Read the Fathers

Join a world-wide community in reading the church fathers daily.

Frequently Asked Questions

Seven pages a day for seven years is a big commitment.

That’s not a question. But yes, it is a big commitment. And yes, we do think it is worth it. If you participate in the reading with others, you’ll find it easier to do, and you’ll learn more.

How can I write to you?

Send us an e-mail at info@readthefathers.org.

Why isn’t the calendar of readings complete for the full seven years?

Planning the calendar is a lot of work. We’ve released the first year, and we intend to release it year by year as we are able to plan ahead.

Where can I get copies of the church fathers?

See the Start Reading page for suggestions.

Why are you using this particular edition of the church fathers?

We’ve based this plan on the series Ante-Nicene Fathers edited by Alexander Robertson and James Donaldson, which is nine volumes (plus a tenth volume that is an index) and the two-part series Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, which is twenty-eight volumes. Both series were published in English translations in the late nineteenth century by T. & T. Clark and affiliated publishers.

We’ve picked this edition because it is by far the most accessible. The edition is in the public domain, which means that it is freely accessible online. The Christian Classics Ethereal Library hosted by Calvin College has high-quality digital editions in a variety of formats, as well as scans of the page images. Most academic libraries and some larger public libraries have various printings of this edition. And the edition is still in print by Hendrickson Publishers, which means it is available from a variety of booksellers. (See the Start Reading page for a list of booksellers and online editions.)

To be sure, this edition has a number of flaws. There has been a great deal of work done in patristics since Philip Schaff laid down his pen, so this edition does not use the advanced critical texts. It does not include some patristic texts, such as Irenaeus’s Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, that were discovered after the edition was produced, nor does it include some standard texts, such as Benedict’s Rule. The language of the translation is often archaic (and not in a good way). The introductions and elucidations (which we’re skipping anyway) are often obnoxiously Protestant in nineteenth-century fashion.

But having one standard edition that is freely available trumps those concerns. Because we’re listing citations and not just page numbers (e.g., Augustine, Confessions, bk. 1 ch. 1) we hope that many readers will choose to read in superior editions. Before each major work, we plan to suggest other editions that can be consulted. At the end of the ANF and NPNF cycle, we may suggest additional readings to round out the seven years.

What about the church mothers?

Don’t take the term “church fathers” as excluding women. The writings of the first centuries of the Christian church were authored almost entirely by men. But one will find women given a prominent place within the tradition, as in the Gospel accounts of the women at Christ’s tomb, in Augustine’s thankfulness in the Confessions for his mother Monica’s prayers, or in Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Macrina, his sister.

Do you have a theological or ecclesiological bias?

Of course we do; we wouldn’t be interested (or interesting) if we didn’t. Suffice it to say that the first two organizers are Protestants (but not the kind of Protestants who usually read patristics). But we’re not promoting anything here beyond the reading of the fathers. The fathers of the church are the common heritage of all Christians, even those who deny that heritage.

How did you come up with the idea for this reading plan?

Three ideas or desires came together to make this site. First, we had a longstanding desire to read the fathers, which we had dipped into from time to time. Second, we became aware of a number of plans or lectionaries for reading the fathers, such as those for the daily offices of the Anglican or Roman Catholic churches. These plans were almost exclusively devotional, however, and offered only brief highlights of a comparatively narrow range of the fathers. Third, we learned of daf yomi, a plan by which many Jews read a folio page front and back (daf) per day (yomi) of the Talmud Bavli, and so are able to read the entire Talmud in a cycle of about seven years. A daf of the Vilna Talmud translated into English with explanations is about seven or eight pages in the Steinsaltz or Schottstein editions of the Talmud. Borrowing that idea, we wanted a comparable reading plan for Christians. Hence, seven pages per day in the Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers leads to a seven-year cycle for reading a very large selection of the Christian fathers.

Who created this reading plan?

This plan was made by two Christian laymen, as a motivation for their own study of the fathers, and as their gift to the church of Christ, in the hopes that it will be of use for the edification and education of their fellow believers.

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