A person is also what he reads. That's why it's revealing to learn what someone had on their desk - or on their nightstand. A striking change has occurred here: St. Paul and Plato, Homer and Jerome have disappeared - and almost forgotten is the smorgasbord of poems, sermons, letters, histories, legends, treatises and commentaries by early Christian authors (and some women authors, too) gathered under the label "Church Fathers literature." These texts have been read for centuries by everyone, philosophers, theologians, historians, mystics - and, of course, in Latin or Greek. For the less linguistically gifted later generations, there were the book series of the "Library of the Church Fathers" ("Bibliothek der Kirchenväter" – BKV), which provided the most important texts in German. And even if the various volumes are now mostly 100 and more years old and newer text editions have been compiled since then - there are still some former bedside classics that are available in German only in the BKV.

The volumes of the BKV have been out of print for many years. In many libraries they may no longer be borrowed because they are too old and/or too important. Hardly any library has all volumes, because surely some volume was forgotten on a nightstand years ago. So why not put the texts on the Internet, always and available to everyone, especially since the copyrights have expired? Thus, in 2003, the project of the "Library of the Church Fathers on the Internet" was born.

On this website works of the Church Fathers from the BKV can be read. Because they are available here not only as images but as text, it is possible to download them in RTF format for word processing or to search for terms. To minimize uncertainties in text recognition, for some works it is also possible to view the scanned pages as images.

The project lives on volunteers: a community of about 25 interested people from all over Europe helps to make the texts fit for the Internet. In the meantime, the 81 volumes of the last series (1911-1937) have been almost completely entered and the transfer of the series from 1869-1880 (80 volumes) and 1830-1850 (21 volumes) has begun. Here, however, things get expensive: the text recognition of works in Fraktur is costly and the program has to be paid per page read - which is still several tens of thousands. The project, which has so far been maintained without subsidies, is therefore dependent on grants.

Sure, reading on a computer screen is unpleasant in the long run, and a simple printout can never keep up with the old, wonderfully laid-out books with gold edges and leather covers. That's why an attempt has now been made to put the old texts back where they belong: On the bedside table. In an attractive design, the most important and most beautiful works from the BKV are reissued in a separate series. The first volume of the "Small Library of the Church Fathers" ("Kleine Bibliothek der Kirchenväter") has now been published: Origen's treatise on prayer ("Origenes Abhandlung über das Gebet"). The book is available for purchase in bookstores (ISBN 978-3-8370-7995-1); students receive a 30% discount upon request.

What is the Library of the Church Fathers?

The basis of the Library of the Fathers of the Church on the Internet is formed by three ancient text collections containing a large selection of ancient Christian literature in German translation. All three collections were published by Köselverlag.

Complete Works of the Church Fathers (1831-1854)

In 1831-1854, the "Sämtliche Werke der Kirchenväter, aus dem Urtexte ins Deutsche übersetzt" (SWKV) appeared, which, despite the full-bodied title, contains almost only texts by Irenaeus, Cyprian, Hilarius, Athanasius, Basil, Ephräm and Gregory of Nyssa. Tertullian, for example, Ambrose, Origen, Augustine, Chrysostom, etc., however, are completely absent. Nevertheless, the 39 volumes published include some writings that have not otherwise (yet) been translated into a modern language.

Library of the Church Fathers (1869-1888)

The second collection was entitled "Bibliothek der Kirchenväter: Auswahl der vorzüglichsten patristischen Werke in deutscher Übersetzung" (BKV1). The 80 volumes were produced between 1869 and 1888 under the supervision of Franz Xaver Reithmayr and Valentin Thalhofer. The aim was to make the most excellent Christian classics of antiquity available to the educated Catholic layman in a good, handy edition in German.

Library of the Church Fathers (1911-1938)

The third collection kept the name almost unchanged:"Bibliothek der Kirchenväter: Eine Auswahl patristischer Werke in deutscher Übersetzung" (BKV2). It was edited by O. Bardenhewer, Th. Schermann and K. Weyman in two series. Series I contains 61 volumes and was published in the years 1911-31. Series II contains 20 volumes and was published in the years 1934-38. Some of the material from the first two collections SWKV and BKV1 is included here again, but newly edited and more accurately translated. Bardenhewer has also broadened the field of vision and included Armenian, Syriac and Persian sources as well as some newly found material. BKV2 forms the foundation of the Library of the Church Fathers on the Internet. This basic stock is supplemented by the works of the other two collections (BKV1 and SWKV), which are not included in it. In addition, there are further translations from individual other monographs.

Although newer and better translations of some works have appeared since these three collections, and the translations no longer meet modern requirements in many respects, they still provide a useful and, for some works, the only German translation.