Born: c. 120 AD
Died: 173 AD
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Nationality: Ancient Rome
Executive summary: Christian apologist, heretic
Christian apologist, missionary and heretic. Such knowledge as we have of his life is derived from (1) his own Oratio ad Graecos; (2) Irenaeus, Adv. Haereses; (3) Rhodon, quoted in Eusebius's Hist. Eccl.; (4) Clement of Alexandria; (5) Eusebius, Chronicon anno AD 171; (6) Epiphanius, Panarion. From these data the following outline of his life can be reconstructed. He was a Syrian born in Mesopotamia and educated in Greek learning, in which he became proficient. He was initiated into the Mysteries, though into which is not stated, 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 Martyr, 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 certainty about AD 152, 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, and Clement of Alexandria. He made a missionary journey to the East and worked in Cilicia and Pisidia, using the Syrian Antioch as the center of his efforts.
According to Epiphanius, Tatian went to the East after the death of Justin (circa 165), and then became heretical, and Eusebius states that he was recognized as heretical in 173. Zahn 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 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 But in his Chronologie he has withdrawn this, and it is probably too hypothetical; it is, however, the only serious effort to deal with the difficulty, which if not insoluble is at least unsolved.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.
Writings. According to Eusebius, Tatian wrote many books; of most of these only the Greek names of some of them have survived. One is an attempt to deal with the contradictions to be found in the Bible; the Diatessaron is an amalgam of the four Gospels treated as a unified story; also lost is a recension of the Pauline epistles; and finally the Oratio ad Graecos, belonging 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 that 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 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; all 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. Tatran 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 many subsequent chronologers, including probably Julius Africanus, who in turn was used by Eusebius.
The omissions in the Oratio are even more remarkable than its statements. There is at the most not more than an allusion to Jesus 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 of the atonement.
The date of the writing of the Oratio cannot be fixed more accurately than that it wsa before 165 and probably about AD 150. On the hypothesis that Tatian remained in Rome until the death of Justin it must have been written there: but on internal evidence Harnack thinks, probably correctly, that it was written in Greece, perhaps in Athens, and Tatian made at least one journey outside Rome before Justin's death.
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