I was asked by one reader (www.letmypeopleread.blogspot.com ) about where I would recommend beginning a reading programme in the Fathers. Here is my brief reply. (And thanks, brother, for the great question). I would start with Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). Then: Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998). Finally, a third book that is a gem, but not easy is Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition. A History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1971).
And do not forget getting into the Fathers directly. Start with Augustine, Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1961) [this is the translation I like, but there are others]. Or read through an excellent collection by Steven A. McKinion, ed., Life and Practice in the Early Church. A Documentary Reader (New York/London: New York University Press, 2001). Another favourite of mine is Basil of Ceasarea, On the Holy Spirit, trans. David Anderson (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimirs Press, 1980).
For a good overview of the period, see the relevant pages in Tim Dowley ed., Introduction to the History of Christianity (1990 Rev. ed.; repr. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) and for the key leaders, see John D. Woodbridge, ed., Great Leaders of the Christian Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988). The latter is regrettably out of print, but second-hand copies can be gotten easily. I have also had published Defence of the Truth: Contending for the truth yesterday and today (Darlington, Co. Durham: Evangelical Press, 2004), which deals with theological challenges faced by the Ancient Church.
I did blog on this back in 2006: see WHAT TO READ OF THE FATHERS?