Early Christian Manuscripts, Patristic Literature hs

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/earlych7.htm



Origen, c.185-c.254, is generally considered the greatest theologian and biblical scholar of the early Eastern church. He was probably born in Egypt, perhaps in Alexandria, to a Christian family. His father died in the persecution of 202, and he himself narrowly escaped the same fate. At the age of 18, Origen was appointed to succeed Clement of Alexandria as head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, where he had been a student.

Between 203 and 231, Origen attracted large numbers of students through his manner of life as much as through his teaching. According to Eusebius, he took the command in Matt. 19:12 to mean that he should castrate himself. During this period Origen traveled widely and while in Palestine (c.215) was invited to preach by local bishops even though he was not ordained. Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, regarded this activity as a breach of custom and discipline and ordered him to return to Alexandria. The period following, from 218 to 230, was one of Origen's most productive as a writer.

In 230 he returned to Palestine, where he was ordained priest by the bishops of Jerusalem and Cæsarea. Demetrius then excommunicated Origen, deprived him of his priesthood, and sent him into exile. Origen returned to the security of Cæsarea (231), and there established a school of theology, over which he presided for 20 years. Among his students was Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, whose Panegyric to Origen is an important source for the period. Persecution was renewed in 250, and Origen was severely tortured. He died of the effects a few years later.

Although most of his writings have disappeared, Origen's literary productivity was enormous. The Hexapla was the first attempt to establish a critical text of the Old Testament; the commentaries on Matthew and John establish him as the first major biblical scholar of the Christian church; the De Principiis (or Peri Archon) is a dogmatic treatise on God and the world; and the Contra Celsum is a refutation of paganism.

Origen attempted to synthesize Christian scriptural interpretation and belief with Greek philosophy, especially Neoplatonism and Stoicism. His theology was an expression of Alexandrian reflection on the Trinity, and, prior to Saint Augustine, he was the most influential theologian of the church. Some of Origen's ideas remained a source of controversy long after his death, and "Origenism" was condemned at the fifth ecumenical council in 553 (see Councils of Constantinople). Origen is one of the best examples of early Christian mysticism: the highest good is to become as like God as possible through progressive illumination. Despite their sometimes controversial character, his writings helped to create a Christian theology that blended biblical and philosophical categories.

Ross Mackenzie

Bigg, Charles, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria (1886; repr. 1970); Burghardt, W. J., et al., eds., Origen, Prayer, Exhortation to Martyrdom (1954); Caspary, G. E., Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords (1979); Chadwick, Henry, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition: Studies in Justin, Clement and Origen (1966); Danielou, Jean, Origen, trans. by Walter Mitchell (1955); Drewery, B., Origen and the Doctrine of Grace (1960); Hanson, R. P. C., Origen's Doctrine of Tradition (1954); Kannengiesser, C., ed., Origen of Alexandria (1988).

Works of Origen



Saint Hippolytus of Rome

Saint Hippolytus of Rome (170?-235?) was considered the most important 3rd-century theologian of the Roman church. Hippolytus challenged the papal election of Callistus in 217 and declared himself the first antipope.

Born before 170, probably in the Greek-speaking East, Hippolytus appears to have come to Rome during the reign of Saint Victor I in the last decade of the second century. He soon became the leading intellectual of the Roman church; when the eminent theologian Origen visited Rome, he attended one of Hippolytus's sermons. Hippolytus took an active part in combatting Modal Monarchianism, which denied the reality of distinctions between the persons of the Trinity. A fierce controversialist, he denounced both Pope Zephyrinus and his adviser, who would become Pope Callistus I, for laxity in enforcing church discipline, and he accused them of modalist tendencies in their christology. Zephyrinus and Callistus in turn denounced Hippolytus for the ditheism latent in the theology he had adopted from Saint Justin Martyr.

After the election of Callistus as successor to Zephyrinus, Hippolytus appears to have set himself up as antipope. He treated Callistus as a misguided factional leader and attempted to realize his own vision of the church as an ideal community of saints. After the death of Callistus, Hippolytus perpetuated the schism with attacks on Pope Urban I and Pope Pontian. Around 235, during the reign of Emperor Maximinus, both Hippolytus and Pontian were arrested and sent to the mines of Sardinia, where they died. The fact that Pope Fabian went to the effort of having the bodies of both men returned to Rome suggests that a reconciliation was believed to have taken place before their deportation.

Because Hippolytus wrote in Greek, the bulk of his works was lost and his history became confused in the Latin West. Saint Damasus I, for example, believed that Hippolytus was a follower of Novatian, and in later writings Hippolytus is represented as a soldier converted by Saint Lawrence. Both Eusebius of Cæsarea and Saint Jerome made reference to him as a prolific author and a bishop, but they were unable to identify his episcopal see. The most famous of the works attributed to Hippolytus is the Refutation of All Heresies, although many scholars now doubt that this and other writings traditionally associated with the name of Hippolytus can be considered the work of the Roman priest and antipope.

Works of St. Hippolytus

Saint Cyprian


Cyprian, b. c.200, d. Sept. 14, 258, was bishop of Carthage and one of the major theologians of the early African church. The son of wealthy parents, he was a teacher of rhetoric and literature before becoming (c.246) a Christian. He was soon ordained a priest and elected (c.248) bishop of Carthage.

Cyprian was forced to flee Carthage during the persecutions (249-51) of Emperor Decius. After his return he turned to the problem of Christians who had failed to stand firm during the persecution. Cyprian favored the readmission of such Christians to the church but under stringent conditions. Opposing the schism of NOVATIAN, who believed that lapsed Christians should be permanently excluded, he argued that baptisms performed by the schismatics were invalid. On this issue he was opposed by Pope Stephen I. In the renewed persecution of Valerian's reign, Cyprian was beheaded not far from Carthage.

Cyprian's writing reflects the influence of TERTULLIAN, whom he held in high esteem. His best-known work is De ecclesiæ unitate (On the Unity of the Church), in which he stressed the role of the bishop in deciding local church matters, although he gave the Roman church a position of preeminence. Feast day: Sept. 16 (Western); Aug. 31 (Eastern).

Ross Mackenzie

Faulkner, J.A., Cyprian: The Churchman (1977); Walker, G., The Churchmanship of Saint Cyprian (1969).

Works of St. Cyprian


Novatian (200?-258?) was a Roman theologian who became the second antipope in 251. A leader among the Roman clergy, Novatian espoused a rigorism in church discipline that was akin to Montanism.

After the martyrdom of Pope Fabian in 250 during the persecutions of Emperor Decius, the Roman church postponed electing a successor. In 251 the church elected Cornelius as pope. Cornelius advocated the forgiveness and readmittance of Christians who had committed apostasy under persecution. Novatian, however, believed that after baptism there could be no forgiveness for grave sins. He had himself consecrated pope by three bishops from southern Italy and went into schism with his followers; in 251 they were excommunicated by Cornelius. The Novatianists established their own church, which endured until they were formally reunited with the Catholic church by the Council of Nicæa in 325. Novatian himself is thought to have been martyred during the persecutions of the Roman emperor Valerian.

Novatian was the first Roman theologian to write in Latin. Two of his nine known treatises have survived: On the Trinity and On Jewish Foods.

Works of Novatian



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

About 81 Manuscripts included here, 256 so far, plus fragments

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The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet http://mb-soft.com/believe/indexaz.html