Updated: Nov 14, 2021
What can we today learn from the Church Fathers?
Early church fathers worked hard to proclaim the gospel and protect the truth regarding Jesus, and help establish Christian doctrine. They were all sinful imperfect people (like all of us), some of which became well known, others are lost to history.
Though the early church fathers helped formulate theology which most Christians would agree with today, some also had ideas that would be considered strange or even heresy today.
By studying the early church fathers we can learn a great deal about history, how early leaders sought to apply the gospel to life, and how the church developed.
To learn accurate and truthful words about Jesus, however, we should refer to the Bible itself.
Referred to as The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church, they were ancient and influential Christian theologians/writers who helped established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity. Although there is no definitive list there are several that are often referred to in this regard.
The historical period during which they flourished is referred to by scholars as the Patristic Era ending approximately around AD 700 (John of Damascus died in 749 AD, Byzantine Iconoclasm began in 726 AD.
Patristic means Christian theology that deals with the lives, writings, and doctrines of the early Christian theologians.
In the past, the Church Fathers were regarded as authoritative, therefore what qualified people to be a Church Father became narrower over time. However, the definition has widened as scholars of patristics, the study of the Church Fathers, have expanded their scope.
Previously we have looked at Augustine of Hippo
Gregory of Nazianzus, also known as Gregory the Theologian, was born in 329 at Nazianzus in Cappadocia (modern day Turkey).
His father had served as a bishop of Nazianzus. His mother, Nonna, taught him the Scriptures and made certain that he received a proper education. He studied rhetoric with his friend Basil, later referred to as Basil the Great, and Julian, who became an emperor known as Julian the Apostate. At the completion of his education, Gregory taught rhetoric, philosophy, and literature. Gregory returned to Cappadocia in 358. Gregory’s father baptized him when he was thirty-three.
Gregory had a unique gift as a writer. Even though Gregory made many contributions to Christianity, his five sermons, known as The Five Theological Orations, was his “magnum opus.” In its Gregory addresses the qualifications of theologians, the ability to theologize, and the topics of God and the Trinity. Gregory states that only those who are pure in soul and body, selfless in heart, may have the confidence to successfully contemplate God’s nature.
I have left out much here concerning Gregory’s life and achievements. Many volumes have been written Gregory of Nazianzus (Foundations of Theological Exegesis and Christian Spirituality) by Brian Matz is an excellent book. (Link to Amazon)
Gregory of Nazianzus influenced both Eastern and Western churches. Rufinus translated Gregory’s writings, specifically his Orations, from Greek to Latin in 400 A.D. Gregory’s writings eventually circulated throughout the empire, influencing Christian thought extensively. By 431, the Council of Ephesus quoted and approved of Gregory as authoritative. By 451, the Council of Constantinople designated Gregory as a “theologian.” He is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church and considered a defender of the Faith. No doubt Gregory’s greatest achievement is making known the Trinity as the foundation for the Christian life.