Vol. 2, Chapter XIII. Ecclesiastical Literature of the Ante-Nicene Age, and Biographical Sketches of the Church-Fathers

159. Literature

I. General Patristic Collections

The Benedictine editions, repeatedly published in Paris, Venice, etc., are the best as far as they go, but do not satisfy the present state of criticism. Jesuits (Petavius, Sirmond, Harduin), and Dominicans (Combefis, Le Quien) have also published several fathers. These and more recent editions are mentioned in the respective sections. Of patristic collections the principal ones are:

Maxima Bibliotheca veterum Patrum, etc. Lugd. 1677, 27 tom. fol. Contains the less voluminous writers, and only in the Latin translation.

A. Gallandi (Andreas Gallandius, Oratorian, d. 1779): Bibliotheca Graeco-Latina veterum Patrum, etc. Ven. 1765-88, 14 tom. fol. Contains in all 380 ecclesiastical writers (180 more than the Bibl Max.) in Greek and Latin, with valuable dissertations and notes.

Abbé Migne (Jacques Paul, b. 1800, founder of the Ultramontane L’Univers religeux and the Cath. printing establishment at Montrouge, consumed by fire 1868): Patrologiae cursus completus sive Bibliotheca universalis, integra, uniformis, commoda, oeconomica, omnium SS. Patrum, Doctorum, Scriptorumque ecelesiasticorum. Petit Montrouge (near Paris), 1844-1866 (Garnier Frères). The cheapest and most complete patristic library, but carelessly edited, and often inaccurate, reaching down to the thirteenth century, the Latin in 222, the Greek in 167 vols., reprinted from the Bened. and other good editions, with Prolegomena, Vitae, Dissertations, Supplements, etc. Some of the plates were consumed by fire in 1868. but have been replaced. To be used with great caution.

Abbé Horoy: Bibliotheca Patristica ab anno MCCXVI. usque ad Concilii Tridentini Tempora. Paris, 1879 sqq. A continuation of Migne. Belongs to mediaeval history.

A new and critical edition of the Latin Fathers has been undertaken by the Imperial Academy of Vienna in 1866, under the title: Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. The first volume contains the works of Sulpicius Severus, ed. by C. Halm, 1866; the second Minucius Felix and Jul. Firmicus Maternus, by the same, 1867; Cyprian by Hartel, 1876; Arnobius by Reifferscheid; Commodianus by Dombart; Salvianus by Pauly; Cassianus by Petscheig; Priscillian by Schepss, etc. So far 18 vols. from 1866 to 1889.

A new and critical edition of the Greek fathers is still more needed.

Handy editions of the older fathers by Oberthur, Richter, Gersdorf, etc.

Special collections of patristic fragments by Grabe (Spicilegium Patrum), Routh (Reliquiae Sacrae), Angelo Mai (Scriptorum vet. nova Collectio, Rom. 1825-’38, 10 t.; Spicilegium roman. 1839-’44, 10 t.; Nova Patrum Bibliotheca, 1852 sqq. 7 t.); Card. Pitra (Spicilegium Solesmense, 1852 sqq. 5 t.), Liverani (Spiciles Liberianum, 1865), and others.


II. Separate Collections of the Ante-Nicene Fathers

Patres Apostolici, best critical editions, one Protestant by Oscar Von Gebhardt, Harnack, and Zahn (ed. II. Lips. 1876-’78, in 3 parts); another by Hilgenfeld (ed. II. Lips. 1876 sqq. in several parts); one by Bp. Lightfoot (Lond. 1869 sqq.); and one, R. Catholic, by Bp. Hefele, fifth ed. by Prof Funk, Tübingen (1878 and ‘81, 2 vols.). See § 161.

Corpus Apologetarum Christianorum Seculi II., Ed. Otto. Jenae, 1847-’50; Ed. III. 1876 sqq. A new critical ed. by O. v. Gebhardt and E. Schwartz. Lips. 1888 sqq.

Roberts and Donaldson: Ante-Nicene Christian Library. Edinburgh 1857-1872. 24 vols. Authorized reprint, N. York, 1885-’86, 8 vol.


III. Biographical, Critical, Doctrinal. Patristics and Patrology

St. Jerome (d. 419): De Viris illustrious. Comprises, in 135 numbers, brief notices of the biblical and ecclesiastical authors, down to a.d. 393. Continuations by Gennadius (490), Isidor (636), Ildefons (667), and others.

Photius (d. 890): Μυριοβίβλιον, ἥ βιβλιοθήκη, ed. J. Becker, Berol. 1824, 2 t. fol., and in Migne, Phot. Opera, t. III. and IV. Extracts of 280 Greek authors, heathen and Christian, whose works are partly lost. See a full account in Hergenröther’s, Photius, III. 13-31.

Bellermin (R.C.): Liber de scriptoribus ecclesiasticis (from the O. T. to a.d. 1500). Rom. 1613 and often.

Tillemont (R.C.): Memoirs pour servir à l’histoire ecclés. Par. 1693 sqq. 16 vols. The first six centuries.

L. E. Dupin (R.C. d. 1719): Nouvelle Bibliothèque des auteurs ecclesiastiques, contenant l’histoire de leur vie, etc. Par. 1688-1715, 47 vols. 8°, with continuations by Coujet, Petit-Didier to the 18th century, and Critiques of R. Simon, 61 vols., 9th ed. Par. 1698 sqq.; another edition, but incomplete, Amstel. 1690-1713, 20 vols. 4°.

Remi Ceillter (R.C. d. 1761): Histoire générale des auteurs sacrés et ecclesiastiques. Par. 1729-’63, 23 vols. 4°; new ed. with additions, Par. 1858-1865 in 14 vols. More complete and exact, but less liberal than Dupin; extends to the middle of the thirteenth century.

Will. Cave (Anglican, d. 1713): Scriptorum ecelesiasticorum Historia a Christo nato usque ad saecul. XIV. Lond. 1688-98, 2 vols.; Geneva, 1720; Colon. 1722; best edition superintended by Waterland, Oxf. 1740-43, reprinted at Basle 1741-’45. This work is arranged in the centurial style (saeculum Apostolicum, s. Gnosticuni, s. Novatianum, s. Arianum, s. Nestorianum, s. Eutychianum, s. Monotheleticum, etc.) W. Cave: Lives of the most eminent fathers of the church that flourished in the first four centuries. Best ed. revised by Henry Cary. Oxf. 1840, 3 vols.

Chas. Oudin (first a monk, then a Protestant, librarian to the University at Leyden, died 1717): Commentarius de scriptoribus ecclesiae antiquis illorumque scriptis, a Bellarmino, Possevino, Caveo, Dupin et aliis omissis, ad ann. 1460. Lips. 1722. 3 vols. fol.

John Alb. Fabricius (“the most learned, the most voluminous and the most useful of bibliographers.” born at Leipsic 1668. Prof. of Eloquence at Hamburg, died 1736): Bibliotheca Graeca, sive notilia Scriptorum veterum Graecorum; ed. III. Hamb. 1718-’28, 14 vols.; ed. IV. by G. Chr. Harless, with additions. Hamb. 1790-1811, in 12 vols. (incomplete). This great work of forty years’ labor embraces all the Greek writers to the beginning of the eighteenth century, but is inconveniently arranged. (A valuable supplement to it is S. F. G. Hoffmann: Bibliographisches Lexicon der gesammten Literatur der Griechen, Leipz. 3 vols.), 2nd ed. 1844-’45. J. A. Fabricius published also a Bibliotheca Latina mediae et infimae aetatis, Hamb. 173 ‘46, in 6 vols. (enlarged by Mansi, Padua, 1754, 3 tom.), and a Bibliotheca ecclesiastica Hamb. 1718, in 1 vol. fol., which contains the catalogues of ecclesiastical authors by Jerome, Gennadius, Isidore, Ildefondus, Trithemius (d. 1515) and others.

C. T. G. Schönemann: Bibliotheca historico-literaria patrum Latinorum a Tertulliano usque ad Gregorina M. et Isidorum . Lips. 1792, 2 vols. A continuation of Fabricius’ Biblioth. Lat.

G. Lumper (R.C.): Historia theologico-critica de vita, scriptis et doctrina SS. Patrum trium primorum saeculorum. Aug. Vind. 1783-’99, 13 t. 8°.

A. Möhler (R.C. d. 1838): Patrologie, oder christliche Literärgeschichte. Edited by Reithmayer. Regensb. 1840, vol. I. Covers only the first three centuries.

J. Fessler (R.C.): Institutiones patrologicae. Oenip. 1850-’52, 2 vols.

J. C. F. Bähr: Geschichte der römischen Literatur. Karlsruhe, 1836, 4th ed. 1868.

Fr. Böhringer (d, 1879): Die Kirche Christi u. ihre Zeugen, oder die K. G. in Biographien. Zür. 1842 (2d ed. 1861 sqq. and 1873 sqq.), 2 vols. in 7 parts (to the sixteenth century).

Joh. Alzog (R.C., Prof. in Freiburg, d. 1878): Grundriss der Patrologie oder der älteren christl. Literärgeschichte. Frieburg, 1866; second ed. 1869; third ed. 1876; fourth ed. 1888.

James Donaldson: A Critical History of Christian Literature and Doctrine from the death of the Apostles to the Nicene Council. London, 1864-’66. 3 vols. Very valuable, but unfinished.

Jos. Schwane (R.C.): Dogmengeschichte der patristischen Zeit. Münster, 1866.

Adolf Ebert: Geschichte der christlich-lateinischen Literatur von ihren Anfängen bis zum Zeitalter Karls des Grossen Leipzig, 1872 (624 pages). The first vol. of a larger work on the general history of mediaeval literature. The second vol. (1880) contains the literature from Charlemagne to Charles the Bald.

Jos. Nirschl (R.C.): Lehrbuch der Patrologie und Patristik. Mainz. Vol. I. 1881 (VI. and 384).

George A. Jackson: Early Christian Literature Primers. N. York, 1879-1883 in 4 little vols., containing extracts from the fathers.

Fr. W. Farrar: Lives of the Fathers. Sketches of Church History in Biographies. Lond. and N. York, 1889, 2 vols.


IV. On the Authority and Use of the Fathers

Dallaeus (Daillé, Calvinist): De usu Patrum in decidendis controversiis. Genev. 1656 (and often). Against the superstitious and slavish R. Catholic overvaluation of the fathers.

J. W. Eberl (R.C.): Leitfaden zum Studium der Patrologie. Augsb. 1854.

J. J. Blunt (Anglican): The Right Use of the Early Fathers. Lond. 1857, 3rd ed. 1859. Confined to the first three centuries, and largely polemical against the depreciation of the fathers, by Daillé, Barbeyrat, and Gibbon.


V. On the Philosophy of the Fathers

H. Ritter: Geschichte der christl Philosophie. Hamb. 1841 sqq. 2 vols.

Joh. Huber (d. 1879 as an Old Catholic): Die Philosophie der Kirchenväter. München, 1859.

A. Stöckl (R.C.): Geschichte der Philosophie der patristischen Zeit. Würz b. 1858, 2 vols.; and Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters. Mainz, 1864-1866. 3 vols.

Friedr. Ueberweg. History of Philosophy (Engl. transl. by Morris & Porter). N. Y. 1876 (first vol.).


VI. Patristic Dictionaries

J. C. Suicer (d. in Zurich, 1660): Thesaurus ecclesiasticus e Patribus Graecis. Amstel., 1682, second ed., much improved, 1728. 2 vols. for. (with a new title page. Utr. 1746).

Du Cange (Car. Dufresne a Benedictine, d. 1688): Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae Graecitatis. Lugd. 1688. 2 vols. By the same: Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae Latinitatis. Par. 1681, again 1733, 6 vols. fol., re-edited by Carpenter 1766, 4 vols., and by Henschel, Par. 1840-’50, 7 vols. A revised English edition of Du Cange by E. A. Dayman was announced for publication by John Murray (London), but has not yet appeared, in 1889.

E. A. Sophocles: A glossary of Latin and Byzantine Greek. Boston, 1860, enlarged ed. 1870. A new ed. by Jos. H. Thayer, 1888.

G. Koffmane: Geschichte des Kirchlateins. Breslau, 1879 sqq.

Wm. Smith and Henry Wace (Anglicans): A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines London, Vol. I. 1877-1887, 4 vols. By far the best patristic biographical Dictionary in the English or any other language. A noble monument of the learning of the Church of England.

E. C. Richardson (Hartford, Conn.): Bibliographical Synapsis of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. An appendix to the Am. Ed. of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, N. York, 1887. Very complete.


160. A General Estimate of the Fathers

As Christianity is primarily a religion of divine facts, and a new moral creation, the literary and scientific element in its history held, at first, a secondary and subordinate place. Of the apostles, Paul alone received a learned education, and even he made his rabbinical culture and great natural talents subservient to the higher spiritual knowledge imparted to him by revelation. But for the very reason that it is a new life, Christianity must produce also a new science and literature; partly from the inherent impulse of faith towards deeper and clearer knowledge of its object for its own satisfaction; partly from the demands of self-preservation against assaults from without; partly from the practical want of instruction and direction for the people. The church also gradually appropriated the classical culture, and made it tributary to her theology. Throughout the middle ages she was almost the sole vehicle and guardian of literature and art, and she is the mother of the best elements of the modern European and American civilization. We have already treated of the mighty intellectual labor of our period on the field of apologetic, polemic, and dogmatic theology. In this section we have to do with patrology, or the biographical and bibliographical matter of the ancient theology and literature.

The ecclesiastical learning of the first six centuries was cast almost entirely in the mould of the Graeco-Roman culture. The earliest church fathers, even Clement of Rome, Hermas, and Hippolytus, who lived and labored in and about Rome, used the Greek language, after the example of the apostles, with such modifications as the Christian ideas required. Not till the end of the second century, and then not in Italy, but in North Africa, did the Latin language also become, through Tertullian, a medium of Christian science and literature. The Latin church, however, continued for a long time dependent on the learning of the Greek. The Greek church was more excitable, speculative, and dialectic; the Latin more steady, practical, and devoted to outward organization; though we have on both sides striking exceptions to this rule, in the Greek Chrysostom, who was the greatest pulpit orator, and the Latin Augustin, who was the profoundest speculative theologian among the fathers.

The patristic literature in general falls considerably below the classical in elegance of form, but far surpasses it in the sterling quality of its matter. It wears the servant form of its master, during the days of his flesh, not the splendid, princely garb of this world. Confidence in the power of the Christian truth made men less careful of the form in which they presented it. Besides, many of the oldest Christian writers lacked early education, and had a certain aversion to art, from its manifold perversion in those days to the service of idolatry and immorality. But some of them, even in the second and third centuries, particularly Clement and Origen, stood at the head of their age in learning and philosophical culture; and in the fourth and fifth centuries, the literary productions of an Athanasius, a Gregory, a Chrysostom, an Augustin, and a Jerome, excelled the contemporaneous heathen literature in every respect. Many fathers, like the two Clements, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and among the later ones, even Jerome and Augustin, embraced Christianity after attaining adult years; and it is interesting to notice with what enthusiasm, energy, and thankfulness they laid hold upon it.

The term “church-father” originated in the primitive custom of transferring the idea of father to spiritual relationships, especially to those of teacher, priest, and bishop. In the case before us the idea necessarily includes that of antiquity, involving a certain degree of general authority for all subsequent periods and single branches of the church. Hence this title of honor is justly limited to the more distinguished teachers of the first five or six centuries, excepting, of course, the apostles, who stand far above them all as the inspired organs of Christ. It applies, therefore, to the period of the ecumenical formation of doctrines, before the separation of Eastern and Western Christendom. The line of the Latin fathers is generally closed with Pope Gregory I. (d. 604), the line of the Greek with John of Damascus (d. about 754).

Besides antiquity, or direct connection with the formative age of the whole church, learning, holiness, orthodoxy, and the approbation of the church, or general recognition, are the qualifications for a church father. These qualifications, however, are only relative. At least we cannot apply the scale of fully developed orthodoxy, whether Greek, Roman, or Evangelical, to the ante-Nicene fathers. Their dogmatic conceptions were often very indefinite and uncertain. In fact the Roman church excludes a Tertullian for his Montanism, an Origen for his Platonic and idealistic views, an Eusebius for his semi-Arianism, also Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, Theodoret, and other distinguished divines, from the list of “fathers” (Patres), and designates them merely “ecclesiastical writers” (Scriptores Ecclastici).

In strictness, not a single one of the ante-Nicene fathers fairly agrees with the Roman standard of doctrine in all points. Even Irenaeus and Cyprian differed from the Roman bishop, the former in reference to Chiliasm and Montanism, the latter on the validity of heretical baptism. Jerome is a strong witness against the canonical value of the Apocrypha. Augustin, the greatest authority of Catholic theology among the fathers, is yet decidedly evangelical in his views on sin and grace, which were enthusiastically revived by Luther and Calvin, and virtually condemned by the Council of Trent. Pope Gregory the Great repudiated the title “ecumenical bishop” as an antichristian assumption, and yet it is comparatively harmless as compared with the official titles of his successors, who claim to be the Vicars of Christ, the viceregents of God Almighty on earth, and the infallible organs of the Holy Ghost in all matters of faith and discipline. None of the ancient fathers and doctors knew anything of the modern Roman dogmas of the immaculate conception (1854) and papal infallibility (1870). The “unanimous consent of the fathers” is a mere illusion, except on the most fundamental articles of general Christianity. We must resort here to a liberal conception of orthodoxy, and duly consider the necessary stages of progress in the development of Christian doctrine in the church.

On the other hand the theology of the fathers still less accords with the Protestant standard of orthodoxy. We seek in vain among them for the evangelical doctrines of the exclusive authority of the Scriptures, justification by faith alone, the universal priesthood of the laity; and we find instead as early as the second century a high estimate of ecclesiastical traditions, meritorious and even over-meritorious works, and strong sacerdotal, sacramentarian, ritualistic, and ascetic tendencies, which gradually matured in the Greek and Roman types of catholicity. The Church of England always had more sympathy with the fathers than the Lutheran and Calvinistic Churches, and professes to be in full harmony with the creed, the episcopal polity, and liturgical worship of antiquity before the separation of the east and the west; but the difference is only one of degree; the Thirty-Nine Articles are as thoroughly evangelical as the Augsburg Confession or the Westminster standards; and even the modern Anglo-Catholic school, the most churchly and churchy of all, ignores many tenets and usages which were considered of vital importance in the first centuries, and holds others which were unknown before the sixteenth century. The reformers were as great and good men as the fathers, but both must bow before the apostles. There is a steady progress of Christianity, an ever-deepening understanding and an ever-widening application of its principles and powers, and there are yet many hidden treasures in the Bible which will be brought to light in future ages.

In general the excellences of the church fathers are very various. Polycarp is distinguished, not for genius or learning, but for patriarchal simplicity and dignity; Clement of Rome, for the gift of administration; Ignatius, for impetuous devotion to episcopacy, church unity, and Christian martyrdom; Justin, for apologetic zeal and extensive reading; Irenaeus, for sound doctrine and moderation; Clement of Alexandria, for stimulating fertility of thought; Origen, for brilliant learning and bold speculation; Tertullian, for freshness and vigor of intellect, and sturdiness of character; Cyprian, for energetic churchliness; Eusebius, for literary industry in compilation; Lactantius, for elegance of style. Each had also his weakness. Not one compares for a moment in depth and spiritual fulness with a St. Paul or St. John; and the whole patristic literature, with all its incalculable value, must ever remain very far below the New Testament. The single epistle to the Romans or the Gospel of John is worth more than all commentaries, doctrinal, polemic, and ascetic treatises of the Greek and Latin fathers, schoolmen, and reformers.

The ante-Nicene fathers may be divided into five or six classes:

(1.) The apostolic fathers, or personal disciples of the apostles. Of these, Polycarp, Clement, and Ignatius are the most eminent.

(2.) The apologists for Christianity against Judaism and heathenism: Justin Martyr and his successors to the end of the second century.

(3.) The controversialists against heresies within the church: Irenaeus, and Hippolytus, at the close of the second century and beginning of the third.

(4.) The Alexandrian school of philosophical theology: Clement and Origen, in the first half of the third century.

(5.) The contemporary but more practical North African school of Tertullian and Cyprian.

(6.) Then there were also the germs of the Antiochian school, and some less prominent writers, who can be assigned to no particular class.

Together with the genuine writings of the church fathers there appeared in the first centuries, in behalf both of heresy and of orthodoxy, a multitude of apocryphal Gospels, Acts, and Apocalypses, under the names of apostles and of later celebrities; also Jewish and heathen prophecies of Christianity, such as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Books of Hydaspes, Of Hermas Trismegistos, and of the Sibyls. The frequent use made of such fabrications of an idle imagination even by eminent church teachers, particularly by the apologists, evinces not only great credulity and total want of literary criticism, but also a very imperfect development of the sense of truth, which had not yet learned utterly to discard the pia fraus as immoral falsehood.



The Roman church extends the line of the Patres, among whom she further distinguishes a small number of Doctores ecclesiae emphatically so-called, down late into the middle ages, and reckons in it Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, and the divines of the Council of Trent, resting on her claim to exclusive catholicity, which is recognized neither by the Greek nor the Evangelical church. The marks of a Doctor Ecclesiae are: 1) eminens eruditio; 2) doctrina orthodoxa; 3) sanctitas vitae; 4) expressa ecclesiae declaratio. The Roman Church recognizes as Doctores Ecclesiae the following Greek fathers: Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, and John of Damascus, and the following Latin fathers: Ambrose, Jerome, Augustin, Hilarius of Poitiers, Leo I. and Gregory I., together with the mediaeval divines Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura and Bernard of Clairvaux. The distinction between doctores ecclesiae and patres eccelesiae was formally recognized by Pope Boniface VIII. in a decree of 1298, in which Ambrose, Augustin, Jerome, and Gregory the Great are designated as magni doctores ecclesiae, who deserve a higher degree of veneration. Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, and St. Bernard were added to the list by papal decree in 1830, Hilary in 1852, Alfonso Maria da Liguori in 1871. Anselm of Canterbury and a few others are called doctores in the liturgical service, without special decree. The long line of popes has only furnished two fathers, Leo I. and Gregory I. The Council of Trent first speaks of the “unanimis consensus patrum,” which is used in the same sense as “doctrina ecclesia.”


161. The Apostolic Fathers


Patrum Apostolicorum Opera. Best editions by O. von Gebhardt, A. Harnack, Th. Zahn, Lips. 1876-’8. 3 vols. (being the third ed. of Dressel much improved); by Fr. Xav. Funk (R.C.), Tüb. 1878 and 1881, 2 vols. (being the 5th and enlarged edition of Hefele); by A. Hilgenfeld (Tübingen school): Novum Testamentum extra canonem receptum, Lips. 1866, superseded by the revised ed. appearing in parts (Clemens R., 1876; Barnabas, 1877; Hermas, 1881); and by Bishop Lightfoot, Lond. and Cambr. 1869, 1877, and 1885 (including Clement of Rome, Ignatius and Polycarp, with a full critical apparatus, English translations and valuable notes; upon the whole the best edition as far as it goes.)

Older editions by B. Cotelerius (Cotelier, R.C.), Par. 1672, 2 vols. fol., including the spurious works; republ. and ed. by J. Clericus (Le Clerc), Antw. 1698, 2nd ed. Amst. 1724, 2 vols.; Th. Ittig, 1699; Frey, Basel, 1742; R. Russel, Lond. 1746, 2 vols. (the genuine works); Hornemann, Havniae, 1828; Guil. Jacobson, Oxon. 1838, ed. IV. 1866, 2 vols. (very elegant and accurate, with valuable notes, but containing only Clemens, Ignatius, Polycarp, and the Martyria of Ign. and Polyc.); C. J. Hefele (R.C.), Tüb. 1839, ed. IV. 1855, 1 vol. (very handy, with learned and judicious prolegomena and notes); A. R. M. Dressel. Lips. 1857, second ed. 1863 (more complete, and based on new MSS. Hefele’s and Dressel’s edd. are superseded by the first two above mentioned.

English translations of the Apost. Fathers by Archbishop W. Wake (d. 1737), Lond. 1693, 4th ed. 1737, and often republished (in admirable style, though with many inaccuracies); by Alex. Roberts and James Donaldson, in the first vol. of Clark’s “Ante-Nicene Christian Library.” Edinb. 1867 (superior to Wake in accuracy, but inferior in old English flavor); by Chs. H. Hoole, Lond. 1870 and 1872; best by Lightfoot (Clement R. in Appendix, 1877). An excellent German translation by H. Scholz, Gütersloh, 1865 (in the style of Luther’s Bible version).



The Prolegomena to the editions just named, particularly those of the first four.

A. Schwegler: Das nachapostolische Zeitalter, Tüb. 1846. 2 vols. A very able but hypercritical reconstruction from the Tübingen school, full of untenable hypotheses, assigning the Gospels, Acts, the Catholic and later Pauline Epistles to the post-apostolic age, and measuring every writer by his supposed Petrine or Pauline tendency, and his relation to Ebionism and Gnosticism.

A. Hilgenfeld: Die apostolischen Väter. Halle, 1853.

J. H. B. Lubkert: Die Theologie der apostolischen Väter, in the “Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol.” Leipz. 1854.

Abbé Freppel (Prof. at the Sorbonne): Les Pères Apostoliques et leur epoque, second ed. Paris, 1859. Strongly Roman Catholic.

Lechler: Das Apost. u. nachapost. Zeitalter. Stuttgart, 1857, p. 476-495; 3d ed., thoroughly revised (Leipz., 1885), p. 526 -608.

James Donaldson (LL. D.): A Critical History of Christian Literature, etc. Vol. I. The Apost. Fathers. Edinburgh, 1864. The same, separately publ. under the title: The Apostolic Fathers: A critical account of their genuine writings and of their doctrines. London, 1874 (412 pages). Ignatius is omitted. A work of honest and sober Protestant learning.

George A. Jackson: The Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists of the Second Century. New York 1879. Popular, with extracts (pages 203).

J. M. Cotterill: Peregrinus Proteus. Edinburgh, 1879. A curious book, by a Scotch Episcopalian, who tries to prove that the two Epistles of Clement, the Epistle to Diognetus, and other ancient writings, were literary frauds perpetrated by Henry Stephens and others in the time of the revival of letters in the sixteenth century.

Josef Sprinzl, (R.C.): Die Theologie der apost. Väter. Wien, 1880. Tries to prove the entire agreement of the Ap. Fathers with the modern Vatican theology.


The Apostolic Fathers

The “apostolic,” or rather post-apostolic “fathers” were the first church teachers after the apostles, who had enjoyed in part personal intercourse with them, and thus form the connecting link between them and the apologists of the second century. This class consists of Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and, in a broader sense, Hermas, Papias, and the unknown authors of the Epistle to Diognetus, and of the Didache.

Of the outward life of these men, their extraction, education, and occupation before conversion, hardly anything is known. The distressed condition of that age was very unfavorable to authorship; and more than this, the spirit of the primitive church regarded the new life in Christ as the only true life, the only one worthy of being recorded. Even of the lives of the apostles themselves before their call we have only a few hints. But the pious story of the martyrdom of several of these fathers, as their entrance into perfect life, has been copiously written. They were good men rather than great men, and excelled more in zeal and devotion to Christ than in literary attainments. They were faithful practical workers, and hence of more use to the church in those days than profound thinkers or great scholars could have been. “While the works of Tacitus, Sueton, Juvenal, Martial, and other contemporary heathen authors are filled with the sickening details of human folly, vice, and crime, these humble Christian pastors are ever burning with the love of God and men, exhort to a life of purity and holiness in imitation of the example of Christ, and find abundant strength and comfort amid trial and persecution in their faith, and the hope of a glorious immortality in heaven.”

The extant works of the apostolic fathers are of small compass, a handful of letters on holy living and dying, making in all a volume of about twice the size of the New Testament. Half of these (several Epistles of Ignatius, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Pastor of Hermas) are of doubtful genuineness; but they belong at all events to that obscure and mysterious transition period between the end of the first century and the middle of the second. They all originated, not in scientific study, but in practical religious feeling, and contain not analyses of doctrine so much as simple direct assertions of faith and exhortations to holy life; all, excepting Hermas and the Didache, in the form of epistles after the model of Paul’s. Yet they show the germs of the apologetic, polemic, dogmatic, and ethic theology, as well as the outlines of the organization and the cultus of the ancient Catholic church. Critical research has to assign to them their due place in the external and internal development of the church; in doing this it needs very great caution to avoid arbitrary construction.

If we compare these documents with the canonical Scriptures of the New Testament, it is evident at once that they fall far below in original force, depth, and fulness of spirit, and afford in this a strong indirect proof of the inspiration of the apostles. Yet they still shine with the evening red of the apostolic day, and breathe an enthusiasm of simple faith and fervent love and fidelity to the Lord, which proved its power in suffering and martyrdom. They move in the element of living tradition, and make reference oftener to the oral preaching of the apostles than to their writings; for these were not yet so generally circulated but they bear a testimony none the less valuable to the genuineness of the apostolic writings, by occasional citations or allusions, and by the coincidence of their reminiscences with the facts of the gospel history and the fundamental doctrines of the New Testament. The epistles of Barnabas, Clement, and Polycarp, and the Shepherd of Hernias, were in many churches read in public worship. Some were even incorporated in important manuscripts of the Bible. This shows that the sense of the church, as to the extent of the canon, had not yet become everywhere clear. Their authority, however, was always but sectional and subordinate to that of the Gospels and the apostolic Epistles. It was a sound instinct of the church, that the writings of the disciples of the apostles, excepting those of Mark and Luke, who were peculiarly associated with Peter and Paul, were kept out of the canon of the New Testament. For by the wise ordering of the Ruler of history, there is an impassable gulf between the inspiration of the apostles and the illumination of the succeeding age, between the standard authority of holy Scripture and the derived validity of the teaching of the church. “The Bible” — to adopt an illustration of a distinguished writer — “is not like a city of modern Europe, which subsides through suburban gardens and groves and mansions into the open country around, but like an Eastern city in the desert, from which the traveler passes by a single step into a barren waste.” The very poverty of these post-apostolic writings renders homage to the inexhaustible richness of the apostolic books which, like the person of Christ, are divine as well as human in their origin, character, and effect.


162. Clement of Rome

(I.) The Epistle of Clemens Rom. to the Corinthians. Only the first is genuine, the second so-called Ep. of Cl. is a homily of later date. Best editions by Philotheos Bryennios (Τοῦ ἐν ἁγίοις πατρὸς ἡμῶν Κλήμεντος ἐπισκόπου Ῥώμης αἱ δύο πρὸς Καρινθίους έπιστολαί etc. Ἐν Κώνσταντινοπόλει, 1875. With prolegomena, commentary and facsimiles at the end, 188 pp. text, and ρξθ´ or 169 prolegomena); Hilgenfeld (second ed. Leipz. 1876, with prolegomena, textual notes and conjectures); Von Gebhardt & Harnack (sec. ed. 1876, with proleg., notes, and Latin version); Funk (1878, with Latin version and notes); and Lightfoot (with notes, Lond. 1869, and Appendix containing the newly-discovered portions, and an English Version, 1877).

All the older editions from the Alexandrian MS. first published by Junius, 1633, are partly superseded by the discovery of the new and complete MS. in Constantinople, which marks an epoch in this chapter of church history.

(II.) R. A. Lipsius: De Clementis Rom. Epistola ad Corinth. priore disquisitio. Lips. 1856 (188 pages). Comp. his review of recent editions in the “Jenaer Literaturzeitung.” Jan. 13, 1877.

B. H. Cowper: What the First Bishop of Rome taught. The Ep. of Clement of R. to the Cor., with an Introduction and Notes. London, 1867.

Jos. Mullooly: St. Clement Pope and Martyr, and his Basilica in Rome. Rome, second ed. 1873. The same in Italian. Discusses the supposed house and basilica of Clement, but not his works.

Jacobi: Die beiden Briefe des Clemens v. Rom., in the “Studien und Kritiken” for 1876, p. 707 sqq.

Funk: Ein theologischer Fund, in the Tüb. “Theol. Quartalschrift,” 1876, p. 286 sqq.

Donaldson: The New MS. of Clement of Rome. In the “Theolog. Review.” 1877, p. 35 sqq.

Wieseler: Der Brief des röm. Clemens an die Kor., in the “Jahrbücher für deutsche Theol.” 1877. No. III.

Renan: Les évangiles. Paris 1877. Ch. xv. 311-338.

C. J. H. Ropes: The New MS. of Clement of Rome, in the “Presb. Quarterly and Princeton Review.” N. York 1877, P. 325-343. Contains a scholarly examination of the new readings, and a comparison of the concluding prayer with the ancient liturgies.

The relevant sections in Hilgenfeld (Apost. Väter, 85-92), Donaldson (Ap. Fath., 113-190), Sprinzl (Theol. d. Apost. Väter, 21 sqq., 57 sqq.), Salmon in Smith and Wace, I. 554 sqq., and Uhlhorn in Herzog2, sub Clemens Rom. III. 248-257.

Comp. full lists of editions, translations, and discussions on Clement, before and after 1875, in the Prolegomena of von Gebhardt & Harnack, XVIII.-XXIV.; Funk, XXXII.-XXXVI.; Lightfoot, p. 28 sqq., 223 sqq., and 393 sqq., and Richardson, Synopsis, I sqq.

The first rank among the works of the post-Apostolic age belongs to the “Teaching of the Apostles,” discovered in 1883. Next follow the letters of Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp.

I. Clement, a name of great celebrity in antiquity, was a disciple of Paul and Peter, to whom he refers as the chief examples for imitation. He may have been the same person who is mentioned by Paul as one of his faithful fellow-workers in Philippi (Phi_4:3); or probably a Roman who was in some way connected with the distinguished Flavian family, and through it with the imperial household, where Christianity found an early lodgment. His Epistle betrays a man of classical culture, executive wisdom, and thorough familiarity with the Septuagint Bible. The last seems to indicate that he was of Jewish parentage. What we know with certainty is only this, that he stood at the head of the Roman congregation at the close of the first century. Yet tradition is divided against itself as to the time of his administration; now making him the first successor of Peter, now, with more probability, the third. According to Eusebius he was bishop from the twelfth year of Domitian to the third of Trajan (A. D. 92 to 101). Considering that the official distinction between bishops and presbyters was not yet clearly defined in his time, he may have been co-presbyter with Linus and Anacletus, who are represented by some as his predecessors, by others as his successors.

Later legends have decked out his life in romance, both in the interest of the Catholic church and in that of heresy. They picture him as a noble and highly educated Roman who, dissatisfied with the wisdom and art of heathenism, journeyed to Palestine, became acquainted there with the apostle Peter, and was converted by him; accompanied him on his missionary tours; composed many books in his name; was appointed by him his successor as bishop of Rome, with a sort of supervision over the whole church; and at last, being banished under Trajan to the Taurian Chersonesus, died the glorious death of a martyr in the waves of the sea. But the oldest witnesses, down to Eusebius and Jerome, know nothing of his martyrdom. The Acta Martyrii Clementis (by Simon Metaphrastes) make their appearance first in the ninth century. They are purely fictitious, and ascribe incredible miracles to their hero.

It is very remarkable that a person of such vast influence in truth and fiction, whose words were law, who preached the duty of obedience and submission to an independent and distracted church, whose vision reached even to unknown lands beyond the Western sea, should inaugurate, at the threshold of the second century, that long line of pontiffs who have outlasted every dynasty in Europe, and now claim an infallible authority over the consciences of two hundred millions of Christians.

II. From this Clement we have a Greek epistle to the Corinthians. It is often cited by the church fathers, then disappeared, but was found again, together with the fragments of the second epistle, in the Alexandrian codex of the Bible (now in the British Museum), and published by Patricius Junius (Patrick Young) at Oxford in 1633. A second, less ancient, but more perfect manuscript from the eleventh century, containing the missing chapters of the first (with the oldest written prayer) and the whole of the second Epistle (together with other valuable documents), was discovered by Philotheos Bryennios, in the convent library of the patriarch of Jerusalem in Constantinople, and published in 1875. Soon afterwards a Syriac translation was found in the library of Jules Mohl, of Paris (d. 1876). We have thus three independent texts (A, C, S), derived, it would seem, from a common parent of the second century. The newly discovered portions shed new light on the history of papal authority and liturgical worship, as we have pointed out in previous chapters.

This first (and in fact the only) Epistle to the Corinthians was sent by the Church of God in Rome, at its own impulse, and unasked, to the Church of God in Corinth, through three aged and faithful Christians: Claudius Ephebus, Valerius Biton, and Fortunatus. It does not bear the name of Clement, and is written in the name of the Roman congregation, but was universally regarded as his production. It stood in the highest esteem in ancient times, and continued in public use in the Corinthian church and in several other churches down to the beginning of the fourth century. This accounts for its incorporation in the Alexandrian Bible Codex, but it is properly put after the Apocalypse and separated from the apostolic epistles.

And this indicates its value. It is not apostolical, not inspired — far from it — but the oldest and best among the sub-apostolic writings both in form and contents. It was occasioned by party differences and quarrels in the church of Corinth, where the sectarian spirit, so earnestly rebuked by Paul in his first Epistle, had broken out afresh and succeeded in deposing the regular officers (the presbyter-bishops). The writer exhorts the readers to harmony and love, humility, and holiness, after the pattern of Christ and his apostles, especially Peter and Paul, who had but recently sealed their testimony with their blood. He speaks in the highest terms of Paul who, “after instructing the whole [Roman] world in righteousness, and after having reached the end of the West, and borne witness before the rulers, departed into the holy place, leaving the greatest example of patient endurance.” He evinces the calm dignity and executive wisdom of the Roman church in her original simplicity, without hierarchical arrogance; and it is remarkable how soon that church recovered after the terrible ordeal of the Neronian persecution, which must have been almost an annihilation. He appeals to the word of God as the final authority, but quotes as freely from the Apocrypha as from the canonical Scriptures (the Septuagint). He abounds in free reminiscences of the teaching of Christ and the Apostles. He refers to Paul’s (First) Epistle to the Corinthians, and shows great familiarity with his letters, with James, First Peter, and especially the Epistle to the Hebrews, from which he borrows several expressions. Hence he is mentioned — with Paul, Barnabas, and Luke — as one of the supposed authors of that anonymous epistle. Origen conjectured that Clement or Luke composed the Hebrews under the inspiration or dictation of Paul.

Clement bears clear testimony to the doctrines of the Trinity (“God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, who are the faith and the hope of the elect”), of the Divine dignity and glory of Christ, salvation only by his blood, the necessity of repentance and living faith, justification by grace, sanctification by the Holy Spirit, the unity of the church, and the Christian graces of humility, charity, forbearance, patience, and perseverance. In striking contrast with the bloody cruelties practiced by Domitian, he exhorts to prayer for the civil rulers, that God “may give them health, peace, concord, and stability for the administration of the government be has given them.” We have here the echo of Paul’s exhortation to the Romans (Rom_13:1-14) under the tyrant Nero. Altogether the Epistle of Clement is worthy of a disciple of the apostles, although falling far short of their writings in original simplicity, terseness, and force.

III. In regard to its theology, this epistle belongs plainly to the school of Paul and strongly resembles the Epistle to the Hebrews, while at the same time it betrays the influence of Peter also; both these apostles having, in fact, personally labored in the church of Rome, in whose name the letter is written, and having left the stamp of their mind upon it. There is no trace in it of an antagonism between Paulinism and Petrinism. Clement is the only one of the apostolic fathers, except perhaps Polycarp, who shows some conception of the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith. “All (the saints of the Old Testament),” says he, “became great and glorious, not through themselves, nor by their works, nor by their righteousness, but by the will of God. Thus we also, who are called by the will of God in Christ Jesus, are righteous not of ourselves, neither through our wisdom, nor through our understanding, nor through our piety, nor through our works, which we have wrought in purity of heart, but by faith, by which the almighty God justified all these from the beginning; to whom be glory to all eternity.” And then Clement, precisely like Paul in Rom_6:1-23, derives sanctification from justification, and continues: “What, then, should we do, beloved brethren? Should we be slothful in good works and neglect love? By no means! But with zeal and courage we will hasten to fulfil every good work. For the Creator and Lord of all things himself rejoices in his works.” Among the good works he especially extols love, and describes it in a strain which reminds one of Paul’s 1Co_13:1-13: “He who has love in Christ obeys the commands of Christ. Who can declare the bond of the love of God, and tell the greatness of its beauty? The height to which it leads is unspeakable. Love unites us with God; covers a multitude of sins; beareth all things, endureth all things. There is nothing mean in love, nothing haughty. It knows no division; it is not refractory; it does everything in harmony. In love have all the elect of God become perfect. Without love nothing is pleasing to God. In love has the Lord received us; for the love which he cherished towards us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave his blood for us according to the will of God, and his flesh for our flesh, and his soul for our soul.” Hence all his zeal for the unity of the church. “Wherefore are dispute, anger, discord, division, and war among you? Or have we not one God and one Christ and one Spirit, who is poured out upon us, and one calling in Christ? Wherefore do we tear and sunder the members of Christ, and bring the body into tumult against itself, and go so far in delusion, that we forget that we are members one of another?”

Very beautifully also he draws from the harmony of the universe an incitement to concord, and incidentally expresses here the remarkable sentiment, perhaps suggested by the old legends of the Atlantis, the orbis alter, the ultima Thule, etc., that there are other worlds beyond the impenetrable ocean, which are ruled by the same laws of the Lord.

But notwithstanding its prevailing Pauline character, this epistle lowers somewhat the free evangelical tone of the Gentile apostle’s theology, softens its anti-Judaistic sternness, and blends it with the Jewish-Christian counterpart of St. James, showing that the conflict between the Pauline and Petrine views was substantially settled at the end of the first century in the Roman church, and also in that of Corinth.

Clement knows nothing of an episcopate above the presbyterate; and his epistle itself is written, not in his own name, but in that of the church at Rome. But he represents the Levitical priesthood as a type of the Christian teaching office, and insists with the greatest decision on outward unity, fixed order, and obedience to church rulers. He speaks in a tone of authority to a sister church of apostolic foundation, and thus reveals the easy and as yet innocent beginning of the papacy. A hundred years after his death his successors ventured, in their own name, not only to exhort, but to excommunicate whole churches for trifling differences.

The interval between Clement and Paul, and the transition from the apostolic to the apocryphal, from faith to superstition, appears in the indiscriminate use of the Jewish Apocrypha, and in the difference between Paul’s treatment of scepticism in regard to the resurrection, and his disciple’s treatment of the same subject. Clement points not only to the types in nature, the changes of the seasons and of day and night, but also in full earnest to the heathen myth of the miraculous bird, the phoenix in Arabia, which regenerates itself every five hundred years. When the phoenix — so runs the fable — approaches death, it makes itself a nest of frankincense, myrrh, and other spices; from its decaying flesh a winged worm arises, which, when it becomes strong, carries the reproductive nest from Arabia to Heliopolis in Egypt, and there flying down by day, in the sight of all, it lays it, with the bones of its predecessors, upon the altar of the sun. And this takes place, according to the reckoning of the priests, every five hundred years. After Clement other fathers also used the phoenix as a symbol of the resurrection.

IV. As to the time of its composition, this epistle falls certainly after the death of Peter and Paul, for it celebrates their martyrdom; and probably after the death of John (about 98); for one would suppose, that if he had been living, Clement would have alluded to him, in deference to superior authority, and that the Corinthian Christians would have applied to an apostle for counsel, rather than to a disciple of the apostles in distant Rome. The persecution alluded to in the beginning of the epistle refers to the Domitian as well as the Neronian; for he speaks of “sudden and repeated calamities and reverses which have befallen us.” He prudently abstains from naming the imperial persecutors, and intercedes at the close for the civil rulers. Moreover, he calls the church at Corinth at that time “firmly established and ancient.” With this date the report of Eusebius agrees, that Clement did not take the bishop’s chair in Rome till 92 or 93.