‘Four Latin Church Fathers’ Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678)

Course Description

After Christianity’s first generation, those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ public ministry, death and Resurrection, the Church spread the faith from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and eventually to the ends of the earth. Its mission was to fulfill the Lord’s command to proclaim the gospel and make disciples (see Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). The leaders of this mission were heirs to the Apostles and teachers of the faith, whose call was to faithfully pass on the Tradition that was commissioned to them (see 1 Cor 11:23). They were intensely concerned with preserving the unity and integrity of the message they had received from Christ and the Apostles. These teachers of the following generations were keenly aware of their task to keep the household of the faith together and to preserve the unity of the Christian family’s patrimony. These teachers are known as the Fathers of the Church.

Numbering around 100, the Church Fathers are recognized by both Eastern and Western Christianity. According to Vincent of Lérins (d. 445), a fifth century saint and theologian, the Church Fathers met four important criteria: they needed to excel in the orthodoxy of their doctrine, they shone in the holiness of their lives, they were approved by the Church, and they are all lived between the middle of the first century to the middle of the eighth century, ending with the death of St. John of Damascus (676–749).

The Fathers of the Church are usually divided according to the period in which they lived. The earliest were disciples of the Apostles themselves and are known as the Apostolic Fathers. Their teaching has always received special veneration from the Church, since their witness is invaluable, being nearest to the Apostles. The Ante-Nicene Fathers are those who came after the immediate successors of the Apostles but before the great Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The Nicene Fathers are those who guided the Church through the tumultuous period of the controversies surrounding this Council. Those who followed Nicaea up until the middle of the eight century are known as the Post-Nicene Fathers.

In this course, therefore, you will encounter men like Clement of Rome (d. 101), the third successor of St Peter; you will walk with Ignatius of Antioch (70-107), a disciple of the Apostle John, who journeyed from his Apostolic See of Antioch to Rome where he died a martyr’s death in the Coliseum. You will meet Origen (185-254), the great theologian from the Alexandrian School, and the African, Tertullian (160-225), two of the greatest Church Fathers, never to be canonized as saints. You will encounter the three great Cappadocian Fathers: St Gregory Nazianzen (329-389), St Basil the Great (330-379) and his brother St Gregory of Nyssa (335-395). You will explore one of the greatest meetings in human history, when St Ambrose of Milan (330-397) met the great St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), an encounter which not only changed Augustine’s life forever, but indeed changed the world. You will see what happened when Pope St Leo the Great (391-461) met Attila the Hun, turning him away from invading Rome and massacring its people. You will encounter Pope St Gregory the Great (540–604) and St Maximus the Confessor (580-662), along with many more who have had so great an influence not only on the history of the Church, but on the world itself.

So join us for this exciting course where we step back in time to see how the faith has been passed down to us from the time of Jesus and the Apostles through the ministry and work of the Church Fathers!

Course Objectives

  1. To identify key events and figures in early Christian history.
  2. To articulate the key ideas of specific early Christian authors, explaining their significance.
  3. To learn about the characteristic elements of early Christian liturgy and interpretation of Scripture,
  4. To see the evidence for and meaning of Apostolic Succession.
  5. To recognise and explain the meaning intended by particular Christian icons and graffiti.

Course Duration

6 Weeks: 12 Hours (i.e., two hours, one night a week).

Recommended Reading

Texts Recommended for Purchase by Course Participants:

Aquilina, Mike. The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1999.

Popular Level Reading:

St. Augustine, Confessions. Penguin Classics. Translation by R. S. Pine-Coffin. London: Penguin Books. First published, 1961.

Aquilina, Mike. The Mass of the Early Christians. 2nd Ed. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2007.

_________. Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2008.

_________. Roots of the Faith: From the Church Fathers to You. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2010.

_________. A Year with the Church Fathers: Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living. Charlotte: Saint Benedict Press, 2010.

Field, Anne. From Darkness to Light: How to Became a Christian in the Early Church. Ben Lomond. CA: Conciliar Press, 1997.

Hahn, Scott and Mike Aquilina. Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians. Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.

Pope Benedict XVI. Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine. (General Audiences 7 March 2007—27 February 2008). San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008.

_________. Church Fathers and Teachers: From Saint Leo the Great to Peter Lombard. (General Audiences 5 March 2008—25 June 2008; 11 February 2009—17 June 2009; 2 September 2009—30 December 2009). San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010.

_________. Jesus, the Apostles and the Early Church. (General Audiences 15 March 2006—14 February 2007). San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007.

_________. Saint Paul. (General Audiences 2 July 2008—4 February 2009). San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009.

Sadowski, Frank. The Church Fathers on the Bible: Selected Readings. Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1987.

Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. New York: HarperCollins, 1996

Wilken, Robert Louis. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

_________. The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Scholarly Level Reading:

Akin, Jimmy. The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church. San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2010.

Aquilina, Mike. Mothers of the Church: The Witness of Early Christian Women. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012.

Bardenhewer, Otto. Patrology: The Lives and Works of the Fathers of the Church. Translated by T. J. Shahan. St. Louis: B. Herder, 1908.

Barnes, Michel R. The Power of God: Dunamis in Gregory of Nyssa’s Trinitarian Theology. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2001.

Benin, Stephen. The Footprints of God: Divine Accommodation in Jewish and Christian Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Blowers, Paul M. (ed.). The Bible in Greek Christian Antiquity. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997.

_________. Exegesis and Spiritual Pedagogy in Maximus the Confessor. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.

Blowers, Paul M. and Robert Louis Wilken, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: Selected Writings from St. Maximus the Confessor. New York: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2003.

Brown, Dennis. Vir Trilinguis: A Study in the Biblical Exegesis of Saint Jerome. Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1992.

Cameron, Michael. “The Christological Substructure of Augustine’s Figurative Exegesis.” Pages 74–103 in Augustine and the Bible. Edited by Pamela Bright. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1986.

Cayré, Fulbert. Manual of Patrology and History of Theology. Translated by H. Howitt. Paris, 1936.

Chalassery, Joseph. The Holy Spirit and Christian Initiation in the Eastern Syrian Tradition. Rome: Mar Thoma Yogam, 1995.

Chau, Wai-Shing. The Letter and the Spirit: A History of Interpretation from Origen to Luther. New York: Peter Lang, 1995.

Danielou, Jean. The Bible and the Liturgy. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1973.

_________. From Shadows to Reality: Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers. London: Burns & Oates, 1960.

Drobner, Hubertus. The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction. Translated by S. S. Schatzmann. Peabody: Hendricksen, 2007.

Duncon, J. Ligon, III. “The Covenant Idea in Irenaeus of Lyons: An Introduction and Survey.” Pages 31–55 in Confessing Our Hope: Essays in Honor of Morton Howison Smith on His Eightieth Birthday. Edited by J.A. Pipa and C. N. Wilborn. Southern Presbyterian Press: Greenville, SC, 2004.

Froelich, Karlfried (ed.). Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

Graham, Susan. “Irenaeus and the Covenants” ‘Immortal Diamond.’” Pages 393–398 in Studia Patristica Vol. XL. Leuven: Peeters, 2006.

Hahn, Scott and Mike Aquilina. Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.

Holmes, Michael, ed. The Apostolic Fathers. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007.

Hughes, Philip. A Popular History of the Catholic Church. Garden City, NY: Macmillan, 1978.

Jurgens, William A. The Faith of the Early Fathers. 3 vols. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1980.

Lampe, G. W. H. “Scripture and Tradition in the Early Church.” Pages 21–52 in Scripture and Tradition: Essays. Edited by F. W. Dillistone. Greenwich: Seabury, 1955.

Margerie, Betrand de. An Introduction to the History of Exegesis (3 vols.). Petersham, MA: Saint Bede’s Publications, 1993-95.

_________. The Christian Trinity in History. Studies in Historical Theology; trans. E. J. Fortman; Petersham: St. Bede’s Publications, 1982.

Maximus the Confessor. Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality). New York: Paulist Press, 1985.

McGoldrick, Patrick. “Liturgy: The Context of Patristic Exegesis.” Pages 27–37 in Scriptural Interpretation in the Fathers. Edited by Thomas Finan and Vincent Twomey. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1995.

Quasten, Johannes. Patrology. 4 vols. Westinster, MD: Christian Classics, 1986.

Shoemaker, Stephen J. Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Sadowski, Frank. The Church Fathers on the Bible: Selected Readings. Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1987.

Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Tixeront, Joseph. Handbook of Patrology. St. Louis: B. Herder Books, 1920.

Wilken, Robert L. Judaism and the Early Christian Mind: A Study of Cyril of Alexandria’s Exegesis and Theology. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1971.

Scholarly Journal Articles:

Barron, Robert “Biblical Interpretation and Theology: Irenaeus, Modernity and Vatican II.” Letter & Spirit 5 (2009): 173–91.

Cavadini, John. “Augustine’s De Trinitate.” Augustinian Studies 23 (1992): 97–128.

Driscoll, Jeremy. “Preaching in the Context of the Eucharist: A Patristic Perspective.” Pro Ecclesia 11 (2006): 24–40.