Patristic literature refers to the writings of the Fathers of the Christian church (the Greek word patristikos means "relating to the fathers") between the latter part of the 1st century AD and the middle of the 8th century. It can therefore be distinguished from New Testament theology at one end and from medieval scholasticism and Byzantine systematization at the other. It reflects the philosophical and religious thought of the Hellenistic and Roman world from which it derived the bulk of its concepts and vocabulary. The themes of this vast literature are manifold, but the theological reflection of the Fathers focused for the most part on questions of Christology and the Trinity.
Although writers of the East and West had much in common, perceptible shades of difference can be found in their theologies. A scientific theology developed in the East and was marked by a blend of biblical theology and Platonic idealism (especially in Alexandria) or Aristotelian realism (especially in Antioch). In the West, Christian writers generally depended on the Greek theological tradition, which they often clarified in definitions or interpreted in juridical categories, until the emergence in the late 4th century of a sophisticated Latin theology.
Patristic literature falls into three main periods. The ante-Nicene period (before AD 325) includes the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the apologetic and antiheretical literature, and the beginnings of speculative Greek theology. The major figures of this period include Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Irenæus, Justin Martyr, Origen, and Tertullian. The period between the councils of Nicæa (325) and Chalcedon (451) was the golden age of the Nicene fathers (including Eusebius of Cæsarea, the first major church historian) the Alexandrians (most notably Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria), the Cappadocians (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa), and the Antiochenes (John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia).
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Altaner, Berthold, Patrology, 5th ed. (1960); DiBerardino, Angelo, eds., Patrology, trans. by P. Solari, 4 vols. (1986); Goodspeed, E. J., A History of Early Christian Literature, rev. ed. (1966); Hamell, Patrick J., Handbook of Patrology (1968); Kelly, J. N. D., Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (1978); Leigh-Bennett, E., Handbook of the Early Christian Fathers (1980); Quasten, Johannes, and Plumpe, Joseph C., eds., Ancient Christian Writers (1946- ).
Collected together are the English translations of the actual texts of many known early Christian manuscripts. These works form an important part of the foundation for virtually every Christian Church.
In Christianity, as in all other religions, interpretation by authors and speakers and Clergy is invariably involved. Since different people have sometimes interpreted the wording of early manuscripts in different ways, (as also is true of the Bible), there developed many different "human opinions" on many important subjects, which initiated many heresies, many schisms and a large number of Denominations and other Churches, each which have their own human opinions on those important subjects.
Since much of the argument seems to arise over interpretation of the meanings of works of the early Church Fathers, we are presenting the works here, WITHOUT significant commentary or interpretation. The exceptions generally have to do with historical facts which are relevant. For example, there are some short letters which appear to have been written to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, but the author appears to have lived many years after her! Such notes include a brief reference to being "spurious".
There are also assorted "fragments" of manuscripts included. In some cases, these fragments result from the illegibility of much of a manuscript, where only certain sentences are readable. In other cases, they are truly fragments, torn portions of manuscripts.
Being English translations, one must remember the need to consult the original language texts for any critical study. Similarly, we must remember that, at the time these letters and books were written, even the Bible was written in Scriptua continua, continuous text without spaces for paragraphs, sentences or even words, and there was no capitalization, punctuation or other formatting. Therefore, the paragraph numbering and Chapter headings in these texts were obviously additions by later copyists or translators to clarify the texts. However, without those improvements, these texts are nearly impossible to read or understand, and so it seems tolerable to accept them.
This listing is approximately in chronological order, as is currently understood. We hope to eventually include all known existing Manuscripts.
Eusebius, c.260-c.340, was the first historian of the Christian church. The outbreak of persecution during the reign of Diocletian forced Eusebius to take refuge in Egypt, but he was captured and imprisoned. Around 315 he was elected bishop of Cæsarea, in Palestine, and became embroiled in the controversy over Arianism, in which he took the side of Arius. At the Council of Nicæa (325), he sought to reconcile the opposing parties. Although he did not incline to the homoousios doctrine of Athanasius, which established the full divinity and equality of Christ with the Father, he eventually signed the formula approved at Nicæa, largely in deference to Emperor Constantine, who had convened the council.
Eusebius was a writer of immense productivity and learning. His Chronicle (c.303) and Ecclesiastical History (c.324) are principle sources of early Christian history. The History is both a political theology and a theology of history, the first major attempt to explain the association of Christianity with the Roman Empire and to take a historical approach in describing the development of the church.
Bibliography: Mosshammer, Alden A., The Chronicle of Eusebius and Greek Chronographic Tradition (1979); Wallace-Hadrill, David S., Eusebius of Cæsarea (1960).
The Greek historian Socrates "Scholasticus," c.380-c.450, is best known for his church history, designed as a continuation of Eusebius of Cæsarea's Historia Ecclesiastica. The work is arranged in seven books, each of which covers the life of one of the Roman emperors from 305 to 439.
A theologian of the Antiochene school, Theodoret, b. Antioch, c.393, d. c.458, was a monk of Apamea and bishop of Cyrus, Syria (423). A friend of Nestorius, he became embroiled in the controversy with Saint Cyril of Alexandria, whose views, he held, implied a confusion of the divine and human natures of Christ. Cyril's successor, the powerful Dioscorus, accused (448) Theodoret of dividing Christ into two natures, and although Theodoret insisted on the unity, he was anathematized. The Robber Synod of Ephesus (449), defending Cyril's theology, deposed Theodoret and forced him into exile for a year. At the Council of Chalcedon (451), Theodoret was identifed with the Nestorian opposition, but he was persuaded to renounce Nestorius and was recognized as orthodox.
Theodoret's surviving writings are fine expressions of the Antiochene school of interpretation.
Bibliography: Delaney, John J., and Tobin, James E., Dictionary of Catholic Biography (1961); Quasten, Johannes, Patrology (1950).
About 373, Jerome set out on a pilgrimage to the East. In Antioch, where he was warmly received, he continued to pursue his humanist and monastic studies. He also had a profound spiritual experience, dreaming that he was accused of being "a Ciceronian, not a Christian." Accordingly, he determined to devote himself exclusively to the Bible and theology, although the translator Rufinus (345-410), Jerome's close friend, suggested later that the vow was not strictly kept. Jerome moved to the desert of Chalcis, and while practicing more rigorous austerities, pursued his studies, including the learning of Hebrew. On his return to Antioch in 378 he heard Apollinaris the Younger (c.310-c.390) lecture and was admitted to the priesthood (379) by Paulinus, bishop of Antioch. In Constantinople, where he spent three years around 380, he was influenced by Gregory of Nazianzus.
When Jerome returned to Rome Pope Damasus I appointed him confidential secretary and librarian and commissioned him to begin his work of rendering the Bible into Latin. After the death (384) of Damasus, however, Jerome fell out of favor, and for a second time he decided to go to the East. He made brief visits to Antioch, Egypt, and Palestine. In 386, Jerome settled at Bethlehem in a monastery established for him by Paula, one of a group of wealthy Roman women whose spiritual advisor he had been and who remained his lifelong friend. There he began his most productive literary period, and there he remained for 34 years, until his death. From this period come his major biblical commentaries and the bulk of his work on the Latin Bible.
The writings of Jerome express a scholarship unsurpassed in the early church and helped to create the cultural tradition of the Middle Ages. He developed the use of philological and geographical material in his exegesis and recognized the scientific importance of archaeology. In his interpretation of the Bible he used both the allegorical method of the Alexandrian and the realism of the Antiochene schools. A difficult and hot-tempered man, Jerome made many enemies, but his correspondence with friends and enemies alike is of great interest, particularly that with Saint Augustine. His greatest gifts were in scholarship, and he is a true founder of scientific biblical exegesis in the West. Feast day: Sept. 30 (Western).
Bibliography: Berschin, W., Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages, rev. ed. (1989); Kelly, J. N. D., Jerome, His Life, Writings, and Controversies (1975); Steinmann, Jean, Saint Jerome and His Times (1959); Wiesen, David S., St. Jerome as a Satirist (1949; repr. 1964).
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