This 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
Ignatius 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 (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.
Clement 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 – 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.
The 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.