Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 11, 2010

Twelve-year-olds and primary source material in the patristics

After listening to Ligon Duncan read part of Lewis’s Introduction to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, I thought to myself that since my twins are twelve years old now, I should start introducing them to some primary source material in the patristics.   This notion was encouraged by listening to Everett Ferguson’s excellent treatment of the importance of studying early Christian history and literature.  This morning, I shared that lecture with my family after breakfast.

Not being widely read in the patristics myself, I asked two friends, Ryan Martin and Paul Hartog, for recommendations of primary source material that would be reasonable to assign to twelve-year-olds.  I set forth Ignatius, Clement, Polycarp, and Chrysostom as initial suggestions.  Here are their recommendations:

Ryan suggested Melito of Sardis, Tertullian De Spectaculis and other works, Apologists Justin Martyr and Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Didache, Augustine’s Confessions, Jerome, and even Eusebius’ History.

Paul gave the following input:

I like Ryan’s list, and might add a few clarification/modifications.  I composed the list below, and then after factoring in the “twelve-year old” factor, asterisked ones that might be most fitting.

Apostolic Fathers:  1 Clement, Ignatius (at least to the Ephesians, to the *Smyrnaeans, and to the Romans), and Polycarp (to the Philippians and *Martyrdom)–they seem closest to NT thought in many ways.  The (seemingly Jewish-Christian) Didache would be of interest as well, for discussion.

Melito of Sardis:  *On the Pascha (for a sermon).

For Apologists, if you read one, I would recommend the *Epistle to Diognetus (usually classified as an Apostolic Father), and then Justin Martyr (Athenagoras may bring up various soteriological questions).

For a martyrology beyond Polycarp, try the Martyrs of Lyons and Vienne.

Irenaeus:  a brief but hard to obtain work is *The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching (but his Adversus Haereses is more accessible, and one could choose portions from it for an example of an anti-heretical work).

Tertullian (a moral treatise, *De Spectaculis would be fine).

It might be interesting to work through the first book of Origen’s influential On Christian Doctrine, and critique and assess it.

Athanasius’ *On the Incarnation.

Also, for discussion’s sake (critique and assess a shifting spirituality): The Life of St. Anthony might be of interest.

Augustine:  *the first nine books of Confessions; perhaps On Christian Doctrine? Perhaps book 9 of On the Trinity?  perhaps one of Augustine’s works on grace, such as On the Spirit and the Letter?

Some sermons of Chrysostom? A twelve-year old should enjoy *A Homily on Christmas Morning.

Perhaps Basil’s On the Holy Spirit.

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History

Any other input is welcome.



  1. Thanks for posting this, Chuck. It will be helpful, not only for 12 year olds, but for all of us who need to read more primary sources from the church fathers!

  2. Note: My 12-year old and 9-year old sons have both read Chrysostom’s “A Homily on Christmas Morning”, and enjoyed it.

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