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History of Philosophy
Patristic Philosophy
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


From the account given of pre-Christian systems of speculation it should be evident that philosophy, like every other department of human thought and human activity, is continuous in its growth. In philosophical speculation there is no possibility of breaking completely with the past, and so the philosophy of the first Christian writers was connected in its origin with the systems that preceded it. These writers took whatever truth the older systems contained and made it part of their own theory of reality, rejecting whatever contradicted the teachings of faith or whatever could not bear the light of reason reenforced by the light of revelation. From the beginning, however, the rationalizing spirit of which mention has been made, began to assert itself in a tendency on the part of some Christian writers to subordinate revelation to the teachings of pagan philosophy. It was from this tendency that the heretical systems sprang. At the same time, the religious spirit, working in the minds of the orthodox exponents of the teachings of Christianity, led them to place high above all human speculation the authority of Christ and His Church, although they did not reject the philosophy of the pagan world, but made use of it in their expositions of revealed truth. Writers of this class are the true philosophers of the early Christian era. On account of the influence which they exerted on succeeding generations, they are styled the Fathers, or spiritual progenitors of the Church's theology and philosophy. The orthodox Patristic philosophers are to be subdivided according as they undertook merely to defend Christianity against the misconceptions and calumnies of paganism, or sought to establish a positive system of Christian speculation. The Apologists, as the former are called, belong chiefly to the period of intellectual struggle which preceded the great Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325). The constructive thinkers of the Patristic period belong, for the most part, to the post-Nicene age.

It will, therefore, be convenient to study:

I. Heretical Systems.
II. Ante-Nicene Fathers.
III. Post-Nicene Fathers.

For description of collections of Sources, cf. Bardenhewer, Patrologie (Freiburg im B., 1894), pp. 14 ff.; Fessler-Jungmann, Institutiones Patrologiae (2 vols., Innsbruck, 1890), pp. xi ff. and 100 ff.; Schmid, Manual of Patrology, trans. by Schobel (St. Louis, 1899), pp. 21 ff.


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