find Clement. Clement was the first member of the Church of Alexandria who was a distinguished teacher. He united Greek Philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine and he valued spiritual mysteries.  Like Justin Martyr he developed a Christian Platonism, which were ideas from Plato and was well versed in pagan literature.  Clement is best known for his famous pupil and successor Origen who was only eighteen when he became head of the school in 203 CE.

Origen of Alexandria

Origen interpreted the Scriptures allegorically and showed himself to be a stoic, a neo-pythagorean and a platonist. He wrote  that the soul passes through successive stages before incarnation as a human and after death, eventually reaching God. He imagined even demons would be reunited with God. Origen taught the allegorical method of interpretation of the Scriptures which denies the literal meaning of God’s Word, as to say, “This is what God meant.” This way you can make it mean whatever you want it to mean. Many of Origen’s students became leading theologians of the early church. Clement also taught that the Jews were guilty of plotting to kill Chrisitans. Origen’s fame and influence was recognized throughout the Roman world, even by the Emperor.

 The Allegorial Teaching Method

The Gentiles wanted to completely separate themselves from the Jews and to do this they had to have their own interpretation of God’sWord. This came with the method of interpreting the Bible allegorically, this was the Greek method of interpretation. The Bible is meant to be interpreted literally , unless it states otherwise, like Paul using Sarah and Hagar as an example, in Galatians 4:24, when Paul says,  “This is speaking allegorically, for these women are two covenants: one coming from Mount Sinai giving birth to children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.” It is important to know the background of the Scriptures to know when something may even be an idiom or a metaphor, or even irony, all of which are figurative language. 

Eusebius 

 Eusebius was a great admirer of Origen. He wrote the history of the first three centuries of the church and is considered the “Father of Church History.”  He taught that the promises and blessings in the Tanakh were for the Christians and that the curses were for the Jews. He declared the church was the “true Israel of God” that had replaced literal Israel in God’s covenants. Eusebius became the bishop of Caesara and he became a very close friend and advisor to the Emperor Constantine.

Constantine I

Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, changed Chrisitanity forever. You can say that he was the biggest factor in the way we worship today.  Constantine became a Chrisitan though he continued worshipping his sun god. His mother Helena was a Chrisitan, and so Constantine declared that the whole Roman Empire would be Chrisitan in the edict of Milan in the year 313. He now ruled over the  empire not only in it’s politics, but also in it’s religion, the church and the state together. The state and the church merged as one, as in a marriage and Constantine considered it to be the kingdom of God. It was considered to be the bride of Constantine, the combination of his military and political might and Origen’s allegorical interpretation of Scripture made the way for Constantine to rule over every area of the church.  Most of the Roman Empire was pagan, and this made the way for paganism to flourish within the church, because these people now had to consider themselves Chrisitans, even though they had no personal relationship with God. Constantine  also divided the empire into East and West and to this day we have the Catholic Church in the West and the Greek Orthodox Church in the East. This eventually led the way to the Byzantine Era and western Medieval culture. Of course, all of this put an end to Chrisitan persecution by the Romans which was the only good thing to come from Constantine. He was now the Pontifex Maximus, the Great Priest. He was building cathedrals and churches. Many of his decisions were based on superstition, like if he did not do right by Christians that God would punish his empire. He made new teachings and laws which did not pertain to the Scriptures at all. His worship of the sun god influenced artists for centuries with their halos around their heads. 

But it still to this day affects each one of us. Constantine changed the day of worship from the 7th day Sabbath to Sunday, enacting that all courts of justice, and all people of all towns and places of work were all to rest on Sunday as the “Venerable day of the sun.” This goes back to ancient Babylon and their cult worship of the sun and continued all throughout history up to the Roman Empire and to the church today.

Constantine not only merged the State with the Church, but as we will see he changed many other things, that to this day, has led Christians to follow him, and not the Messiah.

Continue with us as we learn about these changes .

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