What are the most important writings of the Church Fathers for defending Catholic doctrines?

I want to start reading some of the Church Fathers, specifically looking for the most important writings for defending Catholic doctrine against Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians. I just ordered volume 1 of Faith of the Early Fathers by William Jurgens to get some early writings in print.

Can anyone direct me to the best writings on any of the following doctrines (or books or resources discussing the Fathers on these topics): Eucharist/transubstantiation, nature of the Church (against the Protestant “invisible catholic Church” idea), the primacy of Rome/papal authority/infallibility, justification/salvation not by “sola fide”, and the Marian doctrines. These are the ones that are most contested by non-Catholics.

You may want to get the book The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers (expanded edition) by Mike Aquilina. Archbishop Charles Chaput recommends it.

I have not read it myself, but just put it on my Want to Read list!


I think you are already on the right track with Jurgens. The doctrinal index in volumes 2 and 3 is what you want as it serves as an index to all three volumes. The doctrinal index in volume 1 only refers to volume 1 for some reason. At least, that’s how it is in my copy. Maybe newer printings are different.

In any case, the doctrinal index in Jurgens takes you through the creed and the sacraments and points you to the passage from one of the Fathers that supports the Catholic teaching. It’s super helpful! :thumbsup:

Jimmy Akin’s “Fathers Know Best” is excellent and he gives a brief primer on each council and each ECF so you have the background for better context. His index is easy to search.

Jurgen’s takes a somewhat different approach, compiling most of the more important texts of all the ECF’s in 3 volumes titled “Faith of the Early Fathers” (compared to the sets of a couple-dozen volumes of incredible cost) for a very reasonable price. These can be purchased per volume, or as a set, and are arranged in chronological order. His index is also easy to search.

I have both resources and have found them to be wonderfully helpful on numerous occasions, for personal education and for apologetics. Catholic Answers offers these, I think, but I was unable to pull up the Shop link at this time.

Jimmy Akins book “The Drama of Salvation” is outstanding for understanding justification/salvation.

For at least some of the sacraments, Justin Martyr’s (AD 100-165) “First Apology” goes into Baptism, Eucharist, and the Mass in a rough overview but still pretty thorough for that time period. One of many places on the web earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-firstapology.html

For Marian books, Scott Hahn “Hail Holy Queen” and Tim Staples “Behold Your Mother” (although I have not personally read Behold Your Mother) should cover that area pretty thoroughly. You may also like John Martignoni’s talk “Mary and the Bible” free MP3 download and others biblechristiansociety.com/download

Jurgens will definitely get you going in the right direction for most of what you are looking for and the others will fill in the gaps.

St. Optatus…calledtocommunion.com/2011/06/st-optatus-on-schism-and-the-bishop-of-rome/

You can find a ton of good, quick information by googling “early church fathers” + whatever specific topic you are interested in: “justification”, “sola fide”, “tradition”, “eucharist”, “authority”, “infant baptism”, “sacraments”, “Peter”, “Apostolic succession”, “purgatory” etc. Pay attention to Ignatius of Antioch and Justin Martyr. Lots of good Catholic stuff there.

My copy is the same. I took a peek at Amazon and it does not seem to be updated.

Of course, if someone has only Vol 1 then that’s all he needs.

In any case, the doctrinal index in Jurgens takes you through the creed and the sacraments and points you to the passage from one of the Fathers that supports the Catholic teaching. It’s super helpful! :thumbsup:

I’ve invested thousands of dollars into my theological library, which now mostly gathers dust thanks to the Internet. But Jurgens is always on my desk, and I use them all the time. The doctrinal index absolutely has no equal, and I don’t think search technology will ever render it obsolete. The signal-to-noise ratio on Google is very poor, but Jurgens is 100% signal (and you can easily see which Fathers taught against a particular idea (such as the validity of Baptism by heretics), because contrary opinions are included and indicated by parenthesis in the doctrinal index).

To the OP: The CA library has many tracts which are compilations of Early Church teaching (and seem to be taken straight from Jurgens). Unfortunately, they are not conveniently grouped together, but are spread around various categories (corresponding to Jurgens’ index). Sometimes you can spot these if the title includes “Fathers know best,” but not all ECF tracts are clearly identified.

That book by Jimmy Akin looks really good, I just placed an order for it on Amazon. Thanks for the suggestion.

Yeah, I ordered the Jurgen volume 1 a few days ago, still waiting for it, it sounds like it will be just the thing I needed.

Ditto Akin’s and Jurgens’ books. For Marian doctrines, an invaluable resource on ECFs is Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church.

This link has selections from the Church Fathers on 70 apologetics topics:

Church Fathers

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