A note on the use of the Church Fathers

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Sun, Oct 13 2019 3:47 PM

There have been some recent posts that indicate some users misunderstand the use of the early church fathers by their colleagues. Some quick facts:

  • The early church fathers provide the historical data available for tracing doctrine and practices through time and place. They do not speak with one voice - they provide most of the historical data available - heretical as well as orthodox and everything in between. And they speak to geographic divergences.
  • Among the most influential data they provide is the development of the canon and quotations from early Christian literature - canonical and not. The quotations are useful in text criticism ... think of the recent thread on the forums on whether phrase was original or added to a verse. The quotations provide some insight into the contents of "lost works".
  • There is, to the best of my knowledge, no Christian group that considers the church fathers to be inspired. There are, however, a few works that some groups consider or have considered canonical while other groups do not. An example: the Didascalia Apostolorum in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible Project.
  • There is, to the best of my knowledge, no Christian group that uses the church fathers to "create doctrine". However, much of the Church uses the fathers as support for doctrines believing "all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all." (from Commonitorium (Vincent of Lerins)).
  • There is a large gap in the Western world's understanding of the early church fathers due to the comparative absence of documents from the Oriental Orthodox. We are currently seeing a surge of interest in these sources (often in Syriac) along with the current political situation destroying the institutions most apt to house them.
  • There is a current growth of interest in reception history (see Blackwell Bible Commentary which I desperately want in Logos) which requires early church fathers for the first third of its data.

The use of the church fathers should not be divisive - historical documents are what they are. The selection of which fathers are "orthodox" or what Father X meant when he wrote Y may be. If you have no interest in history, that's fine too; there are others who are interested.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Glenn Crouch | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Oct 13 2019 5:40 PM

Very well said, MJ - and covers my eager interest in the Church Fathers for the past 40 years Smile

Pastor Glenn Crouch
St Paul's Lutheran Church
Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia

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DIsciple II | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Oct 13 2019 11:09 PM

Thanks MJ for taking the time to share your insights into this topic.

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Jack Caviness | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2019 6:28 AM

Thank you. Very interesting.

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2019 9:26 AM


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Mike Childs | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Oct 15 2019 12:21 PM

What MJ said!  Very good insight.

"In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church," John Wesley

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Hamilton Ramos | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Oct 27 2019 8:43 AM

Hi Glenn:

Impressive the amount of research you must have done through the years.  Have you identified a common thread among them that seemed of extreme importance?

Thanks to the thread creator and the posters.

Just for a better appreciation of the topic a little excerpt:

"revealed religion

1. The notion of religion

2. Natural religion exists in man

3. Revelation merits the assent of human reason

4. Revelation is morally necessary for us in the present order

5. The Gospel—senses of the word: one and four

6. The genuineness of the four Gospels was acknowledged by Christian antiquity

7. The witnesses who assert the genuineness of the Gospels are worthy of belief

8. The four Gospels contain true history

9. Jesus Christ truly came into the world as a divine legate

10. The prophecies prove this divine mission to be fulfilled in Christ

11. Christ’s miracles prove His divine mission

12. Christ’s prophecies prove His divine mission

13. The resurrection of Christ rests on arguments that are certain

14. The wonderful propagation and perpetuity of Christianity prove its divine origin

15. Christian virtues versus pagan vices

16. Martyrdom is a testimony of the truth of the Christian religion

17. The internal nature of Christian doctrine proves its divinity


the church

18. Jesus Christ instituted a society which was to last forever which He called His Church

19. The Church was to continue Christ’s own life on earth

20. The Church is hierarchically constituted

21. Heretics and schismatics are not members of the Church

22. The Church is necessary for all men to attain their salvation

23. The true Church of Christ can be recognized by certain notes

24. Sanctity of principles and members belongs only to the true Church of Christ

25. Unity of faith and government belongs only to the true Church of Christ

26. Catholicity belongs only to the true Church of Christ

27. Apostolicity belongs only to the true Church of Christ

28. Among the apostles Peter received the primacy of jurisdiction in the Church from Christ

29. Peter founded his chair at Rome and instituted a Roman bishop as his successor in the primacy

30. The Roman pontiffs have always attributed the primacy to themselves

31. Bishops were the legitimate successors of the apostles

32. The Church is infallible in transmitting Christ’s doctrine

33. The Roman pontiff is infallible when teaching ex cathedra

34. The bishops assembled in ecumenical council have always been recognized as infallible judges of the faith


sacred scripture and tradition

35. There are sacred books, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that have God as their author

36. Inspiration consists in God’s action moving the mind and the will of the hagiographer to the mode of the instrument

37. The primary object of this inspiration are things pertaining to salvation

38. Inspiration truly extends to all parts of Scripture, even in some sense to the words themselves

39. The writer, the revelation, and the divine assistance

40. No error can be found in the sacred books

41. Sacred tradition is also a true font of revelation

42. This tradition completes Scripture through an authentic interpretation

43. Apostolic tradition has always been regarded as a rule of faith

44. All progress in dogma, however, is not to be rejected


one god

45. The existence of God can certainly be known through the natural light of reason

46. Man can draw knowledge of God from the order of the visible world

47. Man can draw knowledge of God from the governing of providence

48. Man can draw knowledge of God from the dictates of conscience

49. This knowledge is somehow inborn in all men

50. The essence of God is His very existence. His name is Yahweh

51. God is per se independent existence

52. The divine attributes are really the same as the divine substance

53. God is utter simplicity, and admits of no composition whatever

54. God is omnipotent

55. Creatures can be elevated to the vision of God, and this is done for the angels and the blessed

56. God knows all things in a single gaze, not only those things which are, but those things which will be

57. God foreknows everything which is future in the free will of man

58. God has providence for all of His creatures

59. God wants all men to be saved

60. God “predestined some to eternal life, most merciful dispenser of grace”

61. Predestination for faith and justification is completely gratuitous


the triune god

62. From the first three centuries it is clear from tradition that God is triune

63. Against Arianism the later Fathers appealed to this constant tradition

64. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct, and yet One

65. There are three persons in the unity of one nature

66. The most holy Trinity is a mystery

67. The Father alone does not proceed

68. The Son was not made

69. The Son was truly born of the Father

70. The Son is coeternal with the Father

71. The Son is consubstantial with the Father

72. The Holy Spirit is God

73. That the Holy Spirit is God is proved by His operation

74. The Holy Spirit is consubstantial with the Father and the Son

75. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son

76. The divine Persons are distinguished among themselves only by relations

77. Operations outside are common to the three Persons

78. Creation takes place through the Word

79. Sanctification takes place through the Holy Spirit

80. The Son is sent by the Father

81. The Holy Spirit is also sent by the Son



82. God created all things

83. God created all things out of nothing

84. God creates freely

85. God created out of His goodness

86. The world (matter) is not eternal

87. There exist angels created by God

88. Many angels, having attained eternal beatitude, have already been confirmed in the good

89. Many angels, however, having committed grave sin, rushed into eternal damnation

90. The good angels are ministers of God and aid men in the business of salvation

91. Man is composed of body and soul

92. The human soul is immortal

93. Man is free

94. The human soul is created by God

95. Before the fall, our first parents were endowed with gifts of nature not due them: original justice

96. Our first parents were free from concupiscence

97. Our first parents were immune from the necessity of dying



98. Sin is a turning from God and a conversion to creatures

99. Our first parents, having committed grave sin, lost original justice

100. Death is the effect of Adam’s sin

101. Through sin Adam lost the other free gifts

102. Adam’s sin has passed on to all men

103. On the fate of infants dying without baptism


actual grace

104. For every good salutary work grace is absolutely necessary

105. Without grace man can place certain acts naturally good

106. Without grace man cannot keep the Law for any length of time

107. Even for the beginning of faith and conversion grace is necessary

108. Without grace man cannot resist for long concupiscence and grave temptations

109. No one can be completely immune from concupiscence and small sins without a special privilege of grace

110. Final perseverance is a great gift of God

111. There is some grace which truly suffices to produce its effect, but nevertheless does not actually produce it (gratia sufficiens)

112. However there is another grace which efficaciously moves the will (gratia efficax)

113. Grace does not destroy free will

114. God infallibly knows beforehand in what way free will is to make use of the aid of grace

115. Grace surpasses all the exigencies of nature

116. Grace is essentially gratuitous

117. To no one, not even the unfaithful, does God deny grace sufficient for faith and salvation


habitual grace

118. Among the gifts which God has bestowed on His creatures, some are natural, others are supernatural

119. In justification there is infused a permanent supernatural gift, habitual grace

120. Sins are truly blotted out

121. Man is renewed internally

122. The Holy Spirit dwells in man

123. Man becomes a sharer of the divine nature

124. Man becomes the adoptive son of God

125. Man must dispose himself for justification through faith

126. Man also disposes himself for justification through the acts of the other virtues

127. Habitual grace is lost by mortal sin

128. Man can never be certain of his righteousness

129. The just can have true merit

130. The just can merit eternal life


the incarnate word

131. The ante-Nicene tradition testifies that Christ is true God

132. Only the Son of God is incarnate, nor is He other than Jesus Christ

133. Jesus Christ assumed a true human nature, not one that was merely apparent

134. Therefore Christ has a true body formed from the substance of Mary

135. Christ also has a rational soul

136. And so Christ is consubstantial with us, being of Adam’s race

137. “What is not assumed is not healed”

138. The incarnation is a mystery

139. The Word assumed a human nature so that there are two natures truly distinct

140. The two natures are somehow united

141. The two natures of Christ are united by a personal union

142. There are two operations in Christ: one divine, the other human

143. In Christ there is a true communication of idioms

144. The man Christ is the natural Son of God, not the adopted Son

145. Christ, completely filled with grace, had complete sanctity

146. Christ is to be adored as man

147. Christ was free from personal sin

148. Christ had a body capable of suffering

149. Christ freely suffered and died

150. On the question of ignorance in Christ

151. The purpose of the incarnation and passion of Christ is the salvation of men

152. The purpose of the incarnation and passion of Christ is a manifestation of love towards men

153. Christ Himself was both Priest and Host

154. Christ offers Himself by way of true vicarious sacrifice

155. Christ ascended into heaven according to His human nature

156. Christ will judge the living and the dead


mary, mother of god and virgin

157. Mary was truly the Mother of God

158. Mary was a virgin in conceiving

159. Mary was a virgin during Christ’s birth

160. Mary remained a virgin after Christ’s birth

161. Mary was conceived immaculate

162. Mary’s body was assumed into heaven


the sacraments

163. The sacraments are sensible signs which signify and at the same time confer grace

164. Physically the sacraments are constituted of things (matter) and words (form)

165. Among the sacramental rites the imposition of hands signifies in a special manner the conferring of grace

166. The sacraments confer more abundant grace on the recipient who is better disposed to receive

167. The sacraments do not confer grace when an obstacle is present, but when it is removed the sacraments revivify and grace is infused

168. The sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and orders imprint on the soul a spiritual and indelible sign

169. And so these sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and orders can never be repeated

170. The sacraments confer grace from the power of the Holy Spirit which is in the rite

171. Christ is the author of the sacraments and instituted all of them immediately

172. The sacraments are morally Christ’s actions, using the ministry of men

173. The worth of the sacraments does not depend on the faith of the minister

174. The worth of the sacraments does not depend on the probity of the minister

175. To receive the sacraments licitly and with fruit, certain dispositions are required in an adult

176. The holy Fathers knew of all of our sacraments

177. Baptism is a true sacrament instituted by Christ

178. The remote matter is natural water

179. The proximate matter, however, is the washing with the water

180. Baptism may be performed by immersion, infusion, or sprinkling

181. In the form of baptism, it is essential that there be a distinct expression of God as One and Three

182. The minister of solemn baptism is the bishop and the priest, or, in case of necessity, a deacon

183. Any man, using the right matter, form, and intention, baptizes validly, even licitly, in case of necessity

184. And so, even heretics may validly baptize

185. Baptism is necessary for all for salvation, both children and adults

186. For adults the baptism of desire can take the place of the baptism of water

187. For adults, and infants as well, martyrdom can take the place of the baptism of water

188. The Church has always recognized that even infants are capable of receiving baptism

189. The effect of baptism is a spiritual regeneration, which consists in the remission of every sin and punishment and the infusion of the first grace

190. Confirmation is a true sacrament

191. The remote matter is blessed oil (chrism)

192. The proximate matter is the unction of the chrism made on the forehead in the form of a cross

193. The ordinary minister of confirmation is the bishop

194. The extraordinary minister is any priest

195. The effect of confirmation is a more abundant effusion of grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit

196. The sacrament of the Eucharist was instituted by Christ in memory of His passion and death

197. In the words which John records (6:48 ff.) Christ promised that He would give Himself, flesh and blood, in a real sense, in food and drink

198. Christ is really present in the Eucharist under the species of bread and wine

199. The truth of the real Presence is evident from the words of institution

200. This Presence of Christ does not depend on the faith and disposition of the receiver

201. The bread and wine through the words of consecration are converted into the body and blood of Christ

202. The matter of the Eucharist is bread and wine

203. The minister of the Eucharist to be confected is the priest

204. For licit and fruitful communion the state of grace is required

205. The Mass is a true sacrifice

206. The Mass is a representation of the sacrifice of the cross

207. Christ is the victim offered in the sacrifice of the Mass

208. The Church received from Christ the power of remitting or retaining sins

209. This power of remitting or retaining sins extends to all sins committed after baptism

210. Of all sins, the greatest were adultery, homicide, and apostasy or heresy

211. In the early Church a public penance was imposed for the most serious external crimes

212. However, “reconciliation” was made by the imposition of hands, ordinarily by the bishop

213. Penance is necessary to obtain the remission of sin

214. Some confession not made only to God, but external, is required for the remission of sins

215. Because of the intercession of martyrs some of the canonical penance could be remitted

216. In the Church there exists a treasury of merits, from which an indulgence for sinners can be applied for punishment due

217. Extreme unction is a true sacrament, whose effect is to blot out the residue of sin and to increase the forces of the soul and the body

218. Holy orders is a true sacrament

219. In the Church, the clergy constitute a distinct order from the laity

220. Episcopacy, priesthood, and diaconate constitute major orders

221. The bishops constitute a superior order to the priests

222. The deacons are assistants of the bishops and priests in holy functions

223. Subdeacons are assistants of the deacons, instituted by the Church at a later time

224. In the early Church women could be consecrated to God in a special manner as deaconesses or widows; however, they received no order properly so called

225. The matter of orders is the imposition of hands

226. The form of orders is the prayer which is conjoined with that imposition

227. Already the ancient custom in the Church was that celibacy be imposed on clerics in major orders, or at least that they be prohibited from a second marriage

228. The purposes of matrimony are the generation of children, mutual conjugal help, and a remedy for concupiscence

229. Christian matrimony is a true sacrament

230. Matrimony effects a bond which is completely indissoluble

231. The sacrament of matrimony effects an exclusive bond

232. The Church has authority to establish impediments to marriage

233. Matrimony is licit and good

234. Celibacy and especially virginity are however preferable to marriage


the last things

235. Death is a separation of the soul from the body

236. After death there is no possibility of meriting or demeriting

237. The soul undergoes a particular judgment when it leaves the body

238. Even before the general judgment souls are either saved or lost

239. Purgatory exists, where the souls—for whom something more must be expiated—undergo temporary punishment

240. The souls of the dead detained in purgatory can be helped by the suffrages of the living

241. Those who die in mortal sin are cast into hell

242. The pain of the damned is twofold: (a) damnation—the privation of God

243. The pain of the damned is twofold: (b) the pain of sense—true and corporeal fire

244. The punishments of the damned will be eternal

245. Various signs precede the end of the world

246. The dead shall rise

247. The dead will rise with their same bodies

248. Afterwards, the general judgment will be given

249. The object of beatitude is God alone

250. Perfect beatitude in heaven consists in the vision and the love of God

Table of Reference to Rouët de Journel’s Enchiridion Patristicum

Index to the Church Fathers"

 Willis, J. R. (Ed.). (2002). The Teachings of the Church Fathers (pp. vii–xviii). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Posts 833
Hamilton Ramos | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Nov 19 2019 7:36 PM

could the following be of interest?


Peace and grace.

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