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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [1]

a term which properly applies to the doctrinal and ethical systems found in the writings of the Christian Church fathers; while Patristics strictly relates to their life, history, and literary character. The two words, however, are generally used interchangeably. The writings of the ante-Nicene fathers are remarkable for their deference to the teaching of the Scriptures. Their doctrines and exhortations are based upon the New Testament, and fortified by citations from the Gospels and Epistles. This peculiarity aids one in determining how far the New Testament was regarded as of divine authority, and what approach had then been made towards the settlement of the canon. The ante-Nicene fathers agree in their testimony to the reformation wrought by Christianity in private morals and in public manners. Thus Tertullian, in his Apology, boldly challenges the enemies of Christians to point out any evil in their lives that can be fairly ascribed to their religion, and refers with exultation to their domestic purity, their integrity in business, their sobriety and order, and their abounding charities, as fruits of the Gospel. Nor are there wanting in the ante-Nicene fathers traces of that spirit of philosophy and of erudition which in their successors shaped the doctrinal germs of the New Testament into elaborate systems of theology, varying according to the influence of Plato and of Aristotle upon the thought of the age, though in general one finds in that period rather the elementary and practical truths that belong to an age of missionary zeal. But though we may not look to the early fathers for classic elegance of style or the perfection of rhetorical art, one is charmed with their simple fervor, with their earnestness of purpose, with their unflinching devotion to the cause they had espoused; and something of roughness, even of violence, may be pardoned in men who lived in stormy times, and spoke and wrote in view of the torture, the block, the arena. We owe to them a living picture of Christianity as a working power in human thought and society at the beginning of its triumphs. (See Patristics).