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Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Ante-Nicene Fathers – Volume 2 – Address of Tatian to the Greeks

So I have this 10 volume collection of writings by the Ante-Nicene Fathers (the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325) that I’ve been carrying around with me for several years.  I bought them from a library that was about to discard them and over the years I have used them occasionally as I’ve studied and prepared for sermons.  A couple of years ago I finally challenged myself to actually read through them all.  I got through the first volume before we moved again, and so they went into boxes, were moved, were unpacked, and then placed on new shelves – and my challenge was, not quite forgotten, but put on hold. I’d lost my inertia.  But now I’m back to it, getting into volume 2 with Tatian’s Address to the Greeks.

The introductory note by A. Cleveland Coxe describes Tatian as “”half Father and half heretic (61).[1]”  Tatian was a student of Justin Martyr in Rome – but apparently, at some point drifted away from orthodoxy.  That, at least is the report of others about him.  Irenæus says that he seceded from the Church, “as if he were superior to the rest, he formed his own peculiar type of doctrine (82).”[2]  What this doctrine was isn’t exactly clear – something akin to Gnosticism (but that’s a pretty broad charge.)  He apparently also opposed marriage, wine, and meat…  The Church historian, Eusebius credits Tatian as the founder of the ascetic Christian sect of Encrtites.  

But we have very little from Tatian’s own pen to defend himself; most of his writings have been lost.  His Address to the Greeks and his Diatessaron are all that have survived.   The Diatessaron was the most widely read and extensively used harmony of the four gospels in the early church – and was used as the standard gospel text in some Syrian churches for a long time. 

The Address to the Greeks is an apology – a defense of Christianity.  Tatian, who was familiar with Greek philosophies and religion, brings up example after example of inconsistencies and absurdities in the accepted philosophies of the Greeks, and asks, “If you can accept these, with all their faults and flaws, why then do you make accusations against us Christians?  If there are multiplied philosophers with conflicting theories – and they are acceptable to you – then how can you object to our having a different opinion?” 

During his argument he contrasts the unity Christianity with the multiplicity of Greek philosophies. Tatian says, “nor do we indulge in a variety of opinions… we reject everything which rests upon human opinion (78),”  [3] which is quite curious as he was later condemned by other Christians of introducing his own opinion.  Quoting again from Irenæus’ attack on Tatian, “Imagining certain peculiar Æons like those of Valentinus, and denouncing marriage ad defilement and fornication as the same way as Marcion and Saturninus, and denying the salvation of Adam as his own opinion (82).”

[1] Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume II,  WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1962.
[2] Quoted from Irenæus’s Against Heresies i. 28
[3] Chapter XXXII 

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