Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Tatianus
Tatianus (1) the "Apologist," "born in the land of Assyria" (Oratio, c. xlii.), i.e. E. of the Tigris, in a land incorporated, under Trajan, with Mesopotamia and Armenia into one Roman province of Syria (Zahn, Forsch. z. Gesch. d. N.T. lichen Kanons; I. Theil, "Tatian's Diatessaron," p.268). Of his parents, date of birth (c. 110, Zahn; c. 120, Funk), and early training, little or nothing is known. In Syria were Greek official representatives of Rome, merchants, and residents. Among such, stationed in the Assyrian district, may have been the parents of Tatian; persons perhaps of birth and wealth (cf. Oratio, c. xi.). The lad, Semitic as regards the land of his birth, but possibly Greek by parentage and name, was educated in the Greek teaching open to him (Oratio, c. xlii.). As he grew older his inquiring mind led him to a personal examination of the systems of his teachers (c. xxxv.). A peripatetic by disposition if not in philosophy, he "wandered over many lands, learning from no man," but with eyes open and ears unstopped, listening, observing, hearing, pondering, until he abandoned the learning that had made him a pessimist, and became a teacher of that "Word of God" which had taught him a holier faith and a happier life (cc. xxvi. xlii.). He notes that the simplicity of style of Holy Scripture first attracted and then converted him (c. xxix.). The "barbaric [i.e. Christian] writings," upon which he stumbled by chance, charmed him by their modest diction and easy naturalness. He soon discovered that these writings were older than the oldest remains of Greek literature, and in their prophecies and precepts diviner and truer than the oracles and practices of the most powerful gods or the purest philosophers.
Tatian's information about himself ceases with the autobiographical allusions and statements in the Oratio. According to Irenaeus (adv. Haer. i. c. 28; cf. Eus. H. E. iv. 29) he was a hearer (ἀκροατής) of Justin Martyr; and the Oratio indicates that he and the "most admirable" Justin were at Rome together, and were both exposed to the hostility of the Cynic Crescens (cc. xviii. xix.).
Tatian's Christian life, like that of Tertullian, divides into pre-heretical and heretical periods. So long as Justin was alive, says Irenaeus, he brought out no "blasphemy"; after his death it was different.
The testimony of his pupil Rhodon (Eus. H. E. v. 13) leaves the impression that Tatian for some time after Justin's death worked and taught at Rome, busying himself with his "book of questions" (προβλημάτων βιβλίον), dealing with what was "hidden and obscure in the sacred writings" (i.e. of O.T.).
The chronology of his literary career is more or less connected with the martyrdom of Justin c. 163–167. Many critics consider Justin's Apology and the Oratio to have been composed about the same time (cf. Zahn, p. 279; Harnack, Texte u. Untersuch. z. Gesch. d. altchrist. Lit. i. p. 196), i.e. a.d. 150–153. Others place the Oratio after the death of Justin (Lightfoot in Contemp. Rev. May, 1877; Hilgenfeld, Ketzergeschichte, p. 395; Funk, Zur Chronol. Tatian's in Tübingen Theol. Quartalschrift for 1833, p. 219, etc.). The difference in opinion turns very much upon the estimate formed of a passage in Eusebius (H. E. iv. 16). A similar want of unanimity prevails as to the place of composition of the Oratio. Harnack (pp. 198–199) argues from its language that it was not written at Rome, where Zahn (p. 280) places it.
A. The Oratio.—The Oratio, by which he is best known, belongs to that part of Tatian's the most interesting and difficult of the Greek apologetic writings. The title, Τατιανοῦ πρὸς Ἕλληνας, terse and abrupt, is characteristic of life which is reckoned orthodox. It is one of the treatise. Tatian did not care for style. Christianity was not, in his opinion, dependent upon it. It was absent from the Scriptures which had fascinated him; it belonged to the Greek culture he had left behind. Yet he at times shews himself no novice in the art he condemned. C. xi. is a noble piece of declamation; c. xix. a scathing denunciation of the false, passing into a grave appeal in behalf of the true. He can draw word-pictures, e.g. those of the actor (c. xxii.), the wealthy patron of the arena (ib.), and the Cynic philosopher (c. xxv.), which are as clever and life-like as those of Tertullian. The Oratio has two principal divisions introduced by a preface (cc. i.–iv.). Div. i. states the Christian doctrines and their intrinsic excellence and superiority to heathen opinions (cc. v.–xxx.); div. ii. demonstrates their superior antiquity (cc. xxxi.–xli.); the whole closes with a few words autobiographical in character (c. xlii.).
Tatian opens (c. i.) by deprecating as unreasonable the contemptuous animosity of the Greeks towards "Barbarians," and points out that there was no practice or custom current among them which they did not owe to "Barbarians." Oneirology, astrology, auguries from birds or sacrifices had come to them from external sources. To Babylonia they owed astronomy, to Persia magic, to Egypt geometry, to Phoenicia instruction by letters. Orpheus had taught them poetry, song, and initiation into the mysteries, the Tuscans sculpture, the Egyptians history, rustic Phrygians the harmony of the shepherd's pipe, Tyrrhenians the trumpet, the Cyclopes the smith's art, and Atossa, queen of the Persians, the method of joining letter-tablets (see Otto's note). They should not boast of their excellent diction when they imported into it "barbaric" expression and maintained no uniformity of pronunciation. Of Doric, Attic, Aeolian, Ionian, which was the real Greek? Further, let them not boast while they used rhetoric to subserve injustice and sycophancy, poetry to depict battles, the amours of gods, and the corruption of the soul.
C. v., one of the most important (doctrinally) and difficult in the Oratio, opens thus:
"In the beginning was God. We have been taught that the beginning is the power of the Logos. For the Lord of all, being Himself the substance (ὑπόστασις) of all, in so far that creation had not yet taken place, was alone; but in so far as He was Himself all power, and the substance of things visible and invisible, all things were with Him: (and thus) with Him by Logos-power (διὰ λογιχῆς δυνάμεως), the very Logos Himself, Who was in Him, subsisted (ὑπέστησε). By the simple will of God the Logos springs forth, and not proceeding forth without cause (κατὰ κενοῦ), becomes the first-begotten work of the Father. Him we recognize as the beginning of the world. He was born by participation, not by scission (κατὰ μερισμὸν οὐ κατὰ ἀποκοπὴν); for He Who proceeds by scission is separated from the first, but He Who has proceeded by participation and has accepted a part in the administration of the world (τὸ . . , οἰκονομίας τὴν αἵρεσιν προσλαβόν), hath not rendered Him defective from Whom He was taken. Just as many fires are lighted from one torch, but the light of the first torch is not lessened through the kindling of the many, so the Logos coming forth from the power of the Father hath not made Him Who begat Him without Logos (ἄλογον)."
Tatian upholds the belief in the resurrection of the body at the end of all things. His argument is briefly: "There was a time when I did not exist: I was born and came into existence. There will be a time when (through death) I shall not exist; but again I shall exist, just as before I was not, but was afterwards born [cf. Tertull. Apol. xlviii.]. Let fire destroy my flesh, let me be drowned, or torn to pieces by wild beasts, I am laid up in the treasure-chambers of a wealthy Lord. God Who reigneth can, when He will, restore to its pristine state that which is visible to Him alone." In c. vii. Tatian returns to the Logos, that he may demonstrate His work as regards angels and men.
The thoughts of the better land and of God's revelation by the prophets lead Tatian to God's revelation of Himself in the Incarnation. That doctrine he treats in a manner likely to be admitted by a Greek, if very differently from the way (e.g.) Justin Martyr presented it to the Jews. We are not mad, he says (c. xxi.), nor do we utter idle tales when we say that God was made (γεγονέναι) in the form of man. The mythology of the Greeks was full of such appearances—an Athene taking the form of a Deiphobus, a Phoebus that of a herdsman, etc., etc. Further, what did so frequent an expression as the origin of the gods imply but that they were mortal? The difficulty attendant upon the heathen belief was not removed by the tendency to resolve all myths and gods into allegory. Metrodorus of Lampsacus, in his treatise on Homer, invited men to believe that the Hera or Athene or Zeus, to whom they consecrated enclosures and groves, were simply natural beings or elemental arrangements. That, argues Tatian, was to surrender their divinity; a surrender he freely endorses, for he will not admit any comparison between the Christian God and deities who "wallow in matter and mud."
Tatian (c. xxii.) lashes with ridicule the teaching offered to and accepted by the Greeks, the teaching of the theatre and arena. It might be urged that such places were frequented and delighted in by the uncultured only. Tatian therefore places the philosophers also at the bar of judgment, and his contempt for their teaching is only equalled by his ridicule of their appearance (c. xxv.). He denounces them as tuft-hunters and gluttons, to whom philosophy was simply a means of getting money. No two of them agreed. One followed the teaching of Plato, a disciple of Epicurus opposed him. The scholar of Democritus reviled the pupil of Aristotle. Why, protests Tatian, do you who are so inharmonious fight us Christians who are at least harmonious? "Your philosophers maintain that God has a body: I maintain that He is without a body; that the world shall be often consumed by fire, I once for all; that Minos and Rhadamanthus will be the judges of mankind, I God Himself (cf. c. vi.); that the soul alone is immortal, I the body together with the soul." We, he continues, do but follow the Logos of God, why do you hate us? We are not eaters of human flesh; the charge is false. It is among you that Pelops the beloved of Poseidon is made a banquet for the gods, that Saturn devours his own children, and Zeus swallows Metis.
After all, the philosophers do but make a boast of language taken from others (c. xxvi.), like the jackdaw strutting about in borrowed plumes. The reading of their books is like struggling through a labyrinth, the readers must be like the pierced cask of the Danaids. Why should they affirm that wisdom was with them only? The grammarians were at the bottom of all this folly; and philosophers who parcelled out wisdom to this and that system-maker knew not God and did but destroy each other. "Therefore," Tatian concludes scornfully, "you are all nothing—blind men talking with deaf; handling builder's tools but not knowing how to build; preaching but not practising; swaggering about in public but hiding your teaching in corners. We have left you because this is your character. We can have nothing more to do with your instructions. We follow the word of God."
Tatian then explains (c. xxix.) how he became a Christian. It was not through want of knowledge of what he was leaving. He had been initiated into the (Eleusinian) mysteries, and had made trial of every kind of religious worship. The result had sickened him. Among the Romans he had found the Latiarian Jupiter delighting in human gore, Diana Aricina similarly worshipped, and this or that demon systematically urging on to what was evil. He withdrew to seek by some means to discover the truth. "As," he says, "I was earnestly considering this I came across certain barbarian writings, older in point of antiquity than the doctrines of the Greeks, and far too divine to be marked by their errors. What persuaded me in these books was the simplicity of the language, the inartificial style of the writers, the noble explanation of creation, the
predictions of the future, the excellence of the precepts, and the assertion of the government of all by One Being. My soul being thus taught of God I understand how the writings of the Gentiles lead to condemnation, but the sacred Scriptures to freedom from this world's slavery, liberating us from thousands of tyrants, and giving us, not indeed what we had not received, but what we had once received but had lost through error."
Tatian, with all the energy of a convert, loudly proclaimed the truth which satisfied him. He goes on to shew (cc. xxxi.–xli.) that the Christian religion was a "philosophy" far more ancient than that of the Greeks. He compares Homer and Moses, "the one the oldest of poets and historians, the other the founder of our barbarian wisdom." The comparison proves the Christian tenets older than those of the Greeks, and even than the invention of letters. After enumerating numerous variant opinions as to the date, parentage, and poetry of Homer, he remarks upon such discordant testimony as proving the history untrue; so different from the unanimity common among Christians. "We reject everything," he says, "which rests upon human opinion; we obey the commandments of God and follow the law of the Father of immortality. The rich among us follow philosophy, and our poor are taught gratuitously. We receive all who wish to be taught, aged women and striplings: every age is respected by us. . . . We do not test them by their looks, nor judge them by their outward appearance. In body they may be weak, but in mind they are strong. . . . What we do keep at a distance is licentiousness and falsehood." His mention of the women who received Christian instruction leads him to a digression in defence of them. The Gentiles scoffed, he says, at them, and alleged that the Christians talked nonsense among them. Tatian retorts (cc. xxxiii. xxxiv.) by pointing to the disgrace the Greeks cast upon themselves, not only by their unbecoming conduct to women generally, but by the statues they erected to courtesans and wanton poetesses. "All our women," bursts forth Tatian, "are chaste; and our maidens at their distaffs sing nobler songs about God than a Sappho." The Greeks should repudiate the lesson of immorality which their statues had immortalized and the foul practices inculcated by indecent writers, and turn to Christianity which enjoined truth and purity of thought and life. "I do not," says Tatian (c. xxxv.), "speak of these things as having merely heard about them. I have travelled much; I have studied your philosophy (al. rhetoric, cf. Eus. H. E. iv. 16, and Otto's note here), and your arts and inventions. At Rome I saw the multitude of statues you have collected there. And, as the result, I have turned from Roman boastfulness, Athenian exaggeration, ill-connected doctrines, to the barbaric Christian philosophy."
He now returns to the subject started in c. xxxi., after one word in deprecation of the sneer at himself: "Tatian, the man so superior to the Greeks, so superior to the numberless teachers of philosophy, has opened up a new vein of learning—the doctrines of the barbarians!" Whether Homer was contemporary with the Trojan war, or a soldier under Agamemnon, or even lived before the invention of letters, Moses yet lived long before either the building or taking of Troy. In proof of this, Tatian appeals to the Chaldeans, Phoenicians, and Egyptians. E.g. Berosus, the Babylonian historian, "a most competent authority," spoke of the wars of Nebuchadnezzar against the Phoenicians and Jews which happened 70 years before the Persian rule, and long after the age of Moses. Phoenician historians, such as Theodotus, Hypsicrates, and Mochus had referred to events connected with Hiram of Tyre, whose date was somewhere about the Trojan war. Both Solomon and Hiram lived long after Moses. The Egyptians were noted for the accuracy of their chronicles, and Ptolemy, the priest of Mendes, spoke of the departure of the Jews from Egypt as having taken place under the leadership of Moses under king Amosis. This king, according to him, lived in the time of the Argive king, Inachus, after whose reign, dating 20 generations, the taking of Troy was reached. Therefore, if Moses was a contemporary of Inachus, he lived some 400 years before the Trojan war. It was not till after the time of Inachus that the most illustrious deeds of gods and men in Greece were committed to writing and became known. Such records, therefore, were far less ancient than the time of Moses. Tatian sums up (c. xl.) by affirming it self-evident that Moses was of far greater antiquity than the ancient heroes, wars, or gods (demons). Men ought, therefore, to believe the more ancient authority in preference to the Greeks, who had borrowed from Moses, as from a spring, without acknowledgment (al. unconsciously); and in many cases had perverted what they took. Moses was, moreover, older than all the writers before Homer, e.g. than Linus, the teacher of Hercules, who lived in the generation before the Trojan war, than Orpheus, who was a contemporary with Hercules, and than the wisest of the wise men of Greece, e.g. Minos—so famous for his wisdom, shrewdness, and legislative powers—who lived in the 11th generation after Inachus; Lycurgus, the Lacedemonian lawgiver, who was born long after the taking of Troy; Draco, Solon, Pythagoras, and those seven wise men, the oldest of whom lived about the 50th of those Olympiads which began about 400 years after the taking of Troy.
The treatise is a defence of Christianity rather than of Christians, and not so much a defence of doctrines as an answer or oration to those who sneered at them. He depicts Christianity as contrasting by its goodness, wisdom, and truth with the heathenism which revelled in vice, foolishness, and error. Unlike other apologists, there is little care to discuss Thyestean banquets (cf. c. xxv.), or refute want of patriotism (c. iv.) His weapons are weapons of offence rather than of defence. In Tatian "barbaric (i.e. Christian) philosophy" dares to carry the war into the enemy's camp, and scorn is turned upon the scorners. It is a typical specimen of the class to which the lrrisio Gentilium Philosophorum of HERMIAS also belongs.
The Opinions of Tatian.—(a) God (see c. iv.).—With Tatian, as with Justin, God, not contemplated as He is in His nature but as revealed in His works, is the starting-point of all Christian philosophy. Tatian's doctrine about the creation is in c. v. In the creation itself he recognizes two stages (c. ii.): (α) matter, shapeless and unformed, is put forth (προβεβλημένη) by God; and (β) the world, separated from this matter, is fashioned into what is full of beauty and order, though eventually to be dissolved by fire (c. xxv.).
(b) The Logos (see c. v.).—The relation between God (ὁ δεσπότης) and the Logos Who subsists in Him, the Hypostasis, is conceived from a different point of view, and set forth in different terms from those of Justin. With Tatian the Logos springs forth (προπηδᾶ) by the Will of God. The process of begetting, the relationships of Father and Son, and the worship due to the Son, are not brought forward. The inward communion between them which carries with it these truths is indeed expressed by the deep phrase σὺν αὐτῷ διὰ λογικῆς δυνάμεως αὐτὸς καὶ ὁ λόγος; but the outward exhibition of this communion—the "springing forth"—is suggestive of emanation rather than of begetting. The distinction between the λόγος ἐνδιάθετος and the λόγος προφορικός, so strongly expressed by the apologist Theophilus (ii. 10), is more than visible. Tatian, in fact, presents the Logos as the personification of an abstraction.
(c) The Holy Spirit is evidently with Tatian a distinct personal Being. He does not, as Justin (Apol. i. 60), speak directly of His share in the creation; he rather leads up to His work and office as "the Minister of the suffering God" (c. xiii.), when he would present its bearing upon the nature of man. Starting from the initial positions, "God is Spirit," and the Logos "a Spirit born of the Father," Tatian recognizes two varieties of Spirit: (α) "the spirit which pervades matter, inferior to (β) the more Divine Spirit" (c. iv.). To the Spirit is attributed prophetic powers. Abiding with the just and locked in the embrace of the soul (συμβλεκόμενον τῇ ψυχῇ), He proclaims to other souls by means of prophecies that which is concealed. He uses the Prophets as His organ (cf. c. xx.). This action Tatian has also attributed to "the Power of the Logos" (c. vii.). Perhaps, as with Justin, this title of the Logos, ἡ δύναμις, defines for Tatian the meaning of the πνεῦμα (cf. II. Cor. iii. 17). The Spirit is the Divine Power of the Logos.
(d) Angelology and Demonology.—Of good angels Tatian says nothing; but he speaks as strongly as Justin of evil angels, though he presents their work and ways in different language and (in some respects) from a different point of view. When expelled from heaven the fallen angels or demons lived with animals. Some of these they placed—the dog, the bear, the scorpion, etc.—in the heavens as objects of worship. Of demons, Tatian recognizes two classes. Receiving alike their constitution from matter, and possessing the spirit which comes from it, few only turned to what was purer, the many chose what was licentious and gluttonous (c. xii.); they became the very "effulgences of matter and wickedness" (c. xv.). Though material, none of the demons possess flesh; their structure is spiritual like that of fire or air (ib.).
(e) Man.—Tatian recognizes the three parts of body, soul, and spirit. At the fall man lost the spirit or highest nature, which had in it immortality (c. vii.). As the angels were cast down from heaven, so man was driven forth from earth, "yet not out of this earth, but from a more excellent order of things than exists here now." Tatian would seem to place Paradise above our earth; he describes it (c. xx.) as one of the better aeons unaffected by that change of seasons which is productive of various diseases, as partaking of a perfect temperature, as possessing endless day and light, and as unapproachable by mortals such as we are. Man, though deprived of the spirit, must aim at recovering his former state. Body and soul are left him. The soul is composite: it is the bond of the flesh; yet also that which encloses the soul is the flesh. The soul cannot appear without a body, nor can the flesh rise again without the soul.
Faith is a necessity for knowledge of divine things; ὁ πιστεύων ἐπιγνώσεται (c. xix.); faith and knowledge together help towards the victory over sin and death. Men, after the throwing away (ἀποβολήν) of immortality; have conquered death by the death which is through faith (cf. c. xi.: "Die to the world! Live to God!"); and through repentance a call has been granted to those who (according to God's word) are but a little lower than the angels (c. xv.). Through faith, and as the object of faith, Tatian proclaims that "God was born in the form of a man" (c. xxi.), and speaks of the Holy Spirit as the minister of the God Who hath suffered (τὸν διάκονον τοῦ πεπονθότος θεοῦ, c. xiii.). If he never mentions the names Jesus or Christ, it is because the facts of the Incarnation and Passion would commend themselves independently of names to Gentiles, to whom such facts were illustrated by their mythology (cf. Justin, Apol. i. 21). Faith animates the famous passage on the soul (c. xiii.), and especially in connexion with the resurrection. "We have faith in this doctrine," he exclaims (c. v.); but he does not rest his reasons on the resurrection of Christ (as St. Paul), but on an argument which may have suggested the more elaborate reasoning of Tertullian (Apol. c. xlviii.): There was a time when as man he was not; after a former state of nothingness he was born. Again, there would be a time when he would die; and again there would be a time when he should exist again. There was nothing of metempsychosis or transmigration of souls in his conception. Though the flesh were destroyed by fire or wild beasts, or dispersed through rivers or seas, "I," says Tatian, "am laid up in the storehouses of a wealthy Lord. God the King will, when He pleases, restore to its former state my substance which is visible to Himself alone" (c. vi.).
As regards free will, Tatian uses even more emphatic language than Justin (e.g. Apol. i. 43). He opposes the Scriptural (and Platonic) belief in free will to the fatalism of philosophers (cc. viii.–x.), and while he pours scorn upon their views, pens a touching appeal to them as men "not created to die" (see c. xl. end).
Christian Practice.—Though Tatian does not speak of his co-religionists as Christians, but accepts willingly the contemptuous expression "barbarians," it is the doctrines of Christ which alone have, in his opinion, raised them above a world deluded by the trickeries of frenzied demons (c. xii.), and wallowing in matter and mud (c. xxi.). Where the old nature has been laid aside, men have not only apprehended God (c. xi.), but through a knowledge of the True One have remodelled (μεταῤῥυθμίζειν) their lives (c. v.). Holy baptism and membership in the church did not enter into his argument. A passing allusion to the Holy Eucharist perhaps underlies his indignant protest against the frequent defamation that Christians indulged in Thyestean banquets (c. xxv.). He seems to prefer advancing the great help which the Scriptures had been to himself, and might be to his philosophical opponents. "Barbaric" though these Scriptures were, they were in the O.T. portion both older and more divine, more full of humility and of deep knowledge, more marked by excellence and unity than any writings claimed by the Greeks (c. xxix.). These "divine writings" made men "lovers of God" (c. xii.); and men thus God-taught were helped by them to break down the slavery in the world, and gain back what they had once received, but had lost through the deceit of their spiritual foes (c. xxix.).
The O.T. seems to have greatly attracted Tatian. It probably formed the basis of the lost work προβλημάτων βιβλίον mentioned by Rhodon; and in his attempt to collect and solve O.T. difficulties, Tatian was among the first, if not the first, of Christian commentators. The Oratio shews that he knew well the Gospels, Acts, and Pauline Epistles. If reference to O. and N. T. is more marked by allusion than by direct quotation, the cause is the well-known practice of the apologists, who usually abstain from such quotations when writing to Gentiles who would have allowed little authority to them. Tatian's references to St. John's Gospel are, however, both exceptional and indisputable, and testify to a widespread knowledge of that Gospel at the period in question. Independently of coincidences of exposition, three passages may be specified:
|Ch. iv.||πνεῦμα ὁ Θεός||Ch. iv. 24.||πνεῦμα ὁ Θεός.|
|Ch. xiii.||ἡ σκοτία τὸ φῶς οὐ καταλαμβάνει.||Ch. i. 5.||τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.|
|Ch. xix.||πάντα ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ γέγονεν οὐδε ἕν.||Ch. i. 3.||πάντα δι᾿ α αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. (Westcott & Hort.)|
Of these the second is prefaced by τὸ εἰρημένον, the expression which in N.T. introduces the Scriptures (cf. Luke ii. 24; Acts ii. 16, xiii. 40; Rom. iv. 18). The third passage is punctuated by Tatian in the manner invariably followed by the early Christian writers (contrast the textus receptus, οὐδὲ ἓν ὃ γέγονεν). The coincidence is, as noted by Bp. Lightfoot, remarkable, for the words are extremely simple in themselves. Their order and adaptation give uniqueness to the expression.
B. The Diatessaron.—(1) History.—The history of the recovery of this work is sufficiently romantic. In the literature of the Western church there is no serviceable testimony to it till the middle of 6th cent.; in the Eastern church Eusebius († 339–340) is the only Greek writer of the first four cents. who gives any information about it. It was apparently (see Codex Fuldensis, ed. Ranke, 1868, ix. 1) mere chance which put into the hands of bp. Victor of Capua († 554) a Latin book of the Gospels without title or author's name, but evidently compiled from the four canonical books. This unknown work excited his interest; and searching in vain the Latin Christian literature of the past, he turned to the Greek, and found in Eusebius two notices of Harmonies. (a) In the letter to Carpianus the harmony of Ammonius of Alexandria (3rd cent.) was described. Its principle was that of comparison. The Gospel of St. Matthew was followed continuously, and the passages—and only those—from the other Gospels which tallied with the text of St. Matthew were referred to or inserted in the margin or in parallel columns. This excluded the greater part of St. John's Gospel and much of St. Luke's. The Harmony was for private use, not for the public service of the church. Whether or not the descriptive title given to it in Eusebius—τὸ διὰ τεσσάρων εὐαγγέλιον—was that of the church historian or of Ammonius remains undetermined. (b) In his Church History (iv. 29, 6), Eusebius refers to Tatian as having composed a "sort of connexion or compilation, I know not how, of the Gospels, and called it the Diatessaron" (συνάφειαν τινα καὶ συναγωγὴν οὐκ οἶδ᾿ ὅπως τῶν εὐαγγελίων συνθείς.) Cf. Bp. Lightfoot in Contemp Rev. May 1877; Zahn, i. pp. 14, 15); and he adds that this work was current in his day. Its principle was amalgamation, not comparison. Victor came to the conclusion that his unknown work was substantially the Diatessaron of Tatian. This acute verdict—purged of some unimportant errors (see Lightfoot, l.c.; Zahn, i. pp. 2, 3)—has survived the difficulties which a comparison of the Codex Fuldensis with the Diatessaron at first presented.
A notice in the treatise on Heresies, written in 453 by Theodoret († 457–458), bp. of Cyrrhus on the Euphrates, is the first definite evidence to the Diatessaron after the time of Eusebius. The identification of it by Epiphanius (Haer. xlvi. 1) with the Gospel according to the Hebrews is an earlier testimony in point of date (Epiphanius † 403), but is connected with a blunder which, though capable of explanation, somewhat disqualifies the evidence. Testimony to the Diatessaron comes rather from the Syriac-speaking church of the East than from the Greek. Theodoret says of Tatian: "He composed the Gospel which is called Diatessaron, cutting out the genealogies and such other passages as shew the Lord to have been born of the seed of David after the flesh. This work was in use not only among persons belonging to his sect, but also among those who follow the apostolic doctrine, as they did not perceive the mischief of the
composition, but used the book in all simplicity on account of its brevity. And I myself found more than 200 such copies held in respect in the churches in our parts. All these I collected and put away, and I replaced them by the Gospels of the four Evangelists" (i. 20. Cf. Lightfoot, l.c.; Zahn, i. p. 35). This passage indicates a considerable circulation of the Diatessaron in the bishop's diocese and neighbourhood. The language of that district was Syriac (Zahn, i. pp. 39–44); therefore the book to which Theodoret refers was in Syriac and not Greek. This simple fact helps to explain the language of Eusebius and the blunder of Epiphanius; and is itself illustrated by the fact that the commentary on the Diatessaron was composed not by a Greek writer, but by Ephrem the Syrian. Epiphanius's statement that Tatian on leaving Rome went into Mesopotamia, points to a visit to Edessa, the only place in the district where Christianity had secure footing (see Zahn, i. p. 282 and Excursus ii.) and a city famous for its schools. To the same Tatian rumour assigned the Diatessaron which some called "the Gospel according to the Hebrews." How did Epiphanius confound two works so essentially different? Zahn's explanation seems perfectly satisfactory. The report was current that there was a Syriac book of the Gospels, called a Diatessaron, used in the Syrian churches, e.g. those of the diocese of Cyrrhus. Further, it was reported that there was another book of the Gospels, written in a kindred dialect and used e.g. at Beroea, i.e. in the neighbourhood of Cyrrhus, by the half-heretical Nazareans. An outsider like Epiphanius might very easily confound them and even identify them (i. p. 25. See Wace, Expositor for 1882, p. 165). Eusebius had not actually seen Tatian's Diatessaron. His statement, "I know not how" Tatian composed it, shews that he had not personally examined it, doubtless because of non-acquaintance or non-familiarity with Syriac.
Theodoret's language implies, moreover, that the Diatessaron had been current in his diocese for a very long period; and this is confirmed by an examination of the commentary of Ephrem Syrus († 378). Dionysius bar Salibi, bp. of Amida in Armenia Major († 1171 Mösinger and Bickell, or 1207 Assemani and Lightfoot, see Zahn, i. p. 98, n. 4), states in the preface to his own commentary on St. Mark (quoted in Assemani, Bibl. Or. i. 57, ii. 159; see Mösinger, p. iii.; Zahn, i. pp. 44, 99) that Tatian, the pupil of Justin, made a selection from the four Gospels (al. Evangelists), which he wove together into one Gospel, and called a Diatessaron, i.e. Miscellanies. This writing St. Ephrem interpreted. Its opening words were, "In the beginning was the Word." An Armenian version (5th cent.) of Ephrem's Commentary was printed at Venice in 1836, but remained unserviceable until a MS. Latin and literal translation of the Armenian made by J. B. Aucher, one of the Mechitarist monks of that city, together with one of the Armenian codices, was placed in the hands of a Salzburg professor, Dr. G. Mösinger, who revised, corrected, and published the Latin text at Venice in 1876. Internal and external evidence (see Mösinger, pp. vi–x) combine in justifying the conclusion that in this Latin translation of the Commentary of Ephrem is contained substantially Tatian's Diatessaron, and that from it Tatian's text may be in a great measure recovered.
The bearing of Mösinger's translation upon the corresponding portion of the Codex Fuldensis may be briefly summarized. Dr. Wace (Expositor for 1881, pp. 128 seq.) may be said to have proved that Victor of Capua's Harmony preserved in that Codex is not only very closely allied with Tatian's Diatessaron, but exhibits substantially the document on which Ephrem commented with some occasional alterations of order and few additions; the difference being remembered that in Victor's Evangelium Tatian has been transferred into the Latin text of St. Jerome, whereas Ephrem commented upon him in a Syriac translation. The Mösinger text and the Codex proceed pari passu, and agree in order where that order is certainly remarkable. The very interesting fact is thus established, that Tatian's Diatessaron found acceptance in the West as well as the East, and was transferred rather than translated into a Western version. This is not surprising. Theodoret's statement as to its popularity in his diocese may well account for its existence in a Latin form a century later.
It remains to indicate the manner in which the Syriac Diatessaron passed into Latin form, such as is preserved in the Codex Fuldensis (Zahn, i. pp. 298–328) The interesting fact comes out that this took place without the use of any intermediary Greek Diatessaron. In language and form the Latin Harmony is based upon St. Jerome's version; and the differences between the Codex and Tatian—such as alterations in chronological order, expansions and abbreviations, coincidences and deviations—indicative as they are of dependence of the Codex upon Tatian, do not require the explanation which an intermediate Greek text would easily supply. The Codex Fuldensis must be dated between 383 (when Jerome put forward his revision of the translation of the Gospels) and 546 (when Victor of Capua wrote down the Latin Harmony preserved in the Codex); or, more approximately, c. 500 (Zahn, i. p. 310). Translations from Syriac into Greek existed in 4th cent. (Eus. H. E. i. 13, iv. 30), and the fact—with its consequence, a further translation from Greek into Latin—might be quoted in proof of a more early date than a.d. 500 for the Codex Fuldensis; but, independently of other reasons, the age of Victor of Capua has yielded proofs of direct translations from Syriac into Latin, which render appeals to a Greek Diatessaron unnecessary. Kihn (Theodor von Mopsuestia und Junilius Africanus; see Zahn, i. p. 311) has shewn that in the days of Victor of Capua, JUNILIUS, Quaestor sacri palatii at Constantinople (c. 545–552) sent to Primasius, bp. of Adrumetum, a Latin introduction to the Scriptures (Instituta regularia divinae legis) which was a free rendering of a work written (c. 533–544) by the Syrian Nestorian Paul, a pupil and teacher of the school of Nisibis.
(2) Recovery of the Diatessaron.—This is due to the energetic scholarship of Zahn. By the use principally of Ephrem's commentary (ed. Mösinger) and of the quotations in the
Homilies of Aphraates he has printed the text (i. pp. 113–219) in detail; comparing it throughout with the Syriac of Cureton (Sc.), the Peshito (P.), and frequently the Philoxenian text revised by Thomas of Harkel (Hl.), with the Greek MSS. א , B, and D, and with Sabatier and Bianchini's editions of the MSS. of the Itala. Verse by verse the text is reconstructed and tabulated in sections. Each section is accompanied by an exhaustive critical and expository comment, and an index to all the passages incorporated in the Harmony enables the student to examine the evidence respecting any individual verse. These sections indicate the character of the Harmony and may be seen as given by Zahn, with the refs. to Ephrem omitted in favour of Eng. headings in Fuller's Harmony of the Gospels (S.P.C.K.). Zahn has pursued the subject further in his Forschungen zur Geschichte des N.T. Kanons, ii. 286–299, and his Geschichte des N.T. Kanons, (1888) i. 1, 369–429; (1892), ii. 2, 530–556.
(3) The Theological Opinions of Tatian.—Until the death of Justin Martyr he was considered orthodox; after that heterodox. The change can only be roughly sketched. In the Oratio are found traces of the three heretical views which Irenaeus attributed to him. (i) The allusion to Aeons above the heavens (c. xx.) may very well have led on to theories akin to those of Valentinus (Iren. adv. Haer. i. 28). (ii) The doctrine that the protoplast lost the image and likeness of God (cc. viii. xii. xv.) might lead to the denial of the salvation of Adam (ib. iii. 23, § 8). (iii) His allusion (c. xv.) to man as distinguished from the brute—implying by contrast points of resemblance between them—makes possible a transition to the severer views of denouncing marriage as defilement and fornication as did Marcion and Saturninus (Iren. c. xv.; Hieron. Comm. l.c. in Ep. ad Gal. vi.), and also the use of meats (Hieron. adv. Jovin. i. 3). Were the heretical writings in existence which Irenaeus affirmed that Tatian had written and he himself had read (Zahn, i. p. 281), we might be able to judge how far they justified Irenaeus in describing him as "elated, puffed up as if superior to other teachers, and forming his own type of doctrine," and to trace something of his erroneousness in the Problems, and other lost works, e.g. Concerning Perfection according to the Saviour; and in the criticisms, paraphrases, or translations of some of St Paul's Epistles, which Eusebius (H. E. iv. 29) had heard of, and which Jerome described as repudiations of those apostolic writings (Praef. in Comm. to Titus, see Zahn, i. p. 6, n. 4). A few hints only are forthcoming on these points, and these filtered through unfriendly channels. But the general impression cannot be resisted. Tatian became first suspected and then denounced. He left Rome, possibly pausing at Alexandria to teach, among his pupils being Clement of Alexandria (cf. Lightfoot, p. 1133; Zahn, i. p. 12), and then proceeding to the East, to Mesopotamia (Epiphan. Haer. xlvi. i. Correct his error in chronology by Lightfoot and Zahn, i. p. 282), there to live until his death. It is more than probable that on leaving Rome he carried the Diatessaron with him, unpublished. In the West he had become unacceptable. The language of Irenaeus c. 185—i.e. probably after Tatian's death—leaves no doubt upon this point. Men honoured and valued the Oratio (cf. int. al. Hilgenfeld, Ketzergeschichte, pp. 386, 387); but say nothing of the Diatessaron. In the Greek-speaking churches of the East the writer of the Oratio was not less valued (cf. Eus. H. E. iv. 29, v. 28), and they speak of the Diatessaron; but it is by report or at second-hand only. Ugly rumours circulated. Tatian, described broadly as "connexio omnium haereticorum" (Iren. adv. Haer. iii. 23), had become, in defiance of historical probability (Zahn, i. p.288), an ENCRATITE, one whose tenets had spread into Asia Minor from Antioch, and who blossomed out at last into "Encratitarum acerrimus haeresiarches" (Hieron.). Had Irenaeus, Eusebius, or Jerome known the Diatessaron, would they not have examined it as they had examined Tatian's Oratio and other works? Would not the very compilation of a Diatessaron have been obnoxious to one who, like Irenaeus, counted the fourfold Gospels (neither more, nor less) an absolute necessity? But in the Syriac-speaking East he was unknown, or not followed by troublesome reflections upon his orthodoxy, and there the teacher who was eclectic rather than heterodox could produce and circulate that work, which commended itself to the "simplicity" of the churches around Edessa "on account of its brevity," till Theodoret enlightened them.
The date of his death is unknown, but if he left Rome c. 172 or 173 he would have been about 62 years of age, and, humanly speaking, with time before him to circulate the Diatessaron before he died.
Literature.—In the prolegomena (pp xiii–xxix) to Otto's ed. of the Oratio will be found a description of the MSS., edd., etc., in existence (cf. also Harnack, op. cit. pp. 1–97; Donaldson, History of Christian Literature and Doctrine, iii. pp. 60–62). For other works besides those freely used and specified in this art. see Preuschen's art. s.n. in Herzog's R. E.³ The text of the Diatessaron ed. by J. White is pub. by Oxf. Univ. Press, and a trans. in Ante-Nicene Lib.