Vol. 2, Chapter XIII (Cont’d) – The Other Greek Apologists. Tatian


Lit. on the later Greek Apologists:

Otto: Corpus Apologetarum Christ. Vol. VI. (1861): Tatiani Assyrii Opera; vol. VII.: Athenagorus; vol. VIII.: Theophilus; Vol. IX.: Hermias, Quadratus, Aristides, Aristo, Miltiades, Melito, Apollinaris (Reliquiae) Older ed. by Maranus, 1742, reissued by Migne, 1857, in Tom. VI. of his “Patrol. Gr.” A new ed. by O. v. Gebhardt and E. Schwartz, begun Leipz. 1888.

The third vol. of Donaldson’s Critical History of Christ. Lit. and Doctr., etc. (Lond. 1866) is devoted to the same Apologists. Comp. also Keim’s Rom und das Christenthum (1881), p. 439-495; and on the MSS. and early traditions Harnack’s Texte, etc. Band I. Heft. 1 and 2 (1882), and Schwartz in his ed. (1888).

On Tatian see § 131.

Tatian of Assyria (110-172) was a pupil of Justin Martyr whom he calls a most admirable man (θαυμασιώτατος), and like him an itinerant Christian philosopher; but unlike him he seems to have afterwards wandered to the borders of heretical Gnosticism, or at least to an extreme type of asceticism. He is charged with having condemned marriage as a corruption and denied that Adam was saved, because Paul says: “We all die in Adam.” He was an independent, vigorous and earnest man, but restless, austere, and sarcastic. In both respects he somewhat resembles Tertullian. Before his conversion he had studied mythology, history, poetry, and chronology, attended the theatre and athletic games, became disgusted with the world, and was led by the Hebrew Scriptures to the Christian faith.

We have from him an apologetic work addressed To the Greeks. It was written in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, probably in Rome, and shows no traces of heresy. He vindicates Christianity as the “philosophy of the barbarians,” and exposes the contradictions, absurdities, and immoralities of the Greek mythology from actual knowledge and with much spirit and acuteness but with vehement contempt and bitterness. He proves that Moses and the prophets were older and wiser than the Greek philosophers, and gives much information on the antiquity of the Jews. Eusebius calls this “the best and most useful of his writings,” and gives many extracts in his Praeparatio Evangelica.

The following specimens show his power of ridicule and his radical antagonism to Greek mythology and philosophy:

Ch. 21. — Doctrines of the Christians and Greeks respecting God compared.

We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man. (ἐν). I call on you who reproach us to compare your mythical accounts with our narrations. Athene, as they say, took the form of Deiphobus for the sake of Hector, and the unshorn Phoebus for the sake of Admetus fed the trailing-footed oxen, and the spouse of Zeus came as an old woman to Semélé. But, while you treat seriously such things, how can you deride us? Your Asclepios died, and he who ravished fifty virgins in one night at Thespiae, lost his life by delivering himself to the devouring flame. Prometheus, fastened to Caucasus, suffered punishment for his good deeds to men. According to you, Zeus is envious, and hides the dream from men, wishing their destruction. Wherefore, looking at your own memorials, vouchsafe us your approval, though it were only as dealing in legends similar to your own. We, however, do not deal in folly, but your legends are only idle tales. If you speak of the origin of the gods, you also declare them to be mortal. For what reason is Hera now never pregnant? Has she grown old? or is there no one to give you information? Believe me now, O Greeks, and do not resolve your myths and gods into allegory. If you attempt to do this, the divine nature as held by you is overthrown by your own selves; for, if the demons with you are such as they are said to be, they are worthless as to character; or, if regarded as symbols of the powers of nature, they are not what they are called. But I cannot be persuaded to pay religious homage to the natural elements, nor can I undertake to persuade my neighbor. And Metrodorus of Lampsacus, in his treatise concerning Homer, has argued very foolishly, turning everything into allegory. For he says that neither Hera, nor Athene, nor Zeus are what those persons suppose who consecrate to them sacred enclosures and groves, but parts of nature and certain arrangements of the elements. Hector also, and Achilles, and Agamemnon, and all the Greeks in general, and the Barbarians with Helen and Paris, being of the same nature, you will of course say are introduced merely for the sake of the machinery of the poem, not one of these personages having really existed.

But these things we have put forth only for argument’s sake; for it is not allowable even to compare our notions of God with those who are wallowing in matter and mud.”

Ch. 25. — Boastings and quarrels of the philosophers.

What great and wonderful things have your philosophers effected? They leave uncovered one of their shoulders; they let their hair grow long; they cultivate their beards; their nails are like the claws of wild beasts. Though they say that they want nothing, yet, like Proteus [the Cynic, Proteus Peregrinus known to us from Lucian], they need a currier for their wallet, and a weaver for their mantle, and a woodcutter for their staff, and they need the rich [to invite them to banquets], and a cook also for their gluttony. O man competing with the dog [cynic philosopher], you know not God, and so have turned to the imitation of an irrational animal. You cry out in public with an assumption of authority, and take upon you to avenge your own self; and if you receive nothing, you indulge in abuse, for philosophy is with you the art of getting money. You follow the doctrines of Plato, and a disciple of Epicurus lifts up his voice to oppose you. Again, you wish to be a disciple of Aristotle, and a follower of Democritus rails at you. Pythagoras says that he was Euphorbus, and he is the heir of the doctrine of Pherecydes, but Aristotle impugns the immortality of the soul. You who receive from your predecessors doctrines which clash with one another, you the inharmonious, are fighting against the harmonious. One of you asserts “that God is body,” but I assert that He is without body; “that the world is indestructible,” but I assert that it is to be destroyed; “that a conflagration will take place at various times,” but I say that it will come to pass once for all; “that Minos and Rhadamanthus are judges,” but I say that God Himself is Judge; “that the soul alone is endowed with immortality,” but I say that the flesh also is endowed with it. What injury do we inflict upon you, O Greeks? Why do you hate those who follow the word of God, as if they were the vilest of mankind? It is not we who eat human flesh — they among you who assert such a thing have been suborned as false witnesses; it is among you that Pelops is made a supper for the gods, although beloved by Poseidon; and Kronos devours his children, and Zeus swallows Metis.”

Of great importance for the history of the canon and of exegesis is Tatian’s Diatessaron or Harmony of the Four Gospels, once widely circulated, then lost, but now measurably recovered. Theodoret found more than two hundred copies of it in his diocese. Ephraem the Syrian wrote a commentary on it which was preserved in an Armenian translation by the Mechitarists at Venice, translated into Latin by Aucher (1841), and published with a learned introduction by Mösinger (1876). From this commentary Zahn has restored the text (1881). Since then an Arabic translation of the Diatessaron itself has been discovered and published by Ciasca (1888). The Diatessaron begins with the Prologue of John (In principio erat Verbum, etc.), follows his order of the festivals, assuming a two years’ ministry, and makes a connected account of the life of Christ from the four Evangelists. There is no heretical tendency, except perhaps in the omission of Christ’s human genealogies in Matthew and Luke, which may have been due to the influence of a docetic spirit. This Diatessaron conclusively proves the existence and ecclesiastical use of the four Gospels, no more and no less, in the middle of the second century.


175. Athenagoras

Otto, Vol. VII.; Migne, VI. 890-1023. Am. ed. by W. B. Owen, N. Y., 1875.

Clarisse: De Athenagorae vita, scriptis doctrina (Lugd. Bat. 1819); Donaldson, III. 107-178; Harnack, Texte, I. 176 sqq., and his art. “Athen.” in Herzog2 I. 748-750; Spencer Mansel in Smith and Wace, 1. 204-207; Renan, Marc-Auréle, 382-386.

Athenagoras was “a Christian philosopher of Athens,” during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (A. D., 161-180), but is otherwise entirely unknown and not even mentioned by Eusebius, Jerome, and Photius.  His philosophy was Platonic, but modified by the prevailing eclecticism of his age. He is less original as an apologist than Justin and Tatian, but more elegant and classical in style.

He addressed an Apology or Intercession in behalf of the Christians to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. He reminds the rulers that all their subjects are allowed to follow their customs without hindrance except the Christians who are vexed, plundered and killed on no other pretence than that they bear the name of their Lord and Master. We do not object to punishment if we are found guilty, but we demand a fair trial. A name is neither good nor bad in itself, but becomes good or bad according to the character and deeds under it. We are accused of three crimes, atheism, Thyestean banquets (cannibalism), Oedipodean connections (incest). Then he goes on to refute these charges, especially that of atheism and incest. He does it calmly, clearly, eloquently, and conclusively. By a divine law, he says, wickedness is ever fighting against virtue. Thus Socrates was condemned to death, and thus are stories invented against us. We are so far from committing the excesses of which we are accused, that we are not permitted to lust after a woman in thought. We are so particular on this point that we either do not marry at all, or we marry for the sake of children, and only once in the course of our life. Here comes out his ascetic tendency which he shares with his age. He even condemns second marriage as “decent adultery.” The Christians are more humane than the heathen, and condemn, as murder, the practices of abortion, infanticide, and gladiatorial shows.

Another treatise under his name, “On the Resurrection of the Dead,” is a masterly argument drawn from the wisdom, power, and justice of God, as well as from the destiny of man, for this doctrine which was especially offensive to the Greek mind. It was a discourse actually delivered before a philosophical audience. For this reason perhaps he does not appeal to the Scriptures.

All historians put a high estimate on Athenagoras. “He writes,” says Donaldson, “as a man who is determined that the real state of the case should be exactly known. He introduces similes, he occasionally has an antithesis, he quotes poetry but always he has his main object distinctly before his mind, and he neither makes a useless exhibition of his own powers, nor distracts the reader by digressions. His Apology is the best defence of the Christians produced in that age.” Spencer Mansel declares him “decidedly superior to most of the Apologists, elegant, free from superfluity of language, forcible in style, and rising occasionally into great powers of description, and in his reasoning remarkable for clearness and cogency.”

Tillemont found traces of Montanism in the condemnation of second marriage and the view of prophetic inspiration, but the former was common among the Greeks, and the latter was also held by Justin M. and others. Athenagoras says of the prophets that they were in an ecstatic condition of mind and that the Spirit of God “used them as if a flute-player were breathing into his flute.” Montanus used the comparison of the plectrum and the lyre.


176. Theophilus of Antioch

Otto, Vol. VIII. Migne, VI. Col. 1023-1168.

Donaldson, Critical History, III. 63-106. Renan, Marc-Aur. 386 sqq.

Theod. Zahn: Der Evanqelien-commentar des Theophilus von Antiochien. Erlangen 1883 (302 pages). The second part of his Forschung zur Gesch. des neutestam. Kanons und der altkirchlichen Lit. Also his Supplementum Clementinum, 1884, p. 198-276 (in self-defense against Harnack).

Harnack, Texte, etc. Bd. I., Heft II., 282-298., and Heft. IV. (I 8., 3), 97-175 (on the Gospel Commentary cf Theoph. against Zahn).

A. Hauck: Zur Theophilusfrage, Leipz. 1844, and in Herzog,2 xv. 544.

W. Bornemann: Zur Theophilusfrage; In “Brieger’s Zeitschrift f. Kirchen-Geschte,” 1888, p. 169-283

Theophilus was converted from heathenism by the study of the Scriptures, and occupied the episcopal see at Antioch, the sixth from the Apostles, during the later part of the reign of Marcus Aurelius. He died about a.d. 181.

His principal work, and the only one which has come down to us, is his three books to Autolycus, an educated heathen friend. His main object is to convince him of the falsehood of idolatry, and of the truth of Christianity. He evinces extensive knowledge of Grecian literature, considerable philosophical talent, and a power of graphic and elegant composition. His treatment of the philosophers and poets is very severe and contrasts unfavorably with the liberality of Justin Martyr. He admits elements of truth in Socrates and Plato, but charges them with having stolen the same from the prophets. He thinks that the Old Testament already contained all the truths which man requires to know. He was the first to use the term “triad” for the holy Trinity, and found this mystery already in the words: “Let us make man” (Gen_1:26); for, says he, “God spoke to no other but to his own Reason and his own Wisdom,” that is, to the Logos and the Holy Spirit hypostatized. He also first quoted the Gospel of John by name, but it was undoubtedly known and used before by Tatian, Athenagoras, Justin, and by the Gnostics, and can be traced as far back as 125 within the lifetime of many personal disciples of the Apostle. Theophilus describes the Christians as having a sound mind, practising self-restraint, preserving marriage with one, keeping chastity, expelling injustice, rooting out sin, carrying out righteousness as a habit, regulating their conduct by law, being ruled by truth, preserving grace and peace, and obeying God as king. They are forbidden to visit gladiatorial shows and other public amusements, that their eyes and ears may not be defiled. They are commanded to obey authorities and to pray for them, but not to worship them.

The other works of Theophilus, polemical and exegetical, are lost. Eusebius mentions a book against Hermogenes, in which he used proofs from the Apocalypse of John, another against Marcion and “certain catechetical books” (κατηχητικὰ βιβλία) Jerome mentions in addition commentaries on the Proverbs, and on the Gospel, but doubts their genuineness. There exists under his name though only in Latin, a sort of exegetical Gospel Harmony, which is a later compilation of uncertain date and authorship.



Jerome is the only ancient writer who mentions a Commentary or Commentaries of Theophilus on the Gospel, but adds that they are inferior to his other books in elegance and style; thereby indicating a doubt as to their genuineness. De Vir ill. 25: La734 “Legi sub nomine eius [Theophili] in Evangelium et in Proverbia Salomonis Commentarios, (qui mihi cum superiorum voluminum [the works Contra Marcionem, Ad Autolycum, and Contra Hermogenem] elegantia et phrasi non videntur congruere.” He alludes to the Gospel Commentary in two other passages (in the Pref. to his Com. on Matthew, and Ep. 121 (ad Algasiam), and quotes from it the exposition of the parable of the unjust steward (Luk_16:1 sqq.). Eusebius may possibly have included the book in the κατηξητικά βιβλία which he ascribes to Theophilus.

A Latin Version of this Commentary was first published (from MSS. not indicated and since lost) by Marg. de la Bigne in Sacrae Bibliothecae Patrum, Paris 1576, Tom. V. Col. 169-196; also by Otto in the Corp. Apol. VIII. 278-324, and with learned notes by Zahn in the second vol. of his Forschungen zur Gesch. des neutest. Kanons (1883), p. 31-85. The Commentary begins with an explanation of the symbolical import of the four Gospels as follows: “Quatuor evangelia quatuor animalibus figurata Jesum Christum demonstrant. Matthaeus enim salvatorem nostrum natum passumque homini comparavit. Marcus leonis gerens figuram a solitudine incipit dicens: ‘ Vox clamantis in deserto: parate viam Domini,’ sane qui regnat invictus. Joannes habet similitudinem aquilae, quod ab imis alta petiverit; ait enim: ‘In principio erat Verbum, et verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum; hoc erat in principio apud Deum; vel quia Christus resurgens volavit ad coelos. Lucas vituli speciem gestat, ad instar salvator noster est immolatus, vel quod sacerdotii figurat officium.” The position of Luke as the fourth is very peculiar and speaks for great antiquity. Then follows a brief exposition of the genealogy of Christ by Matthew with the remark that Matthew traces the origin “per reges,” Luke “per sacerdotes.” The first book of the Commentary is chiefly devoted to Matthew, the second and third to Luke, the fourth to John. It concludes with an ingenious allegory representing Christ as a gardener (who appeared to Mary Magdalene, Joh_20:15), and the church as his garden full of rich flowers) as follows (see Zahn, p. 85): “Hortus Domini est ecclesia catholica, in qua sunt rosae martyrum, lilia virginum, violae viduarum, hedera coniugum; nam illa, quae aestimabat eum hortulanum esse significabat scilicet eum plantantem diversis virtutibus credentium vitam. Amen.”

Dr. Zahn, in his recent monograph (1883), which abounds in rare patristic learning, vindicates this Commentary to Theophilus of Antioch and dates the translation from the third century. If so, we would have here a work of great apologetic as well as exegetical importance, especially for the history of the canon and the text; for Theophilus stood midway between Justin Martyr and Irenaeus and would be the oldest Christian exegete. But a Nicene or post-Nicene development of theology and church organization is clearly indicated by the familiar use of such terms as regnum Christi catholicum, catholica doctrina, catholicum dogma, sacerdos, peccatum originale, monachi, saeculares, pagani. The suspicion of a later date is confirmed by the discovery of a MS. of this commentary in Brussels, with an anonymous preface which declares it to be a compilation. Harnack, who made this discovery, ably refutes the conclusions of Zahn, and tries to prove that the commentary ascribed to Theophilus is a Latin work by an anonymous author of the fifth or sixth century (470-520). Zahn (1884) defends in part his former position against Harnack, but admits the weight of the argument furnished by the Brussels MS. Hauck holds that the commentary was written after a.d. 200, but was used by Jerome. Bornemann successfully defends Harnack’s view against Zahn and Hauck, and puts the work between 450 and 700.


177. Melito of Sardis

(I.) Euseb. H. E. IV. 13, 26; V. 25. Hieron.: De Vir. ill. 24. The remains of Melito in Routh, Reliq. acr. I. 113-153; more fully in Otto, Corp. Ap. IX. (1872), 375-478. His second Apology, of doubtful genuineness, in Cureton, Spicilegium Syriacum, Lond. 1835 (Syriac, with an English translation), and in Pitra, Spicil. Solesm. II. (with a Latin translation by Renan, which was revised by Otto, Corp. Ap. vol. IX.); German transl. by Welte in the Tüb.”Theol. Quartalschrift” for 1862.

(II.) Piper in the Studien und Kritiken for 1838, p. 54 154. Uhlhorn in “Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol.” 1866. Donaldson, III. 221-239 Steitz in Herzog2 IX. 537-539. Lightfoot in “Contemp. Review,” Febr. 1876. Harnack, Texte, etc., I. 240-278. Salmon in Smith and Wace III. 894-900. Renan, Marc-Auréle, 172 sqq. (Comp. also the short notice in L’église chrét., p. 436).

Melito, bishop of Sardis, the capital of Lydia, was a shining light among the churches of Asia Minor in the third quarter of the second century. Polycrates of Ephesus, in his epistle to bishop Victor of Rome (d. 195), calls him a “eunuch who, in his whole conduct, was full of the Holy Ghost, and sleeps in Sardis awaiting the episcopate from heaven (or visitation, ,) on the day of the resurrection.” The term “eunuch” no doubt refers to voluntary celibacy for the kingdom of God (Mat_19:12). He was also esteemed as a prophet. He wrote a book on prophecy, probably against the pseudo-prophecy of the Montanists; but his relation to Montanism is not clear. He took an active part in the paschal and other controversies which agitated the churches of Asia Minor. He was among the chief supporters of the Quartadeciman practice which was afterwards condemned as schismatic and heretical. This may be a reason why his writings fell into oblivion. Otherwise he was quite orthodox according to the standard of his age, and a strong believer in the divinity of Christ, as is evident from one of the Syrian fragments (see below).

Melito was a man of brilliant mind and a most prolific author. Tertullian speaks of his elegant and eloquent genius. Eusebius enumerates no less than eighteen or twenty works from his pen, covering a great variety of topics, but known to us now only by name. He gives three valuable extracts. There must have been an uncommon literary fertility in Asia Minor after the middle of the second century.

The Apology of Melito was addressed to Marcus Aurelius, and written probably at the outbreak of the violent persecutions in 177, which, however, were of a local or provincial character, and not sanctioned by the general government. He remarks that Nero and Domitian were the only imperial persecutors, and expresses the hope that, Aurelius, if properly informed, would interfere in behalf of the innocent Christians. In a passage preserved in the “Paschal Chronicle” he says: “We are not worshipers of senseless stones, but adore one only God, who is before all and over all, and His Christ truly God the Word before all ages.”

A Syriac Apology bearing his name was discovered by Tattam, with other Syrian MSS. in the convents of the Nitrian desert (1843), and published by Cureton and Pitra (1855). But it contains none of the passages quoted by Eusebius, and is more an attack upon idolatry than a defense of Christianity, but may nevertheless be a work of Melito under an erroneous title.

To Melito we owe the first Christian list of the Hebrew Scriptures. It agrees with the Jewish and the Protestant canon, and omits the Apocrypha. The books of Esther and Nehemiah are also omitted, but may be included in Esdras. The expressions “the Old Books,” “the Books of the Old Covenant,” imply that the church at that time had a canon of the New Covenant. Melito made a visit to Palestine to seek information on the Jewish canon.

He wrote a commentary on the Apocalypse, and a “Key” (ἡ κλείς), probably to the Scriptures.

The loss of this and of his books “on the Church” and “on the Lord’s Day” are perhaps to be regretted most.

Among the Syriac fragments of Melito published by Cureton is one from a work “On Faith,” which contains a remarkable christological creed, an eloquent expansion of the Regula Fidei. The Lord Jesus Christ is acknowledged as the perfect Reason, the Word of God; who was begotten before the light; who was Creator with the Father; who was the Fashioner of man; who was all things in all; Patriarch among the patriarchs, Law in the law, Chief Priest among the priests, King among the kings, Prophet among the prophets, Archangel among the angels; He piloted Noah, conducted Abraham, was bound with Isaac, exiled with Jacob, was Captain with Moses; He foretold his own sufferings in David and the prophets; He was incarnate in the Virgin; worshipped by the Magi; He healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, was rejected by the people, condemned by Pilate, hanged upon the tree, buried in the earth, rose from the dead and appeared to the apostles, ascended to heaven; He is the Rest of the departed, the Recoverer of the lost, the Light of the blind, the Refuge of the afflicted, the Bridegroom of the Church, the Charioteer of the cherubim, the Captain of angels; God who is of God, the Son of the Father, the King for ever and ever.


178. Apolinarius of Hierapolis. Miltiades

Claudius Apolinarius, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, a successor of Papias, was a very active apologetic and polemic writer about a.d. 160-180. He took a leading part in the Montanist and Paschal controversies. Eusebius puts him with Melito of Sardis among the orthodox writers of the second century, and mentions four of his “many works” as known to him, but since lost, namely an “Apology” addressed to Marcus Aurelius (before 174). “Five books against the Greeks” “Two books on Truth.” “Two books against the Jews.” He also notices his later books “Against the heresy of the Phrygians” (the Montanists), about 172.

Apolinarius opposed the Quartodeciman observance of Easter, which Melito defended. Jerome mentions his familiarity with heathen literature, but numbers him among the Chiliasts. The latter is doubtful on account of his opposition to Montanism. Photius praises his style. He is enrolled among the saints.

Miltiades was another Christian Apologist of the later half of the second century whose writings are entirely lost. Eusebius mentions among them an “Apology” addressed to the rulers of the world, a treatise “against the Greeks,” and another “against the Jews;” but he gives no extracts. Tertullian places him between Justin Martyr and Irenaeus.


179. Hermias

Ἑρμείου φιλοσόφου Διασυρμὸς τῶν ἔξω φιλοσόφων, Hermiae Philosophi Gentilium Philosophorum Irrisio, ten chapters. Ed. princeps with Lat. vers. Base!, 1553, Zurich, 1560. Worth added it to his Tatian, Oxf. 1700. In Otto and Maranus (Migne, vi. Col. 1167-1180).

Donaldson, III. 179-181.

Under the name of the “philosopher” Hermias (Ἑρμείας or Ἑρμίας) otherwise entirely unknown to us, we have a “Mockery of Heathen Philosophers,” which, with the light arms of wit and sarcasm, endeavors to prove from the history of philosophy, by exposing the contradictions of the various systems, the truth of Paul’s declaration, that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. He derives the false philosophy from the demons. He first takes up the conflicting heathen notions about the soul, and then about the origin of the world, and ridicules them. The following is a specimen from the discussion of the first topic:

“I confess I am vexed by the reflux of things. For now I am immortal, and I rejoice; but now again I become mortal, and I weep; but straightway I am dissolved into atoms. I become water, and I become air: I become fire: then after a little I am neither air nor fire: one makes me a wild beast, one makes me a fish. Again, then, I have dolphins for my brothers. But when I see myself, I fear my body, and I no longer know how to call it, whether man, or dog, or wolf, or bull, or bird, or serpent, or dragon, or chimaera. I am changed by the philosophers into all the wild beasts, into those that live on land and on water, into those that are winged, many-shaped, wild, tame, speechless, and gifted with speech, rational and irrational. I swim, fly, creep, run, sit; and there is Empedocles too, who makes me a bush.”

The work is small and unimportant. Some put it down to the third or fourth century; but the writer calls himself a “philosopher” (though he misrepresents his profession), has in view a situation of the church like that under Marcus Aurelius, and presents many points of resemblance with the older Apologists and with Lucian who likewise ridiculed the philosophers with keen wit, but from the infidel heathen standpoint. Hence we may well assign him to the later part of the second century.


180. Hegesippus

(I.) Euseb. H. E. II. 23; III. 11, 16, 19, 20, 32; IV. 8, 22. Collection of fragments in Grabe, Spicil. II. 203-214; Routh, Reliq. S. I. 205-219; Hilgenfeld, in his “Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theol.” 1876 and 1878.

(II.) The Annotationes in Heges. Fragm. by Routh, I. 220-292 (very valuable). Donaldson: L. c. III. 182-213. Nösgen: Der Kirchl. Standpunkt des Heg. in Brieger’s “Zeitschrift für Kirchengesch.” 1877 (p. 193-233). Against Hilgenfeld. Zahn: Der griech. Irenaeus und der ganze Hegesippus im 16ten Jahr., ibid. p. 288-291. H. Dannreuther: Du Témoignage d’Hégésippe sur l’église chrétienne au deux premiers siècles. Nancy 1878. See also his art. in Lichtenberger’s “Encycl.” vi. 126-129. Friedr. Vogel: De Hegesippo, qui dicitur, Josephi interprete. Erlangen 1881. W. Milligan: Hegesippus, in Smith and Wace II. (1880) 875-878. C. Weizsäcker: Hegesippus, in Herzog2 V. 695-700. Caspari: Quellen, etc., III. 345-348.

The orthodoxy of Hegesippus has been denied by the Tübingen critics, Baur, Schwegler, and, more moderately by Hilgenfeld, but defended by Dorner, Donaldson, Nösgen, Weizsäcker, Caspari and Milligan.

Contemporary with the Apologists, though not of their class, were Hegesippus (d. about 180), and Dionysius of Corinth (about 170).

Hegesippus was an orthodox Jewish Christian and lived during the reigns of Hadrian, Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius. He travelled extensively through Syria, Greece, and Italy, and was in Rome during the episcopate of Anicetus. He collected “Memorials” of the apostolic and post-apostolic churches. He used written sources and oral traditions. Unfortunately this work which still existed in the sixteenth century, is lost, but may yet be recovered. It is usually regarded as a sort of church history, the first written after the Acts of St. Luke. This would make Hegesippus rather than Eusebius “the father of church history.” But it seems to have been only a collection of reminiscences of travel without regard to chronological order (else the account of the martyrdom of James would have been put in the first instead of the fifth book.) He was an antiquarian rather than a historian. His chief object was to prove the purity and catholicity of the church against the Gnostic heretics and sects.

Eusebius has preserved his reports on the martyrdom of St. James the Just, Simeon of Jerusalem, Domitian’s inquiry for the descendants of David and the relatives of Jesus, the rise of heresies, the episcopal succession, and the preservation of the orthodox doctrine in Corinth and Rome. These scraps of history command attention for their antiquity; but they must be received with critical caution. They reveal a strongly Jewish type of piety, like that of James, but by no means Judaizing heresy. He was not an Ebionite, nor even a Nazarene, but decidedly catholic. There is no trace of his insisting on circumcision or the observance of the law as necessary to salvation. His use of “the Gospel according to the Hebrews” implies no heretical bias. He derived all the heresies and schisms from Judaism. He laid great stress on the regular apostolic succession of bishops. In ever city he set himself to inquire for two things: purity of doctrine and the unbroken succession of teachers from the times of the apostles. The former depended in his view on the latter. The result of his investigation was satisfactory in both respects. He found in every apostolic church the faith maintained. “The church of Corinth,” he says, “continued in the true faith, until Primus was bishop there [the predecessor of Dionysius], with whom I had familiar intercourse, as I passed many days at Corinth, when I was about sailing to Rome, during which time we were mutually refreshed in the true doctrine. After coming to Rome, I stayed with Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. After Anicetus, Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In every succession, however, and in every city, the doctrine prevails according to what is announced by the law and the prophets and the Lord.” He gives an account of the heretical corruption which proceeded from the unbelieving Jews, from Thebuthis and Simon Magus and Cleobius and Dositheus, and other unknown or forgotten names, but “while the sacred choir of the apostles still lived, the church was undefiled and pure, like a virgin, until the age of Trajan, when those impious errors which had so long crept in darkness ventured forth without shame into open daylight.” He felt perfectly at home in the Catholic church of his day which had descended from, or rather never yet ascended the lofty mountain-height of apostolic knowledge and freedom. And as Hegesippus was satisfied with the orthodoxy of the Western churches, so Eusebius was satisfied with the orthodoxy of Hegesippus, and nowhere intimates a doubt.


181. Dionysius of Corinth

Euseb.: H. E. II. 25; III. 4; IV. 21, 23. Hieron.: De Vir. ill. 27.

Routh: Rel. S. I. 177-184 (the fragments), and 185-201 (the annotations). Includes Pinytus Cretensis and his Ep. ad Dion. (Eus. IV. 23).

Donaldson III. 214-220. Salmon in Smith and Wace II. 848 sq.

Dionysius was bishop of Corinth (probably the successor of Primus) in the third quarter of the second century, till about a.d. 170. He was a famous person in his day, distinguished for zeal, moderation, and a catholic and peaceful spirit. He wrote a number of pastoral letters to the congregations of Lacedaemon, Athens, Nicomedia, Rome, Gortyna in Crete, and other cities. One is addressed to Chrysophora, “a most faithful sister.” They are all lost, with the exception of a summary of their contents given by Eusebius, and four fragments of the letter to Soter and the Roman church. They would no doubt shed much light on the spiritual life of the church. Eusebius says of him that he “imparted freely not only to his own people, but to others abroad also, the blessings of his divine (or inspired) industry.” His letters were read in the churches.

Such active correspondence promoted catholic unity and gave strength and comfort in persecution from without and heretical corruption within. The bishop is usually mentioned with honor, but the letters are addressed to the church; and even the Roman bishop Soter, like his predecessor Clement, addressed his own letter in the name of the Roman church to the church of Corinth. Dionysius writes to the Roman Christians: “To-day we have passed the Lord’s holy day, in which we have read your epistle. In reading it we shall always have our minds stored with admonition, as we shall also from that written to us before by Clement.” He speaks very highly of the liberality of the church of Rome in aiding foreign brethren condemned to the mines, and sending contributions to every city.

Dionysius is honored as a martyr in the Greek, as a confessor in the Latin church.


182. Irenaeus

Editions of His Works

S. Irenaei Episcopi Lugdun. Opera quae supersunt omnia, ed. A. Stieren. Lips. 1853, 2 vols. The second volume contains the Prolegomena of older editors, and the disputations of Maffei and Pfaff on the Fragments of Irenaeus. It really supersedes all older ed., but not the later one of Harvey.

S. Irenaei libros quinque adversus Haereses edidit W. Wigan Harvey. Cambr. 1857, in 2 vols. Based upon a new and careful collation of the Cod. Claromontanus and Arundel, and embodying the original Greek portions preserved in the Philosoph. of Hippolytus, the newly discovered Syriac and Armenian fragments, and learned Prolegomena.

Older editions by Erasmus, Basel 1526 (from three Latin MSS. since lost, repeated 1528, 1534); Gallasius, Gen. 1570 (with the use of the Gr. text in Epiphan.); Grynaeus, Bas. 1571 (worthless); Fevardentius (Feuardent), Paris 1575, improved ed. Col. 1596, and often; Grabe, Oxf. 1702; and above all Massuet, Par. 1710, Ven. 1734, 2 vols. fol., and again in Migne’s “Patrol. Graeco-Lat.”, Tom. VII. Par. 1857 (the Bened. ed., the best of the older, based on three MSS., with ample Proleg. and 3 Dissertations).

English translation by A. Roberts and W. H. Rambaut, 2 vols., in the “Ante-Nicene Library,” Edinb. 1868. Another by John Keble, ed. by Dr. Pusey, for the Oxford “Library of the Fathers,” 1872.


Biographical and Critical

Ren. Massuet (R.C.): Dissertationes in Irenaei libros (de hereticis, de Irenaei vita, gestis et scriptis, de Ir. doctrina) prefixed to his edition of the Opera, and reprinted in Stieren and Migne. Also the Proleg. of Harvey, on Gnosticism, and the Life and Writings of Iren.

H. Dodwell: Dissert. in Iren. Oxon. 1689.

Tillemont: Mêmoirs, etc. III. 77-99.

Deyling: Irenaeus, evangelicae veritatis confessor ac testis. Lips. 1721. (Against Massuet.)

Stieren: Art. Irenaeus in “Ersch and Gruber’s Encykl.” IInd sect. Vol. xxiii. 357-386.

J. Beaven: Life and Writings of Irenaeus. Lond. 1841.

J. M. Prat (R.C.): Histoire de St. Irenée. Lyon and Paris 1843.

L. Duncker: Des heil. Irenaeus Christologie. Gött. 1843. Very, valuable.

K. Graul: Die Christliche Kirche an der Schwelle des Irenaeischen Zeitalters. Leipz. 1860. (168 pages.) Introduction to a biography which never appeared.

CH. E. Freppel (bishop of Angers, since 1869): Saint Irénée et l’éloquence chrétienne dans la Gaule aux deux premiers siècles. Par. 1861.

G. Schneemann: Sancti Irenaei de ecclesiae Romanae principatu testimonium. Freib. i. Br. 1870.

Böhringer: Die Kirche Christi und ihre Zeugen, vol. II. new ed. 1873.

Heinrich Ziegler: Irenaeus der Bischof von Lyon. Berlin 1871. (320 p.)

R. A. Lipsius: Die Zeit des lrenaeus von Lyon und die Entstehung der altkatholischen Kirche, in Sybel’s “Histor. Zeitschrift.” München 1872, p. 241 sqq. See his later art. below.

A. Guilloud: St. Irenée et son temps. Lyon 1876.

Bp. Lightfoot: The Churches of Gaul, in the “Contemporary Review” for Aug. 1876.

C. J. H. Ropes: Irenaeus of Lyons, in the Andover “Bibliotheca Sacra” for April 1877, p. 284-334. A learned discussion of the nationality of Irenaeus (against Harvey).

J. Quarry: Irenaeus; his testimony to early Conceptions of Christianity. In the “British Quarterly Review” for 1879, July and Oct.

Renan: Marc Aurèle. Paris 1882, p. 336-344.

TH. Zahn: art. Iren. in HerZog2, VII. 129-140 (abridged in Schaff-Herzog), chiefly chronological; and R. A. Lipsius in Smith and Wace III. 253-279. Both these articles are very important; that of Lipsius is fuller.

Comp. also the Ch. Hist. of Neander, and Baur, and the Patrol. of Möhler, and Alzog.

Special doctrines and relations of Irenaeus have been discussed by Baur, Dorner, Thiersch, Höfling, Hopfenmiller, Körber, Ritschl, Kirchner, Zahn, Harnack, Leimbach, Reville, Hackenschmidt. See the Lit. in Zahn’s art. in Herzog2.

A full and satisfactory monograph of Irenaeus and his age is still a desideratum.

Almost simultaneously with the apology against false religions without arose the polemic literature against the heresies, or various forms of pseudo-Christianity, especially the Gnostic; and upon this was formed the dogmatic theology of the church. At the head of the old catholic controversialists stand Irenaeus and his disciple Hippolytus, both of Greek education, but both belonging, in their ecclesiastical relations and labors, to the West.

Asia Minor, the scene of the last labors of St. John, produced a luminous succession of divines and confessors who in the first three quarters of the second century reflected the light of the setting sun of the apostolic age, and may be called the pupils of St. John. Among them were Polycarp of Smyrna, Papias of Hierapolis, Apolinarius of Hierapolis, Melito of Sardis, and others less known but honorably mentioned in the letter of Polycrates of Ephesus to bishop Victor of Rome (A. D. 190).

The last and greatest representative of this school is Irenaeus, the first among the fathers properly so called, and one of the chief architects of the Catholic system of doctrine.


I. Life and Character

Little is known of Irenaeus except what we may infer from his writings. He sprang from Asia Minor, probably from Smyrna, where he spent his youth. He was born between a.d. 115 and 125. He enjoyed the instruction of the venerable Polycarp of Smyrna, the pupil of John, and of other “Elders,” who were mediate or immediate disciples of the apostles. The spirit of his preceptor passed over to him. “What I heard from him” says he, “that wrote I not on paper, but in my heart, and by the grace of God I constantly bring it afresh to mind.” Perhaps he also accompanied Polycarp on his journey to Rome in connexion with the Easter controversy (154). He went as a missionary to Southern Gaul which seems to have derived her Christianity from Asia Minor. During the persecution in Lugdunum and Vienne under Marcus Aurelius (177), he was a presbyter there and witnessed the horrible cruelties which the infuriated heathen populace practiced upon his brethren. The aged and venerable bishop, Pothinus, fell a victim, and the presbyter took the post of danger, but was spared for important work.

He was sent by the Gallican confessors to the Roman bishop Eleutherus (who ruled a.d. 177-190), as a mediator in the Montanistic disputes.

After the martyrdom of Pothinus he was elected bishop of Lyons (178), and labored there with zeal and success, by tongue and pen, for the restoration of the heavily visited church, for the spread of Christianity in Gaul, and for the defence and development of its doctrines. He thus combined a vast missionary and literary activity. If we are to trust the account of Gregory of Tours, he converted almost the whole population of Lyons and sent notable missionaries to other parts of pagan France.

After the year 190 we lose sight of Irenaeus. Jerome speaks of him as having flourished in the reign of Commodus, i.e., between 180 and 192. He is reported by later tradition (since the fourth or fifth century) to have died a martyr in the persecution under Septimus Severus, a.d. 202, but the silence of Tertullian, Hippolytus, Eusebius, and Epiphanius makes this point extremely doubtful. He was buried under the altar of the church of St. John in Lyons. This city became again famous in church history in the twelfth century as the birthplace of the Waldensian martyr church, the Pauperes de Lugduno.


II. His Character and Position

Irenaeus is the leading representative of catholic Christianity in the last quarter of the second century, the champion of orthodoxy against Gnostic heresy, and the mediator between the Eastern and Western churches. He united a learned Greek education and philosophical penetration with practical wisdom and moderation. He is neither very original nor brilliant, but eminently sound and judicious. His individuality is not strongly marked, but almost lost in his catholicity. He modestly disclaims elegance and eloquence, and says that he had to struggle in his daily administrations with the barbarous Celtic dialect of Southern Gaul; but he nevertheless handles the Greek with great skill on the most abstruse subjects. He is familiar with Greek poets (Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Sophocles) and philosophers (Thales, Pythagoras, Plato), whom he occasionally cites. He is perfectly at home in the Greek Bible and in the early Christian writers, as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Papias, Ignatius, Hermas, Justin M., and Tatian. His position gives him additional weight, for he is linked by two long lives, that of his teacher and grand-teacher, to the fountain head of Christianity. We plainly trace in him the influence of the spirit of Polycarp and John. “The true way to God,” says he, in opposition to the false Gnosis, “is love. It is better to be willing to know nothing but Jesus Christ the crucified, than to fall into ungodliness through over-curious questions and paltry subtleties.” We may trace in him also the strong influence of the anthropology and soteriology of Paul. But he makes more account than either John or Paul of the outward visible church, the episcopal succession, and the sacraments; and his whole conception of Christianity is predominantly legalistic. Herein we see the catholic churchliness which so strongly set in during the second century.

Irenaeus is an enemy of all error and schism, and, on the whole, the most orthodox of the ante-Nicene fathers. We must, however, except his eschatology. Here, with Papias and most of his contemporaries, he maintains the pre-millennarian views which were subsequently abandoned as Jewish dreams by the catholic church. While laboring hard for the spread and defense of the church on earth, he is still “gazing up into heaven,” like the men of Galilee, anxiously waiting for the return of the Lord and the establishment of his kingdom. He is also strangely mistaken about the age of Jesus from a false inference of the question of the Jews, Joh_8:57.

Irenaeus is the first among patristic writers who makes full use of the New Testament. The Apostolic Fathers reëcho the oral traditions; the Apologists are content with quoting the Old Testament prophets and the Lord’s own words in the Gospels as proof of divine revelation; but Irenaeus showed the unity of the Old and New Testaments in opposition to the Gnostic separation, and made use of the four Gospels and nearly all Epistles in opposition to the mutilated canon of Marcion.

With all his zeal for pure and sound doctrine, Irenaeus was liberal towards subordinate differences, and remonstrated with the bishop of Rome for his unapostolic efforts to force an outward uniformity in respect to the time and manner of celebrating Easter. We may almost call him a forerunner of Gallicanism in its protest against ultramontane despotism. “The apostles have ordained,” says he in the third fragment, which appears to refer to that controversy, “that we make conscience with no one of food and drink, or of particular feasts, new moons, and sabbaths. Whence, then, controversies; whence schisms? We keep feasts but with the leaven of wickedness and deceit, rending asunder the church of God, and we observe the outward, to the neglect of the higher, faith and love.” He showed the same moderation in the Montanistic troubles. He was true to his name Peaceful (Εἰρηναῖος) and to his spiritual ancestry.


III. His Writings

(1.) The most important work of Irenaeus is his Refutation of Gnosticism, in five books. It was composed during the pontificate of Eleutherus, that is between the years 177 and 190. It is at once the polemic theological masterpiece of the ante-Nicene age, and the richest mine of information respecting Gnosticism and the church doctrine of that age. It contains a complete system of Christian divinity, but enveloped in polemical smoke, which makes it very difficult and tedious reading. The work was written at the request of a friend who wished to be informed of the Valentinian heresy and to be furnished with arguments against it. Valentinus and Marcion had taught in Rome about a.d. 140, and their doctrines had spread to the south of France. The first book contains a minute exposition of the gorgeous speculations of Valentinus and a general view of the other Gnostic sects; the second an exposure of the unreasonableness and contradictions of these heresies; especially the notions of the Demiurge as distinct from the Creator, of the Aeons, the Pleroma and Kenoma, the emanations, the fall of Achamoth, the formation of the lower world of matter, the sufferings of the Sophia, the difference between the three classes of men, the Somatici, Psychici, and Pneumatici. The last three books refute Gnosticism from the Holy Scripture and Christian tradition which teach the same thing; for the same gospel which was first orally preached and transmitted was subsequently committed to writing and faithfully preserved in all the apostolic churches through the regular succession of the bishops and elders; and this apostolic tradition insures at the same time the correct interpretation of Scripture against heretical perversion. To the ever-shifting and contradictory opinions of the heretics Irenaeus opposes the unchanging faith of the catholic church which is based on the Scriptures and tradition, and compacted together by the episcopal organization. It is the same argument which Bellarmin, Bossuet, and Möhler use against divided and distracted Protestantism, but Protestantism differs as much from old Gnosticism as the New Testament from the apocryphal Gospels, and as sound, sober, practical sense differs from mystical and transcendental nonsense. The fifth book dwells on the resurrection of the body and the millennial kingdom. Irenaeus derived his information from the writings of Valentinus and Marcion and their disciples, and from Justin Martyr’s Syntagma.

The interpretation of Scripture is generally sound and sober, and contrasts favorably with the fantastic distortions of the Gnostics. He had a glimpse of a theory of inspiration which does justice to the human factor. He attributes the irregularities of Paul’s style to his rapidity of discourse and the impetus of the Spirit which is in him.

(2.) The Epistle to Florinus, of which Eusebius has preserved an interesting and important fragment, treated On the Unity of God, and the Origin of Evil. It was written probably after the work against heresies, and as late as 190. Florinus was an older friend and fellow-student of lrenaeus and for some time presbyter in the church of Rome, but was deposed on account of his apostasy to the Gnostic heresy. Irenaeus reminded him very touchingly of their common studies at the feet of the patriarchal Polycarp, when he held some position at the royal court (probably during Hadrian’s sojourn at Smyrna), and tried to bring him back to the faith of his youth, but we do not know with what effect.

(3.) On the Ogdoad against the Valentinian system of Aeons, in which the number eight figures prominently with a mystic meaning. Eusebius says that it was written on account of Florinus, and that he found in it “a most delightful remark,” as follows: “I adjure thee, whoever thou art, that transcribest this book, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by his gracious appearance, when he shall come to judge the quick and the dead, to compare what thou hast copied, and to correct it by this original manuscript, from which thou hast carefully transcribed. And that thou also copy this adjuration, and insert it in the copy.” The carelessness of transcribers in those days is the chief cause of the variations in the text of the Greek Testament which abounded already in the second century. Irenaeus himself mentions a remarkable difference of reading in the mystic number of Antichrist (666 and 616), on which the historic interpretation of the book depends (Rev_13:18).

(4.) A book On Schism, addressed to Blastus who was the head of the Roman Montanists and also a Quartodeciman. It referred probably to the Montanist troubles in a conciliatory spirit.

(5.) Eusebius mentions several. other treatises which are entirely lost, as Against the Greeks (or On Knowledge), On Apostolic Preaching, a Book on Various Disputes, and on the Wisdom of Solomon. In the Syriac fragments some other lost works are mentioned.

(6.) Irenaeus is probably the author of that touching account of the persecution of 177, which the churches of Lyons and Vienne sent to the churches in Asia Minor and Phrygia, and which Eusebius has in great part preserved. He was an eyewitness of the cruel scene, yet his name is not mentioned, which would well agree with his modesty; the document breathes his mild Christian spirit, reveals his aversion to Gnosticism, his indulgence for Montanism, his expectation of the near approach of Antichrist. It is certainly one of the purest and most precious remains of ante-Nicene literature and fully equal, yea superior to the “Martyrdom of Polycarp,” because free from superstitious relic-worship.

(7.) Finally, we must mention four more Greek fragments of Irenaeus, which Pfaff discovered at Turin in 1715, and first published. Their genuineness has been called in question by some Roman divines, chiefly for doctrinal reasons. The first treats of the true knowledge, which consists not in the solution of subtle questions, but in divine wisdom and the imitation of Christ; the second is on the eucharist; the third, on the duty of toleration in subordinate points of difference, with reference to the Paschal controversies; the fourth, on the object of the incarnation, which is stated to be the purging away of sin and the annihilation of all evil.