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.
Gregory of Nazianzus, c.330-389, one of the Fathers of the Church, is known especially for his contributions to the theological definition of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. He, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nyssa are called the Cappadocian Fathers. Brought up in the Cappadocian town of Nazianzus (present-day Bekar, Turkey), where his father was bishop, Gregory as a young man was reluctant to take a position of responsibility in the church, retiring instead to a monastic community started by Basil in Pontus. He explained this action in his Defense of the Flight to Pontus, which became the basis for works on the priesthood by Saint John Chrysostom and Pope Gregory I. Gregory was consecrated a bishop c.371 but did not become actively involved in ecclesiastical affairs until he assumed leadership (379) of the orthodox community in Constantinople, at a time when the city was divided by controversy between rival Christian groups. He played a leading role at the first Council of Constantinople (381), which continued the definition of Christian teaching begun at the Council of Nicæa, but opposition at the council to Gregory's claim to the bishopric of Constantinople made him decide to return to Nazianzus. In 384 he again retired to monastic life.
Gregory was not a systematic writer, and his works consist primarily of orations and letters. In the Orthodox Church he is known as "the Theologian" because of his influential sermons dealing with the Trinity and Christology. His development of terminology helped to clarify the language of Nicæa and lay the foundation for the debates of the 5th-century ecumenical councils. Feast days: Jan. 25 and 30 (Eastern); Jan. 2 (Western).
John L. Boojamra
The son of devout parents, Basil was born at Cæsarea in Cappadocia. He received his higher education in Constantinople and Athens but renounced a promising career to become a monk. Impressed by the ascetic life, he settled as a hermit near Neo-Cæsarea by the Iris River, where he was joined by Gregory of Nazianzus. In 364 the bishop of Cæsarea, Eusebius, persuaded Basil to accept ordination. Basil agreed and he ably defended the Christian faith among the churches of Anatolia, which had suffered from divisions caused by the Arian controversy. In 370 he succeeded Eusebius as bishop. A leader who had brilliant organizational gifts, Basil established hospitals, fostered Monasticism, and reformed the Liturgy. His Rule, a code for monastic life, became the basis of eastern monasticism, and the Liturgy of St. Basil, probably compiled by him though later revised, is still used on certain Sundays in Orthodox churches.
Basil wrote numerous letters and treatises and is known mainly for the treatise On the Holy Spirit (375) and three books Against Eunomius, an Arian protagonist (363-65). Feast day: Jan. 1 (Eastern); Jan. 2 (Western; formerly June 14).
Bibliography: Clarke, W. K. L., St. Basil the Great (1913); Fedwick, Paul, The Church and the Charisma of Leadership in Basil of Cæsarea (1979); Prestige, G. L., St. Basil the Great and Apollinaris of Laodicea (1956).
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