Early Christian Church
The early Christian church encompasses the history of the New Testament and the continuation by the early church fathers. When referencing the men who make up the Fathers of the early church, the New Testament accounts are not usually included, but rather viewed as the origins of Christianity. The early Christian churches of the New Testament were made up of autonomous groups of local believers and encompassed the three centuries that occur between the time of Jesus' crucifixion to the First Council of Nicaea. These self-governing congregations did not have a specific person designated as a pastor or overseer of any kind. Rather, the believers would meet in homes, or other locations based on the number of members. The history of the early church can be found in the book of Acts in the Bible. The congregation had mutual goals that included evangelism, as they sought to carry out the command of Jesus, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). They also believed in baptism by immersion.
The Apostles who had been with Jesus before His ascension into the clouds, were the leaders of the early Christian church. The Apostles instructed the congregations in the ways of the Lord. The Twelve Apostles were the Fathers of the early Christian church of the New Testament. The Apostles by name were, Peter, James the son of Zebedee, John the brother of James, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon, and Judas Iscariot. These men were all appointed by Jesus and personally instructed by Him during the time He was on the earth. Although not originally one of the twelve, Paul of Tarsus, later renamed Saul, was one of the most influential of the Apostles. Paul persecuted Christians but following a Glorious Encounter on the road to Damascus, he became one of the chief mouthpieces of the Lord and led many to the Savior. He also is believed to have written about fifteen of the epistles found in the New Testament.
Following the work of Jesus' Apostles are those known as the early Church Fathers are the men, whose writings and influences shaped the first five centuries of the early Christian church. The early Church Fathers were made up of writers and theologians. They can be broken down into roughly four groups, the apostolic fathers, Greek, Latin, and Apologetic. The first group, Apostolic, are so named because they are believed to be among the first after the Apostles of Jesus Christ. St. Clement of Rome was one of the first early Church Fathers and wrote an epistle to the congregation at Corinth. The letter is believed to be among the earliest Christian writings since the New Testament. Ignatius of Antioch was martyred, but before his death he wrote texts which became vital to the theology of the early Christians. Polycarp was believed to be another of John's disciples, and is known for his efforts in trying to get the West to celebrate Easter on the fourteenth of Nissan. However, Polycarp's efforts proved to be in vain and led to his death.
The Greek fathers are so called because they wrote in the Greek language. The most well known in this group includes St. Irenaeus of Lyons who is remembered as a saint, disciple of Polycarp, and among the first Christian Apologists. Clement of Alexandria combined the doctrine of Christianity with Greek traditions abdicated that communion should be for everyone. The Cappaddocian Fathers were three men, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter. These men led a monastic lifestyle of sorts. They believed that Christians should be able to hold their own discussions and debates with others, and helped to bring attention to the idea of the Trinity and contributed to the Nicene Creed. Another in the group of Greek fathers was Origen, an Egyptian and an early scholar. Origen is most remembered for the production of a corrected copy of the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Hebrew Bible.
The Latin Fathers include well-known names such as Tertullian, St. Jerome, St. Gregory the Great and St. Augustine of Hippo just to name a few. Tertullian is known for work as a writer and was labeled by many as being heretical due to the fact that he denounced Christianity. Before his death began to believe in some of what he was against, and is remembered as the Father of the Latin Church due to the writings of Latin Christianity. The saint is credited with coining the terms of 'vetus testamentum' and 'novum testamentum', old and New Testament. St. Jerome is remembered as the man who translated the Greek and Hebrew Bible into Latin, forming what is known as the Latin Vulgate. St. Augustine is believed to be one of the most important figures who contributed to the development of western Christianity. He is credited with presenting the ideas of original sin, and the bodies of believers as being the City of God. Gregory the Great is known as a Doctor of the Church and had more influence on the early church than any other pope.
There are more groups of early Church Fathers encompassing the Apologetics and others, all of who made contributions to the historical progressions of the church. The Apostles of the New Testament and the men who continued on after them can be credited with setting up the foundations of Christianity. The history encompassing the time following Christ's ascension has taken sundry paths and included many men, all who helped set in motion the foundations which have become cornerstones for the beliefs of many throughout the centuries.