PREFACE TO THE CHARTS
The charts in this section of the website aim to present an overview of (a) the people who had been the teachers of the Catholic faith and (b) their writings, as well as other early Christian writings, including the Bible itself.
The people described in the charts are mostly the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the Ecclesiastical Writers, and the popes. In a sense, this part of the website may be considered part of every theologian's resources, because it contains links to valuable works by Doctors, Fathers, Ecclesiastical Writers, and popes.
The Fathers of the Church were those who enlightened the Church with their teachings and example during the first eight centuries of Christianity. They were people known for their sanctity, orthodoxy (fidelity to the Magisterium), great learning, and whom the Church acknowledged (by quoting their writings in Councils and Church documents) as our teachers in the Faith.
During the Patristic era, some Christian writers were noted for their great learning and for having greatly contributed to the Church’s understanding of Catholic doctrine. However, for lack of eminent holiness or perfect orthodoxy, they were not regarded as “Fathers of the Church,” but were simply called "Ecclesiastical Writers."
Other writings had come down to us, the authors of which were either unknown, uncertain, or barely known, but whose teachings appeared to have their source in the Apostles. These writings are not listed in the charts among the writings of the Fathers, but they are appropriately grouped under "Early Christian Writings."
The "Early Christian Writings" should be carefully distinguished from many scripture-like books that seem to rival those that came from the Apostles, but which the Church never recognized as inspired or as part of Holy Scripture. This group of books, sometimes called "the lost books of the Bible," is known as the Apocrypha or the "Apocryphal Books." Some scholars prefer to call these early Christian books, which do not belong to the canon of inspired writings, "pseudepigraphical" (or falsely titled books) because they were often falsely attributed to the Apostles, who did not write them. Anyway, note that calling these competing "gospels" apocryphal does not mean that they are worthless. It only means that because they are not "inspired," they are therefore not guaranteed to be free of doctrinal errors. In fact, some apocryphal books contain heretical teachings, which is why caution and discretion are required when reading them. Apocryphal books, on the other hand, may contain important historical details not found in inspired writings. For example, the names of the Virgin Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, are not in the canonical Gospels but may be found in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James.
The Doctors of the Church were similar to the Fathers in that they also enlightened the Church with their teachings and examples. But they were given the special title “Doctor” because of a special pronouncement by the Pope. One can be a “Father” without being declared as such by a Pope, but one does not become a “Doctor” unless proclaimed as such by a Pope. Some of the Fathers, such as St. Jerome, were also given the special title “Doctor.” But not all the Fathers received that honor. On the other hand, the Doctors were not limited to the Fathers either. Some distinguished theologians who lived after the first eight centuries of Christianity were given the title "Doctor. For example, Saint Thomas Aquinas was celebrated as a Doctor of the Church, but he was not considered a Church Father because he lived during the thirteenth century, which was way past the Patristic era.
The popes were Saint Peter's successors as Head of the Church.They were also teachers, for it is one of the functions of the pope to teach, and they have enlightened the Church with their teachings. Some of the popes during the Patristic era, such as Pope St. Clement I of Rome, were also regarded as “Fathers.” And some of the Fathers, such as St. Jerome or Pope St. Leo the Great, were also honored with the title “Doctor.”
The charts given in this section of the website show who is who on the Church’s long list of Fathers, Ecclesiastical Writers, Doctors, and popes.
Saint Thomas Aquinas
Doctor of the Church
A Painting by Carlo Crivelli, 1476
Image source link: WikiArt.org
Saint Jerome in his Study
Father and Doctor of the Church
A painting by Jan van Eyck, 1432
Image source link: WikiArt.org
The charts presented here appear to have similar information as the ones that one might find on other websites. However, there are also significant differences:
The charts here have a separate list for the Doctors of the Church, which includes those who lived after the Patristic Era. Other websites often do not have a list of Doctors after the Patristic Era. (Note that the works listed in the charts are not complete but include only those that have already been translated into English and are freely available online.)
The charts show the Fathers separately from the Ecclesiastical Writers. Other websites show them together, which can sometimes be confusing because the Ecclesiastical Writers are technically not “Fathers” according to the present definition. Indeed, some of the Ecclesiastical Writers even taught heretical doctrines.
The charts list the Fathers of the Church chronologically, which makes it easier to follow the development of doctrine. Other websites list them alphabetically, which has the advantage of making them easier to find.
The charts are linked to various websites on the Internet, wherever the desired book or resource may be found.
The charts include brief, capsule biographies or descriptions of each Father and are linked to corresponding pages on CatholicSaints.info for additional information. Other websites link the Fathers to encyclopedia articles that are often lengthy because they are more thorough.
The chart of Apocryphal Books shows a section for Old Testament Apocryphal Books and a separate section for New Testament Apocryphal Books. The apocryphal books in the New Testament section are not arranged chronologically but logically according to their main themes. A link to a Wikipedia article or some other reference is given for additional information about each book.
Although similar listings can be found on other websites, the charts presented here offer an alternative way of approaching and learning about the Fathers, the Ecclesiastical Writers, the Doctors, and the Popes and their writings.
The timeline of the Bible under the Charts tab was produced by the author based on his research. It was not copied from, but diligently compared with, the timelines made by other authors.
The Books of the Bible chart is a summary of the books that belong to the Catholic canon of Holy Scripture. Links to early commentaries and homilies made by the Doctors, Fathers, Ecclesiastical Writers, and other Catholic authors are given for each sacred book. These are great commentaries, as they greatly contributed to the Church's understanding of the meaning of the sacred texts. Bishop Challoner's notes, which are included in the links, may also be found as footnotes in the DCR Bible given on the Resources/Bibles page.
One might complain that the commentaries are too old and do not take advantage of recent scholarship. Indeed, the books of the early commentators are old, but the incisive and spiritual insights they contain are not. Having said that, I think that the complaint is valid. My dilemma is that modern commentaries are not available online. However, the NABRE Bible, whose link is also given on the Bible's page, contains plenty of commentary footnotes based on historico-critical analyses. These may be used in conjunction with the commentaries listed in the chart for each sacred book.
Readers are welcome to make suggestions for any possible improvements to the charts. At my option, these improvements may be added to the charts in future revisions. I will also be grateful to those who alert me to any broken links or any missing works by the Fathers and Doctors that are now freely available online. Please send all suggestions and comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact page.