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Does anyone know for sure how many Church Fathers have been so declared by the Catholic Church (assuming that the last one is St. John Damascene); and where I may find a reliable list of them? Thank you.

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  • 2
    When you reference the two contradictory sites, what are they?
    – Luke Hill
    Oct 4, 2023 at 23:55
  • 1
    @LukeHill the internet
    – depperm
    Oct 6, 2023 at 10:23

3 Answers 3

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How many Fathers of the Catholic Church are there; and where to find a reliable list?

Before going on with an answer, I would like to post a modern definition as to what a Church Father is.

Fathers of the Church

Saintly writers of the early centuries whom the Church recognizes as her special witnesses of the faith. Antiquity, orthodoxy, sanctity, and approval by the Church are their four main prerogatives. They are commonly divided into the Greek and Latin Fathers. It is now generally held that the last of the Western Fathers (Latin) closed with St. Isidore of Seville (560-636), and the last of the Eastern Fathers (Greek) was St. John Damascene (675-749).

The above definition of a Church Father is probably the most common definition used by Catholics in order to determine who is a Church Father. But what constitutes a Church Father and any possible list thereof is somewhat more complex. The Church in herself has not put forth a definitive list of Church Fathers although the Catholic Encyclopedia has created a list of 65 person persons!

If we look at the main article on the subject on what constitutes a Father of the Church, we can notice that that definition actually varies somewhat.

The reply is a definition of "Fathers of the Church" given with all St. Vincent's inimitable accuracy: "Inter se majorem consulat interrogetque sententias, eorum dumtaxat qui, diversis licet temporibus et locis, in unius tamen ecclesiae Catholicae communione et fide permanentes, magistri probabiles exstiterunt; et quicquid non unus aut duo tantum, sed omnes pariter uno eodemque consensu aperte, frequenter, perseveranter tenuisse, scripsisse, docuisse cognoverit, id sibi quoque intelligat absque ulla dubitatione credendum" (iii, 8). This unambiguous sentence defines for us what is the right way of appealing to the Fathers, and the italicized words perfectly explain what is a "Father": "Those alone who, though in diverse times and places, yet persevering in time, communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, have been approved teachers."

The same result is obtained by modern theologians, in their definitions; e.g. Fessler thus defines what constitutes a "Father":

  1. orthodox doctrine and learning;

  2. holiness of life;

  3. (at the present day) a certain antiquity.

The criteria by which we judge whether a writer is a "Father" or not are:

  1. citation by a general council, or

  2. in public Acts of popes addressed to the Church or concerning Faith;

  3. encomium in the Roman Martyrology as "sanctitate et doctrina insignis";

  4. public reading in Churches in early centuries;

  5. citations, with praise, as an authority as to the Faith by some of the more celebrated Fathers.

Early authors, though belonging to the Church, who fail to reach this standard are simply ecclesiastical writers ("Patrologia", ed. Jungmann, ch. i, #11). On the other hand, where the appeal is not to the authority of the writer, but his testimony is merely required to the belief of his time, one writer is as good as another, and if a Father is cited for this purpose, it is not as a Father that he is cited, but merely as a witness to facts well known to him. For the history of dogma, therefore, the works of ecclesiastical writers who are not only not approved, but even heretical, are often just as valuable as those of the Fathers. On the other hand, the witness of one Father is occasionally of great weight for doctrine when taken singly, if he is teaching a subject on which he is recognized by the Church as an especial authority, e.g., St. Athanasius on the Divinity of the Son, St. Augustine on the Holy Trinity, etc.

In the last years of the fifth century a famous document, attributed to Popes Gelasius and Hormisdas, adds to decrees of St. Damasus of 382 a list of books which are approved, and another of those disapproved. In its present form the list of approved Fathers comprises Cyprian, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Theophilus, Hilary, Cyril of Alexandria (wanting in one manuscript), Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Prosper, Leo ("every iota" of the tome to Flavian is to be accepted under anathema), and "also the treatises of all orthodox Fathers, who deviated in nothing from the fellowship of the holy Roman Church, and were not separated from her faith and preaching, but were participators through the grace of God until the end of their life in her communion; also the decretal letters, which most blessed popes have given at various times when consulted by various Fathers, are to be received with veneration". Orosius, Sedulius, and Juvencus are praised.

Rufinus and Origen are rejected. Eusebius's "History" and "Chronicle" are not to be condemned altogether, though in another part of the list they appear as "apocrypha" with Tertullian, Lactantius, Africanus, Commodian, Clement of Alexandria, Arnobius, Cassian, Victorinus of Pettau, Faustus, and the works of heretics, and forged Scriptural documents.

The later Fathers constantly used the writings of the earlier. For instance, St. Caesarius of Arles drew freely on St. Augustine's sermons, and embodied them in collections of his own; St. Gregory the Great has largely founded himself on St. Augustine; St. Isidore rests upon all his predecessors; St. John Damascene's great work is a synthesis of patristic theology. St. Bede's sermons are a cento from the greater Fathers. Eugippius made a selection from St. Augustine's writings, which had an immense vogue. Cassiodorus made a collection of select commentaries by various writers on all the books of Holy Scripture. St. Benedict especially recommended patristic study, and his sons have observed his advice: "Ad perfectionem conversationis qui festinat, sunt doctrinae sanctorum Patrum, quarum observatio perducat hominem ad celsitudinem perfectionis . . . quis liber sanctorum catholicorum Patrum hoc non resonat, ut recto cursu perveniamus ad creatorem nostrum?" (Sanet Regula, lxxiii). Florilegia and catenae became common from the fifth century onwards. They are mostly anonymous, but those in the East which go under the name Œcumenius are well known. Most famous of all throughout the Middle Ages was the "Glossa ordinaria" attributed to Walafrid Strabo. The "Catena aurea" of St. Thomas Aquinas is still in use. (See CATENAE, and the valuable matter collected by Turner in Hastings, Dict. of the Bible, V, 521.)

Fathers of the Church

In order to demonstrate that the Church has not promulgated an official list of Church Fathers, I will employ one example only. The Catholic Culture site places St. Benedict on the list of Latin Church Fathers whereas the Catholic Encyclopedia does not.

Father Joe Buhagiar Bianco, SJ drew up a list of all the Church Fathers in 2016. He extended the traditional ending-date for the Church Fathers, for which he has the privilege to provide his own interpretation, as a theological point.

Even Wikipedia has a list of Church Fathers which I am noting here simply as non-Catholic reference, which may be useful to someone.

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  • +1 Thank you for your answer. I apologize for the delay in my response as my SE accounts were hacked last February and identity stolen. It took a fairly long time to get things restored. As for your answer, would the list given by Catholic Culture (i.e., the Modern Catholic Dictionary) constitute an "official" list up to the time that Fr. John Hardon composed it?
    – DDS
    Mar 27 at 21:18
  • @DDS The Church does not have an official list. But Fr Hardon's works were studied in the seminary when I was there. He was an extremely Orthodox Catholic theologian and his works have never been in question.
    – Ken Graham
    Mar 27 at 23:26
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I have come up with (if I count them correctly), 65 Fathers of the Church according to Catholic Encyclopedia: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/

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  • +1 In light of this post, I shall edit my question.
    – DDS
    Oct 6, 2023 at 21:51
  • @ProsperdesGarets Likewise, have I edited the answer.
    – DDS
    Oct 6, 2023 at 21:57
  • the above list reflects Church Fathers whose writing were extensive enough to have been included when this encyclopedia was compiled more than 100 years ago. I think there are many more... checking now. – Dan Fefferman Oct 6, 2023 at 22:53
  • That's not the Old Catholic Encyclopedia, that's another section of NewAdvent.org which lists the extant writings of the fathers of the church as best it can. NewAdvent.org is broken up into four sections (Bible, Fathers, Summa and Encyclopedia)
    – Peter Turner
    Mar 5 at 14:31
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No definitive list of Church Fathers has been published by the Catholic Church. While only about 65 Church Fathers were listed in the Catholic Encyclopedia's collection more than a century ago the actual number appears to be quite a bit larger.

This List Of All the Fathers Catholic Church was compiled by Father Joe Buhagiar Bianco, a Jesuit scholar in 2016. Please note that he includes a few who lived after John of Damascus, such as Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas. Following recent ecumenical trends in Catholicism, he also includes older Eastern Fathers not included in the Catholic Encyclopedia's collection.

1. The 5 Apostolic Fathers : 1st Century
Clement, Bishop of Rome (30-100)
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (30-107)
Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (69-155)
Barnabas (priest?) (between 70 and 132)
Mathetes, Epistle to Diognetus

2. The Post-apostolic Fathers : 2nd & 3rd Centuries
Justin, (Priest) Martyr (100-165)
Hegesippus, (110-180)
Aristides the Athenian (2nd Century)
Marcus Minucius Felix (wrote in Latin after 150)
Melito, Bishop of Sardis (died circa 180)
Anonymous:Letter to Diognetus (end of 2nd Century)
Tatien the Syrian, a disciple of Justin (born 110/120 )
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (120-200)
Athenagoras of Athens (circa 133-190)
Clement, Bishop of Alexandria (150-215)
Hippolytus, priest of Rome (170-235)
Theophilus, Patriarch of Antioch ( wrote c. 180-185)
Origen, priest, (184/4 , 253-254)

3. The Christian Faith is officially recognised in the Empire
The Golden Age – The 4th to 8th Centuries
Greek Fathers (those who wrote in Greek) :

Gregory Thaumaturgus, Bishop of Caesarea (died 270)
Lucian of Antioch, priest & martyr (c.240-312)
Alexander, Bishop (Pope) of Alexandia (died 326/8)
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, (260/5-339/40)
Athanasius, Bishop (Pope) of Alexandia (298-374)
Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (ca. 313-386)
Apollinaris, Bishop of Laodicea (Syria) (died 390)
Didymus the Blind (Egyptian theologian) (313-398)
Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis (Egypt) from (330-360)
Basil, Bishop of Caesarea (329-379)
Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus (330-390)
Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa (332-394) ( brother of Basil)
Diodorus, Bishop of Tarsus, (died 390)
Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (Cyprus) (310/320-403)
John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (349-407)
Asterius, Bishop of Amasea (Turkey) (c. 350-410)
Severian, Bishop of Gabala, (before 380-before 425)
Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia (350-428)
Cyril, Bishop (Pope) of Alexandria (376-444)
Cynesius of Cyrene, Bishop of Ptolemais (N.Africa)
Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus (c. 393-458/66)
Hesychius, priest of Jerusalem (died 443)
Isidore, Bishop of Pelusium (Egypt) (died c.450)
Leontius of Jerusalem, theologian (485-543)
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, (6th Century)
Romanos the Melodist, deacon, (6th Century)
Sophronius, Bishop of Jerusalem (c. 560-638)
Maximus the Confessor, Monk (580-662)
Anastasius of Sinai (Sinaita) Abbot of St Catherine’s (d. after 700)
John Climacus, monk at St Catherine’s (Sinai) (7th Century)
John of Damascus, priest and Abbot (675/6 – 749)
Also called the last of the Greek Fathers

4. Latin Fathers (those who wrote in Latin) :
The 4th to 8th Centuries

Tertullian (c 155 – c 225) priest of North Africa (probably Carthage)
Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (died in 258)
Arnobius of Sicca (in Tunisia) Lay apologist (died in 330)
Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (315-367)
Lucifer, Bishop of Cagliari (died 370/1)
Eusebius, Bishop of Vercelli (236-371)
Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (339-397)
Optatus, Bishop of Milevis (N. Africa) (4th Century)
Jerome, Priest, (347-420)
Augustin, Bishop of Hippo (354-430)
Paulinus, Bishop of Nola (354-431_)
Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna (380-450)
Prosper of Aquitane, layman, (390=455)
Julianus Pomerius, priest (5th Century)
Leo the Great, Bishop (Pope) of Rome (400-461)
Gennadius, priest of Marseilles (died 496)
Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspe (Tunisia) (462/67-527/33)
Caesarius, Bishop of Arles (France) (died in 542)
Gregory the Great, Bishop (Pope) of Rome (540-605)
Isidore, Bishop of Seville (c. 560-636)
Also called the last of the Latin Fathers

5. Syriac Fathers (those who wrote in Syriac) :
Ephrem the Syrian , Deacon (306-373)
Aphraates, Monk (c. 320-345)
Jacob, Bishop of Serugh (451-521)
Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabbug (or Hierapolis) (6th Century)
Isaac , Bishop of Nineveh and hermit (613-700)

6. Fathers of the Desert (Hermits/Monks)
Anthony, the Great Father of all Monks (251-356)
Pachomius, Founder of Christian Monasticism (292-348)
Macarius of Egypt, (300-391)
Macarius of Alexandria (died 395)
Evagrius Ponticus, deacon (345-399)
Arsenius the Great (deacon/hermit) (350/4-445)
Nilus of Sinai (died 430)
Vincent of Lerins (died 445)
Theodore the Studite, Abbot (759-826)
Athanasius the Athonite, Abbot (920-1003)
Symeon, the New Theologian, Monk (949-1022)
Gregory Palamas, Monk (1296-1359)

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  • Thank you for your answer; but I'm somewhat skeptical about the FOF site you post. Is it Catholic? Nothing I could see indicates such. Also, if you ignore St. Bernard, the last Church Father is traditionally St. John Damscene. Hence, I see no reason to think that information was lacking to New Advent to compose a fairly accurate list. Also, the SJ priest who compiled the list, Father Joe Buhagiar Bianco, it seems he just came up with a list to his liking---no authentic sources to substantiate why his list exceeds in length the one given in another answer. As I said, thank you for your post.
    – DDS
    Oct 8, 2023 at 1:41

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