Bardenewer. History and Literature of Patrology. 1908.

History and Literature of Patrology.


1. ST. JEROME. – We owe to St. Jerome the idea of a Patrology or history of Christian theological literature. His work on the Christian writers was composed at Bethlehem in 392 at the suggestion of the pretorian prefect Dexter[1]. It is modelled on the homonymous work of Suetonius (ca. 75–160), and professes to be a brief account of all those «ecclesiastical writers» («ecclesiae scriptores») who have written on the Sacred Scriptures («de scripturis sanctis aliquid memoriae prodiderunt») from the Crucifixion to the fourteenth year of the reign of Theodosius (392). The first chapters are devoted to the books of the New Testament; later on, even heretical writers are added (Bardesanes c. 33, Novatian c. 70, and others). At the end (c. 135) he gives an account of his own writings as far as the year 392. The material of the first chapters is taken from the New Testament; the following sections, on the Greek writers of the first three centuries, are hastily made and inaccurate excerpts from the Church History of Eusebius of Cæsarea. The chapters on the Latin writers and on later Greek writers represent the personal knowledge and research of St. Jerome, and although they do not entirely satisfy our just expectations, they are nevertheless an historical authority of the first rank. Erasmus, who first edited (1516) the «De viris illustribus», published also a Greek translation of the work (Migne 1. c.) which he attributed to Sophronius, a contemporary of St. Jerome. It was not, however, executed before the seventh century.

In the very numerous manuscripts of this work of St. Jerome the continuation by Gennadius (n. 2) is usually found. It is also printed in the latest editions, by W. Herding, Leipzig, 1879; C. A. Bernoulli, Sammlung ausgewählter kirchen‐ und dogmengeschichtlicher Quellenschriften xi., Freiburg i.  Br. (1895), and E.  C. Richardson, Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, Leipzig, 1896, xiv. I. These editions have not rendered further improvement impossible. O. v. Gebhardt has given us an excellent edition of the Greek translation, Leipzig, 1896 (Texte  und Untersuchungen 1.  c.).  Cf.  St.  v.  Sychowski, Hieronymus als Literarhistoriker, Münster, 1894 (Kirchengeschichtliche Studien, ii. 2); C. A. Bernoulli, Der Schriftstellerkatalog des Hieronymus, Freiburg i. Br., 1895; G. Wentzel, Die griechische Übersetzung der Viri inlustres des Hieronymus, Leipzig, 1895 (Texte und Untersuchungen, xiii. 3).

2. CONTINUATORS OF ST. JEROME. – For more than a thousand years, this little book of the Hermit of Bethlehem served as the basis of all later efforts to produce a history of theological literature. All later compilers linked their work to his, and even when there was added a name forgotten by him, or by one of his continuators, the form and divisions of the work remained unchanged. Between the years 467–480 (apparently), Gennadius, a priest of Marseilles, brought out a very useful continuation and completion of the «De viris»[2]. He was a Semi‐Pelagian, a fact that is responsible for occasional deviations from his usual impartial or objective attitude. Otherwise, Gennadius was an historian of extensive knowledge, accurate judgment and honourable purpose. Isidore, archbishop of Seville († 636), added considerably to the labours of Gennadius[3], and his disciple Ildephonsus of Toledo († 667) contributed a short appendix on some Spanish theologians[4]. Centuries were now to pass away before the Benedictine chronicler, Sigebert of Gembloux in Belgium († 1112), took up the task once more, and carried the history of ecclesiastical literature down to his own time. In his book «De viris illustribus»[5] he treats first, «imitatus Hieronymum et Gennadium», as he himself says (c. 171), of the ancient ecclesiastical writers; and next gives biographical and bibliographical notes on early mediæval Latin theologians, usually slight and meagre in contents, and not unfrequently rather superficial. Somewhat similar compendia were composed by the priest Honorius of Augustodunum (Autun?) between 1122 and 1125[6], by the «Anonymus Mellicensis», so called from the Benedictine abbey of Melk in Lower Austria, where the first manuscript of his work was found, though the work itself was probably composed in the abbey of Prüfening near Ratisbon in 1135[7], and by the author of a similarly entitled work wrongly ascribed to the scholastic theologian Henry of  Ghent († 1293).  These compilations were all surpassed, in 1494, as regards the number of authors and the abundance of information, by the «De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis» of the celebrated abbot Johannes Trithemius († 1516). It contains notices of 963 writers, some of whom, however, were not theologians. Its chief merit lies in the information given concerning writers of the later period of Christian antiquity. For Trithemius, as for his predecessors, St. Jerome and Gennadius are the principal sources of knowledge concerning the literary labours of the Fathers.

These literary‐historical compilations are to be found together with the work of St. Jerome (Latin and Greek) in J. A. Fabricius, Bibliotheca ecclesiastica, Hamburg, 1718. For the later editions of Gennadius by Herding, Bernoulli, Richardson see p. 7; cf. also Jungmann, Quaestiones Gennadianae (Programme), Lipsiae, 1881; Br. Czapla, Gennadius als Literarhistoriker, Münster, 1898 (Kirchengeschichtliche Studien, iv. I); Fr. Diekamp, Wann hat Gennadius seinen Schriftstellerkatalog verfaßt? Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und für Kirchengeschichte, 1898, xii. 411–420. For the two Spanish historians of Christian literature cf. G. v. Dzialowski, Isidor und Ildefons als Literarhistoriker, Münster (Kirchengeschichtliche Studien, iv. 2). For Sigebert of Gembloux cf. Wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter, 6. ed., Berlin, 1893‐1894, ii. 155–162, and for his literary‐historical work S. Hirsch, De vita et scriptis Sigeberti monachi Gemblacensis, Berolini, 1841, 330–337. There is an article by Stanonik on Honorius  of Augustodunum  in  the  Kirchenlexikon  of Wetzer und Welte, 2. ed., vi. 268–274. A good edition of the «Anonymus Mellicensis» was published by E. Ettlinger, Karlsruhe, 1896. For the work «De viris illustribus» current under the name of Henry of Ghent see B. Hauréau in Mémoires de l’institut national de France, Acad. des inscriptions et belles‐lettres, Paris, 1883, xxx. 2, 349–357. The work of Trithemius is discussed by J. Silbernagl, Johannes Trithemius, 2. ed., Regensburg, 1885, pp. 59–65.

3. THE XVI., XVII., AND XVIII. CENTURIES. Since the fifteenth century the study of ecclesiastical literature has made unexpected progress. The humanists brought to light a multitude of unknown works of Latin, and especially of Greek ecclesiastical writers. The contention of the reformers that primitive Christianity had undergone a profound corruption, furthered still more the already awakened interest in the ancient literature of the Church. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Benedictine scholars of the French Congregation of St. Maur gave a powerful and lasting impulse to the movement by the excellent, and in part classical, editions of texts, in which they revealed to an astonished world historical sources of almost infinite richness and variety. New provinces and new purposes were thereby opened to Patrology. The Maurists made known at the same time the laws for the historical study of the original sources; in nearly every department of ancient ecclesiastical literature, it became possible for scholars to strip the historical truth of the veil of legend that had hung over it. It still remained customary for literary historians, to deal with the ancient ecclesiastical literature as a whole. The most distinguished Catholic names in this period of patrological scholarship are those of Bellarmine († 1621), Dupin († 1719), Le Nourry († 1724), Ceillier († 1761), Schram († 1797), Lumper († 1800). Among the Protestant patrologists are reckoned the Reformed theologians Cave († 1713), and Oudin († 1717), (a Premonstratensian monk who became a Protestant in 1690). The Lutheran writers, Gerhard († 1637), Hülsemann († 1661), Olearius († 1711), and others introduced and spread the use of the term «Patrology», meaning thereby a comprehensive view of all Christian theological literature from the earliest period to mediæval, and even to modern times.

Robertus Card. Bellarminus S. J., De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis liber unus, cum adiunctis indicibus undecim et brevi chronologia ab orbe condito usque ad annum 1612, Romae, 1613; Coloniae, 1613, et saepius. L. E. Dupin, Nouvelle bibliothèque des auteurs ecclésiastiques, Paris, 1686 sq. The several sections of this extensive work appeared under different titles. The number of volumes also varies according to the editions. Because of its very unecclesiastical character the work of Dupin was placed on the Index, May 10. 1757. N. Le Nourry O. S. B., Apparatus ad bibliothecam maximam veterum patrum et antiquorum scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Lugduni (1677) editam, 2 tomi, Paris, 1703–1715. R. Ceillier O. S. B., Histoire générale des auteurs sacrés et ecclésiastiques, 23 vols., Paris, 1729–1763; a new edition was brought out at Paris, 1858–1869, 16 vols. D. Schram O. S. B., Analysis operum SS. Patrum et scriptorum eccl., 18 tomi, Aug. Vind., 1780–1796. G. Lumper O. S. B., Historia theologico‐critica de vita, scriptis atque doctrina SS. Patrum aliorumque scriptorum eccl. trium primorum saeculorum, 13 tomi, Aug. Vind., 1783–1799.
Cave, Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum historia litteraria a Christo nato usque ad saec. XIV, Lond., 1688. C. Oudin, Commentarius de scriptoribus eccles., 3 tomi, Lipsiae, 1722.
Joh. Gerhardi Patrologia, s. de primitivae ecclesiae christianae doctorum vita ac lucubrationibus opusculum posthumum, Jenae, 1653; 3. ed., Gerae, 1673. J. Hülsemann, Patrologia, ed. J. A. Scherzer, Lipsiae, 1670. J. G. Olearius, Abacus patrologicus, Jenae, 1673. Idem, Bibliotheca scriptorum eccles., 2 tomi, Jenae, 1710–1711.
Many ancient ecclesiastical writers are treated at much length by L. S. le Nain de Tillemont, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles, 16 tomes, Paris, 1693–1712, often reprinted; cf. also J. A. Fabricius, Bibliotheca Graeca seu notitia scriptorum veterum Graecorum, 14 voll., Hamburgi, 1705–1728. A new, but unfinished edition of Fabricius was published by G. Chr. Harles, 12 voll., Hamburg, 1790–1809. C. Tr. G. Schoenemann, Bibliotheca historico‐literaria Patrum latinorum, 2 tomi, Lipsiae, 1792–1794.

4. PATROLOGY IN MODERN TIMES. During the nineteenth century, the materials of ancient ecclesiastical literary history have steadily increased. Not only have many new Greek and Latin texts been discovered, notably by such scholars as Cardinal Mai († 1854) and Cardinal Pitra († 1889), but entirely new fields have been thrown open, particularly in the domain of the ancient Syriac and Armenian literatures; the elaboration of this material has called forth, especially in Germany, England, and North America, a zeal that grows ever more active and general. Protestant theologians paid particular attention to the problems of Christian antiquity, and classical philologians learned to overcome their former attitude of depreciation of theologico‐Christian literature. The press poured forth patristic monographs in such numbers that their ever‐growing flood became at times almost a source of embarrassment. Among the comprehensive works published by Catholic authors were those of Möhler († 1838), Permaneder († 1862), Fessler († 1872), Alzog († 1878), Nirschl, and others. In the latter half of the eighteenth century the custom arose of dividing the later from the earlier Fathers, and making these latter the subject of a separate branch of literary and historical study. Within the last few years, Protestant theologians have made exhaustive studies on the writers of the first three centuries. In the first part of his monumental work, Adolf Harnack has presented with an unexampled fullness the entire material of pre‐Eusebian Christian literature.

A. Möhler, Patrologie oder christliche Literärgeschichte, edited by F. X. Reithmayr, vol. I (the first three Christian centuries), Ratisbon 1840. The work was not continued. M. Permaneder, Bibliotheca patristica, Landishuti, 1841‐1844, 2 tomi. J. Fessler, Institutiones Patrologiae, Innspruck, 1850‐1851, 2 tomi; denuo recensuit, auxit, edidit B. Jungmann, ib., 1890‐1896. J. Alzog, Grundriß der Patrologie oder der älteren christlichen Literärgeschichte, Freiburg, 1866, 4. ed., ib. 1888. J. Nirschl, Lehrbuch der Patrologie und Patristik, Mainz, 1881‐1885, 3 vols. J. Rézbányay, Compendium patrologiae et patristicae, Quinqueecclesiis [i. e. Fünfkirchen], 1894. B. Swete, Patristic Study, London, 1902.
Ch. Th. Cruttwell, A literary history of early Christianity, including the Fathers and the chief heretical writers of the Ante‐Nicene period, London, 1893, 2 vols. A. Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur bis auf Eusebius, I. Part: Die Überlieferung und der Bestand, Leipzig, 1893. II. Part: Die Chronologie, I. vol.: Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Literatur bis Irenäus, Leipzig, 1897; 2. vol.: Die Chronologie der Literatur von Irenäus bis Eusebius, ib., 1904. G. Krüger, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten, Freiburg, 1895; with supplement, 1897: English transl. by Gillet, History of Early Christian Literature, New York and London, 1897.
Batiffol, La littérature grecque, Paris, 1897 (Bibliothèque de l’enseignement de l’histoire ecclésiastique. Anciennes littératures chrétiennes). The Greek theologians of the Byzantine period (527–1453) are treated by A. Ehrhard in K. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Literatur, 2. ed., Munich, 1897, pp. 37–218. For the Greek hymnology of the same period cf. ib. pp. 653–705. The histories of Roman literature, by Bähr, Teuffel-Schwabe, and Schanz, devote attention to the Latin theological writers: J. Chr. F. Bähr, Geschichte der römischen Literatur, vol. iv: Die christlich‐römische Literatur, Karlsruhe, 1836–1840; W. S. Teuffel, Geschichte der römischen Literatur, neu bearbeitet von L. Schwabe, 5. ed., Leipzig, 1890, 2 vols.; M. Schanz, Geschichte der römischen Literatur, 3. Part: Die Zeit von Hadrian (117) bis auf Konstantin (324), Munich, 1896, 2. ed. 1905. 4. Part, I. Half: Die Literatur des 4. Jahrhunderts, 1904. Cf. especially A. Ebert, Allgemeine Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters im Abendlande, vol. i: Geschichte der christlich‐lateinischen Literatur von ihren Anfängen bis zum Zeitalter Karls des Großen, Leipzig, 1874, 2. ed. 1889. Much less satisfactory is the work of M. Manitius, Geschichte der christlich‐lateinischen Poesie bis zur Mitte des 18. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart, 1891. In the proper place will be mentioned the descriptions of ancient Syriac and Armenian literature. The work of Smith and Wace is very useful, relatively complete and generally reliable: A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines, edited by W. Smith and H. Wace, London, 1877–1887, 4 vols. O. Bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchl. Literatur, I.‐II. tom.: Bis zum Beginn des 4. Jahrhunderts, Freiburg, 1902‐1903.


Otto Bardenhewer. “History and Literature of Patrology”, in: ‘Patrology’. The lives and works of the Fathers of the Church. Translated from the second edition by Thomas J. Shanan. ‘Introduction’, §I, pp. 1‐7. B. Herder. Freiburg im Breisgau and St. Louis, Mo. 1908. pp. 7‐11.

 [Transc. by: Francisco Arriaga. México, Frontera Norte. 14 de septiembre de 2009. Rev. 11 de abril  de 2019].

[1] De viris illustr.: Migne, PL., xxiii, 601–720.
[2] Migne, PL., lviii. 1059‐1120.
[3] Ib., lxxxiii. 1081‐1106.
[4] Ib., xcvi. 195‐206.
[5] Ib., clx. 547–588.
[6] De luminaribus ecclesiae: Migne, PL., clxxii. 197–234.
[7] De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis: ib., ccxiii. 961–984.

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