The Teachers of the Church (Part 1)

 

The History of Christianity #44

Our Scripture verse today is Matthew 28:20 which reads: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Our quote today is from Clement of Alexandria. He said: “Ours is the great Teacher of all wisdom, and the whole world, including Athens and Greece, belongs to Him.”

Today, we are looking at “The Teachers of the Church” (Part 1) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

During the early decades of the life of the church, most of what Christians wrote addressed a concrete problem or specific issue. This is true, for instance, of the Pauline Epistles, each of which was prompted by a particular circumstance, and in none of which Paul attempts to discuss the entire body of Christian doctrine. After the apostolic age, the same was true for a while. The various writers of that period whose work has been preserved are given the joint title of apostolic fathers, and each of their writings deals with very specific issues. This is the case of the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch, to which we have already referred. Likewise, late in the first century, Clement of Rome wrote an Epistle to the Corinthians, prompted by problems similar to those which Paul had already addressed in his letters to the same church. The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles – not really written by them, but by an unknown Christian at an uncertain time and place – is a manual of discipline giving guidelines for Christian life and worship. The Shepherd of Hermas, written by a brother of the bishop of Rome in the middle of the second century, deals mostly with the forgiveness of sins after baptism. In summary, all the writings of the so-called apostolic fathers deal with a single issue, and none of them seeks to expound the totality of Christian doctrine. The same is true of Justin and the other apologists who wrote in the second half of the second century. Most of their writings deal with the issue of persecution. And none of them looks at the totality of Christian doctrine.

But toward the end of the second century the challenge of Marcion and the Gnostics required a different response. The heretics had created their own systems of doctrine, and to this the church at large had to respond by having some of its teachers offer equally cogent expositions of orthodox belief. Precisely because the speculations of the heretics were vast in scope, the response of Christian teachers was equally vast. This gave rise to the first writings in which one can find a fairly complete exposition of Christian truth. There are the works of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen.

Next time, we will look at The Teachers of the Church: Irenaeus of Lyons.

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