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Quotes About the Early Church Fathers
These are quotes by later writers about studying the early Church fathers. The "fathers" themselves did not call themselves that, and probably none of them realized their hand-written page would be read by their descendants 1700 to 2000 years later.
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To see their thought of the role of early Christian teachers, see Apostolic Tradition Quotes.
Martin Luther, 1538 – 1539
In the first place, it is plain that the councils are not only unequal, but even contradictory, and the same is true of the fathers. If we were to try to harmonize them, there would be greater disagreement and disputing than there now is, and we should never get out of it anymore. For since they are unlike and often contradictory, our first undertaking would be to see how we could cull out the best and let the rest go. Then the trouble would start! (On the Councils and the Church)
If St. Augustine is not here a heretic, then I shall never become a heretic. He throws the opinions of so many bishops and so many churches all on a heap in the fire and recommends only baptism and the Sacrament, believing that Christ did not will to impose any further burden on the Church, if, indeed, that can be called a burden which is all comfort and grace. (On the Councils and the Church)
John Wesley, 18th century
I have neither inclination nor leisure to follow you step by step through three hundred and seventy-three quarto pages. I shall therefore set aside all I find in your work which does not touch the merits of the cause, and likewise contract the question itself to the first three centuries; for I have no more to do with the writers or miracles of the fourth than with those of the fourteenth century. (Letter to Dr. Conyers Middleton. January 4, 1749. Retrieved October 27, 2017 from The Wesley Center.
The next four quotes are cited from The British Magazine, which I found among Google books. I have been searching for the real source of the second quote for years. It is cited often, but without reference, on the internet. From the July, 1942 edition of The British Magazine, I found out they are in Wesley's Address to the Clergy, which you can read directly at The Wesley Center. The link to Wesley's letter to Dr. Conyers Middleton is given in the first quote.
Middleton says, "If the Scriptures are a complete rule, we do not want [note: means "lack"] the Fathers as guides; or if clear, as interpreters. An esteem of them has carried many into dangerous errors; the neglect of them can have no ill consequences." Wesley answers, (p. 14,) "The Scriptures are a complete rule of faith and practice; and they are clear in all necessary points. And yet their clearness does not prove that they need not be explained, nor their completeness that they need not be enforced. The esteeming of the writings of the first three centuries, not equally with, but next to, the Scriptures, never carried any man yet into dangerous errors, nor probably every will. But it has brought many out of dangerous errors, and particularly out of the errors of popery. I exceedingly reverence them (Clemens Romanus, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clemens Alexandrinus, Cyprian, Macarius, and Ephraim Syrus,) as well as their writings, and esteem them very highly in love." (Page 79, vol. 10.) (John Wesley's letter to Dr. Conyers Middleton. 1749. In The British Magazine and Monthly Register of Ecclesiastical and Religious Information, Parochial History, and Documents Reflecting the State of the Poor, Progress of Education, &c. Vol. XXII. London:T. Clerc Smith. 1942. p. 274-5. Parentheses in original, brackets mine.)
Can anyone who spends several years in those seats of learning (the universites), be excused if they do not add, to that of the languages and sciences, the knowledge of the Fathers?--the most authentic commentators on scriptures [sic], as being both nearest the fountain, and eminently endued with that spirit [sic] by whom all scripture was given. It will be easily perceived I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the council of Nice. But who would not likewise desire some acquaintance with those who followed them. With St. Chrysostom, Basil, Jerome, Austin and, above all, that man of a broken heart, Ephraim Syrus. (Address to the Clergy, vol. x, p. 484. In The British Magazine and Monthly Register of Ecclesiastical and Religious Information, Parochial History, and Documents Reflecting the State of the Poor, Progress of Education, &c. Vol. XXII. London:T. Clerc Smith. 1942. p. 275. Parentheses in original, brackets mine.)
Let us each seriously examine himself. Am I acquainted with the fathers? at least with the venerable men who lived in the earliest ages of the church? Have I read over and over the golden remains of Clemens Romanus, of Ignatius, and Polycarp? and have I given one reading at least to the works of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Cyprian? (February 6, 1756. Address to the Clergy. vol. x, p. 492. In The British Magazine and Monthly Register of Ecclesiastical and Religious Information, Parochial History, and Documents Reflecting the State of the Poor, Progress of Education, &c. Vol. XXII. London:T. Clerc Smith. 1942. p. 275.)
How much shall I suffer in my usefulness if I have wasted the opportunity I once had of acquainting myself with the great lights of antiquity, the Anti-Nicene [sic] Fathers? (Feb. 6, 17563 Address to the Clergy, vol. x, p. 493. In The British Magazine and Monthly Register of Ecclesiastical and Religious Information, Parochial History, and Documents Reflecting the State of the Poor, Progress of Education, &c. Vol. XXII. London:T. Clerc Smith. 1942. p. 275.)
Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, 2010
The Catholic Church does not look to one Church Father in isolation—or even a select group of Fathers—and claim their teachings are infallible or definitive. Rather, the Church views their writings as valuable guides providing insights and perspectives that assist the Magisterium—the teaching office of the Church—in defining, clarifying, and defending Church doctrine. ("The Rapture Refuted," Part 4 on The Hejnal blog, emphasis mine)
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