Father Knows Best


Godly Parenting

Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, writes to the Philippians commending them for welcoming exemplars who are “the models of true love”. Just like with the Apostle Paul, for Polycarp, love was to be the first fruit and foremost evidence of having been justly redeemed in Christ. And, as was emphasized by Ignatius as well, the defining characteristic of the pure Religion of Jesus. Thus, Polycarp would likely contend, like a first-rate parent, good company creates good character. Or, he would warn to the contrary, Like St. Paul, “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33, ESV).
When writing to his beloved parents at Philippi, Polycarp emphases the word “Righteousness”, which in its simplest form denotes a right relationship with God and a right relationship with one another. This superior truth is ” a mother to us all”, Polycarp writes; and is the commandment of the Lord that is to be taught to the children “in the fear of God”. Basically, “Love God and your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mark 12:30-31, NIV).
Again, writing about our children, Polycarp instructs, “The younger ones must be blameless in all things…obedient to the presbyters (i.e., priests) and deacons (i.e., ministers) as unto God and Christ.”   It is really not a surprise then that presbyters and deacons soon became extended family, and just like the Apostle Paul, began to be addressed as “Fathers” (see 1 Cor. 4:15).
You see, these exemplars (presbyters and deacons) had authority in the body of Christ only by virtue of their commendable lives; who, according to the book of Hebrews, had faith worthy of being imitated (see, Hebrews 13:7). Thus, Polycarp continues his writings by detailing the proper lifestyle for “ordained” clergy.
Polycarp was emphasizing that the clergy among them had authority in their changed lives and thus could say boldly, “Follow my example, because we follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ” (see I Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17). Godly parenting is all about modeling–it is caught; not taught!
May we as parents become the embodiment of the Lord, Jesus Christ; and following His example, love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and might and our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37). Father Michael O’Donnell, PHD


Father Knows Best

Before I was ordained, I spent my life as a graduate professor of Human Development and Family Studies at a major University–with an emphasis on Fathering. So you could say I am a bit biased when it comes to talking about parenting. Yep, I value the role men play in helping moms to raise up the next generation of kids. And although our site will have a lot to say about Woman and the Early Church, I want to expressly focus on the early Patristic period and the early Christian Fathers of the first two centuries.

Some of them you know well, at least their names, and others not so much–that’s okay. My writing will hopefully be translated well into the historic laymen’s understanding; in other words, I want to talk to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and not the academics among us. That’s why I left the so called “hallowed halls of academia” to have a more accessible dialogue with ordinary people who search the Internet for ordinary answers.

About my title, “Fathers Know Best”–of course this is a reference to the very popular American sitcom, “Father Knows Best”, whereby our TV dad, Jim Anderson, copes with everyday problems of his growing family (first aired October 3, 1954), dispensing wisdom from a father’s point of view. Yes, sexist and outdated, albeit humorous and even occasionally profound, I’m trying to draw a connection between this early Icon of pop TV culture and the so called “early Christian Fathers” of long ago.

Instead of a growing nuclear family, imagine dealing with an ever expanding early church. A church in its infancy, but needing the “milk” of the Gospel and a steady diet of Christian literature from the likes of Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr (to name but a few).

In a time when a fatherless generation is returning to their ancient roots of historic Christianity and rediscovering the writings of the “Fathers”, my prayer is that this blog will help aid you in that discovery and burning desire to be connected with an Early Faith for Today that will most certainly provide you with spiritual treasures, both old and new. And so, the journey begins …  Father Michael O’Donnell, PHD


Right Relationships

Continuing with Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians, he exhorts them to be obedient to “the word of righteousness” as found in the book of Hebrews (5:13). He then goes on to talk about the basis for these righteous or right relationships (with God and others) by referencing key leaders who were exemplars of the word of God.

By referencing Hebrews, Polycarp makes clear that they were to “Remember their leaders, who spoke the word of God to you (“word of righteousness”). [And] consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (13:7, NIV).

You see, for Polycarp, the changed life was the only authentic qualifier for authoritative leadership in the body of Christ. Thus, he could commend to them blessed Ignatius and Zosimus and Rufus as having lives worthy of being imitated, because they demonstrated love for God and love for their neighbors. (The Two Greatest Commandments.)

Polycarp, then, rightly concludes that they are to follow these exemplars as these righteous leaders followed the example of the Lord, Jesus Christ. And, Polycarp reminds them, “you have seen with your very eyes” that their lives bear much fruit: “loving the brotherhood”, “cherishing one another”, and “preferring one another”. Thus, to love God and one’s neighbor, is to have “your manner of life above reproach from the heathen.”

This is the Christian message! Whereby, we go from making Jesus our Savior, to making him the Lord of our lives. And, thus allow the world to SEE the real and tangible difference Christ makes in our lives. Polycarp, says, the world will see your “good works” and “the Lord will not be blasphemed. But, rather, be PRAISED! –Michael O’Donnell+