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Tatian the Assyrian[1][2][3][4][5] (c. 120–180) was an early Christian writer and theologian of the second century.

Tatian's most influential work is the Diatessaron, a harmony of the four gospels that became the standard text of the four gospels in the Syriac-speaking churches until the 5th-century, when it gave way to the four separate gospels in the Peshitta version.[6]



Concerning the date and place of his birth, little is known beyond what he tells about himself in his Oratio ad Graecos, chap. xlii (Ante-Nicene Fathers, ii. 81-82): that he was born in "the land of the Assyrians"; Current scholarly consensus is that he died c. 185, perhaps in Assyria.

Finally he came to Rome, where he seems to have remained for some time. Here he seems to have come for the first time in touch with Christianity. According to his own representation, it was primarily his abhorrence of the pagan cults that led him to spend thought on religious problems. By the Old Testament, he says, he was convinced of the unreasonableness of paganism. He adopted the Christian religion and became the pupil of Justin Martyr. It was the period when Christian philosophers competed with Greek sophists, and like Justin, he opened a Christian school in Rome. It is not known how long he labored in Rome without being disturbed.

Following the death of Justin in 165, the life of Tatian is to some extent obscure. Irenaeus remarks (Haer., I., xxvlii. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, i. 353) that after the death of Justin, he was expelled from the church for his Encratitic (ascetic) views (Eusebius claims he founded the Encratitic sect), as well as for being a follower of the gnostic leader Valentinius. It is clear that Tatian left Rome, perhaps to reside for a while in either Greece or Alexandria, where he may have taught Clement. Epiphanius relates that Tatian established a school in Mesopotamia, the influence of which extended to Antioch in Syria, and was felt in Cilicia and especially in Pisidia, but his assertion can not be verified.

The ascetic character which Syriac Christianity bore as late as the time of Aphraates was not impressed upon it by Tatian, but has roots that reach deeper.

The early development of the Syrian church furnishes a commentary on the attitude of Tatian in practical life. Thus for Aphraates baptism conditions the taking of a vow in which the catechumen promises celibacy. This shows how firmly the views of Tatian were established in Syria, and it supports the supposition that Tatian was the missionary of the countries around the Euphrates.


His Oratio ad Graecos (Address to the Greeks) tries to prove the worthlessness of paganism, and the reasonableness and high antiquity of Christianity. It is not characterized by logical consecutiveness, but is discursive in its outlines. The carelessness in style is intimately connected with his contempt of everything Greek. No educated Christian has more consistently separated from paganism; but by overshooting the mark, his scolding and blustering philippic lost its effectiveness because it lacks justice. His tendency to attack Greek philosophers by mocking their misfortunes (such as an unfortunate death, or being sold into slavery) could also be considered an ad hominem fallacy. However as early as Eusebius, Tatian was praised for his discussions of the antiquity of Moses and of Jewish legislation, and it was because of this chronological section that his Oratio was not generally condemned. (Text of Tatian's Address to the Greeks)

His other major work was the Diatessaron, a "harmony" or synthesis of the four New Testament Gospels into a combined narrative of the life of Jesus. Ephrem the Syrian referred to it as the Evangelion da Mehallete ("The Gospel of the Mixed"), and it was practically the only gospel text used in Syria during the third and fourth centuries.

In the fifth century the Diatessaron was replaced those Syrian churches that used it by the four original Gospels. Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa, ordered the priests and deacons to see that every church should have a copy of the separate Gospels (Evangelion da Mepharreshe), and Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus, removed more than two hundred copies of the Diatessaron from the churches in his diocese.

A number of recensions of the Diatessaron are available. The earliest, part of the Eastern family of recensions, is preserved in Ephraim's Commentary on Tatian's work, which itself is preserved in two versions: an Armenian translation preserved in two copies, and a copy of Ephraem's original Syriac text from the late 5th/early 6th century, which has been edited by Louis Lelow (Paris, 1966). Other translations include translations made into Arabic, Persian, and Old Georgian. A fragment of a narrative about the Passion found in the ruins of Dura-Europos in 1933 was once thought to have been from the Diatessaron, but more recent scholarly judgement does not connect it directly to Tatian's work.

The earliest member of the Western family of recensions is the Latin Codex Fuldensis, written at the request of bishop Victor of Capua in 545. Although the text is clearly dependent on the Vulgate, the order of the passages is distinctly how Tatian arranged them. Tatian's influence can be detected much earlier in such Latin manuscripts as the Old Latin translation of the Bible, in Novatian's surviving writings, and in the Roman Antiphony. After the Codex Fuldensis, it would appear that members of the Western family lead an underground existence, popping into view over the centuries in an Old High German translation (c. 830), a Dutch (c. 1280), a Venetian manuscript of the 13th century, and a Middle English manuscript from 1400 that was once owned by Samuel Pepys.

In a lost writing, entitled On Perfection according to the Doctrine of the Savior, Tatian designates matrimony as a symbol of the tying of the flesh to the perishable world and ascribed the "invention" of matrimony to the devil. He distinguishes between the old and the new man; the old man is the law, the new man the Gospel. Other lost writings of Tatian include a work written before the Oratio ad Graecos that contrasts the nature of man with the nature of the animals, and a Problematon biblion which aimed to present a compilation of obscure Scripture sayings.


The starting-point of Tatian's theology is a strict monotheism which becomes the source of the moral life. Originally the human soul possessed faith in one God, but lost it with the fall. In consequence man sank under the rule of demons into the abominable error of polytheism. By monotheistic faith the soul is delivered from the material world and from demonic rule and is united with God. God is spirit (pneuma), but not the physical or stoical pneuma; he was alone before the creation, but he had within himself potentially the whole creation.

The means of creation was the dynamis logike ("power expressed in words"). At first there proceeded from God the Logos who, generated in the beginning, was to produce the world by creating matter from which the whole creation sprang. Creation is penetrated by the pneuma hylikon, "world spirit," which is common to angels, stars, men, animals, and plants. This world spirit is lower than the divine pneuma, and becomes in man the psyche or "soul," so that on the material side and in his soul man does not differ essentially from the animals; though at the same time he is called to a peculiar union with the divine spirit, which raises him above the animals. This spirit is the image of God in man, and to it man's immortality is due.

The first-born of the spirits fell and caused others to fall, and thus the demons originated. The fall of the spirits was brought about through their desire to separate man from God, in order that he might serve not God but them. Man, however, was implicated in this fall, lost his blessed abode and his soul was deserted by the divine spirit, and sank into the material sphere, in which only a faint reminiscence of God remained alive.

As by freedom man fell, so by freedom he may turn again to God. The Spirit unites with the souls of those who walk uprightly; through the prophets he reminds men of their lost likeness to God. Although Tatian does not mention the name of Jesus, his doctrine of redemption culminates in his Christology.

See also


  1. ^ Introductory Note To Tatian the Assyrian. by J. E. Ryland.
  2. ^ Parpola, Simo (April 2003). "Assyrian Identity in Ancient Times and Today" (PDF). Assyriologist. Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies. p. 17. "In the second century AD, two prominent writers from Roman Syria, Lucian and Tatian, ostentatiously identify themselves as Assyrians (Assúrios). This self-identification is commonly misinterpreted to imply nothing more than that these writers were ethnic Syrians (in the modern sense) speaking Aramaic as their mother tongue."  
  3. ^ Tatian, Address, 42 (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, 81-82). [1]
  4. ^ ANF02. Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire) | Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  5. ^ The Origins and Emergence of the Church in Edessa during the First Two Centuries A.D. Author(s): L. W. Barnard Source: Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Sep., 1968), pp. 161-175.
  6. ^ Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005, articles Diatessaron and Peshitta

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

TATIAN (2nd cent. A.D.), Christian apologist, missionary and heretic. Such knowledge as we have of his life is derived from (I) his own Oratio ad Graccos (see § 3); (2) Irenaeus, Adv. Haereses, i. 28, i.; (3) Rhodon, quoted in Eusebius's Hist. Eccl. v. 13, I; (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 and Untersuchungen, iv. I, 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 ii 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 1 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.

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 and 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 ii. 12 and Iren., Adv. Haer., i. 28, iii. 23).


According to Eusebius, Tatian wrote many books (Hist. Eccl., iv. 29); of these the names of the following have survived: - (1) l spl 'wwv (mentioned in Or., 15); (2) IIepi Sac iovwv (mentioned in Or., 16); (3) Aoyos lrpos ran "EXXfvas; (4) Hpo 1 3X j .0 rwv f3c/3Xiov (Eus., v. 13, 1 - a quotation from Rhodon) an attempt to deal with the contradictions to be found in the Bible; (? 5) IIpos Coro- 4n 7 vap4Vovs arpos Beou (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) IIepi Tou Kara 2corijpa Karaprur oii (Clem. Alex., Strom., iii. 12, 80); (7) The Diatessaron; (? 8) a recension of the Pauline epistles (Eus., Hist. Eccl., iv. 29) says that he was accused of producing a jtcera4pannl 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 7rpos Tous "EXX var are still extant.

The Aoyos irpos robs "EXXi vas (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 ror 7 rwv ¢opt of Oenomaus of Gadara, a Syrian who wrote in the time of Hadrian. The same source seems to have been used by 1Vlinucius Felix and Tertullian, and Eusebius in his Praei. Evan., v. 79, quotes some other fragments of the work of Oenomaus. The main argument employed is an exposition of the con tradictions, 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 (Btvarov 5ca rc / .rwpiav Ev Mavavip,). 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 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 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 more accurately than that it was before 165 and probably about A.D. 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 (cf. Texte and Untersuchungen, l.e., and Gesch. d. altchr. Litt., l.c.). (K. L.)

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