Early Christian Manuscripts, Patristic Literature hr

Around 4,000 Manuscripts of Patristic Literature

General Information

(Links to subject listings)
Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Hermas, misc
Tatian, Papias, Theophilus, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian
Origen, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, misc
Thaumaturgus, Dionysius the Great, Africanus, misc
Methodius, Arnobius, Lactantius, misc
Apost. Constitutions, Early Homilies, Early Creeds, Early Liturgies
The Twelve Patriarchs, Theodotus, Clement of Rome
important misc texts, Decretals, other misc
Early Syriac texts, texts related to Gospels, misc
History of Eusebius - History of Socrates - History of Sozomen - Theodoret (incl. History of Theodoret), Rufinus/Jerome
Athanasius - Gregory of Nyssa, Jerome
Cyril, Nazianzen, Basil
Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus, Ambrose
Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian
Leo the Great (A) - (B) - (C)
Gregory the Great (A) - (B) - Ephraim the Syrian
Early Ecum. Councils- Second through Sixth Ecum. Councils - Trullo and Seventh Ecum. Councils
Saint Augustine (A) - (B) - (C) - (D) - (E) - (F) - (G) - (H) - (I) - (J)
Saint John Chrysostom (A) - (B) - (C) - (D) - (E) - (F) - (G)

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.

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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- ).

Since we are trying to include EVERY early Church document in this presentation, there are around 4,000 of them now included! It is not practical to place them all in a single link listing, so we have divided them up into smaller listings roughly as follows:

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.



Saint Clement I

Clement, d. AD 101, called Clement of Rome, was the bishop of Rome, or pope, from c.92 to 101. According to Irenæus, he was the third successor of St. Peter. Little is known of his life; the main source of information is his Epistle to the Corinthians (c.96), the earliest piece of Christian literature other than New Testament writings for which the name of the author is certain. The high esteem in which Clement was held is evident from the fact that until the 4th century his letter was accepted by some as Scripture. He is one of the Apostolic Fathers of the church. The epistle was written because of internal discord and division in the Corinthian church. Clement intervened in the name of the church at Rome and appealed for restoration of peace, harmony, and order. The document, which demonstrates Clement's familiarity with Greek Stoic philosophy and mythology, gives a valuable picture of early church organization, belief, and practice. Feast day: Nov. 23 (Western); Nov. 24 or 25 (Eastern).

Agnes Cunningham






Saint Polycarp


Polycarp, c.69-c.155, bishop of Smyrna, was a living link between the Apostles and the church of the later 2d century. As a leader of the church in Anatolia, he visited (155) Rome to discuss with its bishop the disputed date for the celebration of Easter. It was agreed that the Eastern and Western churches would continue their divergent usages. After his return to Smyrna, Polycarp was arrested and burned to death. A letter from the church of Smyrna, the oldest known narrative of a Christian martyr, gives an account of his trial and death.

A defender of orthodoxy--Irenæus says that he was a disciple of Saint John--Polycarp opposed Marcion and other gnostic teachers. A letter addressed to him by Ignatius survives, in addition to one (or perhaps two combined) by Polycarp to the Philippians that throws light on early Christian doctrine, organization, and use of Scripture. Feast day: Jan. 25 (Eastern); Feb. 23 (Western).

Ross Mackenzie
Altaner, Berthold, Patrology, (1960); Harrison, P. N., Polycarp's Two Epistles to the Philippians (1936); Musurillo, H. A., comp., Acts of the Christian Martyrs (1972).



Marcus Aurelius

Roman Emperor

Marcus Aurelius, b. Apr. 26, 121, d. Mar. 17, 180, ruled Rome from 161 until his death. Born Marcus Annius Verus, he was adopted by the emperor AntoniusS Pius in 138 and married to his daughter Annia Galeria Faustina a few years later. He succeeded to the throne without difficulty on Antoninus's death. Marcus insisted on sharing power equally with Lucius Verus, whom Antoninus had also adopted, even though Verus, who died in 169, was clearly less competent.

Educated by the best tutors in Rome and Athens, Marcus was a devotee of Greek learning and of the philosophy of Stoicism. Even during his campaigns (167-175, 178-180) against the Marcomanni and other Danubian tribes he kept a "spiritual diary." This document, the Meditations, reflects Marcus's attempt to reconcile his Stoic philosophy of virtue and self-sacrifice with his role as a warrior-sovereign.

Marcus's wars and benevolences--he lowered taxes and was charitable toward the less fortunate--were expensive and often ineffective. His son Commodus, who succeeded him, inherited the Danubian war, which Rome could not win, and a treasury that had been seriously depleted.

John Eadie

Birley, A. R., Marcus Aurelius (1966) and rev. ed. (1987); Farquharson, Arthur, Marcus Aurelius, His Life and His World, ed. by D. A. Rees (1951; repr. 1975); Sedgwick, Henry D., Marcus Aurelius (1921; repr. 1971


Saint Ignatius of Antioch

The third bishop of Antioch, Ignatius, d. c.107, was brought to Rome under Trajan and thrown to wild beasts. On the way to Rome he wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna and to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. These seven letters give an enlightening glimpse not only of the beliefs and internal conditions of early Christian communities, but also of the character of their author.

Ignatius wrote about the virgin birth and divinity of Christ, but stressed especially Christ's human nature. The first writer to call the church "catholic," Ignatius described it as a society of love, presided over in love by a bishop with his presbyters and deacons, and assembled "in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ" (Eph. 20).

Called Theophoros ("God-bearer"), Ignatius considered martyrdom a great honor and asked the Roman Christians not to save him. "Let me be given to the wild beasts," he wrote, "for through them I can attain unto God" (Rom. 4). Feast day: Oct. 17 (Western); Dec. 17 (Antioch); Dec. 20 (other Eastern).

Corwin, Virginia, Saint Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch (1960); Kleist, J. A., ed., The Epistles of St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch (1946); Richardson, Cyril, The Christianity of Ignatius of Antioch (1935); Schoedel, William, Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Seven Letters of Ignatius (1985).

Works of St. Ignatius of Antioch


Saint Justin Martyr

Saint Justin Martyr, c.100-c.165, is recognized as one of the most important early Christian writers. A Samarian, he studied in different schools of philosophy--Stoic, Peripatetic, Pythagorean, and Platonic--before becoming a Christian. Justin took up the task of making a reasoned defense of Christianity to outsiders. He went to Rome and opened a school of philosophy. Justin is the reputed author of a vast number of treatises, but the only authentic remaining works are two Apologies, his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, and fragments of On the Resurrection. Justin was beheaded, probably in 165. Feast day: June 1.

Barnard, L. W., Justin Martyr: His Life and Thought (1967).

Works of St. Justin Martyr


Saint Irenæus, Irenaeus


Saint Irenæus, b. Anatolia, c.140-60, d. c.200, known as the father of Catholic theology, is the most important theologian of the 2d century AD. In his youth, he became a disciple of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna. Later he served as bishop of Lugdunum (Lyon) in Gaul.

Irenæus is known through several extant works, as well as by his influence on later Christian writers of the patristic era. He was a man of peace and of tradition. His major efforts were spent in combating Gnosticism, and his great work, Adversus hæreses (Against Heresies), was written for this purpose. He developed the doctrine of recapitulation (anakephalaiosis) of all things in Jesus Christ in opposition to the teachings of gnostics such as Valentinus and Basilides. A staunch defender of the apostolic tradition, Irenæus was the first Father of the Church to systematize the religious and theological traditions of the church, so far as they existed. In the Quartodeciman controversy over the date for the observance of Easter, he argued for diversity of practice in the unity of faith. Feast day: June 28.

Agnes Cunningham
Nielsen, Jan Tjierd, Adam and Christ in the Theology of Irenæus of Lyons (1968); Wingren, Gustaf, Man and the Incarnation: A Study in the Biblical Theology of Irenæus, trans. by Ross MacKenzie (1959).

Works of St. Irenæus




One of the Apostolic Fathers, Hermas was a 2d-century Christian who was sold in Rome as a slave. He was freed, married, and became successful in business, but was denounced by his children during a persecution. His famous work, The Shepherd, divided into three parts (Visions, Mandates, Similitudes), is a series of revelations granted by an old woman (representing the church) and a shepherd (an angel) about sin, repentance, and the moral precepts that lead to a new life. Many early Christians considered it part of Scripture.

Works of Hermas

For Later Manuscripts, /believe/txv/earlych7.htm

About 87 Manuscripts included here, plus fragments

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