The North American Patristic Society was founded on December 29, 1970 at a convention of the American Philological Association in New York City. When the first meeting was held, 75 persons attended and heard a program of three papers. The idea for a Society had begun with a conversation between Michael P. McHugh and Robert D. Sider at a meeting of classicists in April 1969. The founders believed that “more effective teaching and research could be carried out in patristics by bringing into one forum scholars in such varied fields as classical philology, theology, church history and ancient history, and philosophy” (McHugh, 1971). In the year following the first meeting, Louis J. Swift drafted a constitution, which was approved by the members at the next meeting of the APA in 1971 at Cincinnati. The first president, Bruce M. Metzger, was elected for the year 1972. In 1973 the Society was incorporated in the state of Kentucky as a non-profit organization.
Through 1980 the Society met each year in late December in conjunction with the APA. In those same years the Society often held joint sessions with the Medieval Institute in Kalamazoo and with the American Society of Church History in order to expand its presence and seek a suitable home. The beginnings were small. Often only ten or twelve people attended a session. Louis Swift wrote of the early years, “Nobody knew whether we would even survive, let alone flourish.”
William R. Schoedel and Louis Swift, in consultation with Joseph F. Kelly, planned the First Independent Conference for Chicago in May 1981. The initial idea was to meet every two years, and the meetings that took place in 1983 and 1985 were called the Biennial Meeting. The first printed program was produced in 1985 by Robert L. Wilkin. J. Patout Burns served as the local coordinator at Loyola University Chicago for these meetings, except in Oxford years. In 2002 the Society officially changed its name to The North American Patristics Society, Inc. The meeting in June 2005 was the eighteenth independent meeting.
The Society’s first publication was the newsletter Patristics, first edited by Louis Swift and then successively by Frederick W. Norris, Thomas M. Finn, John J. O’Keefe, and Clayton N. Jefford. Beginning ca. 1980 the newsletter came to include book reviews with Joseph Kelly and then Michael Slusser serving as book review editors.
In 1986 the Society took over the Patristic Monograph Series. Twelve volumes in the series had been published by the Philadelphia Patristic Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mercer University Press was engaged as publisher and brought out four volumes between 1988 and 1997. The first editor was Frederick Norris, who was succeeded by Joseph T. Lienhard in 1993 and thereafter by Philip Rousseau in 2002. In 1999 The Catholic University of America Press became the publisher of the series. In 2008, editorship of the Series passed to David Hunter. In 2011, Christopher Beeley became its editor. Christopher oversaw the Series’ transition from CUA Press to University of California Press in 2014.
In 1993 the Society began the publication of a journal entitled The Journal of Early Christian Studies, edited by Everett Ferguson and Elizabeth Clark. From 1981 to 1992, Ferguson had edited nine volumes of an independent journal called The Second Century: A Journal of Early Christian Studies, which became the foundation of the new JECS. The book review functions of the Patristics newsletter were incorporated into the journal, and currently are directed by Louis Swift. Ultimately, Patout Burns replaced Ferguson as co-editor. Burns himself was succeeded in 2004 by David Brakke, who became sole editor in 2005. Upon completion of David Brakke’s term in 2015, NAPS appointed Stephen Shoemaker as the new editor of JECS. The JECS currently has a circulation of around 1500.
In 1997 John O’Keefe created a web page for the organization at www.patristics.org. In 2006 NAPS moved the site of its annual meeting from Loyola University in Chicago to the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza. In the same year the society instituted its “Lifetime Achievement Award” (see below). In 2014, interest and growth in the Society’s annual meeting necessitated a move to a larger venue, the Hyatt Regency in Chicago.
- McHugh, Michael P. “The North American Patristic Society: Retrospect and Prospect.” Classical Folia 25 (1971), 5-8.
- Norris, Frederick W. “Black Marks on the Communities’ Manuscripts.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 2 (1994), 443-66.
- “Research Groups in North America Studying Early Christianity.” Second Century 1 (1981), 55-58.
Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J. February 15, 2000
Periodic amendments and updates by Clayton N. Jefford, David G. Hunter and Brian J. Matz
Presidents of the Society
- 1972 Bruce M. Metzger (+)
- 1973 Robert D. Sider
- 1974 Maurice Cunningham (+)
- 1975 Robert M. Grant
- 1976 William R. Schoedel
- 1977 Joseph M.-F. Marique, S.J. (+)
- 1978 John Meyendorff (+)
- 1979 Thomas P. Halton
- 1980/81 William R. Schoedel
- 1981-83 Dennis E. Groh
- 1983-85 David Balás, O.Cist. (+)
- 1985/86 Robert L. Wilken
- 1986-88 Sidney H. Griffith
- 1988/89 Elizabeth Clark
- 1989/90 Charles Kannengiesser
- 1990-92 Everett Ferguson
- 1992/93 J. Patout Burns
- 1993/94 Frederick W. Norris
- 1994-96 Joseph F. Kelly
- 1996/97 Patricia Cox Miller
- 1997/98 Brian E. Daley, S.J.
- 1998-2000 Susan Ashbrook Harvey
- 2000/01 Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J.
- 2001/02 J. Rebecca Lyman
- 2002-04 William Tabbernee
- 2004/05 James E. Goehring
- 2005/06 Maureen A. Tilley (+)
- 2006-08 David G. Hunter
- 2008-09 Paul Blowers
- 2009-10 Virginia Burrus
- 2010-2012 Dennis Trout
- 2012-2013 Kenneth Steinhauser
- 2013-2014 Robin Jensen
- 2014-2016 Susanna Elm
Recipients of NAPS’ Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2006 Elizabeth Clark
- 2008 Everett Ferguson
- 2012 Louis Swift
- 2016 Kenneth Steinhauser