{3}           Defense & deposit of the faith

ERA 1 << Early Church (1): Persecutions (AD 30–300) >> SESSION 2

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 1, chapters 7-9

        3.1.1  Rumours & misunderstanding of Christian faith

·         Background: Apology (Greek apologia) means a defense. Apologists were the scholars who defended Christianity from enemies outside the church. Throughout 2nd-c, many rumours have arisen about Christianity. Christians were under persecution when anyone could make an accusation against them, and many accusations were based on these rumours. Thus there was a need for Christian scholars to defend their faith by refuting the rumours. The objective was to convince the leaders of the state that Christians had done nothing to deserve persecutions. These apologists wrote as philosophers rather than theologians.

·         Apologetic method: Negatively, they sought to refute the false accusations of atheism, immorality, incest, cannibalism, disloyalty, and anti-social behaviour that pagans levelled against them. Positively, they developed a constructive approach by showing that in contrast to Christianity, Judaism, pagan religions, and emperor worship were foolish and sinful. While rejecting paganism, they accepted that paganism had produced a valuable culture. While accepting the truth written by the philosophers, they insisted on the superiority of Christian revelation.

·         Negative defense: Apologists argued against the following charges.

o        That Christians were atheists because they believed in an invisible God—apologists said that gods from pagan culture are man-made.

o        That Christian were immoral—apologists judged that the pagans are immoral, not the Christians.

o        That Christians practiced incest, because Christians’ using the term “love feast” and calling each other “brothers and sisters”—apologists explained the meaning of Christian terminology.

o        That Christians practice cannabalism, that Christians concealed a newborn in a loaf of bread during communion, because Christians spoke of being nourished by the body and blood of Christ—apologists showed the reality and symbolism of Christian meetings.

o        That Christians were disloyal and subversive by refusing to worship the emperor—apologists defended that Christians were still loyal to the empire, and that the emperor should be served, not worshipped.

o        That Christianity destroyed the fibre of society because Christians abstained from most social activities—apologists showed how Christians were good citizens of the empire.

o        That Christianity was intellectually wanting, foolish and even self-contradictory—apologists showed how Christianity was the superior faith. Class prejudice was one thing that caused the criticism. People in the upper class or intellectual groups did not believe a religion derived, not from Greeks or Romans, but from Jews (a primitive race in their opinions) would be sophisticated.

o        That Christians were foolish in believing the final resurrection—apologists asserted the divine omnipotence of God who can create lives.

·         Positive approach: Apologists argued about the superiority of Christianity.

o        Ancient philosophy: Christianity was the oldest religion and philosophy because the Pentateuch predated the Trojan War as described in Homer’s book Iliad [c.900 BC].

o        Original philosophy: Whatever truth in Greek thought was borrowed from Christianity or Judaism.

o        Highest philosophy: Christianity was the highest philosophy based on the pure life of Christ, His miracles, and the fulfilment of OT prophecies about Christ.

        3.1.2  Christian faith & pagan culture

·         Attitudes on pagan culture: Different Christians held 2 different types of attitudes toward the pagan culture surrounding them: [1] opposition, or [2] accommodation.

·         Opposition: This attitude was represented by Tertullian. Most Christians tried to avoid civil ceremonies where there were sacrifice and vows made to the pagan gods. But some even avoided the study of classical literature where gods and immorality were described. They claimed that the Greek culture was not better than the “Barbarian” culture as the Greek claimed. People who had this point of view isolate themselves from pagan culture. Later, some withdrew completely from the society and lived as hermits.

o        Tertullian: “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? What does the Academy have to do with the Church?” He was convinced that many heresies were the result of attempts to combine pagan philosophy with Christian doctrine.

o        Tatian: The Greeks learned astronomy from the Babylonians, geometry from the Egyptians, and writing from the Phoenicians. They learned philosophy and religion from the writings of Moses which were earlier than Homer. Moreover, pagan gods (based on Greek mythology) were all immoral.

·         Accommodation: This attitude was represented by Justin Martyr. They tried to show and explain the connection between Christian faith and pagan culture, or philosophies, and pointed out their agreements. They pointed out good things in pagan culture which even Christians could appreciate.

o        Supreme being: The best Greek philosophers spoke of a supreme being from which all other beings derive their existence.

o        Immortality: Socrates and Plato affirmed life beyond physical death. Plato posited another world of eternal realities.

o        Logos: The agreement between Greek philosophy and Christianity is because of the doctrine of Logos. The word means “word” and “reason”. Greek philosophy believed that human mind can understand reality because it shares in the Logos or universal reason. The Gospel of John affirms that in Jesus, the Logos or “Word” was made flesh. He is therefore the source of all true knowledge.

        3.1.3  Leading apologists

·         Earliest: The earliest apologetical document was To Diognetus by an unknown author. It described Christians as: “Christians are no different from the rest in their nationality, language or customs…. They live in their own countries, but as sojourners. They fulfil all their duties as citizens, but they suffer as foreigners. They find their homeland wherever they are, but their homeland is not in any one place…. They are in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey all laws, but they live at a level higher than that required by law. They love all, but all persecute them.” (Sections 5.1-11)

·         East vs West: Eastern apologists (using Greek)—Aristides, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus. Western apologists (using Latin)—Tertullian, Minucius Felix.

·         Aristides (2nd-c)—He was a Christian philosopher in Athens. He proved the superiority of Christian form of worship over Chaldean, Greek, Egyptian, and Jewish worship [140].

·         Justin Martyr (100–165)—He was a teacher in Rome. He showed that Christians were not atheists or idolaters, and were blameless and should not be persecuted. Justin’s Apology was a masterly presentation of the Christian faith. He opposed to paganism and syncretism. He was critical of Greek philosophy but he portrayed Christ as the fulfilment of the best in Greek thought. Thus Justin anchored his Christian faith in his Greek heritage. He believed that when he became a Christian, he became a better philosopher. He said that the relationship between the philosophers and Christ is that between the incomplete and the complete, between the imperfect and the perfect.

·         Tatian (110–172)—He was student of Justin. He argued that since Christianity is superior to Greek religion and thought, Christians should be given fair treatment, and that Christianity is far more ancient than Greek thought.

·         Athenagoras (133–190)—He was a professor of Athens. He refuted the charge of atheism against Christians by showing that pagan gods are merely human creations.

·         Theophilus (??–185)—He was the bishop in Antioch. He showed the weaknesses of the pagan religion compared to Christianity.

·         Tertullian (160–225)—He was an elder in Carthage. He argued that Christians were loyal citizens of the empire, and that the state was persecuting the church on dubious legal grounds.

·         Minucius Felix (2nd-c to 3rd-c)—He was a Christian in Rome. He wrote a dialogue Octavius [200] trying to win over his pagan friend to Christianity.


        3.2.1  Major heresies during 2nd-c

·         Reasons for heresies: Different interpretations of Christianity arose as Christianity was spread to various regions. Before there was a NT canon (Scripture), people chose the documents as they pleased to support their own interpretation of the religion. Some people also mixed other religions and philosophy with Christian teachings together (syncretism) and built up new teachings which violated the core teachings of Christianity. These had huge impact on the early church.

·         Classes of heresies: [1] Legalistic heresies: Ebionites. [2] Philosophical heresies: Gnosticism, Manicheanism, Marcionism, Neoplatonism. [3] Theological errors: Montanism, Monarchianism. [4] Ecclesiastical schisms: Easter controversy, Donatism.


Perversions of the doctrine of Christ (from Buswell’s book)




Human nature

Divine nature


late 1st-c











Nicea [325]





Constantinople [381]





Ephesus [431]





Chalcedon [451]








NOTE: Nestorians held that Christ was 2 persons.

Eutychians held that Christ had one mixed nature, neither fully human nor fully divine.

Orthodox view: Christ is one person with a fully divine nature & a fully human nature.


        3.2.2  EbionitesThe Son is not God

·         Influence of Judaism: Ebionites were converts from Judaism. They continued to hold some unorthodox beliefs from their Jewish heritage. They lived in Judea and Palestine from 1st-c to 4th-c.

·         Beliefs: They emphasized the unity of God. They believed that the Jewish Law was the highest expression of His will and that it was still binding on man, including all Christians. They believed that Jesus was Joseph’s son who attained a measure of divinity when the Spirit came upon Him at baptism. They denied the virgin birth and the deity of Christ.

        3.2.3  Gnosticismsecret knowledge to salvation

·         Time frame: It was a vast and amorphous movement that existed both within and outside the church. The name came from Greek word gnosis (knowledge). It claimed that the Gospel of Thomas contained the true teachings of Jesus. In 1st-c, there was an incipient form of Gnosticism that Paul fought against. A well-developed Gnosticism threatened the church in 2nd-c.

·         On the origin of evil: It sprang from the natural human desire to create a theodicy, an explanation of the origin of evil. They tried to separate God from associating with evil. They believed that a lesser god, identified as Jehovah of the OT, created the evil material world.

·         On knowledge: They claimed to have secret and mystic knowledge which leads to salvation. This knowledge was taught by “messengers” from the Supreme Being. In Christian Gnosticism, Jesus was said to be a messenger. Only the pneumatic Gnostics (those possessing the esoteric gnosis), and the psychic group (those having faith but no access to the gnosis) would get to heaven.

·         Dualism: This was the foundation of their philosophy. They claimed that only spiritual things are good, while matter which is an error of creation is bad. The final goal is to escape from the body and this material world in which we are exiled. This leads to a few conclusions:

o        [1] Docetism [c.110]: It came from the Greek word dokein meaning “to seem”. They believed that the body of Jesus was a phantom which appeared to be fully human but was not. Gnostics picked up this idea because matter (flesh) for them is evil.

o        [2] Asceticism: Flesh is bad, so fulfilling desire from the flesh is bad. One must control the body and its passions and thus weaken its power over the spirit. An ascetic life was emphasized.

o        [3] Libertinism: Flesh is bad but spirit is good, so let the flesh enjoy its evil desire, while the spirit remains good (amazingly exactly opposite to the second conclusion). What one needs to do is to leave the body to its own devices and let it follow the guidance of its own passions.

·         Problems: [1] It denied many important Christian doctrines, including creation, incarnation, sacrificial death, and resurrection. [2] It pandered to spiritual pride with its belief that only an aristocratic elite would go to heaven. [3] Its asceticism was a contributing factor to the medieval ascetic monasticism. [4] Its libertinism encouraged Christians to live in sin.

        3.2.4  Manicheanismdualism: god of darkness

·         Syncretism: It was developed by Mani or Manichaeus (216–276), combining Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and other oriental ideas.

o        Zoroastrianism: It was a religion based on the teachings of a Persian named Zoroaster (6th-c BC). He believed in a universal conflict between the creator and evil. He believed that fire is an agent of ritual purity, and a medium for spirutal insight.

·         Dualism: Manicheans believed in dualism, two opposing and eternal principles—the king of light and the king of darkness. Man was created by the king of light but he was tricked by the king of darkness, so man’s soul linked him with the kingdom of light, but his body brought him into bondage to the kingdom of darkness.

·         Emphases: Salvation was the liberation of the light in his soul, brought about by exposure to the Light, Christ. They lived ascetic lives and emphasized the superiority of celibacy.

·         Influence: They were influential even after the death of Mani in Persia. Even Augustine of Hippo was a disciple of Manicheans for 12 years. Their ideas might have contributed to the development of a celibate priestly class in the church, apart from the rest of the believers.

        3.2.5  MarcionismOT inspired by an inferior god

·         Influence: It was developed by Marcion (110–160), the son of a bishop. At one time, it was successful with their own churches and bishops. After Marcion was excommunicated [144], Marcionism continued in the West for 3 centuries, although Marcionistic ideas persisted much longer.

·         Beliefs: Marcionites denied that the Old Testament was inspired by the Supreme God, but by an inferior, judgmental god called Jehovah. It claimed that Old Testaments teachings are not legitimate. It did not believe there would be a final judgment because the Supreme God (the Father of Christians) is a kind god who only forgives.

·         Scripture: They chose the Gospel of Luke and Paul’s Epistles as the basis of faith while the entire OT were cut away.

        3.2.6  Neoplatonismabsorption into the Absolute Being

·         Beliefs: The leading philosophers of Neoplatonism were Plontinus (205–270) and Porphyry (232–305). They believed an Absolute Being as the transcendent source of all that exists and from which all was created by a process of overflow (like the concentric circles on water when a pebble drops into water). This overflow or emanation resulted in the creation of man as a reasoning soul and body. The goal of the universe was re-absorption into the divine essence. One’s highest state for enjoyment is the experience of ecstasy. This can be achieved with rational contemplation, by mystical intuition seeking to know God, and by being absorbed into the Absolute Being.

·         Influence: Emperor Julian the Apostate [361–363] embraced this thought during his short reign. This movement no doubt contributed to the rise of mysticism in Christianity. Many leaders in the ancient church were influenced by this philosophy.

·         Mysticism: It was originated from the mystical philosophy of Neoplatonism. There are 3 forms of mysticism:

o        [1] Epistemological type: The emphasis is on how man comes to know God. They believe that our knowledge of God comes directly by intuition or spiritual illumination. Examples are Christian medieval mystics, Quietists, and Quakers.

o        [2] Metaphysical type: The emphasis is on how the spiritual essence of man is absorbed mystically into the divine being. Following death, man’s spirit becomes a part of the divine being. Examples are Neoplatonists and Buddhists.

o        [3] Ethical type: The emphasis is on how the individual is related to God through his identification with Christ and with the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is Biblical teaching.

        3.2.7  Montanismnew age revealed

·         Reaction to formalism: It was developed by Montanus (2nd-c) to meet the problems of formalism (particularly the prominence of the bishop) in the church. He claimed that their movement was the beginning of a new age with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to them. It was an age characterized by a more rigorous moral life than the previous age. They claimed that the last age of history had dawned with them. This contradicted the Bible which teaches that the last days began with the resurrection of Jesus.

·         Eschatology: Montanus believed that he himself was the advocate through whom the Holy Spirit spoke to the church. He also believed that the heavenly kingdom of Christ would soon be set up in Phrygia and that he would have a prominent role in that kingdom. The Montanists lived an ascetic life preparing for the kingdom.

·         Warning for today: Montanism was a warning to the church not to forget that organization and doctrine must not be divorced from the satisfaction of the emotional side of believers. Because of the attraction of such teachings, even Tertullian erroneously joined them.

        3.2.8  Monarchianismone Father God

·         Dynamic or Adoptionist Monarchianism: It was developed by Paul of Samosata (200–275), bishop of Antioch, who taught that Christ was not divine but was merely a good man who, by righteousness and possession of his being by the divine Logos at baptism, achieved divinity and saviourhood. This emphasis of the unity of God and the denial of the deity of Christ was an ancient form of unitarianism.

·         Sabellianism or Modalistic Monarchianism: It was developed by Sabellius (3rd-c) who taught that Trinity is a manifestation of forms rather than essence. God was manifested as Father in OT times, as the Son to redeem man, and as the Holy Spirit to inspire the Apostles after the resurrection of Christ.

        3.2.9  Finding the common ground against heresies

·         Responses: Facing the malicious teachings from the many heresies, the church responded by: [1] setting the Canon, [2] establishing the Creed, and [3] pointing out the source of authority: teachings brought down only by the Apostles.

·         Compilation of the Canon:

o        Concensus: A list of sacred Christian writings was compiled by various leaders. Consensus on which books are in the Canon developed gradually until universal acceptance was reached in 4th-c. The 27 books of the NT canon was confirmed at the non-ecumenical councils at Laodicea [363], and at Carthage [397].

o        OT: The Hebrew Scripture (OT) was accepted as part of the Christian Canon. Christian faith was regarded as the fulfilment of the hope of Israel.

o        Multiple gospels: There was agreement to include more than one Gospels, even when the differences were known.

·         Establishment of the Creed: The creed was a “symbol of faith” which was used to distinguish between Christians and the main heresies. The Apostles’ Creed was written in Rome around 150. It was constructed against the teachings of Gnosticism and Marcionism.

o        The 1st part about the Father: The Greek word pantokrator means “all ruling”—nothing is outside God’s rule.

o        The 2nd part about the Son: It affirms that Jesus is the Son of God who rules over all, and that He was born, and that He died and resurrected in a historical time frame.

o        The 3rd part about the Holy Spirit and others: It affirms the authority of the church and the importance of the flesh in resurrection.

·         Apostolic succession: This emphasis had 3 implications: [1] It was a proof that the church’s teachings was originated from Jesus’ disciples. It became crucial to claim authority on the church’s teachings in order to refute heretic teachings. [2] There were no secret teachings; teachings were according to the total witness of all the Apostles for the universal church. [3] Bishops of the time were regarded as successors of the Apostles, although the circulating lists of bishops linking to Apostles may not be totally trustworthy.


3.3  The Polemicists

        3.3.1  Defense against heresies

·         Background: Polemics (Greek polemikos) means warlike. Polemicists were those scholars who defended the Christianity faith by pointing out the errors of heresies which grew out from inside the church. They met the challenge of false teaching by heretics with an aggressive condemnation. While the apologists wrote against false accusations—an external threat to the safety of the church, the polemicists wrote against heresies—an internal threat to the peace and purity of the church.

·         The Alexandrian School:

o        Greek: Eastern polemicists wrote in Greek, including Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Origen.

o        Main concerns: The Eastern polemicists were concerned with speculative theology and gave most attention to metaphysical problems. They wanted to develop a system of theology that by the use of philosophy would give a systematic exposition of Christianity.

o        Method of exposition: They developed an allegorical system of interpretation of the Bible. The supposition was that Scripture has more than one meaning. Using the analogy of man’s body, soul, and spirit, they argued that Scripture had a literal, historical meaning that corresponded to the human body; a hidden moral meaning that corresponded to the human soul; and a deeper, underlying spiritual meaning that only the more spiritually advanced Christians could understand.

o        Problem: The allegorical method of Biblical interpretation has done much harm to Biblical exposition and has resulted in absurd and often unscriptural theological ideas.

·         The Carthaginian School:

o        Latin: Western polemicists wrote in Latin, including Tertullian, Cyprian.

o        Main concerns: The Western polemicists were more concerned with practical problems, such as aberrations of the polity of the church. They endeavoured to formulate a sound practical answer.

o        Method of exposition: They tended to emphasize a grammatico-historical interpretation of the Bible.

        3.3.2  Leading polemicists

·         Irenaeus of Lyons (130–200):

o        Life: He was a disciple of Polycarp at Smyrna. He migrated to Lyons in southern France and became the bishop.

o        On Scripture: He was one of the first to talk of NT Scripture which was apostolic writings that were accorded authority.

o        On Gnosticism: His book Against Heresies refuted Gnosticism, using the Scripture and relevant tradition. He challenged their claims to secret apostolic traditions. He argued that all churches founded by the Apostles had the same doctrine.

o        On unity: He emphasized the organic unity of the church through apostolic succession of leaders.

o        On incarnation: For him, the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ was not the result of sin. God’s initial purpose was to unite with mankind. The incarnate Word was the model that God followed in making man after the divine image. Adam and Eve were created so that after a process of growth and instruction, they could become like the incarnate Word. But because of sin, the incarnation had an added purpose of offering a remedy for sin, and a means for defeating Satan. Some of these ideas are non-orthodox.

o        On man’s destiny: He took God as a shepherd who leads creation to its final goal. The crown of creation is man. We are to become increasingly conformed to the divine will and nature, and thus to enjoy an ever-growing communion with our Creator. Man is to be instructed by the Word and the Holy Spirit. Even at the end, when the kingdom of God is established, God’s task as shepherd will not end. Redeemed humanity will continue growing with greater communion with the divine for eternity.

·         Pantaenus (2nd-c):

o        Life: He founded the Catechetical School of Alexandria [c.190]. Clement of Alexandria was one of his students. He was involved in early debates on the interpretation of the Bible, the Trinity, and Christology. He fought against Gnosticism.

·         Clement of Alexandria (150–216):

o        Life: He was a teacher in Alexandria. He travelled in eastern Mediterranean after persecutions broke out [202].

o        Intelligent orthodoxy: His goal was not to expound the traditional Christian faith but to convince pagan intellectuals that Christianity was not a superstition. In his Exhortation to the Pagans, he showed that most Christian doctrines can be supported by Plato’s philosophy. His aim was to present an educated and intellectually viable form of orthodoxy.

o        On faith & reason: He believed that there is only one truth; philosophy has been given to the Greeks just as the Law has been given to the Jews. There is a close relationship between faith and reason. Faith is a the first principle, the starting point, on which reason is to build.

o        On Christian life: He advocated a path of austerity or simple living as a mean between the extremes of luxury and asceticism (renunciation). The ideal is a Christian gnostic, the spiritual man who has progressed beyond faith to knowledge. This is not merely academic knowledge but a spiritual perception, requiring ethical purity and having the contemplation of God as its goal.

o        Platonic idea: His allegorical exegesis allowed him to find in the Scripture ideas and doctrines that are really Platonic. God is the ineffable (impassible) and one can only speak in metaphors and in negative terms about God, as God is beyond all emotion or feeling. God is revealed to us in the Word or Logos, from which the philosophers and prophets received truth, and which has become incarnate in Jesus. The danger of his position is that one may imperceptibly synthesize Christianity and Greek learning and support syncretism.

·         Origen of Alexandria (185–254):

o        Life: His father suffered martyrdom. He was Clement’s student. He later became bishop of Alexandria. During the persecution of Decius, he was tortured and died not long after.

o        Works: He wrote many books. De principiis—On First Principles was a systematic theology, divided into 4 books: God, the world, freedom, Scripture. Hexapla was the text of the OT in 6 columns, comparing Hebrew and different Greek texts. He did more exegetical work than anyone did before the Reformation. However, he felt that the Bible could not be properly understood without the use of allegory.

o        Apology: In Against Celsus, he dealt with Celsus’ charge concerning the irrationality of Christians. He emphasized the change in conduct that Christianity produces in contrast with paganism; the open-minded investigations of truth by Christians; and the purity and influence of Christ and His followers.

o        Main teachings: [1] There is a danger in accepting teachings of the philosophers such as Neoplatonism. He stated: “nothing which is at variance with the tradition of the Apostles and of the church is to be accepted as true.” [2] Jesus Christ is the son of God, begotten before all creation, becoming human but remaining divine. The Holy Spirit’s glory is no less than the Father and the Son. [3] The soul will be punished or rewarded according to its life in this world. There will be a final resurrection of the body which will be incorruptible.

o        Tentative speculations: [1] There are two narratives of creations because there were in fact two creations. The first was purely spiritual, without bodies. Some strayed and fell so God made the second creation which was material, serving as a shelter for fallen spirits. Those spirits who fell further became demons. [2] All human souls existed as pure spirits before being born. [3] The devil and his demons made man captive so Jesus Christ came to break the power of Satan. Christ’s death was a ransom to Satan. [4] Since God is love, all spirits will be saved, even Satan. [5] But spirits are capable to fall again so the cycle of fall, restoration, and fall will go on forever. (Origen said this was based on the Bible but was actually based on the Platonic tradition.)

o        On Trinity: He strongly opposed Monarchianism (the Father is the Son). He insisted that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternally 3 hypostases (beings) but the Son was not born or begotten or generated at one particular moment in time. Yet he maintained that the Son is eternally generated or begotten by the Father. This is an eternal process or relationship. It is eternally happening, even today. It came to be seen as orthodox.

o        Heretical ideas: [1] He believed the essence of salvation is to become like God, being “deified” through contemplation Him. [2] In explaining Trinity, he taught a graded Trinity—the Father is greater than the Son who is greater than the Holy Spirit. It is the Father alone who is “true God”. Arius took this further to form Arianism which was accepted widely in the Eastern church. [3] He argued that if the generation of the Son was not eternal, it would mean that previously the Father was either unable or unwilling to generate the Son. Either suggestion is unworthy of God, so the Son’s generation must be eternal. Yet he used the same argument to prove that all rational beings have existed eternally. [4] When rational beings fell away from contemplating God, they became angels, human beings, or demons, according to how far they fell. The physical universe was created to accommodate them. The process of salvation is the reversal of the fall, ending with all rational beings again contemplating God.

o        Condemned: Some of these groundless speculations and heretical ideas were originated from Platonism. He was officially condemned in the Council of Constantinople II [553].

·         Tertullian of Carthage (160–225)—father of Latin theology:

o        Life: He was an elder in Carthage. He was a unique person in church history. He was a fiery champion of orthodoxy against heresies, yet he joined the Montanists [202] who were regarded heretical. Even then, he produced writings and theological formulae that would be influential in future orthodox theology. He was the first Christian theologian to write in Latin and is considered the founder of Western theology. He was the first to state the theological doctrine of the Trinity.

o        Apology: Tertullian’s writings bore a stamp of a legal mind. He wrote as if there was a lawsuit between orthodox Christians and the heretics. He used logical arguments against his adversaries. His aim was to show not only that the heretics were wrong, but also that they did not even have the right to dispute with the church. He claimed that the Scripture belonged to the church and the heretics had not right to use the Bible or to interpret it.

o        Against speculation: He condemned all speculation. For example, to speak of what God’s omnipotence can do is a dangerous occupation. What we are to ask is not what God could not, but rather what is it that God has in fact done.

o        On Trinity: In his brief treatise Against Praxeas, he formulated the doctrine of Trinity. It seemed that Praxeas regarded Trinity as simply 3 modes in which God appeared (modalistic monarchianism). Tertullian proposed the formula “one substance and three persons.” In discussing how Jesus can be both human and divine, he spoke of “one person” and “two substances” or “two natures”. These would later become the hallmark of orthodoxy.

o        Traducianism: He supported the traducian doctrine of the transmission of the soul from the parents to the child in the reproductive process. He believed that postbaptismal sins were mortal sin. He opposed infant baptism.

·         Cyprian of Carthage (200–258, martyred):

o        Life: He was bishop of Carthage. He was involved in the controversy regarding restoration of the lapsed.

o        On centrality of bishops: He magnified the office of the bishop by making a clear distinction between bishop and elder; he emphasized the bishop as the centre of unity in the church because the bishop acts as a guarantee against schism. He emphasized that if anyone is not with the bishop, he is not in the church. For him, bishops are the successors of the Apostles. He asserted the primacy of honour of Peter in tracing the line of apostolic succession. This led later to the primacy of honour of the Roman bishop.

o        On unity of the church: He believed that the unity of the church is a given fact. The only true church is the catholic church. It is not possible to divide the church, only to leave it. Those who leave the church commits spiritual suicide. The bishops must remain in solidarity with one another and yet each is independent in his own church.

o        On independence of bishops: On the question of whether someone converted to Christianity through a schismatic church and later wishes to joined the Catholic Church need rebaptism. The Roman church said no but Cyprian said yes. Bishop Stephen of Rome wanted to impose his view on the whole church but Cyprian rejected it because he believed that there should not be a “bishop of bishops” as every bishop is independent. Eventually, Africa and Rome agreed to go their own ways over rebaptism.

o        On sacrifice in the communion: He took the clergy as the sacrificing priests in offering up Christ’s body and blood in the communion. This idea later was developed into the concept of transubstantiation.



[1] treasure our heritage

The orthodox doctrine of Trinity was developed from struggles.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

God raised outstanding apologists and polemicists at the right time.

[3] avoid past errors

Many heresies came from groundless speculations.

[4] apply our knowledge

We can apply some of the methods used by the apologists in defending our faith.

[5] follow past saints

Polemicists recognized the threat of heresies and dared to encounter them.



        Against whom do we defend our faith?

o        We defend our faith in 2 ways: [a] like the apologists, against those from outside the church: refuting the misunderstanding about Christianity and rejecting attacks by showing that Christianity is truth, [b] like the polemicists, against those from inside the church: showing how heresies are wrong.

        What are their reasons when non-believers attack Christianity?

o        They may believe false rumours about Christians and Christianity.

o        They may have misunderstandings about Christianity.

o        They may think that Christianity is foolish.

o        They may think that Christians destroy the social fibre by abstaining from many social activities.

o        They may think that Christians’ loyalty is not of this world so that they are disloyal to the government.

o        They may judge that Christians are hypocrites.

        How far should we isolate ourselves from the “pagan culture”?

o        We have to abstain from the participation in rituals or cultural activities that deny our faith or that can lead to sin. Otherwise, Christians should participate in the society and live like others.

        What were the main teachings of Gnosticism?

o        Only selected people can gain secret and mystic knowledge to salvation.

o        Such knowledge is taught by messengers from the Supreme Being, Jesus being one of them.

o        Spirit is good but matter is evil.

o        Since matter is evil, Jesus did not have a body. He was not actually born.

o        Some Gnostics believe that one needs to control the flesh and weaken its power over spirit. Yet, some Gnostics believe just the opposite: since the bad flesh cannot influence the good spirit, one can follow one’s passions.

        When someone spread their “gospel” to us, how do we know if it is true/legitimate or not?

o        Christian teachings are based on the Apostles. Early church needed to trace the apostolic succession in order to claim legitimacy.

o        Now, the teachings are based on the Bible which grew out of consensus of the church which was guided by the Holy Spirit. Any teachings not following the Bible cannot claim legitimacy.

        What does “Catholic” mean?

o        It means “universal” or “according to the whole.” The word is used to separate the church from heretical groups and sects.

o        It emphasizes the universality and the inclusiveness of the witness on which the church stood. It also emphasizes the total witness of all the Apostles. This point excluded heretical teachings which were usually based on the claim of secret traditions handed down through a single apostle.

o        Unfortunately, through an evolution in many centuries, debates on the word “catholic” now centre on the person and authority a single apostle—Peter. Thus, the claim of the Roman Catholic Church has twisted the original meaning of the word.

        Which beliefs of these Church Fathers are not Biblical? How did this happen to mature Christians like these?

o        Unbiblical beliefs:

          Irenaeus: The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ was not because of sin. God’s initial purpose was to unite with mankind. The incarnate Word was the model that God followed in making man after the divine image.

          Clement of Alexandria: God is the Ineffable One about which one can only speak in metaphors and in negative terms. The Ineffable One is revealed to us in the Word or Logos, from which the philosophers and prophets received truth, and which has become incarnate in Jesus.

          Tertullian: Tertullian joined the Montanist movement which claimed that their movement was the beginning of a new age with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to them.

          Origen: There were two creations. The first was purely spiritual, without bodies. Some strayed and fell so God made the second creation which was material, serving as a shelter for fallen spirits. Those spirits who fell further became demons.

o        The early church did not have detailed doctrines so Christians freely speculated or used allegorical method of exegesis, resulting in unbiblical speculations. It should be noted, however, that these speculations were not held by the Church Fathers as basic doctrines.

        Will these non-Biblical beliefs reduce the credibility of their theological arguments?

o        Their theological arguments should be judged by the consensus of the universal church. Any theologian is vulnerable to making theological errors yet their teachings should be judged by the direction of their theology (whether they are faithful to the Bible) and by the orthodox teachings that they pass along in influencing the church. All these Church Fathers are judged by the universal church as messengers from God in building the foundation of the universal church.