Because the Catholic Epistles focus on orthodox faith and morals, the Fathers drew on them as a means of defense against the rising challenge of heretics. This factor gave these letters a freshness and relevance to conditions in the fourth and fifth centuries that might otherwise seem surprising. Many of the Fathers unabashedly saw in them anticipatory attacks on Marcion and strong defenses against the Arians. They did so quite naturally because in their view truth was eternal and deviations from it had existed from the beginning. Above all, the Fathers found in the Catholic Epistles a manual for spiritual warfare, counsel for the faithful in the struggle between good and evil. In them was sound instruction in the ways of self-sacrifice, generosity and humility, through which evil could be defeated.
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Gerald L. Bray is a professor at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and director of research at Latimer Trust. He has written and edited a number of books on different theological subjects. A priest of the Church of England, Bray has also edited the post-Reformation Anglican canons.