Quasten. The Concept and History of Patrology.

The Concept and History of Patrology.

Patrology is that part of the history of Christian literature which deals with the theological authors of Christian antiquity. It comprises both the orthodox and the heretical writers, although it treats with preference those authors who represent the traditional ecclesiastical doctrine, the so-called Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Thus, Patrology can be defined as the science of the Fathers of the Church. It includes, in the West, all Christian authors up to Gregory the Great (d. 604) or Isidore of Seville (d. 636), and, in the East, it extends usually to John Damascene (d. 749).

The name of this branch of Theology is young; the Lutheran theologian, Joh. Gerhard, was the first to use it as a title of his work, Patrologia, published in 1653. The idea, however, of a history of Christian literature in which the theological point of view predominates is old. It begins with Eusebius, for in the introduction to his Ecclesiastical History (I, I, I), he states that he intends to report about ‘the number of those who in each generation were the ambassadors of the word of God either by speech or by pen; the names, the number and the age of those who, driven by the desire of innovation to an extremity of error, have heralded themselves as the introducers of knowledge, falsely so called’. Thus, he lists all writers and writings, so far as he knows them, and gives long quotations from most of them. For this reason, Eusebius is one of the most important sources of Patrology, especially since a great number of the writings which he quotes have been lost. For some ecclesiastical authors he is the only source of information.

The first to compose a history of Christian theological literature was Jerome. In his De viris illustribus he intends to answer those pagans who were accustomed to jeer at the intellectual mediocrity of the Christians. For this reason, he enumerates the writers by whom Christian literature was honored. Written at Bethlehem in the year 392 at the request of the Praetorian Prefect Dexter, St. Jerome’s work is modeled on the De viris illustribus of Suetonius; it extends from Simon Peter to Jerome himself, whose writings prior to 392 are listed. The Jewish authors, Philo and Josephus, the pagan philosopher, Seneca, and the heretical authors of Christian antiquity are incorporated in the list of names, which comprises 135 sections. For the first 78 of these sections, Jerome depends on the Ecclesiastical History and the Chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea to such an extent that he reproduces even the mistakes of Eusebius. Each section gives a biographical sketch and evaluates the writings of the author. As soon as the work was published, St. Augustine (Ep. 40) expressed his regret to Jerome that he had not taken the trouble to separate the heretical from the orthodox writers. More serious is the fact that De viris illustribus suffers to a great extent from incorrectness, and that the whole work betrays the sympathies and antipathies of Jerome, as, for instance, the sections dealing with St. John Chrysostome and St. Ambrose indicate. Nevertheless, the work remains the basic source for the history of ancient Christian literature. For a certain number of ecclesiastical writers, such as Minucius Felix, Tertullian, Cyprian, Novatian, and others, it is the only source of information which we possess. Through more than a thousand years all historians of ancient Christian literature regarded De viris illustribus as the basis of all their studies, and their sole endeavor was to write continuations of this great work.

Editions: ML 23, 601-720. – C. A. BERNOULLI, Der Schriftstellerkatalog des Hieronymus. Freiburg i. B., 1895. – E. C. RICHARDSON, TU 14, I. Leipzig, 1896. – G. HERDING, Leipzig 1924.

Studies: ST. V. SYCHOWSKI, Hieronymus als Literarhistoriker. Eine quellenkritische Untersuchung der Schrift des hI. Hieronymus De viris iIIustribus. Münster i. W., 1894. – J. HUEMER, Studien zu den ältesten christlichlateinischen Literarhistorikern. I. Hieronymus De viris iIIustribus: WSt 16 (1894) 121-158. – G. WENTZEL, Die griechische Uebersetzung der Viri illustres des Hieronymus (TU 13, 3). Leipzig, 1895. – A. FEDER, Studien zum Schriftstellerkatalog des hI. Hieronymus. Freiburg i. B., 1927.

About the year 480, Gennadius, a priest of Marseilles, brought out under the same title a very useful continuation and addition, which most of the manuscripts incorporate as a second part of St. Jerome’s work. Gennadius was a Semi-Pelagian, a fact which here and there influences his description; otherwise he shows himself to be a man of extensive knowledge and accurate judgment. His work remains of prime importance for the history of ancient Christian literature.

Editions: ML 58, 1059-1120. – A. BERNOULLI, E. C. RICHARDSON and G. HERDING, cf. above.

Studies: E. JUNGMANN, Quaestiones Gennadianae (Progr.). Leipzig, 1881. – B. CZAPLA, Gennadius als Literarhistoriker. Eine quellenkritische Untersuchung der Schrift des Gennadius von Marseille De viris iIIustribus. Münster i. W., 1898. –  J. HUEMER, Studien zu den ältesten christlich-lateinischen Literarhistorikern. 2. Gennadius De viris iIIustribus: WSt 20 (1898) 141-149. – F. DIEKAMP, Wann hat Gennadius seinen Schriftstellerkatalog verfasst?: RQ 12 (1898) 411-420. – A. FEDER, Der Semipelagianismus im Schriftstellerkatalog des Gennadius von Marseille: Schol 2 (1927) 481-514; idem, Die Entstehung und Veröffentlichung des gennadianischen Schriftstellerkatalogs: Schol 8 (1933) 217-232; idem, Zusätze des gennadianischen Schriftstellerkatalogs: Schol 8 (1933) 380-399.

Of less value is Isidore of Seville’s De viris illustribus, written between 615 and 618, which represents another continuation of Jerome’s work. It devotes special attention to Spanish theologians.

Editions: F. AREVALO, S. Isidori opp. Rome, 1797 to 1803, vol. 7, 138-178. – ML 83, 1081-1106.

Studies: G. V. DZIALOWSKI, Isidor und Ildefons als Literarhistoriker. Eine quellenkritische Untersuchung der Schriften De Viris illustribus des Isidor von Sevilla und des Ildefons von Toledo. Münster i. W., 1898. – F. SCHÜTTE, Studien über den Schriftstellerkatalog (De viris iIIustribus) des hl. Isidor von Sevilla, in: M. SDRALEK, Kirchengeschichtliche Abhandlungen. Breslau, 1902, 75-149. – M. IHM, Zu Isidors viri illustres, in: Beiträge zur alten Geschichte und griechisch-römischen Altertumskunde (Festschrift zu O. Hirschfelds 60. Geburtstage). Berlin, 1903, 341-344. – J. DE ALDAMA, Indicaciones sobre la cronología de las obras de S. Isidoro: Miscellanea Isidoriana. Rome, 1936, 57-89. – H. KOEPPLER, De viris illustribus and Isidore of Seville: JThSt 38 (1936) 16-34.

Isidore’s disciple, Ildephonsus of Toledo (d. 667), wrote a similar continuation, but his De viris illustribus is local and national in character. He intends mainly to glorify his predecessors in the see of Toledo. Only eight of the fourteen biographies deal with authors, and the only non-Spanish author whom he mentions is Gregory the Great.

Editions: F. AREVALO, see above. – ML 96, 195-206.

Studies: G. V. DZIALOWSKI, l.c. – A. BRAEGELMANN, The Life and Writings of St. Ildefonsus of Toledo. Washington, 1942, 32-59.

Not before the end of the eleventh century was a new attempt made to give an up-to-date account of Christian literature. The Benedictine chronicler, Sigebert of Gembloux in Belgium (d. 1112), undertook this task. In his De viris illustribus (ML 160, 547-588), he treats first the ancient ecclesiastical writers, closely following Jerome and Gennadius, and then compiIes meager biographical and bibliographical notes on Latin theologians of the early Middle Ages; no mention is made of any Byzantine authors. Honorius of Augustodunum, in about 1122, composed a somewhat similar compendium, De luminaribus ecclesiae (ML 172, 197-234). A few years later, about 1135, the so-called Anonymus Mellicensis edited his De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis (ML 213, 961-984). The place of origin seems to be Pruefening near Ratisbon, and not Melk in Lower Austria, where the first manuscript of this work was found. A far better source of information is De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis by the abbot Johannes Trithemius. This work, composed about the year 1494, supplies biographical and bibliographical details about 963 writers, some of whom are not theologians. Even Trithemius receives all his knowledge regarding the Fathers from Jerome and Gennadius.

A complete edition which includes all historians or ecclesiastical literature from Jerome to Trithemius was made by J. A. FABRICIUS, Bibliotheca ecclesiastica. Hamburg, 1718. For Sigebert of Gembloux see S. Hirsch, De vita et scriptis Sigiberti monachi Gemblacensis. Berlin, 1841. – For the so-called Anonymus Mellicensis see the special edition by E. ETTLINGER, Der sogenannte Anonymus Mellicensis De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis. Text und quellenkritische Ausgabe mit einer Einleitung. Karlsruhe, 1896. – For Honorius of Augustodunum cf. J. A. ENDRES, Honorius Augustodunensis. Kempten, 1906. – For Johannes Trithemius cf. J. SILBERNAGI, Johannes Trithemius. Ratisbon, 1885. – G. Mentz, Diss. Jena, 1892. – J. J. HERMES, Gymn. Progr. Prüm, 1901. – J. BECKMANN, LThK 10 (1938) 296-298.

The time of the humanists brought a period of awakened interest for ancient Christian literature. On the one hand, the contention of the reformers, that the Catholic Church had deteriorated from the Church of the Fathers, and on the other, the decisions reached at the Council of Trent, contributed, to a large degree, to increase this new interest. R. Cardinal Bellarmine’s De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis liber unus, which extends to 1500, appeared in 1613. Two works of French authors followed: L. S. le Nain de Tillemont, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles, Paris, 1693-1712, 16 volumes, and R. Ceillier, Histoire générale des auteurs sacrés et ecclésiastiques, Paris, 1729-1763; this latter work comprises twenty-three volumes, which deal with all ecclesiastical writers prior to 1250.

The new era of a science of ancient Christian literature, however, manifested itself especially in the first great collections and excellent special editions of patristic texts, which originated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The nineteenth century enriched the field of ancient Christian literature by a great number of new discoveries, especially of Oriental texts. The need of new critical editions was felt. Thus, the Academies of Vienna and Berlin inaugurated critical editions of a Latin and a Greek series of the Fathers, while French scholars began critical editions of two great collections of Oriental Christian literature, and in addition, most universities established chairs for Patrology.

The twentieth century has been predominantly concerned with the history of ideas, concepts, and terms in Christian literature, and the doctrine of the various ecclesiastical authors. Moreover, the newly discovered papyri of Egypt enabled scholars to regain many patristic works which had been lost.

Johannes Quasten. “The concept and history of Patrology” in PATROLOGY, Volume I. The Beginnings of Patristic Literature From the Apostles Creed to Irenaeus, Introduction, pp. 1 – 5. Christian Classics, Allen, Tx. No year available.

[Transc. by Francisco Arriaga. México, Frontera Norte. 06 de septiembre de 2009. Rev. 04 de abril de 2019].

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