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Fathers of the Church

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The word Father is used in the New Testament to mean a teacher of spiritual things, by whose means the soul of man is born again into the likeness of Christ: "For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ" (I Cor., iv, 15, 16; cf. Gal., iv, 19). The first teachers of Christianity seem to be collectively spoken of as "the Fathers" (II Peter, iii, 4).

Thus St. Irenaeus defines that a teacher is a father, and a disciple is a son (iv, 41,2), and so says Clement of Alexandria (Strom., I, i, 1). A bishop is emphatically a "father in Christ", both because it was he, in early times, who baptized all his flock, and because he is the chief teacher of his church. But he is also regarded by the early Fathers, such as Hegesippus, Irenaeus, and Tertullian as the recipient of the tradition of his predecessors in the see, and consequently as the witness and representative of the faith of his Church before Catholicity and the world. Hence the expression "the Fathers" comes naturally to be applied to the holy bishops of a preceding age, whether of the last generation or further back, since they are the parents at whose knee the Church of today was taught her belief. It is also applicable in an eminent way to bishops sitting in council, "the Fathers of Nicaea", "the Fathers of Trent". Thus Fathers have learnt from Fathers, and in the last resort from the Apostles, who are sometimes called Fathers in this sense: "They are your Fathers", says St. Leo, of the Princes of the Apostles, speaking to the Romans; St. Hilary of Arles calls them sancti patres ; Clement of Alexandria says that his teachers, from Greece, Ionia, Coele-Syria, Egypt, the Orient, Assyria, Palestine, respectively, had handed on to him the tradition of blessed teaching from Peter, and James, and John, and Paul, receiving it "as son from father".

It follows that, as our own Fathers are the predecessors who have taught us, so the Fathers of the whole Church are especially the earlier teachers, who instructed her in the teaching of the Apostles, during her infancy and first growth. It is difficult to define the first age of the Church, or the age of the Fathers. It is a common habit to stop the study of the early Church at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. "The Fathers" must undoubtedly include, in the West, St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), and in the East, St. John Damascene (d. about 754). It is frequently said that St. Bernard (d. 1153) was the last of the Fathers, and Migne's "Patrologia Latina" extends to Innocent III, halting only on the verge of the thirteenth century, while his "Patrologia Graeca" goes as far as the Council of Florence (1438-9). These limits are evidently too wide, It will be best to consider that the great merit of St. Bernard as a writer lies in his resemblance in style and matter to the greatest among the Fathers, in spite of the difference of period. St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) and the Venerable Bede (d. 735) are to be classed among the Fathers, but they may be said to have been born out of due time, as St. Theodore the Studite was in the East.


Thus the use of the term Fathers has been continuous, yet it could not at first he employed in precisely the modern sense of Fathers of the Church. In early days the expression referred to writers who were then quite recent. It is still applied to those writers who are to us the ancients, but no longer in the same way to writers who are now recent. Appeals to the Fathers are a subdivision of appeals to tradition. In the first half of the second century begin the appeals to the sub-Apostolic age: Papias appeals to the presbyters, and through them to the Apostles. Half a century later St. Irenaeus supplements this method by an appeal to the tradition handed down in every Church by the succession of its bishops (Adv. Haer., III, i-iii), and Tertullian clinches this argument by the observation that as all the Churches agree, their tradition is secure, for they could not all have strayed by chance into the same error (Praescr., xxviii). The appeal is thus to Churches and their bishops, none but bishops being the authoritative exponents of the doctrine of their Churches. As late as 341 the bishops of the Dedication Council at Antioch declared: "We are not followers of Arius; for how could we, who are bishops, be disciples of a priest?"

Yet slowly, as the appeals to the presbyters died out, there was arising by the side of appeals to the Churches a third method: the custom of appealing to Christian teachers who were not necessarily bishops. While, without the Church, Gnostic schools were substituted for churches, within the Church, Catholic schools were growing up. Philosophers like Justin and most of the numerous second-century apologists were reasoning about religion, and the great catechetical school of Alexandria was gathering renown. Great bishops and saints like Dionysius of Alexandria, Gregory Thaumaturgus of Pontus, Firmilian of Cappadocia, and Alexander of Jerusalem were proud to be disciples of the priest Origen. The bishop Cyprian called daily for the works of the priest Tertullian with the words "Give me the master". The Patriarch Athanasius refers for the ancient use of the word homoousios , not merely to the two Dionysii, but to the priest Theognostus. Yet these priest-teachers are not yet called Fathers, and the greatest among them, Tertullian, Clement, Origen, Hippolytus, Novatian, Lucian, happen to be tinged with heresy; two became antipopes; one is the father of Arianism; another was condemned by a general council. In each case we might apply the words used by St. Hilary of Tertullian: "Sequenti errore detraxit scriptis probabilibus auctoritatem" (Comm. in Matt., v, 1, cited by Vincent of Lérins, 2.4).

A fourth form of appeal was better founded and of enduring value. Eventually it appeared that bishops as well as priests were fallible. In the second century the bishops were orthodox. In the third they were often found wanting. in the fourth they were the leaders of schisms, and heresies, in the Meletian and Donatist troubles and in the long Arian struggle, in which few were found to stand firm against the insidious persecution of Constantius. It came to be seen that the true Fathers of the Church are those Catholic teachers who have persevered in her communion, and whose teaching has been recognized as orthodox. So it came to pass that out of the four "Latin Doctors" one is not a bishop. Two other Fathers who were not bishops have been declared to be Doctors of the Church, Bede and John Damascene, while among the Doctors outside the patristic period we find two more priests, the incomparable St. Bernard and the greatest of all theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas. Nay, few writers had such great authority in the Schools of the Middle Ages as the layman Boethius, many of whose definitions are still commonplaces of theology.

Similarly (we may notice in passing) the name "Father", which originally belonged to bishops, has been as it were delegated to priests, especially as ministers of the Sacrament of Penance. it is now a form of address to all priests in Spain, in Ireland, and, of recent years, in England and the United States.

Papas or Pappas , Pope, was a term of respect for eminent bishops (e.g. in letters to St. Cyprian and to St. Augustine -- neither of these writers seems to use it in addressing other bishops, except when St. Augustine writes to Rome). Eventually the term was reserved to the bishops of Rome and Alexandria; yet in the East to-day every priest is a "pope". The Aramaic abbe was used from early times for the superiors of religious houses. But through the abuse of granting abbeys in commendam to seculars, it has become a polite title for all secular clerics, even seminarists in Italy, and especially in France, whereas all religious who are priests are addressed as "Father".

We receive only, says St. Basil, what we have been taught by the holy Fathers; and he adds that in his Church of Caesarea the faith of the holy Fathers of Nicaea has long been implanted (Ep. cxl, 2). St. Gregory Nazianzen declares that he holds fast the teaching which he heard from the holy Oracles, and was taught by the holy Fathers. These Cappadocian saints seem to be the first to appeal to a real catena of Fathers. The appeal to one or two was already common enough; but not even the learned Eusebius had thought of a long string of authorities. St. Basil, for example (De Spir. S., ii, 29), cites for the formula "with the Holy Ghost" in the doxology, the example of Irenaeus, Clement and Dionysius of Alexandria, Dionysius of Rome, Eusebius of Caesarea, Origen, Africanus, the preces lucerariae said at the lighting of lamps, Athenagoras, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Firmilian, Meletius. In the fifth century this method became a stereotyped custom. St. Jerome is perhaps the first writer to try to establish his interpretation of a text by a string of exegetes (Ep. cxii, ad Aug.). Paulinus, the deacon and biographer of St. Ambrose, in the libellus he presented against the Pelagians to Pope Zosimus in 417, quotes Cyprian, Ambrose, Gregory Nazianzen, and the decrees of the late Pope Innocent. In 420 St. Augustine quotes Cyprian and Ambrose against the same heretics (C. duas Epp. Pel., iv). Julian of Eclanum quoted Chrysostom and Basil; St. Augustine replies to him in 421 (Contra Julianum, i) with Irenaeus, Cyprian, Reticius, Olympius, Hilary, Ambrose, the decrees of African councils, and above all Popes Innocent and Zosimus. In a celebrated passage he argues that these Western writers are more than sufficient, but as Julian had appealed to the East, to the East, he shall go, and the saint adds Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Synod of Diospolis, Chrysostom. To these he adds Jerome (c. xxxiv): "Nor should you think Jerome, because he was a priest, is to be despised", and adds a eulogy. This is amusing, when we remember that Jerome in a fit of irritation, fifteen before, had written to Augustine (Ep. cxlii) "Do not excite against me the silly crowd of the ignorant, who venerate you as a bishop, and receive you with the honour due to a prelate when you declaim in the Church, whereas they think little of me, an old man, nearly decrepit, in my monastery in the solitude of the country."

In the second book "Contra Julianum", St. Augustine again cites Ambrose frequently, and Cyprian, Gregory Nazianzen, Hilary, Chrysostom; in ii, 37, he recapitulates the nine names (omitting councils and popes), adding (iii, 32) Innocent and Jerome. A few years later the Semipelagians of Southern Gaul, who were led by St. Hilary of Arles, St. Vincent of Lérins, and Bl. Cassian, refuse to accept St. Augustine's severe view of predestination because "contrarium putant patrum opinioni et ecclesiastico sensui". Their opponent St. Prosper, who was trying to convert them to Augustinianism, complains: "Obstinationem suam vetustate defendunt" (Ep. inter Atig. ccxxv, 2), and they said that no ecclesiastical writer had ever before interpreted Romans quite as St. Augustine did -- which was probably true enough. The interest of this attitude lies in the fact that it was, if not new at least more definite than any earlier appeal to antiquity. Through most of the fourth century, the controversy with the Arians had turned upon Scripture, and appeals to past authority were few. But the appeal to the Fathers was never the most imposing locus theologicus , for they could not easily be assembled so as to form an absolutely conclusive test. On the other hand up to the end of the fourth century, there were practically no infallible definitions available, except condemnations of heresies, chiefly by popes. By the time that the Arian reaction under Valens caused the Eastern conservatives to draw towards the orthodox, and prepared the restoration of orthodoxy to power by Theodosius, the Nicene decisions were beginning to be looked upon as sacrosanct, and that council to be preferred to a unique position above all others. By 430, the date we have reached, the Creed we now say at Mass was revered in the East, whether rightly or wrongly, as the work of the 150 Fathers of Constantinople in 381, and there were also new papal decisions, especially the tractoria of Pope Zosimus, which in 418 had been sent to all the bishops of the world to be signed.

It is to living authority, the idea of which had thus come to the fore, that St. Prosper was appealing in his controversy with the Lerinese school. When he went to Gaul, in 431, as papal envoy, just after St. Augustine's death, he replied to their difficulties, not by reiterating that saint's hardest arguments, but by taking with him a letter from Pope St. Celestine, in which St. Augustine is extolled as having been held by the pope's predecessors to be "inter magistros optimos". No one is to be allowed to depreciate him, but it is not said that every word of his is to be followed. The disturbers had appealed to the Holy See, and the reply is "Desinat incessere novitas vetustatem" (Let novelty cease to attack antiquity!). An appendix is added, not of the opinions of ancient Fathers, but of recent popes, since the very same monks who thought St. Augustine went too far, professed (says the appendix) "that they followed and approved only what the most holy See of the Blessed Apostle Peter sanctioned and taught by the ministry of its prelates". A list therefore follows of "the judgments of the rulers of the Roman Church", to which are added some sentences of African councils, "which indeed the Apostolic bishops made their own when they approved them". To these inviolabiles sanctiones (we might roughly render "infallible utterances") prayers used in the sacraments are appended "ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi" -- a frequently misquoted phrase -- and in conclusion, it is declared that these testimonies of the Apostolic See are sufficient, "so that we consider not to be Catholic at all whatever shall appear to be contrary to the decisions we have cited". Thus the decisions of the Apostolic See are put on a very different level from the views of St. Augustine, just as that saint always drew a sharp distinction between the resolutions of African councils or the extracts from the Fathers, on the one hand, and the decrees of Popes Innocent and Zosimus on the other.

Three years later a famous document on tradition and its use emanated from the Lerinese school, the "Commonitorium" of St. Vincent. He whole-heartedly accepted the letter of Pope Celestine, and he quoted it as an authoritative and irresistible witness to his own doctrine that where quod ubique , or universitas , is uncertain, we must turn to quod semper , or antiquitas . Nothing could be more to his purpose than the pope's: "Desinat incessere novitas vetustatem" The oecumenical Council of Ephesus had been held in the same year that Celestine wrote. Its Acts were before St. Vincent, and it is clear that he looked upon both pope and council as decisive authorities. It was necessary to establish this, before turning to his famous canon, quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus otherwise universitas, antiquitas, consensio . It was not a new criterion, else it would have committed suicide by its very expression. But never had the doctrine been so admirably phrased, so limpidly explained, so adequately exemplified. Even the law of the evolution of dogma is defined by Vincent in language which can hardly be surpassed for exactness and vigour. St. Vincent's triple test is wholly misunderstood if it is taken to be the ordinary rule of faith. Like all Catholics he took the ordinary rule to be the living magisterium of the Church, and he assumes that the formal decision in cases of doubt lies with the Apostolic See, or with a general council. But cases of doubt arise when no such decision is forthcoming. Then it is that the three tests are to be applied, not simultaneously, but, if necessary, in succession.

When an error is found in one corner of the Church, then the first test, universitas, quod ubique , is an unanswerable refutation, nor is there any need to examine further (iii, 7, 8). But if an error attacks the whole Church, then antiquitas, quod semper is to be appealed to, that is, a consensus existing before the novelty arose. Still, in the previous period one or two teachers, even men of great fame, may have erred. Then we betake ourselves to quod ab omnibus, consensio , to the many against the few (if possible to a general council; if not, to an examination of writings). Those few are a trial of faith "ut tentet vos Dominus Deus vester" (Deut., xiii, 1 sqq.). So Tertullian was a magna tentatio ; so was Origen -- indeed the greatest temptation of all. We must know that whenever what is new or unheard before is introduced by one man beyond or against all the saints, it pertains not to religion but to temptation (xx, 49). Who are the "Saints" to whom we appeal? The reply is a definition of "Fathers of the Church" given with all St. Vincent's inimitable accuracy: "Inter se majorem consulat interrogetque sententias, eorum dumtaxat qui, diversis licet temporibus et locis, in unius tamen ecclesiae Catholicae communione et fide permanentes, magistri probabiles exstiterunt ; et quicquid non unus aut duo tantum, sed omnes pariter uno eodemque consensu aperte, frequenter, perseveranter tenuisse, scripsisse, docuisse cognoverit, id sibi quoque intelligat absque ulla dubitatione credendum" (iii, 8). This unambiguous sentence defines for us what is the right way of appealing to the Fathers, and the italicized words perfectly explain what is a "Father": "Those alone who, though in diverse times and places, yet persevering in time communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, have been approved teachers."

The same result is obtained by modern theologians, in their definitions; e.g. Fessler thus defines what constitutes a "Father":

  1. orthodox doctrine and learning;
  2. holiness of life;
  3. (at the present day) a certain antiquity.
The criteria by which we judge whether a writer is a "Father" or not are:
  1. citation by a general council, or
  2. in public Acts of popes addressed to the Church or concerning Faith;
  3. encomium in the Roman Martyrology as "sanctitate et doctrina insignis";
  4. public reading in Churches in early centuries;
  5. citations, with praise, as an authority as to the Faith by some of the more celebrated Fathers.
Early authors, though belonging to the Church, who fail to reach this standard are simply ecclesiastical writers ("Patrologia", ed. Jungmann, ch. i, #11). On the other hand, where the appeal is not to the authority of the writer, but his testimony is merely required to the belief of his time, one writer is as good as another, and if a Father is cited for this purpose, it is not as a Father that he is cited, but merely as a witness to facts well known to him. For the history of dogma, therefore, the works of ecclesiastical writers who are not only not approved, but even heretical, are often just as valuable as those of the Fathers. On the other hand, the witness of one Father is occasionally of great weight for doctrine when taken singly, if he is teaching a subject on which he is recognized by the Church as an especial authority, e.g., St. Athanasius on the Divinity of the Son, St. Augustine on the Holy Trinity, etc. There are a few cases in which a general council has given approbation to the work of a Father, the most important being the two letters of St. Cyril of Alexandria which were read at the Council of Ephesus. But the authority of single Fathers considered in itself, says Franzelin (De traditione, thesis xv), "is not infallible or peremptory; though piety and sound reason agree that the theological opinions of such individuals should not be treated lightly, and should not without great caution be interpreted in a sense which clashes with the common doctrine of other Fathers." The reason is plain enough; they were holy men, who are not to be presumed to have intended to stray from the doctrine of the Church, and their doubtful utterances are therefore to be taken in the best sense of which they are capable. If they cannot be explained in an orthodox sense, we have to admit that not the greatest is immune from ignorance or accidental error or obscurity. But on the use of the Fathers in theological questions, the article and the ordinary dogmatic treatises on that subject must be consulted, as it is proper here only to deal with the historical development of their use. The subject was never treated as a part of dogmatic theology until the rise of what is now commonly called "Theologia fundamentalis", in the sixteenth century, the founders of which are Melchior Canus and Bellarmine. The former has a discussion of the use of the Fathers in deciding questions of faith (De locis theologicis, vii). The Protestant Reformers attacked the authority of the Fathers. The most famous of these opponents is Dalbeus (Jean Daillé, 1594-1670, "Traité de l'emploi des saints Pères", 1632; in Latin "De usu Patrum", 1656). But their objections are long since forgotten. Having traced the development of the use of the Fathers up to the period of its frequent employment, and of its formal statement by St. Vincent of Lérins, it will be well to give a glance at the continuation of the practice. We saw that, in 431, it was possible for St. Vincent (in a book which has been most unreasonably taken to be a mere polemic against St. Augustine -- a notion which is amply refuted by the use made in it of St. Celestine's letter) to define the meaning and method of patristic appeals. From that time onward they are very common. in the Council of Ephesus, 431, as St. Vincent points out, St. Cyril presented a series of quotations from the Fathers, tôn hagiôtatôn kai hosiôtatôn paterôn kai episkopôn diaphorôn marturôn , which were read on the motion of Flavian, Bishop of Philippi. They were from Peter I of Alexandria, Martyr, Athanasius, Popes Julius and Felix (forgeries), Theophilus, Cyprian, Ambrose, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Atticus, Amphilochius. On the other hand Eutyches, when tried at Constantinople by St. Flavian, in 449, refused to accept either Fathers or councils as authorities, confining himself to Holy Scripture, a position which horrified his judges (see ). In the following year St. Leo sent his legates, Abundius and Asterius. to Constantinople with a list of testimonies from Hilary, Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Theophilus, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Cyril of Alexandria. They were signed in that city, but were not produced at the Council of Chalcedon in the following year. Thenceforward the custom is fixed, and it is unnecessary to give examples. However, that of the sixth council in 680 is important: Pope St. Agatho sent a long series of extracts from Rome, and the leader of the Monothelites, Macarius of Antioch, presented another. Both sets were carefully verified from the library of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and sealed. It should be noted that it was never in such cases thought necessary to trace a doctrine back to the earliest times; St. Vincent demanded the proof of the Church's belief before a doubt arose -- this is his notion of antiquitas ; and in conformity with this view, the Fathers quoted by councils and popes and Fathers are for the most part recent (Petavius, De Incarn., XIV, 15, 2-5).

In the last years of the fifth century a famous document, attributed to Popes Gelasius and Hormisdas, adds to decrees of St. Damasus of 382 a list of books which are approved, and another of those disapproved. In its present form the list of approved Fathers comprises Cyprian, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Theophilus, Hilary, Cyril of Alexandria (wanting in one MS.), Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Prosper, Leo ("every iota" of the tome to Flavian is to be accepted under anathema), and "also the treatises of all orthodox Fathers, who deviated in nothing from the fellowship of the holy Roman Church, and were not separated from her faith and preaching, but were participators through the grace of God until the end of their life in her communion; also the decretal letters, which most blessed popes have given at various times when consulted by various Fathers, are to be received with veneration". Orosius, Sedulius, and Juvencus are praised. Rufinus and Origen are rejected. Eusebius's "History" and "Chronicle" are not to be condemned altogether, though in another part of the list they appear as "apocrypha" with Tertullian, Lactantius, Africanus, Commodian, Clement of Alexandria, Arnobius, Cassian, Victorinus of Pettau, Faustus, and the works of heretics, and forged Scriptural documents. The later Fathers constantly used the writings of the earlier. For instance, St. Caesarius of Arles drew freely on St. Augustine's sermons, and embodied them in collections of his own; St. Gregory the Great has largely founded himself on St. Augustine; St. Isidore rests upon all his predecessors; St. John Damascene's great work is a synthesis of patristic theology. St. Bede's sermons are a cento from the greater Fathers. Eugippius made a selection from St. Augustine's writings, which had an immense vogue. Cassiodorus made a collection of select commentaries by various writers on all the books of Holy Scripture. St. Benedict especially recommended patristic study, and his sons have observed his advice: "Ad perfectionem conversationis qui festinat, sunt doctrinae sanctorum Patrum, quarum observatio perducat hominem ad celsitudinem perfectionis . . . quis liber sanctorum catholicorum Patrum hoc non resonat, ut recto cursu perveniamus ad creatorem nostrum?" (Sanet Regula, lxxiii). Florilegia and catenae became common from the fifth century onwards. They are mostly anonymous, but those in the East which go under the name OEcumenius are well known. Most famous of all throughout the Middle Ages was the "Glossa ordinaria" attributed to Walafrid Strabo. The "Catena aurea" of St. Thomas Aquinas is still in use. (See , and the valuable matter collected by Turner in Hastings, Dict. of the Bible, V, 521.)

St. Augustine was early recognized as the first of the Western Fathers, with St. Ambrose and St. Jerome by his side. St. Gregory the Great was added, and these four became "the Latin Doctors". St. Leo, in some ways the greatest of theologians, was excluded, both on account of the paucity of his writings, and by the fact that his letters had a far higher authority as papal utterances. In the East St. John Chrysostom has always been the most popular, as he is the most voluminous, of the Fathers. With the great St. Basil, the father of monachism, and St. Gregory Nazianzen, famous for the purity of his faith, he made up the triumvirate called "the three hierarchs", familiar up to the present day in Eastern art. St. Athanasius was added to these by the Westerns, so that four might answer to four. (See .) It will be observed that many of the writers rejected in the Gelasian list lived and died in Catholic communion, but incorrectness in some part of their writings, e.g. the Semipelagian error attributed to Cassian and Faustus, the chiliasm of the conclusion of Victoninus's commentary on the Apocalypse (St. Jerome issued an expurgated edition, the only one in print as yet), the unsoundness of the lost "Hypotyposes" of Clement, and so forth, prevented such writers from being spoken of, as Hilary was by Jerome, "inoffenso pede percurritur". As all the more important doctrines of the Church (except that of the Canon and the inspiration of Scripture) may be proved, or at least illustrated, from Scripture, the widest office of tradition is the interpretation of Scripture, and the authority of the Fathers is here of very great importance. Nevertheless it is only then necessarily to be followed when all are of one mind: "Nemo . . . contra unanimum consensum Patrum ipsam Scripturam sacram interpretari audeat", says the Council of Trent; and the Creed of Pius IV has similarly: ". . . nec eam unquam nisi juxta unanimum consensum Patrum accipiam et interpretabor". The Vatican Council echoes Trent: "nemini licere . . . contra unanimum sensum Patrum ipsam Scripturam sacram interpretari."

A consensus of the Fathers is not, of course, to be expected in very small matters: "Quae tamen antiqua sanctorum patrum consensio non in omnibus divinae legis quaestiunculis, sed solum certe praecipue in fidei regula magno nobis studio et investiganda est et sequenda" (Vincent, xxviii, 72). This is not the method, adds St. Vincent, against widespread and inveterate heresies, but rather against novelties, to be applied directly they appear. A better instance could hardly be given than the way in which Adoptionism was met by the Council of Frankfort in 794, nor could the principle be better expressed than by the Fathers of the Council: "Tenete vos intra terminos Patrum, et nolite novas versare quaestiunculas; ad nihilum enim valent nisi ad subversionem audientium. Sufficit enim vobis sanctorum Patrum vestigia sequi, et illorum dicta firma tenere fide. Illi enim in Domino nostri exstiterunt doctores in fide et ductores ad vitam; quorum et sapientia Spiritu Dei plena libris legitur inscripta, et vita meritorum miraculis clara et sanctissima; quorum animae apud Deum Dei Filium, D.N.J.C. pro magno pietatis labore regnant in caelis. Hos ergo tota animi virtute, toto caritatis affectu sequimini, beatissimi fratres, ut horum inconcussa firmitate doctrinis adhaerentes, consortium aeternae beatitudinis . . . cum illis habere mereamini in caelis" ("Synodica ad Episc." in Mansi, XIII, 897-8). And an excellent act of faith in the tradition of the Church is that of Charlemagne (ibid., 902) made on the same occasion: "Apostolicae sedi et antiquis ab initio nascentis ecclesiae et catholicis traditionibus tota mentis intentione, tota cordis alacritate, me conjungo. Quicquid in illorum legitur libris, qui divino Spiritu afflati, toti orbi a Deo Christo dati sunt doctores, indubitanter teneo; hoc ad salutem animae meae sufficere credens, quod sacratissimae evangelicae veritatis pandit historia, quod apostolica in suis epistolis confirmat auctoritas, quod eximii Sacrae Scripturae tractatores et praecipui Christianae fidei doctores ad perpetuam posteris scriptum reliquerunt memoriam."


In order to get a good view of the patristic period, the Fathers may be divided in various ways. One favourite method is by periods; the Ante-Nicene Fathers till 325; the Great Fathers of the fourth century and half the fifth (325-451); and the later Fathers. A more obvious division is into Easterns and Westerns, and the Easterns will comprise writers in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, and Coptic. A convenient division into smaller groups will be by periods, nationalities and character of writings; for in the East and West there were many races, and some of the ecclesiastical writers are apologists, some preachers, some historians, some commentators, and so forth.

A. After (1) the Apostolic Fathers come in the second century (2) the Greek apologists, followed by (3) the Western apologists somewhat later, (4) the Gnostic and Marcionite heretics with their apocryphal Scriptures, and (5) the Catholic replies to them.

B. The third century gives us (1) the Alexandrian writers of the catechetical school, (2) the writers of Asia Minor and (3) Palestine, and the first Western writers, (4) at Rome, Hippolytus (in Greek), and Novatian, (5) the great African writers, and a few others.

C. The fourth century opens with (1) the apologetic and the historical works of Eusebius of Caesarea, with whom we may class St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. Epiphanius, (2) the Alexandrian writers Athanasius, Didymus, and others, (3) the Cappadocians, (4) the Antiochenes, (5) the Syriac writers. In the West we have (6) the opponents of Arianism, (7) the Italians, including Jerome, (8) the Africans, and (9) the Spanish and Gallic writers.

D. The fifth century gives us (1) the Nestorian controversy, (2) the Eutychian controversy, including the Western St. Leo; (3) the historians. In the West (4) the school of Lérins, (5) the letters of the popes.

E. The sixth century and the seventh give us less important names and they must be grouped in a more mechanical way.

A. (1) If we now take these groups in detail we find the letters of the chief Apostolic Fathers, St. Clement, St. Ignatius, and St. Polycarp, venerable not merely for their antiquity, but for a certain simplicity and nobility of thought and style which is very moving to the reader. Their quotations from the New Testament are quite free. They offer most important information to the historian, though in somewhat homoeopathic quantities. To these we add the Didache, probably the earliest of all; the curious allegorizing anti-Jewish epistle which goes under the name of Barnabas; the Shepherd of Hermas, a rather dull series of visions chiefly connected with penance and pardon, composed by the brother of Pope Pius I, and long appended to the New Testament as of almost canonical importance. The works of Papias, the disciple of St. John and Aristion, are lost, all but a few precious fragments.

(2) The apologists are most of them philosophic in their treatment of Christianity. Some of their works were presented to emperors in order to disarm persecutions. We must not always accept the view given to outsiders by the apologists, as representing the whole of the Christianity they knew and practised. The apologies of Quadratus to Hadrian, of Aristo of Pella to the Jews, of Miltiades, of Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and of Melito of Sardis are lost to us. But we still possess several of greater importance. That of Aristides of Athens was presented to Antoninus Pius, and deals principally with the knowledge of the true God. The fine apology of St. Justin with its appendix is above all interesting for its description of the liturgy at Rome c. 150. his arguments against the Jews are found in the well-composed "Dialogue with Trypho", where he speaks of the Apostolic authorship of the Apocalypse in a manner which is of first-rate importance in the mouth of a man who was converted at Ephesus some time before the year 132. The "Apology" of Justin's Syrian disciple Tatian is a less conciliatory work, and its author fell into heresy. Athenagoras, an Athenian (c. 177), addressed to Marcus Aurelius and Commodus an eloquent refutation of the absurd calumnies against Christians. Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, about the same date, wrote three books of apology addressed to a certain Autolycus.

(3) All these works are of considerable literary ability. This is not the case with the great Latin apology which closely follows them in date, the "Apologeticus" of Tertullian, which is in the uncouth and untranslatable language affected by its author. Nevertheless it is a work of extraordinary genius, in interest and value far above all the rest, and for energy and boldness it is incomparable. His fierce "Ad Scapulam" is a warning addressed to a persecuting proconsul. "Adversus Judaeos" is a title which explains itself. The other Latin apologists are later. The "Octavios" of Minucius Felix is as polished and gentle as Tertullian is rough. Its date is uncertain. If the "Apologeticus "was well calculated to infuse courage into the persecuted Christian, the "Octavius" was more likely to impress the inquiring pagan, if so be that more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar. With these works we may mention the much later Lactantius, the most perfect of all in literary form ("Divinae Institutiones", c. 305-10, and "De Mortibus persecutorum", c. 314). Greek apologies probably later than the second century are the "Irrisiones" of Hermias, and the very beautiful "Epistle" to Diognetus.

(4) The heretical writings of the second century are mostly lost. The Gnostics had schools and philosophized; their writers were numerous. Some curious works have come down to us in Coptic. The letter of Ptolemeus to Flora in Epiphanius is almost the only Greek fragment of real importance. Marcion founded not a school but a Church, and his New Testament, consisting of St. Luke and St. Paul, is preserved to some extent in the works written against him by Tertullian and Epiphanius. Of the writings of Greek Montanists and of other early heretics, almost nothing remains. The Gnostics composed a quantity of apocryphal Gospels amid Acts of individual Apostles, large portions of which are preserved, mostly in fragments, in Latin revisions, or in Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, or Slavonic versions. To these are to be added such well-known forgeries as the letters of Paul to Seneca, and the Apocalypse of Peter, of which a fragment was recently found in the Fayûm.

(5) Replies to the attacks of heretics form, next to the apologetic against heathen persecutors on the one hand and Jews on the other, the characteristic Catholic literature of the second century. The "Syntagma" of St. Justin against all heresies is lost. Earlier yet, St. Papias (already mentioned) had directed his efforts to the refutation of the rising errors, and the same preoccupation is seen in St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp. Hegesippus, a converted Jew of Palestine, journeyed to Corinth and Rome, where he stayed from the episcopate of Anicetus till that of Eleutherius (c. 160-180), with the intention of refuting the novelties of the Gnostics and Marcionites by an appeal to tradition. His work is lost. But the great work of St. Irenaeus (c. 180) against heresies is founded on Papias, Hegesippus, and Justin, and gives from careful investigation an account of many Gnostic systems, together with their refutation. His appeal is less to Scripture than to the tradition which the whole Catholic Church has received and handed down from the Apostles, through the ministry of successive bishops, and particularly to the tradition of the Roman Church founded by Peter and Paul.

By the side of Irenaeus must be put the Latin Tertullian, whose book "Of the Prescriptions Against Heretics" is not only a masterpiece of argument, but is almost as effective against modern heresies as against those of the early Church. It is a witness of extraordinary importance to the principles of unvarying tradition which the Catholic Church has always professed, and to the primitive belief that Holy Scripture must be interpreted by the Church and not by private industry. He uses Irenaeus in this work, and his polemical books against the Valentinians and the Marcionites borrow freely from that saint. He is the less persuasive of the two, because he is too abrupt, too clever, too anxious for the slightest controversial advantage, without thought of the easy replies that might be made. He sometimes prefers wit or hard hitting to solid argument. At this period controversies were beginning within the Church, the most important being the question whether Easter could be celebrated on a weekday. Another burning question at Rome, at the turn of the century, was the doubt whether the prophesying of the Montanists could be approved, and yet another, in the first years of the third century, was the controversy with a group of opponents of Montanism (so it seems), who denied the authenticity of the writings of St. John, an error then quite new.

B. (1) The Church of Alexandria already in the second century showed the note of learning, together with a habit borrowed from the Alexandrian Jews, especially Philo, of an allegorizing interpretation of Scripture. The latter characteristic is already found in the "Epistle of Barnabas", which may be of Alexandrian origin. Pantamus was the first to make the Catechetical school of the city famous. No writings of his are extant, but his pupil Clement, who taught in the school with Pantamus, c. 180, and as its head, c. 180-202 (died c. 214), has left a considerable amount of rather lengthy disquisitions dealing with mythology, mystical theology, education, social observances, and all other things in heaven and on earth. He was followed by the great Origen, whose fame spread far and wide even among the heathen. The remains of his works, though they fill several volumes, are to a great extent only in free Latin translations, and bear but a small ratio to the vast amount that has perished. The Alexandrians held as firmly as any Catholics to tradition as the rule of faith, at least in theory, but beyond tradition they allowed themselves to speculate, so that the "Hypotyposes" of Clement have been almost entirely lost on account of the errors which found a place in them, and Origen's works fell under the ban of the Church, though their author lived the life of a saint, and died, shortly after the Decian persecution, of the sufferings he had undergone in it.

The disciples of Origen were many and eminent. The library founded by one of them, St. Alexander of Jerusalem, was precious later on to Eusebius. The most celebrated of the school were St. Dionysius "the Great" of Alexandria and St. Gregory of Neocaesarea in Pontus, known as the Wonder-Worker, who, like St. Nonnosus in the West, was said to have moved a mountain for short distance by his prayers. Of the writings of these two saints not very much is extant.

(2) Montanism and the paschal question brought Asia Minor down from the leading position it held in the second century into a very inferior rank in the third. Besides St. Gregory, St. Methodius at the end of that century was a polished writer and an opponent of Origenism -- his name is consequently passed over without mention by the Origenist historian Eusebius. We have his "Banquet" in Greek, and some smaller works in Old Slavonic.

(3) Antioch was the head see over the "Orient" including Syria and Mesopotamia as well as Palestine and Phoenicia, but at no time did this form a compact patriarchate like that of Alexandria. We must group here writers who have no connection with one another in matter or style. Julius Africanus lived at Emmaus and composed a chronography, out of which the episcopal lists of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, and a great deal of other matter, have been preserved for us in St. Jerome's version of the Chronicle of Eusebius, and in Byzantine chronographers. Two letters of his are of interest, but the fragments of his "Kestoi" or "Girdles" are of no ecclesiastical value; they contain much curious matter and much that is objectionable. In the second half of the third century, perhaps towards the end of it, a great school was established at Antioch by Lucian, who was martyred at Nicomedia in 312. He is said to have been excommunicated under three bishops, but if this is true he had been long restored at the time of his martyrdom. It is quite uncertain whether he shared the errors of Paul of Samosata (Bishop of Antioch, deposed for heresy in 268-9). At all events he was -- however unintentionally -- the father of Arianism, and his pupils were the leaders of that heresy: Eusebius of Nicomedia, Arius himself, with Menophantus of Ephesus, Athanasius of Anazarbus, and the only two bishops who refused to sign the new creed at the Council of Nicaea, Theognis of Nicaea and Maris of Chalcedon, besides the scandalous bishop Leontius of Antioch and the Sophist Asterius. At Caesarea, an Origenist centre, flourished under another martyr, St. Pamphilus, who with his friend Eusebius, a certain Ammonius, and others, collected the works of Origen in a long-famous library, corrected Origen's "Hexapla", and did much editing of the text both of the Old and the New Testaments.

(4) We hear of no writings at Rome except in Greek, until the mention of some small works in Latin, by Pope St. Victor, which still existed in Jerome's day. Hippolytus, a Roman priest, wrote from c. 200 to 235, and always in Greek, though at Carthage Tertullian had been writing before this in Latin. If Hippolytus is the author of the "Philosophumena" he was an antipope, and full of unreasoning enmity to his rival St. Callistus; his theology makes the Word proceed from God by His Will, distinct from Him in substance, and becoming Son by becoming man. There is nothing Roman in the theology of this work; it rather connects itself with the Greek apologists. A great part of a large commentary on Daniel and a work against Noetus are the only other important remains of this writer, who was soon forgotten in the West, though fragments of his works turn up in all the Eastern languages. Parts of his chronography, perhaps his last work, have survived. Another Roman antipope, Novatian, wrote in ponderous and studied prose with metrical endings. Some of his works have come down to us under the name of St. Cyprian. Like Hippolytus, he made his rigorist views the pretext for his schism. Unlike Hippolytus, he is quite orthodox in his principal work, "De Trinitate".

(5) The apologetic works of Tertullian have been mentioned. The earlier were written by him when a priest of the Church of Carthage, but about the year 200 he was led to believe in the Montanist prophets of Phrygia, and he headed a Montanist schism at Carthage. Many of his treatises are written to defend his position and his rigorist doctrines, and he does so with considerable violence and with the clever and hasty argumentation which is natural to him. The placid flow of St. Cyprian's eloquence (Bishop of Carthage, 249-58) is a great contrast to that of his "master". The short treatises and large correspondence of this saint are all concerned with local questions and needs, and he eschews all speculative theology. From this we gain the more light on the state of the Church, on its government, and on a number of interesting ecclesiastical and social matters. In all the patristic period there is nothing, with the exception of Eusebius's history, which tells us so much about the early Church as the small volume which contains St. Cyprian's works. At the end of the century Arnobius, like Cyprian a convert in middle age, and like other Africans, Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, and Augustine, a former rhetorician, composed a dull apology. Lactantius carries us into the fourth century. He was an elegant and eloquent writer, but like Arnobius was not a well-instructed Christian.

C. (1) The fourth century is the great age of the Fathers. It was twelve years old when Constantine published his edict of toleration, and a new era for the Christian religion began. It is ushered in by Eusebius of Caesarea, with his great apologetic works "Praeparatio Evangelica"'and "Demonstratio Evangelica", which show the transcendent merit of Christianity, and his still greater historical works, the "Chronicle" (the Greek original is lost) and the "History", which has gathered up the fragments of the age of persecutions, and has preserved to us more than half of all we know about the heroic ages of the Faith. In theology Eusebius was a follower of Origen, but he rejected the eternity of Creation and of the Logos, so that he was able to regard the Arians with considerable cordiality. The original form of the pseudo-Clementine romance, with its long and tiresome dialogues, seems to be a work of the very beginning of the century against the new developments of heathenism, and it was written either on the Phoenician coast or not far inland in the Syrian neighbourhood. Replies to the greatest of the pagan attacks, that of Porphyry, become more frequent after the pagan revival under Julian (361-3), and they occupied the labours of many celebrated writers. St. Cyril of Jerusalem has left us a complete series of instructions to catechumens and the baptized, thus supplying us with an exact knowledge of the religious teaching imparted to the people in an important Church of the East in the middle of the fourth century. A Palestinian of the second half of the century, St. Epiphanius, became Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, and wrote a learned history of all the heresies. He is unfortunately inaccurate, and has further made great difficulties for us by not naming his authorities. He was a friend of St. Jerome, and an uncompromising opponent of Origenism.

(2) The Alexandrian priest Arius was not a product of the catechetical school of that city, but of the Lucianic school of Antioch. The Alexandrian tendency was quite opposite to the Antiochene, and the Alexandrian bishop, Alexander, condemned Arius in letters still extant, in which we gather the tradition of the Alexandrian Church. There is no trace in them of Origenism, the head-quarters of which had long been at Caesarea in Palestine, in the succession Theoctistus, Pamphilus, Eusebius. The tradition of Alexandria was rather that which Dionysius the Great had received from Pope Dionysius. Three years after the Nicene Council (325), St. Athanasius began his long episcopate of forty-five years. His writings are not very voluminous, being either controversial theology or apologetic memoirs of his own troubles, but their theological and historical value is enormous, on account of the leading part taken by this truly great man in the fifty years of fight with Arianism. The head of the catechetical school during this half-century was Didymus the Blind, an Athanasian in his doctrine of the Son, and rather clearer even than his patriarch in his doctrine of the Trinity, but in many other points carrying on the Origenistic tradition. Here may be also mentioned by the way a rather later writer, Synesius of Cyrene, a man of philosophical and literary habits, who showed energy and sincere piety as a bishop, in spite of the rather pagan character of his culture. His letters are of great interest.

(3) The second half of the century is illustrated by an illustrious triad in Cappadocia, St. Basil, his friend St. Gregory Nazianzen, and his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa. They were the main workers in the return of the East to orthodoxy. Their doctrine of the Trinity is an advance even upon that of Didymus, and is very near indeed to the Roman doctrine which was later embodied in the Athanasian creed. But it had taken a long while for the East to assimilate the entire meaning of the orthodox view. St. Basil showed great patience with those who had advanced less far on the right road than himself, and he even tempered his language so as to conciliate them. For fame of sanctity scarcely any of the Fathers, save St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker, or St. Augustine, has ever equalled him. He practised extraordinary asceticism, and his family were all saints. He composed a rule for monks which has remained practically the only one in the East. St. Gregory had far less character, but equal abilities and learning, with greater eloquence. The love of Origen which persuaded the friends in their youth to publish a book of extracts from his writings had little influence on their later theology; that of St. Gregory in particular is renowned for its accuracy or even inerrancy. St. Gregory of Nyssa is, on the other hand, full of Origenism. The classical culture and literary form of the Cappadocians, united to sanctity and orthodoxy, makes them a unique group in the history of the Church.

(4) The Antiochene school of the fourth century seemed given over to Arianism, until the time when the great Alexandrians, Athanasius and Didymus, were dying, when it was just reviving not merely into orthodoxy, but into an efflorescence by which the recent glory of Alexandria and even of Cappadocia was to be surpassed. Diodorus, a monk at Antioch and then Bishop of Tarsus, was a noble supporter of Nicene doctrine and a great writer, though the larger part of his works has perished. His friend Theodore of Mopsuestia was a learned and judicious commentator in the literal Antiochene style, but unfortunately his opposition to the heresy of Apollinarius of Laodicea carried him into the opposite extreme of Nestorianism -- indeed the pupil Nestorius scarcely went so far as the master Theodore. But then Nestorius resisted the judgment of the Church, whereas Theodore died in Catholic communion, and was the friend of saints, including that crowning glory of the Antiochene school, St. John Chrysostom, whose greatest sermons were preached at Antioch, before he became Bishop of Constantinople. Chrysostom is of course the chief of the Greek Fathers, the first of all commentators, and the first of all orators whether in East or West. He was for a time a hermit, and remained ascetic in his life; he was also a fervent social reformer. His grandeur of character makes him worthy of a place beside St. Basil and St. Athanasius.

As Basil and Gregory were formed to oratory by the Christian Prohaeresius, so was Chrysostom by the heathen orator Libanius. In the classical Gregory we may sometimes find the rhetorician; in Chrysostom never; his amazing natural talent prevents his needing the assistance of art, and though training had preceded, it has been lost in the flow of energetic thought and the torrent of words. He is not afraid of repeating himself and of neglecting the rules, for he never wishes to be admired, but only to instruct or to persuade. But even so great a man has his limitations. He has no speculative interest in philosophy or theology, though he is learned enough to be absolutely orthodox. He is a holy man and a practical man, so that his thoughts are full of piety and beauty and wisdom; but he is not a thinker. None of the Fathers has been more imitated or more read; but there is little in his writings which can be said to have moulded his own or future times, and he cannot come for an instant into competition with Origen or Augustine for the first place among ecclesiastical writers.

(5) Syria in the fourth century produced one great writer, St. Ephraem, deacon of Edessa (306-73). Most of his writings are poetry; his commentaries are in prose, but the remains of these are scantier. His homilies and hymns are all in metre, and are of very great beauty. Such tender and loving piety is hardly found elsewhere in the Fathers. The twenty-three homilies of Aphraates (326-7), a Mesopotamian bishop, are of great interest.

(6) St. Hilary of Poitiers is the most famous of the earlier opponents of Arianism in the West. He wrote commentaries and polemical works, including the great treatise "De Trinitate" and a lost historical work. His style is affectedly involved and obscure, but he is nevertheless a theologian of considerable merit. The very name of his treatise on the Trinity shows that he approached the dogma from the Western point of view of a Trinity in Unity, but he has largely employed the works of Origen, Athanasius, and other Easterns. His exegesis is of the allegorical type. Until his day, the only great Latin Father was St. Cyprian, and Hilary had no rival in his own generation. Lucifer, Bishop of Calaris in Sardinia, was a very rude controversialist, who wrote in a popular and almost uneducated manner. The Spaniard Gregory of Illiberis, in Southern Spain, is only now beginning to receive his due, since Dom A. Wilmart restored to him in 1908 the important so-called "Tractatus Origenis de libris SS. Scripturae", which he and Batiffol had published in 1900, as genuine works of Origen translated by Victorinus of Pettau. The commentaries and anti-Arian works of the converted rhetorician, Marius Victorinus, were not successful. St. Eusebius of Vercellae has left us only a few letters. The date of the short discourses of Zeno of Verona is uncertain. The fine letter of Pope Julius I to the Arians and a few letters of Liberius and Damasus are of great interest.

The greatest of the opponents of Arianism in the West is St. Ambrose (d. 397). His sanctity and his great actions make him one of the most imposing figures in the patristic period. Unfortunately the style of his writings is often unpleasant, being affected and intricate, without being correct or artistic. His exegesis is not merely of the most extreme allegorical kind, but so fanciful as to be sometimes positively absurd. And yet, when off his guard, he speaks with genuine and touching eloquence; he produces apophthegms of admirable brevity, and without being a deep theologian, he shows a wonderful profundity of thought on ascetical, moral, and devotional matters. Just as his character demands our enthusiastic admiration, so his writings gain our affectionate respect, in spite of their very irritating defects. It is easy to see that he is very well read in the classics and in Christian writers of East and West, but his best thoughts are all his own.

(7) At Rome an original, odd, and learned writer composed a commentary on St. Paul's Epistles and a series of questions on the Old and New Testaments. He is usually spoken of as Ambrosiaster, and may perhaps be a converted Jew named Isaac, who later apostatized. St. Damasus wrote verses which are poor poetry but interesting where they give us information about the martyrs and the catacombs. His secretary for a time was St. Jerome, a Pannonian by birth, a Roman by baptism. This learned Father, "Doctor maximus in Sacris Scripturis", is very well known to us, for almost all that he wrote is a revelation of himself. He tells the reader of his inclinations and his antipathies, his enthusiasms and his irritations, his friendships and his enmities. If he is often out of temper, he is most human, most affectionate, most ascetic, most devoted to orthodoxy, and in many ways a very lovable character; for if he is quick to take offence, he is easily appeased, he is laborious beyond ordinary endurance, and it is against heresy that his anger is usually kindled. He lived all the latter part of his life in a retreat at Bethlehem, surrounded by loving disciples, whose untiring devotion shows that the saint was by no means such a rough diamond, one might say such an ogre, as he is often represented. He had no taste for philosophy, and seldom gave himself time to think, but he read and wrote ceaselessly. His many commentaries are brief and to the point, full of information, and the product of wide reading. His greatest work was the translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew into Latin. He carried on the textual labours of Origen, Pamphilus, and Eusebius, and his revision of the Latin Gospels shows the use of admirably pure Greek MSS., though he seems to have expended less pains on the rest of the New Testament. He attacked heretics with much of the cleverness, all the vivacity, and much more than the eloquence and effectiveness of Tertullian. He used the like weapons against any who attacked him, and especially against his friend Rufinus during their passing period of hostility.

If he is only "perhaps" the most learned of the Fathers, he is beyond doubt the greatest of prose writers among them all. We cannot compare his energy and wit with the originality and polish of Cicero, or with the delicate perfection of Plato, but neither can they or any other writer be compared with Jerome in his own sphere. He does not attempt flights of imagination, musical intonation, word-painting; he has no flow of honeyed language like Cyprian, no torrent of phrases like Chrysostom; he is a writer, not an orator, and a learned and classical writer. But such letters as his, for astonishing force and liveliness, for point, and wit, and terse expression, were never written before or since. There is no sense of effort, and though we feel that the language must have been studied, we are rarely tempted to call it studied language, for Jerome knows the strange secret of polishing his steel weapons while they are still at a white heat, and of hurling them before they cool. He was a dangerous adversary, and had few scruples in taking every possible advantage. He has the unfortunate defect of his extraordinary swiftness, that he is extremely inaccurate, and his historical statements need careful control. His biographies of the hermits, his words about monastic life, virginity, Roman faith, our Blessed Lady, relics of saints, have exercised great influence. It has only been known of late years that Jerome was a preacher; the little extempore discourses published by Dom Mona are full of his irrepressible personality and his careless learning.

(8) Africa was a stranger to the Arian struggle, being occupied with a battle of its own. Donatism (311-411) was for a long time paramount in Numidia, and sometimes in other parts. The writings of the Donatists have mostly perished. About 370 St. Optatus published an effective controversial work against them. The attack was carried on by a yet greater controversialist, St. Augustine, with a marvellous success, so that the inveterate schism was practically at an end twenty years before that saint's death. So happy an event turned the eyes of all Christendom to the brilliant protagonist of the African Catholics, who had already dealt crushing blows at the Latin Manichaean writers. From 417 till his death in 431, he was engaged in an even greater conflict with the philosophical and naturalistic heresy of Pelagius and Caelestius. In this he was at first assisted by the aged Jerome; the popes condemned the innovators and the emperor legislated against them. If St. Augustine has the unique fame of having prostrated three heresies, it is because he was as anxious to persuade as to refute. He was perhaps the greatest controversialist the world has ever seen. Besides this he was not merely the greatest philosopher among the Fathers, but he was the only great philosopher. His purely theological works, especially his "De Trinitate", are unsurpassed for depth, grasp, and clearness, among early ecclesiastical writers, whether Eastern or Western. As a philosophical theologian he has no superior, except his own son and disciple, St. Thomas Aquinas. It is probably correct to say that no one, except Aristotle, has exercised so vast, so profound, and so beneficial an influence on European thought.

Augustine was himself a Platonist through and through. As a commentator he cared little for the letter, and everything for the spirit, but his harmony of the Gospels shows that he could attend to history and detail. The allegorizing tendencies he inherited from his spiritual father, Ambrose, carry him now and then into extravagances, but more often he rather soars than commentates, and his "In Genesim ad litteram", and his treatises on the Psalms and on St. John, are works of extraordinary power and interest, and quite worthy, in a totally different style, to rank with Chrysostom on Matthew. St. Augustine was a professor of rhetoric before his wonderful conversion; but like St. Cyprian, and even more than St. Cyprian, he put aside, as a Christian, all the artifices of oratory which he knew so well. He retained correctness of grammar and perfect good taste, together with the power of speaking and writing with ease in a style of masterly simplicity and of dignified though almost colloquial plainness.

Nothing could be more individual than this style of St. Augustine's, in which he talks to the reader or to God with perfect openness and with an astonishing, often almost exasperating, subtlety of thought. He had the power of seeing all round a subject and through and through it, and he was too conscientious not to use this gift to the uttermost. Large-minded and far-seeing, he was also very learned. He mastered Greek only in later life, in order to make himself familiar with the works of the Eastern Fathers. His "De Civitate Dei" shows vast stores of reading; still more, it puts him in the first place among apologists. Before his death (431) he was the object of extraordinary veneration. He had founded a monastery at Tagaste, which supplied Africa with bishops, and he lived at Hippo with

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Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'Fathers of the Church'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.

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