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The word Father is used in the New Testament to mean a teacher of spiritual things, by whose means the soul of man is born again into the likeness of Christ: "For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:15, 16; cf. Galatians 4:19). The first teachers of Christianity seem to be collectively spoken of as "the Fathers" (2 Peter 3:4).
Thus St. Irenæus defines that a teacher is a father, and a disciple is a son (iv, 41,2), and so says Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.1.1). A bishop is emphatically a "father in Christ", both because it was he, in early times, who baptized all his flock, and because he is the chief teacher of his church. But he is also regarded by the early Fathers, such as Hegesippus, Irenaeus, and Tertullian as the recipient of the tradition of his predecessors in the see, and consequently as the witness and representative of the faith of his Church before Catholicity and the world. Hence the expression "the Fathers" comes naturally to be applied to the holy bishops of a preceding age, whether of the last generation or further back, since they are the parents at whose knee the Church of today was taught her belief. It is also applicable in an eminent way to bishops sitting in council, "the Fathers of Nicaea", "the Fathers of Trent". Thus Fathers have learnt from Fathers, and in the last resort from the Apostles, who are sometimes called Fathers in this sense: "They are your Fathers", says St. Leo, of the Princes of the Apostles, speaking to the Romans; St. Hilary of Arles calls them sancti patres; Clement of Alexandria says that his teachers, from Greece, Ionia, Coele-Syria, Egypt, the Orient, Assyria, Palestine, respectively, had handed on to him the tradition of blessed teaching from Peter, and James, and John, and Paul, receiving it "as son from father".
It follows that, as our own Fathers are the predecessors who have taught us, so the Fathers of the whole Church are especially the earlier teachers, who instructed her in the teaching of the Apostles, during her infancy and first growth. It is difficult to define the first age of the Church, or the age of the Fathers. It is a common habit to stop the study of the early Church at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. "The Fathers" must undoubtedly include, in the West, St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), and in the East, St. John Damascene (d. about 754). It is frequently said that St. Bernard (d. 1153) was the last of the Fathers, and Migne's "Patrologia Latina" extends to Innocent III, halting only on the verge of the thirteenth century, while his "Patrologia Graeca" goes as far as the Council of Florence (1438-9). These limits are evidently too wide, It will be best to consider that the great merit of St. Bernard as a writer lies in his resemblance in style and matter to the greatest among the Fathers, in spite of the difference of period. St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) and the Venerable Bede (d. 735) are to be classed among the Fathers, but they may be said to have been born out of due time, as St. Theodore the Studite was in the East.
Thus the use of the term Fathers has been continuous, yet it could not at first he employed in precisely the modern sense of Fathers of the Church. In early days the expression referred to writers who were then quite recent. It is still applied to those writers who are to us the ancients, but no longer in the same way to writers who are now recent. Appeals to the Fathers are a subdivision of appeals to tradition. In the first half of the second century begin the appeals to the sub-Apostolic age: Papias appeals to the presbyters, and through them to the Apostles. Half a century later St. Irenæus supplements this method by an appeal to the tradition handed down in every Church by the succession of its bishops (Against Heresies III.1-3), and Tertullian clinches this argument by the observation that as all the Churches agree, their tradition is secure, for they could not all have strayed by chance into the same error (Praescr., xxviii). The appeal is thus to Churches and their bishops, none but bishops being the authoritative exponents of the doctrine of their Churches. As late as 341 the bishops of the Dedication Council at Antioch declared: "We are not followers of Arius; for how could we, who are bishops, be disciples of a priest?"
Yet slowly, as the appeals to the presbyters died out, there was arising by the side of appeals to the Churches a third method: the custom of appealing to Christian teachers who were not necessarily bishops. While, without the Church, Gnostic schools were substituted for churches, within the Church, Catholic schools were growing up. Philosophers like Justin and most of the numerous second-century apologists were reasoning about religion, and the great catechetical school of Alexandria was gathering renown. Great bishops and saints like Dionysius of Alexandria, Gregory Thaumaturgus of Pontus, Firmilian of Cappadocia, and Alexander of Jerusalem were proud to be disciples of the priest Origen. The bishop Cyprian called daily for the works of the priest Tertullian with the words "Give me the master". The Patriarch Athanasius refers for the ancient use of the word homoousios, not merely to the two Dionysii, but to the priest Theognostus. Yet these priest-teachers are not yet called Fathers, and the greatest among them, Tertullian, Clement, Origen, Hippolytus, Novatian, Lucian, happen to be tinged with heresy; two became antipopes; one is the father of Arianism; another was condemned by a general council. In each case we might apply the words used by St. Hilary of Tertullian: "Sequenti errore detraxit scriptis probabilibus auctoritatem" (Comm. in Matt., v, 1, cited by Vincent of Lérins, 2.4).
A fourth form of appeal was better founded and of enduring value. Eventually it appeared that bishops as well as priests were fallible. In the second century the bishops were orthodox. In the third they were often found wanting. In the fourth they were the leaders of schisms, and heresies, in the Meletian and Donatist troubles and in the long Arian struggle, in which few were found to stand firm against the insidious persecution of Constantius. It came to be seen that the true Fathers of the Church are those Catholic teachers who have persevered in her communion, and whose teaching has been recognized as orthodox. So it came to pass that out of the four "Latin Doctors" one is not a bishop. Two other Fathers who were not bishops have been declared to be Doctors of the Church, Bede and John Damascene, while among the Doctors outside the patristic period we find two more priests, the incomparable St. Bernard and the greatest of all theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas. Nay, few writers had such great authority in the Schools of the Middle Ages as the layman Boethius, many of whose definitions are still commonplaces of theology.
Similarly (we may notice in passing) the name "Father", which originally belonged to bishops, has been as it were delegated to priests, especially as ministers of the Sacrament of Penance. It is now a form of address to all priests in Spain, in Ireland, and, of recent years, in England and the United States.
Papas or Pappas, Pope, was a term of respect for eminent bishops (e.g. in letters to St. Cyprian and to St. Augustine neither of these writers seems to use it in addressing other bishops, except when St. Augustine writes to Rome). Eventually the term was reserved to the bishops of Rome and Alexandria; yet in the East today every priest is a "pope". The Aramaic abbe was used from early times for the superiors of religious houses. But through the abuse of granting abbeys in commendam to seculars, it has become a polite title for all secular clerics, even seminarists in Italy, and especially in France, whereas all religious who are priests are addressed as "Father".
We receive only, says St. Basil, what we have been taught by the holy Fathers; and he adds that in his Church of Caesarea the faith of the holy Fathers of Nicaea has long been implanted (Ep. cxl, 2). St. Gregory Nazianzen declares that he holds fast the teaching which he heard from the holy Oracles, and was taught by the holy Fathers. These Cappadocian saints seem to be the first to appeal to a real catena of Fathers. The appeal to one or two was already common enough; but not even the learned Eusebius had thought of a long string of authorities. St. Basil, for example (De Spir. S., ii, 29), cites for the formula "with the Holy Ghost" in the doxology, the example of Irenaeus, Clement and Dionysius of Alexandria, Dionysius of Rome, Eusebius of Caesarea, Origen, Africanus, the preces lucerariae said at the lighting of lamps, Athenagoras, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Firmilian, Meletius.
In the fifth century this method became a stereotyped custom. St. Jerome is perhaps the first writer to try to establish his interpretation of a text by a string of exegetes (Ep. cxii, ad Aug.). Paulinus, the deacon and biographer of St. Ambrose, in the libellus he presented against the Pelagians to Pope Zosimus in 417, quotes Cyprian, Ambrose, Gregory Nazianzen, and the decrees of the late Pope Innocent. In 420 St. Augustine quotes Cyprian and Ambrose against the same heretics (C. duas Epp. Pel., iv). Julian of Eclanum quoted Chrysostom and Basil; St. Augustine replies to him in 421 (Contra Julianum, i) with Irenaeus, Cyprian, Reticius, Olympius, Hilary, Ambrose, the decrees of African councils, and above all Popes Innocent and Zosimus. In a celebrated passage he argues that these Western writers are more than sufficient, but as Julian had appealed to the East, to the East, he shall go, and the saint adds Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Synod of Diospolis, Chrysostom. To these he adds Jerome (c. xxxiv): "Nor should you think Jerome, because he was a priest, is to be despised", and adds a eulogy. This is amusing, when we remember that Jerome in a fit of irritation, fifteen before, had written to Augustine (Ep. cxlii) "Do not excite against me the silly crowd of the ignorant, who venerate you as a bishop, and receive you with the honour due to a prelate when you declaim in the Church, whereas they think little of me, an old man, nearly decrepit, in my monastery in the solitude of the country."
In the second book "Contra Julianum", St. Augustine again cites Ambrose frequently, and Cyprian, Gregory Nazianzen, Hilary, Chrysostom; in ii, 37, he recapitulates the nine names (omitting councils and popes), adding (iii, 32) Innocent and Jerome. A few years later the Semipelagians of Southern Gaul, who were led by St. Hilary of Arles, St. Vincent of Lérins, and Bl. Cassian, refuse to accept St. Augustine's severe view of predestination because "contrarium putant patrum opinioni et ecclesiastico sensui". Their opponent St. Prosper, who was trying to convert them to Augustinianism, complains: "Obstinationem suam vetustate defendunt" (Ep. inter Atig. ccxxv, 2), and they said that no ecclesiastical writer had ever before interpreted Romans quite as St. Augustine did which was probably true enough. The interest of this attitude lies in the fact that it was, if not new at least more definite than any earlier appeal to antiquity. Through most of the fourth century, the controversy with the Arians had turned upon Scripture, and appeals to past authority were few. But the appeal to the Fathers was never the most imposing locus theologicus, for they could not easily be assembled so as to form an absolutely conclusive test. On the other hand up to the end of the fourth century, there were practically no infallible definitions available, except condemnations of heresies, chiefly by popes. By the time that the Arian reaction under Valens caused the Eastern conservatives to draw towards the orthodox, and prepared the restoration of orthodoxy to power by Theodosius, the Nicene decisions were beginning to be looked upon as sacrosanct, and that council to be preferred to a unique position above all others. By 430, the date we have reached, the Creed we now say at Mass was revered in the East, whether rightly or wrongly, as the work of the 150 Fathers of Constantinople in 381, and there were also new papal decisions, especially the tractoria of Pope Zosimus, which in 418 had been sent to all the bishops of the world to be signed.
It is to living authority, the idea of which had thus come to the fore, that St. Prosper was appealing in his controversy with the Lerinese school. When he went to Gaul, in 431, as papal envoy, just after St. Augustine's death, he replied to their difficulties, not by reiterating that saint's hardest arguments, but by taking with him a letter from Pope St. Celestine, in which St. Augustine is extolled as having been held by the pope's predecessors to be "inter magistros optimos". No one is to be allowed to depreciate him, but it is not said that every word of his is to be followed. The disturbers had appealed to the Holy See, and the reply is "Desinat incessere novitas vetustatem" (Let novelty cease to attack antiquity!). An appendix is added, not of the opinions of ancient Fathers, but of recent popes, since the very same monks who thought St. Augustine went too far, professed (says the appendix) "that they followed and approved only what the most holy See of the Blessed Apostle Peter sanctioned and taught by the ministry of its prelates". A list therefore follows of "the judgments of the rulers of the Roman Church", to which are added some sentences of African councils, "which indeed the Apostolic bishops made their own when they approved them". To these inviolabiles sanctiones (we might roughly render "infallible utterances") prayers used in the sacraments are appended "ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi" a frequently misquoted phrase and in conclusion, it is declared that these testimonies of the Apostolic See are sufficient, "so that we consider not to be Catholic at all whatever shall appear to be contrary to the decisions we have cited". Thus the decisions of the Apostolic See are put on a very different level from the views of St. Augustine, just as that saint always drew a sharp distinction between the resolutions of African councils or the extracts from the Fathers, on the one hand, and the decrees of Popes Innocent and Zosimus on the other.
Three years later a famous document on tradition and its use emanated from the Lerinese school, the "Commonitorium" of St. Vincent. He whole-heartedly accepted the letter of Pope Celestine, and he quoted it as an authoritative and irresistible witness to his own doctrine that where quod ubique, or universitas, is uncertain, we must turn to quod semper, or antiquitas. Nothing could be more to his purpose than the pope's: "Desinat incessere novitas vetustatem." The Œcumenical Council of Ephesus had been held in the same year that Celestine wrote. Its Acts were before St. Vincent, and it is clear that he looked upon both pope and council as decisive authorities. It was necessary to establish this, before turning to his famous canon, quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus otherwise universitas, antiquitas, consensio. It was not a new criterion, else it would have committed suicide by its very expression. But never had the doctrine been so admirably phrased, so limpidly explained, so adequately exemplified. Even the law of the evolution of dogma is defined by Vincent in language which can hardly be surpassed for exactness and vigour. St. Vincent's triple test is wholly misunderstood if it is taken to be the ordinary rule of faith. Like all Catholics he took the ordinary rule to be the living magisterium of the Church, and he assumes that the formal decision in cases of doubt lies with the Apostolic See, or with a general council. But cases of doubt arise when no such decision is forthcoming. Then it is that the three tests are to be applied, not simultaneously, but, if necessary, in succession.
When an error is found in one corner of the Church, then the first test, universitas, quod ubique, is an unanswerable refutation, nor is there any need to examine further (iii, 7, 8). But if an error attacks the whole Church, then antiquitas, quod semper is to be appealed to, that is, a consensus existing before the novelty arose. Still, in the previous period one or two teachers, even men of great fame, may have erred. Then we betake ourselves to quod ab omnibus, consensio, to the many against the few (if possible to a general council; if not, to an examination of writings). Those few are a trial of faith "ut tentet vos Dominus Deus vester" (Deuteronomy 13:1 sqq.). So Tertullian was a magna tentatio; so was Origen indeed the greatest temptation of all. We must know that whenever what is new or unheard before is introduced by one man beyond or against all the saints, it pertains not to religion but to temptation (xx, 49).
Who are the "Saints" to whom we appeal? The reply is a definition of "Fathers of the Church" given with all St. Vincent's inimitable accuracy: "Inter se majorem consulat interrogetque sententias, eorum dumtaxat qui, diversis licet temporibus et locis, in unius tamen ecclesiae Catholicae communione et fide permanentes, magistri probabiles exstiterunt; et quicquid non unus aut duo tantum, sed omnes pariter uno eodemque consensu aperte, frequenter, perseveranter tenuisse, scripsisse, docuisse cognoverit, id sibi quoque intelligat absque ulla dubitatione credendum" (iii, 8). This unambiguous sentence defines for us what is the right way of appealing to the Fathers, and the italicized words perfectly explain what is a "Father": "Those alone who, though in diverse times and places, yet persevering in time, communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, have been approved teachers."
The criteria by which we judge whether a writer is a "Father" or not are:
Early authors, though belonging to the Church, who fail to reach this standard are simply ecclesiastical writers ("Patrologia", ed. Jungmann, ch. i, #11). On the other hand, where the appeal is not to the authority of the writer, but his testimony is merely required to the belief of his time, one writer is as good as another, and if a Father is cited for this purpose, it is not as a Father that he is cited, but merely as a witness to facts well known to him. For the history of dogma, therefore, the works of ecclesiastical writers who are not only not approved, but even heretical, are often just as valuable as those of the Fathers. On the other hand, the witness of one Father is occasionally of great weight for doctrine when taken singly, if he is teaching a subject on which he is recognized by the Church as an especial authority, e.g., St. Athanasius on the Divinity of the Son, St. Augustine on the Holy Trinity, etc.
There are a few cases in which a general council has given approbation to the work of a Father, the most important being the two letters of St. Cyril of Alexandria which were read at the Council of Ephesus. But the authority of single Fathers considered in itself, says Franzelin (De traditione, thesis xv), "is not infallible or peremptory; though piety and sound reason agree that the theological opinions of such individuals should not be treated lightly, and should not without great caution be interpreted in a sense which clashes with the common doctrine of other Fathers." The reason is plain enough; they were holy men, who are not to be presumed to have intended to stray from the doctrine of the Church, and their doubtful utterances are therefore to be taken in the best sense of which they are capable. If they cannot be explained in an orthodox sense, we have to admit that not the greatest is immune from ignorance or accidental error or obscurity. But on the use of the Fathers in theological questions, the article TRADITION and the ordinary dogmatic treatises on that subject must be consulted, as it is proper here only to deal with the historical development of their use.
The subject was never treated as a part of dogmatic theology until the rise of what is now commonly called "Theologia fundamentalis", in the sixteenth century, the founders of which are Melchior Canus and Bellarmine. The former has a discussion of the use of the Fathers in deciding questions of faith (De locis theologicis, vii). The Protestant Reformers attacked the authority of the Fathers. The most famous of these opponents is Dalbeus (Jean Daillé, 1594-1670, "Traité de l'emploi des saints Pères", 1632; in Latin "De usu Patrum", 1656). But their objections are long since forgotten.
Having traced the development of the use of the Fathers up to the period of its frequent employment, and of its formal statement by St. Vincent of Lérins, it will be well to give a glance at the continuation of the practice. We saw that, in 431, it was possible for St. Vincent (in a book which has been most unreasonably taken to be a mere polemic against St. Augustine a notion which is amply refuted by the use made in it of St. Celestine's letter) to define the meaning and method of patristic appeals. From that time onward they are very common. In the Council of Ephesus, 431, as St. Vincent points out, St. Cyril presented a series of quotations from the Fathers, tôn hagiôtatôn kai hosiôtatôn paterôn kai episkopôn diaphorôn marturôn, which were read on the motion of Flavian, Bishop of Philippi. They were from Peter I of Alexandria, Martyr, Athanasius, Popes Julius and Felix (forgeries), Theophilus, Cyprian, Ambrose, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Atticus, Amphilochius.
On the other hand Eutyches, when tried at Constantinople by St. Flavian, in 449, refused to accept either Fathers or councils as authorities, confining himself to Holy Scripture, a position which horrified his judges (see EUTYCHES). In the following year St. Leo sent his legates, Abundius and Asterius, to Constantinople with a list of testimonies from Hilary, Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Theophilus, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, and Cyril of Alexandria. They were signed in that city, but were not produced at the Council of Chalcedon in the following year. Thenceforward the custom is fixed, and it is unnecessary to give examples. However, that of the sixth council in 680 is important: Pope St. Agatho sent a long series of extracts from Rome, and the leader of the Monothelites, Macarius of Antioch, presented another. Both sets were carefully verified from the library of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and sealed.
It should be noted that it was never in such cases thought necessary to trace a doctrine back to the earliest times; St. Vincent demanded the proof of the Church's belief before a doubt arose this is his notion of antiquitas; and in conformity with this view, the Fathers quoted by councils and popes and Fathers are for the most part recent (Petavius, De Incarn., XIV, 15, 2-5).
In the last years of the fifth century a famous document, attributed to Popes Gelasius and Hormisdas, adds to decrees of St. Damasus of 382 a list of books which are approved, and another of those disapproved. In its present form the list of approved Fathers comprises Cyprian, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Theophilus, Hilary, Cyril of Alexandria (wanting in one manuscript), Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Prosper, Leo ("every iota" of the tome to Flavian is to be accepted under anathema), and "also the treatises of all orthodox Fathers, who deviated in nothing from the fellowship of the holy Roman Church, and were not separated from her faith and preaching, but were participators through the grace of God until the end of their life in her communion; also the decretal letters, which most blessed popes have given at various times when consulted by various Fathers, are to be received with veneration". Orosius, Sedulius, and Juvencus are praised.
Rufinus and Origen are rejected. Eusebius's "History" and "Chronicle" are not to be condemned altogether, though in another part of the list they appear as "apocrypha" with Tertullian, Lactantius, Africanus, Commodian, Clement of Alexandria, Arnobius, Cassian, Victorinus of Pettau, Faustus, and the works of heretics, and forged Scriptural documents.
The later Fathers constantly used the writings of the earlier. For instance, St. Caesarius of Arles drew freely on St. Augustine's sermons, and embodied them in collections of his own; St. Gregory the Great has largely founded himself on St. Augustine; St. Isidore rests upon all his predecessors; St. John Damascene's great work is a synthesis of patristic theology. St. Bede's sermons are a cento from the greater Fathers. Eugippius made a selection from St. Augustine's writings, which had an immense vogue. Cassiodorus made a collection of select commentaries by various writers on all the books of Holy Scripture. St. Benedict especially recommended patristic study, and his sons have observed his advice: "Ad perfectionem conversationis qui festinat, sunt doctrinae sanctorum Patrum, quarum observatio perducat hominem ad celsitudinem perfectionis . . . quis liber sanctorum catholicorum Patrum hoc non resonat, ut recto cursu perveniamus ad creatorem nostrum?" (Sanet Regula, lxxiii). Florilegia and catenae became common from the fifth century onwards. They are mostly anonymous, but those in the East which go under the name Œcumenius are well known. Most famous of all throughout the Middle Ages was the "Glossa ordinaria" attributed to Walafrid Strabo. The "Catena aurea" of St. Thomas Aquinas is still in use. (See CATENAE, and the valuable matter collected by Turner in Hastings, Dict. of the Bible, V, 521.)
St. Augustine was early recognized as the first of the Western Fathers, with St. Ambrose and St. Jerome by his side. St. Gregory the Great was added, and these four became "the Latin Doctors". St. Leo, in some ways the greatest of theologians, was excluded, both on account of the paucity of his writings, and by the fact that his letters had a far higher authority as papal utterances.
In the East St. John Chrysostom has always been the most popular, as he is the most voluminous, of the Fathers. With the great St. Basil, the father of monachism, and St. Gregory Nazianzen, famous for the purity of his faith, he made up the triumvirate called "the three hierarchs", familiar up to the present day in Eastern art. St. Athanasius was added to these by the Westerns, so that four might answer to four. (See DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH.)
It will be observed that many of the writers rejected in the Gelasian list lived and died in Catholic communion, but incorrectness in some part of their writings, e.g. the Semipelagian error attributed to Cassian and Faustus, the chiliasm of the conclusion of Victorinus's commentary on the Apocalypse (St. Jerome issued an expurgated edition, the only one in print as yet), the unsoundness of the lost "Hypotyposes" of Clement, and so forth, prevented such writers from being spoken of, as Hilary was by Jerome, "inoffenso pede percurritur". As all the more important doctrines of the Church (except that of the Canon and the inspiration of Scripture) may be proved, or at least illustrated, from Scripture, the widest office of tradition is the interpretation of Scripture, and the authority of the Fathers is here of very great importance. Nevertheless it is only then necessarily to be followed when all are of one mind: "Nemo . . . contra unanimum consensum Patrum ipsam Scripturam sacram interpretari audeat", says the Council of Trent; and the Creed of Pius IV has similarly: ". . . nec eam unquam nisi juxta unanimum consensum Patrum accipiam et interpretabor". The Vatican Council echoes Trent: "nemini licere . . . contra unanimum sensum Patrum ipsam Scripturam sacram interpretari."
A consensus of the Fathers is not, of course, to be expected in very small matters: "Quae tamen antiqua sanctorum patrum consensio non in omnibus divinae legis quaestiunculis, sed solum certe praecipue in fidei regula magno nobis studio et investiganda est et sequenda" (Vincent, xxviii, 72). This is not the method, adds St. Vincent, against widespread and inveterate heresies, but rather against novelties, to be applied directly they appear. A better instance could hardly be given than the way in which Adoptionism was met by the Council of Frankfort in 794, nor could the principle be better expressed than by the Fathers of the Council:
"Tenete vos intra terminos Patrum, et nolite novas versare quaestiunculas; ad nihilum enim valent nisi ad subversionem audientium. Sufficit enim vobis sanctorum Patrum vestigia sequi, et illorum dicta firma tenere fide. Illi enim in Domino nostri exstiterunt doctores in fide et ductores ad vitam; quorum et sapientia Spiritu Dei plena libris legitur inscripta, et vita meritorum miraculis clara et sanctissima; quorum animae apud Deum Dei Filium, D.N.J.C. pro magno pietatis labore regnant in caelis. Hos ergo tota animi virtute, toto caritatis affectu sequimini, beatissimi fratres, ut horum inconcussa firmitate doctrinis adhaerentes, consortium aeternae beatitudinis . . . cum illis habere mereamini in caelis" ("Synodica ad Episc." in Mansi, XIII, 897-8).
"Apostolicae sedi et antiquis ab initio nascentis ecclesiae et catholicis traditionibus tota mentis intentione, tota cordis alacritate, me conjungo. Quicquid in illorum legitur libris, qui divino Spiritu afflati, toti orbi a Deo Christo dati sunt doctores, indubitanter teneo; hoc ad salutem animae meae sufficere credens, quod sacratissimae evangelicae veritatis pandit historia, quod apostolica in suis epistolis confirmat auctoritas, quod eximii Sacrae Scripturae tractatores et praecipui Christianae fidei doctores ad perpetuam posteris scriptum reliquerunt memoriam."
In order to get a good view of the patristic period, the Fathers may be divided in various ways. One favourite method is by periods; the Ante-Nicene Fathers till 325; the Great Fathers of the fourth century and half the fifth (325-451); and the later Fathers. A more obvious division is into Easterns and Westerns, and the Easterns will comprise writers in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, and Coptic. A convenient division into smaller groups will be by periods, nationalities and character of writings; for in the East and West there were many races, and some of the ecclesiastical writers are apologists, some preachers, some historians, some commentators, and so forth.
A. After (1) the Apostolic Fathers come in the second century (2) the Greek apologists, followed by (3) the Western apologists somewhat later, (4) the Gnostic and Marcionite heretics with their apocryphal Scriptures, and (5) the Catholic replies to them.
B. The third century gives us (1) the Alexandrian writers of the catechetical school, (2) the writers of Asia Minor and (3) Palestine, and the first Western writers, (4) at Rome, Hippolytus (in Greek), and Novatian, (5) the great African writers, and a few others.
C. The fourth century opens with (1) the apologetic and the historical works of Eusebius of Caesarea, with whom we may class St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. Epiphanius, (2) the Alexandrian writers Athanasius, Didymus, and others, (3) the Cappadocians, (4) the Antiochenes, (5) the Syriac writers. In the West we have (6) the opponents of Arianism, (7) the Italians, including Jerome, (8) the Africans, and (9) the Spanish and Gallic writers.
D. The fifth century gives us (1) the Nestorian controversy, (2) the Eutychian controversy, including the Western St. Leo; (3) the historians. In the West (4) the school of Lérins, (5) the letters of the popes.
E. The sixth century and the seventh give us less important names and they must be grouped in a more mechanical way.
(1) If we now take these groups in detail we find the letters of the chief Apostolic Fathers, St. Clement, St. Ignatius, and St. Polycarp, venerable not merely for their antiquity, but for a certain simplicity and nobility of thought and style which is very moving to the reader. Their quotations from the New Testament are quite free. They offer most important information to the historian, though in somewhat homoeopathic quantities. To these we add the Didache, probably the earliest of all; the curious allegorizing anti-Jewish epistle which goes under the name of Barnabas; the Shepherd of Hermas, a rather dull series of visions chiefly connected with penance and pardon, composed by the brother of Pope Pius I, and long appended to the New Testament as of almost canonical importance. The works of Papias, the disciple of St. John and Aristion, are lost, all but a few precious fragments.
(2) The apologists are most of them philosophic in their treatment of Christianity. Some of their works were presented to emperors in order to disarm persecutions. We must not always accept the view given to outsiders by the apologists, as representing the whole of the Christianity they knew and practised. The apologies of Quadratus to Hadrian, of Aristo of Pella to the Jews, of Miltiades, of Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and of Melito of Sardis are lost to us. But we still possess several of greater importance. That of Aristides of Athens was presented to Antoninus Pius, and deals principally with the knowledge of the true God. The fine apology of St. Justin with its appendix is above all interesting for its description of the liturgy at Rome c. 150. His arguments against the Jews are found in the well-composed "Dialogue with Trypho", where he speaks of the Apostolic authorship of the Apocalypse in a manner which is of first-rate importance in the mouth of a man who was converted at Ephesus some time before the year 132. The "Apology" of Justin's Syrian disciple Tatian is a less conciliatory work, and its author fell into heresy. Athenagoras, an Athenian (c. 177), addressed to Marcus Aurelius and Commodus an eloquent refutation of the absurd calumnies against Christians. Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, about the same date, wrote three books of apology addressed to a certain Autolycus.
(3) All these works are of considerable literary ability. This is not the case with the great Latin apology which closely follows them in date, the "Apologeticus" of Tertullian, which is in the uncouth and untranslatable language affected by its author. Nevertheless it is a work of extraordinary genius, in interest and value far above all the rest, and for energy and boldness it is incomparable. His fierce "Ad Scapulam" is a warning addressed to a persecuting proconsul. "Adversus Judaeos" is a title which explains itself. The other Latin apologists are later. The "Octavios" of Minucius Felix is as polished and gentle as Tertullian is rough. Its date is uncertain. If the "Apologeticus "was well calculated to infuse courage into the persecuted Christian, the "Octavius" was more likely to impress the inquiring pagan, if so be that more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar. With these works we may mention the much later Lactantius, the most perfect of all in literary form ("Divinae Institutiones", c. 305-10, and "De Mortibus persecutorum", c. 314). Greek apologies probably later than the second century are the "Irrisiones" of Hermias, and the very beautiful "Epistle" to Diognetus.
(4) The heretical writings of the second century are mostly lost. The Gnostics had schools and philosophized; their writers were numerous. Some curious works have come down to us in Coptic. The letter of Ptolemeus to Flora in Epiphanius is almost the only Greek fragment of real importance. Marcion founded not a school but a Church, and his New Testament, consisting of St. Luke and St. Paul, is preserved to some extent in the works written against him by Tertullian and Epiphanius. Of the writings of Greek Montanists and of other early heretics, almost nothing remains. The Gnostics composed a quantity of apocryphal Gospels amid Acts of individual Apostles, large portions of which are preserved, mostly in fragments, in Latin revisions, or in Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, or Slavonic versions. To these are to be added such well-known forgeries as the letters of Paul to Seneca, and the Apocalypse of Peter, of which a fragment was recently found in the Fayûm.
(5) Replies to the attacks of heretics form, next to the apologetic against heathen persecutors on the one hand and Jews on the other, the characteristic Catholic literature of the second century. The "Syntagma" of St. Justin against all heresies is lost. Earlier yet, St. Papias (already mentioned) had directed his efforts to the refutation of the rising errors, and the same preoccupation is seen in St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp. Hegesippus, a converted Jew of Palestine, journeyed to Corinth and Rome, where he stayed from the episcopate of Anicetus till that of Eleutherius (c. 160-180), with the intention of refuting the novelties of the Gnostics and Marcionites by an appeal to tradition. His work is lost. But the great work of St. Irenæus (c. 180) against heresies is founded on Papias, Hegesippus, and Justin, and gives from careful investigation an account of many Gnostic systems, together with their refutation. His appeal is less to Scripture than to the tradition which the whole Catholic Church has received and handed down from the Apostles, through the ministry of successive bishops, and particularly to the tradition of the Roman Church founded by Peter and Paul.
By the side of Irenaeus must be put the Latin Tertullian, whose book "Of the Prescriptions Against Heretics" is not only a masterpiece of argument, but is almost as effective against modern heresies as against those of the early Church. It is a witness of extraordinary importance to the principles of unvarying tradition which the Catholic Church has always professed, and to the primitive belief that Holy Scripture must be interpreted by the Church and not by private industry. He uses Irenaeus in this work, and his polemical books against the Valentinians and the Marcionites borrow freely from that saint. He is the less persuasive of the two, because he is too abrupt, too clever, too anxious for the slightest controversial advantage, without thought of the easy replies that might be made. He sometimes prefers wit or hard hitting to solid argument. At this period controversies were beginning within the Church, the most important being the question whether Easter could be celebrated on a weekday. Another burning question at Rome, at the turn of the century, was the doubt whether the prophesying of the Montanists could be approved, and yet another, in the first years of the third century, was the controversy with a group of opponents of Montanism (so it seems), who denied the authenticity of the writings of St. John, an error then quite new.
(1) The Church of Alexandria already in the second century showed the note of learning, together with a habit borrowed from the Alexandrian Jews, especially Philo, of an allegorizing interpretation of Scripture. The latter characteristic is already found in the "Epistle of Barnabas", which may be of Alexandrian origin. Pantamus was the first to make the Catechetical school of the city famous. No writings of his are extant, but his pupil Clement, who taught in the school with Pantamus, c. 180, and as its head, c. 180-202 (died c. 214), has left a considerable amount of rather lengthy disquisitions dealing with mythology, mystical theology, education, social observances, and all other things in heaven and on earth. He was followed by the great Origen, whose fame spread far and wide even among the heathen. The remains of his works, though they fill several volumes, are to a great extent only in free Latin translations, and bear but a small ratio to the vast amount that has perished. The Alexandrians held as firmly as any Catholics to tradition as the rule of faith, at least in theory, but beyond tradition they allowed themselves to speculate, so that the "Hypotyposes" of Clement have been almost entirely lost on account of the errors which found a place in them, and Origen's works fell under the ban of the Church, though their author lived the life of a saint, and died, shortly after the Decian persecution, of the sufferings he had undergone in it.
The disciples of Origen were many and eminent. The library founded by one of them, St. Alexander of Jerusalem, was precious later on to Eusebius. The most celebrated of the school were St. Dionysius "the Great" of Alexandria and St. Gregory of Neocaesarea in Pontus, known as the Wonder-Worker, who, like St. Nonnosus in the West, was said to have moved a mountain for short distance by his prayers. Of the writings of these two saints not very much is extant.
(2) Montanism and the paschal question brought Asia Minor down from the leading position it held in the second century into a very inferior rank in the third. Besides St. Gregory, St. Methodius at the end of that century was a polished writer and an opponent of Origenism his name is consequently passed over without mention by the Origenist historian Eusebius. We have his "Banquet" in Greek, and some smaller works in Old Slavonic.
(3) Antioch was the head see over the "Orient" including Syria and Mesopotamia as well as Palestine and Phoenicia, but at no time did this form a compact patriarchate like that of Alexandria. We must group here writers who have no connection with one another in matter or style. Julius Africanus lived at Emmaus and composed a chronography, out of which the episcopal lists of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, and a great deal of other matter, have been preserved for us in St. Jerome's version of the Chronicle of Eusebius, and in Byzantine chronographers. Two letters of his are of interest, but the fragments of his "Kestoi" or "Girdles" are of no ecclesiastical value; they contain much curious matter and much that is objectionable. In the second half of the third century, perhaps towards the end of it, a great school was established at Antioch by Lucian, who was martyred at Nicomedia in 312. He is said to have been excommunicated under three bishops, but if this is true he had been long restored at the time of his martyrdom. It is quite uncertain whether he shared the errors of Paul of Samosata (Bishop of Antioch, deposed for heresy in 268-9). At all events he was however unintentionally the father of Arianism, and his pupils were the leaders of that heresy: Eusebius of Nicomedia, Arius himself, with Menophantus of Ephesus, Athanasius of Anazarbus, and the only two bishops who refused to sign the new creed at the Council of Nicaea, Theognis of Nicaea and Maris of Chalcedon, besides the scandalous bishop Leontius of Antioch and the Sophist Asterius. At Caesarea, an Origenist centre, flourished under another martyr, St. Pamphilus, who with his friend Eusebius, a certain Ammonius, and others, collected the works of Origen in a long-famous library, corrected Origen's "Hexapla", and did much editing of the text both of the Old and the New Testaments.
(4) We hear of no writings at Rome except in Greek, until the mention of some small works in Latin, by Pope St. Victor, which still existed in Jerome's day. Hippolytus, a Roman priest, wrote from c. 200 to 235, and always in Greek, though at Carthage Tertullian had been writing before this in Latin. If Hippolytus is the author of the "Philosophumena" he was an antipope, and full of unreasoning enmity to his rival St. Callistus; his theology makes the Word proceed from God by His Will, distinct from Him in substance, and becoming Son by becoming man. There is nothing Roman in the theology of this work; it rather connects itself with the Greek apologists. A great part of a large commentary on Daniel and a work against Noetus are the only other important remains of this writer, who was soon forgotten in the West, though fragments of his works turn up in all the Eastern languages. Parts of his chronography, perhaps his last work, have survived. Another Roman antipope, Novatian, wrote in ponderous and studied prose with metrical endings. Some of his works have come down to us under the name of St. Cyprian. Like Hippolytus, he made his rigorist views the pretext for his schism. Unlike Hippolytus, he is quite orthodox in his principal work, "De Trinitate".
(5) The apologetic works of Tertullian have been mentioned. The earlier were written by him when a priest of the Church of Carthage, but about the year 200 he was led to believe in the Montanist prophets of Phrygia, and he headed a Montanist schism at Carthage. Many of his treatises are written to defend his position and his rigorist doctrines, and he does so with considerable violence and with the clever and hasty argumentation which is natural to him. The placid flow of St. Cyprian's eloquence (Bishop of Carthage, 249-58) is a great contrast to that of his "master". The short treatises and large correspondence of this saint are all concerned with local questions and needs, and he eschews all speculative theology. From this we gain the more light on the state of the Church, on its government, and on a number of interesting ecclesiastical and social matters. In all the patristic period there is nothing, with the exception of Eusebius's history, which tells us so much about the early Church as the small volume which contains St. Cyprian's works. At the end of the century Arnobius, like Cyprian a convert in middle age, and like other Africans, Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, and Augustine, a former rhetorician, composed a dull apology. Lactantius carries us into the fourth century. He was an elegant and eloquent writer, but like Arnobius was not a well-instructed Christian.
(1) The fourth century is the great age of the Fathers. It was twelve years old when Constantine published his edict of toleration, and a new era for the Christian religion began. It is ushered in by Eusebius of Caesarea, with his great apologetic works "Praeparatio Evangelica" and "Demonstratio Evangelica", which show the transcendent merit of Christianity, and his still greater historical works, the "Chronicle" (the Greek original is lost) and the "History", which has gathered up the fragments of the age of persecutions, and has preserved to us more than half of all we know about the heroic ages of the Faith. In theology Eusebius was a follower of Origen, but he rejected the eternity of Creation and of the Logos, so that he was able to regard the Arians with considerable cordiality. The original form of the pseudo-Clementine romance, with its long and tiresome dialogues, seems to be a work of the very beginning of the century against the new developments of heathenism, and it was written either on the Phoenician coast or not far inland in the Syrian neighbourhood. Replies to the greatest of the pagan attacks, that of Porphyry, become more frequent after the pagan revival under Julian (361-3), and they occupied the labours of many celebrated writers. St. Cyril of Jerusalem has left us a complete series of instructions to catechumens and the baptized, thus supplying us with an exact knowledge of the religious teaching imparted to the people in an important Church of the East in the middle of the fourth century. A Palestinian of the second half of the century, St. Epiphanius, became Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, and wrote a learned history of all the heresies. He is unfortunately inaccurate, and has further made great difficulties for us by not naming his authorities. He was a friend of St. Jerome, and an uncompromising opponent of Origenism.
(2) The Alexandrian priest Arius was not a product of the catechetical school of that city, but of the Lucianic school of Antioch. The Alexandrian tendency was quite opposite to the Antiochene, and the Alexandrian bishop, Alexander, condemned Arius in letters still extant, in which we gather the tradition of the Alexandrian Church. There is no trace in them of Origenism, the head-quarters of which had long been at Caesarea in Palestine, in the succession Theoctistus, Pamphilus, Eusebius. The tradition of Alexandria was rather that which Dionysius the Great had received from Pope Dionysius. Three years after the Nicene Council (325), St. Athanasius began his long episcopate of forty-five years. His writings are not very voluminous, being either controversial theology or apologetic memoirs of his own troubles, but their theological and historical value is enormous, on account of the leading part taken by this truly great man in the fifty years of fight with Arianism. The head of the catechetical school during this half-century was Didymus the Blind, an Athanasian in his doctrine of the Son, and rather clearer even than his patriarch in his doctrine of the Trinity, but in many other points carrying on the Origenistic tradition. Here may be also mentioned by the way a rather later writer, Synesius of Cyrene, a man of philosophical and literary habits, who showed energy and sincere piety as a bishop, in spite of the rather pagan character of his culture. His letters are of great interest.
(3) The second half of the century is illustrated by an illustrious triad in Cappadocia, St. Basil, his friend St. Gregory Nazianzen, and his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa. They were the main workers in the return of the East to orthodoxy. Their doctrine of the Trinity is an advance even upon that of Didymus, and is very near indeed to the Roman doctrine which was later embodied in the Athanasian creed. But it had taken a long while for the East to assimilate the entire meaning of the orthodox view. St. Basil showed great patience with those who had advanced less far on the right road than himself, and he even tempered his language so as to conciliate them. For fame of sanctity scarcely any of the Fathers, save St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker, or St. Augustine, has ever equalled him. He practised extraordinary asceticism, and his family were all saints. He composed a rule for monks which has remained practically the only one in the East. St. Gregory had far less character, but equal abilities and learning, with greater eloquence. The love of Origen which persuaded the friends in their youth to publish a book of extracts from his writings had little influence on their later theology; that of St. Gregory in particular is renowned for its accuracy or even inerrancy. St. Gregory of Nyssa is, on the other hand, full of Origenism. The classical culture and literary form of the Cappadocians, united to sanctity and orthodoxy, makes them a unique group in the history of the Church.
(4) The Antiochene school of the fourth century seemed given over to Arianism, until the time when the great Alexandrians, Athanasius and Didymus, were dying, when it was just reviving not merely into orthodoxy, but into an efflorescence by which the recent glory of Alexandria and even of Cappadocia was to be surpassed. Diodorus, a monk at Antioch and then Bishop of Tarsus, was a noble supporter of Nicene doctrine and a great writer, though the larger part of his works has perished. His friend Theodore of Mopsuestia was a learned and judicious commentator in the literal Antiochene style, but unfortunately his opposition to the heresy of Apollinarius of Laodicea carried him into the opposite extreme of Nestorianism indeed the pupil Nestorius scarcely went so far as the master Theodore. But then Nestorius resisted the judgment of the Church, whereas Theodore died in Catholic communion, and was the friend of saints, including that crowning glory of the Antiochene school, St. John Chrysostom, whose greatest sermons were preached at Antioch, before he became Bishop of Constantinople. Chrysostom is of course the chief of the Greek Fathers, the first of all commentators, and the first of all orators whether in East or West. He was for a time a hermit, and remained ascetic in his life; he was also a fervent social reformer. His grandeur of character makes him worthy of a place beside St. Basil and St. Athanasius.
As Basil and Gregory were formed to oratory by the Christian Prohaeresius, so was Chrysostom by the heathen orator Libanius. In the classical Gregory we may sometimes find the rhetorician; in Chrysostom never; his amazing natural talent prevents his needing the assistance of art, and though training had preceded, it has been lost in the flow of energetic thought and the torrent of words. He is not afraid of repeating himself and of neglecting the rules, for he never wishes to be admired, but only to instruct or to persuade. But even so great a man has his limitations. He has no speculative interest in philosophy or theology, though he is learned enough to be absolutely orthodox. He is a holy man and a practical man, so that his thoughts are full of piety and beauty and wisdom; but he is not a thinker. None of the Fathers has been more imitated or more read; but there is little in his writings which can be said to have moulded his own or future times, and he cannot come for an instant into competition with Origen or Augustine for the first place among ecclesiastical writers.
(5) Syria in the fourth century produced one great writer, St. Ephraem, deacon of Edessa (306-73). Most of his writings are poetry; his commentaries are in prose, but the remains of these are scantier. His homilies and hymns are all in metre, and are of very great beauty. Such tender and loving piety is hardly found elsewhere in the Fathers. The twenty-three homilies of Aphraates (326-7), a Mesopotamian bishop, are of great interest.
(6) St. Hilary of Poitiers is the most famous of the earlier opponents of Arianism in the West. He wrote commentaries and polemical works, including the great treatise "De Trinitate" and a lost historical work. His style is affectedly involved and obscure, but he is nevertheless a theologian of considerable merit. The very name of his treatise on the Trinity shows that he approached the dogma from the Western point of view of a Trinity in Unity, but he has largely employed the works of Origen, Athanasius, and other Easterns. His exegesis is of the allegorical type. Until his day, the only great Latin Father was St. Cyprian, and Hilary had no rival in his own generation. Lucifer, Bishop of Calaris in Sardinia, was a very rude controversialist, who wrote in a popular and almost uneducated manner. The Spaniards Gregory of Illiberis, in Southern Spain, is only now beginning to receive his due, since Dom A. Wilmart restored to him in 1908 the important so-called "Tractatus Origenis de libris SS. Scripturae", which he and Batiffol had published in 1900, as genuine works of Origen translated by Victorinus of Pettau. The commentaries and anti-Arian works of the converted rhetorician, Marius Victorinus, were not successful. St. Eusebius of Vercellae has left us only a few letters. The date of the short discourses of Zeno of Verona is uncertain. The fine letter of Pope Julius I to the Arians and a few letters of Liberius and Damasus are of great interest.
The greatest of the opponents of Arianism in the West is St. Ambrose (d. 397). His sanctity and his great actions make him one of the most imposing figures in the patristic period. Unfortunately the style of his writings is often unpleasant, being affected and intricate, without being correct or artistic. His exegesis is not merely of the most extreme allegorical kind, but so fanciful as to be sometimes positively absurd. And yet, when off his guard, he speaks with genuine and touching eloquence; he produces apophthegms of admirable brevity, and without being a deep theologian, he shows a wonderful profundity of thought on ascetical, moral, and devotional matters. Just as his character demands our enthusiastic admiration, so his writings gain our affectionate respect, in spite of their very irritating defects. It is easy to see that he is very well read in the classics and in Christian writers of East and West, but his best thoughts are all his own.
(7) At Rome an original, odd, and learned writer composed a commentary on St. Paul's Epistles and a series of questions on the Old and New Testaments. He is usually spoken of as Ambrosiaster, and may perhaps be a converted Jew named Isaac, who later apostatized. St. Damasus wrote verses which are poor poetry but interesting where they give us information about the martyrs and the catacombs. His secretary for a time was St. Jerome, a Pannonian by birth, a Roman by baptism. This learned Father, "Doctor maximus in Sacris Scripturis", is very well known to us, for almost all that he wrote is a revelation of himself. He tells the reader of his inclinations and his antipathies, his enthusiasms and his irritations, his friendships and his enmities. If he is often out of temper, he is most human, most affectionate, most ascetic, most devoted to orthodoxy, and in many ways a very lovable character; for if he is quick to take offence, he is easily appeased, he is laborious beyond ordinary endurance, and it is against heresy that his anger is usually kindled. He lived all the latter part of his life in a retreat at Bethlehem, surrounded by loving disciples, whose untiring devotion shows that the saint was by no means such a rough diamond, one might say such an ogre, as he is often represented. He had no taste for philosophy, and seldom gave himself time to think, but he read and wrote ceaselessly. His many commentaries are brief and to the point, full of information, and the product of wide reading. His greatest work was the translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew into Latin. He carried on the textual labours of Origen, Pamphilus, and Eusebius, and his revision of the Latin Gospels shows the use of admirably pure Greek manuscripts, though he seems to have expended less pains on the rest of the New Testament. He attacked heretics with much of the cleverness, all the vivacity, and much more than the eloquence and effectiveness of Tertullian. He used the like weapons against any who attacked him, and especially against his friend Rufinus during their passing period of hostility.
If he is only "perhaps" the most learned of the Fathers, he is beyond doubt the greatest of prose writers among them all. We cannot compare his energy and wit with the originality and polish of Cicero, or with the delicate perfection of Plato, but neither can they or any other writer be compared with Jerome in his own sphere. He does not attempt flights of imagination, musical intonation, word-painting; he has no flow of honeyed language like Cyprian, no torrent of phrases like Chrysostom; he is a writer, not an orator, and a learned and classical writer. But such letters as his, for astonishing force and liveliness, for point, and wit, and terse expression, were never written before or since. There is no sense of effort, and though we feel that the language must have been studied, we are rarely tempted to call it studied language, for Jerome knows the strange secret of polishing his steel weapons while they are still at a white heat, and of hurling them before they cool. He was a dangerous adversary, and had few scruples in taking every possible advantage. He has the unfortunate defect of his extraordinary swiftness, that he is extremely inaccurate, and his historical statements need careful control. His biographies of the hermits, his words about monastic life, virginity, Roman faith, our Blessed Lady, relics of saints, have exercised great influence. It has only been known of late years that Jerome was a preacher; the little extempore discourses published by Dom Mona are full of his irrepressible personality and his careless learning.
(8) Africa was a stranger to the Arian struggle, being occupied with a battle of its own. Donatism (311-411) was for a long time paramount in Numidia, and sometimes in other parts. The writings of the Donatists have mostly perished. About 370 St. Optatus published an effective controversial work against them. The attack was carried on by a yet greater controversialist, St. Augustine, with a marvellous success, so that the inveterate schism was practically at an end twenty years before that saint's death. So happy an event turned the eyes of all Christendom to the brilliant protagonist of the African Catholics, who had already dealt crushing blows at the Latin Manichaean writers. From 417 till his death in 431, he was engaged in an even greater conflict with the philosophical and naturalistic heresy of Pelagius and Caelestius. In this he was at first assisted by the aged Jerome; the popes condemned the innovators and the emperor legislated against them. If St. Augustine has the unique fame of having prostrated three heresies, it is because he was as anxious to persuade as to refute. He was perhaps the greatest controversialist the world has ever seen. Besides this he was not merely the greatest philosopher among the Fathers, but he was the only great philosopher. His purely theological works, especially his "De Trinitate", are unsurpassed for depth, grasp, and clearness, among early ecclesiastical writers, whether Eastern or Western. As a philosophical theologian he has no superior, except his own son and disciple, St. Thomas Aquinas. It is probably correct to say that no one, except Aristotle, has exercised so vast, so profound, and so beneficial an influence on European thought.
Augustine was himself a Platonist through and through. As a commentator he cared little for the letter, and everything for the spirit, but his harmony of the Gospels shows that he could attend to history and detail. The allegorizing tendencies he inherited from his spiritual father, Ambrose, carry him now and then into extravagances, but more often he rather soars than commentates, and his "In Genesim ad litteram", and his treatises on the Psalms and on St. John, are works of extraordinary power and interest, and quite worthy, in a totally different style, to rank with Chrysostom on Matthew. St. Augustine was a professor of rhetoric before his wonderful conversion; but like St. Cyprian, and even more than St. Cyprian, he put aside, as a Christian, all the artifices of oratory which he knew so well. He retained correctness of grammar and perfect good taste, together with the power of speaking and writing with ease in a style of masterly simplicity and of dignified though almost colloquial plainness.
Nothing could be more individual than this style of St. Augustine's, in which he talks to the reader or to God with perfect openness and with an astonishing, often almost exasperating, subtlety of thought. He had the power of seeing all round a subject and through and through it, and he was too conscientious not to use this gift to the uttermost. Large-minded and far-seeing, he was also very learned. He mastered Greek only in later life, in order to make himself familiar with the works of the Eastern Fathers. His "De Civitate Dei" shows vast stores of reading; still more, it puts him in the first place among apologists. Before his death (431) he was the object of extraordinary veneration. He had founded a monastery at Tagaste, which supplied Africa with bishops, and he lived at Hippo with his clergy in a common life, to which the Regular Canons of later days have always looked as their model. The great Dominican Order, the Augustinians, and numberless congregations of nuns still look to him as their father and legislator. His devotional works have had a vogue second only to that of another of his spiritual sons, Thomas à Kempis. He had in his lifetime a reputation for miracles, and his sanctity is felt in all his writings, and breathes in the story of his life. It has been remarked that there is about this many-sided bishop a certain symmetry which makes him an almost faultless model of a holy, wise, and active man. It is well to remember that he was essentially a penitent.
(9) In Spain, the great poet Prudentius surpassed all his predecessors, of whom the best had been Juvencus and the almost pagan rhetorician Ausonius. The curious treatises of the Spanish heretic Priscillian were discovered only in 1889. In Gaul Rufinus of Aquileia must be mentioned as the very free translator of Origen, etc., and of Eusebius's "History", which he continued up to his own date. In South Italy his friend Paulinus of Nola has left us pious poems and elaborate letters.
(1) The fragments of Nestorius's writings have been collected by Loofs. Some of them were preserved by a disciple of St. Augustine, Marius Mercator, who made two collections of documents, concerning Nestorianism and Pelagianism respectively. The great adversary of Nestorius, St. Cyril of Alexandria, was opposed by a yet greater writer, Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus. Cyril is a very voluminous writer, and his long commentaries in the mystical Alexandrian vein do not much interest modern readers. But his principal letters and treatises on the Nestorian question show him as a theologian who has a deep spiritual insight into the meaning of the Incarnation and its effect upon the human race the lifting up of man to union with God. We see here the influence of Egyptian asceticism, from Anthony the Great (whose life St. Athanasius wrote), and the Macarii (one of whom left some valuable works in Greek), and Pachomius, to his own time. In their ascetical systems, the union with God by contemplation was naturally the end in view, but one is surprised how little is made by them of meditation on the life and Passion of Christ. It is not omitted, but the tendency as with St. Cyril and with the Monophysites who believed they followed him, is to think rather of the Godhead than of the Manhood. The Antiochene school had exaggerated the contrary tendency, out of opposition to Apollinarianism, which made Christ's Manhood incomplete, and they thought more of man united to God than of God made man.
Theodoret undoubtedly avoided the excesses of Theodore and Nestorius, and his doctrine was accepted at last by St. Leo as orthodox, in spite of his earlier persistent defence of Nestorius. His history of the monks is less valuable than the earlier writings of eyewitnesses Palladius in the East, and Rufinus and afterwards Cassian in the West. But Theodoret's "History" in continuation of Eusebius contains valuable information. His apologetic and controversial writings are the works of a good theologian. His masterpieces are his exegetical works, which are neither oratory like those of Chrysostom, nor exaggeratedly literal like those of Theodore. With him the great Antiochene school worthily closes, as the Alexandrian does with St. Cyril. Together with these great men may be mentioned St. Cyril's spiritual adviser, St. Isidore of Pelusium, whose 2000 letters deal chiefly with allegorical exegesis, the commentary on St. Mark by Victor of Antioch, and the introduction to the interpretation of Scripture by the monk Hadrian, a manual of the Antiochene method.
(3) The two Constantinopolitan historians, Socrates and Sozomen, in spite of errors, contain some data which are precious, since many of the sources which they used are lost to us. With Theodoret, their contemporary, they form a triad just in the middle of the century. St. Nilus of Sinai is the chief among many ascetical writers.
(4) St. Sulpicius Severus, a Gallic noble, disciple and biographer of the great St. Martin of Tours, was a classical scholar, and showed himself an elegant writer in his "Ecclesiastical History". The school of Lérins produced many writers besides St. Vincent. We may mention Eucherius, Faustus, and the great St. Caesarius of Arles (543). Other Gallic writers are Salvian, St. Sidonius Apollinaris, Gennadius, St. Avitus of Vienne, and Julianus Pomerius.
(5) In the West, the series of papal decretals begins with Pope Siricius (384-98). Of the more important popes large numbers of letters have been preserved. Those of the wise St. Innocent I (401-17), the hot-headed St. Zosimus (417-8), and the severe St. Celestine are perhaps the most important in the first half of the century; in the second half those of Hilarus, Simplicius, and above all the learned St. Gelasius (492-6). Midway in the century stands St. Leo, the greatest of the early popes, whose steadfastness and sanctity saved Rome from Attila, and the Romans from Genseric. He could be unbending in the enunciation of principle; he was condescending in the condoning of breaches of discipline for the sake of peace, and he was a skilful diplomatist. His sermons and the dogmatic letters in his large correspondence show him to us as the most lucid of all theologians. He is clear in his expression, not because he is superficial, but because he has thought clearly and deeply. He steers between Nestorianism and Eutychianism, not by using subtle distinctions or elaborate arguments, but by stating plain definitions in accurate words. He condemned Monothelitism by anticipation. His style is careful, with metrical cadences. Its majestic rhythms and its sonorous closes have invested the Latin language with a new splendour and dignity.
(1) In the sixth century the large correspondence of Pope Hormisdas is of the highest interest. That century closes with St. Gregory the Great, whose celebrated "Registrum" exceeds in volume many times over the collections of the letters of other early popes. The Epistles are of great variety and throw light on the varied interests of the great pope's life and the varied events in the East and West of his time. His "Morals on the Book of Job" is not a literal commentary, but pretends only to illustrate the moral sense underlying the text. With all the strangeness it presents to modern notions, it is a work full of wisdom and instruction. The remarks of St. Gregory on the spiritual life and on contemplation are of special interest. As a theologian he is original only in that he combines all the traditional theology of the West without adding to it. He commonly follows Augustine as a theologian, a commentator and a preacher. His sermons are admirably practical; they are models of what a good sermon should be. After St. Gregory there are some great popes whose letters are worthy of study, such as Nicholas I and John VIII; but these and the many other late writers of the West belong properly to the medieval period. St. Gregory of Tours is certainly medieval, but the learned Bede is quite patristic. His great history is the most faithful and perfect history to be found in the early centuries.
(2) In the East, the latter half of the fifth century is very barren. The sixth century is not much better. The importance of Leontius of Byzantium (died c. 543) for the history of dogma has only lately been realized. Poets and hagiographers, chroniclers, canonists, and ascetical writers succeed each other. Catenas by way of commentaries are the order of the day. St. Maximus Confessor, Anastasius of Mount Sinai, and Andrew of Caesarea must be named. The first of these commented on the works of the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, which had probably first seen the light towards the end of the fifth century. St. John of Damascus (c. 750) closes the patristic period with his polemics against heresies, his exegetical and ascetical writings, his beautiful hymns, and above all his "Fountain of Wisdom", which is a compendium of patristic theology and a kind of anticipation of scholasticism. Indeed, the "Summae Theologicae" of the Middle Ages were founded on the "Sentences" of Peter Lombard, who had taken the skeleton of his work from this last of the Greek Fathers.
It has been seen that the literal school of exegesis had its home at Antioch, while the allegorical school was Alexandrian, and the entire West, on the whole, followed the allegorical method, mingling literalism with it in various degrees. The suspicion of Arianism has lost to us the fourth-century writers of the Antiochene school, such as Theodore of Heraclea and Eusebius of Emesa, and the charge of Nestorianism has caused the commentaries of Diodorus and Theodore of Mopsuestia (for the most part) to disappear. The Alexandrian school has lost yet more heavily, for little of the great Origen remains except in fragments and in unreliable versions. The great Antiochenes, Chrysostom and Theodoret, have a real grasp of the sense of the sacred text. They treat it with reverence and love, and their explanations are of deep value, because the language of the New Testament was their own tongue, so that we moderns cannot afford to neglect their comments. On the contrary, Origen, the moulder of the allegorizing type of commentary, who had inherited the Philonic tradition of the Alexandrian Jews, was essentially irreverent to the inspired authors. The Old Testament was to him full of errors, lies, and blasphemies, so far as the letter was concerned, and his defence of it against the pagans, the Gnostics, and especially the Marcionites, was to point only to the spiritual meaning. Theoretically he distinguished a triple sense, the somatic, the psychic, and the pneumatic, following St. Paul's trichotomy; but in practice he mainly gives the spiritual, as opposed to the corporal or literal.
St. Augustine sometimes defends the Old Testament against the Manichæans in the same style, and occasionally in a most unconvincing manner, but with great moderation and restraint. In his "De Genesi ad litteram" he has evolved a far more effective method, with his usual brilliant originality, and he shows that the objections brought against the truth of the first chapters of the book invariably rest upon the baseless assumption that the objector has found the true meaning of the text. But Origen applied his method, though partially, even to the New Testament, and regarded the Evangelists as sometimes false in the letter, but as saving the truth in the hidden spiritual meaning. In this point the good feeling of Christians prevented his being followed. But the brilliant example he gave, of running riot in the fantastic exegesis which his method encouraged, had an unfortunate influence. He is fond of giving a variety of applications to a single text, and his promise to hold nothing but what can be proved from Scripture becomes illusory when he shows by example that any part of Scripture may mean anything he pleases. The reverent temper of later writers, and especially of the Westerns, preferred to represent as the true meaning of the sacred writer the allegory which appeared to them to be the most obvious. St. Ambrose and St. Augustine in their beautiful works on the Psalms rather spiritualize, or moralize, than allegorize, and their imaginative interpretations are chiefly of events, actions, numbers, etc. But almost all allegorical interpretation is so arbitrary and depends so much on the caprice of the exegete that it is difficult to conciliate it with reverence, however one may be dazzled by the beauty of much of it. An alternative way of defending the Old Testament was excogitated by the ingenious author of the pseudo-Clementines; he asserts that it has been depraved and interpolated. St. Jerome's learning has made his exegesis unique; he frequently gives alternative explanations and refers to the authors who have adopted them. From the middle of the fifth century onwards, second-hand commentaries are universal in East and West, and originality almost entirely disappears. Andrew of Caesarea is perhaps an exception, for he commented on a book which was scarcely at all read in the East, the Apocalypse.
Discussions of method are not wanting. Clement of Alexandria gives "traditional methods", the literal, typical, moral, and prophetical. The tradition is obviously from Rabbinism. We must admit that it has in its favour the practice of St. Matthew and St. Paul. Even more than Origen, St. Augustine theorized on this subject. In his "De Doctrina Christiana" he gives elaborate rules of exegesis. Elsewhere he distinguishes four senses of Scripture: historical, aetiological (economic), analogical (where N.T. explains O.T.), and allegorical ("De Util. Cred.", 3; cf. "De Vera Rel.", 50). The book of rules composed by the Donatist Tichonius has an analogy in the smaller "canons" of St. Paul's Epistles by Priscillian. Hadrian of Antioch was mentioned above. St. Gregory the Great compares Scripture to a river so shallow that a lamb can walk in it, so deep that an elephant can float. (Pref. to "Morals on Job"). He distinguishes the historical or literal sense, the moral, and the allegorical or typical. If the Western Fathers are fanciful, yet this is better than the extreme literalism of Theodore of Mopsuestia, who refused to allegorize even the Canticle of Canticles.
We have sermons from the Greek Church much earlier than from the Latin. Indeed, Sozomen tells us that, up to his time (c. 450), there were no public sermons in the churches at Rome. This seems almost incredible. St. Leo's sermons are, however, the first sermons certainly preached at Rome which have reached us, for those of Hippolytus were all in Greek; unless the homily "Adversus Alcatores" be a sermon by a Novatian antipope. The series of Latin preachers begins in the middle of the fourth century. The so-called "Second Epistle of St. Clement" is a homily belonging possibly to the second century. Many of the commentaries of Origen are a series of sermons, as is the case later with all Chrysostom's commentaries and most of Augustine's.
In many cases treatises are composed of a course of sermons, as, for instance, is the case for some of those of Ambrose, who seems to have rewritten his sermons after delivery. The "De Sacramentis" may possibly be the version by a shorthand-writer of the course which the saint himself edited under the title "De Mysteriis". In any case the "De Sacramentis" (whether by Ambrose or not) has a freshness and naiveté which is wanting in the certainly authentic "De Mysteriis". Similarly the great courses of sermons preached by St. Chrysostom at Antioch were evidently written or corrected by his own hand, but those he delivered at Constantinople were either hurriedly corrected, or not at all. His sermons on Acts, which have come down to us in two quite distinct texts in the manuscripts, are probably known to us only in the forms in which they were taken down by two different tachygraphers. St. Gregory Nazianzen complains of the importunity of these shorthand-writers (Orat. xxxii), as St. Jerome does of their incapacity (Ep. lxxi, 5). Their art was evidently highly perfected, and specimens of it have come down to us. They were officially employed at councils (e.g. at the great conference with the Donatists at Carthage, in 411, we hear of them). It appears that many or most of the bishops at the Council of Ephesus, in 449, had their own shorthand-writers with them. The method of taking notes and of amplifying receives illustration from the Acts of the Council of Constantinople of 27 April, 449, at which the minutes were examined which had been taken down by tachygraphers at the council held a few weeks earlier.
Many of St. Augustine's sermons are certainly from shorthand notes. As to others we are uncertain, for the style of the written ones is often so colloquial that it is difficult to get a criterion. The sermons of St. Jerome at Bethlehem, published by Dom Morin, are from shorthand reports, and the discourses themselves were unprepared conferences on those portions of the Psalms or of the Gospels which had been sung in the liturgy. The speaker has clearly often been preceded by another priest, and on the Western Christmas Day, which his community alone is keeping, the bishop is present and will speak last. In fact the pilgrim Ætheria tells us that at Jerusalem, in the fourth century, all the priests present spoke in turn, if they chose, and the bishop last of all. Such improvised comments are far indeed from the oratorical discourses of St. Gregory Nazianzen, from the lofty flights of Chrysostom, from the torrent of iteration that characterizes the short sermons of Peter Chrysologus, from the neat phrases of Maximus of Turin, and the ponderous rhythms of Leo the Great. The eloquence of these Fathers need not be here described. In the West we may add in the fourth century Gaudentius of Brescia; several small collections of interesting sermons appear in the fifth century; the sixth opens with the numerous collections made by St. Caesarius for the use of preachers. There is practically no edition of the works of this eminent and practical bishop. St. Gregory (apart from some fanciful exegesis) is the most practical preacher of the West. Nothing could be more admirable for imitation than St. Chrysostom. The more ornate writers are less safe to copy. St. Augustine's style is too personal to be an example, and few are so learned, so great, and so ready, that they can venture to speak as simply as he often does.
The Fathers do not belong to the strictly classical period of either the Greek or the Latin language; but this does not imply that they wrote bad Latin or Greek. The conversational form of the Koiné or common dialect of Greek, which is found in the New Testament and in many papyri, is not the language of the Fathers, except of the very earliest. For the Greek Fathers write in a more classicizing style than most of the New Testament writers; none of them uses quite a vulgar or ungrammatical Greek, while some Atticize, e.g. the Cappadocians and Synesius. The Latin Fathers are often less classical. Tertullian is a Latin Carlyle; he knew Greek, and wrote books in that language, and tried to introduce ecclesiastical terms into Latin. St. Cyprian's "Ad Donatum", probably his first Christian writing, shows an Apuleian preciosity which he eschewed in all his other works, but which his biographer Pontius has imitated and exaggerated. Men like Jerome and Augustine, who had a thorough knowledge of classical literature, would not employ tricks of style, and cultivated a manner which should be correct, but simple and straightforward; yet their style could not have been what it was but for their previous study. For the spoken Latin of all the patristic centuries was very different from the written. We get examples of the vulgar tongue here and there in the letters of Pope Cornelius as edited by Mercati, for the third century, or in the Rule of St. Benedict in Wölfflin's or Dom Mona's editions, for the sixth. In the latter we get such modernisms as cor murmurantem, post quibus, cum responsoria sua, which show how the confusing genders and cases of the classics were disappearing into the more reasonable simplicity of Italian. Some of the Fathers use the rhythmical endings of the "cursus" in their prose; some have the later accented endings which were corruptions of the correct prosodical ones. Familiar examples of the former are in the older Collects of the Mass; of the latter the Te Deum is an obvious instance.
Before speaking of the theological characteristics of the Fathers, we have to take into account the great division of the Roman Empire into two languages. Language is the great separator. When two emperors divided the Empire, it was not quite according to language; nor were the ecclesiastical divisions more exact, since the great province of Illyricum, including Macedonia and all Greece, was attached to the West through at least a large part of the patristic period, and was governed by the archbishop of Thessalonica, not as its exarch or patriarch, but as papal legate. But in considering the literary productions of the age, we must class them as Latin or Greek, and this is what will be meant here by Western and Eastern.
The understanding of the relations between Greeks and Latins is often obscured by certain prepossessions. We talk of the "unchanging East", of the philosophical Greeks as opposed to the practical Romans, of the reposeful thought of the Oriental mind over against the rapidity and orderly classification which characterizes Western intelligence. All this is very misleading, and it is important to go back to the facts. In the first place, the East was converted far more rapidly than the West. When Constantine made Christianity the established religion of both empires from 323 onwards, there was a striking contrast between the two. In the West paganism had everywhere a very large majority, except possibly in Africa. But in the Greek world Christianity was quite the equal of the old religions in influence and numbers; in the great cities it might even be predominant, and some towns were practically Christian. The story told of St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker, that he found but seventeen Christians in Neocæsarea when he became bishop, and that he left but seventeen pagans in the same city when he died (c. 270-5), must be substantially true. Such a story in the West would be absurd. The villages of the Latin countries held out for long, and the pagani retained the worship of the old gods even after they were all nominally Christianized. In Phrygia, on the contrary, entire villages were Christian long before Constantine, though it is true that elsewhere some towns were still heathen in Julian's day Gaza in Palestine is an example; but then Maiouma, the port of Gaza, was Christian.
Two consequences, amongst others, of this swift evangelization of the East must be noticed. In the first place, while the slow progress of the West was favourable to the preservation of the unchanged tradition, the quick conversion of the East was accompanied by a rapid development which, in the sphere of dogma, was hasty, unequal, and fruitful of error. Secondly, the Eastern religion partook, even during the heroic age of persecution, of the evil which the West felt so deeply after Constantine, that is to say, of the crowding into the Church of multitudes who were only half Christianized, because it was the fashionable thing to do, or because a part of the beauties of the new religion and of the absurdities of the old were seen. We have actually Christian writers, in East and West, such as Arnobius, and to some extent Lactantius and Julius Africanus, who show that they are only half instructed in the Faith. This must have been largely the case among the people in the East. Tradition in the East was less regarded, and faith was less deep than in the smaller Western communities. Again, the Latin writers begin in Africa with Tertullian, just before the third century, at Rome with Novatian, just in the middle of the third century, and in Spain and Gaul not till the fourth. But the East had writers in the first century, and numbers in the second; there were Gnostic and Christian schools in the second and third. There had been, indeed, Greek writers at Rome in the first and second centuries and part of the third. But when the Roman Church became Latin they were forgotten; the Latin writers did not cite Clement and Hermas; they totally forgot Hippolytus, except his chronicle, and his name became merely a theme for legend.
Though Rome was powerful and venerated in the second century, and though her tradition remained unbroken, the break in her literature is complete. Latin literature is thus a century and a half younger than the Greek; indeed it is practically two centuries and a half younger. Tertullian stands alone, and he became a heretic. Until the middle of the fourth century there had appeared but one Latin Father for the spiritual reading of the educated Latin Christian, and it is natural that the stichometry, edited (perhaps semi-officially) under Pope Liberius for the control of booksellers' prices, gives the works of St. Cyprian as well as the books of the Latin Bible. This unique position of St. Cyprian was still recognized at the beginning of the fifth century. From Cyprian (d. 258) to Hilary there was scarcely a Latin book that could be recommended for popular reading except Lactantius's "De mortibus persecutorum", and there was no theology at all. Even a little later, the commentaries of Victorinus the Rhetorician were valueless, and those of Isaac the Jew (?) were odd. The one vigorous period of Latin literature is the bare century which ends with Leo (d. 461). During that century Rome had been repeatedly captured or threatened by barbarians; Arian Vandals, besides devastating Italy and Gaul, had almost destroyed the Catholicism of Spain and Africa; the Christian British had been murdered in the English invasion. Yet the West had been able to rival the East in output and in eloquence and even to surpass it in learning, depth, and variety. The elder sister knew little of these productions, but the West was supplied with a considerable body of translations from the Greek, even in the fourth century. In the sixth, Cassiodorus took care that the amount should be increased. This gave the Latins a larger outlook, and even the decay of learning which Cassiodorus and Agapetus could not remedy, and which Pope Agatho deplored so humbly in his letter to the Greek council of 680, was resisted with a certain persistent vigour.
At Constantinople the means of learning were abundant, and there were many authors; yet there is a gradual decline till the fifteenth century. The more notable writers are like flickers amid dying embers. There were chroniclers and chronographers, but with little originality. Even the monastery of Studium is hardly a literary revival. There is in the East no enthusiasm like that of Cassiodorus, of Isidore, of Alcuin, amid a barbarian world. Photius had wonderful libraries at his disposal, yet Bede had wider learning, and probably knew more of the East than Photius did of the West. The industrious Irish schools which propagated learning in every part of Europe had no parallel in the Oriental world. It was after the fifth century that the East began to be "unchanging". And as the bond with the West grew less and less continuous, her theology and literature became more and more mummified; whereas the Latin world blossomed anew with an Anselm, subtle as Augustine, a Bernard, rival to Chrysostom, an Aquinas, prince of theologians.
Hence we observe in the early centuries a twofold movement, which must be spoken of separately: an Eastward movement of theology, by which the West imposed her dogmas on the reluctant East, and a Westward movement in most practical things organization, liturgy, ascetics, devotion by which the West assimilated the swifter evolution of the Greeks. We take first the theological movement.
Throughout the second century the Greek portion of Christendom bred heresies. The multitude of Gnostic schools tried to introduce all kinds of foreign elements into Christianity. Those who taught and believed them did not start from a belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation such as we are accustomed to. Marcion formed not a school, but a Church; his Christology was very far removed from tradition. The Montanists made a schism which retained the traditional beliefs and practices, but asserted a new revelation. The leaders of all the new views came to Rome, and tried to gain a footing there; all were condemned and excommunicated. At the end of the century, Rome got all the East to agree with her traditional rule that Easter should be kept on Sunday. The Churches of Asia Minor had a different custom. One of their bishops protested. But they seem to have submitted almost at once. In the first decades of the third century, Rome impartially repelled opposing heresies, those which identified the three Persons of the Holy Trinity with only a modal distinction (Monarchians, Sabellians, "Patripassians"), and those who, on the contrary, made Christ a mere man, or seemed to ascribe to the Word of God a distinct being from that of the Father. This last conception, to our amazement, is assumed, it would appear, by the early Greek apologists, though in varying language; Athenagoras (who as an Athenian may have been in relation with the West) is the only one who asserts the Unity of the Trinity. Hippolytus (somewhat diversely in the "Contra Noetum" and in the "Philosophumena," if they are both his) taught the same division of the Son from the Father as traditional, and he records that Pope Callistus condemned him as a Ditheist.
Origen, like many of the others, makes the procession of the Word depend upon His office of Creator; and if he is orthodox enough to make the procession an eternal and necessary one, this is only because he regards Creation itself as necessary and eternal. His pupil, Dionysius of Alexandria, in combating the Sabellians, who admitted no real distinctions in the Godhead, manifested the characteristic weakness of the Greek theology, but some of his own Egyptians were more correct than their patriarch, and appealed to Rome. The Alexandrian listened to the Roman Dionysius, for all respected the unchanging tradition and unblemished orthodoxy of the See of Peter; his apology accepts the word "consubstantial", and he explains, no doubt sincerely, that he had never meant anything else; but he had learnt to see more clearly, without recognizing how unfortunately worded were his earlier arguments. He was not present when a council, mainly of Origenists, justly condemned Paul of Samosata (268); and these bishops, holding the traditional Eastern view, refused to use the word "consubstantial" as being too like Sabellianism. The Arians, disciples of Lucian, rejected (as did the more moderate Eusebius of Caesarea) the eternity of Creation, and they were logical enough to argue that consequently "there was (before time was) when the Word was not", and that He was a creature. All Christendom was horrified; but the East was soon appeased by vague explanations, and after Nicaea, real, undisguised Arianism hardly showed its head for nearly forty years. The highest point of orthodoxy that the East could reach is shown in the admirable lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. There is one God, he teaches, that is the Father, and His Son is equal to Him in all things, and the Holy Ghost is adored with Them; we cannot separate Them in our worship. But he does not ask himself how there are not three Gods; he will not use the Nicene word "consubstantial", and he never suggests that there is one Godhead common to the three Persons.
If we turn to the Latins all is different. The essential Monotheism of Christianity is not saved in the West by saying there is "one God the Father", as in all the Eastern creeds, but the theologians teach the unity of the Divine essence, in which subsist three Persons. If Tertullian and Novatian use subordinationist language of the Son (perhaps borrowed from the East), it is of little consequence in comparison with their main doctrine, that there is one substance of the Father and of the Son. Callistus excommunicates equally those who deny the distinction of Persons, and those who refuse to assert the unity of substance. Pope Dionysius is shocked that his namesake did not use the word "consubstantial" this is more than sixty years before Nicaea. At that great council a Western bishop has the first place, with two Roman priests, and the result of the discussion is that the Roman word "consubstantial" is imposed up on all. In the East the council is succeeded by a conspiracy of silence; the Orientals will not use the word. Even Alexandria, which had kept to the doctrine of Dionysius of Rome, is not convinced that the policy was good and Athanasius spends his life in fighting for Nicaea, yet rarely uses the crucial word. It takes half a century for the Easterns to digest it; and when they do so, they do not make the most of its meaning. It is curious how little interest even Athanasius shows in the Unity of the Trinity, which he scarcely mentions except when quoting the Dionysii; it is Didymus and the Cappadocians who word Trinitarian doctrine in the manner since consecrated by the centuries three hypostases, one usia; but this is merely the conventional translation of the ancient Latin formula, though it was new to the East.
If we look back at the three centuries, second, third, and fourth of which we have been speaking, we shall see that the Greek-speaking Church taught the Divinity of the Son, and Three inseparable Persons, and one God the Father, without being able philosophically to harmonize these conceptions. The attempts which were made were sometimes condemned as heresy in the one direction or the other, or at best arrived at unsatisfactory and erroneous explanations, such as the distinction of the logos endiathetos and the logos prophorikos or the assertion of the eternity of Creation. The Latin Church preserved always the simple tradition of three distinct Persons and one divine Essence. We must judge the Easterns to have started from a less perfect tradition, for it would be too harsh to accuse them of wilfully perverting it. But they show their love of subtle distinctions at the same time that they lay bare their want of philosophical grasp. The common people talked theology in the streets; but the professional theologians did not see that the root of religion is the unity of God, and that, so far, it is better to be a Sabellian than a Semi-Arian. There is something mythological about their conceptions, even in the case of Origen, however important a thinker he may be in comparison with other ancients. His conceptions of Christianity dominated the East for some time, but an Origenist Christianity would never have influenced the modern world.
The Latin conception of theological doctrine, on the other hand, was by no means a mere adherence to an uncomprehended tradition. The Latins in each controversy of these early centuries seized the main point, and preserved it at all hazards. Never for an instant did they allow the unity of God to be obscured. The equality of the Son and his consubstantiality were seen to be necessary to that unity. The Platonist idea of the need of a mediator between the transcendent God and Creation does not entangle them, for they were too clear-headed to suppose that there could be anything half-way between the finite and the infinite. In a word, the Latins are philosophers, and the Easterns are not. The East can speculate and wrangle about theology, but it cannot grasp a large view. It is in accordance with this that it was in the West, after all the struggle was over, that the Trinitarian doctrine was completely systematized by Augustine; in the West, that the Athanasian creed was formulated. The same story repeats itself in the fifth century. The philosophical heresy of Pelagius arose in the West, and in the West only could it have been exorcized. The schools of Antioch and Alexandria each insisted on one side of the question as to the union of the two Natures in the Incarnation; the one School fell into Nestorianism, the other into Eutychianism, though the leaders were orthodox. But neither Cyril nor the great Theodoret was able to rise above the controversy, and express the two complementary truths in one consistent doctrine. They held what St. Leo held; but, omitting their interminable arguments and proofs, the Latin writer words the true doctrine once for all, because he sees it philosophically. No wonder that the most popular of the Eastern Fathers has always been untheological Chrysostom, whereas the most popular of the Western Fathers is the philosopher Augustine. Whenever the East was severed from the West, it contributed nothing to the elucidation and development of dogma, and when united, its contribution was mostly to make difficulties for the West to unravel.
But the West has continued without ceasing its work of exposition and evolution. After the fifth century there is not much development or definition in the patristic period; the dogmas defined needed only a reference to antiquity. But again and again Rome had to impose her dogmas on Byzantium 519, 680, and 786 are famous dates, when the whole Eastern Church had to accept a papal document for the sake of reunion, and the intervals between these dates supply lesser instances. The Eastern Church had always possessed a traditional belief in Roman tradition and in the duty of recourse to the See of Peter; the Arians expressed it when they wrote to Pope Julius to deprecate interference Rome, they said, was "the metropolis of the faith from the beginning". In the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries the lesson had been learnt thoroughly, and the East proclaimed the papal prerogatives, and appealed to them with a fervour which experience had taught to be in place. In such a sketch as this, all elements cannot be taken into consideration. It is obvious that Eastern theology had a great and varied influence on Latin Christendom. But the essential truth remains that the West thought more clearly than the East, while preserving with greater faithfulness a more explicit tradition as to cardinal dogmas, and that the West imposed her doctrines and her definitions on the East, and repeatedly, if necessary, reasserted and reimposed them.
According to tradition, the multiplication of bishoprics, so that each city had its own bishop, began in the province of Asia, under the direction of St. John. The development was uneven. There may have been but one see in Egypt at the end of the second century, though there were large numbers in all the provinces of Asia Minor, and a great many in Phoenicia and Palestine. Groupings under metropolitan sees began in that century in the East, and in the third century this organization was recognized as a matter of course. Over metropolitans are the patriarchs. This method of grouping spread to the West. At first Africa had the most numerous sees; in the middle of the third century there were about a hundred, and they quickly increased to more than four times that number. But each province of Africa had not a metropolitan see; only a presidency was accorded to the senior bishop, except in Proconsularis, where Carthage was the metropolis of the province and her bishop was the first of all Africa. His rights are undefined, though his influence was great. But Rome was near, and the pope had certainly far more actual power, as well as more recognized right, than the primate; we see this in Tertullian's time, and it remains true in spite of the resistance of Cyprian. The other countries, Italy, Spain, Gaul, were gradually organized according to the Greek model, and the Greek metropolis, patriarch, were adapted. Councils were held early in the West. But disciplinary canons were first enacted in the East. St. Cyprian's large councils passed no canons, and that saint considered that each bishop is answerable to God alone for the government of his diocese; in other words, he knows no canon law. The foundation of Latin canon law is in the canons of Eastern councils, which open the Western collections. in spite of this, we need not suppose the East was more regular, or better governed, than the West, where the popes guarded order and justice. But the East had larger communities, and they had developed more fully, and therefore the need arose earlier there to commit definite rules to writing.
The florid taste of the East soon decorated the liturgy with beautiful excrescences. Many such excellent practices moved Westward; the Latin rites borrowed prayers and songs, antiphons, antiphonal singing, the use of the alleluia, of the doxology, etc. If the East adopted the Latin Christmas Day, the West imported not merely the Greek Epiphany, but feast after feast, in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries. The West joined in devotion to Eastern martyrs. The special honour and love of Our Lady is at first characteristic of the East (except Antioch), and then conquers the West. The parcelling of the bodies of the saints as relics for devotional purposes, spread all over the West from the East; only Rome held out, until the time of St. Gregory the Great, against what might be thought an irreverence rather than an honour to the saints.
If the first three centuries are full of pilgrimages to Rome from the East, yet from the fourth century onward West joins with East in making Jerusalem the principal goal of such pious journeys; and these voyagers brought back much knowledge of the East to the most distant parts of the West. Monasticism began in Egypt with Paul and Anthony, and spread from Egypt to Syria; St. Athanasius brought the knowledge of it to the West, and the Western monachism of Jerome and Augustine, of Honoratus and Martin, of Benedict and Columba, always looked to the East, to Anthony and Pachomius and Hilarion, and above all to Basil, for its most perfect models. Edifying literature in the form of the lives of the saints began with Athanasius, and was imitated by Jerome. But the Latin writers, Rufinus and Cassian, gave accounts of Eastern monachism, and Palladius and the later Greek writers were early translated into Latin. Soon indeed there were lives of Latin saints, of which that of St. Martin was the most famous, but the year 600 had almost come when St. Gregory the Great felt it still necessary to protest that as good might be found in Italy as in Egypt and Syria, and published his dialogues to prove his point, by supplying edifying stories of his own country to put beside the older histories of the monks. It would be out of place here to go more into detail in these subjects. Enough has been said to show that the West borrowed, with open-minded simplicity and humility, from the elder East all kinds of practical and useful ways in ecclesiastical affairs and in the Christian life. The converse influence in practical matters of West on East was naturally very small.
The principal ancient historians of the patristic period were mentioned above. They cannot always be completely trusted. The continuators of Eusebius, that is, Rufinus, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, are not to be compared to Eusebius himself, for that industrious prelate has fortunately bequeathed to us rather a collection of invaluable materials than a history. His "Life" or rather "Panegyric of Constantine" is less remarkable for its contents than for its politic omissions. Eusebius found his materials in the library of Pamphilus at Caesarea, and still more in that left by Bishop Alexander at Jerusalem. He cites earlier collections of documents, the letters of Dionysius of Corinth, Dionysius of Alexandria, Serapion of Antioch, some of the epistles sent to Pope Victor by councils throughout the Church, besides employing earlier writers of history or memoirs such as Papias, Hegesippus, Apollonius, an anonymous opponent of the Montanists, the "Little Labyrinth" of Hippolytus (?), etc.
The principal additions we can still make to these precious remnants are, first, St. Irenæus on the heresies; then the works of Tertullian, full of valuable information about the controversies of his own time and place and the customs of the Western Church, and containing also some less valuable information about earlier matters less valuable, because Tertullian is singularly careless and deficient in historical sense. Next, we possess the correspondence of St. Cyprian, comprising letters of African councils, of St. Cornelius and others, besides those of the saint himself. To all this fragmentary information we can add much from St. Epiphanius, something from St. Jerome and also from Photius and Byzantine chronographers. The whole Ante-Nicene evidence has been catalogued with wonderful industry by Harnack, with the help of Preuschen and others, in a book of 1021 pages, the first volume of his invaluable "History of Early Christian Literature". In the middle of the fourth century, St. Epiphanius's book on heresies is learned but confused; it is most annoying to think how useful it would have been had its pious author quoted his authorities by name, as Eusebius did. As it is, we can with difficulty, if at all, discover whether his sources are to be depended on or not. St. Jerome's lives of illustrious men are carelessly put together, mainly from Eusebius, but with additional information of great value, where we can trust its accuracy. Gennadius of Marseilles continued this work with great profit to us. The Western cataloguers of heresies, such as Philastrius, Praedestinatus, and St. Augustine, are less useful.
Collections of documents are the most important matter of all. In the Arian controversy the collections published by St. Athanasius in his apologetic works are first-rate authorities. Of those put together by St. Hilary only fragments survive. Another dossier by the Homoiousian Sabinus, Bishop of Heraclea, was known to Socrates, and we can trace its use by him. A collection of documents connected with the origins of Donatism was made towards the beginning of the fourth century, and was appended by St. Optatus to his great work. Unfortunately only a part is preserved; but much of the lost matter is quoted by Optatus and Augustine. A pupil of St. Augustine, Marius Mercator, happened to be at Constantinople during the Nestorian controversy, and he formed an interesting collection of pièces justificatives. He put together a corresponding set of papers bearing on the Pelagian controversy. Irenaeus, Bishop of Tyre, amassed documents bearing on Nestorianism, as a brief in his own defence. These have been preserved to us in the reply of an opponent, who has added a great number. Another kind of collection is that of letters. St. Isidore's and St. Augustine's are immensely numerous, but bear little upon history. There is far more historical matter in those (for instance) of Ambrose and Jerome, Basil and Chrysostom. Those of the popes are numerous, and of first-rate value; and the large collections of them also contain letters addressed to the popes. The correspondence of Leo and of Hormisdas is very complete. Besides these collections of papal letters and the decretals, we have separate collections, of which two are important, the Collectio Avellana, and that of Stephen of Larissa.
Councils supply another great historical source. Those of Nicaea, Sardica, Constantinople, have left us no Acts, only some letters and canons. Of the later œcumenical councils we have not only the detailed Acts, but also numbers of letters connected with them. Many smaller councils have also been preserved in the later collections; those made by Ferrandus of Carthage and Dionysius the Little deserve special mention. In many cases the Acts of one council are preserved by another at which they were read. For example, in 418, a Council of Carthage recited all the canons of former African plenary council in the presence of a papal legate; the Council of Chalcedon embodies all the Acts of the first session of the Robber Council of Ephesus, and the Acts of that session contained the Acts of two synods of Constantinople. The later sessions of the Robber Council (preserved only in Syriac) contain a number of documents concerning inquiries and trials of prelates. Much information of various kinds has been derived of late years from Syriac and Coptic sources, and even from the Arabic, Armenian, Persian, Ethiopia and Slavonic. It is not necessary to speak here of the patristic writings as sources for our knowledge of Church organization, ecclesiastical geography, liturgies. canon law and procedure, archaeology, etc. The sources are, however, much the same for all these branches as for history proper.
The earliest histories of patristic literature are those contained in Eusebius and in Jerome's "De viris illustribus". They were followed by Gennadius, who continued Eusebius, by St. Isidore of Seville, and by St. Ildephonsus of Toledo. In the Middle Ages the best known are Sigebert of the monastery of Gembloux (d. 1112), and Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim and of Würzburg (d. 1516). Between these come an anonymous monk of Melk (Mellicensis, c. 1135) and Honorius of Autun (1122-5). Ancient editors are not wanting; for instance, many anonymous works, like the Pseudo-Clementines and Apostolic Constitutions, have been remodelled more than once; the translators of Origen (Jerome, Rufinus, and unknown persons) cut out, altered, added; St. Jerome published an expurgated edition of Victorinus "On the Apocalypse". Pamphilus made a list of Origen's writings, and Possidius did the same for those of Augustine.
The great editions of the Fathers began when printing had become common. One of the earliest editors was Faber Stapulensis (Lefèvre d'Estaples), whose edition of Dionysius the Areopagite was published in 1498. The Belgian Pamèle (1536-87) published much. The controversialist Feuardent, a Franciscan (1539-1610) did some good editing. The sixteenth century produced gigantic works of history. The Protestant "Centuriators" of Magdeburg described thirteen centuries in as many volumes (1559-74). Cardinal Baronius (1538-1607) replied with his famous "Annales Ecclesiastici", reaching to the year 1198 (12 vols., 1588-1607). Marguerin de la Bigne, a doctor of the Sorbonne (1546-89), published his "Bibliotheca veterum Patrum" (9 vols., 1577-9) to assist in refuting the Centuriators.
The great Jesuit editors were almost in the seventeenth century; Gretserus (1562-1625), Fronto Ducaeus (Fronton du Duc, 1558-1624), Andreas Schott (1552-1629), were diligent editors of the Greek Fathers. The celebrated Sirmond (1559-1651) continued to publish Greek Fathers and councils and much else, from the age of 51 to 92. Denis Pétau (Petavius, 1583-1652) edited Greek Fathers, wrote on chronology, and produced an incomparable book of historical theology, "De theologicis dogmatibus" (1044). To these may be added the ascetic Halloix (1572-1656), the uncritical Chifflet (1592-1682), and Jean Garnier, the historian of the Pelagians (d. 1681). The greatest work of the Society of Jesus is the publication of the "Acta Sanctorum", which has now reached the beginning of November, in 64 volumes. It was planned by Rosweyde (1570-1629) as a large collection of lives of saints; but the founder of the work as we have it is the famous John van Bolland (1596-1665). He was joined in 1643 by Henschenius and Papebrochius (1628-1714), and thus the Society of Bollandists began, and continued, in spite of the suppression of the Jesuits, until the French Revolution, 1794. It was happily revived in 1836 (see BOLLANDISTS). Other Catholic editors were Gerhard Voss (d. 1609), Albaspinaeus (De l'Aubespine, Bishop of Orléans, 1579-1630), Rigault (1577-1654), and the Sorbonne doctor Cotelier (1629-86). The Dominican Combéfis (1605-79) edited Greek Fathers, added two volumes to de la Bigne's collection, and made collections of patristic sermons. The layman Valesius (de Valois, 1603-70) was of great eminence.
Among Protestants may be mentioned the controversialist Clericus (Le Clerc, 1657-1736); Bishop Fell of Oxford (1625-86), the editor of Cyprian, with whom must be classed Bishop Pearson and Dodwell; Grabe (1666-1711), a Prussian who settled in England; the Calvinist Basnage (1653-1723). The famous Gallican Etienne Baluze (1630-1718), was an editor of great industry. The Provençal Franciscan, Pagi, published an invaluable commentary on Baronius in 1689-1705. But the greatest historical achievement was that of a secular priest, Louis Le Nain de Tillemont, whose "Histoire des Empereurs" (6 vols., 1690) and "Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles" (16 vols., 1693) have never been superseded or equalled. Other historians are Cardinal H. Noris (1631-1704); Natalis Alexander (1639-1725), a Dominican; Fleury (in French, 1690-1719). To these must be added the Protestant Archbishop Ussher of Dublin (1580-1656), and many canonists, such as Van Espen, Du Pin, La Marca, and Christianus Lupus. The Oratorian Thomassin wrote on Christian antiquities (1619-95); the English Bingham composed a great work on the same subject (1708-22). Holstein (1596-1661), a convert from Protestantism, was librarian at the Vatican, and published collections of documents. The Oratorian J. Morin (1597-1659) published a famous work on the history of Holy orders, and a confused one on that of penance. The chief patristic theologian among English Protestants is Bishop Bull, who wrote a reply to Petavius's views on the development of dogma, entitled "Defensio fidei Nicaenae" (1685). The Greek Leo Allatius (1586-1669), custos of the Vatican Library, was almost a second Bessarion. He wrote on dogma and on the ecclesiastical books of the Greeks. A century later the Maronite J.S. Assemani (1687-1768) published amongst other works a "Bibliotheca Orientalis" and an edition of Ephrem Syrus. His nephew edited an immense collection of liturgies. The chief liturgiologist of the seventeenth century is the Blessed Cardinal Tommasi, a Theatine (1649-1713, beatified 1803), the type of a saintly savant.
The great Benedictines form a group by themselves, for (apart from Dom Calmet, a Biblical scholar, and Dom Ceillier, who belonged to the Congregation of St-Vannes) all were of the Congregation of St-Maur, the learned men of which were drafted into the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Prés at Paris. Dom Luc d'Achéry (1605-85) is the founder ("Spicilegium", 13 vols.); Dom Mabillon (1632-1707) is the greatest name, but he was mainly occupied with the early Middle Ages. Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741) has almost equal fame (Athanasius, Hexapla of Origen, Chrysostom, Antiquities, Palaeography). Dom Coustant (1654-1721) was the principal collaborator, it seems, in the great edition of St. Augustine (1679-1700; also letters of the Popes, Hilary). Dom Garet (Cassiodorus, 1679), Du Friche (St. Ambrose, 1686-90), Martianay (St. Jerome, 1693-1706, less successful), Delarue (Origen, 1733-59), Maran (with Toutée, Cyril of Jerusalem, 1720; alone, the Apologists, 1742; Gregory Nazianzen, unfinished), Massuet (Irenaeus, 1710), Ste-Marthe (Gregory the Great, 1705), Julien Garnier (St. Basil, 1721-2), Ruinart (Acta Martyrum sincera, 1689, Victor Vitensis, 1694, and Gregory of Tours and Fredegar, 1699), are all well-known names. The works of Martène (1654-1739) on ecclesiastical and monastic rites (1690 and 1700-2) and his collections of anecdota (1700, 1717, and 1724-33) are most voluminous; he was assisted by Durand. The great historical works of the Benedictines of St-Maur need not be mentioned here, but Dom Sabatier's edition of the Old Latin Bible, and the new editions of Du Cange's glossaries must be noted. For the great editors of collections of councils see under the names mentioned in the bibliography of the article on COUNCILS.
In the eighteenth century may be noted Archbishop Potter (1674-1747, Clement of Alexandria). At Rome Arévalo (Isidore of Seville, 1797-1803); Gallandi, a Venetian Oratorian (Bibliotheca veterum Patrum, 1765-81). The Veronese scholars form a remarkable group. The historian Maffei (for our purpose his "anecdota of Cassiodorus" are to be noted, 1702), Vallarsi (St. Jerome, 1734-42, a great work, and Rufinus, 1745), the brothers Ballerini (St. Zeno, 1739; St. Leo, 1753-7, a most remarkable production), not to speak of Bianchini, who published codices of the Old Latin Gospels, and the Dominican Mansi, Archbishop of Lucca, who re-edited Baronius, Fabricius, Thomassinus, Baluze, etc., as well as the "Collectio Amplissima" of councils. A general conspectus shows us the Jesuits taking the lead c. 1590-1650, and the Benedictines working about 1680-1750. The French are always in the first place. There are some sparse names of eminence in Protestant England; a few in Germany; Italy takes the lead in the second half of the eighteenth century. The great literary histories of Bellarmine, Fabricius, Du Pin, Cave, Oudin, Schram, Lumper, Ziegelbauer, and Schoenemann will be found below in the bibliography. The first half of the nineteenth century was singularly barren of patristic study; nevertheless there were marks of the commencement of the new era in which Germany takes the head. The second half of the nineteenth was exceptionally and increasingly prolific. It is impossible to enumerate the chief editors and critics. New matter was poured forth by Cardinal Mai (1782-1854) and Cardinal Pitra (1812-89), both prefects of the Vatican Library. Inedita in such quantities seem to be found no more, but isolated discoveries have come frequently and still come; Eastern libraries, such as those of Mount Athos and Patmos, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, and Mount Sinai, have yielded unknown treasures, while the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, etc., have supplied many losses supposed to be irrecoverable. The sands of Egypt have given something, but not much, to patrology.
The greatest boon in the way of editing has been the two great patrologies of the Abbé Migne (1800-75). This energetic man put the works of all the Greek and Latin Fathers within easy reach by the "Patrologia Latina" (222 vols., including 4 vols. of indexes) and the "Patrologia Graeca" (161 vols). The Ateliers Catholiques which he founded produced wood-carving, pictures, organs, etc., but printing was the special work. The workshops were destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1868, and the recommencement of the work was made impossible by the Franco-German war. The "Monumenta Germaniae", begun by the Berlin librarian Pertz, was continued with vigour under the most celebrated scholar of the century, Theodor Mommsen. Small collections of patristic works are catalogued below. A new edition of the Latin Fathers was undertaken in the sixties by the Academy of Vienna. The volumes published up till now have been uniformly creditable works which call up no particular enthusiasm. At the present rate of progress some centuries will be needed for the great work. The Berlin Academy has commenced a more modest task, the re-editing of the Greek Ante-Nicene writers, and the energy of Adolf Harnack is ensuring rapid publication and real success. The same indefatigable student, with von Gebhardt, edits a series of "Texte und Untersuchungen", which have for a part of their object to be the organ of the Berlin editors of the Fathers. The series contains many valuable studies, with much that would hardly have been published in other countries.
The Cambridge series of "Texts and Studies" is younger and proceeds more slowly, but keeps at a rather higher level. There should be mentioned also the Italian "Studii e Testi", in which Mercati and Pio Franchi de' Cavalieri collaborate. In England, in spite of the slight revival of interest in patristic studies caused by the Oxford Movement, the amount of work has not been great. For learning perhaps Newman is really first in the theological questions. As critics the Cambridge School, Westcott, Hort, and above all Lightfoot, are second to none. But the amount edited has been very small, and the excellent "Dictionary of Christian Biography" is the only great work published. Until 1898 there was absolutely no organ for patristic studies, and the "Journal of Theological Studies" founded in that year would have found it difficult to survive financially without the help of the Oxford University Press. But there has been an increase of interest in these subjects of late years, both among Protestants and Catholics, in England and in the United States. Catholic France has lately been coming once more to the fore, and is very nearly level with Germany even in output. In the last fifty years, archaeology has added much to patristic studies; in this sphere the greatest name is that of De Rossi.
The helps to study, such as Patrologies, lexical information, literary histories, are mentioned below.
COLLECTIONS:-- The chief collections of the Fathers are the following: DE LA BIGNE, Bibliotheca SS. PP. (5 vols. fol., Paris, 1575, and App., 1579; 4th ed., 10 vols., 1624, with Auctarium, 2 vols., 1624, and Suppl., 1639, 5th and 6th edd., 17 vols. fol., 1644 and 1654); this great work is a supplement of over 200 writings to the editions till then published of the Fathers; enlarged ed. hy UNIV. OF COLOGNE (Cologne, 1618, 14 vols., and App., 1622); the Cologne ed. enlarged by 100 writings, in 27 folio vols. (Lyons, 1677). COMBEFIS, Graeco-Latinae Patrum Bibliothecae novum Auctarium (2 vols., Paris, 1648), and Auctarium novissimum (2 vols., Paris, 1672); D'Achéry, Veterum aliquot scriptorum Spicilegium (13 vols. 4to, Paris, 1655-77, and 3 vols. fol., 1723), mostly of writings later than patristic period, as is also the case with BALUZE, Miscellanea (7 vols. 8vo, Paris, 1678-1715); re-ed. by MANSI (4 vols. fol., Lucca, 1761-4); SIRMOND, Opera varia nunc primum collecta (5 vols. fol., Paris, 1696, and Venice, 1728); MURATORI, Anecdota from the Ambrosian Libr. at Milan (4 vols. 4to, Milan, 1697-8; Padua, 1713); IDEM, Anecdota graeca (Padua, 1709); GRABE, Spicilegium of Fathers of the first and second centuries (Oxford, 1698-9, 1700, and enlarged, 1714); GALLANDI, Bibl. vet. PP., an enlarged edition of the Lyons ed. of de la Bigne (14 vols. fol., Venice, 1765-88, and index puhl. at Bologna, 1863) nearly all the contents are reprinted in MIGNE; OBERTHÜR, SS. Patrum opera polemica de veriate religionis christ. c. Gent. et Jud. (21 vols. 8vo, Würzburg, 1777-94); IDEM, Opera omnia SS. Patrum Latinorum (13 vols., Würzburg, 1789-91); ROUTH, Reliquiae sacrae, second and third centuries (4 vols., Oxford, 1814-18; in 5 vols., 1846-8); IDEM, Scriptorum eccl. opuscula praeipua (2 vols., Oxford, 1832, 3rd vol., 1858); MAT, Scriptorum veterum nova collectio (unpubl. matter from Vatican MSS., 10 vols. 4to, 1825-38); IDEM, Spicileqium Romanum (10 vols. Svo, Rome, 1839-44); IDEM, Nova Patrum Bibtiotheca (7 vols. 4to, Rome, 1844-54; vol. 8 completed by COZZA-LUZI, 1871, vol. 9 by COZZA-LUZI, 1888, App. ad opera ed. ab A. Maio, Rome, 1871, App. altera, 1871). A few eccl. writings in MAI's Classici auctores (10 vols., Rome, 1828-38); CAILLAU, Collectio selecta SS. Ecclesia Patrum (133 vols. em. 8vo, Paris, 1829-42); GERSDORF, Bibl. Patrum eccl. lat. selecta (13 vols., Leipzig, 1838-47); the Oxford Bibliotheca Patrum reached 10 vols. (Oxford, 1838-55); PITRA, Spicilegium Solesmense (4 vols. 4to, Paris, 1852-8). The number of these various collections, in addition to the works of the great Fathers, made it difficult to obtain a complete set of patristic writings. MIGNE supplied the want by collecting almost all the foregoing (except the end of the last mentioned work, and Mais later volumes) into his complete editions: Patrologiae cursus completus, Series latine (to Innocent III, A.D. 1300, 221 vols. 4to, including four vols. of indexes, 1844-55), Series graeco-latine (to the Council of Florence, A.D. 1438-9, 161 vols. 4to, 1857-66, and another rare vol. of additions, 1866); the Series graece was also published, in Latin only, in 81 vols.; there is no index in the Series grace; an alphabetical list of contents by SCHOLAREOS (Athens, 1879, useful); other publications, not included in Migne, by PITRA, are Juris ecclesiastici Graecarum hist. et monum. (2 vols., Rome, 1864-8); Analecta sacra (6 vols., numbered I, II, III, IV, VI, VIII, Paris, 1876-84); Analecta sacra et classica (Paris, 1888); Analecta novissima, medieval (2 vols., 1885-8); the new edition of Latin Fathers is called Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum, editum consilio et impensis Academiae litterarum Caesarea Vindobonensis (Vienna, 1866, 8vo, in progress); and of the Greek Fathers: Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderten, herausgegeben von der Kirchenvätter-Kommission den Königl. preussiechen Akad. den Wise. (Berlin, 1897, large 8vo, in progress). Of the Monumenta Germaniae historica, one portion, the Auctores antiquissimi (Berlin, 1877-98), contains works of the sixth century which connect themselves with patrology. Small modern collections are HURTER, SS. Patrum opuscula selecta, with a few good notes (Innebruck, 1st series, 48 vols., 1868-85, 2nd series, 6 vols. 1884-92) these little books have been deservedly popular; KRÜGER, Semmlung ausgewählter kirchen- und dogmengeschichtlicher Quellenechriften (Freiburg, 1891-); RAUSCHEN, Florilegium patristicum, of first and second centuries (3 fasc., Bonn, 1904-5); Cambridge patristic texts (I, The Five Theol. Orat. of Greg. Naz., ed. MASON, 1899; II, The Catech. Or. of Greg. Nyssen., ed. SRAWLEY, 1903; Dionysius Alex., ed. FELTRE, 1904, in progress); VIZZINI, Bibl. SS. PP. Theologiae tironibus et universo clero accomodata (Rome, 1901- in progress); LIETZMANN, Kleine Texte, für theol. Vorlesungen und Uebungen (twenty-five numbers have appeared of about 16 pp. each, Bonn, 1902- in progress); an English ed. of the same (Cambridge, 1903-); Textes et documents pour l'étude historique du chrietienisme, ed. HEMMER AND LEJAY (texts, French tr., and notes, Paris, in progress an admirable series).
INITIA:-- For Greek and Latin writers up to Eusebius, the index to HARNACK, Gesch. der altchr. Litt., I; for the Latin writers of first six centuries, AUMERS, Initia libronum PP. lat. (Vienna, 1865); and up to 1200, VATASSO, Initia PP. aliorumque scriptorum sect, lat. (2 vols., Vatican press, 1906-8).
LITERARY HISTORIES:-- The first is "cenotes">PATROLOGIES (smaller works):-- GERHARD, Patrologia (Jena, 1653); HÜLSEMANN, Patrologia (Leipzig, 1670); OLEARIUS, Abacus Patrologicus (Jena, 1673); these are old-fashioned Protestant books. German Catholic works are: GOLDWITZER, Bibliographie der Kirchenväter und Kirchenlehrer (Landshut, 1828); IDEM, Patrologie verbunden mi Patristik (Nuremberg, 1833-4); the older distinction in Germany between patrology, the knowledge of the Fathers and their use, and patristic, the science of the theology of the Fathers, is now somewhat antiquated; BUSSE, Grundriss der chr. Lit. (Münster, 1828-9); MÖHLER, Patrologie, an important posthumous work of this great man, giving the first three centuries (Ratisbon, 1840); PERMANEDER, Bibliotheca patristica (2 vols., Landshut, 1841-4); FESSLER, Institutiones Patrologiae (Innsbruck, 1851), a new ed. by JUNGMANN is most valuable (Innsbruck, 1890-6); ALZOG, Grundriss der Patrologie (Freiburg im Br., 1866 and 1888); same in French by BELET (Paris, 1867); NIRSCHL, Handbuch der Patrologie und Patristik (Mainz, 1881-5); RESBÁNYAY, Compendium Patrologiae et Patristicae (Funfkirchen in Hungary, 1894); CARVAJAL, Institutiones Patrologiae (Oviedo, 1906); BARDENHEWER, Patrologie (Freiburg im Br., 1894; new ed. 1901) this is at present by far the best handbook; the author is a professor in the Cath. theo. faculty of the Univ. of Munich; a French tr. by GODET AND VERSCHAFFEL, Les Pères de l'Église (3 vols., Paris, 1899); an Italian tr. by A. MERCATI (Rome, 1903); and an English tr. with the bibliography brought up to date, by SHAHAN (Freiburg im Br. and St. Louis, 1908); smaller works, insufficient for advanced students, but excellent for ordinary purposes, are: SCHMID, Grundlinien der Patrologie (1879; 4th ed., Freiburg im Br., 1895); an Engl. tr. revised by SCHOBEL (Freiburg, 1900); SWETE of Cambridge, Patristic Study (London, 1902).
De Scriptoribus ecclesiasticis (Rome, 1613, often reprinted; with additions by LABBE, Paris, 1660, and by OUDEN, Paris, 1686); DE PIN, Bibliothèque universelle des auteurs eccles. (61 vols. 8vo, or 19 vols. 4to, Paris, 1686, etc.); this was severely criticized by the Benedictine PETITDIDIER and by the Oratorian SIMON (Critique de la Bibl. des auteurs eccl. publ. pen ill. E. Dupin, Paris, 1730), and Du Pin's work was put on the Index in 1757; FABACCEUS, Bibliotheca Graece, sive edititia Scriptorum veterum Graecorum (Hamburg, 1705-28, 14 vols.; new ed. by HARLES, Hamburg, 1790-1809, 12 vols., embraces not quite 11 vole, of the original ed.; index to this ed., Leipzig, 1838) this great work is really a vast collection of materials; Fabricius was a Protestant (d. 1736); he made a smaller collection of the Latin lit. hist., Bibl. Latina, sive non. scr. vett, latt. (1697, 1708, 1712, etc., ed. by ERNESTI, 3 vols., Leipzig, 1773-4), and a continuation for the Middle Ages (1734-6, 5 vols.); the whole was re-edited by MANSI (6 vols., Padua, 1754, and Florence, 1858-9); LE NOURRY, Apparatus ad Biblioth. Max. vett. Patr. (2 vols. fol., Paris, 1703-15), deals with Greek Fathers of the second century and with Latin apologists; CEILLIER, Hist. générale des auteurs sacrés et ecclés. (from Moses to 1248, 23 vols., Paris, 1729-63; Table gén. des Met., by RONDET, Paris, 1782; new ed. 16 vols., Paris, 1858-69); SCHRAM, Analysis Operum SS. PP. et Scriptorum eccles. (Vienna, 1780-96, 18 vols., a valuable work); LUMPER, Hist. Theologico-critica de vitâ scriptis atque doctrina SS. PP. at scr. eccl. trium primorum saec. (Vienna, 1783-99, 13 vols.; a compilation, but good); the Anglican CAVE published a fine work, Scriptorum eccl. historia literaria (London, 1688; best ed., Oxford, 1740-3); OUDIN, a Premonstratensian, who became a Protestant, Commentarius de Scriptoribus eccl. (founded on Bellarmine, 3 vols. fol., Leipzig, 1722). On the editions of the Latin Fathers, SCHOENEMANN, Bibliotheca historico-litteraria Patrum Latinorum a Tert, ad Greg. M. at Isid. Hisp. (2 vols., Leipzig, 1792-4).
HISTORIES OF THE FATHERS:-- It is unnecessary to catalogue here all the general histories of the Church, large and small, from Baronius onwards; it will be sufficient to give some of those which deal specially with the Fathers and with ecclesiastical literature. The first and chief is the incomparable work of TILLEMONT, Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire eccl. des six premiers siècles (Paris, 1693-1712, 16 vols., and other editions); MARÉCHAL, Concordance des SS. Pères de l'Église, Grecs at Latins, a harmony of their theology (2 vols., Paris, 1739); BÄHR, Die christlich-römische Litteratur (4th vol. of Gesch. der römischen Litt., Karlsruhe, 1837; a new ed. of the first portion, 1872); SCHANZ, Gesch. der röm. Litt., Part III (Munich, 1896), 117-324; EBERT, Gech. der christlich-lateinischen Litt. (Leipzig, 1874; 2nd ed., 1889); Anciennes littératunes chrétiennes (in Bibliothèque de l'enseignement de l'hist. eccl., Paris): I; BATIFFOL, La littérature grecque, a useful sketch (4th ed., 1908), II; DUVAL, La littérature syriaque (3rd ed., 1908); LECLERCQ, L'Afrique chrétienne (in same Bibl. de l'ens. da l'h. eccl., 2nd ed., Paris, 1904); IDEM, L'Espagne chrétienne (2nd ed., 1906); BATIFFOL, L'église naissante et le Catholicisme, a fine apologetic account of the development of the Church, from the witness of the Fathers of the first three centuries (Paris, 1909); of general histories the best is Ducesesrese, Hist. ancienne eta l'Eglisa (2 vols. have appeared, Paris, 1906-7); finally, the first place is being taken among histories of the Fathers by a work to be completed in six volumes, BARDENHEWER, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Litteratur (I, to A.D. 200, Freiburg im Br., 1902; II, to A.D. 300, 1903). The following are Protestant: NEWMAN, The Church of the Fathers (London, 1840, etc.); DONALDSON, A critical history of Christian lit. . . . to the Nicene Council: I; The Apostolic Fathers, II and III; The Apologists (London, 1864-6 unsympathetic); BRICHY, The Age of the Fathers (2 vols., London, 1903); ZÖCKLER, Gesch. der theologischen Litt. (Patristik) (Nördlingen, 1889); CRUTTWELL, A Literary History of Early Christianity . . . Nicene Period (2 vols., London, 1893); KRÜGER, Gesch. der altchristlichen Litt, in den ersten 3 Jahrh. (Freiburg im Br. and Leipzig, 1895-7); tr. GILLET (New York, 1897) this is the beet modern German Prot. history. The following consists of materials: A. HARNACK, Gechichte der altchr. Litt, bis Eusebius, I, Die Ueberlieferung (Leipzig, 1893; this vol. enumerates all the known works of each writer, and all ancient references to them, and notices the MSS.); II, 1 (1897), and II, 2 (1904), Die Chronologie, discussing the date of each writing; the latter Greek period is dealt with by KRUMBACHER, Geschichte der byzantinischen Litt. 527-1453 (2nd ed. with assistance from EHRHARD, Munich, 1897). The following collected series of studies must be added: Textd und Untersuschungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Litt., ed. VON GEBHARDT AND A. HARNACK (1st series, 15 vols., Leipzig, 1883-97, 2nd series, Neue Folge, 14 vols., 1897-1907, in progress) the editors are now HARNACK AND SCHMIDT; ROBINSON, Texts and Studies (Cambridge, 1891 in progress); EHRHARD AND MÜLLER, Strassburger theologische Studien (12 vols., Freiburg im Br., 1894 in progress); EHRHARD AND KIRSCH, Forschungen zur christl. Litt. und Dogmengeschichte (7 vols., Paderborn, in progress); La Pensée chrétienne (Paris, in progress); Studii e Testi (Vatican press, in progress). Of histories of development of dogma, HARNACK, Dogmengeschichte (3 vols., 3rd ed., 1894-7, a new ed. is in the press; French tr., Paris, 1898; Engl. tr., 7 vols., Edinburgh, 1894-9), a very clever and rather "viewy" work; LOOFS, Leitfaden zum Studium der D. G. (Halle, 1889; 3rd ed., 1893); SEEBERG, Lehrb. der D. G. (2 vols., Erlangen, 1895), conservative Protestant; IDEM, Grundriss der D. G. (1900; 2nd ed., 1905), a smaller work: SCHWANE, Dogmengeschichte, Catholic (2nd ed., 1892, etc.; French tr., Paris, 1903-4); BETHUNE-BAKER, Introduction to early History of Doctrine (London, 1903); TIXERONT, Histoire des Dogmas: I, La théologie anti-nicéenne (Paris, 1905 excellent); and others.
PHILOLOGICAL:-- On the common Greek of the early period see MOULTON, Grammar of N. T. Greek: I, Prolegomena (3rd ed., Edinburgh, 1909), and references; on the literary Greek, A.D. 1-250, SCHMIDT, Den Atticismus von Dion. Hal. bis auf den zweiten Philostratus (4 vols., Stuttgart, 1887-9); THUMB, Die griechieche Sprache im Zeitalter des Hellenismus (Strasburg, 1901). Besides the Thesaurus of STEPHANUS (latest ed., 8 vols., fol., Paris, 1831-65) and lexicons of classical and Biblical Greek, special dictionaries of later Greek are DU CANGE, Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae graecitatis (2 vols., Lyons, 1688, and new ed., Breslan, 1890-1); SOPHOCLES, Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods, 146-1100 (3rd ed., New York, 1888); words wanting in Stephanus and in Sophocles are collected by KUMANUDES (S. A. Koumanoudes), Sunagôgê lexeôn athêsauristôn en tois heggênikois lexikois (Athens, 1883); general remarks on Byzantine Greek in KNUMBACHER, op. cit. On patristic Latin, KOFFMANE, Gesch. des Kinchenlateins: I, Entstehung . . . bis auf Augustinus-Hieronymus (Breslau, 1879-81); NORDEN, Die antika Kunstprosa (Leipzig, 1898), II; there is an immense number of studies of the language of particular Fathers [e.g. HOPPE on Tertullian (1897); WATSON (1896) and BAYARD (1902) on Cyprian; GOELTZER on Jerome (1884); REGNER on Augustine (1886), etc.], and indices latinitatis to the volumes of the Vienna Corpus PP. latt.; TRAUBE, Quellen and Untensuchungen zur lat. Phil. des Mittelalters, I (Munich, 1906); much will be found in Archiv für lat. Lexicographie, ed. WÖLFFLIN (Munich, began 1884).
TRANSLATIONS:-- Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, translated by members of the English Ch. (by PUSEY, NEWMAN, etc.), (45 vols., Oxford, 1832-). ROBERTS AND DONALDSON, The Ante-Nicene Christian Library (24 vols., Edinburgh, 1866-72; new ed. by COXE, Buffalo, 1884-6, with RICHARDSON's excellent Bibliographical Synopsis as a Suppl., 1887); SCHAFF AND WAGE, A Select Library of Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers of the Chr. Ch., with good notes (14 vols., Buffalo and New York, 1886-90, and 2nd series, 1900, in progress).
ENCYCLOPEDIAS AND DICTIONARIES:-- SUICER, Thesaurus ecclesiasticus, a patribus graecis ordine alphabetico exhibens quaecumqua phrases, ritus, dogmata, haereses et hujusmodi alia spectant (2 vols., Amsterdam, 1682; again 1728; and Utrecht, 1746); HOFFMANNS, Bibliographisches Lexicon der gesammten Litt. der Griechen (3 vols., 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1838-45); the articles on early Fathers and heresies in the Encyclopadia Britannica (8th ed.) are, many of them, by Harnack and still worth reading; WETZER AND WELTE, Kirchenlex., ed. HERGENRÖTHER, and then by KAULEN and others, 12 vols., one vol. of index (Freiburg im Br., 1882-1903); HERZOG, Realencylopädie für prot. Theol. und Kirche, 3rd ed. by HAUCK (21 vols., 1896-1908); VACANT AND MANGENOT, Dict. de Théol. cath. (Paris, in progress); CABROL, Dict. d'archéologie chr. et de liturgie (Paris, in progress); BAUDRILLART, Dict. d'hist. at de géogr. ecclésiastiques (Paris, in progress); SMITH AND WACE, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, is very full and valuable (4 vols., London, 1877-87).
GENERAL BOOKS OF REFERENCE:-- ITTIG, De Bibliothecis et Catenis Patrum, gives the contents of the older collections of Fathers which were enumerated above (Leipzig, 1707); IDEM, Schediasma de auctoribus qui de scriptoribus ecclesiasticis egerunt (Leipzig, 1711); DOWLING, Notitia scriptorum SS. PP. . . . quae in collectionibus Anecdotorum post annum MDCC in lucem editis continentur (a continuation of ITTIG's De Bibl. et Cat., Oxford, 1839); an admirable modern work is EHRHARD, Die alt christliche Litt, und ihre Erforschung seit 1880: I, Allgemeine Uebersicht, 1880-4 (Freiburg im Br., 1894); II, Ante-Nicene lit., 1884-1900 (1900); the bibliographies in the works of HARNACK and of BARDENHEWER (see above) are excellent; for Ante-Nicene period, RICHARDSON, Bibliographical Synopsis (in extra vol. of Ante-Nicene. Fathers, Buffalo, 1887); for the whole period. CHEVALIER, Répertoire des sources historiques du moyen-âge: Bio-bibliographie, gives names of persons (2nd ed., Paris, 1905-07); Topo-bibliographie gives names of places and subjects (2nd ed., Paris, 1894-1903); progress each year is recorded in HOLTZMANN AND KRÜGER's Theologischer Jahresbericht from 1881; KROLL AND GURLITT, Jahresbericht für kleseische Alterthumewissenschaft (both Protestant); BIHLMEYER, Hagiagraphischer Jahresbericht for 1904-6 (Kempten and Munich, 1908). A very complete bibliography appears quarterly in the Revue d'hist. eccl. (Louvain, since 1900), with index at end of year; in this publication the names of all Reviews dealing with patristic matters will be found.
APA citation. (1909). Fathers of the Church. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06001a.htm
MLA citation. "Fathers of the Church." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06001a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Kevin Cawley.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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