Church History

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A Guide to Early Church Documents

1. New Testament Canonical Information

Canon of Scripture


2. The Apostolic Fathers

1st Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians [ca 96]: A formal letter written on behalf of the Roman Christian community urging Christians who had been rebelling against church authority to be submissive and obedient. Tradition attributes it to Clement, allegedly one of the first bishops of Rome.

2nd Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians [ca 150]: Sermon thought not to be the writing of Clement himself. Advocates sound view of Christ, the resurrection, and holiness unto God. Enter into battle against the ways of this world, work out salvation through strength in Christ.

The Epistle of Barnabas [ca 130]: This letter, probably not authored by the NT Barnabas, repudiates the claims of Jewish Christians at the time who advocated adhering to observance of the Mosiac Law. Argued that Christ provided salvation and man is no longer bound by the Law. Compares holy life to unrighteousness.

Didache (Teaching of the Lord through the Apostles): Eleventh century MS discovered by Philotheus Bryennios. The Didache consists of various parts, starting with the “Two Ways” ethical instruction (see Barn 18-21) and including community rules for liturgical practices and leadership conduct, before ending with a short apocalyptic section. While some of the material might go back before the year 100, the current form of the document is probably mid-second century at earliest.

The Shepherd of Hermas [ca. 150]: Written by Hermas, who is believed to be brother of Pius, the Bishop of Rome. The Shepherd of Hermas is an apocalyptic document (in the sense that it claims to be revealed), modelled after the Book of Revelation. It deals with practical matters of church purity and discipline in second century Rome.

The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians [ca 130?]: Polycarp was a church leader (bishop) in Smyrna, Asia Minor. Exhorted the Philippians to holy living, good works, steadfast faith. Interested in ministry and practical aspects of daily life of Christians.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp: The earliest preserved Christian martyrology, probably from the latter part of the second century (not too long after the event). Records the tradition of the trial and execution (burned at the stake) of Polycarp.

The Writings of Ignatius: Bishop of Antioch in Syria [ca 1-2 century] martyred in Rome by beasts (ca 105-116). On his way to Rome, he visits and then writes to various churches, warning and exhorting them. He also writes ahead to Rome, and writes to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. Warned the church against heresies that threatened peace and unity, opposed Gnosticism and Docetism. In the Epistle to Smyrna, insisted Christ came in the flesh not just in spirit.

To the Ephesians

To the Magnesians

To the Trallians

To the Romans

To the Philadelphians

To the Smyrnaeans

To Polycarp


3. Patristic Texts

The Epistle of Mathetes (Believer/Disciple) to Diognetus: This Apologetic treatise? written perhaps ca 200, presents a rational defense of Christianity and shows the folly of idolatry. The document also discusses Christian influence in the world.

Origen’s Contra Celsum Book 1 Book 2 Book 3 Book 4 Book 5 Book 6 Book 7 Book 8. Commentary from the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins.

Origen (ca AD 185-254): Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John. Commentary from the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins.

To the Martyrs (AD 197)

Spectacles (AD 197)

Prayer (AD 200)

Patience (AD 203)

The Apparel of Women (AD 197)

The Writings of Tertullian: Our earliest extensively preserved Latin Christian author [140-230], who aligned himself around 207 with the “Montanist” Christian movement that was considered “heretical” by the representatives of emerging mainstream Christianity.

The Writings of Cyprian: Cyprian [200-258] was the Overseer of the church in Carthage, Northa Africa, during a period of fierce persecution. After many years of persecution during which the church existed underground he was captured and executed by the Romans.

To Donatus
The Dress of Virgins
That Idols Are Not Gods
Jealousy and Envy
The Lapsed
The Lord’s Prayer
Exhortation to Martyrdom, to Fortunatus
The Good of Patience
The Unity of the Catholic Church
Works and Almsgiving
To Demetrian

Athanasius: On the Incarnation. Athanasius [270-336] was the overseer of Alexandria after the death of Alexander. He worte several theological treatises and was the chief defender of the Nicene Creed.

The Writings of Augustine: Augustine [354-430] was Overseer of the church at Hippo, North Africa, and is considered by many to be the father of western theology. Unlike earlier Christian writers, Augustine was not well-versed in the Greek Language. Thus, he did not use the Greek NT or the original texts of the early Christian writers as his sources but rather the Latin Vulgate and Latin translations of Greek texts.

The City of God

Confessions (translated by A.C. Outler)

Confessions (translated by E.B.Pusey)

Enchiridion (translated by A.C. Outler)

Dialectica (trans. J.Marchand)

Augustine on the Internet (James O’Donnell)

Papers by James J. O’Donnell on Augustine

Papers by participants in O’Donnell’s Augustine Seminar, UPenn

Augustine (IPB-e’s Augustine archive includes Confessions, The Enchiridion, and On Christian Doctrine)


4. Creeds And Canons

Creeds from the Bible (Statements of Faith)

Important Creeds of Christendom, from Reasoning with the Scripture Ministries

The Apostles Creed

Notes on the Apostles Creed

A version Biblical proofs for the Apostolic Creed, prepared by Steve Rindahl.

Nicene Creed: As approved by the Nicaean council (325 AD)

Nicene Creed: the Creed of Constantinople (381 AD)

Notes on the Nicene Creed

Notes on the Filioque Clause Controversy

The Church in the Nicene Creed

In The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom

The Definition of Chalcedon (451 AD)

The Athanasian Creed (c 500 AD)

Canons of the Council of Orange (529 AD)

Anathemas of the 2nd Council of Constantinople (533 AD)

Creeds and Statements from the period after 600 AD

Statement from the 3rd Council of Constantinople (681 AD)

Statement from the Synod of Constantinople (753 AD)

Confession from the Council of Nicea (787 AD)


5. Later Text

The Summa Theologica [1265/1266-1273] (translated by Fathers of the English Dominican): Aquinas’ classical exposition of the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. Aquinas is known for his development of a systematic theology based on reason and faith.

(Gregory of Nyssa) [ca 330-395] One of the Cappadocian Fathers. Deposed by Arian bishops in 376 because he supported the Nicene faith, but he regained his position win 378. His style was devotional and he tended toward spiritualizing.


6. Related Documents

Chronology Files from Paul Harvey

Chronology 1 to 199 AD

Chronology 200 to 640 AD

A Table of Canons of the Bible (Paul Harvey)

Lost Books of Early Christianity (R. Kraft)


7. Miscellaneous Documents

Herodotus’ (The History of Herodotus) [ca 440 BC]

Thucydides’ History Of The Peloponnesian War [ca 431 BC]

Biblical Resource Page: Philo of Alexandria [ca. 20-15 BC to 45-50 AD]

Plato’s Republic [ca 360 – 380 BC]

Plato’s Apology [ca 399 BC]

Plutarch’s Writings [ca 75 AD]

Plotinus’ Writings (The Six Enneads) [ca 250 AD]

Guide to Latin Texts on the Internet


8. Relevant Internet Sites 

The Church Fathers page, Wesley Center for Applied Theology, Northwest Nazarene College. 

CHURCHRODENT: R.A. Tatum’s Glossary of Church History 

The Early Church Fathers collection at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Wheaton College. 

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, a comprehensive project that includes Readings in Medieval History, Full Texts for Readings, etc. 

The Christian History Institute provides an ample archive of Church History documents for all periods of history in its Glimpses archive. Particularly germaine are two sections on Early Church History that include: Foundations of Our Faith, Whatever Happened to the Twelve Apostles?, The Spread of the Early Church, Accusation, The Canon, and biographical information on Polycarp, Constantine, Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Blandina, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Jerome.

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