1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tatian
Tatian (2nd cent. A.D.), Christian apologist, missionary and heretic. Such knowledge as we have of his life is derived from (1) his own Oratio ad Graecos (see § 3); (2) Irenaeus, Adv. Haereses, i. 28, i.; (3) Rhodon, quoted in Eusebius’s Hist. Eccl. v. 13, 1; (4) Clement of Alexandria, Strom. i. 1, 11; (5) Eusebius, Chronicon anno A.D. 171; (6) Epiphanius, Panarion, i. 3, 46. Convenient collections of these passages may be found in E. Schwartz’s Tatiani Oratio ad Graecos, Texte und Untersuchungen, iv. 1, pp. 51–55; and in A. Harnack’s Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur, i. pp. 485–96. From these data the following outline of his life can be reconstructed. He was a Syrian (Clem. Alex. and Epiphanius) born in Mesopotamia (Or. 42) and educated in Greek learning, in which he became proficient (Or. i. and 42). He was initiated into the Mysteries, though into which is not stated (Or. 29), but after this became acquainted with the Old Testament, and was converted to Christianity. He then went to Rome, where he was a hearer of Justin, and together with the latter incurred the enmity of a certain philosopher Crescens. As this fact is mentioned both in Justin's Apology and in Tatian’s Oratio ad Graecos, and the Apology can be dated with fair security about A.D. 152 (see Justin Martyr), the conversion of Tatian must have been before this date. After the death of Justin he became a heretic—according to Eusebius’s Chronicon in 173. Among his pupils were Rhodon, and perhaps Apelles (see Victorinus Reat. schol. 44, in Ep. Hieronymi ad Avitum, ep. 124) and Clement of Alexandria (Storm. i. 1, 11). He made a missionary journey to the East and worked in Cilicia and Pisidia, using the Syrian Antioch as the centre of his efforts (Epiphan.).
According to Epiphanius, Tatian went to the East after the death of Justin (c. 165), and then became heretical, and Eusebius states that he was recognized as heretical in 173. Zahn (Forschungen zur Geschichte des Kanons, i.) and most writers accept this as in the main correct; it is generally thought that his heresy was recognized in Rome, and it is suggested that this was the reason why he returned to the East. The statement in Epiphanius is capable of being interpreted in this sense, and whereas Tatian was always regarded as heretical in the West, he seems to have been unsuspected in the East. This fact, however, does more than support the suggestion that Tatian’s heresy was recognized before he left Rome: it throws some doubt on the theory that after being turned out of the Church in Rome he worked as a missionary in the East without being suspected. Harnack (Texte und Untersuchungen, i. 1, pp. 196 ff.) once suggested that the missionary work in the East belongs to an earlier period, and that Tatian left Rome and returned to it between his first arrival and the death of Justin Martyr. But in his Chronologie, i. pp. 284 ff., he has withdrawn this, and it is probably too hypothetical; it is, however, the only serious effort to deal with the difficulty, which if not insoluble is at least unsolved.
The Heresy of Tatian.—As in the case of most heresies, we have only the partisan statements of opponents. Everything is therefore open to some doubt, but the following points seem fairly certain. The heresy which Tatian either founded or adopted was that of the Encratites. Their main doctrines were the evil nature of matter, an absolute forbidding of marriage, abstinence from wine and perhaps from meat. It would also seem that Tatian believed in the existence of aeons, one of whom was the Demiurge of the world. He denied the salvation of Adam. It is also stated that in his celebration of the Mysteries (i..e. the Eucharist) he used only water (see Tertullian, De Jejun. 15; Hippolytus, Philos., 8, 4, 16 and 10, 18; Jerome in Amos ii. 12 and Iren., Adv. Haer., i. 28, iii. 23).
Writings.—According to Eusebius, Tatian wrote many books (Hist. Eccl., iv. 29); of these the names of the following have survived:—(1) Πϵρὶ ζώων (mentioned in Or., 15); (2) Πϵρὶ δαιμόνων (mentioned in Or., 16); (3) Λόγος πρὸς τοὺς Έλληνας; (4) Προβλημάτων βιβλίον (Eus., v. 13, 1—a quotation from Rhodon) an attempt to deal with the contradictions to be found in the Bible; (? 5) Πρὸς ὰποφηναμένους τὰ πρὸς θεοῦ (mentioned in Or., 40 as a book which Tatian intended to write, but there is no evidence that he carried his plan into effect; (6) Περὶ τοῦ κατὰ τὸν Σωτῆρα καταρτισμοῦ (Clem. Alex., Strom., iii. 12, 8); (7) The Diatessaron; (? 8) a recension of the Pauline epistles (Eus., Hist. Eccl., iv. 29) says that he was accused of producing a μετάφρασις of the epistles so as to smooth the grammar, and in Jerome’s preface to St Paul’s Epistle to Titus it is stated that he rejected some of the epistles, but not that to Titus. Of these books only two—the Diatessaron and the Λόγος πρὸς τοὺς Έλληνας are still extant.
The Λόγος πρὸς τοὺς Έλληνας (Oratio ad Graecos) belongs to Tatian’s Catholic period. He has the double purpose in view of exposing the weakness of the pagan view of the universe and of commending the Christian explanation. For the former purpose he seems to have made use of an already existent book, perhaps the Γοήτων φορά of Oenomaus of Gadara, a Syrian who wrote in the time of Hadrian. The same source seems to have been used by Minucius Felix and Tertullian, and Eusebius in his Praep. Evan., v. 19, quotes some other fragments of the work of Oenomaus. The main argument employed is an exposition of the contradictions, absurdities and immoralities of Greek mythology. A special attack is made on the doctrine of Fate or Necessity. Tatian insists that man is a free agent: that his sins and the consequent evils in the world are the result of free choice, and that the same free choice can remedy the evil.His positive explanation of the universe is rather difficult to follow. He lays great stress on the Logos doctrine; all good is to be found in union with the Logos; ah evil is in matter or in “spirits of a material nature”; the origin of evil in the world seems to be the choice of the latter rather than of the former; and redemption consists in the reverse process. But the choice of evil was not made only by man but by angels, who by their evil choice became the demons, that is, the gods of the heathen world. Both men and angels will be judged at the end of the world, when the good will receive again the immortality which was lost through sin, and the wicked will receive death through punishment with immortality (θάνατον διὰ τιμωρίαν ἐν ἀθανασία). Tatian does not deny the stories of the Greek mythology—indeed he protests against any attempt to allegorize it—but he insists that these stories are the record of the deeds of demons and have no religious value. The truth of his views he rests, rather strangely, on the argument that Moses, the writer of the Pentateuch, lived long before Homer, whom he regards as the earliest Greek religious writer, and to prove this he quotes a series of synchronisms, which were made use of by
The omissions in the Oralio are even more remarkable than its statements. There is at the most not more than an allusion to Christ, who is never mentioned by name, and though there are frequent allusions to the regaining of life, which is accomplished by union with the Logos, there is no reference to the doctrines of the incarnation or of the atonement.
The date of the writing of the Oratio cannot be fixed moreaccurately than that it was before 165 and probably about A.D. 150. On the hypothesis that Tatian remained in Rome until the death of lustin it must have been written there: but on internal evidence Harnack thinks, probably correctly, that it was written in Greece, § erhaps in Athens, and Tatian made at least one journey outside ome before Justin's death (cf. Texte und Untersuchungen, l.c., and Gesch. d. altchr. Litt., l.c.).
- Tatian describes himself as an “Assyrian,” and though the terms “Assyrian” and “Syrian” are used very loosely by ancient writers, it is probable that he was born E. of the Tigris, i.e. not in Syria as we understand it. Epiphanius, in another passage, calls him an Assyrian.