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Title: Patristic  
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Subject: Justin Martyr, Thomas the Apostle, Greek literature, Elysium, Ge'ez language, Atonement in Christianity, Biblical inerrancy, Pneumatology (Christianity), Classical Armenian, Soul in the Bible
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Patristics or Patrology is the study of the Early Christian writers who are designated Church Fathers. The names derive from the combined form of Latin pater and Greek patḗr (father). The period is generally considered to run from the end of New Testament times or end of the Apostolic Age (c. AD 100) to either AD 451 (the date of the Council of Chalcedon),[1] or to the 8th century Second Council of Nicaea, see also First seven Ecumenical Councils.

Key persons

Among the persons whose writings form the basis for Patristics, i.e. prominent early Church Fathers, are Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-c.108), Pope Clement I (c.1st century AD-c.101), Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165), Irenaeus of Lyons (c.120-c.202), Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215), Tertullian (c.160-c.225), Origen (c.185-c.254), Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258), Athanasius (c.296-c.373), Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389), Basil of Caesarea (c.330-379), Gregory of Nyssa (c.330-c.395) Theodore of Mopsuestia (c.350-428), Jerome (347-430), Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Pelagius, Vincent of Lérins (d. bef. 450), Cyril of Alexandria (d.444), Nestorius (died c.451).[2]

Key theological developments

Major focuses for these theologians during the period are in chronological order: Christianity's relationship with Judaism; the establishment of the New Testament Canon; Apologetics ('defense' or 'explanation' of Christianity); and doctrinal discussions that sought to achieve consistency of faith, in particular within the Christianised Roman Empire.[3] Following the scholar of Christianity Alistair McGrath (1998), several major areas of theology can be seen to have developed during the Patristic Period: the extent of the New Testament Canon, the role of tradition, the fixing of the ecumenical creeds, the Two Natures of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the Church, and the doctrine of Divine grace.[4]

Eras of the church fathers

The church fathers are generally divided into the Ante-Nicene Fathers, those who lived and wrote before the Council of Nicaea (325) and the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, those who lived and wrote after 325. In addition, the division of the fathers into Greek and Latin writers is also common. Some of the most prominent Greek Fathers are Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria. Among the Latin Fathers are Tertullian, Cyprian, Jerome, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory the Great and Augustine of Hippo.


The major locations of the early Church fathers were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and the area of western north Africa around Carthage. Milan and Jerusalem were also sites.[5]

Obstacles to 21st century understanding

Scholar of Christianity Alister McGrath notes four reasons why, in the early 21st century, understanding Patristics can be difficult: (1) Some of the debates appear to have little relevance to the modern world; (2) The use of classical philosophy; (3) The doctrinal diversity; (4) The divisions between East and West, i.e. Greek and Latin, methods of theology, for example the extent of use of classical philosophy.[6]

The terms Neo-patristics and Post-patristics refer to recent theologies according to which the Church Fathers must be reinterpreted or even critically tested in light of modern developments, since their writings reflected that of distant past. These theologies however are considered controversial or even dangerous by orthodox theologians.[7][8]

Patrologia vs. patristica

Some scholars, chiefly in Germany, distinguish patrologia from patristica. Josef Fessler, for instance, defines patrologia as the science which provides all that is necessary for the using of the works of the Fathers, dealing, therefore, with their authority, the criteria for judging their genuineness, the difficulties to be met within them, and the rules for their use. But Fessler's own Institutiones Patrologiae has a larger range, as have similar works entitled Patrologies, for example that of Otto Bardenhewer (tr. Shahan, Freiburg, 1908).

On the other hand, Fessler describes patristica as that theological science by which all that concerns faith, morals, or discipline in the writings of the Fathers is collected and sorted. The lives and works of the Fathers are also described by a non-specialized science: literary history. These distinctions are not much observed, nor do they seem very necessary; they are nothing else than aspects of patristic study as it forms part of fundamental theology, of positive theology, and of literary history.


Augustine argued that the Jews should be left alive and suffering as a perpetual reminder of their murder of Christ. Saint John Chrysostom used Jesus' words in Luke 19:27 in his Eight Homilies Against the Jews,

"The Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil; they kicked about, they failed to accept the yoke of Christ, nor did they pull the plow of his teaching. Another prophet hinted at this when he said: “Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer.” … Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: “But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them.” [Luke 19:27]"

Steven Katz cites Chrysostom's homilies as “the decisive turn in the history of Christian anti-Judaism, a turn whose ultimate disfiguring consequence was enacted in the political antisemitism of Adolf Hitler”.[9] James Parkes called the writing on Jews "the most horrible and violent denunciations of Judaism to be found in the writings of a Christian theologian".[10] Chrysostom's sermons against Jews gave momentum to the idea that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.[11]

Availability of patristic texts

Most patristic texts are available in their original languages in Jacques Paul Migne's two great patrologies, Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca. For Syriac and other Eastern languages the Patrologia Orientalis is less complete and can be largely supplemented by the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium. Noted collections containing re-edited patristic texts (also discoveries and new attributions) are the Corpus Christianorum, Sources Chrétiennes, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, and on a lesser scale Oxford Early Christian Texts and Fontes Christiani (also Etudes Augustiniennes).

English translations of patristic texts are readily available in a variety of collections. For example:

  • A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark).
  • The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century (New York: New City Press). [1]
  • The Fathers of the Church (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press) [2]
  • Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Paulist Press) [3]
  • The Early Church Fathers (London; New York: Routledge). [4]
  • The Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press) [5]

A range of journals cover patristic studies:

See also


Sources and external links

  • Alin Suciu's blog on Patristic literature
  • Catholic Encyclopedia- Patrology
  • Free digital bilingual edition (french - greek or latin) of patristic texts, studies, meditations, prayers.
  • Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Collection A 38 volume set containing most of the major works of the first 800 years of Christian patristic writings.
  • Early Church Texts A site with a growing number of original language patristic texts and translations, together with an extensive set of links to online resources about the Early Church.
  • Corunum Large collection of patristic texts that outline the cardinal doctrines of the Catholic faith.
  • Ecole Initiative Online collection of patristic texts, images, and information.
  • Faulkner University Patristics Project A growing collection of English translations of patristic texts and high-resolution scans from the comprehensive Patrologia compiled by J. P. Migne.
  • Patristics In English Project An online initiative whose aim is to scan and present all out of copyright patristic texts as well as providing new translations of previously untranslated patristic texts.
  • St. Pachomius Library Large collection of various patristic texts and information dealing with Eastern Orthodoxy.
  • many out of copyright patristic texts.
  • International Association of Patristics Studies
  • L'Istituto Patristico Augustinianum di Roma
  • North American Patristics Society
  • "Way of the Fathers" Weblog
  • Roger Pearse weblog - mainly patristic
  • Migne Patrologia Graeca free digital edition of almost all the texts.
  • Fourth Century Christianity -College website devoted to 4th-century Christianity
  • Gérard Vallée, The shaping of Christianity


  • Patristics for Busy Pastors by Dr J Ligon Duncan
  • Church History 1: Dr Gerald Bray
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