Early Christian Manuscripts, Patristic Literature ha

General Information

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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This was also the period of the great Latin fathers: Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose, Jerome, and, above all, Augustine. The final period of patristic literature ends with Gregory I (the Great) in the West and John Damascene in the East.

Ross Mackenzie
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- ).

Advanced Information

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.


For Earlier Manuscripts, /believe/txv/earlych3.htm

Leo the Great (c.395-461 AD) (cont'd)


(Pope) Gregory the Great (c.540-604 AD)

Gregory I, known as Gregory the Great, was pope from 590 to 604. Born c.540 to a wealthy patrician family in Rome, he chose to follow a public career. At the age of 30 he was named prefect of Rome. Dissatisfied with worldly success, Gregory turned to a life of piety and contemplation. He became a monk (c.574) in one of the seven monasteries he had built with his own money, following the Rule of Saint Benedict. After several years in the cloister, he was summoned, first by Pope Benedict I, to serve as cardinal deacon (c.578) in Rome and later, by Pope Pelagius II, to serve as permanent ambassador (c.579) at the court of Emperor Tiberius in Constantinople. On his return (c.584) to the monastery, he was elected abbot.

At a time when the church was in turmoil and the empire was in a state of disorder from natural disasters, wars, and invasions, Gregory was once again called out of the monastery and was elected pope in 590. He was the first monk to attain this high office. In his new position, he chose to be known as the "servant of the servants of God" (servus servorum Dei). He was an able administrator and governed with gentleness but firmness.

As pope, Gregory strengthened his office by affirming his supremacy in the church and by asserting the right of the papacy to intervene in secular affairs. He appointed the governors of Italian cities, laying the foundation of medieval papal practices. As bishop, he sought practical solutions to the social misery of the day by using the revenues from the Roman ecclesiastical estates, which he organized and increased. Gregory's primary interests were pastoral. He sought to bring about reform of the clergy, of the liturgy, and of church practices. He was also interested in missionary work; one of the great successes of his pontificate was the conversion of England by Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Gregory is credited with collecting and promoting plainsong, later called Gregorian chant.

Gregory wrote many theological, liturgical, and devotional works, including a biography of Saint Benedict. His thought was strongly influenced by Saint AUGUSTINE. Gregory died Mar. 12, 604. He is one of the Doctors of the Church. Feast day: March 12.

Agnes Cunningham

Bibliography: Dudden, Frederick H., Gregory the Great, 2 vols. (1905, repr. 1967); Straw, Carole, Gregory the Great (1988).

For Later Manuscripts, /believe/txv/earlychb.htm

About 78 Manuscripts included here, 1836 so far, plus fragments

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