Mary and the Saints/My Faith/The Catholic Church/Theology 7 Church Fathers You Need to Know by Trenton Mattingly If there was a mixtape of the biggest hits from the first few hundred years of Christianity, it would be filled with tracks from the Church Fathers — the OGs of Catholicism. Not only would it be an instant classic, but it would have been the soundtrack to the lives of the first followers of Christ. There would be ballads of persecution and survival, diss tracks against false teachings, and witty songs teaching about Jesus Christ. The Church Fathers would have regularly sold out stadiums, introduced thousands to Jesus Christ, and had fans everywhere they went. If you want to familiarize yourself with the incredible bars laid down by these holy men, keep reading! Saint Ignatius of Antioch (35 A.D. – 108 A.D.) Notorious I.G.G.Y. Ignatius is known for a series of letters written while being escorted by ten Roman soldiers to face his martyrdom by lions in the Colosseum. Some of these letters were written to encourage Christian leaders, express his excitement to meet Christ, or challenge false teachings. One of these letters is especially exciting because it contains the first record we have of the early Church being called Catholic! Ignatius doesn’t bother explaining what Catholic means so it was probably a term that people were already familiar with. This becomes even cooler when you consider that Ignatius was a student of St. John the Apostle… Pope Saint Clement I (35 A.D. – 98 A.D.) Pope Woke The fourth pope of the Catholic Church, Clement is believed to have first been appointed to be a bishop by St. Peter and to have worked alongside St. Paul. Clement is a great Church Father to know because of his intense defense of the authority of bishops. He wrote that Jesus knew that people would struggle with the idea of bishops being in charge of the Church and made sure to leave the Apostles with clear instructions on how to train and appoint more. Again, this is a really cool fact when you consider that Clement knew at least two different Apostles – they would definitely know what Jesus taught and what he didn’t. Saint Polycarp (69 A.D. – 155 A.D.) Lil’ Smarter Martyr Like St. Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp was a student of St. John the Apostle. He was a bishop and a friend of St. Ignatius. He dedicated a lot of energy to defending the Church against groups that were in danger of damaging the teachings of the Apostles. One story has it that Polycarp ran into a guy named Marcion while visiting Rome. Marcion was the leader of a heretical group that believed that the God of the Old Testament was a completely different God than the one in the New Testament. Without missing a beat, Polycarp called him out as the first-born of Satan. Like many of the first bishops, Polycarp was eventually martyred for his faith in Christ. But, his martyrdom was especially unique because it was one of the first to be recorded in great detail. Saint Athanasius (296 A.D. – 373 A.D.) AthaNA$ty Athanasius was an extremely passionate and theologically brilliant defender of the faith. He is best known for On the Incarnation – a reason-based, step-by-step explanation of why Christ became a man for the sake of humanity. He is also known for his battles with a group of heretics known as Arians. Arians denied the divinity of Christ and Athanasius’ dislike of them was so strong that he ended up getting kicked out of a council for trying to start fist fights with them. He was temporarily sent into exile for the exact same thing later on. Don’t let that fool you, though. Read any of Athanasius’ writings and you will quickly see that his best weapon wasn’t his fists – it was his mind. He wasn’t afraid to use it and took down the arguments of many opponents with ease. Saint Ambrose (339 A.D. – 397 A.D.) Yung Milan It may surprise you that one of the greatest bishops of all time went from an unbaptized Roman official to a bishop in the matter of a week, but that is exactly what happened to Ambrose. Tradition has it that a rowdy crowd began cheering for his ordination in the streets. This horrified Ambrose and he went into hiding, but eventually relented. As Bishop of Milan, Amborse bravely confronted Arian heretics and went head-to-head with emperors. Ambrose also played a big role in helping Saint Augustine convert to Catholicism. Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 A.D. – 430 A.D.) DJ Auggie of Hip-Hop Probably the most famous convert ever, Augustine was born to a devout mother who tried very hard to raise him Catholic. To her disappointment, Augustine lost his faith in his teens. He genuinely desired truth, but his years of struggle with sexual sins made this search more difficult. One day, after hearing the story of Saint Anthony from a friend, Augustine heard a voice telling him to “take and read.” Augustine had been considering returning to the Church (especially after listening to the sermons of St. Ambrose) and believed that this voice was God asking him to read scripture. He listened to the voice and, after reading Romans 13:13-14, decided to fully dedicate himself to God and the Catholic lifestyle. He quickly built a reputation for piety and brilliance and, because of it, was seized by a group of his fans while visiting the city of Hippo. He was dragged in front of a bishop and allowed himself to be ordained as a priest. Like Ambrose, he was very hesitant at first but went on to become a fantastic priest and, later, bishop. Luckily for us, Augustine left behind a heaping stack of homilies and books that expose his unmatched theological and philosophical contributions to the Church. Saint Jerome (345 A.D. – 420 A.D.) Post Jerome Jerome was probably the biggest Bible nerd of all time and is best known for translating most of it into Latin. He is also remembered for his fiery temper, writings on the Bible, intense love of Catholicism, and willingness to jump into a heated argument with anyone – even St. Augustine. Jerome regularly insulted his opponents and even compared their arguments to crying babies, vomit, and other things too inappropriate to write here. But he felt guilty for this type of behavior, regularly admitted his faults, and dedicated a lot of time trying to change. Where else can you learn sassy insults, serious knowledge about the Bible, and advice about repentance all in one place? Hopefully, after reading this list, it is clear why the Church Fathers were so important during their lives and are still relied upon so heavily today. Not only did they lay down the first rational arguments for being a Christian, but they also left behind a huge discography of their greatest hits for Catholics to riff off of and become inspired by for centuries. Do yourself a favor and check them out – you might be surprised by how much of their work will have you exclaiming, “Wait, I think I’ve heard this one before!” If you found these figures fascinating, be sure to pick up a copy of Building the Kingdom, a book on the history of our Church. And be sure to check out this playlist for some awesome music that these Church fathers would want you to get behind! All images were designed by Life Teen graphic designer, Ryan McQuade.