Renaissance and Reformation The Church Fathers in Renaissance and Reformation Thought
Sam Kennerley
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0384


Until relatively recently, patristics (that is, the transmission and study of the works of authoritative writers of ancient Christianity, often called the Church “Fathers” [patres in Latin]) was a peripheral concern in the history of ideas of the Renaissance and Reformation. The Renaissance was principally associated with the recovery of classical, pagan texts; the Reformation with the increased importance of the Bible. But after some pioneering works printed in the 1970s, a rise of interest in the history of scholarship and religion over the past twenty years has led to a burst of publications about early modern patristics. It is now accepted that some—or even most—humanist scholars of the Renaissance were interested in Christian antiquity as well as its pagan counterpart, and that patristic writings mattered for Protestant as well as Catholic authors of the Reformation. This bibliography gathers the works that have proven to be essential points of reference for this historiographical shift, or that point to topics that merit further exploration in this still relatively new field of inquiry.

General Overviews

No synthetic, book-length study of the reception of the Church Fathers in the early modern period currently exists. Besides the helpful short overview provided by Backus 2014, a handful of edited collections provide the best introduction to the subject. Backus 1997 is the standard resource in English, and the only collection to offer broad, introductory articles to key topics from throughout the early modern period. Frank, et al. 2006 is more recent, but its chronological and thematic coverage is less comprehensive. Besides these two collections, other edited volumes delve more deeply into the reception of the Fathers during specific centuries in the early modern period. Grane, et al. 1993; Grane, et al. 1998; Cortesi 2002; and Cortesi 2006 all assemble articles about patristic studies in the 15th and 16th centuries, but with strong emphasis on the Reformation. Bergjan and Pollmann 2010 and Bury and Meunier 1993 study patristic reception in the 17th century, while Van Liere, et al. 2012 investigates the importance of ancient Christianity to historical writing in the early modern period.

  • Backus, Irena, ed. The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West: From the Carolingians to the Maurists. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

    Still the obligatory starting point for research into the reception of the Church Fathers in the early modern period. Contains articles about well-researched themes and individuals (the Italian Renaissance, Erasmus, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Calvinism, Baronio’s Annales, and the Magdeburg Centuries), as well as on topics that have received less attention in the wake of this book, such as the continued influence of scholastic works like Gratian’s Decretum.

  • Backus, Irena. “Patristics.” In Brill’s Encyclopaedia of the Neo-Latin World: Macropaedia. Edited by Philip Ford, Jan Bloemendal, and Charles Fantazzi, 733–745. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014.

    A recent, concise and informative overview by a leading scholar in the field.

  • Bergjan, Silke-Petra, and Karla Pollmann, eds. Patristic Tradition and Intellectual Paradigms in the 17th Century. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.

    The articles in this collection consider the patristic scholarship of Christoph Arnold, Pierre Bayle, Alexander Ross, Johann Gerhard, and Johannes Coccejus, as well as aspects of the reception of Jerome, Origen, Athanasius, and Augustine. Articles in English and German.

  • Bury, E., and B. Meunier, eds. Les Pères de l’Église au XVIIe siècle. Paris: Cerf, 1993.

    Contains a huge range of articles that in fact cover the late 16th to the 18th century, arranged following the editorial process from creation through to reception. Strong emphasis on France, articles in French.

  • Cortesi, Mariarosa, ed. I padri sotto il torchio: Le edizioni dell’antichità cristiana nei secoli XV–XVI. Florence: SISMEL, 2002.

    A helpful collection of articles on specific Church Fathers (Tertullian, Eucharius of Lyons, Basil, Chrysostom, Nazianzen, pseudo-Dionysius) and scholars (Daneau, Bruni, Zini, and Sylburg). The articles in this volume address specific research questions rather than providing overviews of their subject, and are written in Italian and French.

  • Cortesi, Mariarosa, ed. “Editiones Principes” delle opere dei padri greci e latini. Florence: SISMEL, 2006.

    Another useful collection of articles, this time on the theme of first editions of Church Fathers and their editors (Morel and pseudo-Cyprian, Jerome, Augustine, the letter of Barnabas, Combefis and Maximus the Confessor, Mesnart and Novatian, Ognibene da Lonigo and Athanasius, Theodoret, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory Nazianzen). Articles in Italian and French.

  • Frank, Günther, Thomas Leinkauf, and Markus Wreidt, eds. Die Patristik in der frühen Neuzeit: Die Relektüre der Kirchenväter in den Wissenschaften des 15. bis 18. Jahrhunderts. Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 2006.

    The articles in this collection address patristic reception in less obvious areas of study: Lutheranism, especially the contribution of Melanchthon, as well as the role of the Church Fathers in early modern natural philosophy (Campanella, Leibniz, Newton). There are also contributions about important figures such as Bellarmine and Jean Daillé. Articles in German, English, French, and Italian.

  • Grane, Leif, Alfred Schindler, and Markus Wreidt, eds. Auctoritas patrum: Contributions on the Reception of the Church Fathers in the 15th and 16th Century. Mainz, Germany: Phillip von Zabern, 1993.

    This collection is strongly focused on the patristic scholarship of the early Reformation. Contains articles on Erasmus, Jean Gillot, Ambrosius Blarer, Timoteo Maffei, Zwingli, the Leipzig Disputation, Staupitz, Cassander, and a large number of contributions that specifically address Martin Luther’s use of the Church Fathers. Individual topics such as the Council of Nicaea, justification, and the authority of the Fathers also receive attention. Articles in German, English, and French.

  • Grane, Leif, Alfred Schindler, and Markus Wreidt, eds. Auctoritas patrum II: New Contributions on the Reception of the Church Fathers in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Mainz, Germany: Phillip von Zabern, 1998.

    An addition to the previous volume (Grane, et al. 1993), this collection ranges more widely than its predecessor. Contributions address the patristic scholarship of the Italian humanist Antonio da Rho, Thomas Murner, the Catholic figures Eck and Blanckaert, as well as in the Lutheran (Georg Major, Wittenberg, Sweden) and Reformed (Zwingli, Calvin) traditions. The reception of early church historians (Orosius) and controversies (Donatism) is also addressed. Articles in German and English.

  • Van Liere, Katherine, Simon Ditchfield, and Howard Louthan, eds. Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    A helpful introduction to the subject of “sacred history,” a discipline that often overlapped with patristics. Despite the title of this volume, most contributions concern the writing of sacred history in the Catholic world during and after the Reformation.

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