patristic literature

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

patristic literature

patristic literature, Christian writings of the first few centuries. They are chiefly in Greek and Latin; there is analogous writing in Syriac and in Armenian. The first period of patristic literature (1st–2d cent.) includes the works of St. Clement I, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, and Papias, the writing known as the Shepherd of Hermas (see Hermas, Shepherd of), the Didache, and the first Christian Pseudepigrapha. The writers of the 3d cent., often called the ante-Nicene Fathers, are principally St. Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, St. Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, and St. Cyprian. The last two of these are the earliest Fathers to write in Latin. As Christianity established itself, the interest shifted from apologetics to the new theological questions and to sermons and exegesis of Scripture. In the 4th and 5th cent. the number of writers increased greatly. The chief writers in Greek were Eusebius of Caesarea, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril (of Jerusalem), St. Cyril (of Alexandria), and St. Athanasius. Among the Latin Fathers were St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome (who set a standard for later Latin in the Vulgate), Cassian, Salvian, St. Hilary of Arles, St. Caesarius of Arles, and St. Gregory of Tours. The list in the West is closed conventionally with St. Gregory I, although St. Bernard of Clairvaux is often called the last of the Fathers. The canon of Greek Fathers is closed with St. John of Damascus. There is a monumental collection of the Fathers (to Innocent III in the West and to the fall of Constantinople in the East) by Jacques Paul Migne; the Greek texts are accompanied by Latin translations. There are several collections of the Fathers in English, including new editions recently undertaken, and innumerable individual translations.

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