Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 August 2009
The aim of this book is easier to describe than to achieve. Its purpose is to bring within the compass of a single volume a representative selection of extracts from the writings of the early Christian Fathers covering all the main areas of Christian thought. The importance of the Fathers as those who gave a distinctive and lasting shape to Christian theology is universally recognized. Those who have the time and the skill to read the writings of the Fathers in extenso and in the original will have no need of this volume. But we believe that there are an increasing number, not only of theological students, who would welcome a book which will introduce them to the thought of the Fathers at first hand. It is for such people that this book is designed.
The extracts are arranged topically. We have tried to select passages which make their point in a sufficiently self-contained manner to make sense when removed from their wider context, which are long enough not merely to declare a conclusion but to illustrate the kind of reasoning which leads up to it, and yet short enough to allow us to cover all the main areas of thought. The period is most renowned for its determination of ‘orthodox’ belief and denunciation of ‘heresy’. Some of the passages given come from directly polemical writings of this kind. But the Fathers did not indulge only in polemics.