- The name used to designate the ancient writers of the Church. Their writings are of the greatest value as bearing witness to the N. T. Scriptures and their interpretation, and also as showing forth the belief and usage of the Church in the earliest years of its history. (See TRADITIONS, also UNDIVIDED CHURCH.) The term "Fathers" is generally confined to the writers of the first five or six hundred years of the Christian Era. They are usually grouped together according to the period in which they lived, e.g., The Apostolic Fathers are those who lived nearest to the time, and to some extent contemporary with the Apostles, viz. St. Barnabas, St. Clement, St. Ignatius, Hermas and St. Polycarp. Another class is called the Ante Nicene Fathers, or those who lived between the date of St. Polycarp, A.D. 167, and the date of the Nicene Council, A.D. 325, such as Justin Martyr, St. Irenseus, Clemens Alexandrinus, Tertullian, Origen, St. Cyprian. A third class dates from the Nicene Council, such as St. Athanasius; Eusebius, the Church Historian; St. Cyril of Jerusalem; St. Hilary of Poicters; St. Basil, the Great; St. Gregory of Nyssa; St. Gregory Nazianzen; St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Leo, who is commonly regarded as the last of the Fathers, although St. Gregory of Rome is placed in the List as well as a few later writers. The above is not a complete list, only a few of the principal Fathers having been mentioned. It is pointed out in Milman's "Latin Christianity" that "The Eastern and the Western Church have each four authors of note, whom they recognize as Fathers par excellence. Those of the Eastern Church are St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Chrysostom and St. Gregory Nazianzen. Those of the Western Church are St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and St. Gregory of Rome, -- the Fathers respectively of her monastic system, of her sacerdotal authority, of her scientific Theology and of her popular religion."
American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia. — New York, Thomas Whittaker. William James Miller, M.A., B.D.. 1901.
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