Church Fathers

Altarpiece of the Church Fathers: St Augustine...
Altarpiece of the Church Fathers: St Augustine Liberating a Prisoner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Church Fathers is the title usually given to those regarded as the brightest theological lights in the early Christian Church.

Influential and usually learned Christian thinkers contributing to the formation of Church dogma, aspects of their writings are often cited as supportive “truths” within the contemporary Roman Catholic Catechism.

The Church Fathers are considered exemplars of holiness and are usually, but not always, canonized. Tertullian (160–225) is a good example of a leading Christian who was never canonized.¹

The study of the Fathers’ writings is known as Patristics, although the Church Fathers fall into two periods, the Apostolic and the Patristic.

Since the 17th-century the Apostolic Fathers have been designated as those who wrote just after the New Testament period, to include Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Hermas, Polycarp and Papias. This list also includes the anonymous writers of the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle to Diognetus, Clement and the Didache.

The well-known theologian Origen (184–254) was too far interested Platonism and ideas similar to reincarnation to be taken as a Church Father. He was excommunicated by the Church but his work continues to interest scholars. And sort of slipping in the back door, as it were, Origen’s writings are often included in compilations under the heading, “Church Fathers.”

Tertullian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Patristics wrote up to the 8th-century, to include Isidore of Seville (7th-century) and John of Damascus (8th- century).

Feminists point out that there are no Church Mothers, perhaps because of the sexist environment of the early Christian era. This type of discrimination persists through the ages and, so they say, remains in many contemporary religious and secular organizations.

¹ Tertullian also demonstrates that the Church Fathers could be quite harsh against their opponents, in this case, the early Gnostics. As the British philosopher of religion, John Hick, points out in Evil and the God of Love, Tertullian wrote scathing attacks against the Gnostics.


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