Many people think Emperor Constantine invented the deity of Christ in the fourth century, but a look at quotes from the early church fathers shows this is an egregious misrepresentation of the facts. In my mentoring letter this month, I offered a short list of quotations to demonstrate that the early church believed Jesus is God. Now I’d like to make the argument even stronger by offering thirty-six quotations from nine different early church fathers. All of these quotations predate the Council of Nicea.
Polycarp (AD 69–155) was the bishop at the church in Smyrna. Irenaeus tells us Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle. In his Letter to the Philippians he says,
Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth...and to us with you, and to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead.
Ignatius (AD 50–117) was the bishop at the church in Antioch and also a disciple of John the Apostle. He wrote a series of letters to various churches on his way to Rome, where he was to be martyred. He writes,
Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, unto her which hath been blessed in greatness through the plentitude of God the Father; which hath been foreordained before the ages to be for ever unto abiding and unchangeable glory, united and elect in a true passion, by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ our God; even unto the church which is in Ephesus [of Asia], worthy of all felicitation: abundant greeting in Christ Jesus and in blameless joy.
Being as you are imitators of God, once you took on new life through the blood of God you completed perfectly the task so natural to you.
There is only one physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord.
For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit.
Consequently all magic and every kind of spell were dissolved, the ignorance so characteristic of wickedness vanished, and the ancient kingdom was abolished when God appeared in human form to bring the newness of eternal life.
For our God Jesus Christ is more visible now that he is in the Father.
I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having been nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Wait expectantly for the one who is above time: the Eternal, the Invisible, who for our sake became visible; the Intangible, the Unsuffering, who for our sake suffered, who for our sake endured in every way.
Justin Martyr (AD 100–165) was an Christian apologist of the second century.
And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what has been said.
Permit me first to recount the prophecies, which I wish to do in order to prove that Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts.
Therefore these words testify explicitly that He [Jesus] is witnessed to by Him [the Father] who established these things, as deserving to be worshipped, as God and as Christ.
The Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign, having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin....
For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God.
Melito of Sardis (died c. AD 180) was the bishop of the church in Sardis.
He that hung up the earth in space was Himself hanged up; He that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails; He that bore up the earth was born up on a tree; the Lord of all was subjected to ignominy in a naked body—God put to death! ... [I]n order that He might not be seen, the luminaries turned away, and the day became darkened—because they slew God, who hung naked on the tree.... This is He who made the heaven and the earth, and in the beginning, together with the Father, fashioned man; who was announced by means of the law and the prophets; who put on a bodily form in the Virgin; who was hanged upon the tree; who was buried in the earth; who rose from the place of the dead, and ascended to the height of heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 130–202) was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is now Lyons, France. Irenaeus was born in Smyrna in Asia Minor, where he studied under bishop Polycarp, who in turn had been a disciple of John the Apostle.
For I have shown from the Scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man.... He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men;—all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him.
He received testimony from all that He was very man, and that He was very God, from the Father, from the Spirit, from angels, from the creation itself, from men, from apostate spirits and demons.
Christ Jesus [is] our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father.
Christ Himself, therefore, together with the Father, is the God of the living, who spoke to Moses, and who was also manifested to the fathers.
Carefully, then, has the Holy Ghost pointed out, by what has been said, His birth from a virgin, and His essence, that He is God (for the name Emmanuel indicates this). And He shows that He is a man.... [W]e should not understand that He is a mere man only, nor, on the other hand, from the name Emmanuel, should suspect Him to be God without flesh.
Clement of Alexandria (AD 150–215) was another early church father. He wrote around AD 200. He writes,
This Word, then, the Christ, the cause of both our being at first (for He was in God) and of our well-being, this very Word has now appeared as man, He alone being both, both God and man—the Author of all blessings to us; by whom we, being taught to live well, are sent on our way to life eternal.... The Word, who in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends.
For it was not without divine care that so great a work was accomplished in so brief a space by the Lord, who, though despised as to appearance, was in reality adored, the expiator of sin, the Savior, the clement, the Divine Word, He that is truly most manifest Deity, He that is made equal to the Lord of the universe; because He was His Son, and the Word was in God....
Tertullian (AD 150–225) was an early Christian apologist. He said,
For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God.
Thus Christ is Spirit of Spirit, and God of God, as light of light is kindled.... That which has come forth out of God is at once God and the Son of God, and the two are one. In this way also, as He is Spirit of Spirit and God of God, He is made a second in manner of existence—in position, not in nature; and He did not withdraw from the original source, but went forth. This ray of God, then, as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united.
Bear always in mind that this is the rule of faith which I profess; by it I testify that the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable from each other , and so will you know in what sense this is said. Now, observe, my assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and that they are distinct from each other. This statement is taken in a wrong sense by every uneducated as well as every perversely disposed person, as if it predicated a diversity, in such a sense as to imply a separation among the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit. I am, moreover, obliged to say this, when they contend for the identity of the Father and Son and Spirit, that it is not by way of diversity that the Son differs from the Father, but by distribution: it is not by division that He is different, but by distinction; because the Father is not the same as the Son, since they differ one from the other in the mode of their being. For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as He Himself acknowledges: “My Father is greater than I.” In the Psalm His inferiority is described as being “a little lower than the angels.” Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son, inasmuch as He who begets is one, and He who is begotten is another; He, too, who sends is one, and He who is sent is another; and He, again, who makes is one, and He through whom the thing is made is another. Happily the Lord Himself employs this expression of the person of the Paraclete, so as to signify not a division or severance, but a disposition (of mutual relations in the Godhead); for He says, “I will pray the Father, and He shall send you another Comforter…even the Spirit of truth,” thus making the Paraclete distinct from Himself, even as we say that the Son is also distinct from the Father; so that He showed a third degree in the Paraclete, as we believe the second degree is in the Son, by reason of the order observed in the Economy. Besides, does not the very fact that they have the distinct names of Father and Son amount to a declaration that they are distinct in personality?
As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Hippolytus of Rome (AD 170–235) was a third-century theologian. He was a disciple of Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John. He writes,
The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God.
For, lo, the Only-begotten entered, a soul among souls, God the Word with a (human) soul. For His body lay in the tomb, not emptied of divinity; but as, while in Hades, He was in essential being with His Father, so was He also in the body and in Hades. For the Son is not contained in space, just as the Father; and He comprehends all things in Himself.
For all, the righteous and the unrighteous alike, shall be brought before God the Word.
Let us believe then, dear brethren, according to the tradition of the apostles, that God the Word came down from heaven, (and entered) into the holy Virgin Mary, in order that, taking the flesh from her, and assuming also a human, by which I mean a rational soul, and becoming thus all that man is with the exception of sin, He might save fallen man, and confer immortality on men who believe on His name.... He now, coming forth into the world, was manifested as God in a body, coming forth too as a perfect man. For it was not in mere appearance or by conversion, but in truth, that He became man. Thus then, too, though demonstrated as God, He does not refuse the conditions proper to Him as man, since He hungers and toils and thirsts in weariness, and flees in fear, and prays in trouble. And He who as God has a sleepless nature, slumbers on a pillow.
Origen (AD 185–254) was another early Christian theologian. He writes,
Jesus Christ...in the last times, divesting Himself (of His glory), became a man, and was incarnate although God, and while made a man remained the God which He was.
Seeing God the Father is invisible and inseparable from the Son, the Son is not generated from Him by “prolation,” as some suppose. For if the Son be a “prolation” of the Father (the term “prolation” being used to signify such a generation as that of animals or men usually is), then, of necessity, both He who “prolated” and He who was “prolated” are corporeal. For we do not say, as the heretics suppose, that some part of the substance of God was converted into the Son, or that the Son was procreated by the Father out of things non-existent, i.e., beyond His own substance, so that there once was a time when He did not exist.... How, then, can it be asserted that there once was a time when He was not the Son? For that is nothing else than to say that there was once a time when He was not the Truth, nor the Wisdom, nor the Life, although in all these He is judged to be the perfect essence of God the Father; for these things cannot be severed from Him, or even be separated from His essence.
For we who say that the visible world is under the government to Him who created all things, do thereby declare that the Son is not mightier than the Father, but inferior to Him. And this belief we ground on the saying of Jesus Himself, “The Father who sent Me is greater than I.” And none of us is so insane as to affirm that the Son of man is Lord over God. But when we regard the Savior as God the Word, and Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Truth, we certainly do say that He has dominion over all things which have been subjected to Him in this capacity, but not that His dominion extends over the God and Father who is Ruler over all.
Wherefore we have always held that God is the Father of His only-begotten Son, who was born indeed of Him, and derives from Him what He is, but without any beginning, not only such as may be measured by any divisions of time, but even that which the mind alone can contemplate within itself, or behold, so to speak, with the naked powers of the understanding.
But it is monstrous and unlawful to compare God the Father, in the generation of His only-begotten Son, and in the substance of the same, to any man or other living thing engaged in such an act; for we must of necessity hold that there is something exceptional and worthy of God which does not admit of any comparison at all, not merely in things, but which cannot even be conceived by thought or discovered by perception, so that a human mind should be able to apprehend how the unbegotten God is made the Father of the only-begotten Son. Because His generation is as eternal and everlasting as the brilliancy which is produced from the sun. For it is not by receiving the breath of life that He is made a Son, by any outward act, but by His own nature.
And that you may understand that the omnipotence of Father and Son is one and the same, as God and the Lord are one and the same with the Father, listen to the manner in which John speaks in the Apocalypse: “Thus saith the Lord God, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” For who else was “He which is to come” than Christ? And as no one ought to be offended, seeing God is the Father, that the Savior is also God; so also, since the Father is called omnipotent, no one ought to be offended that the Son of God is also called omnipotent.
**Nearly all of the above early writing can be read at Early Christian Writings.
 Polycarp, Philippians, 12:2.
 Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 0.0. (This is the Greeting.)
 Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 1.1.
 Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 7.2.
 Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 18.2.
 Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 19.3.
 Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, 3.3. Holmes, AF, 229.
 Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 1.1. Holmes, AF, 249.
 Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp, 3.2. Holmes, AF, 265.
 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 128. Translation from Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, I:264.
 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 36. ANF, I:212.
 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 63. ANF, I:229.
 Justin Martyr, First Apology, 63. ANF, I:184.
 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 126. ANF, I:263.
 Melito, 5.
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.19.2.
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.6.7.
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.10.1.
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.5.2.
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.21.4.
 Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, 1.
 Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, 10.
 Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, 41.
 Tertullian, Apology, 21.
 Tertullian, Against Praxeas, chapter 9.
 Tertullian, Against Praxeas, chapter 2.
 Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 10.29.
 Hippolytus, Exegetical Fragments from Commentaries, On Luke, Chapter 23.
 Hippolytus, Against Plato, Section 3.
 Hippolytus, Against the Heresy of one Noetus, Section 17.
 Origen, De Principiis, Preface, 4.
 Origen. Contra Celsus, Book 5, Chapter 11.
 Origen, Contra Celsus Book 8, Chapter 15.
 Origen, De Principiis, Book 1, Chapter 2, Section 2.
 Origen, De Principiis, Book 1, Chapter 2, Section 4.
 Origen, De Principiis, Book 1, Chapter 2, Section 10.