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BT761 Patristic Fathers


I took this course as a Distance Learning package in the summer of 2013. This was before Briercrest starting offering courses online, and the DLs were packaged in binders that were mailed out to you.

Work Load: Piles of reading, but I found it interesting!


Course content: (20%)

Part of the DL package was a CD from the Institute of Theological Studies, with a course on the Ancient Church by Dr. Richard Gamble.  The CD included Lecture outlines, which I ended up printing off and writing notes all over them while listening to the lectures (there were 24 lessons).

This CD course was supplemented by Briercrest with reading assignments and study quetions.  Before listening to each lecture, I had to read a chapter or two from my textbooks, and afterwards answer some study questions. The answers had to be submitted.

The Early Church (289 pages) was a book on history, covering the time from the book of Acts to the rise of the papacy and monasticism. I remember finding the book interesting, but a little confusing, since not everything was chronological, and the author had a tendency to assume that if he’s mentioned someone once, then you will have it memorized for the rest of the book. Otherwise, it was a decent treatment of history.

Documents in Early Christian Thought (268 pages) is a selection of writings from the Patristic Fathers, organized by category. For example, there is a section on the Trinity, and that section has readings from Origen, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine.  Other categories include God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Sin and Grace, Tradtion and Scripture, Church, Sacraments, Christian Living, Church and Society and the Final Goal.

If you have access to the internet, however, this book really isn’t all that necessary.  The most helpful part is the table of contents.  If I wanted to research the Sacraments, I could see in the table of contents some examples of who wrote on that subject, then look them all up on the internet! (it even lists exactly which part of which document, like Cyril of Jerusalem, On the Mysteries 4 and 5.)

Early Christian Doctrines (499 pages) was a history of thought.  This thick book was “section 2” of the course, after completing the lectures and the other two textbooks.  Whereas The Early Church focussed on people and events, this book focussed on the ideas and controversies that drove the church councils, and the development of theology.  Study questions I had to answer were things like “What was Nestorianism?” or “What was Pelagius’ doctrine of human kind?”.  The value of this kind of study is that it shows the theological mistakes of the past, why they were mistakes, and shows how to arrive at orthodox thinking on a variety of issues.  There’s nothing new under the sun.  If someone believes something a little odd, chances are the Church has already dealt with it.  Someone could be brought out of heresy with a proper study of historical theology.

Within the core curriculum for my degree, I had to take either a history course or a theology course.  I asked if Patristic Fathers counted, since it was both.  The answer, of course, was yet.


“Grapevine” Postings 

This was one of the weakest parts of the format of distance courses at that time.  We had to log on to a website called the “Grapevine” and make two posts about anything in the course, and respond to someone else’s post.  This online Seminary Student Center had pages for every DL that the course offered.  It was all decentralized, however.  I think I was the only one taking Patristic Fathers at the time, so it was hard to have discussions with anyone.  My first post was about two weeks after someone else’s last post for that course.  I wrote some thoughts about church hierarchy and monasticism.  I responded to someone else about the “denomination explosion.”


Collateral Reading and Report (10%)

We had to do 800 pages of additional reading, with at least 200 pages from primary source documents.  I’ve often been discontent with other people doing the thinking for me (thus one of the reasons I learned Greek and Hebrew), so I did all 800 pages from primary source documents.  I read 805 pages from 34 ancient documents, by 16 different authors.  I came to the conclusion that my favorites were Tertullian, Athanasius, and John Chrysostom.

All of these documents are available for free on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website.  If there was a “best website I’ve bookmarked” award, then this website wins for 2013, (the year I took the course).
Critical Response Paper (15%)

Evangelicals and Tradition (183 pages), part of the Evangelical Ressourcement series, was full of accurate observations regarding Evangelical attitudes towards tradition.

Patristic Terminology: Content Research (20%)

During the course, several Greek and Latin terms were kicking around.  We had a list of 20 words that we needed to write 100 words on why each term was important, and what it meant (words like hypostasis or agennetos, etc).  I had this list available right from the beginning, and was able to find most of the definitions while reading the other books.  The indexes in the backs of the various books were helpful for tracking some down.

Research Paper (35%)

15 pages on either an event, a person, or an idea.  I settled on researching the Rise of the Papacy: BT761 Kenney Research Paper.  I liked what I did with this one.  After showing how the Roman Catholic church builds their argument for the supremacy of the Pope, I then used the same logic to “prove” the supremacy of the bishop of Antioch, using the same patristic sources.


Other comments:

I actually had a hard time settling on a paper topic.  I ended up adding my other ideas to my After Master study list.

I knew I would be taking a class on Jewish backgrounds, so I avoided spending too much time with the reading, etc in the early centuries, since I knew it would come in more detail later.

  • Read more Patristic Fathers material, specifically
    • John Chrysostom
    • Tertullian
    • Athanasius
  • Research asceticism
  • Research NT canon formation

Overall, I feel enriched from having taken this course.  A whole new world has been opened up for devotional use, for research sources while writing papers, and insight into an important part of history.


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