Monday, October 21, 2019

Tatian the Assyrian and Romans 1:20

"Our God did not begin to be in time: He alone is without beginning, and He Himself is the beginning of all things. God is a Spirit, not pervading matter, but the Maker of material spirits, and of the forms that are in matter; He is invisible, impalpable, being Himself the Father of both sensible and invisible things. Him we know from His creation, and apprehend His invisible power by His works" (Tatianus Syriacus, Address to the Greeks 4).

For the Greek Migne edition of Tatian's Oratio (Address), see


Matt13weedhacker said...

Θεὸς ὁ καθ' ἡμᾶς οὐκ ἔχει σύστασιν ἐν χρόνῳ, μόνος ἄναρχος ὢν καὶ αὐτὸς ὑπάρχων τῶν ὅλων ἀρχή. πνεῦμα ὁ Θεός, οὐ διήκων διὰ τῆς ὕλης, πνευμάτων δὲ ὑλικῶν καὶ τῶν ἐν αὐτῇ σχημάτων κατασκευαστής, ἀόρατός τε καὶ ἀναφής, αἰσθητῶν καὶ ὁρατῶν αὐτὸς γεγονὼς Πατήρ.

Matt13weedhacker said...

The Greek ἐν χρόνῳ "in time" gives a definite temporal context.

Matt13weedhacker said...

This phrase is interesting: μόνος ἄναρχος ὢν

The prefix ἄν- (ἄνα) in ἄναρχος, do you think connotes transcendence up-over/beyond time (specifically beyond having "a beginning")?

When we look at Justin (Tatian's teacher) the transcendence of the Father above and over all, was one of his key thoughts (when read carefully). For example he reasoned:

GREEK TEXT: “ Ὄνομα δὲ τῷ πάντων πατρὶ θετόν, ἀγεννήτῳ ὄντι, οὐκ ἔστιν· ᾧ γὰρ ἂν καὶ ὄνομά τι [ὄνοματι = Ms. BnF Gk. 450] προσαγορεύηται, πρεσβύτερον ἔχει τὸν θέμενον τὸ ὄνομα.” - (2nd Apology, Chapter 6.1-3A, Goodspeed Text-Modified.)

JUSTIN MARTYR (circa. 110-165 C.E.): “But there is no given name for the Father of all [persons], by [reason of] Him being an un-generated [Person]. For whomever it would be, who could be addressed by such a name, would [have to] have a person that is older than him, [in order] for him to be given such a name.” - (Chapter 6.3, 2nd Apology.)

Temporal priority is evident here (and in the context). This passage is thought to be influenced by Plato's theory below.


GRREK TEXT: “τῷ δ΄ αὖ γενομένῳ φαμὲν ὑπ΄ αἰτίου τινὸς ἀνάγκην εἶναι γενέσθαι. τὸν μὲν οὖν ποιητὴν καὶ πατέρα τοῦδε τοῦ παντὸς εὑρεῖν τε ἔργον καὶ εὑρόντα εἰς πάντας ἀδύνατον λέγειν.” - (Chapter 28c, “On Physis,” “Timaeus,” by Plato.)

PLATO (circa. 427-347 B.C.E.): “But again, that which has been created (we say) by necessity has some thing [Or: “some-one”] as a cause [Or: “origin” “author” “source”] in order for it to be created. But as for the Maker and Father of everything [in existence [Lit., “the all” Or: “the universe”] even to to discover Him [Or: ”to find Him out”] is a work in itself, and once He has been discovered, to explain [Or: "describe"] Him in words [i.e. a name as Justin say's], is impossible.” - (Chapter 28c “On Physis,” “Timaeus,” by Plato.)

Your thoughts?

Edgar Foster said...

Hello Matt13:

My initial sense is that the prefix in ἄναρχος functions privatively, to negate the rest of the word (i.e., without beginning).

I also believe the passage from Tatian is clearly Platonic and does reflect his view of the Father's transcendence and innascibility. I wrote a bit about Timaeus 28 in my dissertation. It is one of the most common passages alluded to/quoted by the early church fathers, particularly those in the east.


Edgar Foster said...

From my dissertation:

Apophaticism largely infiltrated Christianity by means of Platonic thought. Both pre and post-Nicene thinkers commonly quote Timaeus 28C to substantiate the belief that one cannot declare what God is in Godself. McClelland rigorously traces the historical connections between Platonic thought and Christian apophaticism or the divine innominability doctrine. He notes that the Supreme Being in Middle Platonism “transcends the whole polarity of A and not-A.”

Footnote 1012: Dialogue with Heraclides 3.26; Stromata 5.11-12. See Lampe in A History of Christian Doctrine, 24-25; Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 74.

Compare McClelland, God the Anonymous, pages 19-20.