People often wonder what Church fathers to read. That’s a very important question since the Church fathers were the ones that formed the faith in the early centuries and fought many heresies. As stated on previous posts, I like focusing on primary sources when I read Church history in contrast to people like Dr. James White. What I’m trying to say is that we need to read the Church fathers.
There are many Church fathers so where should we start? Well, in 553 AD there was an Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople. This was a helpful council because it gave us the following statement:
We further declare that we hold fast to the decrees of the four Councils, and in every way follow the holy Fathers, Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Theophilus, John (Chrysostom) of Constantinople, Cyril, Augustine, Proclus, Leo and their writings on the true faith.
As we look at this great statement of the Church almost 1,500 years later, we can see who the early Church valued as great theologians. Obviously they value the earlier Ecumenical Councils since they gave the dogmatic decrees for the Church but several theologians are valued as well.
Only one Pope is on the list and that is Pope Leo the Great. That shouldn’t be a surprise since out of the three dozen Doctors of the Church, only two are Popes. Popes aren’t always the best theologians, they just provide the dogmatic decrees and sign off on Councils when they have to. Regardless, Pope Leo the Great showed himself to be a very sophisticated theologian.
On this list are the great defenders of the Trinity in the time of the darkness of Arianism. They are Athanasius and Hilary. Augustine and Ambrose made it on the list as well. These men helped solidify the doctrine of the Trinity once Arianism had already driven to the fringes of the Roman Empire.
Also included are the great mystical writers of the East. They are Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom. These men were highly spiritual and have great writings on a variety of topics. I remember talking to a Byzantine Catholic priest a year ago and I asked him who is good to read in terms of Eastern spirituality. He told me to read Gregory of Nyssa. Having read some of his writings, I can say that it has truly been a blessing.
The last three on the list are Theophilus of Antioch, Proclus of Constantinople and Cyril of Alexandria. I will admit that I have not read the writings of these first two Church fathers. Regardless, knowing that the rest of the list provided is exceptional, I don’t see how these fathers wouldn’t have great writings. Cyril of Alexandria has wonderful writings and helped preserve orthodox Christological doctrine in the fifth century.
I will also add that there were some great fathers that were not on this list such as Ignatius of Antioch and Jerome. The list only gives the best of the best but there are other outstanding fathers as well. The list also ends at 553 AD so it would not include later Church fathers such as Pope Gregory the Great and John of Damascus.
Regardless, this is who the Catholic Church thought were the top theologians in the sixth century. Up until 553 AD, these are the ones to read.
Do you feel that this list is a good place to start? Do you think any other fathers are worth reading?
Feel free to share your thoughts.