Patristics or the father reaching view of patrology is the study of early writers that are purported to be Christian and are designated as "Church Fathers." The names derive from the combined forms of Latin pater and Greek patḗr meaning father.
A question may arise as to these Patristics writers as their authenticity as true writers of the Church established by Jesus or are they the Fathers of another Church established by someone else like Constantine.
Jesus said call no man on earth Father. The period of these "father writers" is generally considered to run from the beginning of the second century to after the fall of the Roman Empire around the time of the Council of Chalcedon, although some extend the period to the 8th century and what is called the Second Council of Nicaea.
They often divide the writers into those before and after the Council of Nicaea 325 AD and those who were the Latin (Like Tertullian, Cyprian, Jerome, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory the Great and Augustine of Hippo) and Greek (Like Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria) authors. The designation of "father" or even "pope" was something that was applied later by the Roman Church which did not gain real dominance of the christian movement until the inquisition and the rise of king.
Some of those men in those early days who were called the Patristic writers of the Church like Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great appear to have shifted the Doctrines of Jesus. This had to be a subtle and slow process but the declaration and persecution of some as heretics is a sure sign that something was wrong. They are presented by some as the “patriarchs of the Church”. But are these patrons of Jesus Christ or did they take to a different path? Their philosophies often seem to contradict the teachings of Jesus as well as the traditions of the ancient Hebrews and the Bible itself.
Alister Edgar McGrath who is a Northern Irish theologian and Anglican priest with extensive credentials of the modern Church suggests that there are at least four reasons why these patristics writers may cause confusion in the 21st century.
He sees much of what they debated seems to have much relevance to the modern world or at least the Modern religious view.
Is not man and God the same?
What has changed that makes what they thought important so irrelevant?
The also used the thinking of Greek and Early Roman philosophers to produce a Christian philosophy. Certainly some of the thoughts of ancient philosophers could be used to argue in favor of what Christ came to teach. But similarities should not open the door to every conclusion of Greek and Roman thinkers.
McGrath also talk about the "doctrinal diversity". The Church has been legally defined as an institution of Christ to promote His Doctrines. It is not an institution to promote our doctrines about him. Certainly people will have different opinions but there is only on doctrine of the Church and that is what Jesus said. Ultimately it is not men revealing His truth nor Flesh and blood but the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
McGrath also talks about the divisions between East and West thinking. Greek and Latin methods of theology which includes the use of classical philosophy also differed. But if Christ and the faith and The Way he taught i primary how could these philosophies create diversity that would effect the union of the Church as his institution?
But one of the most important elements is the influx of ideas when Constantine "legalized" the Church. At the first introduction of a council called by Constantine and his instant converts there were controversies beginning to rise up and cause divisions. Or maybe there was no division in the Church but a new Church with a more Roman spirit than the Holy Spirit of Christ.
The Church was already the Lawful Church established by Christ. Emperors like Trajan who said in letter to Pliny states, “These people [christians] must not be hunted out.” and Hadrian had advised against abuse of Christians knowing they had a right to follow The Way of Christ.
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- “Quintus Licinus Silvanus Granianus, Pro-consul of Asia, ... showed how unjust it was to condemn Christians on the strength of vague rumours, which were the fruit of popular imagination, without being able to convict them of any distinct crime, except that of their Christian profession.” History of the Origins of Christianity. Book VI. The Reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. (A.D. 117-161), CHAPT III. The Relative tolerance of Hadrian – The First Apologist.
- "I received a letter from your illustrious predecessor Serenus Gratianus, and I do not wish to leave his inquiry unanswered, so that innocent men are not troubled and false accusers seize occasion for robbery.If the provincials are clearly willing to appear in person to substantiate suits against Christians, if, that is, they come themselves before your judgment seat to prefer their accusations, I do not forbid them to prosecute. But I do not permit them to make mere entreaties, and protestations. Justice demands that if any one wishes to bring an accusation, you should make due legal enquiry into the charge.
- If such an accusation is brought and it be proved that the accused men have done anything illegal, you will punish them as their misdeeds deserve. But, in Heaven's name, take the very greatest care that if a man prosecute any one of these men by way of false accusation you visit the accuser, as his wickedness deserves, with severer penalties." – Hadrian, Rescript To Minicius Fundanus, Governor of Asia (124 AD).