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(patristic philosophy, patristic literature), a term designating the totality of theological, philosophical, and political and sociological doctrines of Christian thinkers of the second through eighth centuries (the fathers of the church).
Patristics emerged at a time of profound crisis in the slave-holding society of late antiquity and developed in the struggle against gnosticism and other heresies, on the one hand, and the traditional pagan world view, on the other. At the same time, patristic thought interacted in a complex way with Platonic and Neoplatonic idealism.
Representative of the first period of patristics (second through third centuries) is the work of the “apologists.” The most outstanding of them was Origen, the first to attempt to construct a complete philosophical system on the basis of Christian religious assumptions. Although his system was not adopted by the church, by posing the problem of basing a philosophical system on Christian beliefs, it determined the course of the subsequent period of patristics (fourth to fifth centuries). During the second period the polemically fragmentary philosophizing of the apologists gave way to efforts to systematize church doctrine, based on idealist speculation.
Patristics reached its apex with the Cappadocian circle in the Eastern, or Greek, church (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa) and with Augustine in the Western, or Latin, church. The Areopagite’s works, which date from the second half of the fifth century, attempted to explain the world as a system of symbols and thus proved very important for medieval aesthetics.
The last period of patristic thought was characterized by the stabilization of dogma, the extinction of idealist dialectics, and the codification of learning and the sciences under the aegis of theology, represented in the East by Leontius (late fifth century through first half of the sixth) and in the West by Boethius. The period ended with the appearance of the works of John Damascene, which summarized the patristic era and laid the foundation for Scholasticism. The fundamental problems of Western (Latin) and Eastern (Greek) patristics were inherited by Western European and Byzantine Scholasticism.
SOURCESMigne, J.-P. Patrologiae cursus completus, series Graeca, vols. 1–166, Paris, 1857–66; series Latina, vols. 1–221, Paris, 1844–64.
Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, vol. 1—. Bonn-Leipzig, 1867—. (Series incomplete.)
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S. S. AVERINTSEV