With a view to make us more familiar with our people, this is a glance at the second century. These stories are your stories.
Ignatius of Antioch
I. Roman persecution in the second century – sporadic and mostly provincial. Christianity still an illegal religion (religio illicita) according to Rome. Pliny the Younger (the governor of Bithynia) and Emperor Trajan famously corresponded regarding the growing problem of Christianity ca. AD 111-113. Pliny wrote that both torture and capital punishment were applied to Christians, but that if they would “curse Christ,” that would prove their loyalty to the Emperor. Trajan replied that Christians should be examined, but not sought out. If someone were accused of being a Christian, they should be brought before the court and, if the accusation proved to be true, executed. Such was the policy of Rome.
II. The Apostolic Fathers (ca. 100-150) are certainly worth knowing. All these men reported to have had personal contact with apostles. They were not Apostles, but were the first generation after them. Their writings were informal, simple statements of Christian piety, but not theological or philosophical. There is a marked and evident change from the authoritative, theological, ethical writings of the Apostles to the simple, informal writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Here are some of their names and dates: Clement of Rome, (d. ca. 100); Papias (ca. 60-140); Ignatius (d. 110); Polycarp (ca. 70-156). You had better know these on test day. Their writings have been categorized into three groups: 1) Epistles – e.g., I Clement & the Letters of Ignatius; 2) Apocalyptical - Shepherd of Hermas & writings of Papias (clearly premillennial); and 3) Catechetical – Didache (the “Teaching” of the Twelve). The writings of the Apostolic Fathers are quite accessible in the first volume of the Ante-Nicene Fathers Set (don’t buy just those 10 volumes, buy the whole 38-vol set used somewhere. Or, just read it all online for free.
III. The development of the Bishop as a distinct office from that of the Elder – in NT, “bishop” and “elder” are synonymous. I have made a case for that over here. The Bishopric or Episcopate (the rule of the Bishop) developed in two ways: 1) over the elders of a single congregation, and 2) over a regional group of churches, like in a large city. The Episcopate developed late in first century – probably based on organizational needs, partially due to persecution. The Roman Catholic church CANNOT show that the Episcopate is extant in the NT. Their entire hierarchical system began to develop after the NT.
IV. The growth of heresies – The heresies of the early church had some roots in first century, an incubation period in second, and a loathsome flowering in the third and fourth. A couple worth knowing:
-Gnosticism – Salvation is imparted via a special knowledge (gnosis – hence, the name); physical/matter is essentially evil (thus, denial of the Incarnation called Docetism); and other goofy things, too, like Demiurges.
-Montanism (after Montanus [fl. ca. 150]) – opposed worldliness; acetic and ecstatic tendencies; opposed by the catholic church; the most famous proponent of Montanism was Tertullian (160-220).
St. Irenaeus of Lyons
V. The Apologists – These Christian scholars combated external opposition to Christianity. First, against the Jews. Their defense was formidable, as they appealed to the same authoritative text as the Jews, the Old Testament. They argued for much continuity from the OT to the NT (especially moral continuity). They argued that the OT points to the NT, specifically that the OT predicts the suffering of Messiah. Against the accusation that the divinity of Jesus contradicts the unity of God and is blasphemous, they argued that the OT speaks of God in the plural and that theophanies are sometimes in three, and that the Messianic Psalms ascribe divinity to Messiah. The Apologists also wrote against Paganism (or the ancient but waning religions practices throughout the Roman Empire) and defended Christianity against charges of novelty, claiming that Moses and much of the OT were older than most of Paganism. Finally, they attacked Paganism, accusing it of being unworthy, contradictory, and absurd. There’s a good deal more to be said about these fellers, but this post is getting too long. See you next century.
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