Below are brief autobiographical sketches of important classic interpreters of scripture.
Alexander of Alexandria (fl. 312-328). Bishop of Alexandria and predecessor of Athanasius, upon whom he asserted considerable theological influence during the rise of Arianism. Alexander excommunicated Arius, whom he had appointed to the parish of Baucalis, in 319. His teaching regarding the eternal generation and divine substantial union of the Son with the Father was eventually confirmed at the Council of Nicaea (325).
Ambrose of Milan (c. 333-397; fl. 374-397).
Bishop of Milan and teacher of Augustine who defended the divinity of the Holy Spirit and the perpetual virginity of Mary.
Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384).
Name given by Erasmus to the author of a work once thought to have been composed by Ambrose.
Ammonius (c. fifth century).
An Aristotelian commentator and teacher in Alexandria, where he was born and of whose school he became head. Also, an exegete of Plato, he enjoyed fame among his contemporaries and successors, although modern critics accuse him of pedantry and banality.
Amphilochius of Iconium (b. c. 340-345, d.c.398-404).
An orator at Constantinople before becoming bishop of Iconium in 373. He was a cousin of Gregory of Nazianzus and active in debates against the Macedonians and Messalians.
Antony (or Anthony) the Great (c. 251-c. 356).
An anchorite of the Egyptian desert, well-known as a monastic father. Athanasius regarded him as the ideal of monastic life, and he has become a
model for Christian hagiography.
Aphrahat (c. 270-350 fl. 337-345).
“The Persian Sage” and first major Syriac writer whose work survives. He is also known by his Greek name Aphraates.
Apollinaris of Laodicea (310-c. 392).
Bishop of Laodicea who was attacked by Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa and Theodore for denying that Christ had a human mind.
Apostolic Constitutions (c. 381-394).
Also, known as Constitutions of the Holy Apostles and thought to be the work of the Arian bishop Julian of Neapolis. The work is divided into eight books, and is
primarily a collection of and expansion on previous works such as the Didache (c. 140) and the Apostolic Traditions. Book 8 ends with eighty-five canons from various sources and is elsewhere known as the Apostolic Canons.
Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 295-373; fl. 325-373).
Bishop of Alexandria from 328, though often in exile. He wrote his classic polemics against the Arians while most of the eastern bishops were against him.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430).
Bishop of Hippo and a voluminous writer on philosophical, exegetical, theological and ecclesiological topics. He formulated the Western doctrines of predestination and original sin in his writings against the Pelagians.
Basil the Great (b. c. 330; fl. 357-379).
One of the Cappadocian fathers, bishop of Caesarea and champion of the teaching on the Trinity propounded at Nicaea in 325. He was a great administrator and founded a monastic rule.
Bede the Venerable (c. 672/673-735).
Born in Northumbria, at the age of seven he was put under the care of the Benedictine monks of Saints Peter and Paul at Jarrow and given a broad classical education in the monastic tradition. Considered one of the most learned men of his age, he is the author of An Ecclesiastical History of the English People.
Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-547).
Considered the most important figure in the history of Western monasticism. Benedict founded many monasteries, the most notable found at Montecassino, but his lasting influence lay in his famous Rule. The Rule outlines the theological and inspirational foundation of the monastic ideal while also legislating the shape and organization of the coenobitic life.
Book of Steps (c. 400).
Written by an anonymous Syriac author, this work consists of thirty homilies or discourses which specifically deal with the more advanced stages of growth in the spiritual life.
Caesarius of Arles (c. 470-543).
Bishop of Arles renowned for his attention to his pastoral duties. Among his surviving works the most important is a collection of some 238 sermons that display an ability to preach Christian doctrine to a variety of audiences.
Cassian, John (360-432).
Author of the Institutes and the Conferences, works purporting to relay the teachings of the Egyptian monastic fathers on the nature of the spiritual life which were
highly influential in the development of Western monasticism.
Cassiodorus (c. 485-c. 540).
Founder of Western monasticism whose writings include valuable histories and less valuable commentaries.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215).
A highly educated Christian convert from paganism, head of the catechetical school in Alexandria and pioneer of Christian scholarship. His major works, Protrepticus, Paedagogus and the Stromata, bring Christian doctrine face to face with the ideas and achievements of his time.
Clement of Rome (fl. c. 92-101).
Pope whose Epistle to the Corinthians is one of the most important documents of subapostolic times.
Cyprian of Carthage (fl. 248-258).
Martyred bishop of Carthage who maintained that those baptized by schismatics and heretics had no share in the blessings of the church.
Cyril of Alexandria (375-444; fl. 412-444).
Patriarch of Alexandria whose strong espousal of the unity of Christ led to the condemnation of Nestorius in 431.
Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-386; fl. c. 348).
Bishop of Jerusalem after 350 and author of Catechetical Homilies.
Cyril of Scythopolis (b. c. 525; d. after 557).
Palestinian monk and author of biographies of famous Palestinian monks. Because of him we have precise knowledge of monastic life in the fifth and sixth centuries and a description of the Origenist crisis and its suppression in the mid-sixth century.
Diadochus of Photice (c. 400-474). Antimonophysite bishop of Epirus Vetus whose work Discourse on the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ exerted influence in both the East and West through its Chalcedonian Christology. He is also the subject of the mystical Vision of St. Diadochus Bishop of Photice in Epirus.
Didache (c. 140). Of unknown authorship, this text intertwines Jewish ethics with Christian liturgical practice to form a whole discourse on the “way of life.” It exerted an enormous amount of
influence in the patristic period and was especially used in the training of catechumen.
Didymus the Blind (c. 313-398). Alexandrian exegete who was much influenced by Origen and admired by Jerome.
Diodore of Tarsus (d. c. 394). Bishop of Tarsus and Antiochene theologian. He authored a great scope of exegetical, doctrinal and apologetic works, which come to us mostly in fragments because of his condemnation as the predecessor of Nestorianism. Diodore was a teacher of John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia.
Dorotheus of Gaza (fl. c. 525-540). Member of Abbot Seridos’s monastery and later leader of a monastery where he wrote Spiritual Instructions. He also wrote a work on traditions of Palestinian monasticism.
Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 315-403). Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, author of a refutation of eighty heresies (the Panarion) and instrumental in the condemnation of Origen.
Ephrem the Syrian (b. c. 306; fl. 363-373). Syrian writer of commentaries and devotional hymns which are sometimes regarded as the greatest specimens of Christian poetry prior to Dante.
Eunomius (d. 393). Bishop of Cyzicyus who was attacked by Basil and Gregory of Nyssa for maintaining that the Father and the Son were of different natures, one ingenerate, one generate.
Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260/263-340). Bishop of Caesarea, partisan of the Emperor Constantine and first historian of the Christian church. He argued that the truth of the gospel had been foreshadowed in pagan writings but had to defend his own doctrine against suspicion of Arian sympathies.
Evagrius of Pontus (c. 345-399). Disciple and teacher of ascetic life who astutely absorbed and creatively transmitted the spirituality of Egyptian and Palestinian monasticism of the late fourth century. Although Origenist elements of his writings were formally condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople II, a.d. 553), his literary corpus continued to influence the tradition of the church.
Fulgentius of Ruspe (c. 467-532).
Bishop of Ruspe and author of many orthodox sermons and tracts under the influence of Augustine.
Name now given generally to followers of Basilides, Marcion, Valentinus, Mani and others. The characteristic belief is that matter is a prison made for the spirit by an evil or ignorant creator, and that redemption depends on fate, not on free will.
Gregory of Nazianzus (b. 329/330; fl. 372-389).
Bishop of Nazianzus and friend of Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. He is famous for maintaining the humanity of Christ as well as the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.
Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-394).
Bishop of Nyssa and brother of Basil the Great, he is famous for maintaining the equality in unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Gregory Thaumaturgus (fl. c. 248-264).
Bishop of Neocaesarea and a disciple of Origen. There are at least five legendary Lives that recount the events and miracles which led to his being called “the wonder worker.” His most important work
was the Address of Thanks to Origen, which is a rhetorically structured panegyric to Origen and an outline of his teaching.
Gregory the Great (c. 540-604).
Pope from 590, the fourth and last of the Latin“Doctors of the Church.” He was a prolific author and a powerful unifying force within the Latin Church, initiating the liturgical reform that brought about the Gregorian Sacramentary and Gregorian chant.
Hilary of Arles (c. 401-449).
Archbishop of Arles and leader of the Semi-Pelagian party. Hilary incurred the wrath of Pope Leo I when he removed a bishop from his see and appointed a new bishop. Leo demoted Arles from a metropolitan see to a bishopric to assert papal power over the church in Gaul.
Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-367).
Bishop of Poitiers and called the “Athanasius of the West” because of his defense (against the Arians) of the common nature of Father and Son.
Hippolytus (fl. 222-245).
Recent scholarship places Hippolytus in a Palestinian context, personally familiar with Origen. Though he is known mostly for The Refutation of All Heresies, he was primarily a commentator on Scripture (especially the Old Testament) and other sacred texts.
Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-107/112).
Bishop of Antioch who wrote several letters to local churches while being taken from Antioch to Rome to be martyred. In the letters, which warn against heresy, he stresses orthodox Christology, the centrality of the Eucharist and unique role of the bishop in preserving the unity of the church.
Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 135-c. 202).
Bishop of Lyons who published the most famous and influential refutation of Gnostic thought.
Isaac of Nineveh (d. c. 700).
Also, known as Isaac the Syrian or Isaac Syrus, this monastic writer served for a short while as bishop of Nineveh before retiring to live a secluded monastic life. His writings on ascetic subjects survive in the form of numerous homilies.
Isho‘dad of Merv (fl. c. 850).
Nestorian commentator of the ninth century. He wrote especially on James, 1 Peter and 1 John.
Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636).
Youngest of a family of monks and clerics, including sister Florentina and brothers Leander and Fulgentius. He was an erudite author of comprehensive scale in matters both religious and sacred, including his encyclopedic Etymologies.
Jerome (c. 347-420).
Gifted exegete and exponent of a classical Latin style, now best known as the translator of the Latin Vulgate. He defended the perpetual virginity of Mary, attacked Origen and Pelagius and supported extreme ascetic practices.
John Chrysostom (344/354-407; fl. 386-407).
Bishop of Constantinople who was famous for his orthodoxy, his eloquence and his attacks on Christian laxity in high places.
John of Damascus (c. 650-750).
Arab monastic and theologian whose writings enjoyed great influence in both the Eastern and Western Churches. His most famous writing was the Orthodox Faith.
Josephus, Flavius (c. 37-c. 101).
Jewish historian from a distinguished priestly family. Acquainted with the Essenes and Sadducees, he himself became a Pharisee. He joined the great Jewish revolt that broke out in 66 and was chosen by the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem to be commander-in-chief in Galilee. Showing great shrewdness to ingratiate himself with Vespasian by foretelling his elevation and that of his son Titus to the imperial dignity, Josephus was restored his liberty after 69 when Vespasian became emperor.
Justin Martyr (c. 100/110-165; fl. c. 148-161).
Palestinian philosopher who was converted to Christianity, “the only sure and worthy philosophy.” He traveled to Rome where he wrote several apologies against both pagans and Jews, combining Greek philosophy and Christian theology; he was eventually martyred.
Lactantius (c. 260-c. 330).
An eloquent writer known to us through Jerome. He is acknowledged more for his technical writing skills than for his theological thought.
Leo the Great (regn. 440-461).
Bishop of Rome whose Tome to Flavian helped to strike a balance between Nestorian and Cyrilline positions at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Letter to Diognetus (c. third century).
A refutation of paganism and an exposition of the Christian life and faith. The author of this letter is unknown, and the exact identity of its recipient, Diognetus, continues to elude patristic scholars such as Jerome and Augustine. The content of his writing may place it in the fifth century.
Macarius of Egypt (c. 300-c. 390).
One of the Desert Fathers. Accused of supporting Athanasius, Macarius was exiled c. 374 to an island in the Nile by Lucius, the Arian successor of Athanasius. Macarius continued his teaching of monastic theology until his death.
the Younger (c. 327-379).
The elder sister of Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, she is known as “the Younger” to distinguish her from her paternal grandmother. She had a powerful influence on her younger brothers, especially on Gregory, who called her his teacher and relates her teaching in On the Soul and the Resurrection.
Manichaeans. A religious movement that originated circa 241 in Persia under the leadership of
Mani but was apparently of complex Christian origin. It is said to have denied free will and the universal sovereignty of God, teaching that kingdoms of light and darkness are coeternal and that the redeemed are particles of a spiritual man of light held captive in the darkness of matter (see Gnostics).
Marcion (fl. 144).
Heretic of the mid-second century who rejected the Old Testament and much of the New Testament, claiming that the Father of Jesus Christ was other than the Creator God (see Gnostics).
Marius Victorinus (b. c. 280/285; fl. c.
Grammarian who translated works of Platonists and, after his late conversion (c. 355), used them against the Arians.
Maximus of Turin (d. 408/423).
Bishop of Turin who died during the reigns of Honorius and Theodosius the Younger (408-423). Over one hundred of his sermons survive.
Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662).
Greek theologian and ascetic writer. Fleeing the Arab invasion of Jerusalem in 614, he took refuge in Constantinople and later Africa. He died near the Black Sea after imprisonment and severe suffering. His thought centered on the humanity of Christ.
Minucius Felix of Rome (second or third century).
Christian apologist who flourished between 160 and 300 (the exact dates are not known). His Octavius agrees at numerous points with the Apologeticum of Tertullian. His birth place is believed to be in Africa.
Nestorius (c. 381-c. 451).
Patriarch of Constantinople 428-431 and credited with the foundation of the heresy which says that the divine and human natures were associated, rather than truly united, in the incarnation of Christ.
Novatian of Rome (fl. 235-258).
Roman theologian, otherwise orthodox, who formed a schismatic church after failing to become pope. His treatise on the Trinity states the classic western doctrine.
Oecumenius (sixth century).
Called the Rhetor or the Philosopher, Oecumenius wrote the earliest extant Greek commentary on Revelation. Scholia by Oecumenius on some of John Chrysostom’s commentaries on the Pauline Epistles are still extant.
Origen of Alexandria (b. 185; fl. c. 200-254).
Influential exegete and systematic theologian. He was condemned (perhaps unfairly) for maintaining the preexistence of souls while denying the resurrection of the body, the literal truth of Scripture and the equality of the Father and the Son in the Trinity.
Pachomius (c. 292-347).
Founder of cenobitic monasticism. A gifted group leader and author of a set of rules, he was defended after his death by Athanasius of Alexandria.
Paulus Orosius (b. c. 380).
An outspoken critic of Pelagius, mentored by Augustine. His Seven Books of History Against the Pagans was perhaps the first history of Christianity.
Pelagius (c. 354-c. 420).
Christian teacher whose followers were condemned in 418 and 431 for maintaining that a Christian could be perfect and that salvation depended on free will.
Peter of Alexandria (d. c. 311).
Bishop of Alexandria. He marked (and very probably initiated) the reaction at Alexandria against extreme doctrines of Origen. During the persecution, of Christians in Alexandria, Peter was arrested and beheaded by Roman officials. Eusebius of Caesarea described him as “a model bishop, remarkable for his virtuous life and his ardent study of the Scriptures.”
Peter Chrysologus (c. 380-450).
Latin archbishop of Ravenna whose teachings included arguments for the supremacy of the papacy and the relationship between grace and Christian living. Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.-c. A.D. 50). Jewish-born exegete who greatly influenced Christian patristic interpretation of the Old Testament. Born to a rich family in Alexandria, Philo was a contemporary of Jesus and lived an ascetic and contemplative life that makes some believe he was a rabbi. His interpretation of Scripture based the spiritual sense on the literal. Although influenced by Hellenism, Philo’s theology remains thoroughly Jewish.
Philoxenus of Mabbug (c. 440-523).
Bishop of Mabbug (Hierapolis) and a leading thinker in the early Syrian Orthodox Church. His extensive writings in Syriac include a set of thirteen Discourses on the Christian Life, several works on the incarnation and a number of exegetical works.
Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 69-155).
Bishop of Smyrna who vigorously fought heretics such as the Marcionites and Valentinians. He was the leading Christian figure in Roman Asia in the middle of the second century.
Pseudo-Macarius (fl. c. 390).
An imaginative writer and ascetic from Mesopotamia to eastern Asia Minor with keen insight into human nature and clear articulation of the theology of the Trinity. His work includes some one hundred discourses and homilies.
Quodvultdeus (fl. 430).
Carthaginian deacon and friend of Augustine who endeavored to show at length how the New Testament fulfilled the Old Testament.
Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 345-411).
Orthodox Christian thinker and historian who nonetheless translated Origen and defended him against the strictures of Jerome and Epiphanius.
Sabellius (fl. 200).
Allegedly the author of the heresy which maintains that the Father and Son are a single person. The patripassian variant of this heresy states that the Father suffered on the cross. Garmai for a short time. His most important work is the deeply scriptural Book of Perfection which ranks as one of the masterpieces of Syriac monastic literature.
Salvian the Presbyter of Marseilles (c. 400-c. 480).
An important author for the history of his own time. He saw the fall of Roman civilization to the barbarians as a consequence of the reprehensible conduct of Roman Christians.
Second Letter of Clement (c. 150).
The so-called Second Letter of Clement is the earliest surviving Christian sermon probably written by a Corinthian author, though some scholars have assigned it to a Roman or Alexandrian author.
Severian of Gabala (fl. c. 400).
A contemporary of John Chrysostom, he was a highly regarded preacher in Constantinople, particularly at the imperial court, and ultimately sided with Chrysostom’s accusers. His sermons are dominated by antiheretical concerns.
Shepherd of Hermas (second century).
Divided into five Visions, twelve Mandates and ten Similitudes, this Christian apocalypse was written by a former slave and named for the form of the second angel said to have granted him his visions. This work was highly esteemed for its moral value and was used as a textbook for catechumens in the early church.
Sulpicius Severus (c. 360-c. 420).
An ecclesiastical writer born of noble parents. Devoting himself to monastic retirement, he became a personal friend and enthusiastic disciple of St. Martin of Tours. His ordination to the priesthood is vouched for by Gennadius, but no details of his priestly activity have reached us.
Symeon the New Theologian (c. 949-1022).
Compassionate spiritual leader known for his strict rule. He believed that the divine light could be perceived and received through the practice of mental prayer.
Tertullian of Carthage (c. 155/160-225/250; fl.c. 197-222).
Brilliant Carthaginian apologist and polemicist who laid the foundations of Christology and trinitarian orthodoxy in the West, though he himself was estranged from the main church by its laxity.
Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428).
Bishop of Mopsuestia, founder of the Antiochene, or literalistic, school of exegesis. A great man in his day, he was later condemned as a precursor of Nestorius.
Theodoret of Cyr (c. 393-466
Bishop of Cyr (Cyrrhus), he was an opponent of Cyril, whose doctrine of Christ’s person was finally vindicated in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon.
Valentinus (fl. c. 140).
Alexandrian heretic of the mid-second century who taught that the material world was created by the transgression of God’s Wisdom, or Sophia (see Gnostics).
Victorius of Petovium (d. c. 304).
Latin biblical exegete. With multiple works attributed to him, his sole surviving work is the Commentary on the Apocalypse and perhaps some fragments from Commentary on Matthew. Victorinus expressed strong millenarianism in his writing, though his was less materialistic than the millenarianism of Papias or Irenaeus. In his allegorical approach, he could be called a spiritual disciple of Origen. Victorinus died during the first year of Diocletian’s persecution, probably in 304.
Vincent of Lérins (d. 435).
Monk who has exerted considerable influence through his writings on orthodox dogmatic theological method, as
contrasted with the theological methodologies of the heresies.