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A Handbook of Patrology



Christian Literature is the name given to the collection of writings composed by Christian writers upon Christian subjects. This excludes both the works of Christian authors upon profane subjects (there are many such in our days on positive science or history) and the works of non-Christians upon Christian subjects, v.g., the True Discourse of Celsus.

Ancient Christian Literature is that of the early centuries of Christianity or of Christian antiquity. Authors generally fix the limit at the death of St. John of Damascus (c. 749) for the Greek Church, and at the death of St. Gregory the Great (604) or, better, of St. Isidore of Seville (636) for the Latin Church. This was the time when new elements, borrowed from the barbarians, began considerably to modify the purity of the Latin genius.

Ancient Christian Literature, thus defined, comprises the New Testament, writings composed by Christians and essentially Christian in character, and the works of such heretics as may still be called Christians. It has been viewed in this light and dealt with in this way by Harnack in his History of Ancient Christian Literature up to the Time of Eusebius and by Msgr. Batiffol in his Greek Literature.[1]

Other writers - until recently the majority among Catholics - have excluded from their histories of Christian literature not only the books of the New Testament, which are the object of an independent study, but also the writings

[1] His own contribution to the chapter on "Anciennes litteratures chretiennes" in the collection "Bibliotheque de I'Enseignement de I'Histoire Ecclesiastique," published under the direction of the learned prelate. (Tr.)


of notorious heretics condemned by the Church. There seems thus to be a tendency to reduce the history of Ancient Christian literature to a history of the writings of the Fathers of the Church (Patrology).

The title Father of the Church, which has its origin in the name of "Father" given to bishops[1] as early as the second century, was commonly used in the fifth century to designate the old ecclesiastical writers - ordinarily bishops - who died in the faith and in communion with the Church. According to modern theologians, the title applies only to those writers who have the four following qualifications: orthodoxy of doctrine, holiness of life, ecclesiastical sanction, and antiquity. Practically, however, it is given to many others who do not possess the first three requisites. Nobody, indeed, would dream of eliminating from the list of the "Fathers" such men as Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Faustus of Riez, etc. Errors have been laid to their charge, but these mar their works without making them more dangerous than useful; whilst they are wrong on a few points, there is in them much that is good. At all events, they eminently deserve the title of Ecclesiastical Writers.[2]

However comprehensive may be the name "Fathers of the Church," Patrology is the study of the life and works of the men designated by that name. As a science, then, it is part of the History of Ancient Christian Literature, since it excludes from the field of its labors both the canonical writings of the New Testament and all writings that are strictly and entirely heretical. On this latter point, however, most authors exercise a certain tolerance. As a knowledge of heretical works is very often useful, nay even necessary, for understanding the refutations written by the Fathers, most Patrologies do not hesitate to mention and describe at least the principal ones. We will follow this

[1] Cf. Martyrium Polycarpi, XII, 2: (PolykarpoV) o pathr twn cristianwn, Polycarp the father of Christians.

[2] To be a Doctor of the Church, antiquity is not required; however, besides the three other qualifications requisite in a Father, an eminent degree of learning is also necessary, together with a special declaration by ecclesiastical authority. The four great doctors recognized by the Latin Church are: St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory; the three great ecumenical doctors of the Greek Church are: St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. John Chsysostom.


method: not mentioning the New Testament writings, but describing, in part at least, and very briefly, the heterodox writings best known in the early centuries.

The question may be raised here: Is Patrology to comprise not only the history of the life and works of the Fathers, but also a summary of their doctrine; that is, must Patrology supply the elements of a Patristic Theology? Theoretically, yes; but in practice nothing could be more difficult. A Patrology which would attempt to give even a very condensed summary of the teaching of each and every Father would have to be very lengthy and full of repetitions. If, on the other hand, such a work simply pointed out teachings not original and instead limited itself to what is proper and personal in each, it would give a false - because incomplete -impression of each author's doctrine.[1]

For this reason we think it better to draw a line of strict demarcation between Patrology and Patristic Science and leave the teaching of the Fathers to the History of Dogma. The two sciences cannot but gain by being studied separately. The most Patrology can do is to indicate, in the case of some of the Fathers, the points of doctrine they have best illustrated.

2. Main Works on Patrology and on the History of Ancient Christian Literature

As the history of Ancient Christian Literature is merely a part of the general history of the Church, all ancient and modern Church historians have concerned themselves more or less with it.

In antiquity, Eusebius is the principal source. Although he wrote no special book on the Christian authors who preceded him, his History contains many notices concerning both the authors themselves and their writings. These notices are all the more precious as many of the writings which he cites have disappeared and are known to us only through him.

St. Jerome was the first to compile a lengthy catalogue

[1] This is what has happened to Nirschi, Fessler, Rauschen, and even Bardenhewer. Nirschl's plan of citing at the end of each of his notices on the Fathers a few of their most important texts, has been taken up and scientifically realized by J. Rouet De Journel, Enchiridion Patristicum, Friburgi Brisgoviae, 1913. This work will abundantly supply what we omit.


of ancient Christian writers and their works. He did so in 392, at the suggestion of a layman named Dexter. This is the famous De Viris Illustribus, which comprises 135 accounts. He is greatly indebted to Eusebius, but in that part of the work which represents his own researches there are many errors and omissions. His is the merit, however, of being the first to attempt such a work and to incite others to follow his example.

The catalogue of St. Jerome was continued under the same title by Gennadius of Marseilles, who brought it up to the end of the fifth century. Gennadius added 97 or 98 notices, a few of which have perhaps been interpolated.

The work of Gennadius was continued, under the same title, first by St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636), and afterwards by St. Ildefonsus of Toledo (d. 667).

In the East, we must name the patriarch Photius (d. about 891), whose Library contains 279 notices of authors or works read by him, and but for whom many works would be entirely unknown to us.

The History of Christian Literature was not neglected in the Middle Ages. Among others, we must point out the precious Catalogue of Ebed-Jesu, metropolitan of Nisibis, written in 1298 (edited by Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis, III, 1), and the learned work of Abbot John Trithemius, De Scriptoribus Ecclesiasticis, written in 1494. As this last book treats more especially of writers who flourished after the Patristic age, we may well pass over it here.

In the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, besides the Memoirs of Tillemont, still useful for reference, the most frequently quoted histories of Ancient Christian Literature are those of W. Cave, Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Historia Litteraria, London, 1688, completed by H. Wharton in 1689, Oxford edit., 1740-1743; Fabricius, Bibliotheca Graeca, seu Notitia Scriptorum Veterum Graecorum, 1705-1728, reedited by J. Chr. Harlez, Hamburg, 1790-1809, and L. Ellies du Pin, Nouvelle Bibliotheque des Auteurs Ecclesiastiques, Paris, 1686-1714 (on the Index); D. R. Ceillier, O. S. B., Histoire Generale des Auteurs Sacres et Ecclesiastiques, Paris, 1729-1763; reedited 1858-1869.

In the XIXth and XXth centuries a number of more or less complete works on our subject were published. To mention only the principal and most recent, the whole period of the first six or seven centuries has been treated


in the Catholic works of J. Nirschl, Lehrbuch der Patrologie und Patristik, Mainz, 1881-1885, 3 vol.; Fessler-Jung-Mann, Institutiones Patrologiae, Oeniponte, 1890-1896, 2 vol. (an excellent work, especially with regard to the Latin Fathers from the Vth to the VIIth century); O. Bardenhewer, Patrologie,[1] 3rd. edit., Freiburg i. B., 1910; French translation by Godet and Verschaffel, Les Peres de I'Eglise, Paris, 1905, 3 vol.; English translation by Shahan, Patrology, St. Louis, B. Herder, 1908; H. Kihn, Patrologie, Paderborn, 1904-1908, 2 vol.; G. Rauschen, Grundriss der Patrologie, 3rd ed., 1903; French translation by E. Ricard, Elements de Patrologie et d'Histoire des Dogmes, 2nd ed., Paris, 1911; and the Protestant work (less useful) of H. Jordan, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, Leipzig, 1911.

Other works, equally or even more important, include only part of the subject: A. Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, 2 parts in 3 vols., Leipzig, 1893-1904; G. Kruger, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten, Freiburg i. B., 1895, supplement in 1897; A. Ehrhard, in K. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Literatur, 2nd ed., Munich, 1897; O. Stahlin, in W. Von Christ, Griechische Literaturgeschichte, 5th ed., Munich, 1914; A. Ebert, Allgemeine Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters im Abendlande, 2nd ed., 1889; French translation by Aymeric and Condamin, 3 vols., Paris, 1883; P. Batiffol, Ancient Christian Literatures in La Litterature Grecque, 4th ed., Paris, 1905; R. Duval, Anc. Chr. Lit. in La Litterature Syriaque, 3rd edit., Paris, 1907; P. Monceaux, Histoire litteraire de I'Afrique chretienne, 4 vols. of which have appeared, Paris, 1901-1912.

One has to refer to some of these works when undertaking any kind of advanced study of the Fathers or of the ancient Ecclesiastical Writers. The present volume is only an unpretentious handbook of precise, but necessarily limited, information.

[1] Besides this handbook of Patrology, Bardenhewer has also undertaken the publication of a History of Ancient Ecclesiastical Literature (Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur), Freiburg i. B., 1902 and ff., only three volumes of which have appeared so far (the first in 2nd edit, 1913).


3. Principal Patrological Collections

In the editing of the works of the Fathers and Ecclesiastical Writers, there are three successive periods. The first is that of the editiones principes, published by the scholars of the XVIth century, - Estienne, Froben, Erasmus, etc. Several of these editions have become so rare that they are as valuable as the now lost manuscripts from which they were made. The second period is that of the editions of the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, published by the Benedictines of Saint-Maur, the Jesuits, the Oratorians, etc. These are the editions now most frequently cited. Finally, for the past thirty years or so, new discoveries and facilities for consulting manuscripts have created a new output of collections. The result of this work will be seen further on.

The first great collection ever compiled of the Ancient Ecclesiastical Writers is that of Marguerin de la Bigne, canon of Bayeux (d. 1589). His Bibliotheca Sanctorum Patrum, in nine volumes (Paris, 1575-1579), contained the text of more than 200 writers of the early and Middle Ages. This work developed into the Maxima Bibliotheca Veterum Patrum of Lyons, in 27 folio vols. (1677), and was later completed and corrected, or supplanted by analogous collections, by Fr. Combefis, O. P. (d. 1679), in 1648 and 1672; J. B. Cotelier (d. 1686) in 1677 to 1686; Bernard de Montfaucon (d. 1741) in 1706; and especially by the Oratorian, Andr. Gallandi (d. 1779), in 1765-1781 and 1788. However, one collection has practically superseded them all, namely, that of J. P. MIGNE, Patrologiae Cursus Completus. This work comprises two series: (i) that of the Latin Fathers, from the very beginning to the pontificate of Innocent III (1216), in 217 volumes (Paris, 1844-1855); and (2) that of the Greek Fathers, up to the Council of Florence (1439), in 162 volumes (Paris, 1857-l866).[1] One should not be surprised to encounter in such a gigantic work some weak points and parts that need recasting, nor to find here and there a few omissions, repetitions, and digressions. The ensemble of Migne's work

[1] To this we must add four volumes of tables for the Latin series (Paris, 1862-1864). Migne was unable to give the tables of the Greek series, which have been lately compiled and edited by F. Cavallera, Paris, 1912.


is none the less remarkable. Following, as he did, Mai and Routh, and advised by Pitra, Migne profited by the works and knowledge of these learned scholars. The ancient editions that he reproduced are nearly always well chosen, and he improved upon them by adding dissertations and studies of more recent date. His collection is almost complete, issued in a handy form, and moderately priced; the Latin language, used throughout in the translations and notes makes the work convenient for use everywhere. In spite of the criticism directed against them, the Patrologies of Migne have stood and will for a long time continue to stand as a fundamental work.

Since Migne's time, however, three great collections have been published, or are in process of publication, with a view of improving upon his work and completing it. They are:

1. Monumenta Germaniae Histories, Auctores Antiquissimi, Berolini, 1877-1898, 13 vols., 4.

2. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, editum cons. et impens. Academiae Litterarum Caesareae Vindobonensis, Vindobonae, 1866 ff., very careful though of unequal value, in handy 8 form, and all in Latin. The publication of this work is being carried on without regard to chronological order.

3. Die griechischen christlichen Schrifts feller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte, published by the Berlin Academy, Leipzig, 1897 ff., of which about 30 volumes have appeared. The introductions and critical apparatus are in German.

The collections we have just mentioned comprise only Greek and Latin authors. For the Oriental writers we have had so far only the great work of J. S. Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana, Romae, 1719-1728, 4 vols., which is less a collection than a developed catalogue of authors and manuscripts. In our own days two or three great collections are beginning to supply this omission, namely:

R. Graffin, Patrologia Syriaca, Paris, 1894 ff. (2 vols.), continued by R. Graffin and F. Nau, Patrologia Orientalis, Paris, 1903 ff., of which 13 vols. have so far appeared. The Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic texts are accompanied by a Latin, French or English translation. The chronological order is followed and the same volume contains works of different languages.


J. B. Chabot, I. Guidi, H. Hyvernat, B. Carra de Vaux, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Paris, 1903 ff. This collection is divided into four series:

Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic writers, distinguishable by the different colors of the volumes. The translations are edited and sold separately.

Besides these great and costly works, there have been, or are being, published less pretentious collections mainly for the use of students. Such are in France, the Textes et Documents pour l'Etude Historique du Christianisme, by H. Hemmer and P. Lejay, Paris, 1904 ff., in handy 16 size and accompanied by French translations. In Germany, besides the collection of H. Hurter, SS. Patrum Opuscula Selecta, Oeniponti, 1868-1885 (48 vol.), 2nd series 1884-1892 (6 vol.), we have the collections of G. Kruger, Sammlung, etc., Freiburg i. B., 1891-1896, 2nd series 1901 ff.; H. LIETZMANN, Kleine Texte, etc., Bonn, 1902 ff.; G. Rauschen, Florilegium Patristicum, Bonnae, 1904 ff. In England, the Cambridge Patristic Texts of A. J. Mason, Cambridge, 1899 ff.; in Italy, the Bibliotheca SS. Patrum of J. Vizzini, Rome, 1902 ff.

Finally, let us mention, as comprising both texts and critical studies, two important publications:

Texte und Untersuchungen sur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, Leipzig, 1882 ff., - three 8 series published under the direction of O. von Gebhardt, A. Harnack, and C. Schmidt.

Texts and Studies, Cambridge, 1891 ff., 8, under the direction of Armitage Robinson.

Several of these publications enable even those who are not specialists to become acquainted with Patristic Literature and read its most remarkable productions. While the majority of these productions cannot compare with the classics for purity of diction and elegance of style, they certainly surpass the latter in importance of purpose, elevation of moral ideals, and intensity of faith and zeal.

The history of Ancient Christian Literature naturally falls into three periods: (1) the period of beginning and growth, down to the Council of Nicaea (325), or, better, to the peace of Constantine (313); (2) The golden age of Patrology, from the peace of Constantine to the death of St. Leo the Great (461); (3) the period of decline, down to 636 in the West and 750 in the East.

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