The adjective 'patristic' is commonly used in reference to the early Christian Theologians and/or their writings. Broadly speaking, the patristic period started towards the later part of the first Christian century with St. Clement of Rome, and extended through to the seventh century with St. Maximus the Theologian, also known as the Confessor, a title bestowed upon him in recognition of the martyrdom he suffered on account of his faith.
On one level this period was, for the Church, one of growth and expansion, moving as it did from being a fringe religious sect in first century Palestine, to becoming, towards the later part of the fourth century, the official religion of the Roman Empire. On another level it was a time of deep and sustained theological enquiry, during which the doctrinal foundations of the Catholic Faith we know today were defined and formulated, not without serious struggles along the way. The doctrinal definition at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (325 AD) of the Son's consubstantiality with the Father, the further doctrinal definition pertaining to the third person of the Trinity at the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381 AD), or the definition at the fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) of the Son's two natures (fully divine and fully human), did not occur in a vacuum but rather were the results of a sustained, prayerful search on the part of the Church to find, in its historical context, adequate ways of expounding the faith received by the Apostles from the Lord Jesus Christ, and faithfully handed down by the Church. The Church Fathers echoed the witness and testimony of the Apostles of Christ, who themselves were trusted witnesses of the Christ Event. From a faith perspective, one cannot fully comprehend the Church Fathers' labor in expounding Sacred Scripture without taking into account their deep faith in the salvific dimension of the Christ event. The Church Fathers were pastors first, theologians second. Their care was for the flock entrusted to them by the Lord. In their lives echoed Christ's command given to St. Peter, the Pastor of pastors: "Feed my Lambs" (John 21:15). This they did, often with little consideration for their own lives and well being.
The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Devine Revelation, Dei Verbum, affirms the centrality of the Church Fathers' contributions that form Sacred Tradition when it states: "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture together form a single deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. By adhering to this deposit, the entire holy people, united with their shepherds, remain always steadfast in the teaching of the apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42)" (par. 10).
Below are listed a number of documents from the treasury of our faith that has come down to us from the patristic period: Creeds and definitions of Faith, theological treatises, letters, etc. The list is by no means exhaustive. It only represents a small sample of the vast treasury that amounts to Sacred Tradition in the Roman Catholic faith. These are provided with the hope that the (re)discovery of these treasures will be of benefit to the life of faith of the reader. To theological students these will prove to be a mine of priceless primary sources that will assist them in their theological endeavor. I have also included at the bottom of this page a list of the recent General Audiences given by Pope Benedict XVI on the Church Fathers. They provide ideal introductions to each of the Church Fathers' life and thought.
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List of Ecumenical Councils
First Ecumenical Council: Nicea I (325 AD)
The three hundred and eighteen fathers contributed the Symbol of Nicea, which defined the doctrine of the Son's consubstantiality with the Father. The Conciliar fathers were thus condemning the heresy of arianism and professing the full divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God. Symbol of Nicea.
The Symbol of Nicea was developed further to include a paragraph defining the Holy Spirit. The New Missal translation provided below is based on the Creed of Nicea-Constantinople (381 AD).
Third Ecumenical Council: Ephesus (431 AD)
The unity of person in Christ was ascertained at Ephesus, and Mary was given the title 'Mother of God'. The Council condemned the teaching of Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople.
Fourth Ecumenical Council: Chalcedon (451 AD)
The Bishops gathered at Nicea formulated the doctrine of the two natures of Christ. The Council condemned the teaching of Eutyches.
Reiterated the faith of the first Four Ecumenical Councils. Condemned some of the writings of Origen.
The Conciliar Fathers defined the two will of Chirst - human and divine - as two directing principles in the person of Christ, thus condemning the heresy known as Monothelitism (= one will).
Seventh Ecumenical Council: Nicea II (787 AD)
Regulated the veneration of holy images.
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Creeds and Symbols of Faith
||Nicene Creed - New Missal translation
I believe in God, the Father almighty,creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; Through Him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the Prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
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Major Theological compositions
On Jesus Christ
On the Holy Spirit
On the Trinity
On the Christian Faith
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Pope Benedict XVI - Audiences on the Church Fathers
A useful at a glance list of the cycle of Audiences delivered by the Pope is available on our website (Profile page of Dr. Rouleau).
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Pope Benedict XVI - Audiences on the Apostles' Creed
This new series of Audiences is offered in the context of the Year of Faith. Below is the text of the Audience introducing the series (17 October 2012):
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s Audience introduces a new series of catecheses meant to accompany the Church’s celebration of the Year of Faith, which marks the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The Year of Faith invites us to renewed enthusiasm for the gift of our belief in Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, shows us the ultimate meaning of our human existence. Faith transforms our lives, enabling us to know and love the God who created us, to live freely in accordance with his will, and to cooperate in building a truly humane and fraternal society. Our catecheses will thus deal with the central truths of the faith as expressed in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. May the Year of Faith lead all believers to a fuller knowledge of the mystery of Christ and a deeper participation in the life of his Body, the Church!