Assorted thoughts and reflections based on a recent read of The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, 3rd edition (2013) by Mike Aquilina, presented in no particular order:
St. Justin Martyr recorded what Christians were doing around 150 CE in their Sunday worship services. It’s impressive how, two thousand years later, how much of that same liturgy is, in broad strokes, preserved and continued in the modern Church. In terms of form and structure, the basic Catholic mass liturgy is probably the closest thing there is today to what early Christians were doing (except in a much more spartan buildings and accommodations, most likely).
A major theme of the first century Fathers was organizing, justifying, and defending the emerging bureaucratic hierarchy, especially with bishops as mini-princes to their dioceses. St. Ignatius, especially, was saying that bishops should be obeyed because of their place of high honor and holiness. I wonder how much of this was widespread belief OR was this just a particular paranoid bishop trying to assert as much authority as he could get away with OR was this a bishop seeing obedience around a common leader as the most likely way to prevent schism?
Early Christian persecution from the Romans wasn’t necessarily motivated by their beliefs. They didn’t much care what you believed, as long as you paid taxes and swore allegiance to Caesar. But the Christians did not want to swear allegiance to anyone but Jesus, so the Romans would occasionally make an example of a bishop or other prominent Christian. This is what they did with the leader of any religious group that began to make noise and threaten the status quo.
The early Fathers justified their authority by saying, basically, “well, we heard it directly from the Apostles and they heard it directly from Jesus, so we have a correct understanding of what they wanted.” Temporal proximity to Jesus was a strong basis of authority.
Much of early Christian orthodoxy was considered and expressed through either the prevailing Hebrew and Greek language/worldview over the first few centuries. It inherited monotheism from the Hebrews and ideas of Heaven and dualism from the Greeks. I’ve come over a number of years to accept the idea that Christianity (and all human religion) is historically contextual and contingent. In this case, how much of Christian orthodoxy is simply Jewish ideas expressed with Christian language? Or Greek ideas expressed with Christian language? Is it ultimately possible to disentangle the two?
I hadn’t appreciated just how much the Arian controversy led to the Council of Nice. I know a general overview of Arianism and the historical controversy, but I’m going to do more research on this important event.
These are the early Fathers that I’m going to make a point to learn more about (or at least feel like I should have a better handle on their thoughts and arguments):
- Aristides – how to explain Christianity to a Greek worldview?
- Irenaeus – a comprehensive articulation of early Christian orthodoxy
- Clement of Alexandria – “philosophy is the handmaiden of theology”
- Origen – I have a soft spot in my heart for the well-meaning heretics.
- Arius and the Arian controversy – another well-meaning heretic that I want to understand better
- Gregory of Nyssa – one of the earliest Christian mystics!
- Cyril of Jerusalem – an early focus on the loving character of God
- Cyril of Alexandria – trinitarianism and how it transforms us
- Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite – more early Christian mysticism