The Fathers of the Church spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, defended the Church in apologetic writing and fought the many heresies of the first six centuries of Christianity. These men, also called Apostolic Fathers, gave special witness to the faith, some dying the death of a martyr. Like Jesus who referred to Abraham as a spiritual father (Luke 16: 24) and St. Paul, who referred to himself in the same terms (1 Corinthians 4: 15), the Fathers were zealous for the word of God.
Their writings are a testimony to the faith of the early Church, yet many Christians are unfamiliar with the work of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Justin the Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian of Carthage, Athanasius, Ephraim, Cyril of Jerusalem, Hilary of Poitiers or Gregory the Great to name of few of the early Fathers. Periodically we will provide biographical information and examples of the writing of these great men of faith. This page will focus on Theophilus of Antioch.
We don’t much about his early life except that he was born near the Euphrate River and was an adult convert to the faith after making an extensive study of the Scriptures. He became the seventh bishop of Antioch in Syria, serving between 185-191 A.D. His only surviving work is an apologetic piece he wrote to his friend, Autolycus. The third book contains a world chronology, ending with the death of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 181 A.D.
However, Eusebius and St. Jerome say that he wrote other apologetic works against the heresies of his day. Jerome said he also wrote commentaries on the gospels in the form of a harmony and on the book of Proverbs. He had a considerable knowledge of inspired writings and showed their superiority over heathen philosophy and poetry. He also wrote a work against the heresies of Marcion and of Hermogenes. His Apologia ad Autolycum is an attempt to convince his heathen friend, Autolycus, of the falseness and foolishness of paganism versus the truth of Christianity.
Prophetic Writing and Eternal Judgement
“Give studious attention to the prophetic writings and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God. He who gave the mouth for speech and formed the ears for hearing and made eyes for seeing will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, He will everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things, which neither has eye seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of man [1 Cor 2: 9]. For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth, but assent to inquity [Romans 2: 8], when they have been involved in adultries and fornications and homosexualities and avarice and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish [Romans 2: 8-9]: and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire.
“Moreover, those things which were created from the waters blessed by God, so that this might also be a sign that men would at a future time receive repentance and remission of sins through water and the bath of regeneration [Titus 3: 5]–all who proceed to the truth and are born again and receive a blessing from God.”
“Moreover, in regard to the righteousness which the law enjoined, the Prophets and the Gospels are found to be consistent with each other, because they all spoke as being inspired by the Spirit of God.
“Far be it from Christians that to do such deeds [speaking of the excesses of pagans] should enter their minds; for temperance dwells with them, self-restraint is practiced, monogamy is observed, chastity is guarded, injustice is exterminated, sin is rooted out, righteousness is exercised, law is administered, reverence is preserved, God is acknowledged: truth controls, grace guards, peace protects, the holy word guides, wisdom teaches, life directs, God reigns.”