Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book IV/Chapter 29
Chapter XXIX.—The Heresy of Tatian.
1. He is the one whose words we quoted a little above in regard to that admirable man, Justin, and whom we stated to have been a disciple of the martyr. Irenæus declares this in the first book of his work Against Heresies, where he writes as follows concerning both him and his heresy:
2. “Those who are called Encratites, and who sprung from Saturninus and Marcion, preached celibacy, setting aside the original arrangement of God and tacitly censuring him who made male and female for the propagation of the human race. They introduced also abstinence from the things called by them animate, thus showing ingratitude to the God who made all things. And they deny the salvation of the first man.
3. But this has been only recently discovered by them, a certain Tatian being the first to introduce this blasphemy. He was a hearer of Justin, and expressed no such opinion while he was with him, but after the martyrdom of the latter he left the Church, and becoming exalted with the thought of being a teacher, and puffed up with the idea that he was superior to others, he established a peculiar type of doctrine of his own, inventing certain invisible æons like the followers of Valentinus, while, like Marcion and Saturninus, he pronounced marriage to be corruption and fornication. His argument against the salvation of Adam, however, he devised for himself.” Irenæus at that time wrote thus.
4. But a little later a certain man named Severus put new strength into the aforesaid heresy, and thus brought it about that those who took their origin from it were called, after him, Severians.
5. They, indeed, use the Law and Prophets and Gospels, but interpret in their own way the utterances of the Sacred Scriptures. And they abuse Paul the apostle and reject his epistles, and do not accept even the Acts of the Apostles.
6. But their original founder, Tatian, formed a certain combination and collection of the Gospels, I know not how, to which he gave the title Diatessaron, and which is still in the hands of some. But they say that he ventured to paraphrase certain words of the apostle, in order to improve their style.
7. He has left a great many writings. Of these the one most in use among many persons is his celebrated Address to the Greeks, which also appears to be the best and most useful of all his works. In it he deals with the most ancient times, and shows that Moses and the Hebrew prophets were older than all the celebrated men among the Greeks. So much in regard to these men.
- From his Oratio (chap. 42) we learn that Tatian was born in Assyria, and that he was early educated in Greek philosophy, from which we may conclude that he was of Greek parentage,—a conclusion confirmed by the general tone of the Oratio (cf. Harnack, Ueberlieferung der Griech. Apol. p. 199 sq., who refutes Zahn’s opinion that Tatian was a Syrian by race). We learn from his Oratio also that he was converted to Christianity in mature life (cf. chap. 29 sq.). From the passage quoted in the present chapter from Irenæus, we learn that Tatian, after the death of Justin (whose disciple he was; see also chap. 16, above), fell into heresy, and the general fact is confirmed by Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others. Beyond these meager notices we have little information in regard to Tatian’s life. Rhodo (quoted in Bk. V. chap. 13, below) mentions him, and “confesses” that he was a pupil of Tatian’s in Rome, perhaps implying that this was after Tatian had left the Catholic Church (though inasmuch as the word “confesses” is Eusebius’, not Rhodo’s, we can hardly lay the stress that Harnack does upon its use in this connection). Epiphanius gives quite an account of Tatian in his Hær. XLVI. 1, but as usual he falls into grave errors (especially in his chronology). The only trustworthy information that can be gathered from him is that Tatian, after becoming a Christian, returned to Mesopotamia and taught for a while there (see Harnack, ibid. p. 208 sq.). We learn from his Oratio that he was already in middle life at the time when he wrote it, i.e. about 152 a.d. (see note 13, below), and as a consequence it is commonly assumed that he cannot have been born much later than 110 a.d. Eusebius in his Chron. (XII. year of Marcus Aurelius, 172 a.d.) says, Tatianus hæreticus agnoscitur, a quo Encratitæ. There is no reason to doubt that this represents with reasonable accuracy the date of Tatian’s break with the Catholic Church. We know at any rate that it did not take place until after Justin’s death (165 a.d.). In possession of these various facts in regard to Titian, his life has been constructed in various ways by historians, but Harnack seems to have come nearest to the truth in his account of him on p. 212 sq. He holds that he was converted about 150, but soon afterward left for the Orient, and while there wrote his Oratio ad Græcos; that afterward he returned to Rome and was an honored teacher in the Church for some time but finally becoming heretical, broke with the Church about the year 172. The arguments which Harnack urges over against Zahn (who maintains that he was but once in Rome, and that he became a heretic in the Orient and spent the remainder of his life there) seem fully to establish his main positions. Of the date, place, and circumstances of Tatian’s death, we know nothing. Eusebius informs us in this chapter that Titian left “a great many writings,” but he mentions the titles of only two, the Address to the Greeks and the Diatessaron (see below, notes 11 and 13). He seems, however, in §6, to refer to another work on the Pauline Epistles,—a work of which we have no trace anywhere else, though we learn from Jerome’s preface to his Commentary on Titus that Tatian rejected some of Paul’s epistles, as Marcion did, but unlike Marcion accepted the epistle to Titus. We know the titles of some other works written by Tatian. He himself, in his Oratio 15, mentions a work which he had written On Animals. The work is no longer extant, nor do we know anything about it. Rhodo (as we are told by Eusebius in Bk. V. chap. 13) mentioned a book of Problems which Titian had written. Of this, too, all traces have perished. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. III. 12) mentions an heretical work of Tatian’s, entitled περὶ τοῦ κατὰ τὸν σωτῆρα καταρτισμοῦ, On Perfection according to the Saviour, which has likewise perished. Clement (as also Origen) was evidently acquainted with still other heretical works, especially one on Genesis (see below, note 7), but he mentions the title only of the one referred to. Rufinus (H.E. VI. 11) says that Tatian composed a Chronicon, which we hear about from no other writer. Malalas calls Tatian a chronographer, but he is evidently thinking of the chronological passages in his Oratio, and in the absence of all trustworthy testimony we must reject Rufinus’ notice as a mistake. In his Oratio, chap. 40, Tatian speaks of a work Against those who have discoursed on Divine Things, in which he intends to show “what the learned among the Greeks have said concerning our polity and the history of our laws and how many and what kind of men have written of these things.” Whether he ever wrote the work or not we do not know; we find no other notice of it. Upon Tatian, see especially Zahn’s Tatian’s Diatessaron and Harnack’s Ueberlieferung, &c., p. 196; also Donaldson’s Hist. of Christ. Lit. and Doct. II. p. 3 sqq., and J. M. Fuller’s article in the Dict. of Christ. Biog.
- In chap. 16.
- Irenæus, Adv. Hær. I. 28. 1.
- ᾽Εγκρατεῖς, a word meaning “temperate” or “continent.” These Encratites were heretics who abstained from flesh, from wine, and from marriage, not temporarily but permanently, and because of a belief in the essential impurity of those things. They are mentioned also by Hippolytus (Phil. VIII. 13), who calls them ἐγκρατῖται; by Clement of Alexandria (Pæd. II. 2, Strom. I. 15, &c.), who calls them ἐγκρατηταί; by Epiphanius (Hær. 47), who agrees with Hippolytus in the form of the name, and by others. The Encratites whom Irenæus describes seem to have constituted a distinct sect, anti-Jewish and Gnostic in its character. As described by Hippolytus they appear to have been mainly orthodox in doctrine but heretical in their manner of life, and we may perhaps gather the same thing from Clement’s references to them. It is evident, therefore, that Irenæus and the others are not referring to the same men. So Theodoret, Hær. Fab. I. 21, speaks of the Severian Encratites; but the Severians, as we learn from this chapter of Eusebius and from Epiphanius (Hær. XLV.), were Ebionitic and anti-Pauline in their tendencies—the exact opposites, therefore, of the Encratites referred to by Irenæus. That there was a distinct sect of Encratites of the character described by Irenæus cannot be denied, but we must certainly conclude that the word was used very commonly in a wider sense to denote men of various schools who taught excessive and heretical abstinence. Of course the later writers may have supposed that they all belonged to one compact sect, but it is certain that they did not. As to the particular sect which Irenæus describes, the statement made by Eusebius at the close of the preceding chapter is incorrect, if we are to accept Irenæus’ account. For the passage quoted in this chapter states that they sprung from Marcion and Saturninus, evidently implying that they were not founded by Tatian, but that he found them already in existence when he became heretical. It is not surprising, however that his name should become connected with them as their founder—for he was the best-known man among them. That the Encratites as such (whether a single sect or a general tendency) should be opposed by the Fathers, even by those of ascetic tendencies, was natural. It was not always easy to distinguish between orthodox and heretical asceticism, and yet there was felt to be a difference. The fundamental distinction was held by the Church—whenever it came to self-consciousness on the subject—to lie in the fact that the heretics pronounced the things from which they abstained essentially evil in themselves, thus holding a radical dualism, while the orthodox abstained only as a matter of discipline. The distinction, it is true, was not always preserved, but it was this essentially dualistic principle of the Encratites which the early Fathers combated; it is noticeable, however, that they do not expend as much vigor in combating it as in refuting errors in doctrine. In fact, they seem themselves to have been somewhat in doubt as to the proper attitude to take toward these extreme ascetics.
- On Saturninus and on Marcion, see chap. 7, note 6, and 11, note 15. On their asceticism, see especially Irenæus, Adv. Hær. I. 24.
- τῶν λεγομένων ἐμψύχων: i.e. animal food in general.
- Cf. Irenæus, Adv. Hær. III. 23, where this opinion of Tatian’s is refuted at considerable length. The opinion seems a little peculiar, but was a not unnatural consequence of Tatian’s strong dualism, and of his doctrine of a conditional immortality for those who have been reunited with the Holy Spirit who took his departure at the time of the fall (cf. especially his Oratio, chap. 15). That Adam, who, by his fall, brought about this separation, which has been of such direful consequence to the race, should be saved, was naturally to Titian a very repugnant thought. He seems, moreover, to have based his opinion, as Donaldson remarks, upon exegetical grounds interpreting the passage in regard to Adam (1 Cor. xv. 22) as meaning that Adam is and remains the principle of death, and as such, of course, cannot himself enjoy life (see Irenæus, ibid.). This is quite in accord with the distinction between the psychical and physical man which he draws in his Oratio. It is quite possible that he was moved in part also by the same motive which led Marcion to deny the salvation of Abraham and the other patriarchs (see Irenæus, Adv. Hær. I. 27 and IV. 8), namely, the opposition between the God of the Old Testament and the Christ of the New Testament, which led him to assert that those who depended on the former were lost. We learn from Clement (Strom. III. 12) and from Origen (de Orat. chap. 24) that among Tatian’s heretical works was one in which he discussed the early chapters of Genesis and perhaps it was in this work that he developed his peculiar views’ in regard to Adam.
- On Valentinus, see chap. 11, note 1. That Tatian was Gnostic in many of his tendencies is plain enough not only from these words of Irenæus, but also from the notices of him in other writers (cf. especially Hippolytus, Phil. VIII. 9). To what extent he carried his Gnosticism, however, and exactly in what it consisted, we cannot tell. He can hardly have been a pronounced follower of Valentinus and a zealous defender of the doctrine of Æons, or we should find him connected more prominently with that school. He was, in fact, a decided eclectic, and a follower of no one school, and doubtless this subject, like many others, occupied but a subordinate place in his speculations.
- That the Severians, whoever they were, were Encratites in the wide sense, that is, strict abstainers from flesh, wine, and marriage, cannot be denied (compare with this description of Eusebius that of Epiphanius in Hær. XLV., also Theodoret’s Hær. Fab. I. 21, who says that Apolinarius wrote against the Severian Encratites,—a sign that the Severians and the Encratites were in some way connected in tradition even though Theodoret’s statement may be unreliable). But that they were connected with Tatian and the Encratitic sect to which he belonged, as Eusebius states, is quite out of the question. Tatian was a decided Paulinist (almost as much so as Marcion himself). He cannot, therefore, have had anything to do with this Ebionitic, anti-Pauline sect, known as the Severians. Whether there was ever such a person as Severus, or whether the name arose later to explain the name of the sect (possibly taken from the Latin severus, “severe,” as Salmon suggests), as the name Ebion was invented to explain the term Ebionites, we do not know. We are ignorant also of the source from which Eusebius took his description of the Severians, as we do not find them mentioned in any of the earlier anti-heretical works. Eusebius must have heard, as Epiphanius did, that they were extreme ascetics, and this must have led him, in the absence of specific information as to their exact position, to join them with Tatian and the Encratites,—a connection which can be justified on no other ground.
- οὐκ οἰδ᾽ ὅπως. Eusebius clearly means to imply in these words that he was not acquainted with the Diatessaron. Lightfoot, it is true, endeavors to show that these words may mean simply disapproval of the work, and not ignorance in regard to it. But his interpretation is an unnatural one, and has been accepted by few scholars.
- τὸ διὰ τεσσ€ρων. Eusebius is the first one to mention this Diatessaron, and he had evidently not seen it himself. After him it is not referred to again until the time of Epiphanius, who in his Hær. XLVI. 1 incorrectly identifies it with the Gospel according to the Hebrews, evidently knowing it only by hearsay. Theodoret (Hær. Fab. I. 20) informs us that he found a great many copies of it in circulation in his diocese, and that, finding that it omitted the account of our Lord’s birth, he replaced it by the four Gospels, fearing the mischief which must result from the use of such a mutilated Gospel. In the Doctrine of Addai (ed. Syr. and Engl. by G. Phillips, 1876), which belongs to the third century, a Diatessaron is mentioned which is without doubt to be identified with the one under consideration (see Zahn I. p. 90 sq.). Meanwhile we learn from the preface to Dionysius bar Salibi’s Commentary on Mark (see Assemani, Bibl. Or. I. 57), that Ephraem wrote a commentary upon the Diatessaron of Tatian (Tatianus Justini Philosophi ac Martyris Discipulus, ex quator Evangeliis unum digessit, quod Diatessaron nuncupavit. Hunc librum Sanctus Ephraem commentariis illustravit). Ephraem’s commentary still exists in an Armenian version (published at Venice in 1836, and in Latin in 1876 by Mœsinger). There exists also a Latin Harmony of the Gospels, which is without doubt a substantial reproduction of Tatian’s Diatessaron, and which was known to Victor of Capua (of the sixth century). From these sources Zahn has attempted to reconstruct the text of the Diatessaron, and prints the reconstructed text, with a critical commentary, in his Tatian’s Diatessaron. Zahn maintains that the original work was written in Syriac, and he is followed by Lightfoot, Hilgenfeld, Fuller, and others; but Harnack has given very strong reasons for supposing that it was composed by Tatian in Greek, and that the Syriac which Ephraem used was a translation of that original, not the original itself. Both Zahn and Harnack agree, as do most other scholars, that the work was written before Tatian became a heretic, and with no heretical intent. Inasmuch as he later became a heretic, however, his work was looked upon with suspicion, and of course in later days, when so much stress was laid (as e.g. by Irenæus) upon the fourfold Gospel, Christians would be naturally distrustful of a single Gospel proposed as a substitute for them. It is not surprising, therefore, that the work failed to find acceptance in the Church at large. For further particulars, see especially Zahn’s monograph, which is the most complete and exhaustive discussion of the whole subject. See also Harnack’s Ueberlieferung der Griech. Apologeten, p. 213 ff., Fuller’s article referred to in note 1, the article by Lightfoot in the Contemporary Review for May, 1877, and those by Wace in the Expositor for 1881 and 1882.
- i.e. of Paul, who was quite commonly called simply ὁ ἀπόστολος. This seems to imply that Tatian wrote a work on Paul’s epistles (see note 1, above).
- λόγος ὁ πρὸς ῞Ελληνας: Oratio ad Græcos. This work is still extant, and is one of the most interesting of the early apologies. The standpoint of the author is quite different from that of Justin, for he treats Greek philosophy with the greatest contempt, and finds nothing good in it. As remarked in note 1, above, the Oratio was probably written after Tatian had left Rome for the first time, but not long after his conversion. We may follow Harnack (p. 196) in fixing upon 152 to 153 as an approximate date. The work is printed with a Latin translation and commentary in Otto’s Corp. Apol. Vol. VI. The best critical edition is that of Schwartz, in v. Gebhardt and Harnack’s Texte und Untersuchungen, IV. 1 (Leipzig, 1888), though it contains only the Greek text. An English translation is given in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II. p. 59–83.
- Tatian devotes a number of chapters to this subject (XXXI., XXXV.–XLI). Eusebius mentions him, with Clement, Africanus, Josephus, and Justus, in the preface to his Chron. (Schöne, II. p. 4), as a witness to the antiquity of Moses, and it is probable that Julius Africanus drew from him in the composition of his chronological work (cf. Harnack, ibid. p. 224). Clement of Alexandria likewise made large use of his chronological results (see especially his Strom. I. 21), and Origen refers to them in his Contra Cels. I. 16. It was largely on account of these chapters on the antiquity of Moses that Tatian’s Oratio was held in such high esteem, while his other works disappeared.