Learn About the Church Fathers


Discover the History of the Early Church Fathers

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

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. . . . 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.”

Most of the Fathers have been bishops, though this is not the case in all of the Fathers. St. Jerome was a priest, St. Ephraem a deacon, and St. Justin was a layman.

Four qualities are typically met to be declared a Father of the Church:

  • He lived and taught during the time when the Church was in her youth,

  • He must have led a saintly life,

  • His writings must be free from heresy, and be strong in explanation and defense of Catholic doctrine,

  • His writings must have the approval of the Church.

The Age of the Fathers

There is some debate as to the “age” of the Church Fathers. That is, the period of time during which the early Church was taught and shaped by these holy men.

Again, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

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.

While the age of the Church Fathers is somewhat debated, the first six centuries are generally accepted as encompassing the Age of the Fathers. Some theologians include further centuries; some name certain figures as Church Fathers while noting that they were born outside of the age of the Fathers.

Learn About the Fathers of the Catholic Church

If you are looking to learn more about the Fathers of the Church, what they taught, how they shaped the Church, and more, browse our Church Father sections of Aquinas and More, by clicking here, here, or here.

In this section you will find an abundance of books discussing the teachings and theology of the early Church fathers, such as Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church and A Cloud of Witnesses: An Introductory History of the Development of Christian Doctrine. You will also find the writings of the Fathers of the Church, such as On God and Christ and On Divine Images, and many other texts from the Popular Patristic Series. You’ll also discover valuable compilation books, such as Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words and The Teachings of the Church Fathers. A great resource for really delving into and studying the history of the Fathers over the years is the incredible four volume set, Patrology.

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