General Introduction - Editor's Notes

Additional Texts - Volume I. Additional Texts

Early Church Fathers (Serie IV)

Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts
General Introduction

Everyone interested in the study of the Fathers of the Christian Church must be aware of the 39 volume set of the fathers, issued by T. & T. Clark of Edinburgh in the late 19th century and continually in print ever since.  These fall into three parts: The Ante-Nicene Fathers, and two series of Select Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.  It has been the achievement of Harry Plantinga and his Christian Classics Ethereal Library to transcribe these and make them available online freely for us all.  

The original series of Ante-Nicene Fathers came out by subscription in a different order as the Ante-Nicene Library, which was complete by 1870.  Since that time a considerable number of texts have been published in English translation.  Some were unknown to the compilers of that series.  Some had just been published and so were then in copyright.  Some translations were made later, often published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).

Still others were perhaps considered too obscure to be commercially viable.  The Texts and Translations Society in particular published many texts in Syriac with an English translation, up until around 1921.  Most of these derived from a collection purchased in 1842 in the Nitrian desert in Egypt by Archdeacon Tattam and now in the British Library.

This further collection of texts is intended to fill in some of the gaps left by the Edinburgh series.  All of them are now out of copyright in the United States.  Many are hard to find even in a good research library.  Where a library does possess a copy, it is not infrequently classified as a 'rare' book.  This status is almost the stamp of death for a book.  Photocopies will not be permitted, borrowing unthinkable, so only whatever can be read in a visit will be accessible to the rare visitor.  For practical purposes, the text becomes inaccessible except to the silent ceaseless agents of biological decay.

It is hoped to locate other out-of-copyright English translations and place these online in this collection also.  There seems no good reason why every patristic text ever translated into English should not go online, provided it is out of copyright.  I would be glad to hear of any unknown to me.

Texts are listed in chronological order.

In some cases I have added an additional preface where I thought it appropriate.   These I place also in the public domain, in order to avoid a pointless tangle of differing copyright permissions.  Anyone may do anything they wish with any of this material, whether for private, educational or commercial purposes.  I hope that copies will appear on other sites on the internet, and on CDROM.  The best way to preserve material is to ensure it exists in many copies.

It has not been possible for me to transcribe characters in Syriac and Ethiopic, since I lack any knowledge of these scripts and languages.  I have omitted such material reluctantly.  If any reader feels the loss of these philological notes keenly, and would like to remedy the situation, I should be glad to hear from them.  The original page numbers are indicated in the text.  Footnotes have generally been renumbered and placed at the end, because of the limitations of HTML formatting, but it should always be possible to work out the number and page number of the note in the original.  

31st October 2002


Some may ask what for whom this collection is intended, and what spiritual value this literature has.  These are fair questions, and I will do my best to answer them.

Firstly, little of this literature has spiritual value, in my opinion.  The majority of the authors wrote after the First Council of Nicaea in 325, and did so within the context of the late empire, in which the church was almost a department of state.  Even at the beginning of the fouth century, Eusebius records in his Historia Ecclesiastica how many clergy deserved the persecution which God then permitted to occur.  Constantine made this much worse by assigning all sorts of legal privileges to the clergy.  This inevitably created a situation in which worldly advantage accrued to those who obtained orders; and a bishopric became a base for personal power to the ambitious.  The Eastern Roman Empire was an absolute despotism, in which no political dissent was tolerated.  However, a certain amount of religious dissent was tolerated.  It comes as no surprise whatever, then, to find that every personal or regional rivalry manifested itself in some form of theological innovation or definition.  The literature on these pages records the bitter, hateful infighting that followed.  In this process, Christ seems to have been no more than a name, and the theological terms just the badges of factions, or just words to express approval or hatred.  The insane rivalries following the Council of Chalcedon in 451 are copiously documented in the Ecclesiastical Histories in this collection, and make frustrating reading.  All of them are a testimony, not to the power of God to redeem mankind, but to the power of mankind to deprave itself.  

The value of this literature is elsewhere.  A great deal of mythology circulates about the events of these years, and is sometimes used to concoct libels on the Christians.  It is the task of some of those engaged in apologetics to look up the slanders and obtain the facts.  A collection of the primary data such as this is of immediate service in this task.   It is also interesting of itself, and those interested in finding out the facts of history for themselves will find it useful to have this data onhand. 

Some will ask whether delving into this is not a distraction from the urgent task of helping our fellow man to escape from his sins and thus from the reward of them, death and hell.  This is a proper question for anyone to ask, for life is full of distractions!   Each of us must ask Christ this question, and do what he commands.  What follows is my own answer.

All of us would accept that learning, of itself, is a good thing. Only if preferred to Christ, or used as an excuse to avoid what he commands, does it become less than good.  Even in World War 2, study did not cease in our universities, and nor should it in our churches.  It must be secondary to evangelism, of course, but it too can be a work of love in the service of others.

Some Christians will be led by God and their natural inclination to study this area of history, and of church history.  Many will want to dabble occasionally, and come in search of facts.  This collection will help. 

It is important for us not to become distracted or puffed-up by book-learning, and to remain humble and aware that all of us are only forgiven sinners.  Many very great scholars have been very little men.  Many warm believers have forgotten the face of the Lord who saved them while attempting to write a definitive monograph on some minutia.  Nevertheless, abusus non tollit usum -- we do not rule out the right use of something just because it can be abused.  The right approach for all of us is not less time spent in study, but more time spent in prayer.  May I hope also that sometimes you will remember me in your prayers.

7th March 2003

Early Church Fathers (Additional Texts)