1. Branch of theol. knowledge that deals with the lives and writings of the ch. fathers. The term patrology is often applied to the hist. side; patristics is then the formal side. The patristic era is often divided into ante-Nicene on the one hand and Nicene and post-Nicene on the other, with subdivisions of each.
2. Much patristic literature, esp. of the first 3 cents., is fragmentary. Eusebius* of Caesarea's Historia ecclesiastica contains important quotations and biographical facts. Photius's* Bibliotheca summarizes 280 works of classical writers. Patristic quotations are found also in heretical writings.
3. Earliest writers and writings are called Apostolic* Fathers (subapostolic teachers, some of whom had personal contact with the apostles).
4. The 2d and 3d cents. form the era of Apologists.*
5. Patristic writings in the 3d c. show a trend toward giving systematized expression to convictions. Controversies resulted, extending into the 4th c. See also Arianism; Gnosticism.
6. Golden age of patristic literature: 4th5th cents. Change in the status of the ch. under Constantine* I gave Christian writers greater liberty. Questions concerning the Trin. and Christological* controversies led to many works. See also Donatist Schism, The; Manichaeism; Pelagian Controversy. Writers included Ambrose,* Aphraates,* Athanasius,* Augustine* of Hippo, the Cappadocian* Theologians, J. Cassianus,* J. Chrysostom,* Diodorus* of Tarsus, Ephraem,* Eusebius* of Caesarea, Eustathius* of Antioch, Hilary* of Poitiers, Jerome,* and Ulfilas.*
7. Patristic literature declined beginning in the 5th c. Interest in polemics waned. Barbarian invasions in the W spread ruin. Centralization of power in the ch. stifled indep. investigation. There followed the age of the catena* and florilegium.*
8. Sometimes the patristic era is regarded as extending to the 14th c. Sometimes all respected theologians of the past are spoken of as fathers.
9. The Luth. Ch. respects the writings of the fathers but realizes that none of them was infallible and that all are to be judged by the Bible. EL
See also Fathers of the Church; Theology.
F. W. Farrar, Lives of the Fathers (Edinburgh, 1889); The Fathers of the Church (New York, 1947 ); Patrologiae cursus completus, ed. J. P. Migne: Lat., 221 vols. in 223 (Paris, 184455), Gk., 161 vols. in 167 (Paris, 185766); Patrologia orientalis, ed. R. Griffin and F. Nau (Paris, 1903 ); Corpus Christianorum, series Latina (Turnhout, Belg., 1953 ); The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (Edinburgh, 188597; reprinted with supplements, New York 189099); A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 1st series, 14 vols., ed. P. Schaff (New York, 188689), 2d series, 14 vols., ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace (New York, 18901925); G. Krüger, History of Early Christian Literature in the First Three Centuries, tr. C. R. Gillett (New York, 1897); E. J. Goodspeed, A History of Early Christian Literature (Chicago, 1942); J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 2d ed. (New York, 1960); F. L. Cross, The Early Christian Fathers (London, 1960); J. Quasten, Patrology, 3 vols. (Westminster, Maryland, 195060).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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