on 25 August 2009
This book is a key volume of the Ante-Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers series. It is a fascinating book for anyone interested in how the early church developed from the first century to the late second century. Its earliest writings may be extremely early. Some scholars hold that the first edition of the Didache (or 'Teaching' of the Twelve Apostles) was assembled in Syria around 50 AD which would make the Didache's first edition earlier than most of the New Testament (apart from 1 Thessalonians). Clement's first letter is usually dated 95, and Ignatius of Antioch's seven authenticated letters 107. Reading Ignatius's pastoral letters means to understand the stresses and triumphs of the churches of Asia Minor and Rome in that era. These writings, then, are extraordinary literature from the ancient Church which breathe the same atmosphere and register the same challenges as the New Testament writers confronted.
Along with such writings in this volume are also the works of two major Church thinkers, Justin Martyr (100-165) and Irenaeus (130-202). Justin Martyr (martyred 165) wrote two 'Apologies' (that is, court-room-style Defences of Christianity) to the Emperor, and also transcribed a Dialogue with a Judaic Jewish man called Trypho. These writings are priceless documents giving us insight into how these early Christians lived, thought, and prayed and worshipped, as well as how they perceived the world around them. Justin, for example, taught that God the eternal Word, who assumed humanity as Jesus Christ, had guided both ancient Israel and the pagans--he had taught the Law to the Jewish nation and guided pagans with the wisdom that led them to their highest ethical and philosophical aspirations. Both pagans and Jewish people were thus long prepared for Christ's coming, when he was born on earth as God Incarnate. Justin's teaching today would suggest that God's wisdom is scattered like seeds across all societies but is summed up and brought to full realisation in Christ. The next author is Irenaeus, writing about 180. Irenaeus was the Bishop of Lyon in Gaul (France), a city in which just three years before there had been a terrible Roman persecution of Christians. Undaunted, Irenaeus sought to unite the Church by correcting erroneous teaching and in the process laying out the content of Christian faith in its full glory. While doing this, Irenaeus contributes many insights to Christian thought. One of his better known doctrines is that the human race, created in God's image, is called to grow in God's likeness. This process was seriously disrupted by the Fall into sin, but not broken--for Christ has restored human beings to this vocation again by defeating the power of Death and corruption that otherwise keeps us in bondage to wrongdoing. Irenaeus's vision of Christian life, and indeed of world history, is thus epic in scale but relevant to each person's daily ethical decisions.
This book is a treasure house of insights. In it the living voice of the ancient Church still speaks to us today.