By Vic Scaravilli

The Bible records the history of God’s people from the Old to the New Testament (NT), a time period that covers from approximately 2,000 BC to 50 AD. However, the Bible only gave us a description of the very early Church. What about the history of the Church after what is described in the NT?

Jesus’ teachings, in the form of Oral Traditions, were entrusted to His disciples who had the responsibly to proclaim it to the whole world after Christ’s Ascension. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of how the Oral Traditions were preserved in the first several centuries of the Church.

Since the apostles continued their office of authority by the ordination of other men, bishops were entrusted to preach and preserve the teachings of Christ. We are fortunate to have writings from these early pastors on what was taught and believed in Church after what is described in the Bible.

Fathers of the Church are men who wrote about the truths that were passed on to them by the apostles and their successors. The word Father is used because it means teacher of spiritual things. Their preaching and writings were used to clarify to the early Christians the teachings of Christ. These Fathers wrote on the interpretation of both Written and Oral Tradition.

Although the Catholic Church venerates the early Fathers and looks at their writings with authority, it does not place them on par with Sacred Scripture or are they ranked in authority over the Magisterium. However, these writings are reliable because they preserve the truth that was handed from the apostles.

Apostolic Fathers were the men who were actually taught by an apostle and are linked to the first generations of Christians. Peter and Paul taught Clement while the apostle John taught Ignatius and Polycarp. As early as the end of the first century, Ignatius wrote of the role of bishops, priests, and deacons in the Church and described the Eucharist as the body and blood of Christ.

The Post-Apostolic Fathers continued to teach and preserve the Traditions taught by the Apostolic Fathers. Some important Fathers of this time were Justin the Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Jerome, and Augustine. Justin wrote of the necessity of Baptism in order to become reborn into God’s family, the Eucharist is actually the body and blood of Christ, and gave a description of the early worship practice that is almost identical to our present day mass. Irenaeus, who was taught by Polycarp, told of the authoritative Church in Rome and the meaning of the Eucharist.

As Catholics, we are fortunate to have a history of the early Church preserved by the writings of the Fathers. We are able to read what the first pastors of our Church taught on important doctrines and the interpretation of Oral and Written Traditions. These writings also give us extra-Biblical testimony to the truths that were preached and preserved because of their link to the apostles. Our Church believes today what the Fathers taught the early Christians.

The original deposit of faith was given by Christ, preached by the Apostles, and preserved by the Fathers.