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Category: Blog posts (Page 2 of 10)

Where to read Tatian

Tomorrow we begin Tatian the Assyrian (c. 120 – c. 180), student of Justin Martyr. Tatian is most famous for his Gospel harmony, the Diatessaron, but here at Read the Fathers, we’ll be reading his apologetic work, Address to the Greeks.

Besides the translation in ANF 2:65-83, you can find this work in the following translations:


Oratio ad Graecos and Fragments. Ed. and trans. M. Whittaker. Oxford Early Christian Texts. Oxford 1982.


Recherches sur le Discours aux Grecs de Tatien. Trad. A. Puech. Paris, 1903, pp. 107-158.


Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, 2. Auflage, hrsg. von O. Bardenhewer u. a. Erste Reihe. Band 12 (1913), 195-257.


Taziano il Siro. Discorsi ai Greci: Apologetica cristiana e dogmi delle cultura pagana. A cura di S. di Cristina. Roma 1991.


Padres Apologistas Griegos (s. II). Introducciones, texto griego, versión española y notas de D. Ruiz Bueno. Madrid 1954, pp. 572-628.

The Shepherd of Hermas

Good Shepherd, Catacombs of Priscilla (3rd century), Rome

Today we go back in time to a text that properly belongs to the Apostolic Fathers, the Shepherd by Hermas, written between 90 and 150. This work is a series of visions experienced by a Christian in Rome named Hermas, a contemporary of Clement’s, accompanied by Hermas’s interpretation of them. It seems likely that Hermas was a freedman. As far as dating goes, the Muratorian Canon from around 170 (one of our earliest lists [if not the earliest] of the New Testament) lists him as the brother of Pius, Bishop of Rome who died in the year 154.

On one hand, then, it is an apocalypse by genre. On the other, it is not unlike the writings of many medieval mystics that similarly recounted their visions and the interpretation of them. I make that second statement with some caution, given that a Jewish-Christian context such as Hermas’ is very different from a High Medieval German Christian writing in Latin like St Hildegard.


The Shepherd is focussed upon questions to do with piety and holiness, wrestling especially with the question of postbaptismal sin — are repentance and forgiveness available to those who sin after baptism. Hermas is not the only person to grapple with this question, and it certainly does not go away at this time. Indeed, in one form or another, the question of how God’s mercy operates in relation to baptised persons who sin, will continue throughout the Middle Ages and into the Reformation. It may seem distant to the modern Christian, but it was a very real concern for people like Hermas.

Hermas, like so many Christians old and new, is a moralist who also wants to affirm the mercy of God. The visions recounted here are a means of maintaining the tension between a high call to holiness and the mercy of the God who calls His worshippers to said holiness.

A second theme is also one common to Christians old and new, that of the relationship between rich and poor. As a freedman, Hermas seems to represent a somewhat lower status than 1 Clement (as Holmes says in his introduction), but I would not make too much of that. For one thing, both Hermas and 1 Clement (as Holmes also says) represent the same concern with Christian piety.

Reception of this text

Although less popular than many other ancient Christian texts, Hermas’ Shepherd was very popular in its own day, and is better attested in the earliest manuscripts than some texts from the New Testament. In fact, some Christians included it in their Bibles, as attested by the Muratorian Canon that some people seem to have been treating it in such a way. It was not included not because it is not helpful, but because it is after the apostles.


The Shepherd of Hermas can be found in most of the same places as the Apostolic Fathers, besides (of course) ANF 2:

Michael W. Holmes has produced a parallel Greek-English edition as well as a less expensive English-only text.

See also Bart Ehrman’s two volumes for the Loeb Classical Library and Francis Glimm’s volume for the Fathers of the Church.

Graydon F. Snyder, The Shepherd of Hermas gives a translation and commentary.

A wee intro to Book 5 of Against the Heresies

John Behr provides the structure of Book 5 in Irenaeus of Lyons on page 103:

Book Five: ‘The rest of the teahcings of the Lord and the epistles of Paul’


I. The power of God (haer. 5.1-14)
The work of God, forming human beings through their death (haer. 5.1-2)
The strength of God manifest in the weakness of the flesh (haer. 5.3-5)
The glorification of God in his handiwork (haer. 5.6-8)
‘Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom’ (haer. 5.9-14)

II. The work of Christ (haer. 5.15-24)
Christ as Creator (haer. 5.15.1-16.2)
The Passion (haer. 5.16.3-20)
The temptation of Christ (haer. 5.21-24)

III. The Final End (haer. 5.25-36.1)
The Antichrist (haer. 5.25-30)
The resurrection of the righteous (haer. 5.31-36.2)

Conclusion (haer. 5.36.3)

A wee intro to Book 4 of Against the Heresies

We continue with John Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons, page. 98, as our guide to the structure of Against the Heresies:

Book Four: ‘The Words of the Lord’


I. The one God, the transcendant Creator and Author of the Law and Gospel (haer. 4.1-19)
The Father of the Lord, the God of the Patriarchs (haer. 4.5.2-8.1)
That Christ observed the Law (haer. 4.8.2-3)
The Law and the Gospel, Stages of Growth (haer. 4.9-11)
The Gospel as Fulfilment of the Law (haer. 4.12-16)
The Eucharist as the Completion of Figurative Sacrifices (haer. 4.17-19.1)
Conclusion: The Transcendence of the One God (haer. 4.19.1-3)

II. Christ and the economy (haer. 4.20-35)
Christ, the key (haer. 4.20.1-4)
The prophetic character of Scripture (haer. 4.20.5-8a (finishing at line 196))
The visions of the prophets (haer. 4.20.8b-11)
The prefigurative acts of the prophets, patriarchs, and Christ (haer. 4.20.12-22.2)
The Word concerning Christ, sown in the Scripture, reaped in the Church (haer. 4.23-25)
The reading of, and transfiguration by reading, Scripture (haer. 4.26.1)
The ecclesial reading of Scripture of the presbyters and spiritual disciples (haer. 4.26.2-33)
Conclusion (haer. 4.34-35)

III. Calling and judgement, from the Parables of Christ (haer. 36-41)
The call of God (haer. 4.36)
Human liberty (haer. 4.37-39)
Judgement (haer. 4.40-41.3)


Christ recapitulates the whole of human life

An even shorter week-in-review than last time. Looking out for moments that bring out Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation, or anakephalaiosis, we find this at Book 2, ch. 22.4:

Being thirty years old when He came to be baptized, and then possessing the full age of a Master, He came to Jerusalem, so that He might be properly acknowledged by all as a Master. For He did not seem one thing while He was another, as those affirm who describe Him as being man only in appearance; but what He was, that He also appeared to be. Being a Master, therefore, He also possessed the age of a Master, not despising or evading any condition of humanity, nor setting aside in Himself that law which He had appointed for the human race, but sanctifying every age, by that period corresponding to it which belonged to Himself. For He came to save all through means of Himself—all, I say, who through Him are born again to God—infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise He was an old man for old men, that He might be a perfect Master for all, not merely as respects the setting forth of the truth, but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same time the aged also, and becoming an example to them likewise. Then, at last, He came on to death itself, that He might be “the first-born from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence,” the Prince of life, existing before all, and going before all.

A quick note: Master in the Latin translation of Irenaeus is magister. As all of us who studied Wheelock know, this word can also mean teacher.

A wee intro to Book 3 of Against the Heresies

Once again, I present to you John Behr as a guide to Irenaeus, from Behr’s book Irenaeus of Lyons, p. 94:

Book Three: The Apostolic Preaching
Scripture, Tradition, Church (haer. 3.1-5)

I. One God (haer. 3.6-15)
Witness of the Prophets, the Apostle, and the Lord himself (haer. 3.6-8)
Witness of the Evangelists (haer. 3.9-11)
The other apostles (i.e. Acts) (haer. 3.12)
Supplementary comments on Paul (haer. 3.13-15)

II. One Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour (haer. 3.16-21.9)
The witness of the Evangelists (3.16.2-5)
The identity of Christ (haer. 3.16.6-18)
The ‘signs’ of Salvation (haer. 3.19-21.9)

III. Recapitulation of Adam (haer. 3.21.10-23)
The Church as the locus for the human being (haer. 3.24-25.6)


Behr writes:

Book three is thus structured in the same threefold pattern as book two, demonstrating that there is one God, one Christ revealed in what he has done in the one economy, and the new reality that this recapitulation has brought into effect, providing a new head for those who turn to Christ.

Some highlights from Irenaeus, Against the Heresies Book 1

Irenaeus of Lyons

I must confess it as a personal weakness that I do not find Irenaeus’ descriptions of the beliefs of Valentinians, Ptolemaeans, Gnostics, and other such groups very interesting. In fact, I find it almost intolerable. If any of you are of a different disposition, please chime in in the comments! In fact, seven years ago, in 2013, when Read the Fathers did its first round, Book 1 of Irenaeus is where I fell off the wagon — it didn’t help that I was hunting manuscripts in Florence at the time, I reckon.

One moment I found illuminating was in chapter 6, where the Perfect seem to be so simply through their gnosis, not through their mode of life. They can live as they please, having been made perfect through this knowledge already. This matches the description of such groups (broadly termed ‘gnostic’ by everyone else) as I read in Gabriel Bunge’s book Spiritual Fatherhood.

For the rest, here are some passages I appreciated, taken from ANF.

1.8.3: Learn then, you foolish men, that Jesus who suffered for us, and who dwelt among us, is Himself the Word of God. For if any other of the Æons had become flesh for our salvation, it would have been probable that the apostle spoke of another. But if the Word of the Father who descended is the same also that ascended, He, namely, the Only-begotten Son of the only God, who, according to the good pleasure of the Father, became flesh for the sake of men, the apostle certainly does not speak regarding any other, or concerning any Ogdoad, but respecting our Lord Jesus Christ. For, according to them, the Word did not originally become flesh. For they maintain that the Saviour assumed an animal body, formed in accordance with a special dispensation by an unspeakable providence, so as to become visible and palpable. But flesh is that which was of old formed for Adam by God out of the dust, and it is this that John has declared the Word of God became. Thus is their primary and first-begotten Ogdoad brought to nought. For, since Logos, and Monogenes, and Zoe, and Phōs, and Soter, and Christus, and the Son of God, and He who became incarnate for us, have been proved to be one and the same, the Ogdoad which they have built up at once falls to pieces. And when this is destroyed, their whole system sinks into ruin — a system which they falsely dream into existence, and thus inflict injury on the Scriptures, while they build up their own hypothesis.

All of 1.10!

1.12.2: He, as soon as He thinks, also performs what He has willed; and as soon as He wills, also thinks that which He has willed; then thinking when He wills, and then willing when He thinks, since He is all thought, [all will, all mind, all light,] all eye, all ear, the one entire fountain of all good things.

1.22: 1. The rule of truth which we hold, is, that there is one God Almighty, who made all things by His Word, and fashioned and formed, out of that which had no existence, all things which exist. Thus says the Scripture, to that effect By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them, by the spirit of His mouth. And again, All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made. John 1:3 There is no exception or deduction stated; but the Father made all things by Him, whether visible or invisible, objects of sense or of intelligence, temporal, on account of a certain character given them, or eternal; and these eternal things He did not make by angels, or by any powers separated from His Ennœa. For God needs none of all these things, but is He who, by His Word and Spirit, makes, and disposes, and governs all things, and commands all things into existence — He who formed the world (for the world is of all) — He who fashioned man — He [who] is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, above whom there is no other God, nor initial principle, nor power, nor pleroma — He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we shall prove. Holding, therefore, this rule, we shall easily show, notwithstanding the great variety and multitude of their opinions, that these men have deviated from the truth; for almost all the different sects of heretics admit that there is one God; but then, by their pernicious doctrines, they change [this truth into error], even as the Gentiles do through idolatry — thus proving themselves ungrateful to Him that created them. Moreover, they despise the workmanship of God, speaking against their own salvation, becoming their own bitterest accusers, and being false witnesses [against themselves]. Yet, reluctant as they may be, these men shall one day rise again in the flesh, to confess the power of Him who raises them from the dead; but they shall not be numbered among the righteous on account of their unbelief.

  1. Since, therefore, it is a complex and multiform task to detect and convict all the heretics, and since our design is to reply to them all according to their special characters, we have judged it necessary, first of all, to give an account of their source and root, in order that, by getting a knowledge of their most exalted Bythus, you may understand the nature of the tree which has produced such fruits.

A wee intro to Book 2 of Against the Heresies

Today we begin Book 2 of Against the Heresies. In this book, Irenaeus seeks to overthrow the teachings he has enumerated in painful detail throughout Book 1. Here is John Behr’s schematization of the structure from his book Irenaeus of Lyons, p. 87:

Book Two: Overthrowal
I. One God (haer. 2.1-19)

The logical necessity for this (haer. 2.1-10)
The truth that there is one God the Creator of all by his Word (haer. 2.11)
Questions to those who teach otherwise (haer. 2.11-19)

II. Christ (haer. 2.20-28)

The supposed analogies with his parables and actions (haer. 2.20-24)
The proper mode of enquiry (haer. 2.25-28)

III. Anthropology (haer. 2.29-30.8)

Conclusion (haer. 2.30.9)

Recapitulation and refutation of other heresies (haer. 2.31.1-35.3)

Notice of further work (haer. 2.35.4)

Quick remarks on Pseudo-Justin

Stained glass window of Justin Martyr from the Church of St. Mary the Great, Cambridge (Photo credit: Lawrence OP / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND)

Apologies that my week-in-review posts come so late. Last week (January 5-11) we read good portion of works wrongly attributed to Justin Martyr. Here we met many of the common objections to pagan polytheism and Greek mythology as well as somewhat more refined attempts to overthrow Greek philosophy, although I doubt these would convince any thoroughly educated philosopher.

We also saw the story of the translation of the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, by 70 independent scholars in the days of Ptolemy. This myth is widely abroad in the pre-modern Christian world, and it is assurance that the Greek version of the Scriptures is accurate.

I did not have available the dates of these texts when putting together the Introduction to Justin, so I give them now, using Quasten, Patrology, Vol. 1:

‘Discourse to the Greeks’ – First half of the third century (Quasten Vol. 1, p. 206). Anonymous text written in a different style from Justin’s.

‘Exhortation to the Greeks’ – Third century (Quasten Vol. 1, p. 205). Anonymous text in a different style from Justin’s.

‘On the Sole Government of God’ – Markovich dates it before 311, likely third century (Cohortatio ad Graecos / De monarchia / Oratio ad Graecos, p. 82)

The large fragments of On the Resurrection preserved in John of Damascus’ Sacra Parallela have had their authenticity questioned; Quasten provides no proposed date.

In closing: What caught your eye as you read these texts? What about the martyrdom of Justin?


Today, in Against the Heresies 1.10, we encountered an important piece of Irenaeus’ theology, recapitulation or anakephalaiosis. Here is what Unger writes in his notes:

The word anakephalaiosis expressed a capital idea in Irenaean theology. … It must convey the idea of being brought to a head as a unifying principle and of somehow resuming all things. This process of recapitulation of all things begins with the Incarnation and will be completed with the glorification of the body, yet because the Word preexisted creation and was in the planning, and was operative from creation on, the Incarnate Word recapitulates all things. He summarizes in Himself all creation and unites all people and angels too to HImself as under one Head, and in so doing He duplicates, or resumes, the acts of Adam either by similarity or by opposition.

Dominic J. Unger, St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Against the Heresies. New York: Paulist, 1992, pp. 185-186.

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