Early Christians

Biographical sketches of some early Christians whose writings are not in the New Testament up to 313 A.D.

edited by Robert Nguyen Cramer (version 3.2.16)

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DATES (A.D.) Clement of Rome Ignatius of Antioch Papias Polycarp of Smyrna Justin Martyr Tatian Athenagorus Irenaeus Clement of Alexandria Tertullian Hippolytus Origen Cyprian Dionysius of Alexandria Arnobius Lactantius
Life-span ?-101 35-110 60-130 69-155 100-165 120-? 2nd C 130-202 150-215 155-250 170-245 180-255 ?-258 ?-264 ?-330 260-330
Became a Christian ? ? ? ? 130 155 ? 130 ? ? ? 180 246 ? ? 300
Known writings 92-101 ? 130 105-? 160-? 160-? 176-180 180-? 195-? 196-212 200-? 248-? 248-258 262-? 305-? 310-?
Martyred? no martyred no martyred martyred martyred no no no no martyred tortured martyred no no no



Clement of Rome (?-101 AD), Western Church
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Clement was the Bishop of Rome from 88 to 97 A.D., during the reigns of Linus and Anacletus. If he is the same "Clement" mentioned in Phi 4:3, then Clement of Rome was also one of Paul's cherished fellow-workers. According to tradition, Clement was ordained by Peter. 1 Clement is believed to be his authentic letter to the church in Corinth to address factions that were arising there. 2 Clement is a homily believed to have been written in Clement's name but by another author after Clement's lifetime.

We ask thee, Lord, to be our helper and assister, save those of us who are in affliction, have compassion on the humble, raise the fallen, appear to those who are in need, heal the sinners, convert those of thy people who are wandering from the way, feed the hungry, ransom our prisoners, raise up the sick, encourage the feeble-hearted, let all the nations know that thou art God alone and Jesus Christ thy Son, and that we are thy people and the sheep of thy pasture (1Clement 59:4)

Give unity and peace both to us and to all that dwell upon the earth, as thou gavest to our fathers when they called upon thee with faith and truth, so that we should become obedient to thy all-powerful and most excellent name, and to those who rule and govern us upon the earth. (1Clement 60:4)


Ignatius of Antioch (35-110 AD), Eastern Church
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Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch. He is believed to have been taught by one or more of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. After Ignatius was arrested and while being transported to Rome to be martyred in the Colosseum, he wrote seven letters, six letters to churches (Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna) and one letter to Polycarp.


Papias (60-130 AD), Eastern Church
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Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, Asia Minor. As a student of the apostle John, he is considered on of the apostolic fathers, and he was also a friend of Polycarp. Rachel M. Pratt (Mary Baker Eddy Mentioned Them, Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1961, page 162-163) writes:

Papias, a contemporary of Polycarp, was bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia. He has been called "the first writer of distinction of the Apostolic times" and was among the first to collect facts concerning Christ Jesus' life and words from those who had known him or his disciples. The results of his investigations Papias set forth in a work entitled variously "Interpretations of the Lord's Sayings," or, "Expositions of the Lord's Oracles."

Papias' work was lost, but both Eusebius and Irenaeus have preserved fragments of his writing. From these fragments we learn that the daughters of the Apostle Philip lived in Hierapolis and told Papias of two miracles performed in Philip's time, one that of a man raised from the dead.

In his Preface, Papias said: "Nor shall I hesitate to relate to you, in addition to my expositions, whatever I have at any time learned from the Presbyters, having intrusted it carefully to my memory and vouching for its truth. For I did not care, as many do, for those who have much to say, but rather for such as have actual facts to give us; ... those precepts only which the Lord has committed to believers, and which emanate therefore from the truth itself."

The earliest traditions concerning the origin of the Gospels were preserved by Papias. He tells us that "Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrews [Aramaic] language, and everyone interpreted [translated into Greek] them as he was able." Papias relates a story he found in the gospel, according to the Hebrews, of a woman "accused before the Lord of many sins." The narrative illustrated the Master's "absolute purity in dealing with sin and his tender compassion to the sinner."

Papias bears witness: "Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order... He took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements."

Papias quoted from John's first epistle and may in his boyhood have heard the apostle.

Eusebius terms Papias "most learned in all things, and well acquainted with the Scriptures."


Polycarp (69-155 AD), Eastern Church
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Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna and is considered one of the apostolic fathers. He was the leading Christian figure in the Roman province of Asia in the middle of the second century A.D. In Ephesus he was a disciple of the Apostle John, who appointed him to be Bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp's teaching of Jesus' pre-existence and incarnation are indicative of John's influence. He vigorously fought heretics such as the Marcionites and Valentinians. A letter addressed to him by Ignatius has survived, as well as his own Epistle to the Philippians, which is important for its testimony to the New Testament. He visited Rome towards the end of his life. Soon after his return to Smyrna he was arrested by soldier. He treated them and the Roman proconsul graciously, even lovingly. Refusing to recant his faith and while being threatened with imminent brutal martyrdom, he even calmly offered to teach Christianity to the proconsul who was threatening him. After the huge crowd went on a rampage, Polycarp finally was burned at the stake. The Martyrium Polycarpi (Martyrdom of Polycarp) gives an account of his trial and martyrdom, which is the basis for David Bercot's detailed description of Polycarp's martyrdom in Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up (Tyler, TX: Scroll Publishing, 1999, pages 1-4). Rachel M. Pratt (Mary Baker Eddy Mentioned Them, Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1961, page 171) writes:

When the persecution of the Christians began in Smyrna, his friends, in an effort to save him, twice removed Polycarp to farms outside the city. But one night armed soldiers awoke him in his hiding place. After greeting them and ordering refreshments for them, he requested an hour for prayer. This was granted, and he was then led to the city. Friends and even the proconsul pleaded with him that he swear by Caesar and thus be spared. But Polycarp replied: "No. Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he hath never wronged me." When threatened by beasts, he said: "Let them come. I cannot change from good to bad."

David Bercot (Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up., page 4) comments:

By burning Polycarp, the people of Smyrna thought they would blot out his name forever and bring an end to the hated superstition called Christianity. But like the proconsul, they grossly underestimated the vitality and conviction of the Christians. Rather than intimidating other Christians, the death of Polycarp inspired them. Rather than disappearing, Christianity grew.



Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), Eastern Church
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Justin Martyr was a Palestinian philosopher who was converted to Christianity, which he described as "the only sure and worthy philosophy." He traveled to Rome where he wrote several apologies against both pagans and Jews, combining Greek philosophy and Christian theology. He was eventually martyred.


Tatian (120-? AD), Eastern Church
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Tatian was a disciple of Justin Martyr and a Christian apologist. His most famous work is the Diatessaron, a harmony of the Gospels. He originally wrote it in Greek, but he himself also translated it into Syriac. After the death of Justin Martyr, Tatian became a leader of the non-orthodox Encratite sect. The quote below is from his orthodox period.


Athenagorus (2nd century, AD), Eastern Church
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Athenagorus was a Christian apologist who had been a Greek philosopher from Athens before his conversion. His apology, A Plea Regarding Christians, was presented to Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus about 177 AD and sought to rebut the current accusations that Christians practiced atheism, incest, and cannibalism.


Irenaeus of Lyon (130/135-200/202 AD), Eastern and Western Church
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Irenaeus was bishop of the church at Lyons, Gaul (modern-day France). When he was a boy, Irenaeus had heard Polycarp teach. From this, it is generally supposed that Irenaeus was a native of Smyrna. In 190, Irenaeus wrote to Victor, bishop of Rome, pleading tolerance for the Christians of Asia Minor who celebrated Easter on a different day than did Rome. He is classified as both Eastern and Western, since he was from an Eastern background but ministered in the West. His Adversus Omnes Haereses is a detailed attacks on Gnosticism, especially the systems of Valentinus, and on the millenarianism, which was popular in Montanist circles.


Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), Eastern Church
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Clement was a highly educated Christian convert from paganism and a pioneer of Christian scholarship. He became a Christian teacher at Alexandria, Egypt, and in 190 succeeded Pantaenus as head of the catechetical school there. Origen was one of his pupils. In his largest extant work, Miscellanies, Clement attempted unsuccessfully to wrest the term "gnostic" (one who knows) away from heretics and give it a Christian meaning. In 202 Clement was forced by persecution to flee. His main works, Protrepticus, the Paedagogus, and the Stromateis, brought Christian doctrine face to face with the ideas and achievements of his time. He agreed with the Gnostics in holding 'gnosis' or religious knowledge to be the chief element in Christian perfection, but for him the only true 'gnosis' was that which presupposed the faith of the Church. Christ, the Logos, was both the source of human reason and the interpreter of God to mankind. He became a man in order to give a supreme revelation, and through Him men might partake of immortality.


Tertullian (155/160-225/250 AD), Western Church
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Tertullian was a brilliant, fiery Christian apologist and polemicist writer in Carthage, North Africa. He was brought up as a pagan and may have practiced law. As a Christian writer he laid the foundations of Christology and trinitarian orthodoxy in the West. He may have been an ordained presbyter. He wrote numerous apologies, works against heretics, and exhortations to other Christians -- nearly all of which are in Latin. Near the beginning of the third century, he came under the influence of the Montanist sect. Around 211, he seems to have left the church to join an ascetic Montanist congregation, although this is not certain. The Montanist sect differed from the church primarily on matters of discipline, not theological doctrines. Some believe that Tertullian's estrangement from the main church was due to the church's laxity.


Hippolytus (170-236/245 A.D.), Western Church
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Believed to have come from Palestine, Hippolytus was a leading presbyter in the church in Rome near the beginning of the third century. He was personally familiar with Origen. He attacked the theology and discipline of two Roman bishops, Zephyrinus and Callistus, and apparently led a schism in the Roman church for a while. His principal work was the Refutation of All Heresies. Among other works, he also wrote commentaries on Daniel, the Song of songs, and other sacred texts. In the persecution of Emperor Maximin, Hippolytus and Pope Pontianus (230-235) were both exiled to Sardinia. The bodies of both were brought back to Rom in 236. He had died a martyr.


Origen (185-255 A.D.), Eastern Church
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Origen was an Influential exegete and systematic theologian. He was raised a Christian and became a pupil of Clement of Alexandria. He later was appointed by Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, to succeed Clement as head of the catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt. Origen has been called the "father of Christian theology." He also was the most prolific writer of the pre-Nicene church, dictating around two thousand works. He wrote not only doctrinal and apologetic works, but also commentaries on most of the books of the Bible. Many of his teachings reflect brilliant spiritual insights. On the other hand, some of his teachings are considered non-orthodox. He was condemned by the orthodox church for maintaining the preexistence of souls while denying the resurrection of the body, the literal truth of Scripture and the equality of the Father and the Son in the Trinity.

When trouble broke out in Alexandria in 215, traveled to Palestine. His preaching there as a layman was regarded as a breach of Alexandrian ecclesiastical discipline and he was recalled. In 230 he went to Palestine again on church interests and was ordained as a presbyter by the bishop of Caesarea, who had invited him to preach on his previous visit. This led to a great controversy with his bishop in Alexandria, who deprived him of his chair at the catechetical school, deposed him from the priesthood, dismissed him from the church in Alexandria, and exiled him. He found refuge in Caesarea (231), where he established a school which became famous. Origin spent the remainder of his life at Caesarea in Palestine as a presbyter, where he publicly preached and taught. Though not martyred, he was imprisoned and tortured. He eventually died as a confessor (one who suffered for confessing his/her faith), having endured excruciating tortures during the Decian persecution.

Origin was a prolific writer. His main work on biblical criticism was his famous Hexapla. His chief theological work is De Prinipiis, which covers a wide range of doctrinal topics. His two ascetical works, Exhortation to Martyrdom and On Prayer, were much read in antiquity. He also wrote an apologetic work against Celsus.

As a biblical scholar, Origin recognized a triple sense -- literal, moral, and allegorical -- of which he favored the last. This point of departure of his doctrinal teaching was faith in the unity of God. This unity in its fullest sense is understood of God the Father, and for Origen the Son is divine only in a lesser sense than the Father. He affirmed that creation was eternal and that all spirits were created equal, that death is not the final, and that it is the fate of all to be saved.


Cyprian (?-258 A.D.), Western Church
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Cyprian (Thascius Caecilianus Cyprianus) had been a pagan rhetorician at the time he converted to Christianity in 246. Within two years he was elected Bishop of Carthage, North Africa. When the Decian persecution began in 249, he was forced to flee and work underground. When he returned to Carthage in 251, he was opposed to the easy reconciliation of Christians who had lapsed or secured libelli pacis, certificates purchased from the civil authorities stating that they had sacrificed to pagan idols, when in fact no such sacrifice had been made. Two church councils (251 and 252) decided that they should be reconciled only after suitable penance and delay. Meanwhile the schism of Novatian arising out of the question of the lapsed, gave rise to the controversy over rebaptism Cyprian demanded the rebaptism of the schismatics on the ground that no one outside the Church could administer her Sacraments. The Church at Rome held that both schismatics and heretics could validly administer baptism. Persecution cut short the dispute. Cyprian was eventually captured by the Romans and was martyred by execution in 258.


Dionysius of Alexandria (?-264 A.D.), Eastern Church
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Dionysius, a pupil of Origen in the catechetical school in Alexandria, later became head of that school and in 247 became Bishop of Alexandria. He fled from the city during the Decian persecution and was banished in that of Valerian (257). He took part in various important controversies. He decided to readmit to the Church those who had lapsed under persecution and, with Pope Stephen, not to rebaptize heretics and schismatics. He wrote against Saballianism and opposed Paul of Samosata, but he himself was accused of tritheism by Dionysius of Rome.


Arnobius (?-330 A.D.), Eastern Church
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Having been a well-known pagan teacher of rhetoric at Sicca, North Africa, and an outspoken opponent of Christianity, Arnobius himself converted to Christianity. His work, Adversus Nationes, defended the consonance of the Christian religion with the best pagan philosophy.


Lactantius (260-330 A.D), Western Church
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In 300 when Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius converted to Christianity, he was deprived of his post as Roman teacher of rhetoric at Nicomedia. In his later years he was summoned to Gaul (modern-day France) by Emperor Constantine to tutor his son Crispus. As a Christian apologist, his Divinae Institutiones seeks to commend Christianity to men of letters and for the first time to set out in Latin a systematic account of the Christian attitude to life. The De Mortibus Persecutorum describes the deaths of the the persecutors of the Church.


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Copyright 1996-2003 Robert Nguyen Cramer