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§ 174. The Other Greek Apologists. Tatian.


Lit. on the later Greek Apologists:


Otto: Corpus Apologetarum Christ. Vol. VI. (1861): Tatiani Assyrii Opera; vol. VII.: Athenagorus; vol. VIII.: Theophilus; Vol. IX.: Hermias, Quadratus, Aristides, Aristo, Miltiades, Melito, Apollinaris (Reliquiae) Older ed. by Maranus, 1742, reissued by Migne, 1857, in Tom. VI. of his "Patrol. Gr." A new ed. by O. v. Gebhardt and E. Schwartz, begun Leipz. 1888.

The third vol. of Donaldson’s Critical History of Christ. Lit. and Doctr., etc. (Lond. 1866) is devoted to the same Apologists. Comp. also Keim’s Rom und das Christenthum (1881), p. 439–495; and on the MSS. and early traditions Harnack’s Texte, etc. Band I. Heft. 1 and 2 (1882), and Schwartz in his ed. (1888).



Tatian of Assyria (110–172) was a pupil of Justin Martyr whom he calls a most admirable man ( ), and like him an itinerant Christian philosopher; but unlike him he seems to have afterwards wandered to the borders of heretical Gnosticism, or at least to an extreme type of asceticism. He is charged with having condemned marriage as a corruption and denied that Adam was saved, because Paul says: "We all die in Adam." He was an independent, vigorous and earnest man, but restless, austere, and sarcastic.13591359    Comp. Donaldson, III. 27 sqq.359 In both respects he somewhat resembles Tertullian. Before his conversion he had studied mythology, history, poetry, and chronology, attended the theatre and athletic games, became disgusted with the world, and was led by the Hebrew Scriptures to the Christian faith.13601360    He tells his conversion himself, Ad Gr. c. 29 and 30. The following passage (29) is striking: "While I was giving my most earnest attention to the matter [the discovery of the truth], I happened to meet with certain barbaric writings, too old to be compared with the opinions of the Greeks, and too divine to be compared with their errors and I was led to put faith in these by the unpretending cast of the language, the inartificial character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of the government of the universe as centred in one Being. And, my soul being taught of God, I discerned that the former class of writings lead to condemnation, but that these put an end to the slavery that is in the world, and rescue us from a multiplicity of rulers and ten thousand tyrants, while they give us, not indeed what we had not before received, but what we had received, but were prevented by error from retaining."360

We have from him an apologetic work addressed To the Greeks.13611361    Πρὸσ Ἕλληνας, Oratio ad Graecos. The best critical edition by Ed. Schwartz, Leipsig, 1888. On the MSS. see also Otto’s Proleg., and Harnack’s Texte, etc. Bd. I. Heft. I. p. 1-97. English translation by B. P. Pratten, in the "Ante-Nicene Library, " III. 1-48; Am. ed. II., 59 sqq. The specimens below are from this version, compared with the Greek.361 It was written in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, probably in Rome, and shows no traces of heresy. He vindicates Christianity as the "philosophy of the barbarians," and exposes the contradictions, absurdities, and immoralities of the Greek mythology from actual knowledge and with much spirit and acuteness but with vehement contempt and bitterness. He proves that Moses and the prophets were older and wiser than the Greek philosophers, and gives much information on the antiquity of the Jews. Eusebius calls this "the best and most useful of his writings," and gives many extracts in his Praeparatio Evangelica.

The following specimens show his power of ridicule and his radical antagonism to Greek mythology and philosophy:

Ch. 21.—Doctrines of the Christians and Greeks respecting God compared.

We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man. (ἐν ). I call on you who reproach us to compare your mythical accounts with our narrations. Athene, as they say, took the form of Deiphobus for the sake of Hector, and the unshorn Phoebus for the sake of Admetus fed the trailing-footed oxen, and the spouse of Zeus came as an old woman to Semélé. But, while you treat seriously such things, how can you deride us? Your Asclepios died, and he who ravished fifty virgins in one night at Thespiae, lost his life by delivering himself to the devouring flame. Prometheus, fastened to Caucasus, suffered punishment for his good deeds to men. According to you, Zeus is envious, and hides the dream from men, wishing their destruction. Wherefore, looking at your own memorials, vouchsafe us your approval, though it were only as dealing in legends similar to your own. We, however, do not deal in folly, but your legends are only idle tales. If you speak of the origin of the gods, you also declare them to be mortal. For what reason is Hera now never pregnant? Has she grown old? or is there no one to give you information? Believe me now, O Greeks, and do not resolve your myths and gods into allegory. If you attempt to do this, the divine nature as held by you is overthrown by your own selves; for, if the demons with you are such as they are said to be, they are worthless as to character; or, if regarded as symbols of the powers of nature, they are not what they are called. But I cannot be persuaded to pay religious homage to the natural elements, nor can I undertake to persuade my neighbor. And Metrodorus of Lampsacus, in his treatise concerning Homer, has argued very foolishly, turning everything into allegory. For he says that neither Hera, nor Athene, nor Zeus are what those persons suppose who consecrate to them sacred enclosures and groves, but parts of nature and certain arrangements of the elements. Hector also, and Achilles, and Agamemnon, and all the Greeks in general, and the Barbarians with Helen and Paris, being of the same nature, you will of course say are introduced merely for the sake of the machinery of the poem, not one of these personages having really existed.

But these things we have put forth only for argument’s sake; for it is not allowable even to compare our notions of God with those who are wallowing in matter and mud."

Ch. 25.—Boastings and quarrels of the philosophers.

What great and wonderful things have your philosophers effected? They leave uncovered one of their shoulders; they let their hair grow long; they cultivate their beards; their nails are like the claws of wild beasts. Though they say that they want nothing, yet, like Proteus [the Cynic, Proteus Peregrinus known to us from Lucian], they need a currier for their wallet, and a weaver for their mantle, and a woodcutter for their staff, and they need the rich [to invite them to banquets], and a cook also for their gluttony. O man competing with the dog [cynic philosopher], you know not God, and so have turned to the imitation of an irrational animal. You cry out in public with an assumption of authority, and take upon you to avenge your own self; and if you receive nothing, you indulge in abuse, for philosophy is with you the art of getting money. You follow the doctrines of Plato, and a disciple of Epicurus lifts up his voice to oppose you. Again, you wish to be a disciple of Aristotle, and a follower of Democritus rails at you. Pythagoras says that he was Euphorbus, and he is the heir of the doctrine of Pherecydes, but Aristotle impugns the immortality of the soul. You who receive from your predecessors doctrines which clash with one another, you the inharmonious, are fighting against the harmonious. One of you asserts "that God is body," but I assert that He is without body; "that the world is indestructible," but I assert that it is to be destroyed; "that a conflagration will take place at various times," but I say that it will come to pass once for all; "that Minos and Rhadamanthus are judges," but I say that God Himself is Judge; "that the soul alone is endowed with immortality," but I say that the flesh also is endowed with it. What injury do we inflict upon you, O Greeks? Why do you hate those who follow the word of God, as if they were the vilest of mankind? It is not we who eat human flesh—they among you who assert such a thing have been suborned as false witnesses; it is among you that Pelops is made a supper for the gods, although beloved by Poseidon; and Kronos devours his children, and Zeus swallows Metis."

Of great importance for the history of the canon and of exegesis is Tatian’s Diatessaron or Harmony of the Four Gospels, once widely circulated, then lost, but now measurably recovered.13621362    Τὸ διὰ τεσσάρων. Eusebius, H. E. IV. 29, and Theodoret, Fab. Haer. I. 20, notice the Diatessaron. Comp. Mösinger’s introduction to his ed. of Ephroem’s Com. (Venet. 1876), Zahn’s Tatian’s Diatessaron (1881), and Ciasca’s edition of the Arabic version (1888) noticed p. 493.362 Theodoret found more than two hundred copies of it in his diocese. Ephraem the Syrian wrote a commentary on it which was preserved in an Armenian translation by the Mechitarists at Venice, translated into Latin by Aucher (1841), and published with a learned introduction by Mösinger (1876). From this commentary Zahn has restored the text (1881). Since then an Arabic translation of the Diatessaron itself has been discovered and published by Ciasca (1888). The Diatessaron begins with the Prologue of John (In principio erat Verbum, etc.), follows his order of the festivals, assuming a two years’ ministry, and makes a connected account of the life of Christ from the four Evangelists. There is no heretical tendency, except perhaps in the omission of Christ’s human genealogies in Matthew and Luke, which may have been due to the influence of a docetic spirit. This Diatessaron conclusively proves the existence and ecclesiastical use of the four Gospels, no more and no less, in the middle of the second century.



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