Skip to content

My favorite Patristic theologians

Since lists are always cool, and since patristic theology doesn’t get that much of a fair shake in the blogosphere, here are my five favorite patristic theologians.

  1. Irenaeus
  2. Augustine
  3. Gregory of Nazianzus
  4. Maximus the Confessor
  5. Athanasius

Of course, its a bit embarrassing to list patristic theologians when I think of how much more I’ve read in modern theology.  Perhaps that is why so much theology is so utterly boring these days and why books that drink deeply from patristic wells, like Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite make such a stir when they are published. 

To Fathers, I say!  For the sake of theology’s interstingness, to the Fathers (and Mothers)!


  1. Freder1ck wrote:

    I confess that the following list is in no way the result of substantial research.

    1. Irenaeus
    2. Gregory of Nyssa (and his sister Macrina, and the rest of their family!)
    3. Origen
    4. Augustine
    5. Cyril of Alexandria

    And here’s a hyperlinked list of Benedict XVI’s sermons on Fathers of the Church and the Apostles. See the end of the page:

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  2. Freder1ck wrote:

    oops. I meant Cyril of Jerusalem …

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  3. andrew wrote:

    my theology prof. is a patristics guy and actually has his phD in hilary of poitiers.
    so even in his intro. theology courses he made sure to plug church fathers into it. it changed my life.

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    Not sure he still counts, but Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  5. Wes Ellis wrote:

    good list, I’d have Athanasius a little higher on my list, but whatever. Does Clement count?

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  6. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Irenaeus, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, Tertullian, and Athanasius . . . oh I almost forgot: Arius and Pelagius.

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  7. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Oh, and Mary ;-) .

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  8. Hill wrote:

    Well done, Bobby. Tradition holds that Mary invented Patristic theology.

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  9. Freder1ck wrote:

    Bobby, are you mocking me for including Origen – or are you just mocking Halden? Either way, I’m good with it…

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  10. Bobby Grow wrote:


    Indeed ;-).


    just Halden ;-). Just a little fun . . .

    oh and I mentioned Arius and Pelagius, because w/o them we wouldn’t have had Athanasius and Augustine; at least in the way we ended up with them.

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    No one is biting on my Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite tip. Take a look at this article if you don’t feel any particular excitement at the mention of his name:

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  12. adamsteward wrote:

    To the mothers of the Church! I can’t really think of many beyond this, but here’s my top 3:

    1. Mary Magdalene
    2. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist
    3. Julian of Norwich

    I figure it has to be at least older than the reformation…

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 2:11 pm | Permalink
  13. Jason wrote:

    Right on – I too have read much more modern theology, but patristic stuff is fascinating, and I find those in the West who are able to draw on patristic theology in their own constructive work to be some of the most interesting theologians out there, including Rowan Williams and Sarah Coakley, in addition to those previously mentioned.

    Also, a patristic scholar who is theologically interested (i.e. approaching the topic from another perspective) and worth a look is Andrew Louth.

    My own list of ‘favourite’ fathers, in this order:
    Gregory of Nazianzus
    Gregory of Nyssa
    Basil of Caesarea
    John of Damascus
    Simeon the New Theologian

    Actually, now I think of it, my absolute favourite would be John the Divine – but he might not count!

    And, for the list of mothers, include Macrina, the sister of Gregory and Basil, and the desert ammas as well.

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  14. Scott wrote:


    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  15. dan wrote:

    John Chrysostom would be near the top of my list.

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  16. ndansmith wrote:

    1. Gregory of Nazianzus
    2. Origen (yeah, I am a heretic)

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  17. Freder1ck wrote:

    I call him Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, and yes I like him well. And Chrysostom I also like, but I haven’t read much of him…

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 8:02 pm | Permalink
  18. Pope Gelasius I
    St. Ambrose
    Lucifer of Caligari (Apostate Kings)
    Cyril of Jerusalem

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 8:29 pm | Permalink
  19. Ben Myers wrote:

    1. Augustine
    2. Origen
    3. Irenaeus

    Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 4:52 am | Permalink
  20. Scott wrote:

    I am not convinced that Origen is/was a heretic.

    Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 7:12 am | Permalink
  21. Geoff wrote:

    1. Tertullian (for being practically a baptist, including being a heretic)
    2. Origen (for using the phrase, “my Jesus,” and still being a great thinker)
    3. Gregory the Great (for his Pastoral Rule)
    4. Ireneaus (For being a genius)
    5. Athanasius (De Incarnation)

    Runner’s Up: Ignatius of Lyons, Clement (Rome and Alexandria), Augustine, and Basil (specifically for his “On the Holy Spirit”)

    Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 10:42 am | Permalink
  22. I’m surprised St. Benedict hasn’t made any of the lists; he’s at the top of mine, along with Denys (who hit me, the first time I read him, with the same revolutionary force with which the neo-Platonists hit the young Augustine) and Irenaeus.

    To the fathers indeed, though we ought not skip over all those brilliant disciples who came between. Theology without Bonaventure or Thomas is hardly theology at all, and the spirits of Dominic and Francis are ones we desperately need to recover–to name only the most obvious.

    Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  23. Craig wrote:

    I heartily agree with your sentiments about the Fathers and I’m putting my convictions into action by planning a conference entitled “The Holy Trinity in Holy Scripture” to be held at Tyndale University College & Seminary on May 28-30, 2008. The keynote speaker is John Webster and we have 13 other speakers as well, including Lewis Ayres, Kathryn Greeen-McCreight and Ephraim Radner. Each of the papers (except Webster’s) will discuss a text of Scripture that deals with the Trinity in conversation with a pre-modern interpreter. The goal is to take a step toward recovering the riches of pre-modern (mostly patristic) theological exegesis. Here is the link:

    I would say that my favorite fathers would be:
    1. Athanasius, 2. Augustine, 3. Origen, 4. Irenaeus, 5. Gregory of Nyssa

    Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Permalink
  24. Macrina wrote:

    Ignatius of Antioch
    all the Cappadocians
    Maximus the Confessor

    Monday, March 17, 2008 at 5:40 am | Permalink
  25. Patrik wrote:

    Isaac of Nineveh
    Evagrios of Pontos
    Theodore of Mopsuestia

    And you people think Origen is controversial… ;)

    Monday, March 17, 2008 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  26. Patrik wrote:

    Ooh, can I meniton my least faviourite as well?

    Tertullian (Moralist.)
    John Chrysostom (Also a moralist but most of all anti-semite)
    Athanasios ( For robbing the desert ascetics of their true spiritual value)
    Jerome (The nastiest person ever to be declared a saint)
    Augustine (for the sex and double predestination parts)

    Monday, March 17, 2008 at 1:34 pm | Permalink
  27. These are some good lists. Here is mine:

    1. Cyril of Alexandria
    2. Maximus the Confessor
    3. Gregory of Nazianzus
    4. Augustine of Hippo
    5. Origen

    And if I could continue the list:

    6. Athanasius
    7. Irenaeus
    8. Gregory of Nyssa
    9. Tertullian
    10. John Chrysostom

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 6:32 am | Permalink
  28. Drew wrote:

    I have actually committed to reading only the Church Fathers during (Orthodox) Lent…Somewhat ironically, I’m actually working my way through St. Augustine’s De Trinitate.

    Friday, March 21, 2008 at 9:40 pm | Permalink
  29. Cristian wrote:

    Why call them ‘patristic theologians’, when they’re commonly called Fathers?

    Monday, January 12, 2009 at 3:45 am | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site