A Modest Proposal For The Collection Of The Writings Of The Apostolic Fathers

As someone who has read a fair amount of material relating to the Apostolic Fathers [1], one of the notable aspects of these writings is how difficult it is to find all of the writings in the collection.  There are a great many works that will provide someone’s thoughts on the Apostolic Fathers, or at least some of them, and there are a great many works that will include one or two or several of the collection, but there are no accessible and mass market publications that include all of the volumes of the Apostolic Fathers in a single collection.  On the surface of it, this would be an easy problem to fix, and neither should it be difficult to explain why this would be a desirable and very likely profitable idea for someone to do it, especially given the fact that there is an increasing push among many religious traditions and even not particularly religious people (like Bart Ehrman) to pay closer attention to the Apostolic Fathers, and the best way to do that is to encourage people to read the collection in one place.

Let us note that this should not be a difficult task.  There are already very short volumes of material that include 1 Clement, the writings of Ignatius and Polycarp, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, and the Epistle to Diognetus.  It would not be any great difficulty to add to this the Shepherd of Hermas, the fragments of Quadrtus and Papias, and 2 Clement to make a work that is around 300 to 350 pages at most of modest sized paper and ordinary text, or to make larger editions with textual notes and elaborate introductions similar to what is done for Bibles.  If there is a much smaller market for the Apostolic Fathers as a collection of writings than the Bible, it should help profit margins a bit that there are excellent versions of all of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers in the public domain, so there should be considerable profit margins for the writings without very much difficulty, and one could easily imagine there being profit in selling a variety of different versions of the complete Apostolic Fathers collection.

Why is it important to collect the works as a whole?  Part of it is that if we want to see a set of given texts as a collection or as a canon of some kind, they need to be put together.  So long as the texts are isolated and scattered, and so long as some of them remain so difficult to find, then the works will not have any sort of cohesion as a larger set.  In order to approach a text as part of a larger collection we have to have some idea of that collection.  To be sure, the Apostolic Fathers are not on the same plane as the Hebrew scriptures or the New Testament, but it is not hard to see them on the same level as the apocryphal texts that come between the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, a similarly heterogeneous body of material that contains some historical insights as well as some examples of human reasoning that have gone off the rails.  That is to say that they are works that are worth knowing but not works that should be viewed as authoritative for believers.  Yet just as the Apocryphal works are collected in volumes of their own for modest prices, so too it would not be difficult to give the Apostolic Fathers a sense of cohesion by collecting them all together in one place.

There are many benefits in this approach.  For one, people will become educated as to the contents in the Apostolic Fathers and will no doubt see some linkages between them.  For another, they will find favorite passages to look to and quote and refer to in their own studies and will interpret the texts in light of their views of the Bible, which will all serve to make the century to a century and a half after the Apostles a better known period among those who are interested in early Christianity.  Without some way of understanding the traditions of those who early professed to be Christians, it is hard for there to be any credibility by those who would claim their example.  Likewise, those who are critical of the path that mainstream Christianity took would do well to examine these texts to point out where things went wrong, and what group of people were responsible for the rapid apostasy that came upon the Church of God during this time.  This can only be done, though, to the extent that these texts are known and understood so that they can be interpreted and debated.

Therefore, in order that the Apostolic Fathers should be better known and understood, someone should undertake the creation of a mass market collection of the entire corpus of the Apostolic Fathers from Barnabas to Quadratus organized in such a way that ordinary believers can become familiar with the Apostolic Fathers as a coherent body of text.  In this way people will become more aware of the diversity of texts and perspectives within the early Church of God and will see for themselves how mainstream Christians have been influenced by the early Hellenization of the Church of God in a variety of ways, from the genres that are popular for mainstream Christian writers to attitudes towards the Sabbath, the law of God in general, and to Judaism, and the struggle over authority and its legitimacy, all of which reared their ugly head early on and can be seen clearly in the Apostolic Fathers.  For these insights to be well understood, though, it will have to be easier for people to become familiar with the texts that make up the collection of the Apostolic Fathers.  Who will undertake the task of making these texts easily accessible to a mass audience?

[1] See, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Modest Proposal For The Collection Of The Writings Of The Apostolic Fathers

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Apostolic Fathers Series | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: A Modest Proposal For The Development Of A Robert “Bobby” Fischer Chess Tournament For The Church Of God | Edge Induced Cohesion

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