The Year of Patristics: An Invitation to Study the Great Tradition in 2021


See also: A Year With the Church Fathers: Reading List.

Many things divide our world, but there is one point on which we can all agree: 2020 has been a strange year. We will always remember it as the year of COVID-19. Thankfully, 2021 is fast approaching, and we are praying for God’s favor as we seek to redeem the time. That is why we are committing to a new Holy Joys initiative: Ad Fontes.

Ad fontes, “to the sources,” was a rallying cry of the Reformation and still calls us to the riches of the great Christian Tradition. Holy Scripture is the source behind the sources, the norma normans, the only infallible rule for faith and practice. But Scripture must be read in community, and this community includes the communion of saints in all times and places. The consensus across time derives its authority from Scripture and deserves our renewed attention.

In many counselors there is wisdom, and we are destined to run headlong into folly if our only counselors are trapped with us in the narrow moment we call “today.” We are not most in need of Irenaeus or Hilary or Augustine because they answer our questions, but because they ask different questions altogether. “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about,” wrote G. K. Chesterton. “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.”

The reasons are many for the church’s neglect of her holy heritage. Too often the Tradition is treated like a buffet instead of a feast: one browses the options, snatching up this or that proof text to support a settled theological opinion. Other times the Tradition is maligned as a cacophony of discordant voices. But John Behr encourages us to listen to each voice on its own terms, then step back and hear the symphony that emerges. Despite the critic’s cry, there is a great deal of accord in the ancient communion. Thomas Oden understood this well and pled with his readers to “rivet attention” upon the sources so long neglected: “the truth of the consensus and its durability have remained unexplained and ignored in the academy. The cost is that the modern laity is deprived of the authoritative texts upon which classic Christianity is built.”

As a small step towards theological retrieval in our own lives and ministries, we are calling 2021 “The Year of Patristics.” You are invited to join us in contemplating God with the communion of saints. Each month, we will feature a new Theologian of the Month. From Tertullian to the Cappadocians to the great John Chrysostom, we will read the fathers in their own words. Those who register to join our 2021 Patristics Reading Group will receive (1) a resource list with required and/or recommended reading, (2) an invitation to a private Facebook group for sharing insights and questions throughout the year, and (3) a link to join a monthly video meeting/webinar where we will discuss the reading and raise questions. On occasion, experts will be invited to join the meeting and present on one of the fathers. David Fry (PhD, Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) will be assisting me in moderating the discussion.

The wisdom of the Great Tradition is waiting to be mined—not by professional theologians only, but especially by the pastors and churches for whom it was first deposited. Patristics is for the church. Theology is for the church. It’s all for a holy, happy church.

Click here to register for our 2021 Patristics Reading Group. Please consider donating $30 or more at to help us cover the costs of this study (e.g., to pay guest speakers).

The following list is representative of what one can expect to find on the official reading list:

  1. Irenaeus (130–202): Against Heresies (Books III–V).
  2. Tertullian (155–240): Apology.
  3. Origen (184–253): On First Principles.
  4. Athanasius (296/98–373): On the Incarnation.
  5. Hilary of Poitiers (310–367): On the Trinity.
  6. Basil of Caesarea (330–379): On Christian Doctrine and Practice.
  7. Gregory of Nyssa (335–395): Catechetical Discourse.
  8. Gregory of Nazianzus (329–390): Five Theological Orations.
  9. Jerome (347–420): Letters.
  10. John Chrysostom (347–407): Homilies.
  11. Augustine (354–430): On Christian Teaching.
  12. Cyril of Alexandria (376–444): On the Unity of Christ.
Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is a husband, father, and aspiring pastor-theologian, as well as the founder and president of You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.