Tatian


Born 120
Died 190

Tatian was a Christian apologist of the 2d century who is best known for having been a pupil of Justin Martyr, writing Oratio ad Graecos (Address to the Greeks), a defense of the Christian faith, and composing a gospel harmony called Diatessaron. Irenaeus remarks that after the death of Justin, Tatian was expelled from the church for his (ascetic) views, and Eusebius claims Tatian founded the Encratitic sect.

In his own writings, Tatian says that he came from Assyria, which could mean anywhere east of the Euphrates. Nothing is known of his early years except what may be gained by inference. Growing up in one of the petty kingdoms which formed a buffer zone between the territories of the Romans and Parthians, he lived in an area where the Hellenistic culture imposed on society by the Seleucids was declining and the native Semitic culture was reemerging. Tatian nevertheless cast his lot with this disappearing culture and studied rhetoric with the intention of becoming a sophist. His studies and career took him eventually to Rome, the goal of all aspiring sophists. Whatever his success in the profession, it was not extensive enough to have been noticed by any existing works of pagan writers of his day. After having been at Rome some time, he was converted by reading the Bible.

Tatian's work, Oratio ad Graecos (Address to the Greeks) condemns paganism as worthless, and praises the reasonableness and high antiquity of Christianity. As early as Eusebius, Tatian was praised for his discussions of the antiquity of and of Judaic law.

His other major work, the Diatessaron (meaning "Harmony of Four") was a blending of the four gospels in his attempt to resolve some of the contradictions found in the individual gospels by integrating them into one continuing story and removing any duplicate information. This became the standard text in the Syriac-speaking churches until the fifth century, when Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa, ordered the priests and deacons to see that every church have a copy of the separate Gospels. 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 still in existence. The earliest, part of the Eastern family of recensions, is preserved in Ephrem's Commentary on Tatian's work, which itself is preserved in two versions: an Armenian translation preserved in two copies, and a copy of Ephrem's original Syriac text from the late 5th/early 6th century, which has been edited by Louis Leloir (Paris, 1966). Other translations include translations made into ArabicPersian, 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.

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.

Among his literary opponents were Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, St Hippolytus, and Origen.

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