The Church Fathers
The Post-Nicene Fathers
Ambrose (340-397) - Ambrose was the son of a Roman prefect, and was born in Treves, Gaul. He was educated at Rome in the legal field like his father, and in 370 he was appointed consular prefect for Upper Italy, at which time he moved to Milan. Four years later, the bishop of the city died, causing a fight between the Arian and orthodox parties of the city. As magistrate, Ambrose was there to maintain peace, and the people turned to him and elected him to the position. At this time Ambrose was still a catechumen, and was not at first willing to serve in such a capacity, but gave in when his election was ratified by emperor Valentinian. Ambrose was baptized and was consecrated a Bishop.
After becoming a bishop, Ambrose devoted his time to the study of Scripture and to other duties of a bishop. He became known for his defense of the orthodox faith and for his firm stand on Scripture against both paganism and the Arian heresy which was so prevalent during his years. He was also firm in his use of church discipline toward those who were unrepentant, even unafraid to rebuke the emperor when necessary.
His writings consist mostly of sermons, and are on all subjects: dogmatic, controversial, exegetical, and ascetic. Especially near the end of his life he emphasized celibacy, voluntary poverty, and even the martyr’s death. He also did quite a bit of work in the development of church music, writing hymns and liturgies for his congregation in Milan. Ambrose introduced the practice of antiphonal chanting, and began the work of organizing the use of music in the church. Three of his hymns can be found in our hymnal: 95 - Savior of the Nations, Come; 550 - O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright; and 564 - O Trinity, Most Blessed Light. A study of these hymns will show an emphasis on the work of the Trinity (compare the last verse of each hymn), an emphasis on the true deity and humanity of Jesus, as well as on the work of the Holy Spirit.
Jerome (345-420) - Jerome was born of Christian parents and was educated in rhetoric and philosophy in Rome. Later in his life he devoted his life to God, studying in Constantinople and Rome and also teaching. Jerome’s health was poor, and at about 35 years of age he began to lose his sight. Much of Jerome’s work was not written by his own hand, but was dictated to someone else.
His works include some biographies on the lives of several hermits, in which he advocated that kind of life. He wrote polemical writings against both individuals and groups (Luciferians, Helvidius, Jovinian, Rufinus, Vigilantius, and the Pelagians). He wrote commentaries on all the Old Testament prophets, Ecclesiastes and four of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. He also translated the works of previous Church Fathers like Eusebius and Origen into Latin. But he is best known for his translation of the whole Bible into Latin, now known as the Vulgate. This was the Bible used in the Middle Ages, and in 1546 the Council of Trent declared that it was the only true version, and that this version alone was to be printed.
John Chrysostom (347-407) - Born in Antioch, Syria, Chrysostom also began his education in rhetoric and philosophy, and went into law. But he was discouraged by the many temptations of such a secular profession in a corrupt society, and through the encouragement of his mother and others he turned to the Scriptures. When he was 20 he entered the class of catechumens, and after the usual three years of instruction was baptized. Putting off baptism until later in life was common at this time, largely due to a false view that early baptism risked the forfeiture of baptismal grace. Chrysostom often criticizes that custom in his writings.
After his baptism Chrysostom turned to the ascetic life, desiring to separate himself from the temptations of the world. During these years he ate only a little, only plain food, slept on the bare floor, and prayed often. When one of his friends left the ascetic life to marry, Chrysostom wrote two letters condemning him for breaking his monastic vows, and charged him with apostasy from the faith. Much of the same can be found in his other writings on celibacy. In his book, On the Priesthood, Chrysostom describes the duties of the ministry. While this is probably the best known work of Chrysostom, and emphasizes the tremendous responsibility of the ministry, it also has some serious Scriptural errors which are still common practices in the Roman Catholic church today (prayers for the dead, etc.).
In 381, Chrysostom was forced to return to Antioch because of his health, and there was ordained a presbyter where he served for twelve years. Chrysostom is best remembered for his many sermons, and his great oration style, for which he has been called “the Golden Mouth.” In one of his sermons he wrote, “So great is the depravity of the times, that if a stranger were to compare the precepts of the gospel with the actual practice of society, he would infer that men were not the disciples, but the enemies of Christ.” He was later elected bishop of Constantinople, where he continued speaking out against the worldliness of the people. While the people loved to hear him preach, his attacks against immorality also brought him many enemies. He was deposed from his position in Constantinople in 403 by the empress Eudoxia and died in banishment not many years later.
Augustine (354-430) - Augustine was born in Tagaste, North Africa to a heathen father and Christian mother. As a young child he learned about the Christian faith, but was sent by his father to school in Madaura and Carthage where he gave in to the many worldly pleasures that surrounded him. After finishing school, he became a teacher of rhetoric in Carthage, and in 385 was sent to Milan, where he was greatly influenced by Ambrose who was bishop in Milan at the time. Under the guidance of Ambrose and through the study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the Holy Spirit brought about his conversion. After his baptism he sold all he had, gave it to the poor, and devoted his life to the service of Christ.
He returned to Africa where he spent several years in study, until he was chosen as presbyter of the city of Hippo Regius. Three years later he was elected as bishop in that same city. The city of Hippo was relatively small and unimportant, yet because of the great influence of Augustine it became the center of Western Christianity during this time. Some of his works include: Confessions; Of Grace and Free Will; The City of God; and a treatise on catechizing.
At the Council at Nicea in 325 and the Council at Constantinople in 381 the church had fought against the heresy of Arianism which denied the deity of Christ. Some of these men continued in the fight against Arianism, but also had to struggle against other heresies. Here are some others which were common:
Nestorianism made a distinction between the two natures of Jesus, separating the two persons. Christ was not born, only the man Jesus; Mary was not to be called the mother of God, since only to the human Jesus could birth, suffering and death be ascribed. This heresy was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Cyril, bishop of Alexandria was one of the greatest opponents of Nestorius.
Monophysitism claimed that Christ had only one nature, that of God, and that Christ was so completely divine that he didn’t have a real body, but only appeared as a man. The Council at Chalcedon in 451, and the Council at Constantinople in 553 both rejected this teaching.
Donatism originated in Carthage, North Africa in the early fourth century. It taught that the Sacraments were invalid if administered by a person deserving of excommunication, making the Sacraments dependent on the worthiness of the minister. Augustine, the leader of the North African church at the time condemned the Donatists, and during his life brought many of them back into the church. Donatisim was outlawed at a local conference in 411.
Pelagianism centered on the question: “How is a man saved?” Pelagius said that man is the chief contributor in conversion. He denied original sin, saying that sin was purely a matter of will; he taught that it was possible for man to live an entirely sinless life; and he declared infant baptism useless, since newborn children are without sin. Again it was Augustine who was the great opponent of Pelagius. Augustine taught that the image of God given to Adam at creation was lost in the fall, and that we all have original sin which we have inherited from our parents; because of the fall, our salvation is due only to the grace of God; infant baptism is necessary because infants are sinful; and our salvation rests only upon God’s grace and even faith is a work of God’s Grace. Pelagianism was condemned by the Council at Ephesus in 431.
Semi-Pelagianism tried to find ground between Pelagius and Augustine, saying that the human will and God’s divine will were both factors in salvation. This heresy is still very common today.
Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.
If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew