I’ve been reading a great collection of writings by Christian leaders from just after New Testament times. I’ve largely enjoyed it, but as I get into the second half, I’m stalling out–my enthusiasm for this one is just winding down, so I’m putting it back on the shelf for now (sorry, Justin Martyr).
The Ensign had a great article about these writings in the August 1976 issue.
Of the documents I’ve read so far, all were at least good, and some were really great. The four marked with an A+ I highly recommend to everybody. Here are my notes and quotes:
This one comes from a bishop who knew and was mentored by the Apostles, and his letter is amazing. It’s actually from within the first century, making it contemporary with the New Testament, and was even included in some early versions of the New Testament. It isn’t canonized scripture for us, but it isn’t far off…the Spirit is there in this one.
35 How blessed and amazing are God’s gifts, dear friends! 2Life with immortality, splendor with righteousness, truth with confidence, faith with assurance, self-control with holiness! And all these things are within our comprehension. 3What, then, is being prepared for those who wait for him? The Creator and Father of eternity, the all-holy, himself knows how great and wonderful it is. 4We, then, should make every effort to be found in the number of those who are patiently looking for him, so that we may share in the gifts he has promised. 5And how shall this be, dear friends? If our mind is faithfully fixed on God; if we seek out what pleases and delights him; if we do what is in accord with his pure will, and follow in the way of truth. If we rid ourselves of all wickedness, evil, avarice, contentiousness, malice, fraud, gossip, slander, hatred of God, arrogance, pretension, conceit, and inhospitality.
There are seven of these letters–as a whole, I give them an A-, but his letters to the Romans and to the Philadelphians each get a solid A, and my favorite, to the Ephesians, gets an A+. A quote:
9 I have heard that some strangers came your way with a wicked teaching. But you did not let them sow it among you. You stopped up your ears to prevent admitting what they disseminated. Like stones of God’s Temple, ready for a building of God the Father, you are being hoisted up by Jesus Christ, as with a crane (that’s the cross!), while the rope you use is the Holy Spirit. Your faith is what lifts you up, while love is the way you ascend to God.
You are all taking part in a religious procession,185 carrying along with you your God, shrine, Christ, and your holy objects, and decked out from tip to toe in the commandments of Jesus Christ. I too am enjoying it all, because I can talk with you in a letter, and congratulate you on changing your old way of life and setting your love on God alone.
THE LETTER OF POLYCARP, BISHOP OF SMYRNA, TO THE PHILIPPIANS: B
Good stuff, but not as brilliant as these others, and nothing terribly earth shattering here.
This account of the arrest, torture, and death of a 2nd century bishop is absolutely powerful: highly recommended for the edification of anyone.
7 Taking, therefore, the young slave on Friday about suppertime, the police, mounted and with their customary arms, set out as though “hasting after a robber.” And late in the evening they came up with him and found him in bed in the upper room of a small cottage. Even so he could have escaped to another farm, but he did not wish to do so, saying, “God’s will be done.”
Thus, when he heard of their arrival, he went downstairs and talked with them, while those who looked on marveled at his age and constancy, and at how there should be such zeal over the arrest of so old a man. Straightway he ordered food and drink, as much as they wished, to be set before them at that hour, and he asked them to give him an hour so that he might pray undisturbed.
And when they consented, he stood and prayed—being so filled with the grace of God that for two hours he could not hold his peace, to the amazement of those who heard. And many repented that they had come to get such a devout old man.
THE TEACHING OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES, COMMONLY CALLED THE DIDACHE: C+
I was looking forward to this one most of all, and was most disappointed. This is as close as we have to a 1st century version of a Doctrine and Covenants, but it’s nowhere near as pure as I’d like. As a Latter-day Saint, I see echoes of what I understand to be “original” Christianity here, as well as evidence of an encroaching apostasy. With such a mindset, there’s little to be gained from the text.
AN ANONYMOUS SERMON, COMMONLY CALLED CLEMENT’S SECOND LETTER: A-
Not really by Clement, but a very good anonymous 2nd century sermon. Worthwhile.
6 To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. 2The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. 3The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world. 4The soul, which is invisible, is kept under guard in the visible body; in the same way, Christians are recognised when they are in the world, but their religion remains unseen. 5The flesh hates the soul and treats it as an enemy, even though it has suffered no wrong, because it is prevented from enjoying its pleasures; so too the world hates Christians, even though it suffers no wrong at their hands, because they range themselves against its pleasures. 6The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and its members; in the same way, Christians love those who hate them. 7The soul is shut up in the body, and yet itself holds the body together; while Christians are restrained in the world as in a prison, and yet themselves hold the world together. 8The soul, which is immortal, is housed in a mortal dwelling; while Christians are settled among corruptible things, to wait for the incorruptibility that will be theirs in heaven. 9The soul, when faring badly as to food and drink, grows better; so too Christians, when punished, day by day increase more and more. 10It is to no less a post than this that God has ordered them, and they must not try to evade it.