THE REV. J. TIXERONT, D. D.
BASED UPON THE FOURTH
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Christian Literature is the name given to the collection of writings composed by Christian writers upon Christian subjects. This excludes both the works of Christian authors upon profane subjects (there are many such in our days on positive science or history) and the works of non-Christians upon Christian subjects, v.g., the True Discourse of Celsus.
Ancient Christian Literature is that of the early centuries of Christianity or of Christian antiquity. Authors generally fix the limit at the death of St. John of Damascus (c. 749) for the Greek Church, and at the death of St. Gregory the Great (604) or, better, of St. Isidore of Seville (636) for the Latin Church. This was the time when new elements, borrowed from the barbarians, began considerably to modify the purity of the Latin genius.
Ancient Christian Literature, thus defined, comprises the New Testament, writings composed by Christians and es sentially Christian in character, and the works of such heretics as may still be called Christians. It has been viewed in this light and dealt with in this way by Harnack in his History of Ancient Christian Literature up to the Time of Euscbius and by Msgr. Batiffol in his Greek Literature.
Other writers until recently the majority among Catholics have excluded from their histories of Christian literature not only the books of the New Testament, which are the object of an independent study, but also the writings of notorious heretics condemned by the Church.
There seems thus to be a tendency to reduce the history of Ancient Christian literature to a history of the writings of the Fathers of the Church (Patrology).
The title Father of the Church, which has its origin in the name of ‘Father’ given to bishops as early as the second century, was commonly used in the fifth century to designate the old ecclesiastical writers ordinarily bishops who died in the faith and in communion with the Church. According to modern theologians, the title applies only to those writers who have the four following qualifications : orthodoxy of doctrine, holiness of life, ecclesiastical sanction, and antiquity. Practically, however, it is given to many others who do not possess the first three requisites. Nobody, indeed, would dream of eliminating from the list of the ‘Fathers’ such men as Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Faustus of Riez, etc. Errors have been laid to their charge, but these mar their works without making them more dangerous than useful; whilst they are wrong on a few points, there is in them much that is good. At all events, they eminently deserve the title of Ecclesiastical Writers.
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