Why aren't the Apostles called the Church Fathers?
The term Church Fathers was coined by unknown Christian authors to refer to ancient and influential Christian theologians and writers of the Patristic Era who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity.
The Church founded by Jesus Church is now some 2000 years. Churchmen have found it logical to divide this 2000 years in various ways in order to be able to understand various historical times of Church history.
For example, St. Augustine divided the world into six ages.
The Six Ages of the World Latin: (sex aetates mundi), also rarely Seven Ages of the World (Latin: septem aetates mundi), is a Christian historical periodization first written about by Augustine of Hippo circa AD 400.
It is based upon Christian religious events, from the creation of Adam to the events of Revelation. The six ages of history, with each age (Latin: aetas) lasting approximately 1,000 years, were widely believed and in use throughout the Middle Ages, and until the Enlightenment, the writing of history was mostly the filling out of all or some part of this outline.
The outline accounts for Seven Ages, just as there are seven days of the week, with the Seventh Age being eternal rest after the Final Judgement and End Times, just as the seventh day of the week is reserved for rest. It was normally called the Six Ages of the World because in Augustine's schema they were the ages of the world, of history, while the Seventh Age was not of this world but, as Bede later elaborated, ran parallel to the six ages of the world. Augustine's presentation deliberately counters chiliastic and millennial ideas that the Seventh Age, World to Come, would come after the sixth.
The Six Ages, as formulated by Augustine of Hippo, are defined in De catechizandis rudibus (On the catechizing of the uninstructed), Chapter 22:
The First Age "is from the beginning of the human race, that is, from Adam, who was the first man that was made, down to Noah, who constructed the ark at the time of the flood", i.e. the Antediluvian period.
The Second Age "extends from that period on to Abraham, who was called the father indeed of all nations".
The Third Age "extends from Abraham on to David the king".
The Fourth Age is "from David on to that captivity whereby the people of God passed over into Babylonia".
The Fifth Age is "from that transmigration down to the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ"
The Sixth Age: "With His [Jesus Christ's] coming the sixth age has entered on its process."
The Ages reflect the seven days of creation, of which the last day is the rest of Sabbath, illustrating the human journey to find eternal rest with God, a common Christian belief.
In a similar manner ecclesiastical history is divided up into different ages.
Early Christianity is generally reckoned by church historians to begin with the ministry of Jesus (c. 27–30) and end with the First Council of Nicaea (325). It is typically divided into two periods: the Apostolic Age (c. 30–100, when the first apostles were still alive) and the Ante-Nicene Period (c. 100–325).
The Apostolic Age is named after the Apostles and their missionary activities. It holds special significance in Christian tradition as the age of the direct apostles of Jesus. A primary source for the Apostolic Age is the Acts of the Apostles, but its historical accuracy is questionable and its coverage is partial, focusing especially from Acts 15:36 onwards on the ministry of Paul, and ending around 62 AD with Paul preaching in Rome under house arrest.
The earliest followers of Jesus were apocalyptic Jewish Christians. The early Christian groups were strictly Jewish, such as the Ebionites and the early Christian community in Jerusalem, led by James, the brother of Jesus. According to Acts 9:1–2, they described themselves as "disciples of the Lord" and [followers] "of the Way", and according to Acts 11:26 a settled community of disciples at Antioch were the first to be called "Christians". Some of the early Christian communities attracted gentile God-fearers, who already visited Jewish synagogues. The inclusion of gentiles posed a problem, as they could not fully observe the Halakha. Saul of Tarsus, commonly known as Paul the Apostle, persecuted the early Jewish Christians, then converted and started his mission among the gentiles. The main concern of Paul's letters is the inclusion of gentiles into God's New Covenant, deeming faith in Christ sufficient for righteousness. Because of this inclusion of gentiles, early Christianity changed its character and gradually grew apart from Judaism and Jewish Christianity during the first two centuries of the Christian Era.
The ante-Nicene period was the period following the Apostolic Age down to the First Council of Nicaea in 325. It saw the period now known as the Apostolic Fathers which in time was followed by the traditional known age of the Church Fathers.
The Apostolic Fathers
Christian writers of the first and second centuries who are known, or are considered, to have had personal relations with some of the Apostles, or to have been so influenced by them that their writings may be held as echoes of genuine Apostolic teaching. Though restricted by some to those who were actually disciples of the Apostles, the term applies by extension to certain writers who were previously believed to have been such, and virtually embraces all the remains of primitive Christian literature antedating the great apologies of the second century, and forming the link of tradition that binds these latter writings to those of the New Testament.
The name was apparently unknown in Christian literature before the end of the seventeenth century. The term Apostolic, however, was commonly used to qualify Churches, persons, writings, etc. from the early second century, when St. Ignatius, in the exordium of his Epistle to the Trallians, saluted their Church "after the Apostolic manner." In 1672 Jean Baptiste Cotelier (Cotelerius) published his "SS. Patrum qui temporibus apostolicis floruerunt opera", which title was abbreviated to "Bibliotheca Patrum Apostolicorum" by L. J. Ittig in his edition (Leipzig, 1699) of the same writings. Since then the term has been universally used.
The Church Fathers were ancient and influential Christian theologians and writers who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity. The historical period of the Patristic Era spans approximately the late 1st to mid 8th centuries.
Fathers of the Church
The word Father is used in the New Testament to mean a teacher of spiritual things, by whose means the soul of man is born again into the likeness of Christ: "For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the Gospel, I have begotten you. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:15, 16; cf. Galatians 4:19). The first teachers of Christianity seem to be collectively spoken of as "the Fathers" (2 Peter 3:4).
Thus St. Irenæus defines that a teacher is a father, and a disciple is a son (iv, 41,2), and so says Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.1.1). A bishop is emphatically a "father in Christ", both because it was he, in early times, who baptized all his flock, and because he is the chief teacher of his church. But he is also regarded by the early Fathers, such as Hegesippus, Irenaeus, and Tertullian as the recipient of the tradition of his predecessors in the see, and consequently as the witness and representative of the faith of his Church before Catholicity and the world. Hence the expression "the Fathers" comes naturally to be applied to the holy bishops of a preceding age, whether of the last generation or further back, since they are the parents at whose knee the Church of today was taught her belief. It is also applicable in an eminent way to bishops sitting in council, "the Fathers of Nicaea", "the Fathers of Trent". Thus Fathers have learnt from Fathers, and in the last resort from the Apostles, who are sometimes called Fathers in this sense: "They are your Fathers", says St. Leo, of the Princes of the Apostles, speaking to the Romans; St. Hilary of Arles calls them sancti patres; Clement of Alexandria says that his teachers, from Greece, Ionia, Coele-Syria, Egypt, the Orient, Assyria, Palestine, respectively, had handed on to him the tradition of blessed teaching from Peter, and James, and John, and Paul, receiving it "as son from father".
It follows that, as our own Fathers are the predecessors who have taught us, so the Fathers of the whole Church are especially the earlier teachers, who instructed her in the teaching of the Apostles, during her infancy and first growth. It is difficult to define the first age of the Church, or the age of the Fathers. It is a common habit to stop the study of the early Church at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. "The Fathers" must undoubtedly include, in the West, St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), and in the East, St. John Damascene (d. about 754). It is frequently said that St. Bernard (d. 1153) was the last of the Fathers, and Migne's "Patrologia Latina" extends to Innocent III, halting only on the verge of the thirteenth century, while his "Patrologia Graeca" goes as far as the Council of Florence (1438-9). These limits are evidently too wide, It will be best to consider that the great merit of St. Bernard as a writer lies in his resemblance in style and matter to the greatest among the Fathers, in spite of the difference of period. St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) and the Venerable Bede (d. 735) are to be classed among the Fathers, but they may be said to have been born out of due time, as St. Theodore the Studite was in the East.
Classification of patristic writings
In order to get a good view of the patristic period, the Fathers may be divided in various ways. One favourite method is by periods; the Ante-Nicene Fathers till 325; the Great Fathers of the fourth century and half the fifth (325-451); and the later Fathers. A more obvious division is into Easterns and Westerns, and the Easterns will comprise writers in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, and Coptic. A convenient division into smaller groups will be by periods, nationalities and character of writings; for in the East and West there were many races, and some of the ecclesiastical writers are apologists, some preachers, some historians, some commentators, and so forth.
A. After (1) the Apostolic Fathers come in the second century (2) the Greek apologists, followed by (3) the Western apologists somewhat later, (4) the Gnostic and Marcionite heretics with their apocryphal Scriptures, and (5) the Catholic replies to them.
B. The third century gives us (1) the Alexandrian writers of the catechetical school, (2) the writers of Asia Minor and (3) Palestine, and the first Western writers, (4) at Rome, Hippolytus (in Greek), and Novatian, (5) the great African writers, and a few others.
C. The fourth century opens with (1) the apologetic and the historical works of Eusebius of Caesarea, with whom we may class St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. Epiphanius, (2) the Alexandrian writers Athanasius, Didymus, and others, (3) the Cappadocians, (4) the Antiochenes, (5) the Syriac writers. In the West we have (6) the opponents of Arianism, (7) the Italians, including Jerome, (8) the Africans, and (9) the Spanish and Gallic writers.
D. The fifth century gives us (1) the Nestorian controversy, (2) the Eutychian controversy, including the Western St. Leo; (3) the historians. In the West (4) the school of Lérins, (5) the letters of the popes.
E. The sixth century and the seventh give us less important names and they must be grouped in a more mechanical way.
Wikipedia explains the Church Fathers as follows:
The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were ancient and influential Christian theologians and writers who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity. The historical period of the Patristic Era spans approximately the late 1st to mid 8th centuries, with a flourishing during the 4th and 5th centuries, when Christianity was in the process of establishing itself as the state church of the Roman Empire.
In traditional dogmatic theology, authors considered Church Fathers are treated as authoritative, and a somewhat restrictive definition is used. The academic field of patristics, the study of the Church Fathers, has extended the scope of the term, and there is no definitive list.
In the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church traditions there are four Fathers each who are called the "Great Church Fathers". In the Catholic Church, they are collectively called the "Eight Doctors of the Church",
Ambrose (A.D. 340–397)
Augustine of Hippo (354–430)
Pope Gregory I (540–604)
Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296 or 298 – 373)
Gregory of Nazianzus (329 – c. 390)
Basil of Caesarea (c. 330 – 379)
John Chrysostom (347–407)
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, three of them (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom) are honored as the "Three Holy Hierarchs".
The Apostolic Fathers were Christian theologians who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, who are believed to have personally known some of the Twelve Apostles, or to have been significantly influenced by them. Their writings, though popular in Early Christianity, were ultimately not included in the canon of the New Testament once it reached its final form. Many of the writings derive from the same time period and geographical location as other works of early Christian literature that did come to be part of the New Testament, and some of the writings found among the Apostolic Fathers' seem to have been just as highly regarded as some of the writings that became the New Testament. The first three, Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp, are considered the chief ones.
The study of the Church Fathers is known as patristics.
Works of fathers in early Christianity, prior to Nicene Christianity, were translated into English in a 19th-century collection Ante-Nicene Fathers. Those of the First Council of Nicaea and continuing through the Second Council of Nicea (787) are collected in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.