What to Read in the Church Fathers

A correspondent, Peter Foxwell, asked about where to start in reading the Church Fathers. There are a number of good places to begin. For second-century apologetics, start with the Letter to Diognetus, a gem. Then, with regard to conversion, Augustine’s classic work of his conversion is fabulous, The Confessions. The earlier North African Father, Cyprian, also wrote a fascinating account of his conversion, The Letter to Donatus. Much smaller than the work by Augustine, but Cyprian’s work also has a keen emphasis on sovereign grace.

Much evangelism in the pre-Constantinian church was done in the courts of law, when Christians were on trial for their lives. For an account of martyrdom, see The Martyrs of Lyons, found in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius. On evangelism, there is another gem, the Confession of Patrick, a stirring defense of mission to Ireland in the world after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Then, in terms of doctrinal material, two musts are Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, and Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit. The former may have been written in response to the Arian controversy in the fourth century. The latter was the definitive work of orthodoxy in the midst of the Pneumatomachian controversy, which came at the tail-end of the Arian controversy and in which there was a battle about the deity of the Holy Spirit. Hilary of Poitiers’ On the Trinity or the Augustine’ work by the same name are very good responses overall to the Arians

Finally, a favourite of John Wesley, Macarius-Symeon’s Homilies, is an excellent analysis of the Christian life.

Of course, you won’t agree with everything, but these will give a good exposure to the best of the early Church.

Enjoy and be edified!