Ancient Christian Voices

Coober Pedy - AustraliaThis page will be periodically updated as I post beneficial writings from the early Church.  These writings played an important role in my spiritual journey and they helped me to understand what the early Church looked like in regards to its beliefs, practices, and hierarchy.

Many of these works are very early and some were considered when the New Testament canon was formed.  The first three listed below are three men who knew the apostles, learned directly from them, and were ordained as bishops by them.

LETTERS BY FRIENDS OF THE APOSTLES

stignatiusofantiochIgnatius of Antioch (35/50 – 98/117) – a disciple of the Apostle John who was also very good friends with Polycarp.  He was the bishop of Antioch and his seven authentic letters were written rather hastily as he was being forcefully moved to Rome for persecution.  These were likely written some time around 110 AD.   Click here to go to St Ignatius’ epistles page.

Polycarp of Smyrna iconPolycarp of Smyrna (69-155) – also a disciple of the Apostle John and friends with Ignatius.  St Jerome writes that he was ordained bishop of Smyrna by St. John.  There is only one legit letter written by him that we still possess, the Epistle to the Philippians.  He died by martyrdom for refusing to burn incense to the emperor.  A fascinating letter exists called The Martyrdom of St Polycarp, which outlines the last hours of his life.

st clement of romeClement of Rome (?? – 99/101 AD) – a bishop of Rome who has two epistles to the Corinthians attached to his name, but only the first is considered authentic.  His letter rebuking a rebellion that took place in the Corinth church was strongly considered when the New Testament canon was composed and was even included in earlier canons.  It is lengthy, but includes some interesting language supporting church hierarchy.  He knew St Peter and some traditions state that Peter himself appointed Clement as the bishop of Rome.  Click here to read his Epistle to the Corinthians.

Summary of the above:

All in all, these letter provide incontestable criticism regarding popular beliefs about the early Church.  One of the more popular modern rumors they deconstruct is that the early church did not have a hierarchy, but rather “everyone was a minister.”  I highly recommend Christians read these inspirational letters, which also serve as a primary source for early church history (in other words, when historians write books on the early church, the more knowledgeable ones reference these letters.).

OTHER EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITINGS

justin_martyr_iconJustin Martyr – The word “martyr” means witness, and those who died for the faith were a witness for the faith.  More than that, Justin could perhaps be considered the first Christian apologetics author.  He defended the faith against the rumors that aided in persecuting the early church.  He was a pagan by birth, trained in the Greek philosophical schools of his time.  While much of his writing is geared toward convincing people Jesus is the awaited for Messiah (Christ), he also wrote about the order of worship, the bodily resurrection of all believers, and wrote against three prevailing rumors during that time: that Christians were atheists, cannibals, and that they partook in mass orgies during their worship services.  He wrote several popular discourses, three of them I have featured here:

  • The First Apology, is the most famous work.  It outlines many early Christian beliefs and practices.
  • On the Resurrection is a shorter work and is one of my favorites by Justin.  It debunks Protestant theology that I heard growing up regarding sin and our fleshly bodies.
  • There is also another work that some Jewish converts have appreciated called Dialogue with Trypho.  In this somewhat lengthy work (it contains 142 short chapters), St Justin attempts to convince some Jews, using both Old and New Testament scriptures, that Jesus is the long-for awaited Messiah.

The Didache – some have dated the latter half of this as the earliest Christian writing (predating both the book of Mark and the epistles of Paul), though a late first century or early second century date is more commonly accepted.  It contains many practical teachings for Gentile converts as well as various instructions for the Christian life.

The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus – this anonymous work was a defense of the Christian faith.  It was written some time in the second century (between 130-190 AD).

The Epistle of Barnabas – The authorship of this epistle is widely disputed, but its early date is not.  It is an anonymous epistle written some time between the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70 and the Bar Kochba Revolt in AD 132.

The Shepherd of Hermas – This is an allegorical work completed sometime in the 100’s (2nd Century).  It quickly gained widespread popularity and was even listed as New Testament scripture by some Church Fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons.  Through symbolic visions, the reader is taken along with the narrator on an interesting journey.  It is a bit of a lengthy work compared to the others posted here, but I included it because it was influential on the early Church and considered to be on the level of scripture by some.

st patrickThe Confession of St. Patrick – Who doesn’t love St. Patrick?  But how much does the average person actually know about him?  While he wasn’t part of the earliest church (he lived in the 400’s), the apostolic tradition was very much alive in him and his missionary ministry to the Irish pagan people who had previously enslaved him.  The Confession is his autobiography, which is mostly undisputed as being authentically written by him (I say ‘mostly’ because there are a number of ‘scholars’ who like to contest the authenticity of almost anything written more than ten years ago).  St. Patrick has quite the captivating story and I found this to be a very worthwhile read.

5 thoughts on “Ancient Christian Voices”

    1. Yes, thank you, Christopher. They are available on a variety of websites. My goal though is not to provide an exhaustive list of ancient resources like CCEL or the others, but a concentrated list of ones that are considered Orthodox, are fairly early church, and will be the most beneficial to Orthodox Inquirers.

  1. Jeremy or Jeremiah, whatever works for you… I agree with most of your characterisations but I think your timing is off. I am no scholar but it seems highly probable that false doctrine fell into the church from its earliest days and not later through Constantine, or later still by the time of the Great Schism. I think Paul (“After my departure savage wolves will come into you”, etc.) makes that very clear in his letters to various churches, as does Jesus in His epistles in Revelation. The rot had well and truly set in, perhaps as early as the first century. As you have eluded to, Bishops were titular heads only (i.e. overseers and not rulers e.g. James, Bishop of Jerusalem etc.) and Nicolaitian rule was “hated”. But progressive Roman bishops had called themselves Pope well before Constantine, as Rome usurped the sapling Body of Christ — in Rome, and later from Rome, as the self-proclaimed leader of the remaining churches. The wolves entered the church almost from Day 1 (perhaps it started in Pergamum which Jesus labelled as the “seat of Satan”??). And like Chinese whispers, with every generation beyond the apostles (the true Apostolic “Catholic” [i.e. universal] Church), one needs to take everything they read with more and more grains of salt. By the time of Constantine the rot had so well and truly set in that he had it officially sanctioned, and by which time the Pope in Rome was ‘Emperor’ of the western arm of the empire. But the horse had bolted long before. The Roman (pagan) version of Catholicism abducted the true church almost form its inception and has continued in that vein. Hence 2000 years for the Bride of Christ to reassemble itself. In Jesus’ name

    1. I’m no scholar either, P Bobby, and I certainly agree that heresy entered into the church from the very early days. The first biggest one was the Judaizers who thought anyone who wanted to be a Christian had to be a Jew first and uphold the Torah. Paul writes vehemently against this sect. Other groups such as the Gnostics and those who denied the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist arose in the late first century, and John wrote against those in his gospel and epistles.

      You mentioned bishops being “titular heads only,” and I agree with you in that they were not meant to be monarchs or like the Roman Pope is who considers himself the head of every Christian. However, they were more than just Christians with special titles. They were in fact leaders, and submission to them and their teachings was strongly taught by the apostles and those appointed by the apostles (see the letters of Paul and Ignatius of Antioch). These bishops, or overseers, were taught by the apostles (long before there was a Bible) and therefore were the safeguards of truth.

      I would encourage you to read the early fathers of the church for yourself. Some of what you said is merely an echo of the popular myths held by nearly all modern Protestants. I held them as well until I stopped reading Protestant “history” books and went straight to the sources themselves (the early writings of the church cited on this page).

      In these ancient pages you’ll find a church that isn’t at all American, and is very far from Protestantism’s practices and beliefs.

      Bear in mind that if you are right then the Church went downhill after the Lord left, and by the time the apostles died it was not much more than a pagan institution. If that is right,

      • The Lord appointed terrible apostles because they could not keep his Body going; which means he was most likely not God but simply a good teacher who said some good things.
      • The Holy Spirit is completely inept and hasn’t a clue how to guide the Church.
      • The scriptures are corrupt because they were “preserved” and canonized by that post-Constantine pagan institution in the year 397 AD.
      • Christianity is nothing more than a Jewish cult that followed a would-be messiah who said some really good things (according to the corrupted documents that we still have).
      • Modern Christianity is nothing more than a silly attempt to revive a dead sect of Judaism that should be left dead because it was shown that it was powerless after its founders died.

      So, we can believe that or we can believe that Christ has been with His Bride since day one, that He has been guiding her through heresies, that the Church was never overcome by heresy, that the writings of the ancient church are valuable wisdom for us, and that there is no need to resuscitate a dead Bride, but she has made it through a multitude of trials and has been alive and well for nearly 2,000 years.

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