Were there any lay Christian writers/theologians as prominent as Church Fathers in the Early Church? Also, why was there a lack of laity representation in bible studies and theology?

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    Re "a lack of laity representation in bible studies and theology" I am not sure this premise holds. It would be advantageous if supporting context could be added. Keep in mind that only about 10% of the population were literate during the time of the early church (up to 325 AD), and that lesser works may not have survived to the present day. A brief literature search using Google Scholar indicates that there are only few relevant publications, so while a good answer seems possible in principle it may be hard to achieve.
    – njuffa
    Nov 23, 2023 at 1:15
  • I'm not sure if this undercuts the basis of your question, but I don't know that all the church fathers were ordained ministers (i.e. priests, bishops, deacons). I don't see any evidence that St. Justin Martyr was at least, I can think of a bunch of others. Would the Desert Fathers that weren't ordained be applicable, what about the Desert Mothers?
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 24, 2023 at 22:19
  • Great point. I never thought about that
    – Wenura
    Nov 25, 2023 at 11:46

2 Answers 2


Were there any lay Christian writers in the Early Church?

The short answer is yes, although few and far between.

For example here are a few Christian women writers from the Early Church:

Perpetua of Carthage, martyr, d. 203

She wrote Perpetua’s Diary, the powerful record of her conversion to Christianity and her subsequent death in the arena. Perpetua’s Diary is the oldest extant document we know was written by a woman. Her story was so popular that it was told throughout the Mediterranean world in the 3rd through 6th centuries. Later Christian writers (for instance, St. Augustine) would ask, “Why was this woman’s story told when there were also male martyrs in Carthage?”

Proba Betitia Faltonia, teacher, c 310 – c 360

She wrote the Cento, Vergilianus de laudibus Christi, through which she told the stories of the Bible from the Creation to the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Cento was well-known in the Roman world of the 4th century; her interpretation of Jesus nade him classical hero like Aeneas. How did Proba do it? (This is the question to ask every time a woman succeeded in these centuries.) Proba came from an aristocratic family, and because of her father’s permission received a classical education. Her work was criticized by St. Jerome, not a friend of women, who called her garrulous and unaware of scriptural meanings; by the 5th c the pope said her work was not to be read in public. Nevertheless her work was a a favorite teaching tool until late Middle Ages.

Egeria of Galicia, pilgrim and writer, c 380

She wrote Itinerarium Egeriae, or Travels of Egeria. This journal, kept during her three-year stay in the Holy Land, meticulously recorded the details of the Eastern Christian liturgies of Jerusalem. Western Christians were eager to adopt liturgies like those used in the Holy Land, and Egeria’s journal was re-copied many times and circulated throughout Europe, providing the basis for western Christian liturgies in Holy Week and Easter.

Eudocia, Byzantine empress and writer, c. 401–460

She wrote the Martyrdom of St. Cyprian along with many other works. Eudokia’s poetry and essays reveal the blending of early Christian teaching and Hellenistic philosophy in the Greco-Roman world. Like Proba, Eudokia was given a classical education by her patrician father.

Early Christian Women: Writers

St. Justin Martyr although a Church Father was definitely a lay person.

Saint Justin serves as a model for us today, an example of an educated lay person, confident and strong in faith. He inspires us to use our power to know and understand in order to strengthen our inner spiritual life. - Saint Justin Martyr

Very few of those in the Early Church were capable of reading or writing and only the educated individuals of the Church were able to write Christian works, most of those who did were either bishops, priests or deacons because the were lettered.


Lay Writers If we consider the beginning of the Church as part of the Early Church, we must acknowledge the writers of the New Testament. The Apostles, we recall, were mainly businessmen!

Peter, and two other partners, had a fishing business in Galilee. This layman wrote two biblical epistles. Matthew was in the business of collecting taxes for the government. He, of course, is known for writing a Gospel (biography of Jesus) that begins the New Testament section of the Bible. There is no record that Mark (John Mark) had any theological education other than what he learned from Peter and Paul. And he wrote the second Gospel.

John, the brother of James, was in the fishing business along with his father. (Matthew 4:21) So this was another "non-ordained" layman who wrote during the Early Church era. James, the brother of Jesus, no doubt help Joseph in the family carpenter shop; he was not a priest or rabbi. An he wrote an epistle included in the New Testament.

Luke seemed to be educated, though as a doctor of medicine, not a rabbi or priest. His lay practice was an aid to Paul; and he also contributed in a literary way to the Early Church. (Gospel and Acts: Acts 1:1)

The Exception The only religiously trained writer in this Early Church time was Saul (Paul) who had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, a well-versed, renowned Jewish rabbi who headed up a school in Jerusalem. Outside of Paul, all the other literary contributors were laymen!

Transition Since the Christians were eventually unwelcomed in Jewish synagogues, few, if any, would have had any religious training or ordination. The Early Church was, then, a lay organization on the march. It was only later, when the Church became institutionalized, that formal ministerial ordination became common. Laymen's writings, whose writings were preserved mainly because of their apologetics needed in front of emperors who martyred them, gradually gave way to ordained ministers trained in cathedral schools, who then did most of the theological treatises.

{An excellent source for research is the DICTIONARY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN BIOGRAPHY by Henry Wace and William Piercy! This tome is a summary of the previous 4 volume set, about Christians and their literary output in the Early Church. A must have, and a must read!}

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    The Early Church is generally considered from the Day of Pentecost to the year 325, not just the Apostolic Era.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 6, 2023 at 1:09
  • @ Ken Graham - If the Early Church began at Pentecost, as most do believe, then the New Testament was written just "after" the Apostolic Era by laymen in the Early Church times! (excluding Paul, although it's safe to say he lost his rabbinical credentials, and wrote as a tent-maker!) Thanks for the input.
    – ray grant
    Dec 6, 2023 at 20:56
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    Peter and all other Apostles were bishops in the Early Church and thus not laymen. St. Luke also an Evangelist was quite well educated and not a layperson either. St. Luke and St. Matthew are considered bishops in several denominations and thus not laymen either.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 6, 2023 at 21:28

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