The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 - Vol. 1

The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 - Vol. 1

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The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 - Vol. 1

The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 - Vol. 1

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Excerpt

[A.D. 100-200.] The Apostolic Fathers are here understood as filling up the second century of our era. Irenæus, it is true, is rather of the sub-apostolic period; but, as the disciple of Polycarp, he ought not to be dissociated from that Father's company. We thus find ourselves conducted, by this goodly fellowship of witnesses, from the times of the apostles to those of Tertullian, from the martyrs of the second persecution to those of the sixth. Those were times of heroism, not of words; an age, not of writers, but of soldiers; not of talkers, but of sufferers. Curiosity is baffled, but faith and love are fed by these scanty relics of primitive antiquity. Yet may we well be grateful for what we have. These writings come down to us as the earliest response of converted nations to the testimony of Jesus. They are primary evidences of the Canon and the credibility of the New Testament. Disappointment may be the first emotion of the student who comes down from the mount where he has dwelt in the tabernacles of evangelists and apostles: for these disciples are confessedly inferior to the masters; they speak with the voices of infirm and fallible men, and not like the New-Testament writers, with the fiery tongues of the Holy Ghost. Yet the thoughtful and loving spirit soon learns their exceeding value. For who does not close the records of St. Luke with longings to get at least a glimpse of the further history of the progress of the Gospel? What of the Church when its founders were fallen asleep? Was the Good Shepherd "always" with His little flock, according to His promise? Was the Blessed Comforter felt in His presence amid the fires of persecution? Was the Spirit of Truth really able to guide the faithful into all truth, and to keep them in the truth?

And what had become of the disciples who were the first-fruits of the apostolic ministry? St. Paul had said, "The same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." How was this injunction realized? St. Peter's touching words come to mind, "I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance." Was this endeavour successfully carried out? To these natural and pious inquiries, the Apostolic Fathers, though we have a few specimens only of their. fidelity, give an emphatic reply. If the cold-hearted and critical find no charm in the simple, childlike faith which they exhibit, ennobled though it be by heroic devotion to the Master, we need not marvel. Such would probably object: "They teach me nothing; I do not relish their multiplied citations from Scripture." The answer is, "If you are familiar with Scripture, you owe it largely to these primitive witnesses to its Canon and its spirit. By their testimony we detect what is spurious, and we identify what is real. Is it nothing to find that your Bible is their Bible, your faith their faith, your Saviour their Saviour, your God their God?" Let us reflect also, that, when copies of the entire Scriptures were rare and costly, these citations were "words fitly spoken, -- apples of gold in pictures of silver." We are taught by them also that they obeyed the apostle's precept, " Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing," etc. Thus they reflect the apostolic care that men should be raised up able to teach others also.

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