The First 500 Years: The Fathers, Councils, and Doctrines of the Early Church


How can Jesus be both God and man? Who exactly is the Holy Spirit? Is Mary really the Mother of God?

You asked Catholic Courses for apologetics - but we want to give you more than a few simple explanations or brief answers to frequently asked questions. We've therefore developed a course that goes deep into Church history and doctrine - you'll get more than just apologetics. Study The First 500 Years for real theological substance and perspective.

It Takes Time

Based on the writings of the Church Fathers, Father David Meconi, S.J. discusses the development of doctrines in the Early Church. Did you know it took years - even centuries - to finalize many crucial Catholic beliefs? Through a series of councils, the Church defined and declared doctrines on:
  • The hypostatic union between Christ's divine and human natures
  • Mary as the "Theotokos" - the "God-Bearer"
  • The primacy of the pope
  • The action and person of the Holy Spirit
The Fathers of the Church not only helped write the words to define what Catholics have believed for millennia, they debated about these doctrines to clarify them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Why Study the Church Fathers?

How can they help you answer challenges against the Faith? The Fathers were there from the very beginning of the Church. Their writings and thoughts on doctrine helped shape theology as it developed over the first few centuries of the Church. If you want to know why we believe what we believe, start with the Church Fathers - and that's exactly what Father Meconi does in this course.

More, and Better, than Apologetics

This course is more than apologetics - it is a comprehensive look at the formative years of the Catholic Church. Discover where our doctrines about Mary, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit came from. Understand the influence of the great saints Cyril, Pope Leo, and Augustine. Embrace the rich heritage of our religion. Join Father Meconi for this fascinating look at the early days of the Catholic Church.
  1. The Purpose and Persons of Patristic Thought
    • The Fathers were the immediate inheritors of the teachings of Christ through the Apostles; we study them because they laid down the very foundation of the Church.
  2. The Church under Persecution
    • The earliest period of Church history was shaped by persecution, which led at least one Father to comment, “The blood of Christ’s martyrs is the seed of the Church."
  3. Constantine, Conversion, and Councils
    •  The Church survived external persecutions, only to face the internal threats of Novatian’s rigorism which deprived sinners of absolution, and Arianism’s denial of Christ’s divinity.
  4. The Cappadocian Fathers and the Holy Spirit
    • Sts. Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus preserved the mystery of relationship and union in the Trinity at the Council of Constantinople.
  5. Theotokos: Mary as the Mother of God
    • At the Council of Ephesus, the Church emphatically and definitively declared that Mary is truly the Mother of God; she is the Mother and Model to All Christians.
  6. Saint Augustine and the Beauty of Confession
    • Next to the Apostle  Paul, St. Augustine of Hippo is perhaps most responsible for helping the Church formulate doctrines on grace, the sacraments, and how God works in the human soul.
  7. Pope Leo the Great and Humanity’s Newness in Christ
    • As the Successor of Peter, Pope Leo the Great presided over the Council of Chalcedon which declared Christ’s human and divine natures are without confusion, change, division, and separation
  8. Monks, Missions, and the Rise of Christendom
    • All the Church’s doctrines are rooted in the Patristic Era; today, we are all recipients of the organic development begun by the Fathers’ theological insights and conciliar decisions.
Lecture Sample

Meet Your Professor

Father David Meconi, S.J., entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1992. He credits the Jesuits at Marquette University for introducing him to the beauty of the Church Fathers and to the power of St. Augustine in particular.

Father Meconi holds his Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, England and a Pontifical Licentiate in Greek and Latin Patristic Theology from the University of Innsbruck, Austria. He currently teaches as Assistant Professor of Patristic Studies and serves as the Undergraduate Director of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University.

Father Meconi is the author of:
Catherine Doherty: Essential Writings (Orbis Press, 2009)
Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward: Spiritual Writings (Orbis Press, 2010)
The One Christ: St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification (Catholic University of America Press, 2013)
The Restless Heart: The Life and Thought of Saint Augustine (Ignatius Press, forthcoming)

His articles have been published in Lay Witness, National Review, Distributist Review, and National Catholic Register.

Father Meconi is also the editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review and co-editor of Cambridge University’s Companion to Augustine. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Augustinian Studies, International Philosophical Quarterly, New Oxford Review, and other scholastic journals.


Homeschooling Products

The Homeschooling Set includes the Streaming Video and Homeschooling Course Guide. Each Course Guide contains everything needed for a student to complete the course, including:

Lesson Plan
Final Essay 
Lecture Notes
Answer Key


Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ
TAN Courses
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