A Year With the Church Fathers: Reading List

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The following list was compiled for our 2021 Patristics Reading Group. Each month features a new theologian. We pray that it will continue to be a helpful resource for those interested in surveying the church fathers.

Works with a single asterisk (*) were “required” reading for each month (i.e., they were the focus of discussion in the monthly Zoom meetings). Works with two asterisks were highly recommended. Other primary and secondary resources are included for further study.

Where to Read the Fathers

Free Resources

While the translations may not be the most accurate or easiest to read, most of the works on this list are available for free at newadvent.org/fathers or ccel.org/fathers. At ccel.org, you can create an account to save your highlights and notes on the text. Both of these sources use the text from The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection, which is also available on Kindle for only $2.99.

Popular Patristics Series (SVS Press)

When available, we strongly recommend reading the translations in the SVS Press Popular Patristics Series. “The Popular Patristics series aims to provide readable and accurate translations of a broad range of early Christian literature to a wide audience—from students of Christian history and theology to lay Christians reading for spiritual benefit. Recognized Patristic scholars provide short but comprehensive and clear introductory essays according to their specializations for each volume.”

Introductory & Companion Guides

On Retrieval Theology

  1. Gavin Ortlund, Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals: Why We Need Our Past to Have a Future (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019). 224 pages. $22.

On the Fathers

  1. [Podcast] Passages. This beautiful podcast project by Mere Orthodoxy, hosted by Joshua Heavin and Caleb Wait, is “an in-depth examination of the Nicene Creed built around close readings of early Christian texts and interviews with several scholars and theologians.” Many of the fathers and texts in this reading list are discussed in the series.
  2. [Audiobook] David Meconi, Patristics: Explore the Timeless Wisdom of the Church Fathers (2018). $7. Free with a Scribd membership. While these lectures have a strong Roman Catholic bias, they provide valuable insights into the fathers and quote heavily from the fathers’ own writings.
  3. Bryan M. Litfin, Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), Second Edition. 290 pages. $18. Free with a Scribd membership.
  4. Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), The Fathers of the Church: From Clement of Rome to Augustine of Hippo (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009). 189 pages. $17.
  5. Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Church Fathers (New York / Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2012), Revised Edition. 320 pages. $19.

History

  1. Eusebius: The Church History (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), edited by Paul L. Maier. 368 pages. $15.
  2. Everett Ferguson, Church History, Volume One: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), Second Edition. See especially Chs. 3–14. $25. Free with a Scribd membership.

Timelines

The following PDF timelines provide a visual overview of the patristic era. Most of the “required” works on the reading list are included in the timelines. Note that many of the dates are uncertain or debated.

  1. Timeline of the Patristic Era, Part I: 100–300.
  2. Timeline of the Patristic Era, Part II: 300–500.

Reading Scripture with the Fathers

  • CSB Ancient Faith Study Bible. As you survey the church fathers, considering reading through the Bible in a year using this Study Bible. It contains study notes from the church fathers, short biographies of all of the fathers in this reading list (also available at www.christianitytoday.com/history), and engthier excerpts from the fathers on key topics (e.g., Athanasius on “The Canon of Scripture” or Augustine on “Creation Out of Nothing”). As you read the fathers and come across valuable insights into a passage of Scripture, consider using the margins of the Ancient Faith Bible to record references that are not already in the footnotes. This will help you become familiar with how to cite the fathers.
  • Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS). This commentary series, edited by Thomas Oden, has over 11,000 pages of collated comments from the church fathers. $25 per volume (e.g., Old Testament VII: Psalms 1–50). $450 for all 29 volumes.
  • Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1998). 223 pages. $17.

Preface — The Apostolic Fathers

A short study of the apostolic fathers will provide a bridge from the New Testament to the writings of Irenaeus, our January Theologian of the Month.

  1. **The Apostolic Fathers: A New Translation by Rick Brannan.
  2. [Video/Podcast] Scott Harrower, “Scott Harrower on the Apostolic Fathers,” Holy Joys.

January — Irenaeus of Lyons (130–202)

“Irenaeus was the second-century bishop of Lyons in Gaul. He was one of the foremost early Christian theologians, and his most famous work is Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). He defended the orthodoxy of Christian doctrine, especially against such threats as Gnosticism.” (LBD)

  1. *On the Apostolic Preaching
  2. **Against Heresies (Books III–V)
  3. Against Heresies (Books I–II)
  4. Secondary resources:

February — Tertullian (155–240)

“Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus was a prolific North African writer of apologetic, theological, controversial, and ascetic works. The first great writer of Latin Christianity, he is credited with introducing the term ‘trinitas’ in relation to God. At some point during his career, he joined the apocalyptic Montanist sect (around ad 207), which other early church fathers opposed as heretical, causing his works to be viewed as pre-Montanist (and thus legitimately the work of a church father) and post Montanism (and thus viewed very skeptically).” (LBD)

  1. *Against Praxeas
    • Paperback: Aeterna Press, pp. 5–58 (54 pages). $13. This volume includes Against Praxeas and numerous apologetic and practical treatises.
    • Digital: ccel.org. Free.
  2. *Apology
  3. **On Baptism
  4. **On Prayer
  5. Secondary resources:
    • [Video/Podcast] Chris Bounds, “Tertullian,” Holy Joys. Dr. Bounds spoke to our Ad Fontes group on February 26, 2021.
    • [Article] Kyle R. Hughes, “Tertullian: A Critical Biography.”
    • [Podcast] “Passages – Chapter 3.” Joshua Heavin and Caleb Wait are joined by Michael Horton and Fred Sanders. They discuss Tertullian.
    • See the relevant sections in the introductory and companion guides above.

March — Origen of Alexandria (185–254)

“Origen was a prolific and influential figure of the early church who was known for his approach to interpreting Scripture. He also compiled the Hexapla, an important work for Old Testament textual criticism.” (LBD)

  1. *On First Principles
    • Paperback: Oxford University Press. 448 pages. $34. Translated by John Behr. For this work, we do not recommend the translation in the Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection.
  2. **On Prayer
    • Paperback: Popular Patristics Series. $19. This volume includes treatises on the Lord’s Prayer from Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen.
  3. Secondary resources:

April — Athanasius of Alexandria (295–373)

“Athanasius of Alexandria was a theologian, the bishop of Alexandria, and an influential leader in Egypt during the fourth century. He is most notable for resisting Arianism and for proclaiming the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as for being the first to use the word ‘canon’ to refer to the New Testament (as we currently know it) in his festal letter of ad 367.” (LBD)

  1. *On the Incarnation
  2. **Against the Heathen
  3. Secondary resources:

May — Hilary of Poitiers (315–367)

“Bishop of Poitiers and called the ‘Athanasius of the West’ because of his defense (against the Arians) of the common nature of Father and Son.” (ACCS)

  1. *On the Trinity
  2. **Homilies on the Psalms
  3. Secondary resources:
    • Fred Sanders, “Hilary of Poitiers,” Holy Joys. Dr. Sanders spoke to our Ad Fontes group on May 25, 2021.
    • See the relevant sections in the introductory and companion guides above.

June — Basil of Caesarea (330–379)

“Often called Basil the Great and distinguished as one of the three Cappadocian fathers who helped to define orthodoxy at the Council of Constantinople in 381, Basil lived as a hermit monk before being called out of seclusion in 364 to confront a resurgent form of Arianism. Six years later, Basil followed Eusebius as the bishop of Caesarea. Basil wrote a major work on the Holy Spirit. He was renowned for his administrative abilities and his gift for organization.” (Pocket Dictionary of Church History)

  1. *On the Holy Spirit
  2. **Selected Moral Homilies
  3. The Hexaemeron (Nine Homilies on the Six Days of Creation)
  4. Secondary resources:

July — Gregory of Nyssa (330–395)

“The younger brother of Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa was one of the three influential Cappadocian fathers who helped to define orthodoxy at the Council of Canstantinople (381). Gregory rose in the church from monk to ordained priest and was consecrated bishop of Nyssa in 371. Renowned for his preaching and exegetical writings, Gregory produced numerous doctrinal treatises, including works on the virtues and blessings of virginity, the Trinity and the Holy Spirit.” (Pocket Dictionary of Church History)

  1. *Catechetical Discourse.
  2. **On the Soul and the Resurrection.
  3. Secondary resources:
    • [Podcast] “Passages – Chapter 10.” This episode of Passages (a podcast on the story of the Nicene Creed) introduces Gregory of Nyssa and his older sister Macrina the Younger.
    • [Podcast] “Passages – Chapter 11.” This episode explores Gregory of Nyssa’s work “On the Soul and the Resurrection,” a Socratic dialogue set just after the death of his brother Basil of Caesarea, where Gregory learns from his teacher—his older sister, St. Macrina the Younger.
    • See the relevant sections in the introductory and companion guides above.

August — Gregory of Nazianzus (329–390)

“One of the great preachers of the fourth-century church, Gregory was numbered among the three great Cappadocian fathers who spoke and wrote with such power at the Council of Constantinople in attacking Arianism. After studies in Athens, where he met and befriended Basil, Gregory became a monk, but was called out of seclusion to be ordained in 362 and a decade later was consecrated bishop. His most important writings are Five Theological Orations, one of which is a key work on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” (Pocket Dictionary of Church History)

  1. *Five Theological Orations (Orations 27–31)
  2. *Letter To Cledonius the Priest Against Apollinarius. (Epistle 101)
  3. **Festal Orations
  4. Secondary resources:

September — Jerome (345–420)

“A church father and biblical scholar who produced numerous commentaries and homilies on Scripture, historical treatises, theological essays, a vast correspondence, and other miscellaneous works. He is most noted for his translation of the Bible into Latin, later known as the Vulgate.” (LBD)

  1. *Selected Letters
  2. Secondary resources:

October — John Chrysostom (349–407)

“John Chrysostom was the archbishop of Constantinople. Being the most prolific of all the Eastern fathers, he fought against the ecclesiastical and political leaders for their abuse of authority. He was called Chrysostom (meaning ‘golden-mouthed’) for his eloquent sermons.” (LBD)

  1. *Paschal Homily
    • Digital: oca.org. Free. We recommend reading this short sermon each year for Easter.
  2. *On Wealth and Poverty
  3. **Homilies on the Gospel of St. John
  4. **On the Priesthood
  5. Secondary resources:

November — Augustine (354–430)

“Clearly one of the dominant figures of Latin (Western) theology, Augustine rose in the church to become the bishop of Hippo in North Africa, and through his written works had a profound impact upon the development of theology in the medieval and Reformation eras. His early days, and especially his spiritual pilgrimage, were delineated in the autobiographical work Confessions. Born in Tagaste, near Carthage, to a pagan father and a devout Christian mother, Monica, Augustine lost his faith in his teens as he sought fame as a teacher of rhetoric. This began a search for truth in various philosophical systems, finally leading to *Manichaeism. Along the way he had taken a mistress and fathered a son, Adeodatus. Lured to Italy by the prospect of fame, Augustine taught in Rome and Milan. The sermons of *Ambrose, bishop of Milan, led to his conversion in 386. Augustine’s return to Africa began a rapid rise to prominence in the church. As bishop, Augustine’s intellectual gifts and rhetorical skills were put in service to the church in dealing with the Donatist and Pelagian controversies and in writing key works, including The City of God (a treatise on church and state), On the Trinity, On Christian Doctrine (a primer on the interpretation of Scripture) and many commentaries on books of the Bible.” (Pocket Dictionary of Church History)

  1. *On Christian Teaching
  2. *A Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed
  3. **Enchiridion
  4. **Confessions
  5. On the Trinity
  6. The City of God (especially Book 19)
  7. Secondary resources:

December — Cyril of Alexandria (376–444)

“Consecrated bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, in 412, Cyril is known for his love of and success in theological conflict. Standing in the tradition of Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers as a champion of orthodoxy, Cyril was the driving force behind the ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431), where he opposed Nestorianism. He actually assumed control of the council before the delegation supporting Nestor arrived and led the assembled bishops in condemning Nestorianism and its author.” (Pocket Dictionary of Church History)

  1. *On the Unity of Christ
  2. Secondary resources:
Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is President and Founder of Holy Joys. He serves as a preaching and teaching pastor in Newport, PA, where he lives with his wife Alexandra and son Adam. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.