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I read somewhere in passing that the Orthodox church never set a limit for who can be a church father, and it is therefore possible for someone today to be a church father, or even someone in the future.

Is it the same case in Catholicism? If not, then who was considered the last church father? (What year of history is the cut-off for being considered a church father?)

I'm interested because as I understand it, interpretation of scripture/tradition is supposed to be done "through the eyes of the church fathers". However if the list of church fathers is still expanding even today then it seems to me that there is the potential for new and unique interpretations to become mainstream.

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  • "if the list of church fathers is still expanding even today there is the potential for new and unique interpretations to become mainstream" Biblical exegesis in Catholicism has changed radically in the last 70 years (say, since Afflante Spiritu) . The authority of the Church Fathers is real, but also nuanced. – leonbloy Jan 23 '17 at 12:42
  • There is no dogmatic definition of what a "Church Father" is in Eastern Orthodoxy, so the term is open to theologoumena (theological opinions). If we consider that the Church was "born" on Pentecost, then it sounds preposterous under chronological time for a latter day elder to be considered a "Church Father". However, the Orthodox Church has a pleasantly ambiguous notion of time (sort of like Greece) and operates on chiral time instead of chronological time. – guest37 Mar 6 '17 at 5:07
  • There are births and rebirths of the Church within new societal "norms" all the time, hence perhaps why respected latter day saints are sometimes called Church Fathers. Much of modern Orthodoxy in the Russian tradition looks, for example, to Theophan the Recluse and Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov of the late 19th century as Church "Fathers". They are not formulating any new doctrine, but were able to pass on the Apostolic tradition in a way that made it much more understandable to people in the 20th (and now 21st) century. – guest37 Mar 6 '17 at 5:09
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There isn't really a bright line distinction, but John of Damascus (died ~750) is often cited as the last one. For example, Catholic.com:

the death of St. John Damascene [cir. A.D. 750] is generally regarded as the close of the age of the Fathers

The Catholic encyclopedia takes a somewhat nuanced approach, allowing for the suggestion of some later medieval authors, but ultimately prefers John as the last:

"The Fathers" must undoubtedly include, in the West, St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), and in the East, St. John Damascene (d. about 754).

St. John of Damascus (c. 750) closes the patristic period with his polemics against heresies, his exegetical and ascetical writings, his beautiful hymns, and above all his "Fountain of Wisdom", which is a compendium of patristic theology and a kind of anticipation of scholasticism. [emphasis added]

It's perhaps worth noting that while the title of "Father" is no longer applied, the Catholic Church continues to recognize important contributors to theology/doctrine, calling them "Doctors of the Church." The most recent of these, Thérèse of Lisieux, died in 1897.

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  • I've heard elsewhere that it ends with St. Augustine.... Now to go find that reference. – Peter Turner Jan 23 '17 at 13:31
  • @PeterTurner He's likely cited by some as the last early church father. – Nathaniel is protesting Jan 23 '17 at 13:49

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