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§ 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enlarged edition of Hefele); by A. Hilgenfeld (Tübingen school): Novum Testamentum extra canonem receptum, Lips. 1866, superseded by the revised ed.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 Xartyria 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 are superseded by the first two above mentioned.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 nacha postolische 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," or rather post-apostolic "fathers"11831183    The usual name is probably derived from Tertullian, who calls the followers of the apostles, Apostolici,) De Carne, 2; Proescr, Haer. 30). Westcott calls them sub-apostolic, Donaldson, ep-apostolic.183 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."11841184    "The most striking feature of these writings," says Donaldson (p. 105),"is the deep living piety which pervades them. It consists in the warmest love to God, the deepest interest in man, and it exhibits itself in a healthy, vigorous, manly morality."184

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.11851185    Like the N. T. Epistles, the writings of the Apostolic fathers generally open with an inscription and Christian salutation, and conclude with a benediction and doxology. The Ep. of Clement to the Corinthians beginning thus (ch. 1.): "The church of God, which sojournes in Rome to the church of God which sojournes in Corinth, to them that are called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace from Almighty God, through Jesus Christ, be multiplied unto You." (Comp. 1 Cor. 1:2, 3; 2 Pet. 1:2.) It concludes (ch. 65, formerly ch. 59): "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, and with all men everywhere who are called of God through Him, through whom be glory, honor, power, majesty, and eternal dominion unto Him from the ages past to the ages of ages. Amen."—The Ep. of Polycarp begins: " Polycarp, and the presbyters that are with him, to the church of God sojourning in Philippi: Mercy unto you and peace from God Almighty and from the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour, be multiplied;" and it concludes."Grace be with you all. Amen." The Ep. of Barnabas opens and closes in a very general way, omitting the names of the writer and readers. The inscriptions and salutations of the Ignatian Epistles are longer and overloaded, even in the Syriac recension.185 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.11861186    Comp. Euseb. H. E. III. 16; IV. 23, as regards the epistle of Clement, which continued to be read in the church of Corinth down to the time of Dionysius, a.d. 160, and even to the time of Eusebius and Jerome, in the fourth century. The Pastor Hermae is quoted by Irenaeus IV. 3, as "scriptura." and is treated by Clement of Alex. and Origen (Ad Rom. Comment. X. c. 31) as " scriptura valde utilis et divinitus inspirata."186 Some were even incorporated in important manuscripts of the Bible.11871187    The Codex Alexandrinus (A) of the fifth century contains, after the Apocalypse, the Epistle of Clemens Romanus to the Corinthians, with a fragment of a homily; and the Codex Sinaiticus of the fourth century gives, at the close, the Epistle of Barnabas complete in Greek, and also a part of the Greek Pastor Hermae.187 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 writer11881188    Ascribed to Archbishop Whately.188 —"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.11891189    Baur, Schwegler, and the other Tübingen critics show great want of spiritual discernment in assigning so many N. T. writings, even the Gospel of John to the borrowed moonlight of the post-apostolic age. They form the opposite extreme to the Roman overestimate of patristic teaching as being of equal authority with the Bible.189

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