Who are the Church Fathers?
The Church Fathers occupy the historical space immediately after the first Church. They are criteria of orthodox interpretations of Scripture. When we read the Scripture we read it always together with the interpretation of individual Fathers because they have transmitted their way to understand the Bible and the Church has accepted them. For instance, many of their commentaries appear in the matins the official Prayer of the Church in the whole world. They are like a first answer to revelation. The Vatican II recommends emphatically the study of their works as irreplaceable part of theological studies.
Who are the Fathers of the Church?
2. Holiness in the sense that uses the first Church
3. They are recognized as Fathers by the Church
There has been some consensus that the Greek Fathers reach until Ioannes Damascenus and the Latin Fathers until Bede.
There is a discussion about the limits of time. A new ecumenical sensitivity regarding the Orthodox and Lutheran Churches tries to establish a consensus with the theologians of both of these Churches. A consensus would be helpful in finding coincidences in teaching. Some want to include some of the famous theologians of middle age like Thomas Aquinas or Saint Bernard. The criteria would be then their universal influence.
The special place of the Church Fathers regarding theology:
The Fathers of the Church a unique and cannot be substituted in the Church because
1. They have given us the canon (the definition of what books belong to the Bible). Basically the definition of the canon cannot be separated from the formation of the Church itself. It is the same process that begins with the theology of the Fathers.
2. The have given us the "regula fidei – rule of faith" and "regula veritatis – rule of truth". These criteria, this canon of faith is pronounced by the catechumens and formulated in the symbols (profession of faith, the creeds).
3. They transmit an interpretation of the Bible (Scripture) and a profession of faith (tradition). You have to pay attention to the fact that they are witnesses of a faith lived and celebrated in communities and of a reading of the Bible as proclaimed in midst of the liturgy of the risen Lord. They witness the action of the Holy Ghost in a community of brothers.
4. They forged the theology. What they did was taking charge of the rational responsibility regarding faith. Steeped in the culture of their time they talked to their contemporaries in a way that those could understand.