An Open Notebook

Church Literature

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Though this page perpetually remains in a state of development, it serves as an attempt to provide an accessible window to the writings of Christians in the past.

And, although this gateway focuses on the large theological and historical works, spread amongst each section eventually will be eclectic works by those typically underrepresented—namely women-writers and other documents of interest when available.

Also, as a historical note, I have made it a point to emphasize the Syriac Church alongside traditional Western-Eastern tellings of Church History, and in addition to the Coptic/Ethiopic traditions.

Consequently in order to do this best, all books are sorted by types before chronology, although preserved when possible. Generally, the categories ‘bleed’ into each other by date, and do not follow in perfect succession.

1. Apostolic-Fathers (100-200 A.D.)

The following books are named such for the ‘apostolic deposit of faith’—true, Triune Christianity. It’s a reading list profitable for those simply interested in early Christianity, but also new converts, to see what the first churches thought about various topics, from baptism to infanticide (not good, by the way).

At least a couple-hundred books related to Christianity were written after the New Testament that we still have (for instance, the website named Early Christian Writings links to about two-hundred or so of them). Below are some of the best written by whom we call the ‘Apostolic Fathers’ – these are substantive, wholesome books, even though we do not ascribe infallibility nor inerrancy to them. 

Much of the time, these texts are simply citing Scripture – if you read these in order, you will the Didache notice simply builds upon what Christians know as 1 John and the Gospel of Matthew – Clement cites plenty of texts, and sounds almost exactly the same as the Letter to the Hebrews at points.

Even though we know their books aren’t Scripture, they do provide critical insight into how first-century Christians, those closest to the Apostles actually thought, understood, and built upon, the Gospel message. As an example, Athanasius mentions both Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas as profitable books to read, but as non-canonical, in Festal Letter 39 – written around 367 A.D (in which he traces out the other book’s consensusly canonical).

More-or-less by difficulty, how easy-to-hard they are read, are the apostolic fathers below. All dates are approximate.

  1. Didache (150 A.D.)
  2. The Epistle to Diognetus (200 A.D.)
  3. 1 Clement (95 A.D.)
  4. 2 Clement (150 A.D.)
  5. The Seven Ignatian Epistles (110 A.D.) 
  6. Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians (130 A.D.)
  7. The Martyrdom of Polycarp (Set 140 A.D.)
  8. The Epistle of Barnabas (130 A.D.)
  9. The Shepherd of Hermas (130 A.D.)
  10. Fragments of Papias & Quadratus (ca. 100 A.D.)

2a. Early Writers (Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Tatian, 150-250 A.D.) 

Perpetua and her diary are among the best known works of early women writers; but, for civil and social reasons, men typically wrote and preserved what we know of the early faith. Origen is rumored to have employed up to twenty women scribes, to publish his works, but it’s difficult to know how common the practice was.

Thus, as follows are works of four men: Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, his student Tatian, and Tertullian, each contributing to the Christian witness from various walks of life (Pastor, Philosopher, Apologist, and Lawyer). Among them, they early contributions to the three early branches of Christianity: Greek, Latin, and Syriac

  1. The Writings of Ireneaus (Pastor, 140-202 A.D.)
  2. The Writings of Justin Martyr (Philosopher, 100-165 A.D.)
  3. The Writings of Tertullian (Lawyer, 155-240 A.D.) — More Than 30.
  4. The Writings of Tatian the Syrian (A Student of Justin, 120-180 A.D.)
    1. Diatesseron (Harmony of the Four Gospels)
    2. Address to the Greeks

2b. Eclectic Works

Many of the following texts were written by women.

3a. Alexandrian School (150-400 A.D.)

As known to many, after the early writer, orthodox, Triune Christianity contained two poles of thought as to how to read the Bible and to appropriate it wisely. These could be called the school of Antioch (where the name ‘Christian’ was born, according to Acts) and Alexandria, in Egypt.

The Antiochan school stressed matters pertaining to Christ’s humanity, while Alexandrians emphasized Jesus’ deity. The Alexandrian authors are as follows:

  • Athenagoras (133-190 A.D.)
  • Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.)
  • Origen of Alexandria (184–253 A.D.)
  • Dionysius the Great (d. 268 A.D.)
  • Gregory Thaumaturgus (213-270 A.D.)
  • Didymus the Blind (313-398 A.D.)

3b. Antiochan School (150-450 A.D.)

  • Theophilus of Antioch (d. 185)
  • John Chrysostom (349-407)
  • Diodore of Tarsus (d. 390)
  • Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428)
  • Theodoret of Cyrrhus (d. 457)

3c. Edessan School 

In addition to the two schools, a third Syriac school, which waved between Edessa and Nisibis, appeared as the church grew farther and farther east, towards China by 635 AD.

  • Mara bar Serapiom
  • Bardasian
  • Aphrahat
  • Ephrem the Syrian

4a. Early Greek Fathers

  • Athanasius of Alexandria 
  • Basil of Caesarea 
  • Gregory Nazianzus 
  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Eusebius of Caesarea 
  • Maximus the Confessor
  • John of Damascus 

4b. Early Latin Fathers

  • Cyprian of Carthage
  • Hilary of Poitiers
  • Ambrose of Milan
  • Augustine of Hippo
  • Jerome
  • Gregory the Great
  • Isodore of Seville

4c. Early Syriac Fathers

  • Isaac of Antioch 
  • Jacob of Serugh
  • Philoxenus of Mabbug
  • Paul of Edessa
  • Babai the Great
  • Isaac of Nineveh
  • Jacob of Edessa

5a. Rules & Acetics (Nuns,  Monks, and Knights)

  • Sayings of the Desert Fathers
  • The Lives of the Desert Fathers
  • Life of St. Anthony 
  • Life of Mary of Egypt
  • Rule of Pacomius
  • Benedict’s Rule
  • Rule of Columbanus
  • Latin Rule for Knights 

5b. Early Mediævel  

  • The Wars of Justianian (And Theodora)
  • Secret History — Procopius
  • The Venerable Bede
  • Boethius
  • Pseudo-Dionysios

5c. Mediævel Women Writers

  • Angela of Folino
  • Mechthild of Magdeburg
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Hildegard von Bingen
  • Catherine of Sienna
  • Teresa of Avilla
  • Catherine of Genoa

6a. Four Great Mediævel Allegories

  • Le Roman de la Rose. 
  • The Divine Comedy. 
  • Piers Plowman
  • Pearl

6b. Mediævel Theology and Devotion

  • Anselm 
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Bernard of Clairveaux
  • Hildegaard von Bingen
  • Thomas á Kempis
  • Peter Lombard
  • Boneventure
  • William Occam

6c. Mediævel Literature

  • Sir Gawain & The Green Knight (Arthur Stories)
  • The Golden Legend
  • Margery Kempe
  • Canterbury Tales
  • Armes Prydein

Miscellaneous

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