There are three main groups of early Church Fathers: the Apostolic Fathers, the Pre-Nicene Fathers, and the Post-Nicene Fathers. Like Clement of Rome, the church fathers of the time of the apostles lived at the same time as the apostles and were probably taught by them. They carried on the traditions and beliefs of the apostles. Linus, who is referenced in 2 Timothy 4:21, becomes the Bishop of Rome. Linus is then replaced by Clement. So, Linus and Clement of Rome are both thought of as the fathers of the prophets. But Linus’s works don’t seem to have been saved, while many of Clement of Rome’s have. By the start of the second century, most of the Apostolic Fathers had died out, except for a few people, like Polycarp, who were likely John’s followers. Tradition says that the prophet John died around the year 98 AD in the city of Ephesus.
The Pre-Nicaean Fathers are the Fathers who lived after the Apostolic Fathers but before the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. Before the time of Christ, men like Irenaeus, Ignatius, and Justin the Martyr were godfathers.
The Fathers after Nicaea are those who lived after AD 325, when the Council of Nicaea met. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, is often called the Father of the [Roman Catholic] Church because of his great work on Church doctrine. Chrysostom was known as “The Mouth of Gold,” and Eusebius wrote a history of the Church from the birth of Jesus to AD 324, the year before the Council of Nicaea. He is put in the time after the Council of Nicaea because he wrote his history after that event. Jerome, who turned the Greek New Testament into the Latin Vulgate, and Ambrose, who was a big reason why Augustine became a Christian, were also post-Nicene Fathers.
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So, what did the first Christians think? The Apostolic Fathers cared a lot about how the Gospel was spread, especially as it was spread by the apostles themselves. They didn’t want to come up with their own religious ideas because the gospel they had heard from the apostles was enough for them. The Apostolic Fathers were just as eager as the apostles to find and expose every false belief in the early church. The Apostolic Fathers wanted to stay true to what the Apostles had told them about the Gospel. In this way, they kept the message’s orthodoxy.
The fathers who lived before Nicaea also tried to follow the message, but they also had another worry. Several apocryphal books now claim to be just as important as the books that Paul, Peter, and Luke are known for. The reason why these papers were forged is clear. Error will spread through the church if the body of Christ can be convinced to accept fake papers. So, before Nicaea, the church fathers spent a lot of time defending the Christian faith against false teachings. This led to the formation of what are now considered to be accepted church teachings.
The post-Nicene fathers, whose job it was to defend the Gospel against all kinds of heresy, became more and more interested in ways to defend the Gospel and less and less interested in sharing the Gospel in its truest and purest forms. So, they slowly moved away from orthodoxy, which was what the Apostolic Fathers were known for. Now is the time of philosophers and endless talks about unimportant things.