The term patrologia was first used by the Lutheran theologian Johannes Gebhard (d. 1637), and his work under that title appeared in 1653. Eventually “patrology” became synonymous with the science of patristics, especially as it relates to questions of doctrine and dogma. Patrology embraces all the church authors of antiquity beginning with Saint JEROME, whose De viris illustribis may be regarded as the first document in the field of patristics.
Other notable authors in antiquity are Gregory the Great, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine, GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS, all described in the sources as doctores defensoresque ecclesiae. These are classified Western and Eastern. In most of the works on patrology, the great Coptic fathers such as ATHANASIUS and CYRIL I are included under the Eastern category but are wrongly designated Greek fathers because their major works were written in Greek. It is known that most Coptic fathers knew Greek as well as Coptic, while the Greeks knew only their own tongue.
Athanasius spent two years with the illiterate Saint Antony the Great in the Eastern Desert, and surely they communicated with each other only in Coptic. Cyril’s elaborate liturgy, currently used only in the desert monasteries because of its great length, is a Coptic liturgy. Nevertheless, both Athanasius and Cyril wrongly appear in patristic literature as Greek fathers. Most eminent among modern authors on patrology are Adolf von Harnack, Otto Bardenhewer, Johannes Quasten, and B. Altaner.
There is still room for a purely Coptic patrology, a field that requires highly specialized knowledge and would accord Coptic patristics its rightful place in the framework of early Christianity. In this context, it is possible to begin with the monumental History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church, the compilation of which was begun in the tenth century.
- Altaner, B. Patrology, trans. H. C. Graef. Edinburgh, 1959. Bardenhewer, O. Patrologie. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1894; English trans. T. J. Shahan. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1908.
- . Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 5 vols. Freiburg im Breisgau and St. Louis, 1902-1932.
- Harnack, A. Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, 2 vols. Leipzig, 1958; repr. 1968.
- Quasten, J. Patrology, 3 vols. Utrecht and Antwerp, 1950; repr. 1975.