Patristic Studies

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The study of the fathers of the church. Also referred to as patrology, a term first used by the Lutheran theologian Johannes Gerhard as the title of a posthumous work (1653). Although the terms patrology, patristics, and the history of ancient Christian literature are sometimes employed interchangeably, it seems advisable to distinguish three scholarly disciplines, covering on broad lines the same period of history and much the same authors, but eyeing their material from distinctive standpoints. Patrology normally has a more historical cast, setting forth the life, writings (genuine, doubtful, spurious), and significant doctrines (or doctrinal significance) of the various authors. Patristics concentrates on the content, primarily theological, of the writings of the Fathers and implies a systematic exposition of their doctrine in whole or in part. The term stems from the 17th century and was first used in Lutheran circles, where theology was divided into Biblical, positive, scholastic, symbolic, and speculative. (see patristic theology.) The history of ancient Christian literature is more in conformity with the philological development and outlook of the 19th and 20th centuries; it puts the Fathers in the framework of the general history of literature, gives more play to the literary aspect of the works involved, and has legitimately introduced (as patrology itself has been compelled to do) a number of writers who are not technically Fathers or even orthodox Christians, but deserve a place in the treatment of the literature of the time. The controversy over the scope and character of early Christian literature initiated early in the 20th century by A. von harnack, O. Bardenhewer, and others has long since been resolved, and "ancient Christian literature" is now universally recognized as a satisfactory expression.

Patristic Studies through Trent. The history of patristics goes back to the Church History of eusebius of caesarea (early 4th century) and jerome's De viris illustribus (392). The latter was continued in the patristic era by gennadius of marseilles, isidore of seville, and ildefonsus of toledo. In the Middle Ages the most significant "patrology" was photius's Myriobiblon or Bibliotheca (858). The catalogue (c. 131718) of the last great Nestorian writer abdisho bar berĪkĀ is important for early Syriac literature. Other medieval compilers, such as sigebert of gembloux, honorius of autun, and Johannes trithemius, were content to rely on Jerome and Gennadius. Fresh impetus for patristic study came from the discovery of early Christian texts during the Renaissance, the return to antiquity sparked by the humanists, the Reformation thesis of a gradual deterioration of primitive Christianity, and theological discussions at the Council of trent.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries The studies of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th constitute a first flowering of high-level patristic scholarship on a vast expanse, with remarkable editions (preeminently by the maurists) distinguished for prolegomena and critical apparatus, the painstaking De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis of Robert bellarmine, comprehensive historical productions such as L. S. le Nain de tillemont's 16-volume Mémoires pour servir a l'histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles (16931712) and R. ceillier's 23-volume Histoire générale des auteurs sacrés et ecclésiastiques (172963), and the research of Denis petau, who gave to positive theology its rightful place in sacred science (notably in his 4-volume Dogmata theologica, 164450).

Nineteenth Century. Stimulated in part by A. mai,J. A. mÖhler, and J. B. pitra, the 19th century inaugurated another productive period of patristic scholarship, marked by new discoveries, especially in the Oriental field; the establishment of university chairs of patrology;J. P. migne's comprehensive Patrologiae cursus completus (184466); the critical editions of the Latin Fathers (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum, 1866) and the Greek (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte, 1897) undertaken with philological competence by the Vienna and the Prussian Academies of Sciences respectively; and the passage from vast histories to treatises, monographs, and manuals. This fluorescence produced, toward the end of the century, the extraordinary patristic research initiated by A. von Harnack and O. Bardenhewer, accompanied by scholars such as F. Loofs and L. duchesne, F. X. von funk and P. batiffolwhose research was continued and intensified by F. J. dÖlger, H. lietzmann, A. baumstark, G. morin, G. bardy, B. altaner, and a host of others.

Twentieth Century. Twentieth-century patrologists have shown a predilection for exploring more profoundly the doctrinal content of the Fathers, investigating the evolution of words and ideas, and plumbing the patristic stress on history and mystery. Since World War II, new interest in patristic study has been stimulated by striking discoveries (Tura, Nag' Hammâdi, Bodmer papyri) Of unparalleled importance is the long-delayed publication of the texts and translations of the Gnostic writings of Nag' Hammâdi in Egypt, providing firsthand evidence of the range of Gnostic ideas opposed by so many Church Fathers, and now allowing some of the material to be seen more accurately as a development of traditions to be found in the NT and earlier (e.g. the collections of the "sayings" of Jesus). Interest has also been stimulated by the prolific production of texts and translations (cf. Corpus christianorum, 1953, ultimately to replace Migne;A. Hamman's Supplementum to Patrologia Latina, ed. J.P. Migne, [Paris 187890] v.196, 1958 ; Sources chrétiennes, 1942 ; Corpus scriptorum christianorum orientalium, 1903, but esp. since 1949; Ancient Christian Writers, 1946 ; Corpus christianorum: Series graeca ; Oxford Early Christian Texts ). Readily accessible research tools are also available (e.g. G. W. H. Lampe, ed., Patristic Greek Lexicon, the Strasbourg Centre's Biblia patristica, indexing biblical citations and allusions in early Christian writers). This renewed interest has been quickened by the quadrennial Oxford International Conference on Patristic Studies, the ecumenical movement, and an increasing awareness of the significance of doctrinal development.

Among the emphases of recent historical scholarship have been: less interest in using the Fathers as supports for particular theological or ecclesiological positions; greater concern for understanding than for the application of such categories as "orthodox" and "heretical"; increased sophistication in the exploratory use of philosophical, psychological, and sociological analytical tools to deepen and freshen that understanding; heightened sensitivity to and appreciation of the rich diversity revealed in early Christian literature, not only among the Fathers but also between them and their opponents (many of whose writings have not been preserved); broadened interest in the concrete ways of being human and of being religious of the men and women who produced, read, and preserved (and sometimes destroyed) the writings of the Church of the first few centuries.

Vatican Council II has endorsed the study of the Fathers, pointing to our gaining a deepened sense of how the Scriptures have been used in the Church (Dei Verbum 23) and our retrieving a more inclusive, more "ecumenical" spirituality (Unitatis redintegratio 15). But Christians have also become more aware of certain other fairly common positions of the patristic era which have contributed to an unfortunate heritage, demanding serious reexamination today. These positions or attitudes of many of the Fathers would include: a pervasive anti-Judaism; an ambivalence toward sexuality and toward the human body; an antifeminism, understandable but regrettable nonetheless; a Christology which only infrequently took adequate account of the humanity of Jesus; and, especially after Constantine, a political and ecclesiastical "triumphalism" of a kind which, since Vatican II, can be more readily acknowledged and transcended.

Bibliography: Bibliographical aids. k. schaferdiek, ed. Bibliographia Patristica XXVIXXVII, 198182 (Berlin 1986). j. liÉbaert, "Patrologie," Catholicisme 10 (1985) 829858 t. p. halton and r. d. sider, "A Decade of Patristic Scholarship, 197079," Classical World 76 (198283) 65127, 313383. augustinian patristic institute of rome, Patrology, a. di berardino, ed., with intro. by j. quasten, The Golden Age of Latin Patristic Literature from the Council of Nicea to the Council of Chalcedon, tr. p. solari (Westminster 1986). association internationale d'Études patristiques, Bulletin d'information et de liaison, No. 11. (1985) Annuaire (Turnhout 1985). f. m. young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and its Background (London/Philadelphia 1983). h. crouzel, Bibliographie critique d'Origène (La Haye 1971), with Supplément 1 (1983), Fichier augustinien. Augustine bibliography, prémier supplément (Boston 1981). s. p. brock, "Syriac Studies 19711980. A Classified Bibliography," Patrologia orientalis (198182) 291404. Series. w. j. burghardt, "Literature of Christian Antiquity: 19751979," Theological Studies 41 (1980) 151180; "19791983," Theological Studies 45 (1984) 275306. p. jacquement, "Les Pères de l'Église pour tous," Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 65 (1981) 365370. c. mondÉsert, ed., Le Monde grec ancien et la Bible (Bible de tous les temps 1, Paris 1984). j. fontaine and c. pietri, eds., Le Monde latin antique et la Bible (Bible de tous les temps 2; Paris 1985). a.-m. la bonnardire, ed., Saint Augustin et la Bible (Bible de tous les temps 3; Paris 1986). e. dekkers, "Corpus Christianorum," Epemerides theologicae Lovanienses LX (Bruges 1984) 190193. r. m. grant, Gods and the One God, Library of Early Christianity 1 (Philadelphia 1986). Other Works. j. quasten, Patrology, (Westminster, Md. 1950). f. l. cross, The Early Christian Fathers (London 1960). b. altaner, Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati (Rome 1946) 1:483520. w. bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, r. kraft and g. krodel, eds. (Philadelphia 1971). j. daniÉlou, History of Early Christianity, 3 v., tr. j. bowden (London and Chicago 19641977). a. grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, tr. j. bowden (2d rev. ed. Atlanta 1976). e. hennecke, w. schneemelcher, and r. mcl. wilson, eds., New Testament Apocrypha 2v., tr. a. j. b. higgins, et al. (Philadelphia 196364). j. j. pelikan, The Christian Tradition, v. 1, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (Chicago 1971). j. m. robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library (Claremont, Cal. 1977). j. m. robinson and h. koester, Trajectories through Early Christianity (Philadelphia 1971). e. a. livingstone, ed., Studia Patristica, XVIII. Papers of the 1983 Patristic Conference, 4 v. (Kalamazoo 198587). b. layton, ed., The Rediscovery of Gnosticism. Proceedings of International Conference on Gnosticism at Yale University, 2 v. (Leiden 1981). e. p. sanders, ed., Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, v. 1. The Shaping of Christianity in the Second and Third Centuries (Philadelphia 1980). c. hedrick and r. hodgson, eds., Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism and Early Christianity (Peabody, Mass. 1986). m. aubineau, "Textes nouveaux d'Hésychius de Jérusalem. Bilan et méthodes," Studia Patristica, XVIII, 345351. j. diviak, Sancti Aurelii Augustini opera. Sect. 2 Pars 6. Epistolae ex duobus codicibus nuper in lucem prolatae, Corpus Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum, 88 (Vienna 1981). g. h. r. horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri published in 1978 (North Ryde, NSW 1983). b. a. pearson and j. e. goehring, eds., The Roots of Egyptian Christianity (Philadelphia 1986). h. chadwick, History and Thought of the Early Church (London 1982). g. c. stead, Substance and Illusion in the Christian Fathers (London 1985). s. brock, Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity (London 1984). h. j. w. drijvers, East of Antioch: Studies in Early Syriac Christianity (London 1984). r. m. grant, Christian Beginnings: Apocalypse to History (London 1983). r. a. markus, From Augustine to Gregory the Great (London 1983).

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