LESSONS IN CHURCH HISTORY
WHAT IS SO IMPORTANT ABOUT STUDYING THE HISTORY OF PRE-MILLENNIAL ESCHATOLOGY?
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecc. 1:9)
It’s impossible to appreciate Soloman’s observation that a great Biblical doctrine was lost and then found again… after 1,500 years. And others that are not seen anywhere in Scripture were invented in the last 150 years. Worse yet, that great Biblical doctrine was lost to a false (Gnostic) doctrine for all these centuries.
A good understanding of Church History will quickly reveal that doctrines come and go… and come again. That was the case with the very important pre-millennial doctrine. It was essentially lost for 1,500 years before being restored around 1830. It was replaced by the postmillennial and amillennial doctrine around 500 AD. We show the exact dates and the names the people involved so that you can do your own research.
DEFINING PRE-MILLENNIALISM AND POST-MILLENNIALISM
This website gives a good overview of church history.
5 Reasons to Study Church History
This highly recommended website does a very good job of showing you the differences between these schools of eschatology.
The post-millennial and amillennial doctrines do not have a rapture (catching away, or being caught up, in that realm that Jesus inhabits). Only the pre-millennial view has a rapture. So there is a huge difference between these teachings and we really need to know what those differences are for our own sake.
And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one. Zechariah 14:9
And it will come about in the last days That the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains It will be raised above the hills, And the peoples will stream to it. Micah 4:1 (See Rev. 21)
The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it will come about that In the last days The mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. Isaiah 2:1-2
Out of gratitude to God I want to share with you just how important and thankful we should be that the pre-millennial doctrine was restored to us.
Does that suggest that what Yahweh has given us was misunderstood, only to be restored in stages of restoration again? We have the privilege of hindsight today, and are seeing with our own eyes a major fact regarding Biblical prophecy of The Kingdom that the early church theologians did not have; the restoration of Israel in 1948. The early church writers struggled with that, in seeking to make Bible prophecy align with their own contemporary issues, and bringing a cohesive understanding of the events of Revelation.
Our traditions and cultural understandings and or language differences require that we are diligent in studying the scripture with all of our available resources. As we see the book of Revelation unfold, and all the events leading up to the millennial reign of Christ, it is evident that we have to have a grasp of the old testament where the prophecies of His Kingdom being established upon the earth are well established.
A study of the extra biblical literature written by eminent men of God in the first three centuries may help some. Studying the Bible for decades will help a lot. But the true author of the Bible is the Holy Spirit, and He is still with us today. It is true we have great resources at our disposal for scripture study, however, much of the book of Revelation will become more clear to us as we grow closer to the time of His return. The Saints of God, who are His church, will have understanding, as they depend upon the leading of His Spirit.
In Acts 7 we see that Steven was stoned to death for giving a history lesson the Jews already knew too well. Paul held coats and fully approved. Please bear with me… as I indulge painful history of a loved doctrine.
Rev 22: 18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
This verse specifically applies to the Revelation only but is surely applicable to the whole Bible.
Ephesians 4:14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
REVIEW OF 2,000 YEARS OF PREMILLENNIAL HISTORY
For the first 300 years, all the Christian writers were clearly pre-millennial but not clear whether they were pre, mid, or post-tribulation. The Gnostic gospels do not count. Then pre-millennialism faded away for 1,000 years when it was mentioned but rejected again. Then another 500 years followed before it was re-discovered and practiced by millions.
“Premillennialism was the most widely held view of the earliest centuries of the church. Philip Schaff has said, “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene Age (A.D. 100-325) is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, . . . a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papia, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius.” (History of the Christian Church, Scribner, 1884; Vol. 2, p. 614)
Pre-millennialism is the belief that the second coming of Christ will happen after the Tribulation and before a literal 1,000-year period of rule of Christ reigning in New Jerusalem (Rev 21).
Pre-millennialism waned after the third century, it lost its hold on the majority of Christendom. Does that surprise you? It seems to have been primarily a few Catholic priests who managed to hold onto some semblance of pre-millennialism from the time of Augustine to the time of John Darby (1,500 years)
Bishop Ambrose of Milan (339 – 397) laid the foundation for dominionism and amillennialism
Bishop Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) He developed Ambrose’s doctrines into what was to become Roman Catholic doctrine.
1. Preterism had its beginning with him
2. Founded Roman Catholic doctrine
3. His 9 years as a Manichaeist influenced his thinking even after converting to Christianity.
4. He Christianized Manichaeism (Manichae was a Gnostic philosopher)
5. He founded predestination and “foreordination” – the basis for Calvinism.
6. He did not speak, read or write Greek or Hebrew. He worked with Latin text only.
Pre-millennialism Eschatology Essentially Lost For 1,500 years.
1. From Augustine (354-430) to John Darby (1800 – 1882)
Pope Leo X (1475 – 1521) Reigned at the time of Martin Luther and the other Reformers.
1. All the Reformationists/Historicists said the reigning Pope was the reigning Antichrist.
2. Pope founded the Jesuit order to counter the Reformation. They martyred 50 million.
3. Pope Asked Jesuit scholars to develop a doctrine that would rescue him.
4. Pope Leo X formed the Jesuit order to counter the Protestant movement.
5. Pope Innocent III inspired the T-shirt slogan saying, “Kill them all, let God sort them out”.
You know crusades as treks into the Holy Land, but in 1209, Pope Innocent III launched a crusade into southern France (via History Extra). He was rooting out a group of heretics in what’s now called the Albigensian crusade, and it was a war that lasted 20 years and only ended when an Inquisition was established to finish the work they’d started (via ThoughtCo).
According to University of Kansas medieval history professor Lynn Harry Nelson, the Cathari were a particularly heretical group under the more general umbrella of the Albigensians. While they all believed in the duality of God — a good one versus an evil one — the Cathari preached that the Catholic Church itself was shadier than you think. They believed the same people who crucified Christ had established the Catholic Church and were now playing the worst kind of cosmic joke on everyone by convincing them to worship the very instrument they’d used to kill Christ — the crucifix.
The crusade turned into a full-scale military conflict because the Catholic Church wasn’t about to stand for that sort of talk. According to Dr. Stephen Haliczer from Northern Illinois University, when the crusaders took Toulouse, commander Simone de Montfort came up with a horrible solution to a horrible problem. When his officers admitted they didn’t know who the heretics were, the response was, “Kill them all. The devil will know his own.” Thousands died.
Read More: https://www.grunge.com/86007/messed-things-actually-happened-middle-ages/?utm_campaign=clip
6. If Second Coming happened in 70 AD where is Jesus today? Pope is Vicar of Christ, Christ incarnate… very Christ.
Bishop Francisco Ribera (1537–1591) Spanish Jesuit. Wrote a futurist, premillennial book.
Futurism (Christianity) is the proposal that the Book of Revelation does not bear application to the Middle Ages or the papacy, but rather the “future” (more particularly to a period immediately prior to the Second Coming). The Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (1997) states that Ribera was an Augustinian amillennialist, whose form of futurism proposed that only the introductory chapters of “Revelation referred to ancient Rome, and the remainder referred to a literal three and half years at the end of time. His interpretation was then followed by Robert Bellarmine and the Spanish Dominican Thomas Malvenda.
Thomas Brightman, in particular, writing in the early 17th century as an English Protestant, contested Ribera’s views. He argued that the Catholic use of the Vulgate had withheld commentary from the Book of Revelation, and then provided an interpretation avoiding the connection with the Papacy put forward from the historicist point of view.
1. Ribera’s published work was called “In Sacram Beati Ioannis Apostoli ” Evangelistate Apocoalypsin Commentary (Lugduni 1593). You can still find these writings in the Bodleian Library in Oxford England.
2. Ribera’s futurist interpretation rocked not only the Protestant church but also the Catholic church so the Pope ordered it buried in the archives out of sight.
3. Chilliast – Minimalism – Futurism (Antichrist in remote future, not past) (Ch is pronounced K as in killiast)
4. He found it in 1st, 2nd, 3rd century church literature.
5. Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine (1542-1621) – followed Ribera’s school of thought.
6. Another contributor to the rapturist’s chaotic prophetic line of thought came through Emmanuel Lacunza (1731-1801), a Jesuit priest from Chile.
6. No evidence was found as to whether Ribera or Bellarmine or Lacunza placed the rapture in the pre or mid or post-tribulation rapture. And their work is heavily prejudiced with Catholic thought. But the evidence does show that per-millennialist thought was preserved among Catholic priests more so (if at all) than among non-catholic Christians until John Darby restored it.
Bishop Luis De Alcazar (1554-1613) Spanish Jesuit. Book: wrote the Preterist eschatology in Latin, which Augustine had developed.
1. Preterism puts Antichrist and the return of Christ in the remote past… 70 AD. This is when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by General Titus. They also say that the Millennium is not a literal 1,000 years, just a long time, and we are present in it.
2. If the second coming happened in 70 AD, then where is he? The Catholics say that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, Christ incarnate… very Christ.
Martin Luther, (11-10-1483 to 2-18-1546, Eisleben, Saxony [Germany]), Born 1,000 years after Augustine. German theologian and religious reformer who was the catalyst of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. Through his words and actions, Luther precipitated a movement that reformulated certain basic tenets of Christian belief and resulted in the division of Western Christendom between Roman Catholicism and the new Protestant traditions, mainly Lutheranism, Calvinism, the Anglican Communion, the Anabaptists, and the Antitrinitarians.
1. All the Reformers were Historicists and totally rejected Ribera’s and Alcazar’s Latin books. Their respective books were shelved for 500 years.
2. Historicists say Bible prophecy is fulfilled peace-mill throughout history. Historicism falls between preterism and futurism in its approach: according to historicism, most of Revelation is symbolic of persons and events in world history. The term “historicism” (Historismus) was coined by German philosopher Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel.
3. The historicist view has been the interpretive approach of numerous well-known individuals: Albert Barnes, Bengel, Elliott, Martin Luther, Joseph Mede, Isaac Newton, Vitringa, William Whiston, and John Wycliffe.
4. The book of Revelation was prophecy when John wrote it, according to historicists, but they say that most of the book has already been fulfilled in our day.
5. The Historicist doctrine is still very popular yet today, as are the preterist and Partial Preterist doctrines. The followers of all three of these doctrinal groups far outnumber the pre-millennialists.
Ribera’s book was revived in 1826. A librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the name of Dr. S. R. Maitland (1792-1866) came across Francisco Ribera’s rapture theology and he had it republished for the sake of interest in early 1826 with follow-ups in 1829 and 1830.
MAJOR POINTS CONCERNING THE PRE-MILLENNIAL ESCHATOLOGY
John Nelson Darby (1800 – 1882) was Born 500 years after Luther.
1. John Darby found Ribera’s English translation in that library… and that changed history.
2. Darby Essentially restored Premillennialism eschatology that had been lost since the 3rd century.
3. He developed the pre-tribulation-rapture doctrine based somewhat on Margret McDonald’s vision.
4. 1830-1833 Darby invented the doctrine of “the Pre-Tribulation Rapture”, not seen in history anywhere until Darby authored it.
5. Today, pre-millennialism and a modified form of Darby’s dispensationalism are held by the majority of evangelicals.
6. Rapture doctrine is unique to pre-millennialism.
7. Darby’s eschatology placed the Rapture happening ahead of “the Tribulation”.
8. Neither the teaching of pre nor mid nor post tribulation was completely confirmed in the first 3 centuries.
9. Pre-millennialism is the only eschatology found in church literature in the first 3 centuries.
10. Wisdom says; to know them all and then watch to see which one proves to be the most accurate.
11. Darby embarked on seven speaking tours through the United States and Canada from 1859 to 1874, resulting in the widespread popularity of his theological perspectives.
12. Darby is one of the influential figures among the original Plymouth Brethren.
Plymouth Brethren Christian Church
13. His dispensational teachings were further popularized by C. I. Scofield in his notes for the highly influential Scofield Reference Bible.
C. I. Scofield and the Scofield Bible.(1861 – 1921)
1. Enigmatic life; known as a scoundrel, shyster, and scalawag. Held no degrees. Deserted his first wife.
2. Went from Confederate Deserter to Decorated Veteran Bible Scholar
fell into a trance. After several hours of “vision” and “prophesying” she revealed that Christ’s return would occur in two phases, not just one.
2. Margaret’s handwritten account of her 1830 Pre-Trib revelation is at this and other links.
3. Margaret and her whole family died from tuberculosis. She was very ill at the time of the vision.
4. The McDonald family were ship builders and were members of the Plymouth Brethren church.
1. Humankind has struggled for centuries to take hold of sound bible interpretation; numerous schools of eschatology have emerged to counter the one true end-time doctrine supported and confirmed in church history.
2. The failing of human flesh, and the desire of ungodly men to control other’s lives instead of being true shepherds has resulted in hundreds of denominations. Most denominations came out of church splits.
3. The most important defense and doctrine that will protect us from any error we may or may not be in is to fully understand and accept true salvation. That alone will get us into His presence some day, by His grace, as we trust and follow His lead. Who among us is perfect? Only Jesus! Jesus alone was perfect in doctrine and holiness.
4. We can rejoice that the pre-millennial eschatology is better understood today; biblical scholarship is not limited to an entirely privileged class as it has been in times past. That will help us to know how to warn and prepare for the coming of that faithful prophetic day.
CHURCH HISTORY LESSON — THE FIRST 500 YEARS
STEVEN GOT STONED TO DEATH
FOR GIVING A HISTORY LESSON. Acts 7:54-60
51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
54 Now when they (the Pharisees) heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he [ag]fell asleep.
REITERATED: You Pharisees killed your prophet and you killed your Messiah that they prophesied and you will kill me for reminding you of your denial of your own history. How dumb it that?
HUMOR: (A good matured disclaimer) Don’t hurt your history teacher for telling on us.
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new/old under the sun. ~ Eccles 1:9
Church history is as much a study in sociology, psychology and philosophy as in history and religions
TRADITIONS AND CULTURES INDICATE RELIGION?
The term “culture” means many things to many people, but it is more productive to observe cultures than to argue about them. Cultures are expressed through people’s stereotypical behaviors that are readily observable in public. We can readily assess the viability of a culture by observing the stereotypical behaviors of its members.
*Which country do you think of when I say Muslim – Buddhist – Hindu – Jewish – Catholic – melting pot. Why is that?
*Watchman Nee vs European Theologians (to Eastern vs to western in thinking).
ARGUING FOR THE FIRST CAUSE
~~THE ACTS MODEL~~
Even though Solomon argued that there is nothing new under the sun
We can also argue that there was a beginning –an origin– a first cause of everything under the sun.
*** I study church history in search of the origin of doctrines ***
***Instead I find traditions and cultures and charismatic leaders***
***We won’t know the perfect until we see the perfect face to face***
***In the mean time we find our doctrine in the Bible… best we can***
Is it not reasonable to assume that if a doctrine did not have its origin in the first century under the teachings of Jesus and His Apostles it probably is either false or flawed? We never had a time in history when doctrines and how they were practiced was more pure.
The church did not mature more over the centuries… it got more mottled and added to and taken away and REDISCOVERED from over the centuries. Order through induced hierarchy –vs– inclusive unity and leading of the Holy Spirit. Some Charismatic Personalities… strong leaders… were more led of the Holy Spirit and the Bible than others.
We only see two places in church history where we were shown how the church did thing and that is in the book of Acts…THE ACTS MODEL
INTRODUCTION TO GNOSTICISM
Gnostic doctrine strongly emphasized the distinction between flesh and spirit, regarding all created matter as evil. They rejected the God of Israel, refusing to believe that he was the Father of Jesus Christ, and they eventually constructed a system of spiritual beings, called “eons,” whose interaction with the created world would bring salvation. The means of salvation, the teachings, the meetings, and the methods of Gnostic teachers varied from teacher to teacher, and many of their specific practices will always remain unknown.
Numerous other famous Gnostic teachers are mentioned in the early Christian writings:
- Carpocrates was around in John’s time. There are numerous obvious references to Gnostic doctrines in John’s letters, which were written in the late first century.
- Justin Martyr mentions that Marcion was around in his time, A.D. 155.
- Irenaeus wrote a whole book against Gnosticism in the 180’s. He mentions numerous names, most notably Valentinus, Ptolemy, and Marcus.
Gnostic Gospels and Writings
Some of the Gnostic or —secret— gospels and writings, the supposed “lost books of the Bible.”
Gnosticism was perhaps the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first three centuries. Influenced by such philosophers as Plato… Platonic thought.
The name Gnostic means wisdom, or knowledge, and is derived from the Greek “Gnosis”. Even more New Age movements such as Theosophy base their teachings on the wisdom of the ancient Gnostics. Madame Helena Blavatsky had considered the ancient Gnostic s her kindred spirits.
Gnosticism is based on two false premises.
First, it espouses a dualism regarding spirit and matter. Gnostics assert that matter is inherently evil and spirit is good. As a result of this presupposition, Gnostics believe anything done in the body, even the grossest sin, has no meaning because real life exists in the spirit realm only.
Second, Gnostics claim to possess an elevated knowledge, a “higher truth” known only to a certain few. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis which means “to know.” Gnostics claim to possess a higher knowledge, not from the Bible, but acquired on some mystical higher plane of existence. Gnostics see themselves as a privileged class elevated above everybody else by their higher, deeper knowledge of God.
On the matter of salvation, Gnosticism teaches that salvation is gained through the acquisition of divine knowledge which frees one from the illusions of darkness.
Although they claim to follow Jesus Christ and His original teachings, Gnostics contradict Him at every turn. Jesus said nothing about salvation through knowledge, but by faith in Him as Savior from sin. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Furthermore, the salvation Christ offers is free and available to everyone (John 3:16), not just a select few who have acquired a special revelation. https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-gnosticism.html
8 ways you may have accidentally become a Gnostic
We all know the early Apostles struggled with Gnosticism influencing much of the Church. In fact, frequently in the New Testament we find the authors addressing some of these Gnostic beliefs. However, few of us think about Gnosticism in the context of today.
The sad truth though, is that Gnosticism is perhaps even more common today, than it was in the first century. There are dozens of beliefs that are rooted in Gnosticism but here are 8 common ones.
If you find yourself agreeing with any, you have a good indication that you are one of the countless believers who have ignorantly bought into the Gnostic beliefs being taught today as the word of God.
1) You think your body is sinful and your spirit is perfect
Your body has been redeemed along with your spirit. While you still have a new body to come, this one is not inherently evil, it’ll do you just fine. God didn’t create Adam and Eve with a corrupt body, yours is just as good as theirs was before the fall (better according to Paul in fact – 2 Cor 5).
2) You think the world is evil and only Heaven is good.
The world is not evil. “Worldly” behavior is evil but God created this world for us to enjoy and be fruitful upon as we walk with Him. When He created this Earth and all that was on it, he called it “good”. According to Isaiah, His glory completely covers it (Isaiah 6:3).
3) You think money is evil and Christians should be poor. (The Flatulents)
Money is not evil, loving money more than God is though. The simple fact is this, money enables you to be who you are, to more people, in a greater way.
*This weird-medieval-cult-the-flatulents- traveled from one town to the next, whipping themselves and each other in public squares and urging the populace to repent.
4) You think that sex is a requirement to reproduce but God finds it dirty and distasteful.
In the healthy confines of marriage Paul commands it – now there’s good reason to be more “Pauline” in your gospel interpretation!
5. You think since your body is sinful, you might as well keep sinning. We are getting rid of the bodies anyway!
This is really stupid. Yet, if you don’t believe that what God has done in you is a complete work, you can easily fall into this trap. Your body was redeemed along with your spirit. Expect your spiritual fruit to have a tangible physical manifestation in and through you, as you embrace this reality.
6) You think that Christian’s should sacrifice all pleasure for God.
Interestingly enough, this is the polar opposite of number 5. Yet it’s very real. The previous point says “our flesh doesn’t matter so lets enjoy ourselves, in the flesh, as much as possible”. This point says “our flesh doesn’t matter, so let’s not enjoy ourselves at all!” God delights in us, His kids, and wants us to enjoy ourselves.
7) You think that God only values the spiritual, anything we do in the physical has no value at all.
God loves the natural. He created it and said “it is good”. Many Christians have a disdain for things that are not overtly supernatural. But the truth is that God created us to live in this world. If He didn’t value the physical, he wouldn’t have made an entire universe of physical stuff! He would have made us as spirits and had us floating around in Heaven for eternity.
8) You think that Jesus couldn’t possibly have come as an actual man.
He was merely God pretending to be a man or possessing a man, right? Wrong. Jesus was absolutely, 100% a man… in all His fleshy glory! He came from the Father as %100 as a man but He was 100% God and returned to God the Father.
9) Can you think of any more?
RELIGIONS WITH STRONG GNOSTIC TRAITS
Islam, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Jehovah Witness’ are very Gnostic.
Many of the reformers (and the denominations they formed) who broke away from Catholicism retained some Gnostic traits.
For the first four centuries seminary training was actually held in colleges of philosophy.
Keep in mind that a doctorate degree today is called a PhD… a Philosophy Doctorate.
HISTORICAL THEOLOGIANS IN FIRST FIVE CENTURIES
Ignatius A.D. 35 – 107 pg 6
Novation A.D. 210 – 280 13
Polycarp A.D. 70 -150 7
Mani A.D. 216 – 274 19
Justin Martyr A.D. 100 -165 7
Eusebius A.D. 260 – 340 15
Irenaeus A.D. 125 -200 8
Ambrose A.D. 339 – 397 15
Tertullian A.D. 160 – 240 9
Jerome A.D. 345 – 420 16
Hippolytus A.D. 170- 235 11
John Chrysostrom A.D. 347 – 407 17
Origen A.D. 185 – 254 11
Augustine A.D. 354 – 430 18
Cyprian A.D. 195 – 258 12
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. ~Acts 20:29-30
MAJOR HISTORICAL THEOLOGIANS
IN FIRST FIVE HUNDRED YEARS OF CHURCH HISTORY
“CHURCH FATHERS” IS A FALSE CATCH FRAISE OR EXPRESSION
The ante-Nicene fathers were those who came after the apostolic fathers and before the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. Such individuals as Irenaeus, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr are ante-Nicene fathers.
The post-Nicene church fathers are those who came after the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. These are such noted men as Augustine, bishop of Hippo, who is often called the father of the [Roman Catholic] Church because of his great work in Church doctrine (heavily influenced by Manichean philosophy); Chrysostom, called the “golden-mouthed” for his excellent oratorical skills; and Eusebius, who wrote a history of the church from the birth of Jesus to A.D. 324, one year before the Council of Nicea. He is included in the post-Nicene era since he did not write his history until after the Council of Nicea was held. Other post-Nicene fathers were Jerome, who translated the Greek New Testament into the Latin Vulgate, and Ambrose, who was largely responsible for Augustine’s conversion to Christianity.
MOST NOTABLE OF THE CHURCH FATHERS
Ignatius of Antioch (35 – 107 AD)
Ignatius of Antioch was an early church father, and not much is known about him. What we do know is primarily drawn from his own writings. Ignatius was the bishop of the church in Antioch, Syria, and was martyred under Emperor Trajan around AD 110. He was apparently a disciple of John, the beloved apostle, along with Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Origen all refer to him or his epistles in their writings, confirming what we know of his life.
After presenting himself to Emperor Trajan and declaring his allegiance to Christ, Ignatius of Antioch was condemned to die in Rome. On his journey from Antioch to Rome, he was allowed to stop and visit Christians, and he wrote seven letters which have survived to this day. In these letters, he warned the churches about heresies that threatened their peace and unity and addressed points of ecclesiastical order that give us a glimpse of how the early church functioned.
The heresies that Ignatius of Antioch addressed were primarily Gnosticism and Docetism.
Docetism was an early Christian heresy that promoted a false view of Jesus’ humanity. The word Docetism comes from the Greek dokein, which meant “to seem”; according to Docetism, Jesus Christ only seemed to have a human body like ours.
Gnosticism is based on a mystical, intuitive, subjective, inward, emotional approach to truth which is not new at all. It is very old, going back in some form to the Garden of Eden, where Satan questioned God and the words He spoke and convinced Adam and Eve to reject them and accept a lie. He does the same thing today as he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He still calls God and the Bible into question and catches in his web those who are either naïve and scripturally uninformed or who are seeking some personal revelation to make them feel special, unique, and superior to others. Let us follow the Apostle Paul who said to “test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and this we do by comparing everything to the Word of God, the only Truth.
There is actually no such thing as Christian Gnosticism, because true Christianity and Gnosticism are mutually exclusive systems of belief. The principles of Gnosticism contradict what it means to be a Christian. Therefore, while some forms of Gnosticism may claim to be Christian, they are in fact decidedly non-Christian.
The basis of these heresies was the pagan belief in dualism: spirit is good, flesh is evil. They recognized an eternal conflict between good and evil, mind and matter, idea and object. According to the Gnostics, Satan is the co-eternal opposite of the good God. With this view of the spirit world, people would be likely to say that God is limited in power and perhaps in knowledge and is doing the best he can with a sinful world. This heresy separated the divine Christ from the human Jesus and taught that the divine Christ came upon the human Jesus at His baptism and departed just before His death. According to Doceticism, since God is spirit, and spirit is good, but flesh is evil, then, if Jesus is God, He could not have taken on sinful flesh. The Jesus that lived among men and died on the cross was simply a phantom with an appearance like flesh. Ignatius argued that if Jesus did not truly take on human flesh and die as a man, then He could not have made atonement for our sins (Hebrews 2:9, 9:12, 10:12). His letters stressed the importance of communion as a means of stressing the reality of Jesus’ humanity. He believed that, if Jesus did not truly shed His blood, then His martyrdom was meaningless. (More at website)
Polycarp (about 70 to 150 AD)
Polycarp was a bishop of the early church, a disciple of the apostle John, a contemporary of Ignatius, and the teacher of Irenaeus. According to Irenaeus, Polycarp “was instructed by the apostles, and was brought into contact with many who had seen Christ.” He lived from the latter half of the first century to the mid-second century. Polycarp was martyred by the Romans, and his death was influential, even among the pagans.
Polycarp was one of the Apostolic Fathers—a group of church leaders and early Christian writers who directly followed the apostles. Unfortunately, the only extant writing by Polycarp is his letter to the Philippians, but he is mentioned in other documents including “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” and a few papers written by Irenaeus.
Even Polycarp’s “Letter to the Philippians” isn’t a stand-alone document. When Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, was ordered to Rome to be executed for refusing to renounce Christianity, he passed through Smyrna (Izmir) and visited with Polycarp, who was bishop there. Ignatius then went to Philippi, where the church became quite fond of him. After he left to continue his journey to Rome, the church in Philippi wrote to Polycarp, requesting copies of Ignatius’ writings. Polycarp obliged, including a cover letter of his own.
The letter is notable for two things. First, it continues Paul’s tradition of warning against false teaching in the church, namely the heresies of Gnosticism and Marcionism. Second, it quotes or paraphrases from many books that would later be recognized as part of the New Testament canon. Polycarp’s letter includes phrases from Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 John, and Jude. This is strong indication that the early church already considered the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles as inspired Scripture.
Some of the details of Polycarp’s death are up for debate. It’s agreed that he was arrested as an old man and sentenced to be burned at the stake for his devotion to Christ. The Roman proconsul took pity on Polycarp and urged him to recant. All he had to do was say, “Caesar is Lord,” and offer a little bit of incense to Caesar’s statue, and he would live. Polycarp’s stalwart response: “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” So he was taken to the place of execution. One tradition states that, when the guards realized they had no nails or rope to affix him to the post, Polycarp assured them that no restraint was necessary—that Jesus would empower him to bear the flames. Another account says that the flames avoided his body, arching over his head. When the guards realized that Polycarp could not be burned, they stabbed him with a spear—and the blood that ran down extinguished the flames. (More at website)
Justin Martyr (approx AD 100–165)
Justin was a Christian teacher, writer, and ultimately a martyr. He was a native of Samaria who moved to Ephesus to study philosophy in his search for truth. Justin was impressed with the character of Christians who were martyred for their faith. One day while walking and thinking, he met an old man who challenged his thinking and shared the gospel with him. Justin became a believer.
Justin viewed Christianity through the lens of philosophy. He saw Christianity as philosophy corrected and perfected—the true philosophy. He moved to Rome where he became a teacher and writer. As was the custom of the day, and since public preaching had become dangerous, Justin held private lectures for those who were interested in learning of the faith. He is known today for his writings. There are three writings that are attributed to him, although many scholars doubt the authenticity of one of them (Second Apologies).
Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho is a discussion with a Jew regarding the superiority of Christ and Christianity. Trypho presents objections, and Justin answers them. (Some identify Trypho as a historical rabbi, and others believe that Trypho is a fictional character and that Justin simply used the dialogue as a literary device.) Trypho objects that Christians worship a man. Justin demonstrates that the Jewish Scriptures speak of Christ. Justin defends the Incarnation and presents the idea that the Church is True People of God and that the Old Covenant is passing away. In his Dialogue Justin gives us valuable insight into the way early Christians interpreted the Old Testament. (More at website)
Irenaeus of Lyons (A.D. 125 -200)
Irenaeus was the bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (modern Lyons, France), a stalwart opponent of heresy, and an influential witness concerning the development of the biblical canon.
Little is known about the life of Irenaeus. We know that he was from Smyrna in Asia Minor and a student there of Polycarp (who was a disciple of the apostle John). Irenaeus moved to Rome and studied under Justin Martyr.
Sometime prior to AD 177 Irenaeus moved Lyons. In 177, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius ordered a violent persecution of Christians in France, but Irenaeus escaped it because at the time he was on a journey to Rome, apparently carrying a letter to the church at Rome. Irenaeus returned to France after the persecution had subsided, and he was made bishop of Lyons in 178, replacing the previous bishop, who had died or been killed in the persecution.
The significance of Irenaeus is found in his writings. There are fragments of many works, but two major works survive intact: Against Heresies and Proof of Apostolic Preaching.
Against Heresies (or The Detection and Refutation of What Is Falsely Called Knowledge, also known as Against All Heresies) is a treatise against Marcionism and Gnosticism, and especially Valentinianism, a particular form of Gnosticism that was popular in Lyons. In this treatise, Irenaeus seeks to protect his flock from heresy and to convert those who hold the Gnostic error. Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in 1945, most of what was known of Gnosticism was from Irenaeus.
Irenaeus is often used to support the Roman Catholic idea of apostolic succession because he said that all the bishops can trace their succession back to the apostles. However, this statement needs to be understood in context. The Gnostics held that they were privy to secret information that had been passed down from Jesus. Irenaeus makes the case that all the orthodox bishops can trace their teaching back to the apostles, who got their teaching from Jesus. The bishops in the churches are the safeguards of the truth, which can be traced in an unbroken line back to the apostles. The line of teachers was not difficult to trace, since it had been little over 100 years since the death of the apostles. Irenaeus himself could easily trace his message to the apostle John, whose student Polycarp was Irenaeus’ teacher. The link between Irenaeus’ contemporaries and the apostles is a far cry from the more modern idea of apostolic succession.
Irenaeus may be best known for his theory of recapitulation. Recapitulation emphasizes the true humanity of Christ, who undoes the work of Adam and fulfills all that God intended for mankind. (Gnostics denied the true humanity of Christ and taught that the human body was evil.) Unfortunately, Irenaeus’ emphasis on Jesus’ human nature inherited from Mary may be seen as the basis for the later elevation of Mary as co-redemptrix, yet that was not at all what Irenaeus had in mind.
Against Heresies also speaks against Marcion, who taught that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of the New Testament and who rejected the Old Testament. Irenaeus’ critique of Gnosticism was largely dependent upon the Old Testament, so he addressed the Marcion heresy as well.
In Against Heresies, Irenaeus also quotes from every New Testament book except 3 John, so it is an important document to show the ancient church’s acceptance of New Testament Scripture. However, Against Heresies also refers to The Shepherd of Hermas as “Scripture” and treats the book of 1 Clement as authoritative. Still, in Irenaeus we can see that the canon was beginning to coalesce.
Irenaeus’ The Proof of Apostolic Preaching (or The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching) is a summary of Christian preaching with an emphasis on the fact the Christ fulfills Old Testament prophecy.
Ireneaus was an influential thinker, and there is evidence that his writings were widespread in the churches around the Roman Empire during his lifetime or shortly after his death. Irenaeus died around 202. Some sources indicate that he was martyred, but we do not have enough evidence to determine the actual events surrounding his death. St. Irenaeus has been canonized by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
In his work Against Heresies, Irenaeus shows the fallacy of certain Gnostics who claimed that Jesus was a phantasm with no real physical body and that He performed His work “simply in appearance.” Irenaeus refutes this claim by pointing to the works that followers of Jesus were performing even then:
For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have been thus cleansed from evil spirit frequently both believers [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions and utter prophetic expressions. Others still heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole.
Also testifying that believers were still speaking in tongues in his day, Irenaeus writes:
In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church who possess prophetic gifts and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God.
[Excerpt from book: 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, by historian Dr. Eddie Hyatt. Pg 16]
Tertullian A.D. (160 -240 AD)
Tertullian is known in church history as the father of Latin theology, as he was the first church leader to write his works in Latin. Most of his writing was in defense of Christianity against persecution from without or heresy from within. He had an enormous influence on the early church, and much of that influence can still be seen today.
Born about AD 145 to a Roman centurion in Carthage, Quintis Septimus Florens Tertullianus was trained in Greek and Latin and became a lawyer in Rome, where he was converted to Christianity about AD 185. Though we know very little about the details of his conversion, he said that he could not imagine a truly Christian life without a conscious breach, a radical act of conversion. Prior to his conversion, he indulged in the typical licentiousness of Roman society, including sexual promiscuity and enjoying the games in the arena. He was profoundly affected by the testimonies of Christians who were martyred in the arena, and it is likely that his conversion was a result.
Tertullian was ordained a presbyter in the church at Carthage, North Africa, and began writing books addressing the issues facing the church of his day. In response to a heresy about the Godhead, Tertullian wrote Against Praxus, which for the first time used the word trinity to describe the Godhead. Concerning Father, Son, and Spirit, Tertullian said, “These three are one substance, not one person.” His longest book, Against Marcion, defended the use of the Old Testament by the Christian church, and demonstrated how to use the Scriptures to refute heresies. Gnosticism was a major threat to the church of his day, and Tertullian did more than anyone else to overthrow the influence of the Gnostics.
In Against Marcon, written to counter the heretic Marcion, Tertullian reveals both hs acquainance whth speaking in tongues and his belief that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit were a sign of orthodoxy. This is obvious in his challenge to Marcion.
Let Marcion then exhibit, as gifts of his god, some prophets such as have not spoken by human sense, but with the Spirit of God, such as have predicted things to come and have made manifest the secrets of the heart; let him produce a psalm, a vision, a prayer—only let it be by the spirit, in an ecstasy, that is, in a rapture, whenever an interpretation of tongues has occurred to him. Now all these signs are forthcoming from my side without any difficulty.
[Excerpt from book: 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, by historian Dr. Eddie Hyatt. Pg 18]
Tertullian was a key player in the transition of the church from a persecuted minority to a major influence in Roman society. Early in his ministry, he wrote his Apology, which defended the church against the persecutions of the state and explained the principle of religious liberty as an inalienable right of man. He was the first writer to use the word church to describe a specific building, rather than the assembled people. He was also the first to speak of a distinction between clergy and laity, though he affirmed the universal priesthood of the believers.
While he is known as the father of Latin Christianity, and some would blame him for the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, many of Tertullian’s teachings stand against those errors. Tertullian laid down the principle that custom without truth is only time-honored error. In other words, tradition must be backed by Scripture for it to have any value. Regarding baptism, he firmly taught against baptizing children because they were not old enough to repent and believe. Though he was one of the early church fathers who advocated celibacy as the correct interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7, he himself was married.
Later in his life, possibly after a dispute with Roman bishops, Tertullian adopted Montanism, which marked him as a heretic in the church. Despite that move, his earlier writings maintained their popularity and value among his peers and have remained a valuable part of our theological heritage. Tertullian was a man greatly used of God to define and defend the essential doctrines of the faith, and we are still benefiting from his ministry today.
Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170–235 AD)
Hippolytus was one of the most important second-third century Christian theologians, whose provenance, identity and corpus remain elusive to scholars and historians. Photios I of Constantinople describes him in his Bibliotheca (cod. 121) as a disciple of Irenaeus, who was said to be a disciple of Polycarp, and from the context of this passage it is supposed that he suggested that Hippolytus so styled himself. This assertion is doubtful.
Origen of Alexandria (185 – 254 AD)
Also known as Origen Adamantius, was one of the earliest and most important Christian scholars. He is remembered both for prodigious scholarship and fanatical commitment to purity. He is credited with producing hundreds of works on theology, textual criticism, and biblical interpretation. Among Origen’s most important works are the Hexapla, De Principiis, and Contra Celsum. A few of his views were unorthodox, to the point that later generations debated whether he was a saint or a heretic.
In Agaist Celsus, Origen speaks of the miracles being performed in his day through the power of Jesus’ name. His testimony indicates that he was personally involved in many of these miracles.
Some give evidence of their having received through this faith a marvelous power by the cures which they perform, invoking no other name over those who need their help than that of the God of all things, and of Jesus, along with a mention of His history. For by these means we too have seen many persons freed from grievous calamities, and from distractions of mind, and madness, and countless other ills, which could not be cured neither by men nor devils.
In De Principiis, he speaks of God breathing into Adam the breath [Spirit] of life, adding that this cannot refer to all men, but only to those who have been made new in Christ, Then he says:
For this reason was the grace and revelation of the Holy Spirit bestowed by the imposition of the apostles’ hands after baptism. Our Savior also, after the resurrection, when old things had already passed away and all thing have become new…His apostles also being renewed by faith in His resurrection, says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Origen was the first early church father to indicate that supernatural ministry was becoming less common.
[Excerpt from book: 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, by historian Dr. Eddie Hyatt. Pg 19-20]
In the year 202, Origen’s father was beheaded for his Christian faith. To support his family, the teenaged Origen began teaching grammar and basic Christian beliefs. His writing and education career grew quickly. Before long, he was running an entire school and hosting visits from politicians and academics. All the while, Origen produced scholarly work both in high quality and massive quantity. At one point, he was said to have kept seven scribes working at top speed. The scholar Jerome (AD 354—420) would later ask, sarcastically, “Has anyone read everything Origen wrote?”
Origen studied under non-Christian philosophers in his birth city of Alexandria, Egypt, in order to better understand their arguments. This fueled one of his most important works, De Principiis (On First Principles). This is believed to be Christianity’s first comprehensive work of systematic theology. In it, Origen not only laid out a structured approach to Christian belief, but did so through (then) contemporary Greek philosophy.
Another of Origen’s most important works is his Hexapla (Sixfold). This book is one of the earliest examples of textual criticism and scholarly apologetics, as well as a true interlinear Bible. The Hexapla is formatted in six columns: one column of Hebrew text in parallel with five columns of various Greek translations. Origen’s purpose in compiling this was to counter Gnostic and Jewish attacks on early Christianity. This work also provided Christians with a comprehensive guide to the Old Testament. The original is estimated to have been more than 6,500 pages long and took more than 28 years to complete.
Origen also responded to an anti-Christian work, written shortly before his birth, by the Greek philosopher Celsus. Celsus’ work broadly attacked the history, philosophy, prophecies, and social duties of Christianity. In Contra Celsum (Against Celsus), Origen produced a detailed, powerfully intellectual defense of Christianity, one of the first and best of the early church era. In it, Origen answers Celsus point by point, weaving evidence, logic, and philosophy together in support of Christianity.
Understanding Origen’s work can be challenging. He believed all Scripture had three levels of meaning: literal, figurative, and moral, and he often expounded various ways to interpret the same passage. Origen is a prime example of early church scholars accepting non-literal interpretations of certain passages, such as the creation account of Genesis. He was also a vocal critic of the view that only specially ordained men had the spiritual authority to interpret Scripture. Much of his work was a deliberate effort to promote knowledge over mere authority, including church leadership.
Some of Origen’s ideas were unorthodox and put him at odds with fellow believers. For instance, Origen believed in the pre-existence of souls and that one’s status in the present world was proportional to one’s commitment to God during this pre-existence. His negative attitude toward the material world wasn’t much different than that of the Gnostics he so strongly opposed. He also considered the Trinity a ranking, not an equality, and believed that everyone, even demons, would one day be forgiven and purified by God. These claims were key to his being declared a heretic by various councils in the centuries after his death.
Origen’s radical approach to purity of lifestyle was infamous. He lived in extreme asceticism, without shoes or a bed, and often worked instead of sleeping. He fasted twice a week and avoided all meat and wine. According to Roman historian Eusebius, Origen’s quest for purity led him, through an extremely literal interpretation of Matthew 19:12, to self-castration. Even among his admirers, this was seen as an extreme and unnecessary step, though later scholars would debate whether or not Origen actually performed the deed.
Eventually, Origen’s uncompromising attitude toward Christianity and knowledge ran him afoul of the Roman Empire. Sometime after AD 251, a plague swept through Rome, and Emperor Decius laid blame on Christians for failing to worship him as a divine being. During the Decian persecution, Origen was imprisoned and brutally tortured but purposefully kept alive, in hopes he would recant his faith. True to his reputation, “Adamantius” remained a “man of steel” and was released from prison when Emperor Decius died. Unfortunately, Origen’s body hadn’t weathered the torture as well as his faith, and he died from his injuries very shortly after being freed.
Origen devoted his life to making evidence, reason, and Scripture accessible to as many people as possible. His legacy is an excellent counter to any claim that early Christianity was shallow, superstitious, or anti-intellectual. Heretic or not, Origen is among the most important figures of the early church.
Cyprian of Carthage (A.D. 195 – 258)
Cyprian, a prosperous Carthaginian by birth enjoyed the benefits of a good education in rhetoric and law. When he became a Christian in about 246, he quickly gained prominence.
That Cyprian was aware of the charismata seems evident in that he was an avid reader of Tertullian. Cyrian’s secretary told Jerome that Cyprian never passed a day without reading from Tertullian and was accustomed to asking for him with the words, “Hand me the Master.”
Cyprian, by his won testimony, often expressed supernatural visions. His explanation for actions taken by his congregation during a time of persecution was, “It seemed best to us through many and clear visions” These vision, in fact, occurred throughout the Christian community.
For beside the vision of the night, even in the daytime, the innocent age of boys [innocent children] is among us filled with the Holy Spirit, seeing in an ecstasy with their eyes, and hearing and speaking those things whereby the Lord condescends to warn and instruct us.
[Excerpt from book: 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, by historian Dr. Ed Hyatt. PP 21]
Cyprian of Carthage was a third-century leader of the Christian church. He was one of the earliest, strongest proponents of the idea that only the church, particularly the bishops of the church, had the power to administer sacraments and determine who was or was not worthy of those rituals. His debate over apostate Christians laid the groundwork for modern Catholicism’s stance on sacraments given by un-approved ministers. At the same time, Cyprian rejected the idea of a single bishop—e.g., a Pope—having authority over other church leaders.
When Roman persecution came to Carthage, a great number of self-professed Christians compromised their witness in order to save their lives. Some obtained signed waivers proving they had sacrificed to Roman deities in order to avoid suffering at the hands of the government. When the persecution died down, many of these believers sought to re-join the church. Some Christians, including those who had held fast to their faith and had been brutalized, welcomed them with open arms. Others insisted that these apostates be permanently excommunicated.
Cyprian’s leadership struck something of a middle ground between these two extremes. Those who wanted to rejoin the church would need to show some kind of contrition or penance. Notably, Cyprian discouraged the attempts of apostates to obtain waivers from other Christians vouching for their sincerity. Cyprian’s objection was not over the idea that forgiveness required human approval; rather, he objected to the idea of laypersons (non-priests) having the authority to make such pronouncements. According to Cyprian, only penance administered by a bishop was valid.
Cyprian’s definition of penance was severe, but his middle ground left the door open for reconciliation in a way that satisfied most Christians of his era. Some, however, rejected this approach strongly enough to break away and form their own sect: the Novatians, named after Novatian, the Roman bishop who led the new faction.
Cyprian’s approach to the Novatian Schism strongly influenced later Catholic interpretations of the role of the church and the priesthood. Contrary to what Cyprian espoused, Novatian insisted that any person who denied Christ under persecution could never be restored. In other words, those who followed Novatian considered apostasy a mortal sin: unforgivable and permanent. This attitude came hand-in-hand with a view that only those who were subject to a bishop of the general church—literally, the “catholic” (universal) church—could be saved.
After Novatian’s teaching was declared a heresy, Cyprian ruled that sacraments such as baptism obtained under a Novatian bishop were invalid. In broad strokes, this means Cyprian agreed with the idea that only those receiving sacraments from officials in the “true” church were really saved. His disagreement was not over the role of sacraments but whether Novatian bishops were authorized to administer them. Cyprian endorsed the idea that only sacraments administered by a “legitimate” bishop held the power of salvation.
However, during this same controversy, Cyprian rejected the idea of any one Christian bishop having special authority over the others. Stephen, the acting Bishop of Rome, claimed—for the first time—that, since his office descended from Peter, he was a higher authority than other Christian leaders. Using that reasoning, he attempted to coerce Cyprian to change his views on rebaptism. Cyprian refused both Stephen’s command and his reasoning, effectively rejecting the modern Catholic concept of the papacy. This disagreement was unresolved at Stephen’s death.
From a historical and theological perspective, Cyprian has proved to be a controversial figure. His stance on the “mother church” is often cited by Catholic theologians in support of their views. At the same time, his stance on the universal equality of all bishops—without any singular leader—is frequently referenced by those who oppose Catholic theology.
Novation (210 – 280 AD)
Novatianism was a sect that split from mainstream Christianity in the 3rd century. The sect was more or less extinct by the 8th century. The Novatianists preferred to call themselves katharoi, literally meaning “clean.” Novatianism split from Roman Christianity over a dispute regarding apostasy and how to deal with church members who had committed grievous sins. While in agreement on all other doctrinal points, Novatianism differed on issues of apostasy and church authority.
Novatianism taught that certain sins were “mortal,” at least so far as the earthly church was concerned. Mortal sins included apostasy, adultery, idolatry, and so forth. According to the Novatian view, anyone guilty of such sins was outside the church’s power to offer forgiveness. Such sinners might be pardoned by God, but they could not be admitted back into the congregation nor offered sacraments nor given absolution. Other than this view, the Novatian doctrinal stance was identical to the rest of mainstream Christianity at the time.
Over the next few centuries, adherents of Novatianism experienced varied measures of tolerance and harassment from the orthodox church. Though Emperor Constantine invited representatives of Novatianism to the Council of Nicea, the group’s influence rapidly faded. By the 5th century, Novatianism was all but absent in the Roman Church, and by the 8th century it was extinct among the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well.
Perhaps the most important of Novatian’s surviving works is his treatise The Trinity. In it he discusses his familiarity with the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit.
This is he [the Holy Spirit] who places prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggests counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts there of charismata; and thus making the Lord’s Church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.
For Novation, then, the Holy Spirit was the source of life and order for the church. He clearly accepts as normal Christian experiences such phenomena as healings, miracles and tongues.
[Excerpt from book: 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, by historian Dr. Ed Hyatt. PP 20
Eusebius of Caesarea, “father of church history.” (260-340 AD)
Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260–c. 340) is known as the “father of church history.” He was the first to write a “comprehensive” history of the early church from the birth of Jesus to A.A. 324. Eusebius of Caesarea is to be distinguished from his contemporary Eusebius of Nicomedia.
Eusebius of Caesarea was born in Palestine, and little if anything is known of his early life and conversion. In Palestine, Eusebius came under the influence of Pamphilus, who was a student of Origen. Pamphilus had amassed a large library of Origen’s writings, copies of Scripture, and commentaries—truly one of the great ancient Christian libraries. It seems that Eusebius fled the persecution of Christians in Palestine and eventually made his way to Egypt where he witnessed Christian martyrdom firsthand. He was also imprisoned for a short time. In 313 or 314, Eusebius was made bishop of Caesarea in his native Palestine.
The theology of Eusebius is problematic. He was somewhat sympathetic to the heretical Arian position, while not fully embracing it himself. He was present at the Council of Nicaea and signed the Nicene Creed (perhaps being pressured to do so by Emperor Constantine), but he was never in full support of it as later writings made clear. Eusebius felt that the condemnation of Arius was too strong.
Eusebius of Caesarea wrote several major works. In Preparation for the Gospel (15 books), he refutes paganism, using extensive quotes from pagan authors. In Demonstration of the Gospel (20 books), he examines how Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. In his most famous and perhaps most important work, Ecclesiastical History (10 books), Eusebius provides a history of the church from apostolic times through the death of Constantine.
Ecclesiastical History is important for a number of reasons. It uses extensive quotations from primary sources that would be lost to us otherwise. It records the succession of bishops and teachers in major sees from apostolic times. It highlights the battles against heresy and the internal struggle to understand and formulate a biblical doctrine of the Trinity. It gives details on persecutions and martyrdoms. It preserves traditions about the New Testament writers and gives details regarding the canon. By the time of Eusebius, most of the current New Testament was accepted as canonical. James, Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation were the only books not fully accepted. Finally, Eusebius provides an account of the conversion of Constantine, the details of which he received from Constantine himself, the two having become close friends.
Eusebius seems to have taken his historical sources at face value and is not considered a critical historian. He also seems to have been somewhat blinded in admiration for Constantine. However, this appreciation for a Christian emperor may be understandable coming from one who had personally witnessed persecution and martyrdom. With the Edict of Constantine, it truly seemed that a new world was at hand and that the church was going to triumph in the secular realm.
Ambrose of Milan (AD 339–397)
Ambrose of Milan (AD 339–397), also called St. Ambrose, was the first early church father to be born into a Roman Christian family. He is best remembered for his successful fight against Arianism, his contributions to church music, his stance on the separation of church and state, and his mentorship of the church father Augustine. Long after his death, Ambrose would be named a “doctor of the church” in the Catholic Church along with others such as Augustine, Pope Gregory, and Jerome.
Arianism is a heresy named for Arius, a priest and false teacher in the early fourth century AD in Alexandria, Egypt. One of the earliest and probably the most important item of debate among early Christians was the subject of Christ’s deity. Was Jesus truly God in the flesh, or was Jesus a created being? Was Jesus God or not? Arius denied the deity of the Son of God, holding that Jesus was created by God as the first act of creation and that the nature of Christ was anomoios (“unlike”) that of God the Father. Arianism, then, is the view that Jesus is a finite created being with some divine attributes, but He is not eternal and not divine in and of Himself. (a short except)
Ambrose was born shortly after the First Council of Nicea into a wealthy and powerful Roman family. He became the governor of northern Italian provinces and was summoned to settle a conflict between rival religious factions: orthodox Catholics and Arians. Ambrose supported the Nicene Creed and had spoken against Arian theology. However, he was so well respected by both sides of the conflict that they demanded he become their bishop.
Ambrose’s experience in politics served him well in his role as bishop. Among his most distinctive teachings was his perspective on the relationship between church and state. Contrary to many of his peers, Ambrose held that the church was not morally subject to the ruling government. Rather, he taught, the government was subject to the moral authority of the church. Ambrose went so far as to ban the ruling emperor, Theodosius, from communion unless he repented of his role in a massacre of civilians.
He is credited with developing the Dominionism doctrine. He started placing priests in governmental offices to correct the corruption going on. Augustine picked up on this and developed that doctrine. (My insert.)
This sense of political independence extended to Ambrose’s views of church matters, as well. While he agreed that Rome was the “spiritual” head of the universal church, he did not support the idea of Rome being the legal or governmental authority over all Christians.
Ambrose made several long-lasting contributions to Western Christianity. Among these are the first known book on Christian ethics—On the Duties of the Church’s Servants—as well as a massive library of writings, including the anti-Arian works On the Faith and On the Holy Spirit. His mastery of Greek allowed him to analyze previous theologians with considerable depth. Ambrose is also credited with introducing the concept of congregational singing, which at the time was somewhat controversial.
By all accounts, Ambrose was an excellent preacher. One of his sermon quotes has entered modern parlance as an idiom: “When you are at Rome, live in the Roman style,” usually quoted as “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In his sermons, Ambrose of Milan greatly emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of each believer, along with a rejection of legalism and a clear support for personal faith. Interestingly, while he opposed excessive legalism, Ambrose encouraged asceticism—an austere, self-denying lifestyle. His work attracted the attention of a young Christian named Augustine, who would later be baptized by Ambrose and surpass him as a great figure in early Christian history.
Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church venerate Ambrose as a saint, commemorating him on December 7 of each year.
Jerome (345 – 420 AD)
Translated the Greek New Testament into the Latin Vulgate
The man who came to be known as Saint Jerome was born as Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymusin around AD 345 in Stridon, Dalmatia (possibly in modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina). Jerome is considered one of the early church fathers for his work in translating the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into Latin, the most widely used language at that time. This translation of the Bible is called the Latin Vulgate and was a critical part of the expansion of Christianity in the early centuries.
Vulgate means “common or commonly known.” Jerome’s desire was that the Word of God would be readily available to the common man in a language he understood. His desire became reality, and it was the Vulgate that brought the Scriptures out of the churches and into everyday life. The Latin Vulgate is still the official Latin Bible of the Catholic Church. Jerome was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint in 1767. He is also considered a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. (In the Bible, saints are all believers within the Body of Christ. So Jerome was a “saint” in that sense, but he is not exalted to a higher spiritual plane as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches imply.)
Jerome had planned to become a lawyer, so he became fluent in several languages. However, his interests were captured by the study of Scripture and the pursuit of a simpler lifestyle. For nearly five years, Jerome lived alone in the desert, studying Hebrew and Greek. When he returned to normal life, he practiced his newly acquired language skills by translating from Greek to Latin some writings of one of his heroes, Origen.
In a day when Christians and Jews were estranged, Jerome insisted upon consulting the Hebrew text for his translation rather than the popular Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint.
The Septuagint (also known as the LXX) is a translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek language. The name “Septuagint” comes from the Latin word for seventy. The tradition is that 70 (or 72) Jewish scholars were the translators behind the Septuagint. The Septuagint was translated in the third and second centuries B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt. As Israel was under the authority of Greece for several centuries, the Greek language became more and more common. By the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C., most people in Israel spoke Greek as their primary language. That is why the effort was made to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek – so that those who did not understand Hebrew could have the Scriptures in a language they could understand. The Septuagint represents the first major effort at translating a significant religious text from one language into another.
This choice provoked great hostility in many, as the Greek Septuagint was thought by some to be inspired. However, Jerome pressed on and sought out the oldest possible Hebrew manuscripts in order to render the most accurate Latin translation possible.
Although the Latin Vulgate is attributed to Jerome, he did not translate the entire Bible himself. Jerome first translated the four Gospels from Greek to Latin and then turned his attention to the Old Testament. His passion was Hebrew, and he spent much time in the Old Testament, seeking help from Jewish scholars and priests. It took 15 years to translate all the books of the Hebrew Old Testament into Latin. But the Latin Vulgate used today includes New Testament books translated by other scholars.
As Jerome’s Latin Vulgate gained attention, it also drew criticism from noteworthy opponents such as Augustine. Jerome’s critics reacted negatively to the unfamiliar wording of his Latin texts and accused him of tampering with the Word of God. Because the Latin of the time often did not have words equivalent to those in Hebrew, Jerome translated thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word. This type of translation is called “dynamic equivalence.” The result at times was a rendering of familiar passages that seemed to be in error. Jerome defended his methods by stating that, while the words may differ, the meaning did not. He cited as examples the many passages in the New Testament that quote from the Old Testament loosely or incompletely.
[Jerome’s Vulgate is of interest only to historians and textual critics. It was translated in 382 AD and was the official scriptures of the Roman Catholic Church until 1592 when it was replaced by the Clementine Vulgate. Both the Vulgate of Jerome and the Vulgate of Pope Clement are good, accurate translations of a predominately Western textform. (Copied from a Baptist website)]
Jerome died in Bethlehem on September 30, 420. That date is still celebrated as a feast day by the Roman Catholic Church in honor of Saint Jerome. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates June 15 as his feast day. (See all the text at link).
John Chrysostom, called the “golden-mouthed” (347 – 407 AD)
John Chrysostom (c. AD 347–407) was an Eastern church father and archbishop of Constantinople. He was born in Syrian Antioch and named John; he was known as Chrysostomos (“golden-mouthed”) because of his excellent speaking ability. His mother, Anthusa, was widowed at the age of twenty and refused to remarry in order to devote herself to her son’s education. John studied the Greek classics and rhetoric. For a time, John Chrysostom practiced law, but, after his baptism in 368, he became a monk.
After his mother’s death, John Chrysostom practiced a severely ascetic life.
Asceticism and monasticism are two religious disciplines designed to de-emphasize the pleasures of the world so the practitioner can concentrate on the spiritual life. Both asceticism and monasticism have been adopted by worshipers of various faiths. In general, asceticism is the practice of strict self-denial as a means of attaining a higher spiritual plane. Monasticism is the state of being secluded from the world in order to fulfill religious vows. While most monks are ascetic, ascetics do not have to be monks.
During this time, he spent two years living in a cave on a mountain near Antioch where he dedicated himself to memorizing the entire Bible. Finally, ill health forced him to abandon the hermit lifestyle. John Chrysostom was ordained in 386 and preached some of his best sermons in Antioch until 398 when, much against his will (he was actually kidnapped and taken by force to Constantinople), he was made the patriarch (archbishop) of Constantinople by a government official. Rather than fighting the kidnapping and appointment, John submitted to it, seeing it as the providence of God.
More than 600 of John’s homilies and sermons still exist today. John was particularly adept at homilies, designed to apply the Scriptures to the challenges of living the Christian life. Most are expositions of Paul’s epistles, emphasizing the practical application of their meaning to the people of his day. Chrysostom loved Paul, calling him the “vessel of election” and the “trumpet of heaven.” True to his own moral compass, John Chrysostom preached that there must be no separation of morals from religion, that the cross and ethics must go hand in hand. His homilies railed against the sins of abortion, prostitution, gluttony, and swearing and against popular entertainments of the day, especially the theatre, horseracing, and the revelries surrounding the celebrations of holidays.
Because of his rhetorical skills, John Chrysostom is still hailed as one of the greatest pulpit orators the church has ever known. He is considered a saint by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, and Anglican churches. Catholics have given him the title “Doctor of the Church,” and the Orthodox Church honors him as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs. (Go to the link to read more)
Augustine, bishop of Hippo ~ A.D. 354
Augustine was a Christian Convert From Manicheanism who later Christianized Manicheanism Forming Catholic Doctrine. Saint Augustine was a philosopher and theologian who had a profound effect on both Protestant and Catholic theology.
He was born Augustine Aurelius in A.D. 354, in Thagaste (in what is now Algeria), during the Roman occupation of that region. The son of a Christian mother and a pagan father, he developed a strong interest in rhetoric and philosophy, and he left home in his late teens to study in Carthage. Although his childhood had a heavy Christian influence, Augustine did not follow Christian teachings or practices, but rather lived a hedonistic lifestyle (a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification). While in Carthage, he associated with other young men who boasted of sexual exploits, and he himself began a long-term affair with a woman. At the age of 20 or 21, he began to teach rhetoric, and by the age of 30 he was one of the premier academicians in the Latin world, teaching rhetoric at the imperial court in Milan, where he took another lover, having left the first.
While in Carthage, still as a young man, Augustine left the Christian church to follow the Manichaean religion. Manichaeism was a syncretistic form of Gnosticism which taught a dualistic view of good and evil.
The Persian prophet Mani (AD 215-277)
The founder of Manichaeism is known only as Mani, which is actually a title meaning something like “King of Light” or “Shining One.” Manichaeism (also known as Manichaeanism and Manicheanism) is an ancient religion that arose in Persia in the middle of the 3rd century. The faith was a purposeful blend of Zoroastrianism and Christianity, borrowing concepts and terminology from both. Manicheans believed that the universe was dominated by two competing forces of good and evil, represented by light and darkness, respectively. While the religion of Manichaeism did not survive very long, historically speaking, its reputation has endured. The term Manichean is used today mostly to criticize a viewpoint for being too black-and-white, or overly simplified.
Zoroastrianism is based on the teachings of Zoroaster, a 6th-century BC Iranian prophet and philosopher. Zoroastrianism states that active participation in life through good thoughts, good words, and good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep chaos at bay. There are various religious rituals that must be observed and a variety of deeds to be performed to ensure salvation. This is in stark contrast to Christianity, which teaches that Christ is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) and that our salvation cannot be earned (Ephesians 2:8–9).
Augustine, who was himself heavily influenced by the works of Virgil, Cicero, and Aristotle, also exerted an influence on secular philosophers, such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche (Danish philosophers who are generally considered to be a founder of existentialism). Also, his works strongly affected the ideologies of such church figures as Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux. Later, Reformation leaders such as Martin Luther and John Calvin looked to Augustine for inspiration. Many modern Reformed theologians still look to him as a key source for their own writings. Much of Reformed doctrine, especially in relation to predestination, original sin, the bondage of the will, and efficacious grace, has been attributed to the work of Augustine.
Paradoxically, Roman Catholicism has also gleaned much from Augustine’s writings, so much so that he is sometimes called “the Father of Roman Catholicism.” His contributions to Catholic doctrine heresies include the necessity of infant baptism, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He was never officially canonized but was accepted as a saint early on by consensus. He is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, and those with sore eyes. (To read more see link)
Augustine was a Christian Convert From Manicheanism who later Christianized Manicheanism Forming Catholic Doctrine.
Saint Augustine was a philosopher and theologian who had a profound effect on both Protestant and Catholic theology. He was born Augustine Aurelius in A.D. 354, in Thagaste (in what is now Algeria), during the Roman occupation of that region. The son of a Christian mother and a pagan father, he developed a strong interest in rhetoric and philosophy, and he left home in his late teens to study in Carthage. Although his childhood had a heavy Christian influence, Augustine did not follow Christian teachings or practices, but rather lived a hedonistic lifestyle. While in Carthage, he associated with other young men who boasted of sexual exploits, and he himself began a long-term affair with a woman. At the age of 20 or 21, he began to teach rhetoric, and by the age of 30 he was one of the premier academicians in the Latin world, teaching rhetoric at the imperial court in Milan, where he took another lover, having left the first.
While in Carthage, still as a young man, Augustine left the Christian church to follow the Manichaean religion. Manichaeism was a syncretistic form of Gnosticism which taught a dualistic view of good and evil. Creation was seen as flawed and under the equal influences of light and darkness. While in Carthage, Augustine began to move away from this school of thought, and he left it entirely while in Milan.
The Persian prophet Mani (AD 215-277) inspired a later sect, which survived publicly until the 13th century. Blavatsky also writes of the Druzes of Mount Lebanon as descendants of the Gnostics (IU II, Ch.VII).
From a psychological perspective Carl Jung has been instrumental in reawakening the world to Gnostic thought.