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Who are the “Fathers of the Church” and why do they matter?


Public Domain

Philip Kosloski - published on 02/02/18

They are pillars of the Church and their writings are inspirational.

Many Christians frequently refer to the “Fathers of the Church” or the “Church Fathers.” Who are they and what are they talking about?

Not to be confused with the “Desert Fathers,” the “Church Fathers” are a group of foundational members of the early Christian Church.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The word Father is used in the New Testament to mean a teacher of spiritual things, by whose means the soul of man is born again into the likeness of Christ.” Initially this term was used to denote those spiritual “fathers” who nurtured the faith of the early Church and who maintained what the Apostles taught.

Over time this term became more focused and the Church defined specific people who qualified as “Fathers” and whose teaching greatly influenced the growth of Christianity. This includes bishops from both the Western and Eastern churches. The following Fathers are recognized as the “Great Church Fathers” or the original “Doctors of the Church.”

Ambrose (340–397), Jerome (347–420), Augustine (354–430) and Pope Saint Gregory the Great (540–604)Basil the Great (329–379), Athanasius (296–373), Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389) and John Chrysostom (347–407)

Four of these Fathers are depicted in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and are seen carrying the great Chair of St. Peter in the apse of the church.

Besides these eight Fathers, there are many other influential spiritual figures of the early Church. According to Catholic Answers, there are specific requirements that qualify an individual as a “Church Father.”

The Church demands four major characteristics to be exhibited in the life and works of an early Church leader if he is to be considered a Father of the Church. These are antiquity, meaning that he lived before the eighth century (the death of St. John Damascene [cir. A.D. 750] is generally regarded as the close of the age of the Fathers); doctrinal orthodoxy; personal sanctity; and approval by the Church.

For many Christians these Fathers of the Church have been extremely influential on a personal level. By reading their writings an individual gains a unique insight into the early followers of Christianity. In particular, their writings confirm what the Church has always taught and continues to teach today. The Fathers stand as foundational pillars who always point back to Jesus Christ and show with their writings and example what it means to be a Christian.


Read more:
What are Doctors of the Church?


Read more:
Who were the Desert Fathers and why do they matter?

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