Early Christian Manuscripts, Patristic Literature hz

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/earlychy.htm

Hilary of Poitiers

{hil'-uh-ree, pwaht-ee-ay'}

Hilary, c.315-c.367, was the leading theologian of Western Christianity in the 4th century. He was elected (c.353) bishop of Poitiers and distinguished himself by his stand against Arianism. Exiled (356-59) by Emperor Constantius because of his anti-Arian efforts, he used the time to write. His major works include De Trinitate, a study of the Trinity, and De synodis, a valuable historical record of the time; he also composed hymns. Hilary returned to Poitiers in 361. He was declared one of the Doctors of the Church in 1851. His name is used to designate the spring term (Hilary term) at Oxford and Durham universities and in English courts. Feast day: Jan. 13.

Bibliography: Borchardt, C. F. A., Hilary of Poitiers' Role in the Arian Struggle (1966).

Works of Hilary of Poitiers



John of Damascus


Saint John Damascene, b. c.675, d. Dec. 4, 749, was a Syrian Christian theologian who synthesized the doctrines of the Eastern Fathers of the Church. His father served in Damascus under the Muslim caliph as a treasury official, a high office to which John succeeded. Around 715 he entered the monastery of Saint Sabas (Mar Saba) near Jerusalem, where he studied theology and was ordained a priest. Between 726 and 730, Byzantine Emperor Leo III issued edicts against the cult of images. John became a leading figure in the defense of icons in the iconoclastic controversy.

Among his many writings the Fountain of Knowledge is the main work. It is divided into three parts--a study of Greek philosophy, a history of heresies, and an exposition of the teaching of the Eastern Fathers on the central Christian doctrines. John is a Doctor of the Church. Feast Day: Dec. 4.

Ross Mackenzie

Bibliography: Cassidy, F. P., Molders of the Medieval Mind (1944).

Works of John of Damascus




Ambrose, c.339-97, bishop of Milan, was an outstanding pastor, administrator, and theologian. He is counted as one of the Doctors of the Church. Ambrose grew up in Rome and undertook a brilliant political career. While governor of northern Italy and still a catechumen--one under instruction in Christian doctrine before baptism--he was chosen (374) bishop of Milan by both traditional Christians and the proponents of Arianism. Within one week, he was baptized a Christian and ordained a priest and a bishop.

As bishop, Ambrose was admired for his learning and oratory, his compassion toward the needy, and his austere life-style. In defending the freedom and authority of the church, he admonished imperial rulers who were guilty of injustice and violence. He baptized Augustine, future bishop of Hippo. Ambrose composed hymns and wrote on the Bible, doctrine, and asceticism. He is sometimes credited with the composition of the Athanasian Creed. Feast day: Dec. 7.

Agnes Cunningham

Works of St. Ambrose

For Later Manuscripts, /believe/txv/earlych1.htm

About 66 Manuscripts included here, 1521 so far, plus fragments

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