Early Christian Biography

Alexander of Alexandria (d. 328): Bishop of Alexandria and leader of the opposition against Arianism at the First Council of Nicaea. He is also remembered for being the mentor of Athanasius of Alexandria.

Alexander of Jerusalem and Cappadocia (d. 251): First Bishop of Cappadocia. Alexander had been imprisoned for his faith in the time of Roman Emperor Alexander Severus and upon being released came to Jerusalem. In his old age, he was taken captive to Caesarea, where he suffered and survived many tortures. He died in prison.

Alexander of Lycopolis (3d century): Bishop of Lycopolis and writer of a short treatise against the Manicheans (c. 301).

Anatolius of Alexandria (d. 283): Bishop of Laodicea. He was credited with a rich knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, physics, rhetoric, dialectic, and astronomy. There are fragments of ten books on arithmetic, and also a treatise on the time of the Paschal celebration. A story is told by Eusebius about how Anatolius broke up a rebellion in Alexandria.

Apollonius (2d century): Bishop of Ephesus. His writings against Montanism were so forcible as to call forth Tertullian himself. He bears testimony to the existence of a canon of Scripture. According to Eusebius, the book of Revelation was used by him in his works. He also died as a martyr.

Archelaus (3d century): Bishop of Caschar in Mesopotamia. To him is attributed the Disputation of Archelaus and Manes, which is a purported record of the debate between Archelaus and Manes, the founder of Manichaeism.

Aristides (early 2d century): Christian apologist. Aristides was a converted Greek philosopher of Athens and author of one of the earliest Christian apologies, the Apologia for Christianity, which was presented to Emperor Hadrian in 125.

Aristo of Pella (c. 100-160): Christian apologist about whom little is known. Only brief excerpts remain of his apology.

Arnobius (d. c. 330): Christian apologist during the reign of Diocletian (284–305). Arnobius was a distinguished Numidian rhetorician at Sicca, North Africa, before his conversion. Because Arnobius had previously been an outspoken opponent of Christianity, the local bishop demanded proof of his sincerity before receiving him into the church. So Arnobius wrote an apologetic work entitled Against the Pagan.

Athenagoras (c. 133-190): Christian apologist. A converted Greek philosopher, he identified himself as, “Athenagoras, the Athenian, Philosopher, and Christian.” He is also the author of a Christian apology called Embassy for the Christians which was presented to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus.

Bardesanes (c. 154-222): Syriac convert to Christianity who later lapsed into heresy. His work, The Book of the Laws of Divers Countries, has been included in this commentary very sparingly and only where it contains doctrine that is consistent with pre-Nicene orthodoxy. Though the work is credited to Bardesanes in the ANF (under the name “Bardesan”), it may have actually been written by his student, Philip.

Barnabas: The Epistle of Barnabas (c. 70-130) was widely circulated among the early church. Some considered it Scripture, but Eusebius described it as one of the non-canonical books. Though the work itself was anonymous, Clement of Alexandria believed it was written by the companion of the apostle Paul. However, most modern scholars doubt that the epistle was written by the same Barnabas of the Scriptures.

Caius (c. 180-217): Presbyter in the church at Rome. Only fragments of his works are known, which are given in the ANF. In one of the fragments is evidence of the deaths of the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul at Rome. The Muratorian fragment, an early attempt to establish the New Testament canon, is often attributed to Caius and is included in that collection.

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215): Presbyter in the church and an instructor of new Christians at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. Prominent for his study of Scripture, Clement was an educated Christian convert who was familiar with classical Greek philosophy and literature. Among his pupils were Origen and Alexander of Jerusalem.

Clement of Rome (c. 30-100): Bishop of Rome. One of the prominent early Christian leaders, Clement was personally instructed by the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul. Clement is mentioned by name in Paul’s epistle to the Philippians (4:3). On behalf of Rome, he wrote a letter to the Corinthian church known as First Clement (c. 95). Scholars believe that Second Clement is a sermon written anonymously around 95-140.

Commodianus (c. 250): Bishop of a church in North Africa and Christian poet. Having read the Bible, he adopted Christianity. Little is known of him except what we learn from his own writings. However, there appears to be certain unorthodox statements contained in his writings with regard to the Trinity.

Cyprian (c. 200-258): Bishop of Carthage, North Africa, during a period of aggressive persecution. He was born into a rich, pagan family sometime during the early third century. After his baptism, he sold entire estates and distributed his wealth to the poor. He had the testimony of pastoral strength and conduct during the Novatianist schism and outbreak of the plague, and eventual martyrdom.

Dionysius of Alexandria (c. 190-264): Bishop of Alexandria. After his conversion to Christianity, he joined the Catechetical School of Alexandria and was a pupil of Origen. He wrote against Sabellianism and Paul of Samosata.

Dionysius of Corinth (2d century): Bishop of Corinth. He is only known to us through Eusebius.

Dionysius of Rome (d. 268): Bishop of Rome. After the persecutions of the Emperor Valerian I (257) and the edict of toleration by his successor Gallienus (259), Dionysius reorganized the church in Rome.

Eusebius (270-340): Bishop of Caesarea and the “Father of Church History.” Eusebius produced the Ecclesiastical History, which is a primary source for the history of the church from the first century to the time of Emperor Constantine, his contemporary.

Firmilian (c. 200-268): Bishop of Caesarea and a disciple of Origen. He sided with Cyprian against Stephen, bishop of Rome, in the mid-third century controversy over baptism by heretics. He was excommunicated by Stephen for his position.*

Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 213-270): Bishop of Caesarea. Gregory was converted to the Christian faith through discussions with Origen, head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria. Presumably many miracles won for him the title of Thaumaturgus (“the wonder-worker” in Latinized Greek), though little is known about his pastoral work.

Hegesippus (c. 110-180): A Christian historian of the early Church. His works are now entirely lost, except eight passages concerning Church history preserved in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History.

Hermas (1st or 2d century): Author of an allegory called The Shepherd of Hermas, which was widely read and held in great esteem by many early Christian churches. Some believe that Paul the apostle spoke of the same Hermas in the salutations of his epistle to the Romans (16:14). The Muratorian Fragment asserts that Hermas was the brother of Pius, the second century bishop of Rome.

Hippolytus (c. 170-236): A presbyter in the church at Rome and pupil of Irenaeus. His most important work is called The Refutation of All Heresies. He accused Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome, of modalism. He also disputed Callistus, bishop of Rome, for pardoning Christians who had committed grave sins, such as adultery. He also died as a martyr.

Ignatius (c. 35-107): Bishop of Antioch, disciple of the apostle John and a companion of Polycarp. He was also martyred in Rome. On his way to Rome as a prisoner, Ignatius wrote letters to several churches. He encouraged churches to be on guard against new heresies and urged them to hold fast to the apostolic tradition.

Irenaeus (130-202): Bishop of Lyons (modern-day France). In his youth, Irenaeus heard the preaching of Polycarp. His best known extant work is Against Heresies which exposes the errors of Gnosticism. In 190, Irenaeus wrote to Victor, bishop of Rome, not to excommunicate the Christians of Asia Minor who celebrated Pascha (or Easter) on a different day than did Rome.

Julius Africanus (c. 160-240): Christian historian. He was a soldier and pagan prior to his conversion. Little is known of his life and only a few of his writings remain.

Justin Martyr (c. 100-165): Evangelist and apologist for the Christian faith. A philosopher who converted to Christianity, Justin wrote more concerning Christianity than any other disciple prior to his time. Many of his writings are available to us today and various fragments. He spent the last years of his life in Rome where he was martyred.

Lactantius (c. 250-325): Christian apologist, advisor to the Roman Emperor Constantine, and a tutor to the emperor’s son. After conversion, he resigned as teacher of rhetoric in Nicomedia before the publication of Diocletian’s first edict against the Christians (303). Lactantius wrote apologetic works, most important is his Divine Institutes which was a systematic presentation on Christianity.

Mathetes (2d century): Unknown Christian apologist who wrote The Epistle to Diognetus (c. 125-200). Most likely “Mathetes” is not a proper name; it simply means “a disciple.”

Mark Minucius Felix (2d or 3d century): Roman lawyer who converted to the Christian faith. He wrote one of the earliest Latin apologies for Christianity. He is now exclusively known by his Octavius, written in the form of a dialogue between a Christian and a pagan.

Melito (d. c. 180): Bishop of Sardis. Though he was a prolific writer, most of his works have been lost. His most famous work, Apology for Christianity, was written to Marcus Aurelius.

Methodius (d. c. 311): Bishop of Olympus in Lycia, and author of several theological and moral works. On Free Will was an important treatise in support of the freedom of the human will and attacking the Gnostic view of the origin of evil. He also died as a martyr.

Novatian (d. 257): Roman presbyter and theologian who wrote many works in Latin. He led a schism when Cornelius was ordained bishop of Rome (c. 251). The Novatianists refused to re-admit to Communion those Christians who had denied Christ in persecution or fallen away, and allowed no place for their repentance. This schism led to Novatian’s excommunication.

Origen (c. 185-255): Bishop of Caesarea, theologian, prolific writer, pupil of Clement of Alexandria, and teacher at the Catechetical School in Alexandria. During the persecution under Emperor Decius (250), Origen was made to endure chains and torture in a dungeon. This excruciating torture may have contributed to his death a few years later. Thus he died in the communion of the church as a confessor.

Papias (c. 60-130): Bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor and companion of Polycarp. He was informed by John the presbyter, the daughters of Philip and many “elders” who had themselves heard the Twelve Apostles. Papias provides the earliest extant account of the authorship of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Unfortunately most of the works of Papias are lost.

Peter of Alexandria (3d century): Bishop of Alexandria. His time as bishop was during a severe ten-year persecution of Christianity from the Roman Emperor Diocletian, which began in 303.

Polycarp (c. 69-156): Bishop of Smyrna, personal disciple of the apostle John and companion of Polycarp. To Irenaeus, Polycarp was a human link to the apostolic era. In his old age, Polycarp was arrested and martyred by being burned alive. Today we can read Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians as well as the epistle concerning his martyrdom.

Polycrates (2d century): Bishop of Ephesus and companion of Polycarp and Irenaeus. He is best known for his letter to Victor, bishop of Rome, who attempted to compel all Christians to observe Rome’s date for celebrating Pascha (or Easter). His letter has been used to demonstrate that the churches in Asia Minor did not always accept the authority of the bishops at Rome.

Serapion of Antioch (d. c. 211): Bishop of Antioch and one of the chief theologians of his time. Serapion also worked to refute the Docetic Gospel of Peter and Gnosticism.

Tatian (2d century): Christian apologist from Syria and pupil of Justin Martyr. He traveled to Rome and converted to Christianity from paganism. His work, the Diatessaron, is the most prominent harmony of the Gospels. Sadly, after the death of Justin (c. 165), Tatian deviated into heresy, becoming a leader of the Encratites, an ascetic sect.

Tertullian (c. 160-230): Leader of the church in Carthage, North Africa. Tertullian wrote numerous apologies, works against heretics and exhortations to other Christians. Some of Tertullian’s writings reflect the teachings of the Montanist sect. His later writings reflect the teachings of the Montanist sect, which have been included in this commentary when he is in agreement with early Christianity.

Theonas of Alexandria (d. 300): Bishop of Alexandria. The only work of his that has come down to our time is his letter to Lucianus, the chief chamberlain of the Emperor.

Theophilus of Antioch (d. c. 183-185): Bishop of Antioch and Christian apologist. He was the first person to use the word “Trinity” when speaking of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The one undisputed extant work of Theophilus is his Apology to Autolycus, a series of books defending Christianity to a pagan friend.

Victorinus (d. c. 303-304): Bishop of Poetovio in Syria. He composed commentaries on several books of Scripture, and wrote treatises against the heresies of his time. Unfortunately, all of his works have disappeared except his Commentary on the Apocalypse and short tract On the Construction of the World. He was also martyred during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian.