ERA 2 << Early Church (2): Stability (AD 300–600) >> SESSION 3
Reference: Gonzalez, volume 1, chapters 19-25
† 7.1.1 Definition
· Definition: The Church Fathers were the influential theologians and writers in the early church, from the end of 1st-c to 6th-c, after the apostolic era. Their writings are generally accepted as authoritative on the teachings and practices of the church. They do not include the writers of the NT books. The total number is about 30.
· Eastern church: The Eastern post-Nicene Church Fathers were divided into two schools of Biblical interpretation. The Alexandrian school had the allegorizing tendency following Origen. The Antiochene or Syrian school emphasized a grammatico-historical study of the Scripture, such as Chrysostom and Theodore.
A List of Church Fathers
writer of Didache
writer of Shepherd of Hermas
Augustine of Hippo
Theodore of Mopsuestia
Gregory of Nyssa
4th to 6th centuries
Gregory the Great
Anthony the Great
† 7.1.2 Athanasius (296–373)
life: He was the secretary of Bishop Alexander of
· Character: He learned a rigid discipline from close contact with monks, including Anthony. His strength came from his close ties to the people and from living out his faith without the pomp of so many other bishops. His fiery spirit, his profound and unshakable conviction made him invincible.
· Central theme: His writings did not have speculations of Clement or Origen. The deep conviction was that the central fact of Christian faith, and all human history, is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. He used the analogy of an imperial visit to a city—the visit gave us freedom now to live in communion with God.
· Arguments against Arianism: At the Council of Nicea , he strongly opposed Arianism because he believed that it was a great threat to the very heart of Christianity.  Athanasius argued from the Scripture; he presented the Biblical case for the deity of Jesus Christ. When Arians cited passages to prove the Son’s inferiority to the Father, Athanasius referred this to His status as a man.  Athanasius appealed to the Christian worship of Christ.  Athanasius argued that only God is capable of saving us.  Athanasius used philosophical arguments—that God could never have been irrational, without His Reason or Word.
Because of unfounded rumours spread by Arians that he dabbled in magic and that
he was a tyrant in
Constantius’ reign: When Emperor Constantius, an Arian, became
the sole emperor , he unleashed his pro-Arian policy. Through threats and
violence, an increasing number of bishops accepted Arianism, including Bishop
· During Julian’s reign: When Constantius died, Julian became emperor . He cancelled all orders of exile against all bishops, hoping that the two sides would weaken each other so that he could restore paganism.
for same substance: Athanasius understood the concern of using
the formula “of the same substance” (homoousios) which might mean no distinction
between the Father and the Son. [In contrast, the Arians used the formula “of a
similar substance” (homoiousios).] In a synod in
· On the Holy Spirit: He argued for the deity of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father (John 15:26). This was in response to the heresy of Tropici, an Egyptian group, that taught the deity of the Son but held that the Holy Spirit was created out of nothing.
· On the Scripture: His letters set out for the first time the NT canon exactly as we have it today.
· Greek influence: He said: “For He became human that we might become divine.” The idea of “deification” (becoming divine) is an indication of the Greek influence in Athanasius’ thought.
It was a region in southern
· Basil the Great (329–379)—father of Eastern monasticism
Christianity in Basil’s family went back at least 2 generations. Basil obtained
rich education from Caesarea,
o Monasticism: He and his friend Gregory of Nazianzus founded a monastic community for men. He wrote rules for monastic life and is regarded as the father of Eastern monasticism.
struggled with the Arian emperor Valens who was humbled by Basil. He was
elected as bishop of
· Gregory of Nyssa (335–395)
o Early life: After the death of his wife, Gregory took up the monastic life. He became known for his mysticism.
o Bishop: He became the bishop of Nyssa, a small village . After Basil’s death, he became a leader of the Nicene party at the Council of Constantinople. He later became an advisor to Emperor Theodosius.
· Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389)
o Bishop: He joined Basil in monastic life. He became bishop of Nazianzus, a small hamlet.
Against Arianism: He struggled with the Arians in
Council president: He became the bishop of
· Macrina (324–380)—founder of Greek monasticism
o Teacher: She vowed herself to celibacy and a life of contemplation. She was famous as a teacher and was commended as “the Teacher” by her more famous brothers. She taught her family that true happiness is not found in the glories of the world, but in the service of God. Dress and food must be simple. One should devote oneself entirely to prayer.
o Monasticism: She founded a community for women and spent her life in monastic retreat. Since Basil eventually became the great teacher of monasticism in the Greek church, and since it was Macrina who awakened his interest in it, she was sometimes named as the founder of Greek monasticism.
† 7.1.4 John Chrysostom (347–407)
life: He was trained in law in
o Quote: “To be rich is not to possess much but to give much…. What is beyond your needs is superfluous and useless. Trying putting on a shoe that is too large! You will not be able to endure it because it will hinder your step. So also, a house larger than your needs is a hindrance to your progress towards heaven.”
His first task was to reform the life of the clergy.
He stopped the clergy from luxuries and keeping mistresses. Church finances
were placed under a system of detailed scrutiny. He insisted on simplicity of life and inclined to mysticism. He
taught that there must be no separation between morals and religion. He
followed the Antiochene
He was kind and courteous but with little tact.
He preached against the rich and the powerful from the pulpit of Saint Sophia
Church—the largest in Christendom. He confronted the palace chamberlain whose
influence previously made Chrysostom bishop. He angered the emperor’s wife who
plotted against Chrysostom on ridiculous charges. Emperor Arcadius then banished him to Cucusus, a small hamlet on the shores
† 7.1.5 Theodore (350–428)
He was ordained a presbyter in
· Teaching: He was called the “prince of ancient exegetes” because he opposed the allegorical system of interpretation. He insisted on a thorough understanding of the grammar of the text and the historical background in order to discover the meaning of the writer. He also gave careful attention to the text in its immediate and its more remote contexts.
† 7.1.6 Ephrem (308–373)
· Poet: He was a Syrian theologian known for his exegesis and his poetry, and came to be known as “lyre of the Holy Spirit.” Ephrem wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems and homilies in verse, as well as prose and Biblical commentaries. These were works of practical theology for the edification of the Church in troubled times.
† 7.1.7 Ambrose (338–397)
Ambrose was the governor of
· Influence:  Theology: His work prepared the ground for Augustine’s teaching on the Fall and original sin. He introduced the allegorical method of Biblical exposition from the East. He also introduced from the East the emphasis on the change or conversion of the bread and the wine in the communion service, leading later to transubstantiation. He fought against Arianist influence.  Practical: He was famous for supporting the weak and poor against the strong and rich. He introduced congregational singing of hymns and antiphonal psalmody. He was a great writer of hymns.
· Clashes with emperor: While Emperor Theodosius was a Nicene Christian, he clashed with Ambrose on two occasions.
Rebuilding a synagogue: The first clash occurred when some overzealous Christians in the small
o Punishing rioters: The second clash occurred when a riot occurred in Thessalonica where the commandant of the city was killed by the riots. Ambrose advised the emperor to act with moderation. But Theodosius decided to make an example of the disorderly city. He sent the army to kill 7000 rioters. Ambrose then demanded the emperor to show clear signs of repentance. Theodosius yielded and gave public signs of repentance. He also ordered from that time on, if he ever decreed that someone be put to death, the execution would be delayed for 30 days.
vs West: Ambrose and Chrysostom both confronted the emperor but
they had very different endings. In the West, Ambrose won; but in the East,
Chrysostom failed. This seems to symbolize the
fortunes of the two churches. The Eastern Church would be under
persistent control by the emperor, while the
† 7.1.8 Jerome (347–420)
· Character: His character was not humble, peaceful, nor sweet, but rather proud, stormy, and even bitter. He harshly criticized all those who disagreed with him, including other Church Fathers.
He was a monk for 3 years. He sought to suppress unclean thoughts by punishing
his body, and by an exaggeratedly austere life. He returned to
· Work: His most famous work was the Vulgate , a Latin translation from the original Hebrew and Greek Bible. It eventually became the standard Bible of the entire Latin-speaking church.
† 7.2.1 Life
life: He was the greatest theologian of the early church and was
acclaimed as the greatest Church Father. He was
· Obstacles: He had difficulties with Christianity in two areas:  The Bible was a series of inelegant writings.  The origin of evil pointed to a God who could not be both wise and good. He became a disciple of Manicheans for 12 years but was eventually disappointed.
He then moved to
He moved back to
† 7.2.2 Thoughts
· Hermeneutics: Augustine developed the great principle of the analogy of faith. He believed that no teaching contrary to the general tenor of the Scripture should be developed from any particular passage.
· On Trinity: His book De Trinitate contains a scriptural exposition of the doctrine of Trinity, regarded by some as his most important theological treatises. He examined a range of possible analogies, mostly based on the trio of being, knowing, and willing. His final and best analogy is the mind remembering, understanding, and loving God.
· On the problem of evil: Augustine affirmed that the will is created by God, and is therefore good; but that will is capable of making its own decisions so free-will produces evil. The origin of evil is to be found in the bad decisions made by man and fallen angels. Evil is not a substance, as the Manichees implied when speaking of it as the principle of darkness. It is a decision, a direction, a negation of good.
· On human free-will and salvation: Augustine argued against Pelagius’ belief in the goodness of human free-will. For Augustine, human will is powerless against the hold of sin. While there is still the freedom to choose, the sinner can choose nothing but sin. The only freedom left to us is freedom to sin. We are free to choose what we want—but not free to choose what we ought. When we are redeemed, it is only because the grace of God works in us, leading our will to choose salvation. The initiative in conversion is not human, but divine. Salvation is all of God’s grace—the beginning as well as the continuance. Further, grace is irresistible, and God gives it to those who have been predestined to it. Augustine’s doctrine of predestination was challenged. Finally, the Synod of Orange  upheld Augustine’s doctrine of primacy of grace in the process of salvation, but left aside the moral radical consequences of that doctrine.
· Theory of just war: Some Donatists had turned to violence. Augustine believed that a war may be just, but that in order for it to be just, certain conditions must be fulfilled.  The purpose must be just.  The war must be waged by properly instituted authority.  Even in the midst of violence, the motive of love must be central.
· Theological errors: Augustine helped to develop the doctrine of purgatory. He also over-emphasized the value of sacraments resulting in the doctrines of baptismal regeneration and sacramental grace.
† 7.2.3 Writings
· Confessions: It is a spiritual autobiography, addressed in prayer to God. It describes how God led him to faith through a long and painful pilgrimage. It witnesses to Augustine’s profound psychological and intellectual insight. The famous quote from the book is: “Thou madest us for thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in thee.” Augustine also wrote his intellectual autobiography in the book Revisions.
o Themes: God is Lord over history and is not bound up in history. History is linear, not cyclical. All that comes into being does so as a result of His will and action. God’s plan for His creation will finally be realized beyond history by the supernatural power of God. There is solidarity among the human race. Progress was primarily along moral and spiritual lines and was the result of man’s conflict with evil, a conflict in which man had God’s grace on his side. Christianity does not offer temporal, worldly successes. The gospel offers inner peace and eternal destiny.
o Division: There are two main parts: part 1—books 1 to 10—apology, part 2—books 11 to 22—philosophy of history.
◦ Books 1 to 5: The prosperity of the state was not dependent on the old polytheistic worship.
◦ Books 6 to 10: The worship of Roman gods was not necessary in order to attain eternal blessing.
Books 11 to 14: There are two
cities: the City of
◦ Books 15 to 18: The growth and progress of the two cities were traced thorugh Biblical and secular history.
◦ Books 19 to 22: The destiny of the two cities was described.
7.3.1 Downfall of the
territory: For centuries, Roman legions had been able to hold the
barbaric Germanic peoples behind their borders
at the Rhine and the
· Invasion of barbarians: In a series of seemingly endless waves, barbarian hordes crossed the frontiers, sacked towns and cities, and finally settled in areas inside the former empire.
Northern Africa: All northern Africa, except
· Arianism: Another problem was Arianism. When the Goths were converted to Christianity, they were under the influence of Arian missionaries led by Ulfilas . Arianism was revived. Eventually, all Arians would accept the Nicene faith, but only after many struggles.
· Guardian of the culture: It would take centuries to rebuild much of the western civilization that had been destroyed, including literature, art, and knowledge of the physical world. In all these fields, it was the church that provided continuity with the past. She became the guardian of civilization and of order in the Middle Ages.
Western empire: Odoacer, the German general, conquered
† 7.3.2 Middle Ages
· The meaning of Middle Ages:
o Origin of the term: The name Middle Ages was first found in a book  written by Christopher Kellner (1634–1680). He divided history of the West into 3 periods: ancient history before 325, modern history after 1453, and Middle Ages between the two. He characterized the Middle Ages for their apparent sterility and the absence of the classical influence.
o Secular viewpoint: The men of the Renaissance thought that this era was a chasm separating the brilliant classical and modern periods of humanism. To them, this period was an age of darkness. However, the term Dark Ages should only be designated for the period 500–1000, and even in that period, western Europe was not totally lacking in culture because the monasteries made intellectual contributions.
o Roman Church viewpoint: The RCC thought that this era was the golden age of history. It was preceded by classical paganism and followed by the disintegrating forces of Protestantism.
o Protestant viewpoint: Protestant historians considered the Middle Ages the valley of shadow in which the pure ancient church was corrupted. The modern era of church history, which began with Luther, represented the return to the ideals of the NT.
o Modern viewpoint: For some modern historians, the period was one of slow growth in which the church in the West fulfilled useful cultural and religious functions by bridging the gap between the ancient city-state and the modern nation-state.
· Order in culture: In the Middle Ages, men attempted to set up a Christian civilization in which the past was integrated with the present in a meaningful synthesis. The classic culture (Greek/Roman) of the past was combined with the Christian culture of the present. The modern era (after the Middle Ages) lacks such a synthesis for life; and, as a result, modern man is struggling against confusion and chaos—not only of intellectual, moral, and spiritual chaos, but also of material chaos.
situation: At the beginning of the Middle Ages, the Roman Empire fragmented into Muslim domination in North Africa,
Byzantine Empire in Asia, and papal areas in
 treasure our heritage
The metaphysical aspect (Eastern church) and practical aspect (Western church) in theology are both important.
 appreciate God’s providence
Christianity was protected from destruction by barbarians.
 avoid past errors
Beware of the allegorical interpretation of Scripture.
 apply our knowledge
 follow past saints
The Church Fathers are known not only for their theology but also for their holy lives.
● What can we learn from the life of Athanasius with respect to [a] his witness of holy living, and [b] his theological diplomacy?
o [a] Holy living of Athanasius: The rigid discipline he learned from the monks, the simple living, the closeness to his flock led to strong and loyal support from his people. These are lessons for all church leaders.
Theological diplomacy: While exiled in
● How did Athanasius’ life demonstrate God’s providence (his encounters with Arianist emperors Constantius and Valens, his Arian opponents, and pagan emperor Julian)?
o Constantius planned to arrest Athanasius and banished him. But confusing letters from the emperor helped him to escape.
o Valens was afraid of Athanasius’ influence and did not want to cause trouble.
o Julian cancelled Athanasius’ banishment but later planned to arrest him but he narrowly escaped.
● Did the great Cappadocians seek the leadership of the Nicene party? How did they become their leaders?
o They did not seek the leadership but instead two of them actually tried to avoid being selected to be bishops.
o They moved into leadership because of their strong conviction, hard work, and their reputation.
● What can we see from the leadership of Macrina, a woman, as the founder of monasticism and as “the Teacher”? How did the early church regard women leadership?
o Macrina was the motivating force and the teacher behind Basil. She was highly regarded by the Cappadocian Fathers.
o Women were part of the leadership in early church but were excluded by the end of the 2nd-c. Even so, the case of Macrina clearly proved that there were capable women leaders who could guide men leaders.
● What can we learn from the career of Ambrose with respect to: [a] his support of the weak, and [b] his confrontations with civil power, including Maximus, Justina, and Theodosius?
Support for the weak: When the Goths demanded ransom for their captives from
o [b] Confrontations with civil power: Ambrose’s unyielding position to political rulers was another lesson for today’s church. He eventually won over Theodosius.
● How did Chrysostom demonstrate his application of Christian principles when in conflict with Eutropius and Eudoxia? Was he correct in his actions?
o Even if Eutropius and Eudoxia granted Chrysostom big favours, he still upheld his Christian principles by not giving them unjust favours. He continued to preach as before, rebuking the decadent lifestyle of the rich. His actions were correct as preaching the truth is the higher priority.
● How did Ambrose and Chrysostom symbolize the fortunes of the Western church compared to the Eastern church?
Ambrose and Chrysostom both confronted the
emperor but they had very different endings. In the West, Ambrose won; but in
the East, Chrysostom failed. This seems to symbolize the fortunes of the two
churches. The Eastern Church would be under persistent control by the emperor
● The early church treated Septuagint (Greek translation of OT) as equally inspired as the Hebrew OT; the Roman Catholic Church treats Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin translation of OT and NT) as equally inspired as the Bible. How should we treat the accuracy of the Septuagint and the Vulgate?
o Only the Bible in its original languages is inspired. Any differences in interpretation should be settled by referring to the original languages. The Septuagint and the Vulgate may be good translations but they still contain errors.
● Did the intellectual arrogance of Jerome affect his work? Was his behaviour objectionable as a Christian?
o Intellectual arrogance, like spiritual pride, could be detrimental to the work of a Christian. It is improper behaviour for a Christian. However, in Jerome’s case, the evidence for detrimental effects of arrogance is not clear.
o His behaviour was objectionable for a Christian. However, sometimes when defending truth, stubbornness could be good, only if it is not affected by irrational feelings.
● What were the great achievements of Augustine as a theologian and an apologist?
o Augustine’s arguments against Manchees and Pelagians in the areas of problem of evil and human free-will influenced all theologians who came after him.
o Augustine’s apology in the City of God founded the Christian viewpoint in the discipline of philosophy of history.
● Compare the fate of the Eastern and the Western churches with respect to their respective Roman empires.
o The Western empire fell at the hands of the barbarians who were eventually converted to Christianity. They then helped strengthen the Western church. The Eastern empire resisted the barbarians but later fell at the hands of the Muslims who drastically weakened the Eastern church.
● How did the Church Fathers gain the trust of the early church (including Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine)?
o They received their trust from the people through the witness of their holy living—by walking their talk.