The designation “apostolic fathers” goes back to J. B. Cotelier, who in 1672 published a two-volume edition of the Sanctorum patrum qui temporibus apostolicis floruerunt. Since then it has been usual to group under the name of Patres apostolici certain early Christian writers who were regarded as disciples of the apostles, still belonging to the apostolic age.
Cotelier included among them Barnabas, CLEMENT OF ROME, IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH, POLYCARP OF SMYRNA, and HERMAS, and he edited their genuine or supposed writings together with Acts of the Martyrs relating to Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp.
In the nineteenth century the circle was widened. Included now in editions of the apostolic fathers were the Epistle of Diognetus, the surviving fragments of Papias of Hierapolis and Quadratus, the fragments of the Presbyter in Irenaeus of Lyons, and the DIDACHE that was discovered in 1873.
During the twentieth century the number of critical voices increased. The notion that the writings of the apostolic fathers follow those of the New Testament chronologically cannot be sustained because the latest parts of the New Testament and the oldest elements of the apostolic fathers came into being at the same time. These writings must therefore be studied together (cf. Vielhauer, 1975). We must also keep in mind that the term “apostolic fathers” covers writings that vary greatly among themselves.
An edition of the remnants of Coptic translations was produced in 1952 by L.-T. Lefort. It contains portions from the Shepherd of Hermas; the Didache; the first pseudo-Clementine epistle De virginitate; the letters of Ignatius, with the inauthentic epistle to Hero; the fictitious, so-called Roman martyrdom of Ignatius and the Laus Heronis; and a later eulogistic and petitionary prayer directed to Saint Ignatius. Lefort did not include Clement’s first epistle and the Martyrdom of Polycarp in his edition. For these he refers to the editions of C. Schmidt and of I. Balestri and H. Hyvernat (1924). In 1981, E. Lucchesi announced supplements to Lefort from Paris folios: for Ignatius, To the Philadelphians, for the Shepherd of Hermas, and for the first pseudo-Clementine epistle De virginitate.
- Acta martyrum II, ed. I. Balestri and H. Hyvernat. CSCO 86, Scriptores Coptica 6, pp. 62-89. Paris, 1924 ; Louvain, 1953. CSCO 125, Scriptores Coptica 15, trans. into Latin by H. Hyvernat, pp. 43-50. Louvain, 1950.
- Altaner, B., and A. Stuiber. Patrologie, 8th ed., pp. 43-58. Freiburg, Basel, and Vienna, 1978.
- Fischer, J. A. Die apostolischen Väter, 8th ed., pp. 9-15. Darmstadt, 1981.
- Lefort, L.-T., trans. Les Pères apostoliques en Copte. CSCO 135-36, Scriptores Coptica 17-18. Louvain, 1952.
- Lucchesi, E. “Compléments aux pères apostoliques en Copte.” Analecta Bollandiana 99 (1981):395-408.
- Quasten, J. Patrology I, pp. 29-105. Utrecht, Brussels, 1950. Schmidt, C. Der erste Clemensbrief in altkoptischer Übersetzung. Texte und Untersuchungen 32, 1. Leipzig, 1908.
- Vielhauer, P. Geschichte der urchristlichen Literatur. Einleitung in das Neue Testament, die Apokryphen und die apostolischen Väter. Berlin and New York, 1975.