I am participating in the reading group Read the Fathers. In order to help me maintain this discipline I have been posting my notes each Saturday. These are my notes from this week:
This week’s readings were from Tatian the Assyrian’s Address to the Greeks and Theophilus of Antioch’s To Autolycus.
Tatian the Assyrian may be best known for compiling the Diatesseron, a harmony of the four Gospels, but he was an apologist in the tradition of Justin Martyr as well. In Address to the Greeks he attacks Greek arrogance as he perceives it, presenting himself as a “defender of Barbarian philosophy.” This includes rebutting the idea that Greeks created art (Chapter 1), demeaning important philosophers (Chapter 2; Chapter 3; or complaining about their followers as in Chapter 25), comparing their gods to evil spirits, who are routinely denounced in this work (Chapter 8; Chapter 9, which includes comments that seem to allude to Romans 1 as regards the gods exalting animals as things to be worshipped; Chapter 10; Chapter 14, where Tatian indicates their judgement will be worse than humans; Chapter 16; Chapter 17; Chapter 18, where Tatian challenges the use of medicine, which is “material,” for healing, rather than the power of God; Chapter 19; Chapter 20, with another medicine reference; Chapter 21; Chapter 22, as relates to Greek festivals; Chapter 23, as relates to gladiator battles; Chapter 24), or arguing, simply, that Greeks are no better than anyone else (Chapter 26).
Tatian advocates the exclusivity of the Christian God as the one true God who Created everything. It is a Pneumatological presentation: God is Spirit, the Spirit that pervades all things and that created (what he calls) “material spirits.” Tatian says there are two types of spirits (something found in 1QS, Shepherd of Hermas, Chapter 12). One is the soul, material, and one is superior to materiality. The first man (Adam) has both types of spirit. Tatian moves from his description of God (Chapter 4) to argue that this God is from the beginning alongside his Logos (Chapter 5). All of this is said as a challenge to the Greeks who want to drag Christians before civic rulers. This Logos comes from God, shaped angels and men, both who were not created perfect, but created to be perfected if good and judged if evil (Chapter 7).
Tatian defends the Incarnation by comparing and contrasting Christian doctrine with Greek doctrines about their gods (Chapter 21). He aims to defend Christian teaching as no worse (actually, better!) than other groups accepted by the Greeks (Chapter 27). He denounces Greek laws (Chapter 28). Tatian appeals to how own conversion, which seems to have stemmed from reading the OT, as evidence that Christian teachings are better than the pagan religions he rejected in his search (Chapter 29; Chapter 30). He became convinced that the Christian religion has roots that go deeper than Greek philosophy. This is an argument we have seen used by Justin Martyr as well. Moses is the starting point (Chapter 31; Chapter 36; Chapter 37; Chapter 38; Chapter 39; Chapter 40; Chapter 41). Christianity as an old religion has universal appeal (Chapter 32). It treats women better than pagan religions (Chapter 33). Pagan idols depicting women are shameful. In fact, pagan idols are shameful in general (Chapter 34). Tatian says this as one who has seen these things firsthand (Chapter 35).
Tatian argues for an eschatological resurrection saying comparing how he was non-existent before his birth, yet existed potentially, so when he dies he will no longer exist physically, but he will exist with the potential for physicality (Chapter 6). The soul is something that seems to be non-existent after death. If one is raised to judgment it is revived then. If one is raised for eternal life, the same. There may be some familiarity with Romans 8 (Chapter 13). This is made more evident by his discussion about how the soul needs to reunite with the S/spirit. The S/spirit is called God’s “representative.” It is difficult to discern a difference between the S/spirit of God and the general sustaining S/spirit that give humans life. If a human doesn’t have this S/spirit, then there is no protection from demons (Chapter 15; Chapter 16; see Chapter 20 where the “heavenly S/spirit” is connected with the soul in anticipation of the resurrection).
Tatian’s anthropology emphasizes human free-will. The state of the world is not due to fate, but human evil (Chapter 11).
Theophilus of Antioch was a Bishop in the late second century.
Autolycus appears to be a pagan who is skeptical of Christianity. Theophilus speaks of him as a friend, though to what extent this is rhetorical I don’t know (1.1). Autolycus has challenged Theophilus to show him his god. Theophilus replies, in essence, that the blind cannot see, but that doesn’t mean that there are not things to be seen, i.e. Autolycus’ spiritual blindness doesn’t disprove Theophilus’ deity (1.2). Theophilus speaks of God as “ineffable and indescribable,” showing how words about God (e.g., fire, spirit, wisdom) speak to relatable characteristics of God (1.3). This is true of even the word “God,” “Father,” “Lord,” and so forth (1.4). God’s works are how we know him (1.5). Creation exemplifies this (1.6). Theophilus invites Autolycus to open himself to this Creator God (1.7).
Immediately after establishing a “natural theology” of sorts, Theophilus challenges Autolycus to affirm the doctrine of resurrection (1.8). Theophilus’ deity is juxtaposes with pagan gods (1.9) and idols (1.10). Since God is God, and the gods and idols are not, Theophilus does not “worship the King” (Roman) either, but advocates honoring the King as a creation of the true God (1.11).
The title “Christian” is a pejorative for Autolycus. Theophilus defends himself as a Christian, saying that “Christian” means “anointed ones” (1.12). Likewise, he defends the central Christian doctrine of resurrection by appealing to nature, ala Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 (1.13). Theophilus ends Book 1 by appealing to his own testimony of how he did not believe these things, but after studying Scripture, and by the Spirit, he has become a Christian. He ends with warning of judgment (1.14).
Book 2 begins with Theophilus recounting a former dialogue. This book continues the discussion found in Book 1, but also apparently in person (2.1). Immediately he engages in the traditional attack on idols: these things were made by humans (2.2). Then he questions the nature of pagan deities: if gods beget children, why are not more gods coming into existence? Why do the gods change locations (2.3)? Theophilus attacks the various theologies of the philosophers, establishing his own understanding of the Creator God (2.4). He quotes writers like Homer and Hesoid to expose the folly of pagan ideas, especially as it relates to the origins of the cosmos (2.5; 2.6). He mocks Greek genealogies of the gods (2.7). Sometimes the ancient philosophers and poets hinted that the truth was known, but demonic influence forced them to perpetuate the lies (2.8).
On the other hand, the Hebrew prophets were inspired by the Spirit (2.9). These prophets reveal one Creator God who is above his Creation (2.10). Theophilus quotes the account of Genesis 1 and defends the mystery of God’s six days of work as a model for human activity (2.11; 2.12). He explains some of the oddities of this account, e.g., God beginning with the sky or light before the sun and moon (the light is the Word of God shining, 2.13). He interprets the Creation as providing symbolism so we can understand truth, e.g., islands in the sea are like Churches in the world (2.14). This is how he goes about explaining vegetation without light. He mixes Creation’s odd coming-into-being with truisms taught by God in the process, including the Trinity (yes, he uses the word “Trinity”, 2.15). The same is done for Day 5 (2.16) and Day 6 (2.17).
The creation of humanity (Genesis 1.26ff.) presents the dignity of humans (2.18). Theophilus retells the Genesis story (2.19), the placements of humans in Paradise (2.20), which he describes as being a place where humans were put for their advancement (2.24), and Adam and Eve’s deception, which he describes as “…the account given by holy Scripture of the history of man and of Paradise (2.21).” When God “walks” in the Garden, Theophilus explains this as being the Word, the Son, representing the Father (2.22). He defends God’s decision to place the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden as God providing a means by which Adam could become mature if he willed it (2.25). He defends humanity’s expulsion from the Garden by arguing that God will restore humanity to Paradise through the resurrection (2.26). For Theophilus the oddities of Genesis can be explained, and it makes sense literally, and it is true (2.23).
Humanity was not made mortal or immortal according to Theophilus, but with the potential for either (2.27). He explains God’s choice to make Eve out of Adam as God foreknowing about polytheism, therefore he created one human to reflect himself first. Eve is presented as the one who is deceived by Satan (2.28). Satan was upset that Adam and Eve were living and having children so he inspired Cain to kill Abel (2.29). He gives an account of Cain’s family, and says these truths come from the Spirit through Moses’ Scriptures (2.30). He writes about the world after the Great Flood (2.31) and the impact of Babel (2.32). Theophilus’ reason for this history being in Scripture and not elsewhere is that the Spirit has given the truth to Christians (2.33).
The prophets who provides these truths lived holy lives (2.34). He discusses the precepts they proclaimed (2.35), argues that the prophecies of Sibyl confirm (2.36), as do the writings of some poets (2.37), and philosophers (2.38).
Book 3 is another attempt to convince Autolycus (3.1). Theophilus begins by rejecting Greek authors (3.2). He finds that they present a contradictory worldview (3.3). He denies the rumors spread about Christians: Christians share wives, commit incest, and eating human flesh (3.4). He responds that the philosophers teach cannibalism (3.5) and turning these accusations back on the them (3.6). These philosophers have differing view on the gods (3.7).
The gods are presented as immoral (3.8). In contrast, the God of Christians is the Law-giver, who appeared first to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3.9). He explains how the children of Israel went into Egypt before being delivered through Moses (3.10); how they were given the Law with warning of exile (3.11); how the prophets and Gospels uphold this moral vision (3.12), which include chaste living (3.13), loving enemies, and being subject to authorities (3.14). Christians are not guilty of the accusations against them according to Theophilus, but are obedient to a high moral Law (3.15).
This work is concerned with going on the offense against received Greek thought (3.16) and defending Christians as being the ones who hold to the truth (3.17): Greeks are wrong about the Great Flood (3.18); Christians are correct (3.19). Moses is a more ancient thinker and Christian thought goes back to him (3.20). Contra Manetho Israel was not banished from Egypt, Israel left (the Exodus, 3.21). This thread of being more ancient is applied to the Temple (3.22), and the prophets (3.23), therefore Christianity’s claim to these things goes back further than Greek thought. Theophilus presents a chronology from Adam to Samuel (3.24) and Saul to the Exile (3.25) in order to establish his timeline for his claims that Christianity is more ancient (8.26).
The book comes to an end with a Roman chronology (3.27), a summary of the world’s major epochs (3.28), a reiteration that Christianity is more ancient (3.29), and an explanation of why the Greeks didn’t know about the events recorded in Scripture (3.30).
* Tatian argues for the inferiority of matter to God because it was begotten, or brought into existence, but he does not say this of the Logos, placing the Logos on the other side of the Creator-Creation divide in Address to the Greeks, Chapter 5.
* Tatian speaks of declining military command in Address to the Greeks, Chapter 11.
* Later writers present Tatian as a heretic.
* Theophilus describes idolatry in Romans 1-esque terminology in 1.10, but with much expansion. Theophilus shows familiarity with Paul, ending Book 1 with two quotes from Paul.
It would be interesting to compare Theophilus with Philo.
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