Second Century Timeline

I was going to do a part 2 on my introduction to the Second Century Timeline. Restless Pilgrim, who has been a tireless follower of this blog, asked about quotes from Ignatius. He deserves a medal for tolerating me so long. That’s not the point of mentioning him, though. The point is he made me realize I left out some really important quotes concerning the ecclesiastical life and structure of the second century churches.

I’m going to let the introduction, part 2, go. Instead, we’ll cover those things by thoroughly covering Ignatius. Today we’ll make our timeline of events and people of the second century, and then we’ll describe those people and events in later posts.

If you’re used to thinking about history as a boring academic subject that has to be passed to get a diploma, which is almost the only thing many of us learned about history in high school, then take heart. If you are a Christian who cares what the apostles taught, these are the most exciting and influential people in all of your history. Nothing boring about them at all, and they fought and shed as much blood as any hero of any nation anywhere. Among the Christians, however, it was not just men who were mighty warriors.

Do I compare men with [your Roman heroes]? Boys and young women among us treat with contempt crosses and tortures, wild beasts, and all the bugbears of punishment with the inspired patience of suffering. (M. Felix, Octavius 37, c. AD 200)

Second century timeline

AD 95-96: 1 Clement, an anonymous letter from the Church at Rome to the Church at Corinth universally attributed to Clement of Rome. (It’s been pointed out in comments that this may have an earlier date, which is true, but 95-96 is the most accepted date.)

AD 107 or 116: Ignatius’ seven letters. If I remember correctly, his letters are given these two dates because of the timing of the emperor Trajan’s visits to Asia Minor. Either way, he wrote all seven letters while in captivity on his way to Rome to be killed by wild animals in the arena. He was very excited about it.

Note that The Ante-Nicene Fathers, which is where my links are sending you, include both the longer versions of his letters and some spurious letters. Read only the first paragraph of any Ignatius links I send you, too. The second paragraph is always from the later, amended edition of his letter.

AD 80-130:

The Didache (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles): A very early and interesting church manual, which includes The Two Ways, a tract which is also found in the Letter of Barnabas.

Letter of Barnabas: This letter addresses the Law of Moses, then appends the “Two Ways” tract.

Letter to Diognetus: This is my favorite early Christian writing. It is poetic, beautiful, and addresses Christians in the society at large, true holiness, and the redemption accomplished by the Word of God come in the flesh.

117-138: Apology of Aristides. This is a recent discovery. I’ve read it, and I’ve forgotten most of what it says. There is a text and good introduction at It refutes Roman paganism.

120-140: Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians. Like Ignatius, Polycarp is held by tradition to have been appointed as a bishop by apostles. The dates on this letter are my opinion. I think scholars would have to allow that it could have been written even in the 150’s.

132-135: Bar-Kokhba Rebellion: Simon Bar-Kokhba was another claimant to be the Jewish Messiah. He led a rebellion against Rome and drew many followers. It has immense importance to Jewish history, of course, as it crushed the Jews’ hopes for regaining their homeland for more than 17 centuries. For Christian history, this rebellion helps with dating. The Letter of Barnabas, for example, is believed to be before AD 130 just because it never mentions the crushing of the Jews in 135. Its focus on Jewish practices make it likely he would have at least mentioned it, had it already happened.

150’s: Justin Martyr’s writings. He has many writings. His First Apology is a thorough general description of Christianity addressed to the emperor. It contains the first description of an early Christian meeting. His Dialogue with Trypho, in my opinion, is the closest we will ever get to knowing what Jesus said to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24).

c. 155: Martyrdom of Polycarp: There is an excellent description of his martyrdom in the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

c. 160: Montanus prophesied in a church in Phrygia. His prophecy was rejected by the church. His church graciously allowed him an appeal to two others, who also rejected his prophecy. Refusing to repent, he started a sect now called the Montanists. They taught that the Holy Spirit was giving new revelation and new, stricter rules to the church now that it had grown up some. Allowances like remarrying after a spouse died, according to Montanus, were for the hardness of hearts of the Christians in their infancy. In spite of this rejection of the apostles’ inspired revelation of the Gospel, their teaching influenced even Tertullian, one of the most prolific writers of the early third century. (The Catholic Encyclopedia has an excellent summation of the chronology of Montanism.)

150-180: Here we have Tatian, Theophilus, and Athenagoras, all very different characters.

Tatian eventually left the faith for his own version of gnosticism, but before he did, he left us a few writings including a harmony of the Gospels known as the Diatessaron. Since this is a harmony of our four Gospels, it’s one more testimony (among many) that Irenaeus (see below) did not sort the Gospels from 30 down to 4, as claimed by Bart Ehrman, a noted pro-gnostic scholar. He was originally a disciple of Justin.

Theophilus was the seventh bishop of Antioch. His To Autolycus is a thorough description of the Christian faith. He has an extensive section on the Trinity, which I found very useful for In the Beginning Was the Logos. He is also one of the best references for a literal, 24-hour-day interpretation of Genesis 1 (which I don’t agree with). I have a web page that considers 6,000 years by Theophilus’ dating, which is very interesting.

Athenagoras is simply unknown. He wrote an apology called A Plea for the Christians. It has Montanist leanings, but no one knows whether he was really a Montanist or whether some of their ideas were already gaining traction in the church before Montanus was ejected from the church. For example, he refers to remarrying after a spouse dies as “a specious adultery” (adultery cloaked by being officially legal). It, too has an excellent section on the Trinity.

185: Irenaeus wrote Against Heresies about this time, a huge five-volume work against the gnostics. His thorough research on gnosticism, in order to refute them, is our best knowledge about them. The last three books, and especially the last two, cover almost everything that has to do with Christianity and Christian teaching in his day. He also wrote Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, which is a much shorter way to get his general teaching on Christianity.

190-200: Clement of Alexandria was a prolific writer. It is thought that he was the teacher of new converts in the church at Alexandria. He taught Origen in Origen’s youth, and both Clement and Origen are highly speculative teachers. Clement’s writings touch on everything. He even talks about exercise, eating gravy, how to sit in public, and much, much more. He and Justin before him quote philosophers and poets favorably on a regular basis, though they considered Christianity to be the true philosophy. Most other writers take a more negative attitude toward the “sophists.”

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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4 Responses to Second Century Timeline

  1. Pingback: Top Reasons for Giving Kids a Private, Christian-Based Education

  2. Restless Pilgrim says:

    A nice introduction. Here are a few additional points that came to mind, as important or interesting, as I read along:

    * In Ignatius we see early evidence of monarchical bishops, one per city, supported by a team of presbyters and deacons. His letters demonstrate a concrete belief in the Real Presence, the deity of Christ, authority of the bishop… and his letters also give us some of the earliest creeds of the Church. He fought against an early form of Gnosticism called Docetism which denied that Christ had a body.

    * Given its literary structure, “The Two Ways” probably previously existed in oral form and was possibly used in the catechesis of the catechumenate.

    * The Didache gives the valid forms of baptism (immersion, dipping etc). It also shows us that, although there was clear structure within the liturgies of the Early Church, there was still some room for extempore prayer.

    * We also have the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom.

    * Justin, like most of the Fathers, wrote many works which we no longer possess. (I completely agree with your comment about the Road to Emmaus)

    * I’m not sure, but I wonder if your statement that “Most other writers take a more negative attitude toward the ‘sophists'” is perhaps an overstatement. There were definite opponents to philosophical explanation/integration of the Christian faith, most notably Tertullian (“What does Athens have with Jerusalem?”), but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that the majority rejected or opposed it.

    * Diognetus is one of my favourites too. When I was first digging into the writings of the Apostolic Fathers I fell in love with the constant “pilgrim” theme (surprise, surprise). Digonetus presents this idea front-and-center, that this world is not our home:

    “Christians…reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens. They take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their home, and every home a foreign land… They spend their days on earth, but hold citizenship in heaven.”

  3. Paul Pavao says:

    Lol. I could use a laugh today.

  4. Restless Pilgrim says:

    Blessed are the whiny, for they will get their way eventually,
    Blessed are the squeaky, for they shall have their wheels oiled

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