In order to qualify as an “orthodox writer from Christian antiquity” it is generally necessary to fulfill four conditions that are summarized for us by St. Vincent of Lérins (The Commonitory of Vincent of Lérins III.8, 77).
A “Father” of the Church, the must demonstrate:
(1) orthodoxy of doctrine,
(2) holiness of life
(3) ecclesiastical approval
Orthodoxy relates to a judgment by the Church of how well the writings of a particular person harmonize with the deposit of faith and its exposition in various Church councils. The orthodoxy of the writer needed to be matched by holiness of life.
Ultimately these criteria flow out of the ‘mark’ of apostolicity held by the Church. The Church is apostolic in three ways (CCC 857). The Church has apostolicity of origin. The origin of the Church is found in Christ rather than early heretics such as Marcion, Valentius, or Montanus. The Church has apostolicity of doctrine. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit the Church is the guardian of the deposit of faith. Finally the Church has apostolicity of succession. The authority of Christ granted to the Apostles is passed down to bishops who minister in succession to them. The ‘Church Fathers’ are held up as teachers and models of this apostolic tradition.
In this series of posts, I wish to introduce us to the earliest of the Fathers of the Church. In modern times the earliest collection of the Church Fathers, during up to the second century, are called the Apostolic Fathers. This term is used to describe the earliest Christian writings after the New Testament. These writers are described as still hearing the very echo of the Apostles in their ears. The Apostolic Fathers generally include the writings of bishops and early popes such as St. Clement of Rome; St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, as well as other church documents such as the Didache; letter of Diognetus, the Letter of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas. In this series on the Apostolic Fathers we will begin with an introduction to the history and background of this time period and then we will briefly examine each of these writings.
On the Feast of St. John of the Cross,
To learn more about the history of the Church–sign up for Church History I : January 2011. --Click the button below