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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:

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 Alister 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

Alister McGrath notes four reasons why understanding patristics can be difficult in the early 21st century:6

  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, the extent of use of classical philosophy.

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 a distant past. These theologies, however, are considered controversial or even dangerous by orthodox theologians.78

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.citation needed 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).clarification needed

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


  1. ^ McGrath, Alister. 1998. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Chapter 1 'The Patristic Period, c. 100-451.'
  2. ^ McGrath. op.cit. Ch. 1.
  3. ^ McGrath. op.cit. Ch. 1.
  4. ^ McGrath. op.cit. pp. 27-37.
  5. ^ McGrath. op.cit. pp. 20-22.
  6. ^ McGrath. op.cit. pp. 23.
  7. ^ Dr. Triantafyllos Sioulis, «Πατερικός φονταμενταλισμός» ή «μετα-πατερική θεολογική θολούρα»
  8. ^ Metropolitan of Nafpaktus ΝΕΟΠΑΤΕΡΙΚΗ ΚΑΙ ΜΕΤΑΠΑΤΕΡΙΚΗ "ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΑ"
  9. ^ Katz, Steven (1999), "Ideology, State Power, and Mass Murder/Genocide", Lessons and Legacies: The Meaning of the Holocaust in a Changing World, Northwestern University Press 
  10. ^ James Parkes, Prelude to Dialogue (London: 1969) p. 153; cited in Wilken, p. xv.
  11. ^ William I. Brustein, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust, (Cambridge University Press:2003) ISBN 0-521-77308-3, p. 52.

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