Fathers of the Church are saintly writers of the first centuries of the Christian era, whom the Catholic Church acknowledges as witnesses of her faith. To be numbered among the Fathers of the Church, four qualities are required of write. First, you must have lived when the Church was in her youth; hence St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) is generally regarded as the last father in the West, St. John Damascene (d.754), in the East.
Secondly, he must have lived a saintly life. Thirdly, his writings must not only be free from heresies, but also excel in the explanation and defense of Catholic doctrine.
Lastly, his writings must bear the seal of the Churches approval thou the majority of the Fathers were bishops, yet this is not true of all of them. St. Jerome was a simple priest to the end of his days, St. Ephraem a deacon, St. Justin a layman.
All Fathers have not been proclaimed doctors of the Church. In matters of faith and moral, the consent of the Fathers has always been held in high esteem by the Church. What they unanimously teach to be of faith, is of faith; what they unanimously reject as heretical, is heretical.
Even the logical conclusions which they unanimously draw from the articles of faith, furnish us with a certain theological argument. Their authority is due not only to the facts that they were saints or bishops or eminent scholars and lived at a time when Christ's revelation was still fresh in the minds of men, but primarily to the approbation of the Church. But Christ said of the Apostles, "He that hearth you, hearth me," the Church says in manner of the Fathers. They are the mouthpiece of the infallible teaching of the Church, and the Church acknowledges them as witnesses of her own faith. Hence, when anathematizing new heresies or defining new dogmas, the Councils appeal to the consent of the Fathers. The Council of Ephesus (in 431) declared in its first session that it would define nothing save what had been held unanimously by the ancient and holy Fathers. This approbation of the Church gives added authority even to the Fathers, considered singly thou in varying degrees period.
A general approbation gives to a saintly writer of the first centuries implies that his doctrine in general is orthodox and worthy of recommendation. Sometimes, however, a certain Father's doctrine receives a special approbation as being exceptionally solid; such is St. Augustine's fundamental doctrine on grace.
Lastly, the highest degree of ecclesiastical approbation is reached when the Church takes the very doctrine of a Father and embodies it in her own official pronouncements, as in the case of the St. Cyril of Alexandria, whose twelve anathematisms against Nestorius were adopted by the Councils of Ephesus (431). -C.E.; Agius, Tradition and the Church
|The Appeal to the Fathers|
Classification of Patristic Writings
Characteristics of Patristic Writings
The word Father is used in the New Testament to mean a teacher of spiritual things, by whose means the soul of man is born again into the likeness of Christ: "For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:15, 16; cf. Galatians 4:19). The first teachers of Christianity seem to be collectively spoken of as "the Fathers" (2 Peter 3:4).
Thus St. Irenaeus defines that a teacher is a father, and a disciple is a son (iv, 41,2), and so says Clement of Alexandria (Strom., I, i, 1). A bishop is emphatically a "father in Christ", both because it was he, in early times, who baptized all his flock, and because he is the chief teacher of his church. But he is also regarded by the early Fathers, such as Hegesippus, Irenaeus, and Tertullian as the recipient of the tradition of his predecessors in the see, and consequently as the witness and representative of the faith of his Church before Catholicity and the world. Hence the expression "the Fathers" comes naturally to be applied to the holy bishops of a preceding age, whether of the last generation or further back, since they are the parents at whose knee the Church of today was taught her belief. It is also applicable in an eminent way to bishops sitting in council, "the Fathers of Nicaea", "the Fathers of Trent". Thus Fathers have learnt from Fathers, and in the last resort from the Apostles, who are sometimes called Fathers in this sense: "They are your Fathers", says St. Leo, of the Princes of the Apostles, speaking to the Romans; St. Hilary of Arles calls them sancti patres; Clement of Alexandria says that his teachers, from Greece, Ionia, Coele-Syria, Egypt, the Orient, Assyria, Palestine, respectively, had handed on to him the tradition of blessed teaching from Peter, and James, and John, and Paul, receiving it "as son from father".
It follows that, as our own Fathers are the predecessors who have taught us, so the Fathers of the whole Church are especially the earlier teachers, who instructed her in the teaching of the Apostles, during her infancy and first growth. It is difficult to define the first age of the Church, or the age of the Fathers. It is a common habit to stop the study of the early Church at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. "The Fathers" must undoubtedly include, in the West, St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), and in the East, St. John Damascene (d. about 754). It is frequently said that St. Bernard (d. 1153) was the last of the Fathers, and Migne's "Patrologia Latina" extends to Innocent III, halting only on the verge of the thirteenth century, while his "Patrologia Graeca" goes as far as the Council of Florence (1438-9). These limits are evidently too wide, It will be best to consider that the great merit of St. Bernard as a writer lies in his resemblance in style and matter to the greatest among the Fathers, in spite of the difference of period. St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) and the Venerable Bede (d. 735) are to be classed among the Fathers, but they may be said to have been born out of due time, as St. Theodore the Studite was in the East.
The Fathers of the Church
Augustine of Hippo
Ephraim the Syrian (306-373)
Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 265-c. 340)
Gregory of Nyssa
Ignatius of Antioch
St. Thomas Aquinas surrounded by the Doctors of the Church
Doctors of the Catholic Church
Doctors of the Church, writers who received this title from the Church, owing to their eminence in theology and holiness. They are extolled by the Church not primarily as witnesses of her faith (as are the Fathers), but on account of their brilliant exposition and skillful defense of Catholic doctrine. Unlike the titles of Doctor subtilis, or, Doctor resolutissimus, Doctor irrefragabilis, which enthusiastic scholars of the Middle Ages bestowed on renowned professors, this title is official. The first to confer it was Pope Boniface VIII, who in the thirteenth century declared four Fathers the great Doctors of the Latin Church: St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Gregory the Great. The next to be declared to be a doctor was St. Thomas Aquinas in 1567. Since then more than 20 renown theologians, all of them canonized saints, have received the same seal of approval, either from some pope or from the Sacred Congregation of Rites; the latest are St. Peter Canisius and St. John of the Cross, who received this honor from Pope Pius XI. Owing to their title, the Doctors of the Church enjoy a special authority in the Church, thou not all in the same degree or in the same manner. As a rule, the range and degree of their authority are set forth in the degree by which the title is deferred. Thus St. Alphonsus of Liguori is recommended to theologians as master of moral theology, St. Jerome as biblical scholar, St. Bonaventure as eminent and scholastic theology. Still, their writings are not thereby pronounced infallible throughout, but they are proposed as safe guides, so that their doctrines are to be preferred unless solid reasons favor the opposite. - C.E.; Agius, Tradition and the Church
For a person to be proclaimed Doctor of the Church, three requisites are necessary, according to Pope Benedict XIV's well-known definition: an eminent doctrine, a remarkable holiness of life and the declaration by the Supreme Pontiff or by a General Council which has met legitimately.
Following is the list of Doctors of the Church, starting with their name(s), the Pope who proclaimed them and the date on which this occurred:
|1-4: Saints Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great: Boniface VIII, September 20, 1295.|
|5: Saint Thomas Aquinas: Saint Pius V, April 11, 1567. (Dominican)|
|6-9: Saints Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint John Chrysostom: Saint Pius V, 1568. (Eastern)|
|10: Saint Bonaventure: Sixtus V, March 14, 1588.|
|11: Saint Anselm of Canterbury: Clement XI, February 3, 1720.|
|12: Saint Isidore of Seville: Innocent XIII, April 25, 1722.|
|13: Saint Peter Chrysologus: Benedict XIII, February 10, 1729.|
|14: Saint Leo the Great: Benedict XIV, October 15, 1754.|
|15: Saint Peter Damian: Leo XII, September 27, 1828.|
|16: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: Pius VIII, August 20, 1830.|
|17: Saint Hilaire of Poitiers: Pius IX, May 13, 1851.|
|18: Saint Alphonsus Liguori: Pius IX, July 7, 1871.|
|19: Saint Francis of Sales: Pius IX, November 16, 1871.|
|20-21: Saints Cyril of Alexandria and Cyril of Jerusalem: Leo XIII, July 28, 1882. (Eastern)|
|22: Saint John Damascene: Leo XIII, August 19, 1890. (Eastern)|
|23: Saint Bede the Venerable: Leo XIII, November 13, 1899. (Eastern)|
|24: Saint Ephrem of Syria: Benedict XV, October 5, 1920.|
|25: Saint Peter Canisius: Pius XI, May 21, 1925.|
|26: Saint John of the Cross: Pius XI, August 24, 1926.|
|27: Saint Robert Bellarmine: Pius XI, September 17, 1931.|
|28: Saint Albert the Great: Pius XI, December 16, 1931. (Dominican)|
|29: Saint Anthony of Padua: Pius XII, January 16, 1946.|