The Church Fathers or Fathers of the Church are the early and influential theologians and writers in the Christian Church, particularly those of the first five centuries of Christian history. The term means specifically writers and teachers of the Church, not saints in general; usually it is not meant to include the New Testament authors. "In the late second century Irenaeus stated simply, 'He who has received the teaching from another's mouth is called the son of his instructor, and he is called his father.' Clement of Alexandria elaborated thus: 'Words are the progeny of the soul. Hence, we call those that instructed us fathers... and everyone who is instructed is in respect of subjection the son of his instructor" (Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, p. 50). The study of Church Fathers is commonly known as Patristics.
The very earliest Church Fathers, of the first two generations after the Apostles of Christ, are usually called the Apostolic Fathers. Familiar names during this period could be Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch among others.
- See main page: Apostolic Fathers
Later, in contact with Greek Philosophy and Literature while facing persecutions, there began a period called the Apologists (sometimes called Apologetic Fathers) who tried to justify and defend the Christian doctrine against attacks from within the Hellenistic world. Well known Apologists of this era are Justin Martyr and Tertullian.
Latin and Greek Fathers
Those fathers who wrote in Latin are called the Latin Fathers, and those who wrote in Greek the Greek Fathers. Famous Latin Fathers include the Augustine of Hippo and Ambrose of Milan; famous Greek Fathers include Irenaeus of Lyons (whose work has oddly survived only in Latin translation) and Athanasius of Alexandria among others.
The Desert Fathers were early monastics living in the Egyptian desert. Although they did not write as often, their teachings had great influence. Among them are Anthony the Great and Pachomius. A great number of their usually short sayings is collected in the Apophthegmata Patrum.
- Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. (IVP, 1998) ISBN 0830815007