Church Fathers, do Protestants consult them?

This question is for all you serious, well informed Protestant members of these forums, and is not a lead-in to a sola-scriptura debate or bible vs. tradition rant. I am particularly interested in the answers of those of you who are seminary trained in the doctrines of your religion. When interpreting scripture, or researching practices of the early Church, or determining the validity of a doctrine, do you place any weight on the writings of the Fathers of the Church? Since most of us profess the Nicene Creed which was settled during the deliberations of early Church councils, I assume that most Protestant confessions or creeds accept the actions of those councils as valid. Is there a cut-off date, or are some Fathers accepted by Catholics considered unreliable by Protestant scholars? Thank you very much and I look forward to reading the replies.

If possible, could responders please note your denomination, and if you feel it is relevant, where you received your education? I ask because I realize “Protestant” is an elastic an imprecise term we Catholics use to mean “non-Catholic” and and don’t want to jump to conclusions about any denomination or sect, or use your answers to make generalizations about “what Protestants believe.”

hmmm… a few things:

  1. Though I’m not formally educated (I graduated high school and did some college), I do study these things on my own. That being said, my confessional position is Reformed Baptist (though I have strong Lutheran and Reformed influences)

  2. I do study the fathers themselves as well as scholars and writers from other periods in Christian history as an aide to forming my own opinions. I don’t always agree with them, but I do think it is necessary to at least interact with them.

  3. One thing that is often overlooked by many protestants today is that even our own confessions and doctrines can’t be properly understood without historical context. For instance, the Westminster confession uses many terms and concepts that it inherited directly from the scholastic and patristic writings. If you know where they come from, it’s far easier to see what the confessions themselves are teaching and how they are related to what came before.

  4. I find no problem in reading broadly throughout the Christian and even heretical works (as they give you a context for understanding your own beliefs). About the only writings I really don’t enjoy very much are those that get too mystical or allegorical. Their primary value seems to me just that they show the bounds of the rule of faith at the time and the context in which people thought.


I was an evangelical protestant for 7 years before returning to the Catholic Church early last year. I belonged to the Evangelical Covenant Church. It was a nice church with many good people.
i was involved in many programs at church, sunday school, stuff like that.
there was very little consideration given to the early church fathers in teaching.
Augustine was given lip service. Jerome was mentioned because he translated the Scriptures and didn’t agree with the OT deuterocanonicals. but that is really about all i remember and i was very active in the teaching ministries of the congregation because i was on the Christian education committee.

But other than that, there was very little historical context given in any teaching whatsoever. Luther and Calvin were mentioned a little, but mostly only in passing as what they did as reformers.

Dan-Man, do you really find that Catholic churches mention the Fathers a lot either? I’m talking on the congregational level, the same kind of setting in which your evangelical church didn’t address them. My experience is that most Catholic laypeople (and many priests) aren’t that well acquainted with the Fathers either. But maybe that’s just my experience.

Seminary-trained Protestants may or may not be taught the Fathers. Certainly Protestants are taught that the Fathers are important as early interpreters of Scripture. Whether they take them regularly into account in their own theology and interpretation depends on what kind of Protestants you are talking about. But certainly many Protestant seminaries, such as Duke Divinity School, which I know because I’m getting my Ph.D. from Duke and have taught in the Divinity School, emphasize the Fathers quite heavily. Admittedly, Duke is unusual in that respect, but not unique. Emmanuel School of Religion, the seminary across the road from the college I attended, had two patristics professors, which is unusual for a relatively small school. Drew, where my wife currently works, is generally very liberal but also is the place where the “Ancient Christian Commentary” series is being produced, which is basically a catena of patristic Biblical interpretation.

Generally, there’s a rebirth of interest in the Fathers among Protestants. Look for instance at the periodical Christian History, which last year had an issue dealing with patristic Biblical interpretation. Protestants are becoming increasingly aware that they can’t understand their own faith without understanding the Fathers better. How much of that has seeped down to the local congregation? Well, not too much, perhaps. But these things take time, and often manifest themselves in indirect ways.

In Christ,


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