Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Apostolic Fathers: Clement. Ignatius.

We come now to the so-called Apostolic Fathers, the earliest post-biblical writers, partly earlier than some of the later books of the New Testament. These so-called Apostolic Fathers (Ignatius, Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and others) are more dependent on a Christian conformism which slowly had developed, than on the outspoken position of Paul in his Letters. Insofar as Paul still was effective in this period, it was mostly not directly but more through John and Ignatius. The reason for this was, partly at least, that the fight with the Jews was a matter of the past, that the conf lict with the Jewish Christians did not have to be continued and repeated.

Instead of that, the positive elements became important which gave an understandable content for the pagans. One can say that in the generation of the Apostolic Fathers, the great visions of the first ecstatic breakthrough had disappeared, and that instead of that, a given set of ideas was left, a set of ideas which produced a kind of ecclesiastical conformity and made the missionary work possible. Some people have complained about this development, complained that so early after the second generation the power of the Spirit was on the wane. But this is an unavoidable thing in all creative periods. After the breakthrough – one only needs to think of the Reformation – and after the first generation which received the breakthrough (i. e., the second generation), a fixation or concentration on some special points begins; the need to preserve what was given, the educational needs – all this working together to a Christianity which, compared with the Christianity of the Apostolic age, had considerably lost its Spiritual power.