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The Ante-Nicene Period of early Christianity was the era following the Apostolic Age of the 1st century down to the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. During this time, the Church was subjected to severe persecutions from without, and damaging heresies from within. As Christianity spread westward, the life of the Christian Church became molded by Roman methods of government, law and order, a process that resulted in Catholicism, and paved the way for Christianity to become the official state religion. During the Apostolic Era, there was no special priesthood, or separation of Christians into clergy and laity. Apostles, prophets, teachers and other gifted men were on the same spiritual level as the average Christian, all having access to God through faith. By the close of the first Christian century, a change occurred in the Church. Christians began to desire a more specific order, and safeguards against heresy. The Church began to elect leaders, to adopt rules of conduct beyond those taught by Christ and the Apostles. A class of Christians known as clergy began to form. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, another change occurred. Rather than government by a group of elders, local churches began to be headed by single officials, usually known as bishops. The bishop alone had a right to preach, teach and administer the Sacraments. Every church was required to have a bishop, and every Christian was under a bishop. The prominent leaders of the Church during this period were known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers, and ten volumes of their writings were collected and translated into several languages. The Ante-Nicene Fathers agreed on most doctrinal issues, while early Christian writers who disagreed with the majority were considered heretical. The Ante-Nicene Fathers tried to stay true to the gospel, but they had to deal with several spurious writings claiming to have the same weight as the established writings of Paul, Peter and Luke.



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Who Were The Ante-Nicene Fathers & Why Were They Important?

ante-nicene fathers

The New Testament that we read today is based on the original Greek text, based on a large number of ancient manuscripts. None of these manuscripts were originals, and the large majority of them are copies of copies. While they were derived from the originals, errors are sure to occur in the process of copying, particularly since it had to be done by hand.

The Greek New Testament was published for the first time in written form in the 16th century. Erasmus of Rotterdam established his text from a handful of manuscripts dating from the later Middle Ages, some of which were later found to be inferior. As he was lacking portions of the text, he re-translated them from the current Latin versions. The leaders of the Protestant Reformation used his version to produce vernacular translations of their own.

It wasn't until the 19th century that a number of superior manuscripts became available, dating from the 4th and 5th centuries, earlier than what had been available previously.

The evidence of the earlier manuscripts have demonstrated that, while there were surely errors in earlier translations, few major doctrinal issues were in dispute between translations, although there are always issues of interpretation.

However, there are no original manuscripts from any Biblical author, even outside of those that were included in the canon. While there are several extra-biblical manuscripts, some claiming apostolic authorship, none of these are original manuscripts either, and actual authorships are in doubt.

Questions of interpretation might be answered by those who knew, or studied under the apostles, by those who were members of the original church, and those in the first generations of the Christian church, many of whom have published works relating to their understanding of the Scriptures and the life of the early church. These people are known as the ante-Nicene Fathers.

The ante-Nicene Fathers are those who came after the apostles, up until the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. Their testimonies are important because many, such as Clement of Rome and Polycarp, were personally acquainted with the apostles of Jesus. Others were approved by the apostles, and appointed to positions of leadership in the church by the apostles.

It is largely through their published writings that we know who wrote the various New Testament documents, how the Christian canon came into being, and the way in which the early church interpreted the New Testament scriptures.

The ante-Nicene Fathers were the leaders of the early Christian church, leading the church after the time of the apostles, and they wrote volumes, much of which has survived until today.

The ante-Nicene Fathers were, in alphabetical order:

  • Alexander of Alexandria
  • Apollonarius
  • Archelaus
  • Aristides
  • Aristo of Pella
  • Arius
  • Arnobius
  • Athenagoras
  • Bardesanes
  • Caius
  • Clement of Rome
  • Clement of Alexandria
  • Cyprian
  • Dionysius of Alexandria
  • Dionysius of Corinth
  • Dionysius of Rome
  • Eusebius
  • Firmilian
  • Hegesippus
  • Hermas
  • Hippolytus
  • Ignatius
  • Irenaeus
  • Julius Africanus
  • Justin Martyr
  • Lactantius
  • Manes
  • Marcion
  • Mark Minucius Felix
  • Melito
  • Methodius
  • Montanus
  • Novatian
  • Origen
  • Papias
  • Polycarp
  • Polycrates
  • Tatian
  • Tertullian
  • Theonas
  • Theophilus
  • Trypho
  • Victorinus

It is important to understand that, much like the leaders of the church today, the ante-Nicene Fathers did not always agree, and their collected works include writings in opposition to one another.

Some of the men who are included among the ante-Nicene Fathers were, in fact, later condemned as heretics. Still, it is from these men that we are able to know the way in which the early Christians lived, as well as the issues that were important to them.

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