The Centre for Patristics and Early Christianity (CPEC) at McMaster Divinity College provides opportunities to study the contexts and careers of the mothers and fathers of the early church: their literature, theology, history, worship, and spirituality. Through MDC’s degree programs and publication opportunities, along with Centre-led conferences and mentorship, students will be equipped to positively contribute to the field of early Christian studies and to inspire the contemporary Church. The faculty’s expertise includes:

  • Second-Century Theology and History
  • The Greek Patristic Tradition
    (esp. Athanasius, the Cappadocians, John of Damascus)
  • Patristic Spirituality, Liturgy, and Worship
  • Syriac Christianity
  • NT Reception & Canon
  • Papyrology and Early Material Culture
  • Apocryphal Literature
  • Early Christians on Empire, War & Peace



  • About

    The Centre for Patristics and Early Christianity (CPEC) was created to provide students with an opportunity for an immersive education into the world and thought of ancient Christianity. As a student-focused centre, all activities are geared towards educating and empowering emerging scholars and ministers.

    Why study Patristics and Early Christianity?

    It is true that faculty positions in patristics and early Christianity are not numerous. Nevertheless, the study of the early Church provides tremendous opportunities for both scholars and ministers. The latter are equipped through both the example and teachings of the early fathers and mothers, thus providing a unique and deeply formative education in ministry, theology, and the study of spirituality. Aspiring scholars will benefit from the same and will be grounded in the primary sources and key influences that shaped the Christian tradition. Thus, the student of patristics and early Christianity will be uniquely prepared to teach historical theology and to strengthen departmental offerings in the study of Old and New Testament Scripture.

    Why Study at McMaster Divinity College?

    Dr. Stanley Porter has articulated well the advantages of pursuing an education at MDC. There are also several benefits to studying patristics/early Christianity with MDC and the CPEC. These include:

    • A diversity of faculty specializations
    • Additional opportunities to connect with world-class scholars (Centre fellows)
    • Multiple patristic scholars on faculty in an intimate college setting
    • Increased opportunities through the Centre’s activities
  • Faculty & Fellows

    Faculty Directors

    Dr. James R. Payton Jr.

    Professor of Patristics and Historical Theology

    Research Areas: Greek Patristics & Eastern Theology, Apostolic Fathers, Second Century Theology, Irenaeus of Lyons

    Dr. Payton joined McMaster Divinity College as Professor of Patristics and Historical Theology in 2021. He is also Professor Emeritus of History at Redeemer University. He has made presentations in several international and North American conferences, his papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes, and he has authored six books.

    A doctoral dissertation on the Reformers’ views of Church history as a religious authority (subordinate to Scripture) resulted in Dr. Payton becoming aware of how highly they regarded and how much they relied on the Church fathers. That led into a decades-long study of patristic writings. Researching, teaching, and writing on the Church fathers followed apace: he has published on Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus.

    In addition to scholarly contributions in Patristics, Dr. Payton has endeavored to make the riches of the Church fathers’ teaching and perspectives available to laypeople in churches. This has led to his Irenaeus on the Christian Faith: A Condensation of Against Heresies (2011) and A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today (2013).

    Dr. Don W. Springer

    Lecturer in Patristics

    Research Areas: Patristic Spirituality, Irenaeus of Lyons

    Dr. Springer is a graduate of McMaster Divinity College and joined the patristics faculty in 2021. He was an instructor at the Pappas Patristic Institute’s summer patristics program for three years, currently serves on the executive of the Canadian Society for Patristic Studies, and helped launch New Horizons in Early Christian Studies, an independent group established to organize conferences (held in 2021 & 2023).

    Specializing in the study of Irenaeus and early Christian spirituality, Dr. Springer has offered courses on patristics and the spirituality of Irenaeus, and has lectured on a wide variety of topics related to historical theology. His work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes and has been presented in numerous conferences throughout Europe and North America.

    Dr. Springer has recently co-edited two volumes of essays: Patristic Spirituality: Classical Perspectives on Ascent in the Journey to God (Brill, 2022) and Studia Patristica: Readings in Irenaeus (Peeters, 2021). His current projects include working with John Behr and Awet Andemichel on a proposed Oxford Handbook of Irenaeus.

    Additional Faculty

    Dr. Stanley E. Porter

    President of McMaster Divinity College, Professor of New Testament

    Research Areas: NT Canon, Papyrology, Septuagint, Christian Apocrypha

    Dr. Porter has taught New Testament and early Christianity for over thirty years and has been at McMaster Divinity College since 2001. He has concentrated upon the language and literature of the Hellenistic, Roman, and early Byzantine periods, producing significant work on the Greek language. He has also taught courses on a variety of early Christian texts and non-Christian texts that support the language milieu of the emerging Church. Porter has published widely in the areas of development of the New Testament canon, the emergence of Christianity in the second century, papyrology and early to Byzantine period biblical manuscripts, the Septuagint, the Gospel of Peter, apocryphal Greek fragmentary Gospels, and Romanos Melodus. Stanley Porter and Wendy Porter were the first to identify and publish a papyrus fragment identified at the time of publication as by Romanos Melodus, the renowned sixth-century Christian preacher. They have also published an edition of New Testament papyri and parchments from the Vienna National Library, including an edition of the second/third century so-called Fayum Fragment (de Gruyter, 2008).

    Dr. Haitham Issak

    Instructor in Syriac

    Research Areas: Syriac Patristics, History, and Language

    Dr. John Haitham Issak graduated with his PhD from McMaster Divinity College. His doctoral thesis entailed a study of Athanasius’s pneumatology in the letters to Serapion. His ongoing research projects are focused on Syriac and the Syriac church fathers Ephrem, Aphrahaat, and Jacob of Serugh. Most recently, he has translated a number of letters of Timothy I of Baghdad from Syriac into English. Dr. Issak has taught patristics, along with Syriac and Greek in seminaries of the Syriac Orthodox church in Mosul, Iraq, and Damascus. He has also served as a director in the Syriac Orthodox seminary in Mosul. He has presented papers in numerous conferences related to Syriac studies, especially on Ephrem, and regularly participated in the programs of the Pappas Patristic Institdute program at the Holy Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Dr. Issak has published a number of articles and is in the process of publishing his first book on Athanasius’ pneumatology.

    heath portraitDr. Gordon L. Heath

    FRHistS, Professor of Christian History

    Research Areas: Early Ecclesiastical History, Empire, War and Peace

    Dr. Heath has been introducing students to early Church history for nearly twenty-five years. He has recently supervised three PhD students in patristics, with dissertations focused on Athanasius, Irenaeus, and Augustine. He has several publications relevant to the Centre, including Christians, the State, and War: An Ancient Tradition for the Modern World (Fortress, 2022); The Lost Gospel of Judas: Separating Fact from Fiction (Eerdmans, 2007); Doing Church History: A User-friendly Introduction to Researching the History of Christianity (Clements, 2008).

    Porter portraitDr. Wendy J. Porter

    Professor of Music and Worship

    Research Areas: Early Christian Liturgy and Worship, Papyri and Material Culture

    Dr. Porter has been researching and publishing in the area of Christian liturgy and music for over thirty years. Although her doctoral research focused upon sixteenth-century musical settings of the Credo, she has published chapters and articles on topics in music and liturgy from earliest Christianity to the Byzantine and medieval periods and beyond. Along with publishing in the area of New Testament papyrology, she has written on music, hymns, and creeds in the Bible, music in early Christianity, the earliest Christian hymn fragment (P.Oxy. 1786) from the third century, Romanos Melodus the sixth-century preacher, ekphonetic notation in Christian manuscripts, lectionaries, and more general questions about liturgy and worship in the church of the first millennium. She also supervised an M.A. thesis that dealt with liturgy in the earliest era of the Coptic Church.

    Senior Fellows

    Our Centre fellows are vital to CPEC programs and activities. These scholars are established experts in their respective fields and contribute to the Centre in a number of important ways. They serve as consultants, participate as examiners on dissertation committees, and, on occasion, offer supervision of directed studies.

    Dr. Lewis Ayres

    Professor of Catholic & Historical Theology, Durham University

    One of the world’s leading experts in patristic and early Christian studies, Professor Ayres has served at Durham University since 2009. His research initially focused on Trinitarian theology in Augustine and in the Greek writers of the fourth century; this led to the publication of a number of articles, as well as the highly influential monographs, Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford, 2004/6), and Augustine and the Trinity (Cambridge, 2010). Dr. Ayres’ current research concerns the development of early Christian cultures of interpretation between 100 and 250.

    Rev. Dr. John Behr

    Regius Chair in Humanity, University of Aberdeen

    A leading expert in the field of patristic studies, the Reverend Professor John Behr is currently at the University of Aberdeen, following twenty-five years at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Dr. Behr’s list of publications is both vast and incredibly varied. These include several works on Irenaeus of Lyons and, more recently, new critical editions and translations of Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Human Image of God (Oxford, 2023), and Origen’s On First Principles (Oxford, 2017). Published in between them was the monograph John the Theologian and His Paschal Gospel: A Prologue to Theology (Oxford, 2019). Father Behr is also working on a new critical edition and translation of Irenaeus’s works.

    Centre Fellows

    Dr. Han-luen Kantzer Komline

    Marvin and Jerene DeWitt Professor of Theology and Church History, Western Theological Seminary

    Dr. Kantzer Komline (PhD, University of Notre Dame) has served at Western Theological Seminary since 2014 and has emerged as a noted scholar in the field of early Christianity. Her first monograph was well-received (Augustine on the Will: A Theological Account [Oxford University Press, 2020]), and her current book project looks equally important. The Idea of the New in Early Christian Thought analyzes how Christians of late antiquity conceptualized and defended the innovative character of the Christian faith. Dr. Kantzer Komline comes to the Centre for Patristics and Early Christianity to lend her expertise on early Christian theology in general and on the study of Augustine in particular.

    Dr. Stefana Dan Laing

    Associate Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School

    Stefana Dan Laing joined the faculty of Beeson Divinity School in 2018, where her primary area of research is in patristics and spiritual formation. Laing is actively involved in the North American Patristics Society and the Evangelical Theological Society, for whom she chairs the Patristics and Medieval History Steering Committee. She is the author of Retrieving History: Memory and Identity Formation in the Early Church (Baker, 2017).


  • Programs & Courses

    Degree Programs

    The degree programs of McMaster Divinity College offer students of patristics and early Christianity a variety of opportunities to advance their expertise. In addition to our flagship degree, the PhD, there are three master’s degrees through which one can pursue early Christian studies. The most appropriate choice will depend on the student’s educational background and vocational goals. All four degrees offer the opportunity for collaboration with the Centre for Patristics and Early Christianity, can draw on the various levels of expertise of the entire MDC faculty, and all four are able to tailor their studies through directed studies and vocationally focused mentorship.

    PhD in Christian Theology, Patristics Concentration

    The Doctor of Philosophy (Christian Theology) is designed to prepare students for the teaching, writing, and leadership ministries of the Church and academy. It is a full-time degree that builds upon previous foundational theological study and encourages the development of valuable research and teaching experience.


    MA in Christian Studies, Patristics Concentration

    The Master of Arts (Christian Studies) degree is designed to prepare students for doctoral-level studies or to develop advanced competence in theological studies. This program has a research-oriented emphasis, building on prior academic preparation in the general areas of theological education.


    Master of Theological Studies, Christian History and Worldview Specialization

    The MTS degree is designed to prepare students for Christian ministry or personal spiritual development. It offers flexibility in structure with our hybrid option and can be tailored to student’s specific vocational goals. The thesis option also makes the MTS appropriate preparation for doctoral studies and offers great flexibility for course variety.


    Master of Divinity, Christian History and Worldview Specialization

    The Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree is the traditional seminary degree. It is designed to equip students to be effective leaders for the Church. Through academic study and practical application, the thesis option allows deeper research into patristics/early Christianity and can be appropriate preparation for doctoral studies.


    Courses Previously Taught

    • Patristic Foundations
    • Early Christian Theology
    • Early Christian Literature
    • The History of the Early Church
    • Advanced Readings in the Early Church Fathers
    • Classical Faith: An Introduction to Patristic Theology & Spirituality
    • Early Patristics: An Introduction to the Second Century
    • The Spiritual Traditions of the Eastern Church
    • Irenaeus of Lyons: Writings, Theology & Scholarship
    • Formation of the Canon
    • The Doctrine of the Trinity
    • Septuagint Seminar
    • Papyrology and Textual Criticism
    • Advanced Grammar and Linguistics
    • History of Biblical Interpretation


    Courses Upcoming or In Development

    • Creeds of the Early Church
    • From Nicaea to Chalcedon: The Golden Age of Patristic Theology
    • Syriac Christianity: History & Theology
  • Patristic Theology Journal

    About Patristic Theology

    Patristic Theology (PT) publishes research that rigorously engages early Christian texts and the theological wisdom that inspired them. As an open-access, peer-reviewed journal, Patristic Theology benefits the larger academy by providing an important venue for the publication of patristic theological research of the highest quality. The journal is published through the McMaster Divinity College Press and the Centre for Patristics and Early Christianity (CPEC) at McMaster Divinity College. This research centre promotes the study of the texts and traditions of the mothers and fathers of the early church: their literature, theology, history, worship, and spirituality.

    Editors and Editorial Board

    Senior Editors

    James Payton, McMaster Divinity College
    Don Springer, McMaster Divinity College

    Associate Editor

    Kevin Clarke, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

    Editorial Board

    Paul Blowers, Milligan University
    Megan DeVore, Colorado Christian University
    Amy Brown Hughes, Gordon College
    John McGuckin, Oxford University
    Brian Shelton, Asbury University
    Clifton Ward, Covenant College
    Robin Darling Young, Catholic University of America

    For more information, contact

  • Events