The oldest of these writings came from a number of Greek writers, of the first and second centuries, known by the name of the 'Apostolic Fathers.' This title describes their special characteristics: their antiquity (some of these works were, probably, written before St John's Gospel) and the close links between these writers and the Apostles (they may be considered disciples of the Apostles). The writings of the Apostolic Fathers are pastoral in character and are addressed to a Christian readership.
The most outstanding texts in this first group of Christian writings are the Didache (the oldest known account of church discipline), the letter of St Clement to the Corinthians, which we have already mentioned; the seven letters of St Ignatius of Antioch to other churches, written on his journey to Rome, where he would suffer martyrdom; and another letter, by St Polycarp of Smyrna. The Shepherd of Hennas, which has importance for tracing the history of penitential practice, also belongs to this group.