THE CHURCH FATHERS: Were They Advocates of Bible Truth?

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The Church Fathers were prominent theologians and Christian philosophers who lived between the second and fifth centuries C.E. More broadly speaking, Robert M. Grant writes, “In Christian thought since the eighth century, a church father (pater ecclesiae) is a teacher living within the first seven centuries (eight among the Greeks) whose teaching the church has recognized as orthodox. The four basic requirements have been orthodox doctrine, the sanctity of life, agreement with the church, and antiquity. (For someone to be named a doctor of the church, outstanding learning is further required.)”[152]

Hippolytus of Rome
Hippolytus of Rome

Hippolytus of Rome: He is considered the most important third-century theologian in the Christian Church in Rome (170 – 236 C.E.). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church states, “Of his early life, nothing is known. The assertion of Photius that he was a disciple of St Irenaeus is doubtful. During the first decades of the 3rd century he must have been an important personality among the Roman presbyters; when Origen came to Rome (c. 212), he attended one of his sermons. Soon afterward Hippolytus took an active part in attacking the doctrines of Sabellius. He refused to accept the teaching of Pope Zephyrinus (198–217), and under his successor, Callistus (217–22), whom he rejected as a heretic, he seems to have allowed himself to be elected as a rival Bp. of Rome. He continued to attack Callistus’ successors, Urban (222–30) and Pontianus (230–5). In the persecution of the Emp. Maximin (235–8), however, he and Pontianus were exiled together to Sardinia, and it is very probable that before his death he was reconciled to the other party at Rome; for under Pope Fabian (236–50) his body with that of Pontianus was brought to Rome (236).”[153]

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The Oxford Dictionary continues, “A list of several of Hippolytus’ writings as well as his Easter tables were discovered on a statue, long thought to portray him, but now recognized as originally a female figure, perhaps personifying one of the sciences; it was found in Rome and heavily restored in 1551; it is now kept in the Vatican Library. Many other works are listed by Eusebius of Caesarea and St Jerome. Hippolytus’ principal work is his ‘Refutation of all Heresies’ (not listed on the statue). Books 4–10 of this were found in an MS on Mount Athos and published (together with the already known Book 1) under the title ‘Philosophumena’ in 1851 at Oxford by E. Miller, who attributed it to *Origin; but J. J. I. von Döllinger argued that its author was Hippolytus. Books 2–3 are lost. Its main aim is to show that the philosophical systems and mystery religions described in Books 1–4 are responsible for the heresies dealt with in the later Books.”[154]

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Origen of Alexandria and Caesarea
Origen of Alexandria and Caesarea

Origen of Alexandria and Caesarea: He was a scholar and early Christian theologian who spent the first half of his life and career in Alexandria. Origen was a prolific writer in such areas as theology, apologetics, textual criticism, biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, philosophical theology, preaching, and spirituality (184/185 – 253/254 C.E.). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church states,

He was born in Egypt, prob[ably] at Alexandria, where he received a thoroughly Christian education in the house of his parents. During the persecution in Alexandria in 202 when his father, Leonidas, was killed, he was prevented from seeking martyrdom only by a ruse of his mother, who hid his clothes. He taught in Alexandria and, when peace was restored, was recognized by Demetrius as head of the Catechetical School (q.v.), in place of Clement, who had fled the city. He now began to lead a strictly ascetical life of fastings, vigils, and voluntary poverty, and even, acc[ording] to Eusebius, mutilated himself, misinterpreting Mt. 19:12 in a literal sense. He was well versed in the works of the Middle Platonists and studied pagan philosophy and literature under Ammonius Saccas. He undertook several journeys, one to Rome, where he heard a sermon of St Hippolytus, and one to Arabia. When, in 215, troubles broke out in Alexandria in connection with a visit of the Emp. Caracalla, he went to Palestine, where he was asked to preach by the Bps. of Caesarea and Aelia. As he was only a layman, this was regarded as a breach of the Alexandrian ecclesiastical discipline, in consequence of which he was recalled by his bishop, Demetrius. From c. 218 to 230, he devoted himself almost without interruption to literary activities. In 230, he went again to Palestine, where he was ordained priest by the same bishops who had invited him to preach on his previous visit. As a consequence Bp. Demetrius deprived him of his chair and deposed him from the priesthood, more because of the irregularity of his ordination than, as later opponents asserted, for doctrinal reasons. Origen left Alexandria and found a refuge at Caesarea (231), where he established a school, which soon became famous, and where he continued his literary work and devoted himself to preaching. In 250, in the persecution of Decius, he was imprisoned and subjected to prolonged torture, which he survived only a few years.[155]

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Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea

Eusebius of Caesarea:[156] He was likely born in Palestine about 260 C.E. and died about 340 C.E. When he was quite young, Eusebius befriended Pamphilus, an overseer of the church in Caesarea. He would join the theological school of Pamphilus, becoming an exceptional student. He is regarded as an exceptionally well learned Christian of his time, making a meticulous use of Pamphilus’ magnificent library. He would later refer to himself as “Eusebius of Pamphilus.”

Concerning his ambitions, Eusebius stated, “It is my purpose to write an account of the successions of the holy apostles, as well as of the times which have elapsed from the days of our Saviour to our own; and to relate the many important events which are said to have occurred in the history of the Church; and to mention those who have governed and presided over the Church in the most prominent parishes and those who in each generation have proclaimed the divine word either orally or in writing.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1.1.1)

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Eusebius is known for his highly regarded work entitled History of the Christian Church. Ten volumes were published about 324 C.E., and the work has long been considered the most important ecclesiastical history from that era. Because of this achievement, Eusebius is known as the father of church history.

Aside from Church History, Eusebius penned The Chronicle, which was divided into two parts. The first volume, the Chronography, was an epitome of universal history from the sources, arranged according to nations. In the fourth century, it became the standard text for referencing world chronology. The second volume, the Canons, showed dates of historical events. Using parallel columns, Eusebius displayed the successive royalty of different nations.

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Eusebius went on to write two other historical works, Martyrs of Palestine and Life of Constantine. The Martyrs of Palestine covers the years 303-310 C.E. and discusses martyrs of that period. Eusebius would have lived through these events. The Life of Constantine was published in four books after Emperor Constantine had died in 337 C.E. These volumes contained important historical details. Instead of being a history, it is principally a eulogy.

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Eusebius read and referred to an enormous number of books in his eighty years. Without Eusebius’ work, we would have little or no knowledge of many prominent persons of the first three centuries after Christ. He has given us accounts that have shed light on important movements. These are from sources to which we have no access. He was hard-working, meticulous, and thorough in his gathering of material. Eusebius seems to have cautiously made an effort to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy reports. However, we would be mistaken if we thought about his work without error. On occasion, he misjudges and even misunderstands men and their actions. His chronology is sometimes inaccurate. Eusebius let his biases show at times as well. Regardless of obvious imperfections, however, his many works are viewed as a priceless treasure.

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Other Church Fathers Honorably Mentioned

Hilary of Poitiers: (c. 310 – c. 367 C.E.) Overseer of Poitiers and a Doctor of the Church.

Lucifer of Cagliari: (d. c. 371) Overseer of Cagliari in Sardinia.

Athanasius of Alexandria: (c. 296–298 – 373) The twentieth Overseer of Alexandria.

Ephrem the Syrian: (c. 306 – 373 C.E.) He served as the Syriac Overseer and was a prolific writer.

Gregory of Nazianzus: (c. 329 –390 C.E.) Fourth-century Archbishop of Constantinople, and theologian.

Gregory of Nyssa: (c. 335 – c. 395) Overseer of Nyssa.

Ambrose of Milan: (c. 340 – 4 397 C.E.) Overseer of Milan.

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[152] Robert M. Grant, “Church Fathers,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999–2003), 521.

[153] F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 778.

[154] Ibid., 778

[155] Ibid., 1200

[156] IMAGE is from Public Domain,

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