I am currently in the midst of a doctoral seminar on 2nd Century Patristic Literature. I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to have a glimpse at the early church through the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, and Clement of Rome. There is much of value in these writings. At this early stage you can see both clear consistencies with and equally clear departures from New Testament teachings. It is thus easier to see how certain medieval doctrines developed when looking at these early writings. Most striking is the strong Christocentricity of these post-apostolic writings. There is already a full-orbed Christology present, as well as a definite understanding of the Trinity (three distinct persons spoken of as divine).
Several months ago the Reformation 21 online magazine featured an article by my professor Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin titled “Why Study the Church Fathers?” I highly recommend this article as a motivation for studying the Early Church Fathers.
OK, now that you’re motivated you’re ready for the following resources:
- Early Christian Writings (Translated by Maxwell Staniforth) – A collection of primary sources with introductions to the texts. Features one of the best and most recent translations available. Contents include 1 Clement, the Epistles of Ignatius, the Epistle of Polycarp to the Phillipians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Epistle to Diognetus, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Didache.
- Early Christian Fathers (Edited and Translated by Cyril C. Richardson) – Another collection of primary sources with introductions to the texts. An older translation. Contents include all of the above and the pseudo 2 Clement, the First Apology of Justin, the Martyr, A Plea Regarding Christians by Athenagoras the Philosopher, and selections from Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyons.
- The Early Church by Henry Chadwick – A classic one volume history of the early church. Must have.
- The Birth of the Church by Ivor Davidson (The first volume in the very promising series “The Baker History of the Church”) – Traces the history of the church from AD 30 – 312, i.e. “From Jesus to Constantine”.
- The History of the Church by Eusebius – This is one of the foundational texts upon which all others build. Written in the fourth century, it focuses by necessity upon the first three centuries of the church. Fascinating.
- Second-Century Christianity by Robert M. Grant – This work features a collection of smaller fragments of primary source material from the 2nd century that are not normally included in other anthologies.
- Early Christian Doctrines by J. N. D. Kelly – Describes the development of key doctrines in their historical context. A great resource.
- Life and Practice in the Early Church by Steven A. McKinion – This volume is actually a documentary reader which arranges selections from key primary source texts according to their topic in order to trace a practice of the early church historically. A great contribution to the field by a SEBTS professor!
- 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part One: The Age of the Early Church Fathers by N. R. Needham – This first volume in a four volume history of the church by Dr. Needham focuses on the period of the early church. Features a nice arrangement of the material for a secondary source.
- The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) by Jaroslav Pelikan – Another work which traces the development of doctrine among the Early Church Fathers. This first volume of five features the master of such studies showing the development of key doctrines arranged topically.
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