Church father

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Representation of the church fathers in the old Russian composite manuscript Isbornik Svyatoslavs (1073)

As a church father (from Latin pater ecclesiae to ancient Greek πατὴρ ἐκκλησιαστικός Father ekklēsiastikós ) is a Christian author refers to the first eight centuries of the teaching and the standards of this vital Christianity has helped and so the honorary title of Doctor of the Church was excellent, and his life as a saintly applies .

To the subject

Generally, the epoch of the church fathers is delimited gradually. Formally, it comes into play where authors are no longer involved in the production of New Testament and early Christian writings, but have already begun to comment on these writings. The time of the church fathers ends in late antiquity - the church fathers themselves then become a literary source and theological authority.


The Orthodox Church counts all important Christian authors in their field, including those from more recent times up to the present day, among the Church Fathers, whereby no totality is required with regard to orthodoxy . Very few of the Church Fathers are recognized as being flawless in their traditional teachings. The authors of Orthodox Canon Law, to whom most of the classical Greek Fathers belong: Dionysius of Alexandria , Gregorius of Neocäsarea , Athanasius the Great , Basilius the Great , Gregory of Nyssa , Gregory of Nazianzen , Amphilochius, Timothy of Alexandria enjoy a special place , Theophilus of Alexandria, Cyril of Alexandria , Genadius of Constantinople, John IV (Patriarch) , Tarasius of Constantinople and Nicephorus the Confessor. Even John Chrysostom , the founder of the Chrysostomosliturgie is next to St. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen one of the Three Holy Hierarchs (also see below).

Evangelical theology

Protestant theology does not recognize a concept of the church father in the sense that the church fathers appear as authorities alongside the Bible. The church fathers are subsumed under the fathers and mothers in faith.

Catholic criteria for church fathers, church teachers and church writers

The Catholic Church judges a church father based on the following four criteria:

  • antiquitas: until the 8th century, d. H. until the death of John of Damascus in 754 in the Orient and Isidore of Seville in 636 in the Occident . Sometimes Ildefons of Toledo (669) and Beda Venerabilis (735) are also referred to as fathers.
  • orthodoxa doctrina: the Fathers are considered to be witnesses of the unity of faith and keepers of revelation, because they are cited as an authority of faith by a general council or in public documents addressed to the Church by popes or by some of the better-known Church Fathers, or in the first centuries read publicly in churches . This does not rule out the fact that there are inaccuracies in the expression or that they have not yet fully understood certain points of the faith theologically, but means that the Fathers did not write any heretical or schismatic works or works with serious deficiencies in content; d. H. not complete freedom from errors, but faithful teaching fellowship with the magisterium of the Catholic Church .
  • sanctitas: canonized or regarded as holy in the sense of the early Christian veneration of saints
  • ecclesiae declaratio: implicitly recognizable from church negotiations and manifestations

In the Occident, Ambrosius , Hieronymus , Augustine and Gregory the Great are called the great church fathers. In the Orient one means Athanasius , Basilius , Gregory of Nazianzen and John Chrysostom .

Doctors of the Church must always be respected and recognized dogmatists of theology. Your life data do not matter. The exact criteria for this group are:

  • orthodoxa doctrina: see above
  • eminens doctrina: significant doctrinal statements
  • insignis vitae sanctitatis: a high degree of holiness
  • expressa ecclesiae declaratio: explicitly canonized by the Catholic Church
  • eminens eruditio: outstanding education

All the great church fathers are doctors of the church, including those of the Orient. With the addition of other deserving dogmatists, the group of church teachers has now been expanded to 36. They can certainly satisfy the quality of antiquitas , as Hilarius of Poitiers or Leo the Great show.

A third group is designated by the Catholic Church as church writers; these are early Christian authors who are not considered orthodox or holy. Origen and Tertullian belong to this group .

Church fathers in art

Altar panel with the four Latin Fathers of the Church, Bordesholm Monastery
Life of saints . The Latin church fathers are shown in the corner squares of the cover.
St. Jerome as church father (with book and church building), Italy, 15th century

In Western art, two groups of four are represented in particular (see Doctors of the Church ):

A seldom depicted group of four who have a certain relationship with the Church Fathers are the " Four Wise Men ".

Well-known representations of the Latin church fathers in particular can be found on pulpits, such as the Gothic pulpit in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna ; On the pulpit there are representations of the four church fathers Augustine, Ambrosius, Gregory the Great and Jerome, which simultaneously symbolize the four temperaments and four ages.

Important church fathers

Church fathers of the 2nd century

Church fathers of the 3rd century

4th century church fathers

Church fathers of the 5th century

Church fathers of the 6th century

7th century church fathers

Church fathers of the 8th century

Later time

See also


Web links

Commons : Fathers of the Church  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Church Fathers  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Otto Bitschnau: The life of God's saints . 2nd Edition. Benziger, Einsiedeln / New-York / Cincinnati / St. Louis 1883.