Teachings from the Ancient Church Fathers
The purpose of this study is NOT to prove one point or disprove another. Rather, as the apostles left them writings which proved authoritative, they also left behind practices which were preserved by the ancient church and which, therefore, should be as authoritative as the writings they left behind. The particular study focuses on deacons, especially on their roles in the early church.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from the AnteNicene/Nicene Fathers, volume, page #'s and section (if applicable). PN refers to the Post Nicene Fathers.
ITALY/WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE
Apostolic creation/sanction of deacons and bishops:
Clement (Pope: 92-101)
"they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry" (Clement, 44 or 1:17:44).
Ambrose of Milan (333-397): "'If any man be without reproach the husband of one wife.' So then he who is without blame the husband of one wife comes within the rule for undertaking the priestly office; he, however, who has married agin has no guilt of pollution, but is disqualified for the priestly prerogative" (Letters LXIII:63 or PN10:466:63).
2. . . . Why do you bring forward A CUSTOM WHICH EXISTS IN ONE CITY ONLY? Why do you oppose to the laws of the Church a paltry exception which has given rise to arrogance and pride? The rarer anything is the more it is sought after. . . . They must consider the reasons which led to the appointment of the deacons at the beginning. They must read the Acts of the Apostles and bear in mind their true position.
Of the names presbyter and bishop the first denotes age, the second rank. . . . the word bishops includes presbyters also." Letters CXLVI 1, 2 or PN6:288-289:CXLVI 1, 2.
"Now again, he compares monogamy with digamy, and as he [Paul] had subordinated marriage to virginity, so he makes second marriages inferior to first . . . He allows second marriages, but to such persons as wish for them and are not able to contain . . . For it is better to know a single husband, though he be a second or third, than to have many paramours; that is, it is more tolerable for a woman to prostitute herself to one man than to many. . . . For where there are more husbands than one the proper idea of a husband, who is a single person, is destroyed. . . . What the holiness of second marriage is, appears from this--that a person twice married cannot be enrolled in the ranks of the clergy, and as to Apostle tells Timothy, 'Let none be enrolled as a widow under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man,' . . . And at the same time, consider that she who has had two husbands, even though she be a widow, decrepit, and in want, is not a worthy recipient of the Church's funds. . . . The first Adam was married once: the second was unmarried. Let he supporters of second marriages shew us as their leader a third Adam who was twice married. . .. The Apostle was forced to choose many things which he did not lie. He circumcised Timothy, and shaved his own head, practiced going barefoot" (Against Jovinianus Book I, 14 or PN6:358-359:I:14).
"For as the Apostle says that among other rules for election he shall be ordained bishop who is known to have been or to be 'the husband of one wife,' this command was always held so sacred that the same condition was understood as necessary to be observed even in the wife of the priest-elect: lest she should happen to have been married to another man before she entered into wedlock with him, even though her himself had had no other wife. . . . the statutes of God's law as well, whereby it is clearly laid down that a priest is to marry a virgin, and that she who is to be the wife of a priest is not to know another husband? For even then in the priests was prefigured the Spirit marriage of Christ and His Church: so that since 'the man is the head of the woman,' the spouses of the Word may learn to know no other man but Christ, who did rightly choose her only, loves her only, and takes none but her into His alliance. If then even in teh Old Testament this kind of marriage among preists is adhered to, how much more ought we who are placed under the grace of the Gospel to conform to the Apostle's precepts: so that though a man be found endowed with good character, and furnished with holy works, he may nevertheless in no wise ascend either to the grade of deacon, or the dignity of the presbytery, or to the highest rank of the bishopric, if it has been spread abroad either that he himself is not the husband of one wife, or that his wife is not the wife of one husband" (Letters, XII:III or PN12:13:XII:III).
GAUL-FRANCE/WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon (135-202):
"And still further, Stephen, who was chosen the first deacon by the apostles" (Against Heresies III:12:10 or 1:434:10).
"Stephen, who was the first elected into the diaconate by the apostles" (Against Heresies IV:15:1 or 1:480:1). Affirmed by Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (248-258): Epistles 64:3 oe 5:366:LXIV.
Cyprian (200-258): "But deacons ought to remember that the Lord chose apostles, that is, bishops and overseers; while apostles appointed for themselves deacons after the ascent of the Lord into heaven, as ministers of their episcopacy and of the Church." He goes on to stress the submission of deacons to the bishops for the express purpose of maintaining harmony in the Church (The Epistles of Cyprian, LXIV or 5:366:LXIV).
SYRIA/EASTERN ROMAN EMPIRE
Ignatius of Antioch (35-112):
"My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons" (Letter to Polycarp 6 or 1:95:6).
GREECE/EASTERN ROMAN EMPIRE
Julian, Bishop of Neapollis/Apostolic Constitutions (381-394):
"As to the deacons, after the prayer is over, let some of them attend upon the oblation of the Eucharist, ministering to the Lord's body with fear" (AC section VII, lvii or 421:VII:lxii.
"Neither do we permit the laity to perform any of the offices belong to the priesthood; as, for instance, neither the sacrifice, nor baptism, nor the laying on of hands, nor the blessing, whether the smaller or the greater; for 'no one taketh this honour to himself, but he that is called of God.' [Heb. 5:4.] For such sacred offices are conferred by the laying on of the hands of the bishop. But a person to whom such an office is not committed, but he seizes upon it for himself, he shall undergo the punishment of Uzziah" (AC section I, x or 7:429:I:x).
"But we do not permit any one of the clergy to take to wife either a courtesan, or a servant, or a widow, or one that is divorced, as also the law says. Let the deaconess be a pure virgin; or, at the least, a widow who has been but once married, faithful; and well esteemed" (Section III, xvii or 7:III:xvii).
"He who has been twice married after his baptism, or has had a concubine, cannot be made a bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, or indeed any one of teh sacerdotal catalogue" (Ecclesiastical Canons of the AC, section XLVII, 17 or 7:501:XLVII:17).
NORTH AFRICA-EGYPT, ALEXANDRIA/EASTERN ROMAN EMPIRE
Clement of Alexandria (150-215): "'Moreover let the deacons of the church, going about with intelligence, be as eyes to the bishop, carefully inquiring into the doings of each member of the church, ascertaining who is about to sin, in order that, being arrested with admonition by the president, he may haply not accomplish the sin. Let them check the disorderly, that they may not desist from assembling to hear the discourses, so that they may be able to counteract by the word of truth those anxieties that fall upon the heart from every side, by means of worldly casualties and evil communications; for if they long remain fallow, they become fuel for the fire. And let them learn who are suffering under bodily disease, and let them bring them to the notice of the multitude who do not know of them, that they may visit them, and supply their wants according to the judgment of the president" (Epistle of Clement to James chap. XII or 8:220:chap. XII).
Athanasius (295-373): "But the cup which belongs to the mysteries, and which if it be broken intentionally, makes the perpetrator of the deed an impious person, is found only among those who lawfully preside. . . . this belongs only to those who preside over the Catholic Church, for to you only it appertains to administer the Blood of Christ, and to none besides. But as he who breaks the cup belong to the mysteries is an impious person, much more impious is he who treats the Blood of Christ with contumely; . . . he was not even numbered amongst them; and therefore did not receive ordination even from that quarter" (Defence Against the Arians 4:106-107).
Synod of Laodicea (343-381): A subdeacon may not give the bread and the cup. . . . "The deacon then gave the chalice with the words: 'the Blood of Christ, the chalice of life,' and the recipient again answered, 'Amen' (Canon XXV or PN14:147:XXV).