Did You Know…
…who the ‘Church Fathers’ are, and what ‘Apostolic Authority’ is?
The Fathers of the Church are a select group of early Christian teachers who met 4 criteria:
1. Orthodox Doctrine 2. Holiness of Life 3. Church Approval 4. Antiquity
In essence, these were Fathers who “strove to keep their household together, to preserve the family’s patrimony, to teach and discipline their children, and to protect the family from danger.” They considered the church to be a newly born family and they took great care to protect it. This can be seen in the 2nd century when the African lawyer Tertullian confronted skeptics by likening them to poachers on his estate: “Who are you… Marcion, by what right do you chop my wood? By whose permission, Valentinus, are you diverting my streams? By what power, Apelles, are you removing my landmarks? This is my property… I hold sure title-deeds from the original owners themselves, to whom the estate belonged. I am the HEIR OF THE APOSTLES.” (emphasis mine)
Tertullian called himself an ‘heir of the Apostles’ because from the very beginning, the Fathers took great care to show that their teaching was not their own, but rather stretched back to the beginning of the Church. As time went by, it became more and more important for a teacher to demonstrate his continuity with Apostolic Teaching & Authority – with those who had been taught by Christ Himself. St. Irenaeus was the first to show how apostolic succession had been institutionalized in the line of Bishops all the way back to the Lord’s Disciples. By the 3rd century, teachers began to justify their doctrine by showing a ‘catena’ (Latin for ‘chain’) of unbroken teaching stretching all the way back to the founding of Christ’s Church. By the 5th century this practice became a requirement.
Even so, the Fathers were all very different men. Stretching over a period of about 500 years, they were different in ethnicity and temperament. Some were calm, some were hotheads, some were active, some were contemplative. They also had many different jobs. Some were preachers, some lawyers; some were military men, some hermits. They lived in different cultures and spoke different languages; but they all shared the main attributes of Holiness and Orthodoxy. And they all shared the belief of being an inheritor and protector of the revelation of God regarding His work of redemption through Jesus Christ. The entirety of their message was ‘The Good News’: “Christianity came into history as a fact. It was and is the fact of a new life given by God through Christ and in the name of Christ.” Yves Congar, 1968.
Preserving this Good News was important because within months of Christ’s death, there were those who were wishing to change that message – to make it more attractive to their listeners. Even in the New Testament there is evidence that the battle had already begun – but that’s best left for another “Did You Know” episode!
And so.... did YOU know who the ‘Church Fathers’ are, and what ‘Apostolic Authority’ is?
(We will meet some of them in person next week, and you’ll get to see them put their Apostolic Authority to good use!)
(Information obtained from “The Fathers of the Church” by Mike Aquilina)
Note: the above is a series of teachings on the Christian faith that I have put together for our Church's bulletin each week. They examine the history of what we believe, and are based on the historical writings. Susan Fox
Ashley and Susan
Two women asking the world to not just hope, but to hope in Love.