The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church (Tertullian).
Let it be understood that those who are not living by Christ's teachings are not Christians at all even though they might profess his teachings with their lips (Justin Martyr).
The first Christians were obviously Jews but by the time of Paul and Peter's deaths the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world was the work of mainly Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians became more and more insulated, and from Irenaeus (130-200) onwards they were looked upon unfavourably.
Christianity must have first appeared as one more sect within Judaism, as there had always been diversity in religious expression such as the sharp differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees as evident in the New Testament. And of course there were also the Essenes who lived ascetic lives around the shores of the Dead Sea. The Jews had always differed from other peoples' religion by their monotheistic faith, and their undoubting belief that they were the chosen people of God. They therefore refused to partake in any of the Roman cults, but they did offer daily sacrifice on behalf of the emperor in the temple. On this point Christian Jews differed from orthodox Jews. By the time of Christ's death, Jews were dispersed throughout Mediterranean world, and we know they were in Rome by A.D. 49 as Suetonius related how Jews were driven out for rioting 'at the instigation of Chrestus' by Claudius. It was because of this dispersed population that the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament had been scribed and completed by the second century B.C.
From the first the Church was deeply aware of its Jewish roots, clearly seen in Matthew's gospel where our Lord is depicted as the new Moses who hands down the laws by which his followers must live. These are seen in the Beatitudes, delivered also from a mountain. Christ also fulfils the Suffering Servant prophecy of Deutero-Isaiah, and His redemptive work inaugurated a new covenant between God and his people, in accordance with that expressed by Jeremiah:
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer. 31. 33).
Before long there were considerable number of Christian Jews not only in Jerusalem but also in the countryside, and before much longer in Damascus and Antioch, the capital of Syria and the third city of the of the Roman Empire where the term 'Christian' was first used. It continued to spread northwards into Syria and Cilicia, where its popularity caused a counter-movement led by a Cilician Jew, Saul of Tarsus. It was his conversion at Damascus that led to the Church being opened to non-Jews, the Gentiles. From Acts and the authentic Pauline letters we know something of how the Gentile communities developed, but we know very little of the mother-church in Jerusalem under the leadership of James, the brother of the Lord. What ever happened to most of the apostles is webbed mostly in legend save for Peter and John. James, the brother of John was killed by Herod's orders c. A.D. 42.
There has always been controversy over the relation between Paul and Peter, especially when they clashed at Antioch over Gentile Christians being made Jews through circumcision, but at least in death they were not divided as both were martyred in Rome c.64 A.D. during the persecution under Nero. That Peter had been in Rome for twenty-five years prior to his martyrdom, is a third century legend and historically he was never the bishop of Rome. He had more influence within the church in Antioch and that is why he is so prominent in the Matthean gospel.
This spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world soon brought them into conflict with Roman authority. As early as 64 when a great fire destroyed much of Rome they were conspicuous enough for them to be a scapegoat for Nero who may have been responsible for the incendiary. The Neronian persecution was the first of many which the early Church was to face until the edict of Milan in A.D. 313 that gave religious toleration. Yet Nero's persecution differed from those that followed after him, being essential to divert attention from his own malicious act. After him persecution revolved around the control of power and obedience. Under the rule of Domitian (81-96) the customary oath to the emperor became officially obligatory when he claimed the double title, Lord and God, (Dominus et Deus noster). Whether Christians were persecuted in any number by Domitian is uncertain, although Clement's first letter written to the Corinthians about this time speaks of 'calamitious events which have happened to ourselves' (I Clem. 1. 1).
The emperor at the beginning of the second century was Trajan (98-117) who did not like the imperial cult being made a compulsory test of loyalty. Nevertheless during his reign Pliny the younger, governor of Bithynia, approached Trajan on how he should deal with Christians in his province. Pliny had found that Christianity had infected 'many of all ages and ranks', and that the temples were almost deserted. He had taken measures against this so called 'insanity', and Christians who refused to sacrifice and who were non-Roman subjects were executed, whilst those who were Roman citizens were sent to Rome for trial. Nevertheless Pliny had no desire to bring a hornet's nest about his ears, and hence his appeal to Trajan, whose reply was temperate and statesmanlike. 'They are not to be sought out; but if they are accused and convicted, they should be punished, but on the understanding that the man who denies that he is a Christian and gives proof of his sincerity by offering prayers to our gods, however much he has been suspected in the past, shall be pardoned on his repentance.' This correspondence manifested that there must have been Christians who under pressure apostasied. As we shall see this became a divisive issue a little later in the persecuted Church.
During the time of Trajan there was one outstanding martyr, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, and tradition has it that it was Trajan himself who was responsible for his death, and the manner of his death in the coliseum arena. Like so many early Christians, Ignatius embraced death with welcome arms. In his travels to Rome to face his martyrdom, he wrote seven letters to the centres he visited on route. These letters are very valuable because after Paul's they are practically the first authentic evidence we have of many aspects of Christianity such as ministry, doctrine and liturgy. In regards to ministry he outlined a three-fold ministry. He urged Christians to be faithful to their respective community, of which most had a presiding bishop assisted by a council of presbyters and deacons.
Unity was one of Ignatius prime concerns. Writing to the Magnesians he told them "I urge you to try to do all things in harmony with God, under the presidency of the bishop (Damas), who holds the place of God, and of the presbyters, who hold the place of the college of apostles, and of the deacons, who are so dear to me and who have been entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ” (Mag. Ch. 6) To the Philadelphians he instructed them to celebrate the Eucharist with their bishop, and "not to do anything in a spirit of divisiveness but only according to the teaching of Jesus Christ." He stressed how the Eucharist was the source of unity, "the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death which gives eternal life in Jesus Christ . . . the bread that is the flesh of Jesus Christ, this flesh which has suffered for our sins" ( Phil. Ch. 5). Ignatius expressed his own martyrdom in eucharistic terms when he prayed to be become like wheat grounded by beasts teeth to a fine white grain in Christ. “I am God's wheat. May I be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, until I become the fine white bread that belongs to Christ” (Rom. Ch. 4).
In view of the various heresies in vogue his letters also stressed both the humanity and divinity of Jesus, including his bodily death and resurrection. He was also the first Christian writer to stress the virgin birth and to use the term 'catholic church' as a collective term for the faithful. Christians are "bearers of God, bearers of his temple, bearers of Christ, and so you are adorned with no other ornament than the counsels of Jesus Christ," (Eph. Ch. 9) he wrote to the Church at Ephesus.
One of the bishops Ignatius met on his journey to Rome was the aged Polycarp of Smyrna (69 - 155). He also suffered martyrdom under Antoninus Pius (138-161). When his captors asked him to sacrifice, he replied, in those immortal words, 'eighty and six years have I served him and He did me no wrong, how shall I blaspheme my King who have saved me?' (Martyrdom of Polycarp Ch. 9).
Not long after Polycarp's martyrdom, in 155 the great apologist against the pagans, Justin Martyr was killed for his faith. He has been regarded the first of the Fathers of the Church. His two extant works Apology and Dialogue with Trypho are extremely important for the study of the early development of Christian doctrine as well as giving many interesting details of Christian life and worship. He also wrote against Christians who failed to uphold Christian precepts in their lives. Justin was one of a few outstanding apologists of the second century.
Persecution soon broke out again under Marcus Aurelius, and it was particularly viscous in the Rhône Valley at Lyons and Vienne c.177. There were many victims including the ages Bishop of Lyons, Pothinus and Blandina. Three years later persecution hit Carthage in North Africa. Of this persecution in c.180 twelve Christians, probably slaves, were examined by the proconsul Saturnius. Account of their trial, which was the dialogue between the proconsul and Speratus, presumably the leader, survives. It revealed how patient Saturnius is with the Christians, but Speratus indicated they had committed no crime as they paid their taxes and even prayed for the well being of the emperor. This trial is a good example of this control of power and obedience. For these Christian slaves obedience was due to God who was all powerful, and for that they were prepared to die and did. They needed no time to think about it as suggested by Saturnius. They were Christians and nothing would alter that fact.
At the opening of the third century there was another wave of persecution in North Africa, under Severus, of which the best known victims are Perpetua, her slave, Felicity and four companions, Saturnus, Revocatus, Secundulus and Saturninus. They went to their deaths cheerfully after sharing an agape. Their deaths were horrendous, and because of this their martyrdom was greatly revered in the early Church.
Then persecution of Christians slackened but towards the middle of the third century, as Origen observed; hostility to the church sharpened and it continued and intermittently into the early fourth century. The Christian champion through most of this was Cyprian who became bishop of Carthage in 248, only two years after he had become a Christian. The emperor Decius (249-51) ordered a systematic persecution, requiring that everyone should possess a certificate (libellus) that he had sacrificed to the gods before special commissioners. Such an order caused havoc to the Church in many ways, especially in regards to the 'lapsed' who had either sacrificed or had obtained a certificate to say they had. The bishops of Carthage and Alexandria, Cyprian and Dionysius went into hiding and controlled their people by secret correspondence. The bishops of Rome, Antioch and Jerusalem were all martyred.
Just a few years later, in 258 under Valerian persecution was severe. He commanded the clergy to participate in pagan worship, and to surrender its treasures. In Rome Pope Sixtus 11 and Laurence the deacon were amongst many Christians put to death, whilst in Carthage, Cyprian was martyred also for the faith.
Just prior to his death a severe plague epidemic broke out in Carthage. Cyprian organized a programme of medical relief and nursing of the sick for all citizens, but this did not prevent the masses wanting a scapegoat for such a calamity. Once again Christians were blame for such a catastrophe. Thus another persecution followed. This time Cyprian did not flee, and was arrested on what is now Holy Cross Day. The governor Galerius Maximus confronted Cyprian:
You have set yourself up as an enemy of the gods of Rome and our religious practices. You have been discovered as the author for all those who have followed you in your crime. By your blood the law shall be confirmed.' 'It is decided that Cyprian should die by the sword.'
To which Cyprian answered, 'Thanks be to God.'
After Cyprian's death, one of the severest persecution faced by the early Church occurred in the early fourth century under Diocletian. When he became emperor in 284 he divided the empire in two: east and west. Diocletian and his deputy, Galerius, ruled the Eastern. On 23rd February, 303, the Cathedral opposite the imperial palace in Nicodemia was dismantled, and the next day an edict was issued declaring all churches to be destroyed, all bibles and liturgical books surrendered, sacred vessels confiscated, and all meetings for worship forbidden. A second edict ordered the arrest of all clergy. The following year all citizens in the eastern Empire were required to sacrifice on pain of death. These extreme measures in the East were not enforced in the West under Maximian and Constantius. Finally the day of enlightenment dawned for that persecuted church. Constantius's son, Constantine succeeded as Emperor of the West, and with it came religious toleration for Christians.
The unity of Christians living scattered throughout the Roman Empire and liable to persecution for its first three hundred years depended on three things: common faith, worship and life. All these crossed the bounds of class, education and race as all were one in their loyalty to Jesus. Each Sunday they met for their Eucharist, in which the baptized ate bread and drank wine in a sacred meal of which they spoke as 'eating the body' and 'drinking the blood' of Christ. To share in this meal was extremely important as an expression of membership so that fragments of the broken bread were taken to the ill and indisposed. Those who had committed serious sins were excluded from the sacred elements, although they were permitted to attend the first part of the service (what to-day we call the Liturgy of the word) for the psalms, reading and prayers. Also attending the first part of the service were the catechumens preparing for baptism, the admission rite into the Church. Determination of what was a serious sin became a pastoral problem because it included not only moral failures, but apostatising and heretical beliefs. Under pressure many Christians lapsed or obtained certificates indicating they had offered incense to the Emperor.
Cyprian, in exile, had issued a statement On the Lapsed, in which he deniedthat any human being had power to remit apostasy, holding that the guilty must be left to God's judgment. However Cyprian did not hold the extreme view like Novatus, a priest in Rome and later rival pope to Cornelius, who under no condition would allow them back into the Church. Cyprian maintained after a suitable period of penance and probation they could be received back into full communion.
Another issue arose, schismatic bishops. During Cyprian's exile a rival bishop, Fortunatus, had been proclaimed in Carthage. This led to what is Cyprian's best known work, On the Unity of the Church. In this he stated that the source of unity in the Church is 'the unity of the Blessed trinity', and that bishops are the focal point for the unity of Christians in their respective communities. 'Of this unity Rome is (not the centre but) the symbol.' For Cyprian there was no grace outside the Church. One of the most quoted passages over the centuries is Cyprian's: 'You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church as your Mother'. God is one and Christ is one; one is the faith, and one is the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body If we are heirs of Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are the sons of God, let us be lovers of peace.' Even Calvin quoted it during the Reformation!
Despite the persecutions by the end of the second century Christianity was penetrating the upper classes of society, and more than one person in high authority had a Christian wife who would attend vigils and prayers. For example Marcia, the concubine of the emperor Commodus (180-192) was a Christian, who was able to gain a considerable amount of relief for Christians in Rome. The first two centuries were also sources of important Christian literature, suffice to mention two here. The first is the Epistle of Barnabas, a defence of Christianity against Judaism, probably written in the time of Hadrian, and the other is Shepherd of Hermas, written a long the lines of Pilgrim's Progress as a narrative for Christians. They both enjoyed great veneration in the early Church, and longed struggled for a place in the canon. Indeed both writings are to be found as part of the New Testament in the Codex Sinaiticus.
Very early Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria became the two great centres of learning in Christianity. According to tradition Mark was the first head of the Alexandrian school, but the first teacher of any certainty was Pantæneus, (c.180-90) followed by Clement who held this position until the persecution under Severus in 202. The position was then filled by Origen, one of the great thinkers of the early church and ever since. It was in the schools in Alexandria and Antioch that the Church began to formulate doctrine, especially in regards to Christ. Before the Church's formulation on the nature and person of Christ at the Council of Nicea in 325, heresies arose on the person of Christ. The chief of these was Arianism, which taught there was a time when Christ was not. Long before this heresy raised its head, there was a much older one, Gnosticism, even older than Christianity, in its various formed. Indeed St. Paul censured members of the church at both Corinth and Colissae for following Gnostic beliefs. It is derived from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. But their knowledge was not of a philosophical or intellectual character, but rather a knowledge of the nature and destiny of man, based on a grandiose revelation about the origin of the world that explained how evil had come into being, and how one could rise above it. Hence Gnostics tried to rouse the soul from the body, regarded as evil, and to make it aware of its high destiny in its heavenly home. Though there were various forms of Gnosticism it was basically a dualist religion, teaching that there are opposing forces in life good versus evil, light versus darkness, knowledge versus ignorance, and spirit versus matter. Since the world is material Gnostics denied that God had made it. One solution was to say that there were thirty Aeons, and that God made the first Aeon, which made the second and so on.
Some Gnostics were known as Docetists, coming from the Greek word meaning 'to seem' as they taught that Christ did not really have a material body, but only seemed to have one in order to communicate with people. He was not really born, nor did he really suffer or die on the cross. It was against this teaching that John wrote in his first letter:
And every one who does not confess that Jesus Christ is come into the flesh is not of God; and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already is in the world (1Jon. 4.3.)
The first champion against heresy was Ireneaus who left Lyon during the persecution there in 177 to travel to Rome with a letter to the Bishop of Rome, Eleutherius to deal with the Montanist (a form of Gnosticism) faction, which was rampart in the East. To his chagrin he discovered that Montanism was taught in Rome, alongside another heresy Valenentism, and worse still supported by the bishop. Ireneaus returned to Lyons whereupon he became the new bishop, succeeding Pothinus, and determined to devote his life to erasing these various forms of Gnostic heresies, and champion the Catholic faith. Accordingly he wrote his master piece Against Heresies in five books. The first gives a minute description of the various heretical sects, the second demolishes the arguments of these sects, and the last three presents the true doctrine of the Church.
In his refuting of heresies Irenaeus gave a catholic or universal teaching of the Church in which he gave three examples. It was proper to speak of the Church in Corinth, or the Church in Lyons or the Church in Antioch etc, but these were simply branches of the Catholic Church.
Judaism preserved the knowledge of the monotheistic God among a single people, but the task of Christianity was to preach the Truth to all nations.
Gnosticism was only for those who were elected to aspire to the divine spark imprisoned in matter whilst Christianity was to be proclaimed to all peoples.
It was above all in his Eucharistic teaching that Irenaeus defended Catholic doctrine against Gnostic teaching, which 'ignore the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration'. He argued that if Christ did not have a human body 'then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of his blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. For blood can only come from veins and flesh.' For Ireneaus, the splendour of the Eucharist is not only in that the consecrated elements are, the body and blood of Christ, but also that bread and wine are able to yield to these divine realities. In this eucharistic consecration the whole act of creation is involved. Christ counselled his disciples to offer to God first fruits from his creation, when He took bread and gave thanks, saying, 'This is my body.' And in the same way with the cup of wine which he declared to be His blood, and taught the oblation of the new covenant. 'And on what basis can it be affirmed among the Gnostics that the consecrated bread is the body of their Lord and the cup is his blood, if they will not admit that he himself is the son of the world's maker His Word, that is, through whom the wood blooms and the fountains flow and the earth gives first the blade, then the ear, then the perfect grain in the ear.'
There are other passages that relate the elements to the whole cosmic process, culminating in the resurrection.
And the stock of the vine is bent down to earth and bear fruition in its proper time, and the grain of wheat falls into the earth, is dissolved, and rises manifold through the Spirit of God who holds all things together; and afterwards, brought by providence to the use of man, these receive the word of God to become Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ: so our bodies which the Eucharist has nourished, buried now and dissolved into the earth, shall rise in their appointed time, when the Word of God gives it to them to rise in the glory of God the Father.
Closely connected with his Eucharistic teaching against Gnosticism was his teaching on the nature and person of Christ. Those who refuse to accept Christ as both God and man deprive themselves of eternal life. By 'not receiving the incorruptible Word, they remain in mortal flesh, and are debtors to death, not obtaining the antidote of life.' These Gnostics are those 'whom the Word says you shall die like men.' As they 'have not received the gift of adoption', because they 'despise the incarnation of the pure generation of the Word of God, defraud human nature of promotion into God, and prove themselves ungrateful to the Word of God, who became flesh for them.' Thus:
It was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality. But how could we be joined to incorruptibility and immortality, unless, first, incorruptibility and immortality had become that which we also are, so that the corruptible might be swallowed up by incorruptibility, and the mortal by immortality, that might receive the adoption of sons?
It is probably to Ireneaus that we owe the first 'Rule of Faith', which is equivalent to our Creed. This states that God the Father is maker of heaven and earth, in Jesus Christ, the 'Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation, and in the Holy Spirit who through the prophets preached the dispensations and the comings and the virgin birth and the passion, and the rising from the dead and the assumption into heaven in his flesh of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, and his coming from heaven in the glory of the Father'
Another issue taken up by Irenaeus was the observance of Easter. In 190 Victor, bishop of Rome demanded uniformity in the observance of Easter, which the churches of Asia regarded as autocratic and offensive. Irenaeus supported the Quartodecimans i.e those who kept Easter on the fourteenth day, and appealed on their behalf to Victor.
Irenaeus stressed that this is that faith taught by bishops and was the formula put to catechumens at their baptism. The Church owes a lot to Irenaeus who laid the foundations of Christian theology in his refuting of the errors of the Gnostics. Although he died at the beginning of the 3rd C, perhaps during the persecutions under Severus, his teaching was often quoted by Tertullian and others during the 3rd C.
Before Irenaeus, the letters of Ignatius and Clement illustrated the importance of the proper form of ministry in the early church. The transition within two generations from apostles, prophets and teachers to bishops, presbyters and deacons is shrouded in obscurity. St. Clement of Rome writing to the Church of Corinth towards the end of the first century implies the existence of two distinct orders: bishops and/or presbyters and deacons. (The Pastoral letters had previously spoken of 'bishops and deacons'.)
Clement stressed that:
The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God,and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture in a certain place, 'I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.'
It has already been noted the emphasis that Ignatius placed on the church gathering around its bishop in the sacramental life, whilst in the Didache, completed in the latter part of the first century also outlined a two-tiered ministry. The Christian congregations were urged to appoint 'worthy bishops and deacons of the Lord.' They were to be 'men who are meek, not lovers of money, but truthful and proven', and they were to 'be honoured, together with the teachers and prophets.' Hippolytus, who had a life-long feud with Callistus in Rome in the early third century, and became the first anti-Pope, in the Apostolic Tradition emphasised that the office of the clergy was God given. 'For the bishops and the presbyters are the priests with relation to the people; and the laity are the laity with relation to the clergy. And to be a Christian is in our own power; but to be an apostle, or a bishop, or in any other such office, is not in our own power, but at the disposal of God, who bestows the gifts.' But 'let not a bishop be exalted against his deacons and presbyters, nor the presbyters against the people.'
The deacons role was very clear in those first three centuries. He/she helps the bishops in looking after church property, in charitable relief to the needy and taking the consecrated elements to absent brethren who were sick or imprisoned. By the third century in Cyprian's time in Africa deacons administered the chalice and read the Gospel. It would seem too that deacons celebrated the Divine Mysteries as decree issued at both the Council of Arles in 314 and Nicaea in 325 forbad such a practise. The non-liturgical functions of the diaconate was shared with deaconess.
The earliest form of ordination date from this very early period too. In the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus stated that all presbyters present join with the bishop in laying hands.
The form of the Liturgy is also entrenched in its very earliest beginnings. Both the Apostolic Tradition and Didache have the earliest forms of the Canon of the Mass. In the latter is stated:
Now concerning the Thanksgiving meal, give thanks in this manner.
First concerning the cup. You, our Father,
For the Holy Vine of David Your servant,
Whom You made known to us through Your Servant Jesus;
May the glory be Yours forever.
Concerning the broken bread:
We thank You, our Father,
For the life and knowledge
Which You made known to us through Your Servant Jesus;
May the glory be Yours forever.
As this broken bread was scattered over the mountains,
And was gathered together to become one,
So let Your Church be gathered together
From the ends of the earth into Your kingdom;
for the glory and power are Yours
through Jesus Christ forever.
But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving, unless they have been baptized in the Name of the Lord; for concerning this the Lord said, "Do not give what is holy to dogs."
There is also a prayer for after Communion:
After the meal, give thanks in this manner:
We offer thanks, Holy Father,
For Your Holy Name which fills our hearts,
And for the knowledge, faith and eternal life,
You made known to us through Your Servant Jesus;
Yours is the glory forever.
Almighty Master, You created all things for Your own purpose;
You gave men food and drink to enjoy,
That they might give You thanks;
But to us You freely give spiritual food and drink,
And eternal life through Your Servant.
Foremost, we thank You because You are mighty;
Yours is the glory forever.
Lord, Remember Your Church,
To deliver it from everything evil
And perfect it according to Your love,
And gather it from the four winds,
Sanctified for Your kingdom which You have prepared for it;
For the power and glory are Yours forever.
Let Your grace come,
And let this world pass away.
Hosanna to the God of David!
May all who are holy, come;
Let those who are not, repent.
There are resemblances of the Canon of Hippolytus in the Eucharistic Prayer II in the post -Vatican Rite of the Mass. Hippolytus stressed the incarnating life of Christ, obvious in the opening :
We give you thanks, O God, through your beloved Servant Jesus Christ, whom at the end of time you did send to us a Saviour and Redeemer and the Messenger of your counsel. Who is your Word, inseparable from you; throughwhom you did make all things and in whom you are well pleased. Whom you did send from heaven into the womb of the Virgin, and who, dwelling within her, was made flesh, and was manifested as your Son, being born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin. Who, fulfilling your will, and winning for himself a holy people, spread out his hands when he came to suffer, that by his death he might set free them who believed on you.
Who, when he was betrayed to his willing death, that he might bring to nought death, and break the bond of the devil, and tread hell under foot, and give light to the righteous and set up a boundary post, and manifest his resurrection, taking bread and giving thanks to you said: Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you. And likewise also the cup, saying: This is my blood, which is shed for you. As often as you perform this, perform my memorial. Having in memory, therefore, his death and resurrection, we offer to you the bread and the cup, yielding you thanks, because you have you would send your Holy Spirit upon the offering of your holy church; that you, gathering them into one, would grant to all your saints who partake to be filled with the Holy Spirit, that their faith may be confirmed in truth, that we may praise and glorify you. Through your Servant Jesus Christ, through whom be to you glory and honour, with the Holy Spirit in the holy church, both now and always and world without end. Amen.
The administering of the sacrament of Baptism also appeared early. In the Didache we discover that Baptism is preferably to be performed in running water, but if not available either cold or warm water, which must be poured three times upon the head in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The candidate for baptism was required to fast one or two days beforehand.
Of all those who were martyred in those first four centuries, one of the most outstanding in his contribution was Cyprian. Although not long made a Christian, let alone a bishop before his martyrdom, his faithfulness and above all his pastoral care and writings have made him one of the great figures of that early Church. Unity amongst Christians was dear to Cyprian's heart, and he preached and wrote on this often, He saw it expressed so purposefully in the Eucharist.
Since Christ bore us, and bore our sins, we see that the water signifies the people, while the wine is the blood of Christ. Therefore when the water and the wine are mixed in the chalice, the people are united with Christ, and the great number of the faithful are joined and united with the one in whom they believe.
And this intermingling of water and wine in the chalice of our Lord is indissoluble. Hence the Church, that is the people who are firmly and faithfully established in the Church and who persevere in the faith, cannot ever be separated from Christ by anything, but will remain attached to him by a love that unites both as one.
And in the consecration of the Lord's cup, water alone cannot be offered, any more than wine alone can. For if someone offers the wine alone, then the blood of Christ is present without us, and if the water is offered alone, then we are present without Christ. But when both are mixed and are united one with the other, then the spiritual and heavenly mystery is perfected.
Thus the cup of our Lord is truly not water alone nor wine alone, without a mixture of the two. Just as the body of Christ cannot be either flour alone nor water alone without the two having been mixed together and unified in order to make up the bread.
Here too we find an image of the unity of our people. Just as many grains, which have been ground and mixed together, make up a single loaf, so in Christ, who is the bread of heaven, we know that we are one body in which our diversity is united and made one.
Like Ignatius, Cyprian also saw martyrdom in eucharistic image.
There are now magistrates, consuls and proconsuls who glory in the insignia of their annual office. But in you the heavenly glory has shone forth for a whole year, and now the full cycle of the long and victorious year has turned. The rising sun filled the world with light as did the moon in its changing course, but in prison he who made the sun and the moon was your greater light. In your hearts and minds the radiance of Christ shone brightly, reading its brilliant and eternal light through that place of pain, which is so grim and fearful for others.
The winter has progressed through the cycle of the months, while you in your prison have exchanged the season of winter for the winter of persecution. After winter spring has come, decked with roses and crowned with flowers. But your roses and flowers come from the gardens of paradise, and your heads are crowned with garlands from heaven.
And the summer too is coming, which is rich with harvest, when the threshing floor will be piled high with its fruits. But you who have sown the seeds of glory will reap a harvest of glory. As you lie on the threshing floor of God, you will see the chaff being burned by an inextinguishable fire. Yet you ourselves, like grains of corn winnowed from precious wheat, shall be preserved after the time of trial and shall find a granary in your prison to receive you.
Nor is autumn lacking in its own tasks for the spiritual season. The grapes which are gathered outdoors and which are to fill the goblets of wine are crushed in the press. So you too, like clusters of grapes from the Lord's vineyard, ripe and rich, are now crushed by the violence of the world's persecution in the prison which is like a press weighing upon you. Filled with the courage to endure your passion, you pour out your blood like a wine, willingly draining the martyr's cup.
This is how the year passes for the servants of God. Thus the cycle of the seasons is celebrated with spiritual merits and heavenly rewards.
Persistent persecution in Africa caused another crisis over the lapsed, far worse than in the time of Cyprian. It led to the Donatist schism, which was still an issue when Augustine was bishop of Hippo, and lasted until the conquest of Islam. The bishop of Carthage, Mensurius and the archdeacon, Caecilian, cooperated with the authorities in not holding public worship. When Mensurius died not long afterwards, Caecilian was hastily consecrated, but the Numidian bishops consecrated another bishop to the see of Carthage, Majorinus. Caecilian survived because of the support of Constantine and Roman. The successor to Majorinus, Donatus was determined to keep the purity of the church unstained by any communion with any Christians who had compromised themselves under persecution.
By the time that Constantine legalised Christianity in 315 there were many schisms and heresies but these belonged to another lecture.
During these first three hundred years there were many outstanding theologians and thinkers apart from Irenaeus and Cyprian. One is Tertullian who is the first Christian to write in Latin, and who declared 'what has Athens got to do with Jerusalem? He lived in Carthage during the terrible persecution under Severus, which took Perpetua and her friends to martyrdom. His teaching in the wake of heresies, at first closely followed that of Irenaeus that the Father, Son and Spirit are one but in later lifebecame a follower of Montanism with its emphasis on the power of the Spirit in one's life.
Tertullian was particularly concerned with the proper behaviour for a Christian in a society pervaded by pagan customs. They were to keep themselves wholly unspotted from the world's idolatrous corruption, even working in the civil service. Indeed he saw the Christian's life as a constant battle against the devil. In the fiery zeal of his moral essays there is an intense ethical seriousness and passion.
One cannot mention outstanding theologians of that very early church without highlighting the contribution of Origen, one of the most brilliant thinkers the church has ever had. Refer to the School of Alexandria