SYLLABUS: CH 583, Fall 2015
The Church in the Patristic Era

 St. Stephen Preaching, BNF ROTH 2529
 Brev. Martin Aragon, 15thc., f. 293v.





This course will introduce the history, theology, and spirituality of the patristic period from the death of the apostles to the pontificate of Pope Saint Gregory the Great (600 AD).  This course will provide an overview of both the theological thought of the Fathers of the Church (“patristics” in the strict sense) and their life and writings (“patrology”). The rich ethnic and cultural diversity of early Christian thought will be highlighted through study of primary sources from the Jewish, Roman, Greek, Celtic, Anglo-European, Slavic, Middle-Eastern (Syriac), and Egyptian (Coptic) traditions.  In order to profit from the cultural and ethnic diversity of the student body, students are encouraged to bring to classroom discussion the patristic origins of their cultural traditions: including, for example the theological, liturgical, and spiritual emphases that distinguish Western Catholicism from  Eastern traditions such as the Maronite, Chaldean, Melchite, Malabar, and Ruthenian churches.

     During each class selected patristic texts will be studied and discussed: the majority of these will be primary sources taken from the Office of Readings.  In this way students’ ongoing prayerful study of these texts in the liturgy will provide a deepening re-acquaintance with the early sources of Christian spirituality and doctrine.






The student will be able to identify important persons, events, and schools of thought that influenced the development of Christian doctrine and the diversity of Christian spiritual traditions. The student will learn to make use of  primary and secondary sources available in both printed and electronic formats, and will become familiar with appropriate reference tools in early church history.






1. This course will combine lecture and class discussion. In order to maximize the effectiveness of lectures in our culturally diverse student population, representing a wide range of different linguistic experience and ability, all audio-visual materials presented in lectures will be available through the course website or on DVD in the library. Lecture/discussion will be based on patristic primary texts which may be downloaded as “Class Notes” at the beginning of the semester.  Active participation in class discussions is essential, and will figure into the final evaluation.

2. The midterm and final examinations will consist of  “take-home” essay questions.  Students will be expected to submit their answers at the beginning of class one week after the examination has been distributed: answers must be typed and double-spaced.

3. Late work will be accepted for a grade only if the professor grants an extension.  Out of fairness to those who submit their work on time, late work will normally be graded down by one-half letter grade for each day it is late.

4. In all written work students must clearly distinguish between their own words and sources they are citing. Failure to credit sources that are cited constitutes plagiarism and may result in a grade of "F".

5. The final course grade will be computed as follows:

Class participation




Final Examination







1. Chadwick, Henry The Early Church, (Viking Penguin, June 1990), ISBN: 0140231994

2. Louth, Andrew,  The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition from Plato to Pseudo-Dionysius, (Clarendon, Oxford University Press, 1981), ISBN: 0198266685.

3. Pope Benedict XVI,  The Fathers of the Church, An ongoing series of addresses by the Holy Father on patristic authors, delivered at his weekly Wednesday audiences.






These are available in “Class Notes” and on the course website.  They should be reviewed before the class at which they will be discussed.






Bell, David N., A Cloud of Witnesses, (Cistercian Publications, Cistercian Studies Series, No 109).

Brown, The Body and Society.

Comby, J. How to Read Church History: From the Beginnings to the Fifteenth Century, (Crossroad, 1990) ISBN 0824507223

Cross, F. L., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, (Oxford University Press).  

Danielou, J. and Marrou, H., The Christian Centuries, vol. 1:The First Six Hundred Years, (Darton Longman, and Todd, 1964).

Frend, W.H.C., The Rise of Christianity, (Fortress: 1984)

Kelly, J.N.D., Early Christian Doctrine, (Harper, San Francisco, March  1991)

McGinn, Bernard, The Foundations of Mysticism, Origins to the Fifth Century (The Presence of God, A History of Western Christian Mysticism, vol. 1) (Crossroad, 1991).

Quastern, Johannes, Patrology (4 vol.).

The Church Fathers in Translation: Fathers of the Church (Catholic Univ. of America Press);

Ancient Christian Writers (Paulist Press);

Ante‑Nicene, Nicene, and Post‑Nicene Fathers (Eerdmans: download from Christian Classics Ethereal Library at





Classes will meet Wednesdays and Fridays from 4:00 to 4:50 am in Classroom 2.

1. Classical Foundations: Visions of Heaven and the Ascent to God.

   WEEK 1

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Plato, “The Parable of the Caves” and “The Myth of Er” (Republic).

TEXTBOOKS: Louth, 1-17.


2. Jewish Foundations: The Scriptures, Salvation, and The World to Come

   WEEK 2

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Philo of Alexandria on the Therapeutae and the Essenes; The Book of Enoch Clement of Rome; The Letter of Barnabas.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 9‑32; Louth, 18-35.


3. The Missionary Church: Christian and Roman Visions of Truth

   WEEK 3

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Cicero, “The Dream of Scipio”(Republic); Pliny and Trajan on the Punishment of Christisns; Justin Martyr.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 32‑54.


4. The Persecuted Church: The Christian Witness to the Roman World

   WEEK 4

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Ignatius of Antioch;  Polycarp of Smyrna; Abericius; The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicity; Cyprian of Carthage.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 54‑73.


5. The Church as a Developing Institution: Intellectual Challenges and Emerging Orthodoxy

   WEEK 5

COURSE DOCUMENTS: The Didache; Irenaeus; Hippolytus; Tertullian.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 74‑93.


6. Christian Neo-Platonism: The Beginnings of Mystical Theology

   WEEK 6

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Plotinus; Clement of Alexandria; Origen.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 74‑93; Louth, 36-74.


7.) The Victory of Constantine: The Council of Nicea and The Arian Christian Empire

   WEEK 7a


TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 94‑158; Louth 75-80


8. The Triumph of Nicene Orthodoxy: The Union of Dogmatic and Mystical Theology

   WEEK 7b-8a

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Basil; Gregory Nazianzen; Gregory of Nyssa.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 160-173.; Louth 80-97.


9. Syrian Christianity: The Harp of the Spirit

   WEEK 8b

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Aphraates of Persia; Ephrem the deacon; Isaac of Ninevah.


10. Christian Monasticism : The Desert and the City

   WEEK 9-10

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Antony, Pachomius, Evagrius; The Sayings (Apophthegmata) and Lives of the Desert Fathers; John Cassian.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 174-183, 469-473; Louth 98-113, 125-131.


11. Christological Controversies: The Origenist Crises

   WEEK 11

COURSE DOCUMENTS: The Councils of Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.  Cyril of Alexandria, Leo the Great.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 192-212.


12. The Development of Latin Christian Thought:
Christians - Barbarian and Roman

   WEEK 12

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Ambrose, Augustine, Benedict, Cassiodorus, Caesarius of Arles.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 213-236; Louth 132-158.


13. The Isolation of the West: the Papacy, and the Rise of Byzantium

   WEEK 13

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Columban, Gregory the Great.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 237-257


14. Christian Art and Liturgy: the Further Development of Mystical Theology

   WEEK 14

COURSE DOCUMENTS: Diadochus of Photike; John Climacus; Dionysius the Areopagite; Maximus Confessor.

TEXTBOOKS: Chadwick, 258-284; Louth, 113-125, 139-17


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