Standard Article

Church Fathers

  1. James E. Bruce

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0304

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Bruce, J. E. 2011. Church Fathers. The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011


The period of the Church Fathers begins with those earliest Christians who were not themselves eyewitnesses to Christ's earthly ministry, yet knew eyewitnesses, and ends sometime after the 5th century — after the Council of Chalcedon and the overthrow of the Western Roman Empire by Germanic invaders — but before the 8th. The Patristic period — so called from the Greek and Latin words for father — thus extends from the Apostolic Age to the early Middle Ages, and Patristics is the study of those early Christian leaders, affectionately termed Fathers, who negotiated the doctrinal controversies that arose during this time. The best way to understand the controversies of the period, and the disputants in the controversies, is to consult the writings of the Fathers themselves. Considering that this age spans hundreds of years, this entry presents at best an introduction into a lively, exciting period in the history of the church, and the world.


  • church fathers;
  • period of the church fathers;
  • the patristic period, apostolic to early middle;
  • christian leaders, affectionately termed fathers;
  • ante-nicene fathers;
  • ante-nicene, confronting docetism, gnosticism, montanism;
  • docetism, divinity of Jesus;
  • sabellianism, distinction of the son and the father;
  • post-nicene, the son, the holy spirit, with the father;
  • controversy over the trinity, one God in three persons