The Church Fathers are influential theologians and writers in the Church, particularly those of the first five centuries of Christian history. The term specifically refers to writers and teachers of the Church, not saints in general; usually it is not meant to include the New Testament authors.
Those fathers who wrote in Latin are generally called the Latin Fathers, and those who wrote in Greek the Greek Fathers. The very earliest Church Fathers, of the first two generations after the Apostles of Christ, are usually called the Apostolic Fathers.
Famous Latin Fathers include Tertullian, St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Ambrose of Milan, and St. Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate; famous Greek Fathers include St. Irenaeus of Lyons (whose work has survived only in Latin translation), Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, St. John Chrysostom, and the three Cappadocian Fathers, Ss. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa. There are many more, however.
The Desert Fathers were early monastics living in the Egyptian desert; although they did not write as much, their influence was also great. Among them are Ss. Anthony the Great and Pachomius the Great. A great number of their short sayings is collected in the Saying of the Desert Fathers.
A small number of Fathers wrote in other languages: Ephrem the Syrian, for example, wrote in Syriac, but his works were widely translated into Latin and Greek.
Unlike the Roman Catholic Church who regards the 8th century St. John of Damascus to be the last of the Church Fathers, the Orthodox Church does not consider the age of Church Fathers to be over at all and it includes later influential writers in the term.
It should be noted that not all of the Fathers are considered to be saints, and certainly none of them are regarded as infallible, most especially those who fell into heresy, such as Tertullian and Origen. The Orthodox Church looks rather to the consensus patrum—that is, the consensus of the Fathers—for its understanding of the patristic Orthodox faith.
Since all things are seen and heard by God, let us fear him and forsake those wicked works which proceed from evil desires.
Clement I is listed by Irenaeus and Tertullian as Bishop of Rome, holding office from 88 to his death in 99. He is considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the Church.
Few details are known about Clement’s life. According to Tertullian, Clement was consecrated by St. Peter, and he is known to have been a leading member of the church in Rome in the late 1st century. Early church lists place him as the second or third bishop of Rome after Saint Peter. The Liber Pontificalis presents a list that makes Pope Linus the second in the line of bishops of Rome, with Peter as first; but at the same time it states that Peter ordained two bishops, Linus and Cletus, for the priestly service of the community, devoting himself instead to prayer and preaching, and that it was to Clement that he entrusted the Church as a whole, appointing him as his successor. Tertullian considered Clement to be the immediate successor of Peter. In one of his works, Jerome listed Clement as “the fourth bishop of Rome after Peter”, and added that “most of the Latins think that Clement was second after the apostle”. Clement is put after Linus and Cletus/Anacletus in the earliest (c. 180) account, that of Irenaeus, who is followed by Eusebius of Caesarea.
Go forth and set the world on fire.
Ignatius of Antioch converted to Christianity at a young age. Later in his life he was chosen to serve as a Bishop of Antioch, succeeding Saint Peter and St. Evodius (who died around AD 67). The 4th-century Church historianEusebius records that Ignatius succeeded Evodius. Making his apostolic succession even more immediate, Theodoret of Cyrrhus reported that St. Peter himself appointed Ignatius to the episcopal see of Antioch. Orthodox tradition holds that Ignatius was the child whom Jesus took in his arms and blessed (Mar 9:36).
Ignatius is one of the five Apostolic Fathers (the earliest authoritative group of the Church Fathers). He based his authority on being a bishop of the Church, living his life in the imitation of Christ. Ignatius, along with his friend Polycarp were disciples of John the Apostle.
The person that has love is far from all sin.
Polycarp of Smyrna was a 2nd-century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to burn him.
It is recorded by St. Irenaeus, who in his youth heard Polycarp speak, and by Tertullian, that he had been a disciple of St. John the Apostle. St. Jerome wrote that Polycarp was a disciple of John and that John had ordained him bishop of Smyrna.
With his emphasis on love and the failure to be burned, Polycarp is traditionally compared to John the Apostle, who also emphasized love and failed to be burned. However, John was not ultimately martyred, but died of old age after being exiled to the island of Patmos.
With St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief Apostolic Fathers. The sole surviving work attributed to his authorship is his Letter to the Philippians; it is first recorded by St. Irenaeus of Lyons.
To yield and to give way to our passions is the lowest form of slavery. To rule over them is the only liberty.
Justin the Philosopher (also known as Justin Martyr) was an early Christian apologist and philosopher, and is regarded as the foremost interpreter of the theory of the Logos in the 2nd century. He was martyred, alongside some of his students.
Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue did survive. The First Apology, his most well known text, passionately defends the morality of the Christian life, and provides various ethical and philosophical arguments to convince the Roman emperor, Antoninus, to abandon the persecution of the fledgling sect. Further, he also indicates, as St Augustine did regarding the “true religion” that predated Christianity, that the “seeds of Christianity” (manifestations of the Logos acting in history) actually predated Christ’s incarnation. This notion allows him to claim many historical Greek philosophies (including those of Socrates and Plato), in whose works he was well studied, as Christianity in seed form.
God did not tell us to follow him because he needed our help, but because loving him would make us whole.
Irenaeus of Lyons was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire (now Lyon, France). He was an early Church Father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was traditionally a disciple of John the Evangelist.
Irenaeus’ best-known book, Against Heresies (c. 180), is a detailed attack on Gnosticism, which was then a serious threat to the Church, and especially on the system of the Gnostic Valentinus. As one of the first great Christian theologians, he emphasized the traditional elements in the Church, especially the episcopate, Scripture, and tradition. Against the Gnostics, who said that they possessed a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles and that the bishops provided the only safe guide to the interpretation of Scripture. His polemical work is credited for laying out the “orthodoxies of the Christian church, its faith, its preaching and the books that it held as sacred authority.” Irenaeus is the earliest witness to recognition of the canonical character of all four gospels.
God’s ability to raise the dead body is revealed by his ability to create it.
Athenagoras of Athens was an Ante-Nicene apologist who lived during the second half of the 2nd century of whom little is known for certain, besides that he was Athenian (though possibly not originally from Athens), a philosopher, and a convert to Christianity. In his writings he styles himself as “Athenagoras, the Athenian, Philosopher, and Christian”. There is some evidence that he was a Platonist before his conversion, but this is not certain.
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
Tertullian of Carthage was a prolific Christian writer, activist, and apologist of the late second century who took part in the issues of doctrine debated during the early years of Christianity. His works provide us with some of the best witnesses in the West of Orthodox Christian thinking and practices of the time. He helped establish Latin as an ecclesiastical language, paralleling that of Greek. During his early years he denounced doctrines considered heretical at the time, but in the latter apart of his life he began to adopt views that were considered schismatic if not heretical themselves. Thus, while having contributed much to defining Orthodoxy, he ended his life leading his own sect after have joining the Montanist movement.
A soldier of the civil authority must be taught never to kill men, to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism.
Hippolytus of Rome was the most important 3rd-century theologian in the Christian Church in Rome. Photios I of Constantinople describes him in his Bibliotheca (cod. 121) as a disciple of Irenaeus. He came into conflict with the popes of his time and seems to have headed a schismatic group as a rival Bishop of Rome. For that reason he is sometimes considered the first antipope. He opposed the Roman bishops who softened the penitential system to accommodate the large number of new pagan converts. However, he was very probably reconciled to the Church when he died as a martyr.
As a presbyter of the church at Rome under Pope Zephyrinus (199 – 217 AD), Hippolytus was distinguished for his learning and eloquence. It was at this time that Origen of Alexandria, then a young man, heard him preach.
What good is it if Christ was born once in Bethlehem if he is not, by faith, born again in my heart?
Origen of Alexandria lived in the early third century and was the first theologian to formulate a systematic theology. Living in a period of loose doctrinal consensus, Origen was also the first major academic of Christendom. Writing not only theological commentaries, Origen also wrote works of textual criticism and even entire translations of the scriptures. Though much of his writings were lost, the grandeur of Origen’s influence to Christianity could be compared to Plato’s influence to Philosophy.
It should be noted that Origen single-handedly articulated so much of Christian doctrine that is is nearly impossible to not discern his teachings in the homilies of subsequent Bishops of the Church. In later centuries after his death, some extreme views by his followers were attributed to him, and his name was brought under suspicion. Unfortunately, Origen is not considered a Saint because he was anathematized by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 in its eleventh Canon.
To say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying the sun hides itself from the blind.
St. Anthony or Antony was a Christian monk from Egypt, revered since his death as a saint. He is distinguished from other saints named Anthony by various epithets: Anthony the Great, Anthony of Egypt, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of the Desert, Anthony the Anchorite, and Anthony of Thebes. For his importance among the Desert Fathers and to all later monasticism, he is also known as the Father of All Monks. His feast day is celebrated on January 17 in the Orthodox Church.
The biography of Anthony’s life by Athanasius of Alexandria helped to spread the concept of monasticism, particularly in Western Europe via its Latin translations. He is often erroneously considered the first monk, but as his biography and other sources make clear, there were many ascetics before him. Anthony was, however, the first known ascetic going into the wilderness (about ad 270), a geographical move that seems to have contributed to his renown, and it is his popularity that gave him the title. Accounts of Anthony enduring supernatural temptation during his sojourn in the Eastern Desert of Egypt inspired the often-repeated subject of the temptation of St. Anthony in Western art and literature.
We become by grace what God is by nature.
Athanasius of Alexandria (also spelled “Athanasios”) was a bishop of Alexandria and major theologian in the fourth century. Athanasius is the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today. However, his list was the one that was eventually ratified by a series of synods and came to be universally recognized as the New Testament canon. He was born in 298 and died on May 2, 373. His feast day in the Orthodox Church is January 18.
There is no space where God is not. Space does not exist apart from Him. He is in heaven, in hell, beyond the seas, dwelling in all things and enveloping all. Thus, He embraces and is embraced by the universe, confined to no part of it but pervading all.
Hilarius of Poitiers was a leader in the West in the fight against Arianism in the fourth century. In this fight he was joined in the West by St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Martin of Tours. His popularity among the people of Poitiers was so great that he was elected bishop of Poitiers even though he was still married. During the course of the fight against Arianism his successes were mixed with setbacks, including being banished by the emperor for four years. He presented his position with many writings as he supported the “Homoiousians.” He became so famous for his fights against Arianism that he became known as the, “Hammer of the Arians,” and the, “Athanasius of the West.”
If we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who don’t have enough, no-one would be rich and no-one would be poor.
Basil the Great (also called Basil of Caesarea) was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church, fighting against both Arianism and the followers of Apollinaris of Laodicea. His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position.
In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer, and manual labour. Together with Pachomius, he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity. He is considered a saint by the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity.
Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa are collectively referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches have given him, together with Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, the title of Holy Hierarch. He is recognised as a Doctor of the Church in the Roman Catholic Church. He is sometimes referred to by the epithet “revealer of heavenly mysteries”.
The unassumed is the unhealed.
Gregory the Theologian (or Gregory of Nazianzus), was a 4th-century Archbishop of Constantinople, and theologian. He is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age. As a classically trained orator and philosopher he infused Hellenism into the early church, establishing the paradigm of Byzantine theologians and church officials.
Gregory made a significant impact on the shape of Trinitarian theology among both Greek- and Latin-speaking theologians, and he is remembered as the “Trinitarian Theologian”. Much of his theological work continues to influence modern theologians, especially in regard to the relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity. Along with the brothers Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, he is known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers.
Gregory is a saint in both Eastern and Western Christianity. In the Roman Catholic Church he is numbered among the Doctors of the Church; in Eastern Orthodoxy and the Eastern Catholic Churches he is revered as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, along with Basil the Great and John Chrysostom.
He is also one of only three men in the life of the Orthodox Church who have been officially designated “Theologian” by epithet, the other two being St. John the Theologian (the Evangelist), and St. Symeon the New Theologian.
True perfection consists of having one fear: losing God’s friendship.
Gregory of Nyssa was bishop of Nyssa from 372 to 376 and from 378 until his death. Gregory, his elder brother Basil of Caesarea, and their friend Gregory the Theologian are collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers.
Gregory lacked the administrative ability of his brother Basil and the contemporary influence of Gregory the Theologian, but he was an erudite theologian who made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene Creed. Gregory’s philosophical writings were influenced by Origen. Since the mid-twentieth century, there has been a significant increase in interest in Gregory’s works from the academic community, particularly involving universal salvation, which has resulted in challenges to many traditional interpretations of his theology.
Nobody heals himself by wounding another.
Ambrose of Milan came to be bishop of Milan as the only competent candidate to succeed Auxentius, a bishop of Arian persuasion, in 374. A catechumen and trained as a lawyer, he learned his theology through intense study of subject as he was successively baptized and then consecrated as Bishop of Milan. He held to the Nicene belief and through the eloquence of his arguments he persuaded Emperor Gratian to the Nicene confession. Later, he persuaded Gratian to convene a local council, in 381, at Aquileia that deposed the Arian bishops Palladius and Secundianus from their episcopal offices and thus strengthened the Orthodox position in the West. Ambrose zealously combatted imperial court attempts at favoritism to the parties of Arians, the “old” religion, and the Jews, particularly opposing the favors from Emperor Valentinian who supported the Arians. In defending the Orthodox position he has often been compared to St. Hilary of Poitiers. He was known for his sermons which greatly influenced the conversion of Augustine of Hippo.
If you are a Christian, no earthly city is yours. Though we may gain possession of the whole world, we are still foreigners and visitors because our citizenship is in heaven.
John Chrysostom (347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for eloquence in public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time, and for a divine liturgy attributed to him. He had notable ascetic sensibilities. After his death he was named Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek meaning, “golden-mouthed.” The Orthodox Church honors him as a saint and counts him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. He is also recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, which considers him a saint and Doctor of the Church, and the Church of England, both of whom commemorate him on September 13. His relics were stolen from Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 and brought to Rome, but were returned on November 27, 2004, by Pope John Paul II.
Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.
Augustine of Hippo also known as Blessed Augustine, was an early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. He was the bishop of Hippo Regius (modern-day Annaba, Algeria), located in Numidia (Roman province of Africa). He is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers in Western Christianity for his writings in the Patristic Era. Among his most important works are The City of God and Confessions.
According to his contemporary, Jerome, Augustine “established anew the ancient Faith.” In his early years, he was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and afterward by the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus. After his baptism and conversion to Christianity in 387, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and perspectives. Believing that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, he helped formulate the doctrine of original sin and made seminal contributions to the development of just war theory.
When the Western Roman Empire began to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the pre-Schism Catholic Church as a spiritual City of God, distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. The segment of the Church that adhered to the concept of the Trinity as defined by the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople closely identified with Augustine’s City of God.
Whoever is guided solely by his own judgment will never climb the summit of perfection, and will always be the victim of the devil’s delusions.
Cassian was the son of wealthy parents, he received a good education: his writings show the influence of Cicero and Persius. He was bilingual in Latin and Greek.
As a young adult he and an older friend, Germanus, traveled to Palestine, where they entered a hermitage near Bethlehem. After remaining in that community for about three years, they journeyed to the desert of Scete in Egypt, which was rent by Christian struggles. There they visited a number of monastic foundations.
Approximately fifteen years later, about 399, Cassian and Germanus fled the Anthropomorphic controversy provoked by Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria, with about 300 other Origenist monks. Cassian and Germanus went to Constantinople, where they appealed to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Saint John Chrysostom, for protection. Cassian was ordained a deacon and was made a member of the clergy attached to the Patriarch while the struggles with the imperial family ensued. When the Patriarch was forced into exile from Constantinople in 404, the Latin-speaking Cassian was sent to Rome to plead his cause before Pope Innocent I.
While he was in Rome, Cassian accepted the invitation to found an Egyptian-style monastery in southern Gaul, near Marseilles. He may also have spent time as a priest in Antioch between 404 and 415. In any case, he arrived in Marseilles around 415. His foundation, the Abbey of St Victor, was a complex of monasteries for both men and women, one of the first such institutes in the West, and served as a model for later monastic development.
Cassian’s achievements and writings influenced St Benedict, who incorporated many of the principles into his monastic rule, and recommended to his own monks that they read the works of Cassian. Since Benedict’s rule is still followed by Benedictine, Cistercian, and Trappist monks, John Cassian’s thought still exercises influence over the spiritual lives of thousands of men and women in the Latin Church.
Theology without practice is the theology of demons.
Maximus the Confessor was a Christian monk, theologian, and scholar. In his early life, Maximus was a civil servant, and an aide to the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. However, he gave up this life in the political sphere to enter into the monastic life. Maximus had studied diverse schools of philosophy, and certainly what was common for his time, the Platonic dialogues, the works of Aristotle, and numerous later Platonic commentators on Aristotle and Plato, like Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus.
When one of his friends began espousing the Christological position known as Monothelitism, Maximus was drawn into the controversy, in which he supported an interpretation of the Chalcedonian formula on the basis of which it was asserted that Jesus had both a human and a divine will.
Maximus is venerated in both Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity. He was eventually persecuted for his Christological positions; following a trial, his tongue and right hand were mutilated. He was then exiled and died on August 13, 662 in Tsageri, Georgia. However, his theology was upheld by the Third Council of Constantinople and he was venerated as a saint soon after his death.
His title of Confessor means that he suffered for the Christian faith, but was not directly martyred. The Life of the Virgin its only extant copy is in a Georgian translation, commonly is, albeit mistakenly, attributed to him, and is considered to be one of the earliest complete biographies of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The scourge of hell is the scourge of love.
Isaac the Syrian was a 7th-century Syriac Christian bishop and theologian best remembered for his written works on Christian asceticism.
He was born in the region of Beth Qatraye in Eastern Arabia. When still quite young, he entered a monastery where he devoted his energies towards the practice of asceticism. After many years of studying at the library attached to the monastery, he emerged as an authoritative figure in theology. Shortly after, he dedicated his life to monasticism and became involved in religious education throughout the Beth Qatraye region. When the Catholicos Georges (680–659) visited Beth Qatraye in the middle of the seventh century to attend a synod, he ordained Isaac bishop of Nineveh far to the north.
The administrative duties did not suit his retiring and ascetic bent: he requested to abdicate after only five months, and went south to the wilderness of Mount Matout, a refuge for anchorites. There he lived in solitude for many years, eating only three loaves a week with some uncooked vegetables, a detail that never failed to astonish his hagiographers. Eventually blindness and old age forced him to retire to the monastery of Shabar, where he died and was buried. At the time of his death he was nearly blind, a fact that some attribute to his devotion to study.
If a pagan asks you to show him your faith, take him to church and place him before the icons.
Saint John of Damascus was a Syrian monk and priest. Born and raised in Damascus, he died at his monastery, Mar Saba, near Jerusalem.
A polymath whose fields of interest and contribution included law, theology, philosophy, and music, he is said by some sources to have served as a Chief Administrator to the Muslim caliph of Damascus before his ordination. He wrote works expounding the Christian faith, and composed hymns which are still used both liturgically in Eastern Christian practice throughout the world as well as in western Lutheranism at Easter. He is one of the Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox church and is best known for his strong defense of icons. The Catholic Church regards him as a Doctor of the Church, often referred to as the Doctor of the Assumption due to his writings on the Assumption of Mary.