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Tatian, after Justin’s death, remained some years at Rome. He continued there his master’s school, professing for him always the loftiest admiration, but each day deviating more and more from his mind. He had some distinguished pupils, among others the Asiatic Rodon, a fertile writer who became later on one of the supports of orthodoxy against Marcion and Apelles. It was probably in the first year of the reign of Marcus-Aurelius that Tatian composed this document, hard and incorrect in style, sometimes lively and piquant, which passes rightly for one of the most original monuments of the Christian apologetics of the 2nd century.

The work is entitled “Against the Greeks.” The hatred of Greece was indeed Tatian’s dominant sentiment. A true Syrian, he was jealous of and hated the arts and literature which had conquered the admiration of the human race. The Pagan gods seemed to him the personification of immorality. The world of Greek statues he saw at Rome gave him no rest. Going over the personages in whose honour they had been erected, he found that nearly all, male and female, had been people of evil life. 59The horrors of the amphitheatre revolted him with better reason; but he confounded with the Roman cruelties the national games and the theatre of the Greeks. Euripides, Menander, appeared to him as masters of debauch, and (a desire which was too much listened to!) he wished their works to be destroyed.

Justin had taken as the basis of his apology a very wide sentiment. He had dreamed of a reconciliation of the Christian dogmas and Greek philosophy. That was assuredly a grand illusion. It did not require much effort to see that the Greek philosophy, essentially rational, and the new faith, proceeding from the supernatural, were enemies of each other, and that only one could remain on the ground. The apologetic method of St. Justin is narrow and perilous for the faith. Tatian felt that, and it is upon the very ruins of Greek philosophy that he seeks to raise the edifice of Christianity. Like his master, Tatian possessed a wide Greek erudition; like him he had no critical qualities, and mixed up, in the most arbitrary fashion, the authentic and the apocryphal, what he knew and what he did not know. Tatian’s is a mind sombre, heavy, violent, full of wrath against the civilisation and against the Greek philosophy, to which he much prefers that of the East, what he calls the barbarian philosophy. An erudition of base alloy, like that which Josephus had shown in his work against Apion, came here to his help. Moses is, according to him, much more ancient than Homer. The Greeks have invented nothing of themselves; they have taken everything from other nations, notably the Orientals. They only excelled in the art of writing; for the foundation of their ideas they are as ignorant as other nations. The Grammarians are the cause of the whole evil; those are they who by their lies have embellished error and created that usurped reputation 60which is the principal obstacle to the triumph of the truth. The Assyrians, Phœnicians, Egyptians —those are the true authorities!

Far from ameliorating men, Greek philosophy has not known how to preserve its votaries from the greatest crimes. Diogenes was intemperate, Plato a gourmand, Aristotle servile. The philosophers have all the vices among them; they are the blind disputing with the deaf. The laws of the Greeks were worth no more than their philosophy; they differ from each other; whereas the good law ought to be common to all men. Among the Christians, on the contrary, there is no disagreement. Rich, poor, men and women have the same opinions. By a bitter irony of fate, Tatian was to die a heretic, and to prove that Christianity was not more sheltered than philosophy was from schisms and party divisions.

Justin and Tatian, although lifelong friends, represented already in the most characteristic manner the two opposing attitudes which Christian apologists shall take in regard to philosophy. The one class; at bottom Greeks, while reproaching Pagan society with the looseness of its manners, shall admit its arts, its general culture, its philosophy. The other class, Syrians or Africans, shall not see in Hellenism but a mass of wickedness and absurdities; they shall much prefer the “barbarian” to Greek wisdom; insult and sarcasm shall be their habitual arms.

The moderate school of Justin seemed at first to gain. Some writings quite analogous to those of the philosophy of Naplouse, especially the Logos paræneticos, the Logos addressed to the Greeks, and the treatise On Monarchy, characterised by numerous Pagan Sibylline and pseudo-Chaldean quotations, began to group themselves around his principal works. They were yet fresh. The unknown author 61of the Logos paræneticos, the tolerant Athenagoras, the clever Minucius Felix, Clement of Alexandria, and, up to a certain point, Theophilus of Antioch, sought for all their dogmas some rational foundation. Even the most mysterious dogmas, the strangest to Greek philosophy, like the resurrection of the body, have, for these wide theologians, Greek antecedents. Christianity has, according to them, its roots in man’s heart; it completes what the natural lights have begun; far from raising itself upon the ruins of reason, Christianity is only its complete development; it is the true philosophy. Everything leads us to believe that the lost apology of Melito was conceived in this spirit. The more or less Gnostic school of Alexandria, by adhering to this same sort of view, shall give it, in the third century, immense celebrity. It shall proclaim, like Justin, that the Greek philosophy is the preparation for Christianity, the ladder which leads to Christ. Platonism especially, by its idealistic tendency, is, for these phil-Hellenic Christians, the object of marked favour. Clement of Alexandria speaks of the Stoics with nothing but admiration. According to him each school of philosophy has laid hold of a particle of the truth. He goes so far as to say that, in order to know God, the Jews had had the prophets, the Greeks had had philosophy, and some inspired beings, such as the Sibyl and Hystaspes, so much so that a third Testament had created spiritual knowledge, and reduced the other two revelations to the condition of obsolete forms.

But Christian feeling shall display a lively antipathy to those concessions of an apology sacrificing the severity of dogmas to a desire to please those whom it wishes to gain. The author of the Epistle to Diognetus nearly approaches Tatian in the extreme harshness with which he judges Greek philosophy. The Sarcasm of Hermias is pitiless. The author of 62Philosophumena looks upon ancient philosophy as the source of all heresies. This method of apology, the only really Christian one, to speak the truth, shall be taken up by Tertullian with unparalleled talent. The rough African shall oppose to the enervating weaknesses of the Hellenic apologists the disdain of Credo quia absurdum. He is in this only the interpreter of St. Paul’s idea. “They are extinguishing Christ,” the great apostle would have said in view of this soft complaisance. If the philosophers could, by the natural progress of their ideas, save the world, why has Christ come? Why has he been crucified? Socrates, you say, knew Christ to some extent. It is then likewise partly by the merits of Socrates that you are justified!

The mania for demonological explanations is, with Tatian, pushed to the height of absurdity. Among the apologists his is the most barren of the philosophic mind. But his vigorous attack upon Paganism did much to condone this. The discourse against the Greeks was much praised even by men who, like Clement of Alexandria, were far from having any hatred against Greece; the charlatan-like scholarship which the author had put into his work created a school. Ælius Aristides seems to allude to this when, taking exactly the opposite of our author’s idea, he represents the Jews as a sad race who have created nothing, strangers to belles-lettres and philosophy, only knowing how to disparage the Hellenic glories, arrogating to themselves the name of “philosophers” only by a complete reversal of the sense of the word.

The heavy paradoxes of Tatian against the ancient civilisation were nevertheless to triumph. That civilisation had in fact done great injury; it neglected the intellectual education of the people. The people, deprived of elementary instruction, were a prey to all the surprises of ignorance, and 63believed every one of the chimeras of which they were told with assurance and conviction.

As to what concerns Tatian, good sense had, at least, its revenge. This Lamennais of the second century followed, in many respects, the line of the Lamennais of our time. The exaggeration of mind and a kind of savageness which shock us in his discourse cast him out of the orthodox church. These extreme apologists became almost always an embarrassment to the cause they had defended.

Already, in the discourse against the Greeks, Tatian is moderately orthodox. Like Apelles he believes that God, absolute in Himself, produces the Word, who created matter and produces the world. Like Justin, he declares the soul to be an aggregation of elements; that of its essence it is mortal and in darkness; that it is only by its union with the Holy Spirit that it becomes luminous and immortal. Then his fanatical character threw him into the excess of a hypercriticism on nature. By the kind of errors he showed and by his style, at once spiritual and rough, Tatian was to be the prototype of Tertullian. He wrote with the fulness and enthusiasm of a sincere mind, not quite clear. More excitable than Justin, if less regulated by discipline, he cannot, like himself, reconcile his liberty with the exigencies of all. So long as his master lived he frequented the church, and the church upheld him. After Justin’s martyrdom, he lived in an isolated manner, without connection with the faithful, like a sort of independent Christian, making a people quite separate. The desire to have a school led him astray, according to Jerome. That which undid him, we believe, was rather the desire to be alone.

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