Early church fathers passionately worked to proclaim the gospel, protect the truth regarding Jesus, and establish Christian doctrine. None were perfect, some are well known, others are lost to history.
Though the early church fathers helped formulate theology which most Christians would agree with today, some also had ideas that would be considered foreign or even incorrect today. By studying the early church fathers we can learn a great deal about history, how early leaders sought to apply the gospel, and how the church was treated. To learn the truth about Jesus, however, we should stick to the Bible itself.
Usually, church historians group early church fathers into three categories.
The apostolic fathers
The apostolic fathers, such as Clement of Rome, generally knew and learned from the apostles. Linus, mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21, became the bishop of Rome. Clement succeeded him. We have no writings from Linus, but Clement's writings survived. Polycarp, another apostolic father, may have known and followed John, who is thought to have died in Ephesus about AD 98. Most apostolic fathers lived and died in the first century and the very early portions of the second.
Apostolic fathers sought to share the same gospel message which the apostles shared. They were zealous in evangelism, guarded the truth of the gospel carefully, and carried out what became orthodox Christianity by following the apostles' teaching.
The ante-Nicene fathers
These church leaders were the first generation of people who didn't necessarily have close ties with people who knew Jesus. They focused on battling false doctrine and defending what came to be known as orthodox Christianity. They protected the writings of the apostles, including the Gospels. Among these leaders were Irenaeus, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr. They lived and taught from the beginning of the second century until the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.
The post-Nicene fathers
These leaders came after the Council of Nicaea. They battled heresy and developed theology. These church leaders became somewhat entangled and bogged down in arcane theological arguments and discussions. Because they were so enamored with details, many lost sight of their New Testament charge to share the gospel.
Among these leaders are Augustine, the bishop of Hippo who is often called the father of the Roman Catholic Church; Chrysostom, "the golden-mouthed;" Eusebius, the writer of church history from Jesus' birth to the Council of Nicaea; Jerome, who translated the New Testament from Greek to the Latin Vulgate; and Ambrose who led Augustine to Christ.
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