Apostasy/Patristic evidence of

Evidence of an apostasy after Christ from early Christian history other than the Bible


Question: Is there any evidence of the apostasy from materials from early Christian history besides the Bible?

The testimony of the early Christian Fathers does not incline us to see a united group of Christian disciples faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles

As scholars have long realized, the testimony of the Fathers does not incline us to see a united group of Christian disciples faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Rather, with the death of the apostles, the congregations of Christians were riven by schism, disagreement, doctrinal innovation, and a lack of the clarity that can only come from divinely-commissioned prophets and apostles. It is clear from the Fathers themselves that something quite disturbing was underway soon after the apostles' death.

Many of the early Christian Fathers did probably not see themselves as part of an apostate Christianity or group. However, as we watch Christian debate, practice, belief, and doctrine alter as the years pass, it is difficult not to conclude that serious and substantial changes were at work once the apostles were gone. (Some changes were noted and bemoaned by some early Christian authors, however.)


Clement of Rome: "For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you"

Clement of Rome, who died ca. A.D. 90, wrote to the Corinthians of

"that shameful and detestable sedition" by which the: “worthless rose up against the honoured, those of no reputation against such as were renowned, the foolish against the wise, the young against those advanced in years. For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you, inasmuch as every one abandons the fear of God, and is become blind in his faith, neither walks in the ordinances of his appointment, nor acts a part becoming a Christian, but walks after his own wicked lusts.”[1]

In the same epistle, he declared, "It is right and holy therefore, men and brethren, rather to obey God than to follow those who, through pride and sedition, have become the leaders of a detestable emulation."[2] The term "emulation" suggests that these false leaders taught an imitation form of Christianity.

Clement further wrote that “Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate [bishopric] . . . We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties . . . But we see that ye have removed some men of excellent behaviour from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honour.”[3]


Hegesippus: "These also, as there were none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth"

Hegesippus, a historian of the period immediately following apostolic times (A.D. 110-180), is quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History as saying:

the church continued until then as a pure virgin and uncorrupt virgin: whilst if there were any at all attempted to pervert the sound doctrine of the saving gospel, they were yet skulking in dark retreats; but when the sacred choir of apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom had passed away, then also the combination of impious errors arose by fraud and delusions of false teachers. These also, as there were none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth.[4]


Ignatius: "the false prophets and the false apostles"

Ignatius (A.D. 30-107) a student of St. John the Apostle, said in his epistle to the Ephesians, that he was “the last of the faithful that are there (Antioch)."[5] It must be remembered that Antioch had one of the highest population of Christians at that time. If he was the “last” faithful member in a largely Christian city, what about the rest of the world, that also didn’t have apostles and prophets to correct and lead them?

Ignatius mentioned "the false prophets and the false apostles" who had already come before his time.[6] He goes on to say that “the last times are come upon us.”[7]


Irenaeus: "evil is spread abroad among men"

Irenaeus agrees that an apostasy is coming when he says,

But now, since the last times are [come upon us], evil is spread abroad among men.[8]


Tertullian: "Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition!"

Because of the infiltration of philosophy into the Christian Church, Tertullian said:

“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from the "porch of Solomon," who had himself taught that "the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart." Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.”[9]

“When churches were advanced in the faith much less would the apostles have withheld from them anything for the purpose of committing it separately to only a specific few.”[10]


Cyprian: Cyprian argued that since the Saints had sunk to such low levels of depravity they rightly deserved the harsh judgments of God

"We also have the testimony of Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, North Africa, who served from A.D. 248-258. Cyprian paints a stark and disturbing picture of apostasy among the Christians of his day. Bishops, he said, had lost their own devotion to God’s service (some even abandoning their congregations) and the clergy had lost their integrity. The Saints had become insatiably greedy, had lost their compassion for the needy, had become proud, and behaved in undisciplined ways. Christians were marrying pagans, practicing perjury, commmitting fraud, displaying contempt for authority, and even betraying their faith. Cyprian argued that since the Saints had sunk to such low levels of depravity they rightly deserved the harsh judgments of God."[11]


Cyril of Jerusalem: "For men have fallen from the right faith; and some preach the identity of the Son with the Father...This, therefore, is the falling away"

Cyril, who served as the bishop of Jerusalem between A.D 349 and 387. said, after quoting 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10,

thus wrote Paul, and now is the falling away. For men have fallen from the right faith; and some preach the identity of the Son with the Father, and others dare to say that Christ was brought into being out of nothing. And formerly the heretics were manifest openly; but now the church is filled with heretics in disguise. For men have fallen away from the truth, and have itching ears...most have departed from right words, and rather choose the evil, than desire the good. This, therefore, is the falling away.”[12]


Scholarly quotes on the historical evidence for apostasy

Scholarly quotes on the historical evidence for apostasy

This broad selection of quotations provides clear support for the idea that the doctrines and practice of the Early Church of the apostles had been altered dramatically within a few centuries at most:

  • Will Durant, "Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it. The Greek mind, dying, came to a transmigrated [new] life in the theology and liturgy of the Church."[13]
  • Stuart Hall: “Fourth century orthodoxy is not the same as what Peter and Paul believed, any more than modern Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism is..."[14]
  • Thomas Jefferson, though surely not a cleric, was a great student of Christianity. Even he acknowledged the loss of the original gospel and said that he looked forward to "the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity. I must leave to younger athletes to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologies of the middle and modern ages"[15]
  • Philip Smith: "The sad truth is that as soon as Christianity was generally diffused, it began to absorb corruptions from all the lands in which it was planted, and to reflect the complexion of all their systems of religion and philosophy."[16]
  • J.W.C. Wand (former Anglican Bishop of London) “[t]he new Christian church was frankly national. The people were converted en bloc; the temples were turned into churches and the priests were ordained into the Christian ministry.”[17]
  • Robert Wilken, professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Virginia, wrote “only a few enterprising intellectuals, and only after more than one hundred years of Christian history, had begun to take the risk of expressing Christian beliefs within the philosophical ideas current in the Greco Roman world. Most Christians were against to such attempts. As late as the third century, after the apologetic movement had introduced Greek ideas into Christian thinking, Christian preachers complained that the rank and file opposed such ideas.”[18]

Notes

  1. Clement, "Against Heresiess," in None Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:462. ANF ToC off-site This volume CHECK!!
  2. Clement, "1 Clement," in 1,3 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:5–6. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  3. Clement, "1 Clement," in 44 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:17. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  4. Eusebius Pamphilius of Cæsarea, Ecclesiastical History; available in Philip Schaff (editor), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series 2 (Vol. 1-14) (New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890–1899), 1:
    volume 3, chapter 32. off-site
  5. Ignatius, "To the Ephesians," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:58. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  6. Ignatious, "Epistle to the Philadelphians," in 5 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:56. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  7. Ignatious, "Epistle to the Ephesians," in 11 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:54. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  8. Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:462. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  9. Tertullian, Ante-Nicene Fathers3:246. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  10. Tertullian, Ante-Nicene Fathers3:255. ANF ToC off-site This volume See Revelation 2-3: for the churches' status.
  11. Maurice Bevenot, translator, Ancient Christian Writers: St. Cyprian (New York: Newman Press, 1957), 16-19; as cited in Matthew B. Brown, "Evidences of Apostasy," in All Things Restored, 2d ed. (American Fork, UT: Covenant, 2006), 9. AISN B000R4LXSM. ISBN 1577347129.
  12. Cyril, Philip Schaff (editor), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series 2 (Vol. 1-14) (New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890–1899), 7:106–107. off-site
  13. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Volume 3: Caesar and Christ, (1944), 595.
  14. Stuart Hall, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church, (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; New edition, 2005), 36. ISBN 0281055092. ISBN 978-0281055098.
  15. Thomas Jefferson, cited in Norman Cousins, In God We Trust (Harper & Brothers, 1958), 162.
  16. Phillip Smith, History of the Christian Church during the first ten centuries (Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2007[1886]), 1:49.
  17. .W.C. Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500 (Methuen & Co Ltd, 1945), 244.
  18. Robert Louis Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yale University Press, 2003), 79. ISBN 0300098391. ISBN 978-0300098396.