Front Page
Series Contents
Series Theme: Apologetics
Abbreviated Contents:













1. Early Leaders

2. Church Fathers

3, Achievements

4. Recap













1. Early Leaders

2. Church Fathers

3, Achievements

4. Recap

















1. Early Leaders

2. Church Fathers

3, Achievements

4. Recap















































































































1. Early Leaders

2. Church Fathers

3, Achievements

4. Recap

































Title:   14. Questions about the Early Church PEOPLE

                            (Those who helped build the Church)


A series that helps consider the foundations for faith

Contents for Overview:

Introductory Comments

•    It is important to know about the early Church. 
1. Who were the earliest Leaders in the second half of the First Century?
•    Identifying those early key leaders
2. Who were the Early Church Fathers who lived in the following Two Centuries?
•    Identifying the Early Church Fathers
3. What did these men achieve?  
•    Details of these men. 

4. Recap


Introductory Comments


On this page we'll be looking at some of the people of the early centuries of the Christian Church to see who continued after Jesus' ascension and the passing of the Twelve.


On the Introductory Page to the Early Church we noted the people and events in the first half of the first century, but on this page we will go on from there. The men we will identify are ‘the big names' of the early church, those who stood out specifically because they were church leaders and/or because of their writings.


Note: For the student wishing to read any of the letters or books referred to below, use either The Apostolic Fathers by J.B. Lightfoot & J.R. Harmer, or go online to the Christian Classic Ethereal Library - and click on ‘Church Fathers'.




1. Who were the earliest Leaders in the second half of the First Century?




Those leaders who wrote extensively and built the church theologically are referred to as the Early Church Fathers, but before them came leaders who wrote letters - not on the same level of authority as those in the canon of Scripture – yet accepted as of some value.


The following are some of those early leaders who followed on after the apostles of the Lord:







Clement of Rome

? – c.101


Bishop (said to be 4th Pope)

Wrote 1 Clement


Ignatius of Antioch

?30 – c.110


Bishop, wrote 7 letters

Lions in the arena


69 – 155


Bishop, wrote a letter to the Philippians



NB. On the page to do with Competing beliefs, you will have noted under Judaism, an outline of how the church grew. You will also see there that by AD 70 the Church had left Jerusalem which is why, from now on, the key famous leaders tended to be bishops or theologians in other main centres of the Faith.




2. Who were the Early Church Fathers who lived in the following Two Centuries?




The early church leaders who stood out, contributing theologically to the ongoing development, as we noted above, are called the Early Church Fathers.

These were leaders who stood in the face of persecution, competing beliefs, and growing heresies in the following centuries.

In what follows watch for the men from whom these wrong ideas came. 







Justin Martyr

c.100 – c.165


Apologist, philosopher, writer



c.140 – c.202


Bishop and refuter of heresies

Possibly martyred

Clement of Alexandria

c.150 – c.215


Theologian. various writings



160 - 220


Theologian, apologist, writer


Origen of Alexandria

c.185 – c.254


Apologist, theologian, writer

Died as result of injuries in persecution


c.200 - 258


Bishop, writer



c.296 - 373


Bishop. Opponent of Arianism. Writer



    In order to take in these details note specifically

•   when they lived - catch a sense of the period they lived in
•   where they mainly lived - see the extent of the church
•   what they did - the scope of their main activities

 how they died - note how many were martyrs.




3. What did these men achieve?




To get a little of the feel of the age, it is useful to know some little more detail of these men:


a) Clement of Rome (Unknown – c.101)


Clement was probably a Gentile and a Roman. He seems to have been at Philippi with St. Paul (Phil 4:3). He became an elder or presbyter in the church at Rome, possibly the leader 3rd after Peter.


It is believed he wrote the letter referred to as 1 Clement, otherwise known as The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, probably the earliest existing Christian letter outside the New Testament, written about AD 95 or 96.


This letter was held in very high regard by the early Church and was commented upon by Eusebius, a latter historian, who identified him as a friend of Paul, and wrote as follows:


"There is one acknowledged Epistle of this Clement, great and admirable, which he wrote in the name of the Church of Rome to the Church at Corinth, sedition having then arisen in the latter Church. We are aware that this Epistle has been publicly read in very many churches both in old times, and also in our own day."


It was sent from Rome to Corinth, with some mediators from Rome, to settle various upsets in the church in Corinth – thus showing the accepted superior position of the church in Rome by then, and the practice of sending guidance, and means of settling difficulties.


b) Ignatius of Antioch (?30 – c.110)


With Polycarp, he is thought to have been a disciple of John. He later became bishop of Antioch in Syria


In the persecution of Trajan he was condemned to death by lions in the arena, possibly for atheism – denial of the Roman gods! (about 110 AD)


On his way from Antioch to Rome, he was met by representatives of some of the churches of Asia Minor and so wrote letters to:


  •  those churches to go back with them – Ephesus, Magnesia (near Ephesus) & Tralles,
  •  and one ahead of him to Rome,
  •  to two churches he had recently visited – Philadelphia and Smyrna,
  •  and one to his friend Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna,

                   thus seven letters in all.


The three main concerns that come through these letters appear to be:


a) the struggle against false teachers within the churches,
b) the unity and structure of the churches, and
c) his own impending death.


In respect of the false teaching

  •  he wrote against the Ebionites, who demanded the keeping of Jewish regulations,
  •  and the Docetists, who believed Christ only 'appeared' to be human.

Thus from him we see that there were already struggles to hold to the truth by the end of that century.


c) Polycarp (69 – 155)


With Ignatius, thought to be a disciple of John. Later became bishop of Smyrna, and teacher of Irenaeus (see below).


Martyred at the age of eighty six, somewhere between 155 – 160.


The account of his death by burning is given in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, a letter from the church at Smyrna to the church at Philomelium, the oldest written account of Christian martyrdom outside the New Testament.

Wrote to the Philippians in response to a letter from them, about 110 AD. In the letter he makes references from at least 13 New Testament books.

Irenaeus tells us that "Polycarp was instructed by the apostles, and was brought into contact with many who had seen Christ."

He was thus a major link in the apostolic church


d) Justin Martyr ( c.100 – c.165)


Justin was a Gentile, born in Samaria about AD 100, and was martyred in Rome about AD 165, by beheading.


Before becoming a Christian (about 130 AD) he studied in schools of philosophy which is certainly why he came as an evangelist, so strongly against mere philosophic thought.


He is considered the first Christian author, the first Christian theologian (note the earlier writers had purely written letters ), and therefore the first true Church Father


His main works are:

  •  The First Apology of Justin (about 155 AD) – to the emperor – aimed to clear away prejudice & misunderstanding about Christianity. Refuted the claims that Christians were atheists and immoral. Argued that Christian beliefs and practices actually reflect a higher reason and morality.
  •  The Second Apology of Justin (161 AD) ­ short work - protested against the injustice of people being executed for no other reason than they were Christians.
  •  Dialogue of Justin (or Dialogue with Trypho) – longest of his works – apparently recounting an actual encounter with Trypho years earlier. Trypho objected that Christians broke Jewish law and worshipped a man. Justin opposed this.
  •   Justin's Hortatory Address to the Greeks – appealing to Greek philosophers & classical Greek myth.
  •  Justin on the Sole Government of God ­ – a defence of God being the one true authority


e) Irenaeus ( c.140 – c.202)


Born in Asia Minor, studied under Polycarp, lived in Rome for some time, went to Gaul and was a presbyter in the Greek speaking community of Lyons in 177 AD.

Sent to Rome during a persecution with a letter of the martyrs to remonstrate against growing heresies, returned and became bishop of Lyons where he worked and wrote to counter the Gnostic heresies that were abounding


His main work is Irenaeus Against Heresies which comprises 5 books

  •  Book 1 – contains a minute description of the tenets of the various heretical sects, with occasional brief remarks in illustration of their absurdity, and in confirmation of the truth to which they were opposed.
  •  Book 2 – contains a more complete demolition of those heresies which he has already explained, and argues at great length against them, on grounds principally of reason.
  •  Books 3-5 – contains the true doctrines as being completely against the views held by the Gnostic teachers.


He thus reveals to us the scope of the warfare of that time – his work being to counter those heresies.


f) Clement of Alexandria (c.150 – c.215)


A Greek probably born in Athens. As an adult, he sought out truth from a number of teachers in Greece, Italy, Syria, Palestine, and finally Alexandria. There he sat under Pantaenus, who taught Christianity in light of the scientific teachings of the day. Eventually he set up his own ‘school' about 180 AD. There he taught a "new philosophy" that addressed the cultural and philosophical concerns of the day.


His three great works,

  •  The Exhortation to the Heathen - was an introductory philosophical work for the unbaptized, in which he attempted to show the reasonableness of the Christian faith
  •  The Instructor - he outlined the specific duties and ethics taught by the "Instructor" (i.e., the Logos, or Christ):
  •  The Miscellanies - is a multi-coloured patchwork of teachings in advanced philosophy, ethics, and disciplined instruction for "Christian Gnostics" to lead them into knowledge

                    are among the most valuable remains of Christian antiquity, and the largest that belong to that early period .


Clement sought to reach the literati of his day, and Gnosticism was the rage. He sought to present the Christian faith in terms these people could recognize.

In that sense he was probably like a number of post-modern Christians teachers today who seek to use the language and concepts of today to communicate to those who are not Christians.


g) Tertullian (160 – 220)


Born in North Africa, possibly educated in Rome, became a Christian about 195/7, said to be the earliest and greatest of the church writers of the West prior to Augustin e.

Was a powerful attacker of pagans, Jews, and heretics. He wrote an immense amount and was the first major Christian author to write in Latin.


In his writings he:

  •  asserted that Christians posed no threat to the empire and were loyal citizens; therefore they should be tolerated,
  •  warned that separation from pagan culture was necessary to avoid moral and doctrinal corruption,
  •  insisted that God, was loving and merciful in both the Old Testament and New; Christ was God incarnate and the fulfilment of all messianic prophecy, and the church alone carried on the legitimate faith received from the apostles,
  •  disliked infant baptism, believed the return of Christ was imminent, and had little time for clergy, many of whom he believed were too lenient about sexual immorality.


His major books are

  •  the Apology – arguing that Christianity should be tolerated by Rome
  •  Against Marcion – five books defending the use of the Old Testament by the Christian church and the oneness of God as Creator and Saviour.
  •  Against Praxeas – developed the doctrine of the Trinity
  •  Exclusion of Heretics – the Scriptures were to be used exclusively by the church and not the Gnostics
  •  On the Soul – first Christian writing on psychology
  •  On Baptism – earliest surviving work about baptism (criticising baptism of children)

So sure was he that the Holy Spirit still spoke through believers in prophecy, he ended his days among the Montanists (who he joined about 207), a movement eventually condemned for exalting the ecstatic utterances of its leaders over the church's authority, having broken away from the church in 213.


h) Origen of Alexandria (c.185 – c.254)


Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, became a teacher of new converts, then older students. Led a very ascetic life, antagonising the bishop and so moved to Caesarea in Palestine.


Is considered the greatest scholar and most prolific author of the early church

Wrestled with the problem of philosophy versus theology


In 249 he was imprisoned in Tyre in the current persecution. Was later released and died in 254, age 70, weakened by the injuries previously received.


His main works included:

  •  The Hexapia , or Six-Columned Bible - considered to be the greatest piece of biblical scholarship in the early church. It paralleled various different texts and translations of the Old Testament
  •  First Principles – systematic fundamental Christian doctrine
  •  Exhortation to Martyrdom – challenges in the Christian life
  •  On Prayer – an exposition of the Lord's prayer

               but there also many sermons, commentaries and letters written by him.


i) Cyprian (c.200 – 258)


Probably born in Carthage, North Africa, about 200, martyred in Carthage 258. Became a Christian about 246, a pupil of Tertullian, and within 2 years became bishop of Carthage.

An orator-writer, not a philosopher or theologian.

When persecution came in 250 he escaped into exile where he wrote many letters to clergy and others in Rome and Carthage , maintaining his role as bishop in exile.


About 251, following persecution and wanting to hold together those who had lapsed under pressure and those who had stood, he wrote The Unity of the Church

He emphasised church leadership being local presbyters or elders, (as against bishops who had become answerable to Rome) with plenty of ‘lay' involvement.

He also wrote over seventy epistles and various other writings.


j) Athanasius (c.296 – 373)


As a deacon in the church at Alexandria he accompanied the bishop to the Council of Nicaea in 325. He himself became the bishop in 328

Because of the emperor's involvement in the church and the upheavals because of heresies, Athanasius was exiled 5 times!

His writings were very significant in that they worked out the basic doctrines and sought to counter the heresy of Arianism


His main writings included:

  •  Against the Gentiles -- On the Incarnation - a double treatise in 318, affirming and explaining that Jesus was both God and Man.
  •   In his major theological opus, the Three Discourses Against the Arians , Athanasius stressed that the Father's begetting of the Son, or uttering of the Word, was an eternal relationship between them, not an event that took place within time. (Arius had been teaching that there was a time when Jesus did not exist and that he had been created by God)


Athanasius is also the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today



4. Recap


Go back over each of the men above and note from what was said

- how much writing played a part
- why they wrote (i.e. what provoked them to write)
- how they ended their lives



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