You are on page 1of 3

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].