Manuscripts and Editions of Early Christian Texts (MEECT) is a series of Research Guides based on case studies. It seeks to demonstrate the significance of the work that has been done by libraries and other institutions which digitize medieval manuscripts. My aim is to make it easier for scholars to find digitized manuscripts as well as manuscripts listed in digital catalogues. Furthermore, these guides seek to create a dialogue between scholars and institutions serving the digital revolution in the study of the European cultural heritage.
In the English literature of the 16th century, the expression "Apostolic Fathers" was used in various ways for ancient authors, whose texts were considered authoritative. In 1672, J.-B. Cotelier published in Paris a collection of the writings of "Fathers who flourished in the Apostolic times". The breakthrough of the expression "Apostolical Fathers" can be traced back to William Wake, who in 1693 published a translation of the "genuine epistles of the apostolical fathers, S. Barnabas, S. Ignatius, S. Clement, S. Polycarp, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the martyrdoms of St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp". It became common to characterize apostolic fathers as esteemed Christian teachers who wrote their treatises in the middle of the 2nd century. Some of their writings were composed before the latest writings of the New Testament and some of them were written at the time of the early Christian apologists. The concept which was not chronologically exact was becoming conceptually both functional and useful.
In 1765, the number of the "Apostolic Fathers" was extended by Andreas Gallandi with the letter to Diognetus, the fragments of Papias, and the fragment of Quadratus. When the Greek Didache was found and published by Bryennius in 1883, it soon became the document which was thought to be the first and most primitive among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. While the Didache is a church order, most of these writings are letters (I Clement, the seven [original] letters of Ignatius, Polycarp). The letter of Barnabas is actually a theological tract, II Clement is a homily, the Shepherd of Hermas reads like an apocalypse, and the letter to Diognetus is an apology. The Martyrdom of Polycarp was handed on together with his letter, and thus it was natural to include among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.
I have excluded from this collection of manuscripts the fragments of Papias and Quadratus, because they are not independent documents but transmitted through the writings of later Christian authors. In turn, I have included manuscripts of the so-called long recension of the letters of the letters of Ignatius, because they are often transmitted in the same manuscripts as the texts of some other Apostolic Fathers.
It is delightful to find out that so many key manuscripts are already digitized. When there is no digitized manuscript available I have made a link to an edition of the manuscripts or papyrus fragment in question. I am thankful for all comments, particularly for those related to errors and shortcomings.