August 28 is the feast of St. Augustine, a prominent Church Father. And in the month of September, we are going celebrate the feasts of a number of Church Fathers: St. Gregory the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cornelius, St. Cyprian, and St. Jerome. In these few weeks, we are going to study the Church Fathers---teachers of Faith in the first centuries.
Defenders of Unity
In the first century, the Apostles wrote Epistles to members of the different local churches in order to strengthen faith and unity. At the turn of the first century, St. Clement and St. Ignatius also wrote letters for similar purposes.
St. Paul was concern about the spirit of faction among the Corinthians. Around the year 96 A.D., St. Clement of Rome, the third successor to St. Peter, wrote a letter to the Church of Corinth which was troubled by schisms. In the letter, he wrote, “Take into your hands the Epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he first write to you, at the outset of the Gospel-preaching? Of a truth he wrote to you in the Spirit concerning himself and Cephas (Peter) and Apollo, because even at that time you made factions.” The letter of St. Clement is both a documentation of the charity which united the Christians, and an indication of the authority of the Church of Rome.
St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote seven letters to different Churches on his way to martyrdom at Rome around 110. Like, St. Clement, he was an admirer of St. Paul. He wrote, “you are sharers in the mysteries with Paul, the holy, the martyred, the ever-blessed Paul, in whose footsteps may I be treading when I come to meet God.”
St. Ignatius was the first one to use the term “Catholic Church”. For Ignatius, the office of bishop is the safeguard of unity. He wrote, “Wherever the bishop is, there let the people be, as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church.” The letters of St. Ignatius give us a complete picture of the belief and life of the Church in the first years of the second century.
Defenders of Doctrines
The two main challenges of the Church in the second century were the growing opposition to the new religion and Gnosticism.
In face of growing hostility, the Christians sought to refute objections and calumnies and at the same time tried to justify their faith rationally. As a result, many apologetical literatures were composed in the second century. Many Apologists were layman---philosophers who converted to Christianity. The most important Apologist in the second century is St. Justin, who was martyred at Rome around 165. He demonstrated the divinity of Christ by means of both prophecies and philosophy. He also gave detailed description of the rites of Baptism and of the Eucharist.
Gnosticism was an effort to achieve religious knowledge superior to the faith. It employed Christian vocabularies, but emptied the whole content of revelation and substituted a collection of myths taken over from Greco-Oriental mysticism. Gnosticism was founded on radical dualism---believing in the struggle between the good God and the bad demiurge who created the material world.
Anti-Gnostic literatures were composed by faithful Catholics to refute errors. One of the most important writers is St. Irenaeus, who was a disciple of St. Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of St. John the Apostle.
In his famous work, “Against the Heresies”, St. Irenaeus affirmed some fundamental principles of the Christian faith: living Tradition from the Apostles is the rule of Faith, the Roman Church posses the highest authority, salvation consists in the revelation of Christ, there is but one God, and the whole person (body and soul) must by saved by the Word.
In the 21st century, our Church faces challenges similar to that of the early centuries: growing hostility of secular society, the new age movement, and disunity resulted from the disregard of ecclesiastical authority. May we, like the Church Fathers, be not afraid to refute falsehood and proclaim the truth.
八月二十八日，是聖奧思定（思定）St. Augustine瞻禮，他是我們聖教會的一位傑出教父。九月份中，我們亦有幾位教父的瞻禮慶日：聖大額我略（國瑞一世）St. Gregory the Great、聖若望金口St. John Chryosostom、聖高內略（高略）St. Cornelius、聖西彼廉（啟廉）St. Cyprian及聖熱羅尼莫（業樂）St. Jerome。這幾個星期, 我們有一系列的文章來探索早期聖教會教父們的生平和教導。
早年的教會，宗徒們致函各地方教會以堅強信眾的信德和他們的團結。在第一世紀未和第二世紀初, 聖格肋孟St. Clement和聖依納爵St. Ignatius of Antioch 也以書信來捍衛教會的合一。
聖保祿宗徒曾擔心格林多人Corinthians分成小派系。約在公元九十六年，聖伯多祿宗徒的第三位繼任人聖格肋孟教宗去信當時分裂的格林多教會：「翻看聖徒保祿給你們的遺函吧。在宣講福音的初期, 他給你們寫了什麽？事實上, 他在聖神內給你們寫了關於他自己、刻法（伯多祿）和亞玻羅的事, 因為那時你們已在各分派系。」聖格肋孟的牧函，以愛德團結基督徒，並顯示出羅馬教會的權威。
公元一一零年，安提約主教, 聖依納爵, 在羅馬殉道。在前往羅馬的途中，他給不同的地方教會寫了七封信。聖依納爵和聖格肋孟一樣，十今尊敬聖保祿宗徒。他寫道：「你們分享了殉道聖徒----真福保祿的信仰奧理，願我在會見天主時, 也在步武他的足跡。」。
處身於敵意的對立和誹謗，信徒們一方面需要反駁邪說, 另一方面要理性地維護信理，因此衍生了大量護教或辯證的著作，當中不少來自平信徒或歸化公教的哲學家，而於一六五年在羅馬殉道的聖猶斯定St. Justin，是最重要的一位，他以先知預言和哲理，大力論證基督的天主性，也詳述了聖洗和聖體聖事的禮儀。
芸芸貞忠信眾的護教行動中，最重要莫如聖依勒內St. Irenaeus的箸作，他強力地駁斥了此等的異端邪說。聖依勒內是聖波利卡浦St. Polycarp的門徒，而聖波利卡浦則是聖若望宗徒的門徒。
今日二十一世紀的聖教會，仍面對當年相若的挑戰：俗世有增無減的敵意、各式所謂的「新世代運動new age movement」，與及因漠視教會權力而彌漫的分裂。我們要效法早期的教父們，駁斥謬誤、宣認真理。
Published at Pax Sinica column (August 26) of The B.C . Catholic newspaper