Apostolic and Patristic (and 2000th post!)*

An interesting bit from Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church, one of the texts for the “Patristic Fathers” seminary course I am taking:

I want to emphasize the indissoluble connection that existed between the apostolic and the patristic church.  The two should indeed be distinguished, the apostolic representing the voices of those who were the first disciples and hearers of the Lord.  But far too often we take the artificial boundaries established in textbooks for purposes of clarifying the stages in church history as real divisions.  Calling the time of the apostles “apostolic” and what followed “catholic” [small-“c”] has served not only to distinguish the latter period as post-apostolic but also to depict it as a series of developments not in keeping with the original apostolic charter. . . [by this division] the apostolic reliance on the gifts and freedom of the Spirit  was transformed in into the fixing of tradition and doctrinal content known as “catholicism,” in which a “canon of faith” eclipsed the spiritual simplicity of Jesus.  But it is one thing to observe changes of development and quite another to create a disjunction.  One can point to a formation of doctrinal tradition in the earliest apostolic writings and dependency upon the Spirit’s leading in later patristic texts.  A strict delineation between the apostolic and the patristic is no more than a theoretical construct that fails at integrating the historical evidence.  The manual of Christian practice and worship known as the Didache originated in the area of northern Syria, as did the Gospel of Matthew, and was produced within a generation or less of the Gospel.  First Clement was written, just like Revelation, in the mid 90s of the first century.  Yet one was eventually regarded as apostolic and the other patristic.  The reasons for this distinction are not always apparent, underscored by the evidence that 1 Clement and the Didache were regarded as Scripture (as were some other patristic works) by certain churches.  The distinctions we so readily make today between the apostolic  and patristic were not clear to the Christians who were living in those times. (pp. 52-3)

Still with me?  I bet I lost 95% of you or more.  Anyway, interesting stuff.  Here’s the nutshell version: historically, there is no clear division between the apostolic age (that is, the age  of those who were direct disciples of Jesus, or at least taught by an direct disciple) and the apostolic age (the age of the direct successors of the apostles) and therefore no basis on which to say former age was purer period of the church than the latter.

(I admit you came to mind as I read this, Toni, and your comment here—though now that I’ve read the comment again, it only marginally relates.  🙂 )


*I never imagined that my 2000th post would be such a dull one.

7 thoughts on “Apostolic and Patristic (and 2000th post!)*

  1. Toni

    Marc – I thought you might have had me in mind.

    “there is no clear division between the apostolic age (that is, the age of those who were direct disciples of Jesus, or at least taught by an direct disciple) and the apostolic age (the age of the direct successors of the apostles)”

    I take it the second apostolic age is really catholic?

    I’d suggest the reason for there being no clear delineation of the apostolic and catholic ages is because the apostolic age did not die with those who knew Jesus personally, but continued with those appointed and recognised as apostles by the early church. Clearly even in the time of Paul there were already additional apostles around other than the disciples + Paul.

    It may be worth considering what makes a person an apostle: a key feature is being recognised as having a calling to extend the kingdom of God and being sent out by a church. Pauls apostleship didn’t start with the Damascus road encounter, but instead when he (and Silas: don’t forget him) were sent out from Antioch.

    BTW this isn’t really such a dull post, so much as dense.

    BTW#2 I would again recommend that book if you’re interested in this area. It takes a practical rather than specifically historical standpoint, but might well be useful to you.

  2. Marc


    Both, I guess. Plus seminary stress! And fatigue. And other responsibilities.

    Actually, I didn’t notice your correction (apostolic-catholic) until just now. Yes, the second apostolic age in that quote is really catholic (small-c)/patristic.

    What was that book again (I guess I could just look back in the comments.)

  3. Marc Vandersluys

    Strange. I remember to you referring to that book here, maybe even linking to it. I just went through all of your comments here back to the beginning of September. Can’t find it either. And it’s not in moderation… Not sure what happened (I’ve certainly not deleted it.)

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