Early Christian Manuscripts, Patristic Literature hw

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/earlychv.htm

Works of Jerome, Rufinus, cont'd


Athanasius, b. c.295, d. 373, was bishop of Alexandria and a defender of the Christian faith during the 4th-century crisis of Arianism. He received a classical and theological education in Alexandria, where he was also ordained deacon and appointed secretary to Bishop Alexander. As a theological expert at the Council of Nicæa, which gathered in 325 to condemn the Arian rejection of Christ's divinity, Athanasius defended the unity of Christ as both God and man (see Councils of Nicæa). In 328 he succeeded Alexander as bishop of the see over which he was to preside for 45 years. Seventeen of them were spent in exile, imposed on him on five separate occasions between 335 and 366, largely through the maneuverings of the Arianizing party.

Athanasius vigorously opposed the views of his Arian opponents in his writings in defense of Nicene orthodoxy. These were written for the most part between 336 and 359 and include three Discourses Against the Arians (c.358). An earlier work, On the Incarnation of the Word (c.318), brought to its fullest expression the orthodox doctrine of redemption. His Life of St. Antony (c.356) is an important source for early Monasticism. After his final restoration to office, Athanasius spent his last years in peace and died in 373. His feast day is May 2.

In reaction to those who denied both the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus Christ, Athanasius explained how the Logos, the Word of God, was united with human nature and how his death and resurrection overcame death and sin. He worked out the implications of biblical passages on the Incarnation and asserted the unity of the Logos and the human nature in Christ. He held that if Christ were not one in being (homoousios, "having the same being") with God the Father, then Salvation could not be possible; and if Christ were not fully man, then human nature could not be saved.

Ross Mackenzie

Cross, F. L., The Study of St. Athanasius (1945).

Works of Athanasius

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

About 85 Manuscripts included here, 795 so far, plus fragments

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