Top Ten Books of the Church Fathers

Discussion in 'Church History' started by Hamalas, Mar 3, 2014.

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  1. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    Okay, if you had to pick the top ten books from the time of the early church (let's say from the ressurection till the Middle Ages) what would they be?

    I've already read Athanasius On the Incarnation so let's just leave that off the list for now.

    I know there are a number of ways this could be graded so for the purpose of this thread, what would be the top ten that an average Reformed pastor (not necessarily a church historian or academic specialist) should read?

    What say ye? :book2:
     
  2. ReformedReidian

    ReformedReidian Puritan Board Doctor

    1. Gregory Nazianzus, On God and Christ. Some of the finest triadology ever found.
    2. John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. More often than not I disagree with him, but this book is instrumental for all of later theology.
    3. Origen, On First Principles. Heretical at many parts, but it is important to see why he made the moves he did. Understanding him is crucial for understanding the later Arian controversy.
    4. Irenaeus, Adversus Haeresis. Much of it is dense and laborious, but his theology is remarkably free from the later platonising that crippled many of the church fathers.
    5. Ignatius, Epistles. I actually don't like these. EO guys quote them endlessly and think that actually constitutes an argument. And in Ignatius' theology the bishop sometimes replaces Christ.
    6. Maximus the Confessor, [IAmbigua[/I]. Maximus really wasn't a systematic thinker, but this is outstanding.
    7. Augustine, De Trinitate. Many Evangelicals today really don't understand (or care) why the Filioque is important. Augustine's own arguments for it vary in quality, but it is an important discussion.
    8. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures. Remarkably cogent and easy reading for a patristic. His thoughts on fighting Antichrist in the person are especially relevant given the current Brussels/DC/London/New World Order nexus.
    9. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People. A fun narrative. Shows you the best and worst of early medieval ethics.
    10. Hilary of Poitiers. I actually didn't find this as interesting as the others, but later theologians quote him a lot.
     
  3. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    So you wouldn't put The Confessions on the list?
     
  4. ReformedReidian

    ReformedReidian Puritan Board Doctor

    I debated on that. Probably would. His discussion on time is one of the most famous in all of philosophy, not to mention Patristics.
     
  5. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    You could fill ten slots just with Augustine. Now if you mean your FIRST ten.... If you were choosing just one of his I would probably go with City of God for its late date and careful composition.

    Whether you talk about value, impact, or charm all can change what you choose.

    A good place to start is a collection of the Apostolic Fathers. Those works are not long, and they vary very wildly in quality, but their early date guarantee that they are interesting.
     
  6. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    Okay then, to help narrow the search. What would be the first ten books of the church fathers which you would recommend for someone who is fairly familiar with church history but is looking into reading the theology of the early church first hand?
     
  7. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    My recommendations are for non-specialists and follow two principles. First, there should be variety of genre. Second, shorter works are preferred over longer ones when possible. So, in a sense I've actually eschewed the "Great Books" approach for some lesser-known titles that I think are worth more attention than they usually receive.

    1. Epistle to Diognetus
    2. Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ
    3. Irenaeus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching
    4. The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity
    5. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History
    6. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses OR Life of Macrina
    7. Augustine, Confessions OR Homilies on the First Epistle of John
    8. Chrysostom, homilies on whatever interests you
    9. Apostolic Constitutions
    10. Athanasius, Life of Antony

    Justin Martyr and Origen should probably be in there somewhere. Also someone's Hexaemeral literature. Also something from Augustine's anti-Pelagian writings, but it's hard to choose one.
     
  8. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    Wonderful stuff guys, keep it coming! Also, feel free to stretch beyond ten if that's too confining. Just try to keep it under twenty if possible. :)
     
  9. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    Ben, my honest answer is that you should board yourself in your room and read nothing but Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa. :)
     
  10. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    This is a little off the beaten track, but Theodoret's History of the Monks of Syria is a wonderful read. The hermits and monks are a feature of much of church history to which we often have a hard time relating, and that book does a better job than any other I know of for giving you an appreciation of what drove them and what purposes they served.
     
  11. ReformedReidian

    ReformedReidian Puritan Board Doctor

    I forgot to list Chrysostom. Even modern critical commentaries today still interact with his sermons on Romans. And Chrysostom is surprisingly clear writing in his age of density and wandering sentences.
     
  12. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    Good stuff guys, you've definitely given me some good places to start.

    The reason I started this thread is that I find myself drawn far more heavily to the works of 16th-17th century Reformed authors (whether from the Magisterial Reformation or the Puritan era) than I do to the works of early or medieval theology. I don't know that that is wrong per se, (after all, as Protestants we do believe that the Reformation brought remarkable clarity and light where there had often been confusion and darkness) but I also don't want to be ignorant of the theology (particularly the helpful contributions) of these earlier time periods (since we also as Protestants, see ourselves as building on the Scriptures themselves and the earlier testimony of Christ's Spirit in and through His church throughout all ages).

    Are there any final thoughts or suggestions?
     
  13. ReformedReidian

    ReformedReidian Puritan Board Doctor

    I kind of considered going Eastern Orthodox at one time, so I read as many church fathers (and the leading scholarly monographs) on them as I could over 5 years.

    The Fathers are important because you really can't understand the Christological controversies without knowing the philosophical context of the Fathers. This is painfully evident when I watch Reformed guys debate the sharper of EO apologists. Further, it is important to read the fathers on their own terms. I've seen some guys find terms like "election" in a certain father and think he is teaching pure Calvinism. This is a crude "word = concept fallacy." EO and RCC are equally guilty, too--like reading Palamism into the Cappadocians.

    Eventually I realized that modern exegetes are simply superior on exegesis and the Protestant Scholastics are superior on theology. I am not being arrogant. The Fathers are important because everyone buildt off them.
     
  14. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    Good points Jacob, thanks for your input on this thread.

    On a somewhat related note I just saw your 2014 reading log: Reading log for 2014 (continuing) « Extra Nos which raises the obvious question: do you read for a living? :) You've already read fully four times as many books as I have this year and virtually everything you've read is heavy-hitting (and generally not brief) material.

    Colour me impressed.
     
  15. ReformedReidian

    ReformedReidian Puritan Board Doctor

    No. I am a teacher. I get up at 3:30 every morning (I go to bed at 7 for other reasons). Some stuff is for fun, like David Baldacci novels. And to be more precise, those are the books I finish every month, which means I may have started them a long time ago.
     
  16. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    Well, I'm still impressed! I'm sure God uses your learning for the good of His kingdom.
     
  17. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Augustine's Confessions 10 times over. Nothing else comes close in terms of pastoral/practical value.
     
  18. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    I am a bit disappointed The City of God against the Pagans has not got a mention thus far. It was the book by Gussy that I enjoyed most, especially the excellent edition published by Cambridge University Press. Generally speaking, however, I just don't "get" the Church Fathers. I can pick up Luther, Calvin, et al, and instantly comprehend them, but when I read the Patristics it is almost as if they were on another planet. Even Gussy's Confessions struck me as a bit boring; mind you, I once said that about James Durham on Isaiah 53 ... which shows you what I know! :doh:

    Sadly, I had to give my set of the Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers to Reformed Theological College in order to make space for my history books (I am in the process of moving out of my Ph.D. office). Hopefully I can get them back at some point in the future. :violin:
     
  19. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Let your spirits be lifted, brother. Ruben recommended it.
     
  20. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    :lol:
     
  21. ReformedReidian

    ReformedReidian Puritan Board Doctor

    I thought about it. Book XIX, section 4 is the most profound piece ever written on social ethics. One reason it is hard to "get" the church fathers is that they were working with ontologies that made much of the Bible difficult (anti-embodiment, participatory ontology, etc). If you don't appreciate that ontology--and I don't--then you won't sympathize with them (and I am quite critical of them).
     
  22. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Clearly the Reformers and their successors found much that was of value in the earlier writings. It's one of the striking things about our antecedents, that they didn't read the ancients and medievals condescendingly, from an assumption of superiority; they read them critically, but appreciatively. But that suggests that you could always start in that way: notice who Calvin likes (Augustine, Chrysostom, Bernard), or some other, and start there. Alternatively, you could start with things that are easy to lay your hands on, short, and easy to read: in that regard, the Popular Patristics series is a logical place to look. This year I was introduced to Gregory the Great's Book of Pastoral Rule and found it very stimulating.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2014
  23. ReformedReidian

    ReformedReidian Puritan Board Doctor

    The Popular Patristics series is really good. Their translations and editing is much superior to the old Schaff set, with all due respect to Schaff.
     
  24. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    So what would be the top five or ten to get from the Popular Patristics set? :D
     
  25. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    This is the list of the series. I've bolded the ones that I will probably buy first.

    1 On the Priesthood – St John Chrysostom
    2 Lectures on the Christian Sacraments –St Cyril of Jerusalem
    6 On the Holy Icons –St Theodore the Studite
    7 On Marriage and Family Life –St John Chrysostom
    8 On the Divine Liturgy –St Germanus
    9 On Wealth and Poverty –St John Chrysostom
    10 Hymns on Paradise –St Ephrem the Syrian
    11 On Ascetical Life –St Isaac of Nineveh
    12 On the Soul and Resurrection –St Gregory of Nyssa
    13 On the Unity of Christ –St Cyril of Alexandria
    14 On the Mystical Life, vol. 1 –St Symeon the New Theologian
    15 On the Mystical Life, vol. 2 –St Symeon the New Theologian
    16 On the Mystical Life, vol. 3 –St Symeon the New Theologian
    17 On the Apostolic Preaching –St Irenaeus
    18 On the Dormition –Early Patristic Homilies
    19 On the Mother of God –Jacob of Serug
    20 On Pascha –Melito of Sardis
    21 On God and Man –The Theological Poetry of St Gregory of Nazianzus
    22 On the Apostolic Tradition –Hippolytus
    23 On God and Christ –St Gregory of Nazianzus
    24 Three Treatises on the Divine Images –St John of Damascus
    25 On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ –St Maximus the Confessor
    26 Letters from the Desert –Barsanuphius and John
    27 Four Desert Fathers – Pambo, Evagrius, Macarius of Egypt, and Macarius of Alexandria
    28 Saint Macarius the Spiritbearer –Coptic Texts
    29 On the Lord"s Prayer –Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen
    30 On the Human Condition –St Basil the Great
    31 The Cult of the Saints –St John Chrysostom
    32 On the Church: Select Treatises –St Cyprian of Carthage
    33 On the Church: Select Letters –St Cyprian of Carthage
    34 The Book of Pastoral Rule –St Gregory the Great
    35 Wider Than Heaven –Eighth-century Homilies on the Mother of God
    36 Festal Orations –St Gregory of Nazianzus
    37 Counsels on the Spiritual Life – Mark the Monk
    38 On Social Justice – St Basil the Great
    39 The Harp of Glory – An African Akathist
    40 Divine Eros –St Symeon the New Theologian
    41 On the Two Ways – Foundational Texts in the Tradition
    42 On the Holy Spirit – St Basil the Great
    43 Works on the Spirit – St Athanasius and Didymus
    44A On the Incarnation (Greek and English) – St Athanasius
    45 Treasure-house of Mysteries - Exploration of the Sacred Text through Poetry in the Syriac Tradition
    46 Poems on Scripture - St Gregory of Nazianzus
    47 On Christian Doctrine and Practice - St Basil the Great
    48 Light on the Mountain - Greek Patristic and Byzantine Homilies on the Transfiguration of the Lord
    49 The Letters - Ignatius of Antioch
    50 On Fasting and Feasts - St Basil the Great
     
  26. ReformedReidian

    ReformedReidian Puritan Board Doctor

    1. 43 Works on the Spirit – St Athanasius and Didymus. I've actually read this via the Schaff series. What's interesting is that Athanasius comes very close to affirming the Filioque.
    2. 42 On the Holy Spirit – St Basil the Great. I'm not always impressed by Basil's argumentation, but this book is foundational for understanding the monarchia.
    3. 38 On Social Justice – St Basil the Great. I'm undecided on this one. I actually had a Bishop from South America autograph my copy (don't ask). On one hand he veers towards socialism and one can see hints of how later monastic ethics were simply parasitic on larger economies. On the other hand, this book is closer to the prophetic critique in the Old Testament.
    4. 25 On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ –St Maximus the Confessor. Outstanding philosophical reasoning. His exegesis of Exodus 4 and Jonah is atrocious. Probably one of the most important texts I have ever read. However, I am not persuaded that his gloss of a "gnomic will" in Christ is ultimately coherent.
    5. 17 On the Apostolic Preaching –St Irenaeus. Clearer than his larger work, but somewhat lightweight.
    6. 23 On God and Christ –St Gregory of Nazianzus. My favorite. I had much of Theological Oration 3 memorized at one point.
    7. 13 On the Unity of Christ –St Cyril of Alexandria. Necessary for understanding Chalcedon. I don't think his "instrumentalization" thesis is ultimately compatible with his view of the communicatio.
     
  27. PointyHaired Calvinist

    PointyHaired Calvinist Puritan Board Sophomore

    As a collection, Holmes' The Apostolic Fathers is excellent. I'm trying to get into Athanasius and Augustine myself a this point. I'll be keeping an eye on this list.
     
  28. Pilgrim Standard

    Pilgrim Standard Puritan Board Sophomore

    In that case I was really impacted by Augustine's "on the predestination of the saints.” One Book. Written in 428 or 429.
    and his "Against two letters of the pelagians" Four Books Written in 420 or a little later.
     
  29. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

  30. Grimmson

    Grimmson Puritan Board Sophomore

    Here is my 10 in no order with two additional, because it is hard to choose just 10 and many individuals here will be left out:
    1. The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians
    2. The Epistle to Diognetus
    3. The Epistles of Ignatius
    4. Irenaeus' Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching
    5. The Shepherd of Hermas
    6. Treatise on the Passover by Origen
    7. On Baptism by Tertullian
    8. On the Lapsed by Cyprian
    9. City of God by Augustine
    10. Compendium of Heretical Fables by Theodoret of Cyrus

    Also you should read Eusebius' History of the Church
    And Jerome’s Lives of Illustrious men
    And if you want to see the ground work for marriage as a sacrament in both the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Coptic traditions then read the “Good of Marriage” and “Marriage and Concupiscence” by Augustine.

    I know several of these works are not in the Schaff collection so you are going to need to look elsewhere for them.

    Enjoy
     
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