23 March 2016

Patristics (2016): 2, The Apostolic Fathers

A colonnade of 14 Corinthian columns on the west side of the Stoa of Smyrna … among the Apostolic Fathers, Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote four of his letters while he was a prisoner in Smyrna, and Saint Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Introduction to Patristics,

Jenkins Room,

Wednesdays, 10.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

11.30 a.m., Wednesday, 23 March 2016:

2: The Apostolic Fathers


The Apostolic Fathers are a group of early Christian writers who lived and wrote in the second half of the 1st century and the first half of the 2nd century. They are acknowledged as leaders in the early Church, but their writings were not included in the canon of the New Testament. They include Saint Clement of Rome, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, and Saint Polycarp of Smyrna.

The term “Apostolic Fathers” has been used since the 17th century, emphasising that these authors were thought of as the generation that had personal contact with the Apostles. They provide a link between the Apostles who knew Christ and the later generation of Christian apologists, defenders of Orthodox authority and developers of doctrine known as the Church Fathers. Their writings shed light on the emerging traditions and organisation of the infant Church, and provide first-hand accounts of the Early Church.

The Apostolic Fathers and their works

The Apostolic Fathers include Saint Clement of Rome (ca 30 to ca 100), Saint Ignatius of Antioch, and Saint Polycarp of Smyrna. In addition, the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas are usually placed among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, although their authors are unknown.

The writings of the Apostolic Fathers are in a number of genres. For example, the writings of Clement of Rome are letters or Epistles. Others recall historical events, such as the Martyrdom of Polycarp, while the Didache is a guide for ethical and liturgical practice.

The Apostolic Fathers present a picture of an organised Church made up of different cross-cultural, sister churches sharing one apostolic tradition. Their ecclesiology, Judaic values, and emphasis upon the historical nature of Christ stand in contrast to the ideologies of more paganised Christianities, on the one hand, and Christianities that excluded the Gentiles on the other.

The term “Apostolic Fathers” first appears in 1672 in the title of a work by Jean-Baptiste Cotelier, SS. Patrum qui temporibus apostolicis floruerunt opera (Works of the holy fathers who flourished in the apostolic times). Later editions abbreviated this title to Bibliotheca Patrum Apostolicorum (1699). Since then the term has been universally used, although it can be difficult to make a clear distinction between the Apostolic Fathers and Church Fathers in general.

Missing authors and excluded authors

Today, we only have some of the writings by the Apostolic Fathers. Other writings did not survive and exist only as references, in quotations and excerpts, or as literal fragments of parchment or papyrus. Other writings said to be quotes from the Apostolic Fathers are often stylistically different and sometimes address issues that are not addressed in the New Testament or in the surviving writings of the Apostolic Fathers.

The writings from the early Christian tradition not included with the Apostolic Fathers include the writings of the desposyni, the apocrypha, including apocryphal gospels, much of the pseudepigrapha, and the writings of unorthodox leaders or heretics, including Marcion and Valentinius. The apocryphal gospels and pseudepigrapha are, for the most part, later writings that seem to have less historical accuracy than the canonical scriptures.

Much of what we known about the heretics comes from the Apostolic Fathers and Church Fathers. This information was once thought be highly inaccurate or biased, but the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library validates most of that information.

Relationship to Orthodoxy

Within the tradition, but after the Apostolic Fathers proper, authors including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian are considered Apologists. A small number of other authors, known only in fragments, such as Papias and Hegesippus, are more concerned with the apostolic continuity of the individual churches and their histories.

Although some minor opinions expressed by the Apostolic Fathers are no longer considered entirely orthodox, their writings provide important data regarding a strain of early Christianity which remains largely true to its Jewish roots while including both non-Jewish and Jewish believers as full members of the Church.

The works of the Apostolic Fathers

The writings counted among the works of the Apostolic Fathers include:

● I Clement.
● II Clement (not written by Clement, but still an early writing).
● The Didache.
● The Epistle of Barnabas.
● Seven short Epistles of Ignatius (the longer forms of these Epistles, and those beyond the seven, are widely considered later emendations or forgeries).
● The Epistle of Polycarp.
● The Epistle about Polycarp’s Martyrdom.
● The Shepherd of Hermas.

Some collections also include the Epistle of Diognetus, although this is hard to date and is probably of a later date.

In addition, fragments from the writings of Papias and Hegesippus have survived as quotations by later writers, and one short fragment by Quadratus of Athens. Most of these works were originally written in Greek, and have been published in English translations, including those by JB Lightfoot, MW Holmes and M. Staniforth and Andrew Louth.

Saint Clement of Rome

The view of the Coliseum from the Irish Dominican church at San Clemente (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Clement, who lived at the end of the first century (ca 96 AD), is listed as one of the early successors of the Apostle Peter as Bishop of Rome, or as the fourth Pope. He is usually cited in debates about papal primacy, although there is no evidence for a monarchical style of episcopacy in Rime at such an early date.

Indeed, his early letter to the Church of Corinth is important not because it settles the divisions within that church but more for the wisdom and love he displays. He shows the way to unity is through humility and charity, and that church order is not political but sacramental.

Clement’s Epistle, I Clement, was written ca 96 and was copied and widely read. It is the earliest Christian Epistle outside the New Testament. Although Clement is not identified in the epistle as its author, tradition has held him to be the author. Tradition identifies Clement as the fourth Bishop of Rome, although it is not clear that he was bishop at the time he wrote this letter.

The epistle is addressed from “the Church of God which is transiently sojourning in Rome” to “the Church of God which is transiently sojourning in Corinth” (see Staniforth and Louth, pp 23 and 50 n. 1). Claiming to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, the author quotes extensively from the Scriptures and appeals to the shared apostolic tradition in his call to the Christians of Corinth to maintain harmony and order.

The First Epistle of Clement

I Clement dates from ca 96 and ranks with the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Seven Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch as one of the earliest – if not the earliest – of the surviving Christian documents outside the canon of the New Testament.

Nowhere in I Clement is Clement named as the author. Rather, the epistle is written with its opening line in the name of “the Church of God which is transiently sojourning in Rome” to “the Church of God which is transiently sojourning in Corinth.” However, scholarly consensus overwhelmingly favours its authenticity.

The traditional date for I Clement is at the end of the reign of Domitian, about 96 AD, because the phrase “our recent series of unexpected misfortunes and set-backs” (1: 1) is taken as a reference to persecutions in Rome under Domitian ca 93 AD. A confirmation of the date is provided by the fact that the church at Rome is called “ancient,” the presbyters installed by the Apostles have died (44: 2), and a second generation of presbyters has also passed away (44: 3).

The letter was prompted by a dispute in Corinth, which led to the removal from office of several presbyters. Since none of the presbyters was charged with moral offences, the Church of Rome charges that their removal is high-handed and unjustifiable.

I Clement is lengthy – twice as long as the Epistle to the Hebrews – and includes several references to the Old Testament, including the Book of Judith. The Epistle demonstrates a familiarity with many books of both the Old and New Testaments. It repeatedly refers to the Old Testament as Scripture and quotes both Christ and the Apostle Paul as sources of the same spiritual authority inspired by the Holy Spirit with which I Clement claims to be inspired.

The survival of I Clement within the living tradition of the persecuted, pre-Constantinian Church and the high esteem in which the book was held reveals how I Clement stands firmly within the tradition of the undivided Church. The epistle was publicly read from time to time in the Church at Corinth, and by the 4th century this usage had spread to other churches.

In the 5th century, I Clement was included in the Codex Alexandrinus along with the Old and New Testaments, implying canonical status. However, this canonical status was lost when more stringent qualifications for scriptural canonicity were applied.

Although known from antiquity, the first complete copy of I Clement was only recovered in 1873, 400 years after the Fall of Constantinople, when the Greek Orthodox scholar Philotheos Bryennios found it in the library of the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the Codex Hierosolymitanus, which had once been in Constantinople and was written in 1056.

This work in Greek was translated into at least three languages in ancient times: a translation from the 2nd or 3rd century was found in an 11th century manuscript in the seminary library of Namur, Belgium, and published in 1894; a Syriac manuscript, now at Cambridge University, was found in 1876 and translated in 1899.

In addition, two incomplete Coptic translations have survived in papyrus copies published in 1908 and 1918. The Namur translation (1894) reveals the early date of that Latin manuscript in several ways. JH Breasted says it is “a modification of the text to suit the later spirit of the Roman church.”

I Clement is primarily about Christian ministry. For the author, this has been established by Christ and handed down from the Apostles, along with the Gospel and Christian teaching (42). In Chapter 42, the ministers are described as “bishops and deacons.” In other places, however, Clement uses the term “presbyters.” The Christian ministry clearly stands in an apostolic succession, but the position of the bishop within this ministry lacks the clarity found in later Christian translations.

Chapter 46 and Chapter 58 include interesting Trinitarian phrases: “Have we not all the same God, and the same Christ? Is not the same Spirit of grace shed upon us all?” And in Chapter 58 we read: “As surely as God lives, as Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Ghost also …” – this second passage was quoted by Basil the Great in his On the Holy Spirit. Apart from Matthew 27: 19 and II Corinthians 13: 13, such clear Trinitarian language is not found in the New Testament.

This second invocation of the Trinity in I Clement leads quickly to a striking liturgical conclusion that prays for peace, the peace that flows from obedience to God, the peace that brings with it healing of all human afflictions (I Clement 59).

II Clement

II Clement was long believed to have been an epistle to the Church in Corinth written by Clement of Rome in the late 1st century. However, Eusebius says Clement “has left us one recognised epistle” (Ecclesiastical History, 3.16).

The earliest external reference to II Clement is by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History in the early 4th century. “It must not be overlooked that there is a second epistle said to be from Clement’s pen, but I have no reason to suppose that it was well known like the first one, since I am not aware that the Early Fathers made any use of it. A year or two ago other long and wordy treatises were put forward as Clement’s work. They contain alleged dialogues with Peter and Apion, but there is no mention whatever of them by early writers, nor do they preserve in its purity the stamp of apostolic orthodoxy.” (Ecclesiastical History, 3.38).

Most modern scholars now believe II Clement is a sermon written ca 140-160 by an anonymous author who was neither the author of I Clement nor Clement of Rome. Nevertheless, it is still generally referred to as II Clement.

II Clement appears to be a transcript of a sermon preached possibly in Corinth. For example, in Chapter 19 the speaker announces that he will read aloud from scripture. While an epistle would typically begin by introducing the sender and recipient, II Clement starts by addressing “Brethren,” and then goes on directly to the sermon. If it is a sermon, II Clement is the earliest surviving Christian sermon, apart from those in the New Testament.

Instead of trying to convert others to Christianity, II Clement appears to be directed at Christians who had converted from paganism. It seems to refer to a past history of idolatry: “[Previously] we were maimed in our understanding – we were worshipping stones and pieces of wood, and gold and silver and copper – all of them made by humans.”

Despite their pagan background, the speaker and listeners in II Clement appear to consider the Jewish texts to be Scripture – the speaker quotes repeatedly from Isaiah and interprets the text. The speaker also regards the words of Christ as scripture – for example, 2: 4 quotes a saying of Christ that has parallels in Mark 2: 17, and Matthew 9: 13.

In addition to the canonical literature, the author appears to have had access to Christian writings or oral tradition aside from those in the New Testament. Some quotes attributed to Chrust are found only here – for example, 4: 5. In 5: 2-4, the author quotes a saying of Christ that is partially found in the New Testament, but the version in II Clement is substantially longer than the version in the New Testament. In the 20th century, a manuscript fragment was discovered that suggests this saying is a quote from the Gospel of Peter. Similarly, II Clement 12 appears to quote the Gospel of Thomas.

Ignatius of Antioch

A colonnade of 14 Corinthian columns on the west side of the Stoa of Smyrna, the only surviving classical site in Izmir. Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote four of his letters, including one to the Church in Smyrna, while he was a prisoner in Smyrna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Ignatius of Antioch (ca 35-110), along with Clement of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna, is one of the principal Apostolic Fathers. Ignatius (also known as Theophorus, “God-bearer”) was a student or disciple of Saint John the Divine, the Apostle. Pious tradition also says he was one of the children Christ took in his arms and blessed. He was the third Bishop or Patriarch of Antioch, after Saint Peter and Saint Evodius, who died ca AD 67. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.3.22). Theodoret makes his apostolic succession even more immediate, saying Saint Peter himself appointed Ignatius as Bishop of Antioch (Dial. Immutab., I.4.33a).

Ignatius was arrested by the authorities and transported to Rome under trying conditions: “I have already been finding myself in conflict with beasts of prey by land and by sea, by night and by day, the whole way from Syria to Rome; chained as I am to half-a-score of savage leopards (in other words, a detachment of soldiers), who only grow more insolent the more gratuities they are given.” – Letter to the Romans, 5.

On his way to Rome and his death, Ignatius encouraged Christians who flocked to meet him. During that journey, he also wrote a series of six letters to the churches in the regions and one to a fellow bishop. These letters, which have been preserved as an example of the theology of the earliest Christians, are written to the churches in Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. The first were written at Smyrna and the other three were written at Troas. From there, he travelled by sea to Neapolis in Macedonia, and then to Philippi and on to Rome.

These letters were preserved by Polycarp and became well known in the early Church. By the 5th century, Saint Polycarp’s collection had been enlarged by spurious letters, and the original letters had been changed with interpolations, created to posthumously enlist Ignatius in the theological disputes of the day. A detailed but spurious account of the arrest of Ignatius, his sufferings and his martyrdom in the Martyrium Ignatii is presented as an eyewitness account for the church of Antioch, as if written by companions of Ignatius, Philo of Cilicia, deacon at Tarsus, and Rheus Agathopus, a Syrian.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch ... referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” which realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist

Although Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) of Armagh regarded it as genuine, no part of the Martyrium is without questions. The Martyrium presents the confrontation of between Ignatius and Trajan at Antioch and many details of his long voyage to Rome.

Saint Ignatius died as a martyr in the arena. After his martyrdom, his body was taken back to Antioch by his companions. He was first buried outside the city gates, then removed by the Emperor Theodosius II to the Tychaeum, or Temple of Tyche, which was converted into a church dedicated to Ignatius. In 637, his relics were brought to Rome and interred in the Church of San Clemente (Saint Clement).

The letters of Ignatius are an important testimony to the development of theology, since the number of extant writings from this period of church history is very small. They show signs of being written in great haste and without a proper plan. For Archbishop Rowan Williams, the importance of Ignatius lies in his “marking out the ground for a Eucharistic and incarnational devotion which could provide a bulwark against excessive spiritualization or de-historicizing of the gospel.” (Rowan Williams, ‘Ignatius of Antioch,’ in GS Wakefield, The SCM Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (London: SCM Press, 1983/2003), pp 205-206.)

The important topics Ignatius addresses in his letters include ecclesiology, the sacraments and the office and role of bishops. He identifies the local church hierarchy made up of bishop, presbyters, and deacons and claims to have spoken in some of the churches through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He is the second writer after Clement to mention Saint Paul’s epistles.

Ignatius is the first writer to stress loyalty to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. Earlier writings only mention either bishops or presbyters, and give the impression that there was usually more than one bishop for each congregation. Ignatius, therefore, is the first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyalty to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. He referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” that realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist:

“Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptise or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.” – Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8.

Ignatius stressed the value of the Eucharist, calling it “the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Jesus Christ for evermore” (Letter to the Ephesians 20: 2). He is the first of the Fathers to refer to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He wrote in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans:

“For let nobody be under any delusion; there is judgment in store even for the hosts of heaven, the very angels in glory, the visible and invisible powers themselves, if they have no faith in the blood of Christ. Let him who can absorb this truth. High position is no excuse for pride; it is faith and love that are everything, and these must come before all else. But look at the men who have those perverted notions about the grace of Jesus Christ which has come down to us, and see how contrary to the mind of God they are … They even abstain themselves from the Eucharist and the public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, and which that Father in his goodness afterwards raised up again. Consequently, since they reject God’s good gifts, they are doomed in their disputatiousness.” – Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6: 1–7: 1 (Staniforth and Louth, p. 102).

Ignatius expresses this again in his Letter to the Romans, ca 110 AD:

“I am fain for the Bread of God, even the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is the seed of David; and for my drink I crave that Blood of His which is love imperishable.” – Letter to the Romans, 7 (Staniforth and Louth, p. 87).

“Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup unto union with His Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice – even as also there is but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors the deacons. That will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God.” – Letter to the Philadelphians, 4, 1 (Staniforth and Louth, p. 94).

Ignatius is the first known Christian writer to argue in favour of Christianity replacing the Sabbath with the Lord’s Day:

“Never allow yourselves to be led astray by false teachings and antiquated and useless fables. Nothing of any use can be got from them. If we are still living in the practice of Judaism, it is an admission that we have failed to receive the gift of grace ... We have seen how former adherents of ancient customs have since attained to a new hope; so that they have given up keeping the Sabbath, and now order their lives by the Lord’s Day instead (the Day when life first dawned for us, thanks to Him and His death … though some deny it ... how can it be possible for us to give Him no place in our lives? ... To profess Jesus Christ while continuing to follow Jewish customs is an absurdity. The Christian faith does not look to Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.” – Letter to the Magnesians, 8: 1, 9: 1-2, 10: 3 (Staniforth and Louth, pp 72-73).

He is responsible for the first known use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning “universal,” to describe the church, writing: “Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the catholic Church. Nor is it permissible to conduct baptisms or love-feasts without the bishop. On the other hand, whatever does have his sanction can be sure of God’s approval too. This is the way to make certain of the soundness and validity of anything you do.” – Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8 (Staniforth and Louth, p. 103).

It is from this word katholikos that the word “catholic” is derived. When Ignatius wrote his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, he used the word “catholic” as if it were already in use to describe the Church, leading many to conclude that the term “Catholic Church” with its ecclesial connotations was in use as early as the last quarter of the first century.

Martyrdom is a theme that is uppermost for Ignatius throughout much of his writings. His expression of his desire for martyrdom may seem very strong and graphic today, but an examination of his soteriology shows he regarded salvation as being free from the fear of death and able to bravely face martyrdom. He begs the Church in Rome not to interfere or intercede on his behalf, so that he may “imitate the Passion of my God” (Letter to the Romans, 6: 3). He refers to Christ more than once elsewhere as Θεος (theos). The enduring of martyrdom is the final conformation to Christ (Letter to the Romans, 5: 1) – and so to the full measure of humanity (Letter to the Romans, 6: 2).

The most famous quote from Ignatius, however, comes from his Letter to the Romans: “I am writing to all the churches and assuring them that I am truly in earnest about dying for God – if only you yourselves put no obstacles in the way. I must implore you to do me no such untimely kindness; pray leave me to be a meal for the beasts, for it is they who can provide my way to God. I am His wheat, ground fine by the teeth of the lions’ teeth to be made purest bread for Christ.” – Letter to the Romans, 4 (Staniforth and Louth, p. 86).

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna

The 42-hectare Kültürpark was laid out on the ruins of the Greek quarter of Smyrna ... Saint Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna and was martyred there (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (ca 69–ca 155) was a 2nd century Bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey), one of the Seven Churches of the Book of Revelation. With Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is one of the Apostolic Fathers.

It is recorded that “he had been a disciple of John.” According to Tertullian, Polycarp was appointed Bishop of Smyrna by John the Apostle (De Praescriptione 32). Eusebius insists on Polycarp’s apostolic connection with the author of the Fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation. He was a companion of Papias, another “hearer of John,” and it was to Polycarp that Ignatius of Antioch addressed one of his letters, as well as mentioning him in both his Letter to the Ephesians and his Letter to the Magnesians.

Polycarp’s famous pupil was Irenaeus, for whom Polycarp was a link to the apostolic past (Staniforth and Louth, p. 116). Irenaeus tells how and when he became a Christian, and in his letter to Florinus says he saw and heard Polycarp personally in lower Asia. In particular, Irenaeus says he heard the account of Polycarp’s discussion with John the Evangelist and with others who had seen Christ. Irenaeus says Polycarp was converted to Christianity by Apostles, was consecrated a bishop and communicated with many who had seen Christ. He repeatedly emphasises the very great age of Polycarp.

Polycarp visited Rome when his fellow Syrian, Anicetus, was Bishop of Rome, in the 150s or 160s. However, he failed to persuade Anicetus and the Church in Rome to celebrate Easter on 14 Nisan, as in the Eastern Church. For his part, Polycarp rejected the counter suggestion that the East should use the Western date for Easter. Irenaeus states (3.3) that during Polycarp’s visit to Rome his testimony converted many of the disciples of Marcion and Valentinus. In the past, Polycarp’s visit to Rome to meet Anicetus has been used to support Papal claims. However, Polycarp did not accept the authority of the Bishops of Rome to change Passover; instead, they agreed to disagree, both believing their practice to be Apostolic (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5.24.16).

Polycarp died a martyr’s death after the people of Smyrna demanded his execution as a Christian. The story is told that the flames built to kill him refused to burn him and that when he was stabbed to death, so much blood issued from his body that it quenched the flames around him. In the Martyrdom, Polycarp indicates his age on the day of his death: “Eighty and six years have I served Him” (Martyrdom 9, Staniforth and Louth, p. 128). If this means he was then aged 86, his family had accepted Christianity while he was an infant.

His martyrdom is of particular importance in understanding the position of the Church in the Empire at the time. While the persecution is supported by the local proconsul, the author of the account noted the bloodthirstiness of the crowd in their calls for the death of Polycarp. Additionally, the account demonstrates the complex Roman attitude towards Christianity: the Christians are given the opportunity to recant and are not punished immediately as confessed criminals.

The date of Polycarp’s death is disputed. Eusebius places it in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, 161-180 (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.15). However, a later addition to the Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday 23 February when Statius Quadratus was proconsul, which was 155 or 156 (Martyrdom 21).

The earlier dates better fit the tradition of his association with Ignatius of Antioch and John the Evangelist. However, the addition to the Martyrdom cannot be considered reliable on its own merits. Other evidence puts Polycarp’s death at the end of the 160s or even later. Archbishop Ussher, for example, calculated it at 169. Lightfoot argued for the earlier date of Polycarp’s death, although other scholars disagree (see Staniforth and Louth, pp 117-118).

Polycarp’s only surviving work is his Letter to the Philippians, a mosaic of references to the Greek Scriptures. The Letter to the Philippians and an account of The Martyrdom of Polycarp, which takes the form of a circular letter from the church of Smyrna to the churches of Pontus, form part of the collection of the Apostolic Fathers. The Martyrdom is one of the earliest genuine accounts of martyrdom, and one of the very few genuine accounts from the age of persecutions.

The chief sources of information about Polycarp are the Epistles of Ignatius, including one to Polycarp; Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians; passages in Irenaeus’ Adversus Haeresis; and the Letter to the Smyrnaeans, recounting the Martyrdom of Polycarp.

The Didache

Some Church Fathers regarded the Didache as part of the New Testament

The Didache (Greek, Διδαχὴ, "Teaching”) is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars between the year 90 and the early 2nd century. It contains instructions for Christian communities. While the manuscript is commonly referred to as the Didache, this is short for the title used by the Church Fathers, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων).

A fuller subtitle is found next in the manuscript: The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles (Διδαχὴ κυρίου διὰ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων τοῖς ἔθνεσιν). The text, parts of which may have constituted the first written catechism, has three main sections dealing with Baptism and the Eucharist, and Church organisation.

Some of the Church Fathers regarded the Didache as part of the New Testament. It was considered by some of the Church Fathers as part of the New Testament but rejected as spurious by others. Eventually, it was not accepted into the canon of the New Testament, except in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Indications of the text being from the 1st century include the simplicity of the baptismal rite, the simplicity of the Eucharist, in comparison with the elaborate Eucharistic prayer in I Clement (I Clement 59-61), the permission to prophets to extemporise their Eucharistic thanksgiving, and the immediate expectation of the second coming of Christ.

The Didache is mentioned by Eusebius as the Teachings of the Apostles following the books recognised as canonical (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.25). Athanasius (367) lists the Didache among the Deuterocanonical books. The Shepherd of Hermas seems to reflect it, and Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen also seem to use the work, and there are echoes of the Didache in Justin Martyr, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, Cyprian and Lactantius.

The ‘Didache’ was once considered lost but was rediscovered in 1883 in the library in Constantinople belonging to the Patriarch of Jerusalem

Once considered lost, the Didache was rediscovered in 1883 in the library in Constantinople belonging to the Patriarch of Jerusalem by Philotheos Bryennios, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of Nicomedia, in the Greek Codex Hierosolymitanus, written in 1053, from which he had already published the full text of the Epistles of Clement (1875).

Shortly after the initial publication by Bryennios, Otto von Gebhardt identified a Latin manuscript in the Abbey of Melik in Austria as containing a translation of the first part of the Didache. Later scholars now believe that to be an independent witness to the tradition of the Two Ways section. In 1900, J. Schlecht found another Latin translation of chapters 1-5, with the longer title, omitting “twelve,” and with the rubric De doctrina Apostolorum. Coptic and Ethiopian translations have also been discovered since the first publication by Bryennios’ original publication.

The second part (chapters 7-10) begins with an instruction on baptism, which is to be conferred “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” in “living water” (that is, natural flowing water), if it can be had – if not, in cold or even warm water.

Fasts are not to be on Monday and Thursday “with the hypocrites” – presumably a reference to non-Christian Jews – but on Wednesday and Friday (Didache 8). Nor must Christians pray with their Judaic brethren; instead they shall say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. The text of the prayer is not identical to the version in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, and it is given with the doxology “for thine is the power and the glory for ever,” while all but a few manuscripts of Saint Matthew’s Gospel have this interpolation with “the kingdom and the power,” etc.

The Shepherd of Hermas

The Good Shepherd ... a stained glass window in Saint Mark’s Church, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Shepherd of Hermas (Ποιμὴν τοῦ Ἑρμᾶ) was written in Greek in Rome in the second century. It was popular in the early Church, had great authority in the second and third centuries, and was even considered Scriptural by some early Church Fathers, including Irenaeus and Tertullian. It was bound with the New Testament in the Codex Sinaiticus, and it was listed between the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of Paul in the stichometrical list of the Codex Claromontanus.

An early Latin translation was once claimed as the work of the original author, though this is disputed this. However, only the Latin version has been preserved in full, and the last one-fifth of the text is missing from the Greek version.

The evidence for the place and date of this work are found in the language and theology of the Shepherd. The reference to Clement I suggests a date between 88 and 97 for at least the first two visions. Since Paul sent greetings to Hermas, a Christian of Rome (Romans 16: 14), Origen suggested that this Hermas was the author of the Shepherd. However, textual criticism, the theology, and the author’s apparent familiarity with Revelation and other Johannine texts, put the date of composition in the 2nd century.

Three ancient witnesses, one of whom claims to be contemporary, described Hermas was the brother of Pius I, who was Bishop of Rome not earlier than 140-155, which corresponds to the date range offered by Lightfoot (1891). The witnesses are the Muratorian Fragment, written ca 170, the Liberian Catalogue of Popes, and a poem written against Marcion in the 3rd or 4th century.

The Shepherd of Hermas comprises five visions granted to Hermas, a former slave. This is followed by 12 mandates or commandments and 10 similitudes or parables. It relies on allegory and pays special attention to the Church, calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed it. Despite its grave subjects, the Shepherd is written in a very optimistic and hopeful tone, like most early Christian works.

The Shepherd of Hermas commences abruptly in the first person: “He who brought me up sold me to a certain Rhoda, who was at Rome. After many years I met her again, and began to love her as a sister.”

As Hermas was on the road to Cumae, he had a vision of Rhoda, who was presumably dead. She told him that she was his accuser in heaven, on account of an unchaste thought the (married) narrator had once had concerning her, though only in passing. He was to pray for forgiveness for himself and all his household. He is consoled by a vision of the Church in the form of an aged woman, weak and helpless from the sins of the faithful, who tells him to do penance and to correct the sins of his children. Subsequently he sees her made younger through penance, yet wrinkled and with white hair; then again, as quite young but still with white hair; and lastly, she shows herself as glorious as a Bride.

This allegorical language continues in the other parts of the Shepherd.

In the second vision, she gives Hermas a book, which she afterwards takes back in order to add to it. The fifth vision, which is represented as taking place 20 days after the fourth, introduces “the Angel of repentance” in the guise of a shepherd, from whom the whole work takes its name. He delivers to Hermas a series of precepts (mandata, entolai), which form an interesting development of early Christian ethics. One point which deserves special mention is the assertion of a husband’s obligation to take back an adulterous wife on her repentance.

The eleventh mandate, on humility, is concerned with false prophets who desire to occupy the first seats (that is to say, among the presbyters). Some have seen here a reference to Marcion, who came to Rome ca 140 and desired to be admitted among the priests.

After the mandates, there are 10 similitudes (parabolai) in the form of visions that are explained by the angel. Similitude 9, the longest of these, is an elaboration of the parable of the building of a tower, which had formed the matter of the third vision. The tower is the Church, and the stones of which it is built are the faithful. But in the third vision it looked as though only the holy are a part of the Church. In Similitude 9, it is pointed out that all of the baptised are included, though they may be cast out for grave sins, and can be readmitted only after penance.


3, 10.30 a.m., 30 March 2016: The Greek Fathers

4, 11.30 a.m., 30 March 2016: The Latin Fathers

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 23 March 2016 was part of the Year I MTh module, Introduction to Patristics.

Patristics (2016): 1, Introducing Patristic studies

Seven Fathers of the Church carved above the south door of Lichfield Cathedral (from left): Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Athanasius and Saint Basil (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Introduction to Patristics,

The Jenkins Room,

Wednesdays, 10.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

Outline of Module:

10.30 a.m., 23 March 2016: Introducing Patristics

2, 11.30 a.m., 23 March 2016: The Apostolic Fathers

3, 10.30 a.m., 30 March 2016: The Greek Fathers

4, 11.30 a.m., 30 March 2016: The Latin Fathers

5, 10.30 a.m., 6 April 2016: The Desert Fathers

6, 11.30 a.m., 6 April 2016: The Legacy, especially for Anglicans

Wednesday, 23 March 2016:

1, 10.30 a.m., 23 March 2016: Introducing Patristics

Early Christian Fathers and Early Christian Writings:

The Church Fathers … in a Greek Orthodox icon

Patristics, Patristic Studies or Patrology is the study of the Early Christian writers who are designated Church Fathers. The names derive from the combined form of Latin pater and Greek πατέρας (father).

The period is generally considered to run from the end of New Testament times or the end of the Apostolic Age (ca AD 100) to either the date of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), or to the Second Council of Nicaea (787).

There are several good reasons why it is important to study Patristics:

● Their theological and scriptural insights are very valuable in their own right.

● The Patristic writers lived much closer to the days of the Apostles and had to crystallise the apostolic teachings in response to heresies and errors.

● Their formulation of Trinitarian and Christological formulas and doctrines is foundational for Christianity.

● Their homilies, apologetics and other writings contain innumerable valuable insights.

● Studying the Patristic writers gives us a clearer understanding of the history of the early Church, the apostles and the churches they founded.

● This field of theology provides a sense of continuity with the Early Church and the Communion of Saints.

● Patristics also offers a bridge between the different traditions of doing theology – Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant – all of which claim continuity with the Church Fathers.

In addition, we may also look at some of the canons of the seven ecumenical councils are also important reading for the Patristic period.

Terminology and time span:

Many theologians and historians today would prefer to refer not to Patristics but to Early Christian Studies.

But Patristics is more than the study of historical figures and historical writers. It is not merely an exploration in antiquity that has the church as its main field of interest. It is the very study in which we come to understand the continuity of the Apostolic and the post-Apostolic Church in prayer life, in spirituality, in sacramental life, in trying to hold together our unity as the Body of Christ, and in which we come to understand the spirituality that found its expression too in our Creedal and Trinitarian formulas.

But please do not be frightened by this topic. On the Liturgy module in Year II, you will become familiar with the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas, anonymous works dating from the same period as the Apostolic Fathers, and perhaps with the Apostolic Constitutions, important texts in understanding the Liturgical practices and beliefs of the Early Church.

And you come across the teachings of the later Church Fathers, in the debates over the Canon of the Bible and the formulation of the Creed of Nicaea and the Creed of Constantinople.

So, the field of Patristics is that of the Early Christian writers known as the Church Fathers and their writings. The name comes from the Greek πατέρας (pateras) and the Latin pater (father). The period is generally considered to run from the end of the New Testament period or the end of the Apostolic Age (ca 100 AD), say after the death of Saint John the Evangelist, the last living apostle, to either the Council of Chalcedon in 451, until about 604, when Gregory the Great died, or even to the Second Council of Nicaea in the eighth century.

The key figures:

An icon of the Church as a boat, including Christ, the Apostles and the Church Fathers

The prominent early Church Fathers whose writings form the basis for Patristics include:

● Polycarp of Smyrna (ca 69-155 or later), a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist, Bishop of Smyrna, and an early martyr;

● Ignatius of Antioch (ca 35-ca107), who insists on the reality of the Humanity and the Divinity of Christ, and has important teachings on the Eucharist and the role of the bishop in the Church;

● Clement of Rome (fl ca 96, died ca 101), a contemporary of the Apostles, author of the earliest surviving Christian sermon;

● Justin Martyr (ca 100-ca 165), who bridges classical philosophy and Christian apologetics;

● Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 130-ca 200), provides a link between East and West, the first great theologian, principal critic of the gnostics;

● Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-ca 215);

● Cyprian of Carthage (died 258), engages in important correspondence about papal authority and claims;

● Eusebius of Caesarea (ca 265-ca 340), the father of Church History;

● Athanasius (ca 296-373), the most articulate opponent of Arianism;

● Gregory of Nazianzus (329/330-389/390), one of the Cappadocian Fathers;

● Basil of Caesarea (ca 330-379), his childhood friend;

● Gregory of Nyssa (ca 330-ca 395), the younger brother of Saint Basil;

● Ambrose of Milan (ca 339-397), one of the four traditional ‘Doctors of the Church’, writer on Arianism, ethics and church-state relations;

● Jerome (ca 345-420), translated the Bible into Latin;

● Augustine of Hippo (354-430), opponent of Pelagius, has immeasurably influenced Western theology;

● Vincent of Lérins (died pre-450), who gives his name to the ‘Vincentian canon’;

● Cyril of Alexandria (died 444), the leading opponent of Nestorius.

Not all of the writers included in Patristic studies were necessarily orthodox in their views. Some of the writers who are regarded as heterodox or even heretical who we are likely to come across in this mini-module include:

● Tertullian (ca 160-ca 225);

● Origen (ca 185-ca 254);

● Arius (ca 260/280-336);

● Pelagius (ca 354-post 418);

● Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca 350-428), Biblical exegete, his teaching on the Incarnation was condemned at two councils;

● Nestorius (died ca 451).

Although they never came to be regarded as Church Fathers, their writings help us to understand what the Church Fathers were countering, and who they were debating with. Indeed Tertullian was the first to say: “The blood of the martyrs is seed of the Church.”

Nor were all the writers men. One of the greatest descriptions of pilgrimage we have at that time is by Egregia, who travelled from Gaul (France), spending three years in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor, describing the churches and the liturgies, and seeking out healing centres such as that of Saint Thecla in Isauria, an inland district in south-central Anatolia.

We might also ask why Patristic studies do not include within their scope:

● Saint Patrick of Ireland.

Key divisions and categories:

The Church Fathers are sometimes divided into:

● the Ante-Nicene Fathers, who lived and wrote before the First Council of Nicaea in 325,

● the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, who lived and wrote after 325.

Another common classification is:

● the Greek Fathers, who generally lived in the East and wrote in Greek;

● the Latin Fathers, who lived in the West and wrote in Latin.

The Latin Fathers include:

● Cyprian;

● Jerome;

● Ambrose of Milan;

● Gregory the Great;

● Augustine of Hippo.

Some of the most prominent Greek Fathers are:

● Justin Martyr;

● John Chrysostom;

● Cyril of Alexandria;

● Maximus the Confessor.

Even within these groupings, there are important groupings. For example the Greek Fathers include the Cappadocian Fathers:

● Basil the Great (330-379), who was bishop of Caesarea;

● Gregory of Nyssa (ca 332-395), Basil’s younger brother, who was bishop of Nyssa;

● Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389), their close friend, who became Patriarch of Constantinople.

And the Desert Fathers, including:

● Saint Anthony.

● Saint Pachomius.

● Saint John Cassian, who bridges early Egyptian monasticism and Western and Benedictine monasticism.

And Greek and Latin divisions do not happily include writers in Syrian and Coptic, including:

● Ephraim the Syrian (306-373), theologian-poet and the most important writer in Syriac among the Fathers; a hymn in our hymnal, No 446, ‘Strengthen for service, Lord the hands’, is from the Liturgy of Malabar and is attributed to Saint Ephraim the Syrian.

● Isaac the Syrian, briefly Bishop of Nineveh, who wrote several treatises against the Nestorians and Monophysites and a lament on the destruction of Antioch by an earthquake.

● Aphraates the Sage, a Persian bishop who wrote in Syriac.

Key centres:

The major locations of the early Church Fathers are the five traditional patriarchal sees:

● Rome

● Constantinople

● Alexandria

● Antioch

● Jerusalem

But they also include places such as:

● The Western Desert of modern Egypt;

● Many regions of modern-day Turkey, including Cappadocia, Smyrna and Ephesus;

● The area of western north Africa around Carthage;

● Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine’s Monastery;

● Milan and Turin in northern Italy;

● Parts of Gaul (France), which gives us the writings of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, and Vincent of Lérins.

What is included in Patristic studies or theology?

The thinking and writings of the Early Fathers are found in their epistles or letters, apologetics or defences of the developing and unfolding doctrine of the Church, in sermons, in accounts of their saintly lives and their martyrdom – for, as Tertullian said in those days, the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church – in philosophical writings, and in accounts of pilgrimages, particularly to Jerusalem.

Their concerns include the Liturgy, personal and corporate prayer, how to live an ascetic life that remains appropriate, penance, the corpus of scripture, schism and heresy, creation and ethics.

The earliest Christian writers discuss a wide range of topics that are important to the Church in their time, most of which remain important for the Church today. Several major areas of theology developed during the Patristic Period, with the major focuses for these theologians and the debates during the period including:

● Christianity’s relationship with Judaism;

● the establishment of the New Testament Canon;

● the organisation and discipline of the Church, and the role of the bishop;

● the sacramental life of the Church, especially the centrality of the Eucharist in the worship life of the Church;

● agreeing on the date of Easter;

● Apologetics, or the defence or explanation of Christianity;

● doctrinal discussions that sought to achieve consistency of faith;

● sacramental theology;

● the role of tradition;

● formulating the ecumenical creeds;

● understanding the two Natures of Christ;

● the doctrine of the Trinity;

● the doctrine of the Church;

● the centrality of the bishop in the organisation of the Church;

● our understandings of Divine grace.

Traditional Anglican theology and Patristics:

‘The Cambridge Triumvirate’ ... Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort are commemorated side-by-side in the Ante-Chapel in Trinity College Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There was a time when a course in Patristics would have been one of the core First Year modules for ordinands in Anglican theological colleges. Scholars like Bishop Joseph Lightfoot (1828-1899), Bishop Brooke Westcott (1825-1901) and Professor Fenton Hort (1828-1892) – known as the ‘Cambridge Triumvirate’ – placed Patristics at the heart of Anglican theology from the late 19th century on, for many generations.

Anglican theology has traditionally seen its foundations as Scripture, Reason and Tradition, and has sought to be rooted in the writings of the Early Fathers and the Early Church.

John Jewel (1522-1571), who is known as the first Anglican Apologist, appealed regularly to the following sources of authority:

● old Catholic Doctors;

● the Fathers;

● the General Councils;

● the Holy Scriptures of God;

● the example of the Primitive Church.

John Jewel wrote in his Apology: “What, have Christ and his Apostles, and so many Fathers all erred? What, are Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Gelasius and Theodoret Apostates from the Catholick Faith? Was the Consent of so many Bishops and Learned men, nothing but a Conspiracy of Hereticks? or that which was commendable in them, is it now blameable in us?” His implied answer is obvious – he clearly thinks that this would be self-evidently false.

The Elizabethan Canons of the Church of England (1571) stated of the clergy: “But chiefly they shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe, and believe, but that which is agreeable to the doctrine of the old Testament, and the new, and that which the catholic fathers, and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that doctrine … He that doth otherwise, or troubleth the people with contrary doctrine, shall be excommunicated.”

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), who had oversight of the translation of the Authorised Version or King James Version of the Bible, summarised the sources of Anglican theology, saying: “One Canon of Scripture which we refer to God, two Testaments, three Creeds, the first four Councils, five centuries and the succession of the Fathers in these centuries, three centuries before Constantine, two centuries after Constantine, draw the rule of our religion.”

One Canon:

By this we mean one canon of the Scriptures. But even the debate about which books are canonical and which books should be regarded as Apocrypha is a debate that has its roots in Patristic debates.

Two Testaments:

We often think of Scripture being closed with the last full stop being placed at the end of the last verse of the last chapter of the Book of Revelation.

But Saint Athanasius provides us with the first reference to the present canon of the New Testament in his Festal Letter, written as late as 367. Until then, what was meant by Scripture, the Bible and the Old and New Testament? The writings and ebates in Patristuic writings help us to ask these questions.

The Three Creeds:

The Three Creeds are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the “Creed of Saint Athanasius.”

The Four Councils

The “Four Councils” are:

● 1, Nicaea I (325): the Defeat of Arianism
● 2, Constantinople I (381): definitive teaching on the Holy Spirit
● 3, Ephesus (431): the defeat of Nestorianism
● 4, Chalcedon (451): the triumph of orthodox Christology

What about three later ecumenical councils?

● 5, Constantinople II (553): the victory over Monothelitism
● 6, Constantinople III (680-681)
● 7, Nicaea II (787)

Anglican writers usually affirm these as orthodox to the degree that they are consistent with, while adding nothing to, the substance of dogma defined by the first four councils.

The Elizabethan Act of Supremacy of 1559 makes the first four Ecumenical Councils standards for judging heresy, while the Homilies (authorised at a secondary level) and a consensus of later divines reaffirm the universal acceptance of the first six councils.

The rejection of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II (787), was initially based on a Latin translation that actually misrepresented a key teaching of the Council and supported λατρεία (latreía) being given to icons or images, rather than dulia (Greek δουλεία). Did the council mean honour, veneration or worship?

Iconoclasm was never the official Anglican policy either in theory or in practice. Various Caroline Divines used better translations of Nicaea II to defend it as legitimate in itself, although they still decried the way its teaching had been applied or even ignored in the West. So, John Bramhall, Archbishop of Armagh, could say succinctly of the decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils: “I know of none we need to fear.”

The Five Centuries

The “Five Centuries” form the Patristic era, with the writings and testimonies of the great Fathers of the first five centuries, from the Apostles to Gregory the Great.

A note on terminology

In the past, some scholars have tried to distinguish between patrologia from patristica.

They defined patrologia as the science that provides all that is needed to use the works of the Fathers, dealing with their authority, the criteria for judging their genuineness, the difficulties to be met within them, and the rules for their use.

On the other hand, patristica was seen as the theological science that collected and sorted all that concerns faith, morals, or discipline in the writings of the Fathers.

These distinctions are not much observed, and they all fall within the ambit of patristic studies as a key part of theology.

Some cultural difficulties

Saint John Chrysostom

Today, there is may be less enthusiasm for Patristics, and Professor Alister McGrath, looking at the obstacles to our understanding of Patristics in the 21st century, identifies four reasons why understanding Patristics can be difficult today:

● Some of the debates appear to have little relevance to the modern world;
● The use of classical philosophy;
● The doctrinal diversity;
● The divisions between East and West, or between Greek and Latin methods of theology, and the extent to which they think in the categories of classical philosophy.

He might have added that some of them think in ways that are totally alien to us today, such as Saint Simeon the Stylite (ca 390-459), who achieved fame as an ascetic because he lived on a small platform on the top of a pillar near Aleppo in Syria for 39 years.

And we also have to face up to the anti-semitic ideas found in the writings of many the Early Fathers. For example, Augustine argued that the Jews should be left alive and suffering as a perpetual reminder of their murder of Christ.

Saint John Chrysostom used Christ’s words in Luke 19: 27 in his Eight Homilies Against the Jews:

“The Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil; they kicked about, they failed to accept the yoke of Christ, nor did they pull the plough of his teaching. Another prophet hinted at this when he said: ‘Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer.’ … Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: ‘But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them’ (Luke 19: 27).”

Saint John Chrysostom’s sermons against Jews gave momentum to the idea that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Christ.

The Jewish philosopher Professor Steven Katz of Boston University, director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies, goes as far as to say says Saint John Chrysostom’s homilies are “the decisive turn in the history of Christian anti-Judaism, a turn whose ultimate disfiguring consequence was enacted in the political anti-semitism of Adolf Hitler.”

The Revd James Parkes (1896-1981), an Anglican theologian known for his strong writings on anti-semitism, called these writing on Jews “the most horrible and violent denunciations of Judaism to be found in the writings of a Christian theologian.”

So, it may not be all easy-going in this module. We are certainly not going to be unquestioning or going without the opportunity to question or to challenge. We need be afraid to ask questions.

Bibliography, reading and finding the texts:

The Patriarchal Institute of Patristic Studies in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1, Collections of Patristic texts:

Most Patristic texts are available in their original languages in Jacques Paul Migne's two great patrologies, Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca.

For Syriac and other Eastern languages the Patrologia Orientalis is less complete and can be largely supplemented by the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium.

Noted collections containing re-edited patristic texts (also discoveries and new attributions) are the Corpus Christianorum, Sources Chrétiennes, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Oxford Early Christian Texts and Fontes Christiani (also Etudes Augustiniennes).

2, English translations of Patristic texts and collections:

A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark).
The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century (New York: New City Press).
The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press).
Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Paulist Press).
The Early Church Fathers (London/New York: Routledge).
The Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press).

3, Relevant journals:

Augustinian Studies, published by the Philosophy Documentation Center, in co-operation with the Augustinian Institute at Villanova University.

Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture (published by the American Society of Church History, and edited by Amanda Porterfield and John Corrigan, the Religion Department, Florida State University.

The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, published by Cambridge University Press and edited by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of Church History, Oxford, and James Carleton Paget of Peterhouse, University of Cambridge).

The Journal of Early Christian Studies, the official publication of the North American Patristics Society and published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.

Studia patristica, published by the Oxford International Conference on Patristic Studies and edited by Allen Brent and Markus Vinzent of King’s College London.

Vigiliae Christianae, a review of Early Christian Life and Language edited by J den Boeft (Free University of Amsterdam) and J van Oort (Nijmegen/Pretoria).

4, Recommended reading:

Mike Aquilinia, Companion Guide to Pope Benedict’s The Fathers (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2008).
Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans RS Pine-Coffin (London: Penguin, 1061 &c).
Lewis Ayers, Nicaea and its Legacy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, pbk ed, 2006).
Angelo Di Berardino (ed), Patrology: The Eastern Fathers from the Council of Chalcedon (451) to John of Damascus (+750) (2nd ed, London: James Clark, 2008).
John Chryssavgis, Light through Darkness: the Orthodox Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2004, Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series).
Mary Cunningham, Faith in the Byzantine World (Oxford: Lion, 2002).
MB Cunningham, E Theokritoff (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Charles Freeman, A new history of Early Christianity (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011).
SA Harvey, DG Hunter (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008/2010).
Derek Krueger (ed), Byzantine Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006, A People’s History of Christianity, vol 3).
JB Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers (London: MacMillan, 1891, 1907).
Andrew Louth (ed), Early Christian Writings (London: Penguin, 1987).
John A McGuckin, The SCM Press A-Z of Patristic Theology (London: SCM Press, 2005 ed, the SCM Press A-Z of Christian Theology Series).
John Anthony McGuckin, Standing in God’s Holy Fire: the Byzantine Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2001, Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series).
Cyril Richardson (ed), Early Christian Fathers (London: SCM Press, 1953).
JWC Wand, The Greek Doctors (London: Faith Press, 1950).
Benedicta Ward, The Desert Fathers: sayings of the Early Christian Monks (London: Penguin, 2003).


Patristics 2,
11.30 a.m., 23 March 2016: The Apostolic Fathers.

Westcott House, Cambridge … the theological college is named in honour of the great Anglican patristic scholar, Bishop Brooke Westcott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 23 March 2016 was part of the Year I MTh module, Introduction to Patristics.

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (43)

It is by the force of perseverance that that distant place ‘are united with canals’ … swans on the Royal Canal at Castleknock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

Today is Wednesday in Holy Week [23 March 2016]. Samuel Johnson wrote Spes, a short poem on hope in Latin, on the Wednesday of Holy Week in 1783:

Hora sic peragit citata cursum;
Sic diem sequitur dies fugacem!
Spes novas nova lux parit, secunda
Spondens omnia credulis homullis;
Spes ludit stolidas, metuque caeco
Lux angit miseros cadens homullos.

Many years earlier, in The Rambler No. 43 (14 August 1750), Johnson wrote:

All the performances of human art, at which we look with praise or wonder, are instances of the resistless force of perseverance; it is by this that the quarry becomes a pyramid, and that distant countries are united with canals. If a man was to compare the single stroke of the pickaxe, or of one impression of the spade, with the general design and the last result, he would be overwhelmed by the sense of their disproportion; yet those petty operations, incessantly continued, in time surmount the greatest difficulties, and mountains are levelled and oceans bounded by the slender force of human beings.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that those, who have any intention of deviating from the beaten roads of life, and acquiring a reputation superior to names hourly swept away by time among the refuse of fame, should add to their reason, and their spirit, the power of persisting in their purposes; acquire the art of sapping what they cannot batter, and the habit of vanquishing obstinate resistance by obstinate attacks.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.