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Eastern Fathers of the Church.

The author of I Clement 62.2 denoted the Apostles as Fathers. He thereby constricted the term's earlier general application to any religious teacher worthy of respect, and also paved the way for extending this title to bishops from the 2nd century on--Eusebius, Church History 5.4, quoting a Letter from the church of Lyons. It is Eusebius (Against Markellos 1.4.3) who first uses Father of Christian writers ranked second to the Apostles as authoritative, whence our terms Patristic/Patrology. It is soon found frequently in (e.g.) Basil (Ep. 52), Gregory Nazianzenus (Or. 33.5), and Cyril of Alexandria (Ep. 39), progressively used of bishops attending the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Jerome (On illustrious Men, pref., also Ep. 113.3) distinguished between Fathers and "other ecclesiastical writers."

Jerome himself, though not episcopal, was acknowledged as one by Augustine (Against Julian 1.7.34) for his teaching. Criticising the latter for anti-Pelagianism, Vincent of Lerins (Commonitorium 434) speaks of "the Fathers who each in his own time and place, in unity of communion and faith, were regarded as true masters." The "Decree of Gelasius" (probably 6th-century Italian) includes a list of approved Fathers. In the West, the sequence conventionally ends with Gregory the Great (d. 604) and Isidore of Seville (d. 636), in the East with John of Damascus (d.749). (See further E L. Cross, Early Christian Fathers (London 1960); G. L Prestige, Fathers and heretics (SPCK, London 1940); J. L. Pelikan, Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (Chicago 1971); B. D. Ehrman (ed.), The Early Church Fathers (Loeb, Harvard 2003--selected texts/translations); also, website covers all the early Fathers and their doctrines.

"Tatian acquired a considerable reputation by his lectures on Greek philosophy, and left a number of books for which he will long be remembered" (Eusebius 4.16). A paganly-educated Syrian, he was converted at Rome by Justin, thence returning (172) to the East where he supposedly founded the Encratite heresy, an extreme ascetic cult, albeit enemies may have exaggerated his involvement. His two most important works were Discourse to the Greeks (tr. M.Whittaker, Oxford 1982), a devastating attack on paganism in the manner of Justin and Clement, and the now largely lost Diatessaron, an exposition of the four Gospels, proof of their growing authority; cf. W. Petersen, Tatian's Diatessaron (Leiden 1994), and P. Lampe, Christianity at Rome in the First Two Centuries (Minneapolis 2003).

Irenaeus (c.130-c.202, Feast Day June 28) is modernly regarded as the first great Catholic theologian, a milestone between the Apostles and Athanasius. After following Polycarp at Smyrna, he studied at Rome before becoming priest, then (178) bishop at Lyons where (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks 1.29) his preaching converted the population until "rivers of blood ran through the streets" during the Severan persecution and Irenaeus was tortured and martyred. Photius (Library 120) credits him with a large and various output; Eusebius (5.20) thought the Octet his masterpiece, quoting its "most graceful conclusion." His two major works are Against the Heresies (tr. J. Dillon--D. Unger, London 1992) and Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching (tr. I. MacKenzie, Leiden 2002), laying emphasis on the Old Testament while denouncing all gospels beyond the Four as "an abyss of madness and blasphemy;" cr. J. Lawson, The Biblical Theology of St. Irenaeus (London 1948).

St. Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch (late 2nd cent.) is praised by Eusebius (4.24) as an "admirable" refuter of Marcion and other heretics, though these writings are lost, as are the catechetical texts and biblical commentaries mentioned by Jerome. His one surviving work, To Autolycus (tr. R. M. Grant, Oxford 1970) pungently upholds Christian doctrine and morality against pagan myths and emperor-worship, drawing heavily on the Old Testament and combining allegorical interpretation of Genesis with secular chronography proving the priority of Moses and the Prophets. Theophilus advanced the notion of the Logos with his distinction between the Intelligence of the Father and the Word Brought Forth. He also introduced the term Triad to describe God-Word-Wisdom; cf. W. R. Schoedel, "Theophilus of Antioch," Illinois Classical Studies 18 (1993), 27-297.

Sextus Julius Africanus (2nd c.-3rd c.), "no ordinary historian, an eminent writer" (Eusebius 1:6), enjoyed worldy success from Jerusalem origins to city ambassador and royal librarian; a later statement that he was ordained remains in dispute. His (fragmentary) Chronicles, linking secular with religious dates and events from Adam to AD 220, paved the way for Eusebius and Jerome. A Chiliastic bent (based on Revelations 20:1-5) is evidenced by his positing Christ's birth in 5500 from the Creation and prophesying his return in 6000. A 24-volume miscellany ("Kestoi" = "Amulets") survives in part. Eusebius admired his Letter to the Christian Aristides defending the genealogies of Christ in Mark and Luke ("most convincing"), while that to Origen on the story of Susannah in Daniel is regarded as a model of textual analysis. Both have been variously translated; cf. F.C.R. Thee, Julius Africanus and the Early Christian View of Magic (Tubingen 1984).

Eusebius (c. 260-c. 340) was trained in the Origenist tradition at Caesarea in Palestine where (315) he became bishop. Biographer and confidant of the first Christian emperor Constantine, he was an active player at the Council of Nicaea, though his tolerant approach to Arianism and iconoclast sentiments marred his reputation in Byzantium where (787) the Second Council of Nicaea branded him heretical. Thanks to contemporary events, his writings all combine secular and religious issues. The major theological ones are the bulky Preparation and Demonstration of the Gospels, containing such aphorisms as (Prep. 3) "Works are plainer than Words," and valuable for quotations from now lost classical works. His Chronicle expanded that of Africanus, itself in turn developed by Jerome. Above all, Eusebius is the "Father of Church History." His ten volumes, running from Christ to Constantine, would have many successors, especially in the 5th-6th centuries (Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, Philostorgius, Evagrius). In the words of their Penguin translator, G. A. Williamson, "His book is a treasure of Christendom; we may thank God that amidst all his dangers and tribulations this brave and devoted servant of God was moved to take his ambitious task in hand and spared to bring it to fruition;" cf. R. M. Grant, Eusebius as Church Historian (Oxford 1980), and T. D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Harvard 1981).

Johannes Quasten dubbed the Nicaea-Chalcedon period (325-431) "the Golden Age of Greek Patristic Literature." Alexander (c. 250-April 18, 328, Feast Days February 26, April 22, and May 29) was Bishop of Alexandria from 312. He was in his letters and sermons (largely preserved via quotations) one of the first to combat Arianism and to promote Mary's Theotokos status; cr. R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh 1988).

Amphilochius of Iconium (c. 340-c. 395, Feast Day Nov 23) was cousin to Gregory Nazianzenus and protege of Basil who procured his bishopric (375). He was an outstanding participant in the Constantinople Council and Synod (381 & 394). Of his few extant writings, the 5th Homily is the oldest on Holy Sabbath that we have (tr. J. H. Barkhuisen, Acta Classica 46 (2003), 49-69, while verses 251-319 of his Poem to Seleucus list the Biblical books he considered genuine, an influential source for Byzantine textual criticism; cf. J. C. J. Metford, The Christian Year (London 1991).

Though sightless from age four and with no formal schooling, Didymus the Blind (c. 313-c. 398) was appointed by Athanasius to head the Catechetical School at Alexandria where Jerome and Rufinus were his star pupils; the School itself died with him. His condemnation for Origenism by the 553 Council of Constantinople accounts for the loss of most of his enormous corpus. Happily, his key work, On the Triniu, coherent with Athanasian notions of Consubstantiality, survives, as does (in Jerome's Latin) his equally orthodox On the Holy Spirit. Several of his allegorical Old Testament commentaries were discovered in 1941 on papyrus texts near Cairo. From his own words, and the quotations in others, he was clearly adept at combining orthodoxy on the cardinal issues with Originest anthropology and eschatology: "He bears witness to one of the most interesting transitions in the history of thought and his treatises lay the foundations for the Christology of Cyril" (Quasten); cf. B. D. Ehrman, Didymus the Blind and the Text of the Gospels (Atlanta 1987). Didymus also lived the ascetic life, and was visited in his cell by St. Antony (250-356, Feast Day Jan 17) the "Father of Monasticism" and Palladius (365-425), its first important historian. Though barely literate and knowing no Greek, Antony is credited with many letters to monks, emperors, and dignitaries; seven mentioned by Jerome survive in Latin/Syriac/Coptic. A "spin-off" Christian literary genre was collections of Sayings of the Desert Fathers, very popular in Byzantium; Benedicta Ward (Penguin 2003) translates one set.

Epiphanius (c. 315-May 12, 403, his Feast Day-drowned at sea) was Bishop of Salamis, Cyprus, from 367. An ardent Nicene, he combatted all heresies, especially Origenism, in his colourfully-titled Panarion ("Medicine Chest"). The more prosaically-named On weights and measures is actually a Biblical dictionary. His fierce criticisms of religious art prefigure the Iconoclast controversy. Jerome commends him for a plain style that allowed his teachings to reach the common man; cf. P. R. Amidon, The Panarion of Epiphanius: Select passages (Oxford 1990).

Considerations of space exclude many worthy individuals. I notice en passant: Hesychius of Jerusalem (d. after 451, Feast Day March 28) whose vast corpus included an Origenist commentary on the entire Bible and an influential Church History; Dioscorus, Bishop of Tarsus (d. c. 395), an outstanding exponent of the Antioch School, close to St. Basil, hailed by his pupil John Chrysostom as the "New John the Baptist;" Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria (385-412), Cyril's uncle, tarnished in many Christian eyes by his role in deposing Chrysostom and hated by pagans for the destruction (391) of the Serapeum, but a great letter-writer and preacher, venerated (Feast Days October 15 and 17) in the Coptic and Syriac Churches.

St. John of Damascus (c. 675-c. 749, Feast Day Dec 4) makes a glorious finale. Reared a Christian, he represented the Faith to the Caliph until (716) forced from office, moving to a monastic priesthood near Jerusalem. His writings influenced St. Thomas Aquinas and the Middle Ages at large, thence to 1890 when Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him a "Doctor of the Church." The chief ones are Fountain of Wisdom, a compendium on orthodoxy (especially importance for his defence of icons, Mariology, and the Cappadocian Fathers' Trinitarian teachings), heresies, and pagan philosophy; and Barlaam and Joasaph (tr. G.R. Woodward, Harvard 1914). His sermons, notably on the Assumption and Nativity, mark the final triumph of Christian blending of its own Images and language with those of pagan classicism; cf. V.A. Mitchel, The Mariology of St. John of Damascus (Kirkwood 1930). John himself (Sermon 2) has the last word: "We obey you, o King, in matters of state, but in matters of the Church we have pastors who preach us the Word. We do not change the boundaries marked out by the Fathers."

Barry Baldwin is Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Calgary.
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Author:Baldwin, Barry
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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