Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
A term applied to ancient authors who have preserved in their writings traditions of the church. Thus St. Chrysostom, St. Basil, &c. are called Greek fathers, and St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, Latin fathers. No author who wrote later than the twelfth century is dignified with the title of father. Some suppose that the study of the fathers is barren and unimproving; that though there are some excellent things interspersed in their writings, yet the instruction to be derived from them will hardly repay the toil of breaking up the ground; that a life-time would hardly suffice to read them with care, and digest them completely. Others have such an high opinion of the fathers, as to be almost afraid of interpreting Scripture against their decision. The suppose, that as some of them were companions, disciples, or successively followers of the apostles, it is highly probable that they must have been well informed, that their sentiments must be strongly illustrative of the doctrines of the New Testament; and that as controversies have increased, and dogma received since their time, they must be much less entangled with decisions merely human than more recent commentators. Perhaps it is best to steer between these two opinions. If a person have ability, inclination, and opportunity to wade through them, let him: but if not, referring to them occasionally may suffice. One caution, however, is necessary, which is this; that though the judgment of antiquity in some disputable points certainly may be useful, yet we ought never to put them on the same footing as the Scriptures. In many cases they may be considered as competent witnesses; but we must not confide in their verdict as judges. Jortin's Works, vol. 7: chap. 2; Kett's Serm. at Brampton Lec. ser. 1; Warburton's Julian; Simpson's Strictures on Religious Opinions, latter end; Daille's Use of the Fathers, p. 167; Law's Theory; Dr. Clarke's View of the Succession of Sacred Literature, p. 312.
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Fathers'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/f/fathers.html. 1802.