This week I went though an introductory work on the patristic fathers by Cyril Richardson and it was the best! A must read for anyone interested in the works of the early fathers and that in its proper context.
In my opinion this unabridged, one-volume, 350 page book is the best introductory piece out.
Richardson goes through each of the early fathers beginning with (Clement of Rome, Igantius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, the Didache Athenagoras, Diognetius, and Ireneaus), gives brief background information including dates and context in which they were written and then presents the actual writings with footnote commentary.
Richardson also has a section before each chapter devoted to scholarly resources.
There a many great things to learn from this book and we get to see how the church survived attack after attack from both the state, Jews, and heretics. The main theme that stood out to me was the emphasis on obeying our bishops, presbytery and deacons (pg. 20, 62, 88, 95, 98, 115, etc) and the central theme of the unity of the church. Another interesting point is that many of the letters were addressed to the magistrate and were treatises on why the magistrate should recognize Christianity as a viable religion and defenses on the philosophical truisms in Christianity. Also many of them had to defend caricatures being placed on them by others so that they can persecute them some being “atheists, cannibals, and incest perpetrators. I think Christians would do well to write to their magistrates to giving a defense on certain issues that the early fathers didn’t have to battle.
Here are some of the quotes that I loved:
[Concerning early Christianity and the missionary activities] “The spread of the new [Christian] faith naturally followed the great trade routes and was centered in the cities” –Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, pg. 20
[in speaking about the OT prophets Ignatius writes:] “The divine prophets themselves lived Christ Jesus’ way. That is why they were persecuted, for they were inspired by his grace to convince unbelievers that God is one, and that he has revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ, who is his Word issuing from the silence and who won the complete approval of him who sent him” to the Magnesians 8:1
[The infamous Polycarp trial] “But the proconsul was insistent and said: “Take the oath, and I shall release you. Curse Christ.” Polycarp said: “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?… And again [he said] to him, “I shall have you consumed with fire, if you despise the wild beasts, unless you change your mind.” But Polycarp said: “The fire you threaten burns but an hour and is quenched after a little; for you do not know the fire of the coming judgment and everlasting punishment that is laid up for the impious. But why do you delay? Come, do what you will.””- Letter of the Church of Smyrna to the Church of Philomeliu, Richardson, ECF, pg. 112-113
[In the Didache or the Teaching there are multiple ethical commands based off the Old Testament code which are not found in the New Testament, thus the ethics of the Early Church was theonomic because they wanted a fully orbed view on ethics] “The second commandment of the Teaching: “Do not murder; do not commit adultery”; do not corrupt boys; do not fornicate; “do not steal”; do not practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a new-born infant. “Do not covet your neighbor’s property; do not commit perjury; do not bear false witness”;483 do not slander; do not bear grudges. Do not be double-minded or double-tongued, for a double tongue is “a deadly snare.”484Your words shall not be dishonest or hollow, but substantiated by action. Do not be greedy or extortionate or hypocritical or malicious or arrogant. Do not plot against your neighbor. Do not hate anybody; but reprove some, pray for others, and still others love more than your own life.” –Richardson, pg. 125 (Taken from Didache)
[Some superstition is definitely present in the document but we also see that baptism doesn’t necessarily have to be done via immersion as Baptist claim.] “Now about baptism: this is how to baptize. Give public instruction on all these points, and then “baptize” in running water, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If you do not have running water, baptize in some other. If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.” –Ricahrdson, pg. 127 (taken from Didache)
[on monergistic regeneration and salvation] “For he took pity on us and in his tenderness saved us, since he saw our great error and ruin, and that we had no hope of salvation unless it came from him. For he called us when we were nothing, and willed our existence from nothing…Thus it was that the Christ willed to save what was perishing; and he saved many when he came and called us who were actually perishing” –Anonymous sermon, commonly called Clements’ second epistle, Richardson, pg. 138
[On the righteousness of Christ being necessary for our justification; granted they haven’t formed a category distinction between active and passive] “For what else could cover our sins except his righteousness? In whom could we, lawless and impious as we were, be made righteous except in the Son of God alone? O sweetest exchange! O unfathomable work of God! O blessings beyond all expectation! The sinfulness of many is hidden in the Righteous One, while the righteousness of the One justifies the many that are sinners” –Epistle to Diognetus 9:4,5 from Richardson, pg. 157
The main theme of the First Apology of Justin Martyr is “by more detailed exposition of Old Testament texts, to show that Christians are the true heirs of the promises made to Israel” –Richardson, pg. 164
[On Sunday Sabbath] “We all hold this common gathering on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God transforming darkness and matter made the universe, and Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead on the same day.” –Justin First Apology, from Richardson, pg. 200
Overall this was an amazing book and I gave it a 5/5 stars!
Find the book on Amazon by clicking the picture or get the free PDF version from CCEL.org>> http://www.ccel.org/ccel/richardson/fathers.pdf