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3rd century
Ancient Christian Church

Both by specific location within his Lives of Illustrious Men, and by immediate association with Origen [1], Jerome (c. 347-419) identified Ammonius as "a talented man of great philosophical learning" distinguished at Alexandria "at the same time <as Origen by implication>" [2]. A century earlier, Eusebius (c. 260-340), quoting however exclusively from the third book of Porphyry's Against the Christians, a work of some fifteen books extent, little of which survives [3], identified Ammonius as one who had taught Origen, thus apparently making him to be the same person as the Platonist philosopher, Ammonius Saccas of Alexandria, "famous as the teacher of Plotinus, who studied under him 232-42" [4], though Eusebius does not make that specific association [5], which association has been called into question [6]. Otherwise Ammonius is but minimally recalled, and chiefly for two written works, neither of which are preserved.

In the second century, the Syrian Christian, Tatian [7] had "been the first to make a harmony of the <fourfold> Gospels" which he called a "Diatessaron" after the Greek notion of "the fourth" (dia tessarôn) of the musical concords (sumphônoi phthoggoi) (Salmon 1889: 82 including the lengthy footnote; cf. Lawlor 1928: 151-152). By virtue of the necessity of omitting material in this attempt to synthesize four narratives into one "harmonious" account, aside from other tendencies shown by Tatian's apologetic theology, the work was censured by Theodoret of Cyrrhus (c. 393-458) "for cutting out the genealogies and other passages which show that our Lord was born of the seed of David after the flesh" (Salmon 1889: 83; cf. Goodspeed 1966: 108).

As a consequence of difficulties with Tatian's Diatessaron already early in the third century, Ammonius prepared an alternate kind of "harmony" of the "fourfold Gospels" by taking that "According to Matthew" as focally located in a first column, "divided into numbered sections or paragraphs," with the others placed in parallel columns (Carrington 1957 II.464). If Tatian's Diatessaron is but poorly preserved, that of Ammonius is known almost exclusively "from a letter of Eusebius (Epist. ad Carpianum) prefatory to his own improved way of harmonizing the Gospels" (Salmon 1889: 83) in the mode still known as "Eusebian Canons" and "often prefixed or appended to the Gospels in Greek and Latin MSS., esp. down to the 13th cent." (ODCC 473; cf. Carrington 1957: 482).

The other book associated with Ammonius by both Eusebius and Jerome was entitled "On the Harmony of Moses and Jesus," which Jerome described as "elaborate." "The treatise was probably composed in order to prove the unity of the Old and the New Testament, which many Gnostic sects denied" (Q2.1.5 p. 101). It too must have been dependent upon comparable material circulating within the Church as the Hebrew Bible was appropriated for its Scripture, undoubtedly in one or the other of the Greek translations and under the impact of Hellenistic Jewish exegesis, as illustrated by aspects of the work done from Aristobulus (second century B.C.), through Philo (c. 20 B.C.-A.D. 50), to those like Justin Martyr (c. 100-165), Tatian, or Theophilus of Antioch (late second century A.D.), before coming to the full appropriation in the commentary literature of Origen (cf. Grant 1957, esp. chs. 2-5). The specific kind of association of Moses and Jesus is also well illustrated in Eusebius' Demonstratio Evangelica, especially in Book III (of the ten surviving from an original twenty; cf. Ferrar 1920: 103-110, ix, xvii-xxiv). And it has been noted that "although nominally directed against pagans and Jews, . . . the Demonstratio is really aimed at Porphyry's treatise Against the Christians" (Q3.4.4 p. 331-332).

Both Eusebius and Jerome claim that Porphyry falsely accused Ammonius of lapsing from his Christianity back into that paganism associated with the philosophical base of his thought, while they affirm instead that "he continued a Christian until the very end of his life" [Jerome apud NPNF 2 III (1892) 374] or "maintained his inspired philosophy pure and unshaken right up to the very end of his life" (Eusebius apud Oulton 1927: 193). Neither, however, provide any clue on when or how that end of life occurred. The issue finally hinges on whether the equation with Ammonius Saccas be valid and that is disputed (cf. Carrington 1957: 424, 451).

Clyde Curry Smith


1. C. 185-254; cf. J 54.
2. J 55; NPNF 2 III (1892) 374.
3. Hoffmann 1994: 164-165; on Porphyry (c. 234-305) see Lawlor 1928: 204-205; OCD3 (1996) 1226-1227.
4. OCD3 (1996) 74; cf. OEEC 31-32 (SLilla).
5. H.E. VI.19.1-10; on Plotinus (205-269/70) see OCD3 (1996) 1198-1200.
6. Q2.1.5 p. 101.
7. Cf. Lawlor 1928: 150-151; Goodspeed 1966: 106-109.

Bibliography (see link to abbreviations table below):

J 55
CPG 3465; FOTC 100 82; Q2.1.5; NIDCC 36 (GTDAngel)

Supplementary Bibliography:
Carrington 1957 The Early Christian Church, by Philip Carrington. Cambridge: At the University Press. 2 volumes.
Ferrar 1920 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, edited and translated by William John Ferrar. London: SPCK. Reprinted; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981.
Goodspeed 1966 A History of Early Christian Literature, by Edgar Johnson Goodspeed, revised and enlarged by Robert McQueen Grant. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Grant 1957 The Letter and the Spirit, by Robert McQueen Grant. London: SPCK.
Hoffmann 1994 Porphyry's Against the Christians: The Literary Remains, edited and translated with an introduction and epilogue by R. Joseph Hoffmann. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Lawlor 1928 Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, translated with Introduction and Notes, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor and John Ernest Leonard Oulton. London: SPCK. 2 volumes. Volume II: Introduction, Notes, and Index, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor.
NPNF 2 III 1892 Jerome, De viris inlustribus, translated by Ernest Cushing Richardson, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo and New York: Christian Literature. Series 2, Volume III, pp. 359-384.
Oulton 1927 Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, translated with Introduction and Notes, by Hugh Jackson Lawlor and John Ernest Leonard Oulton. London: SPCK. 2 volumes. Volume I: Translation, by John Ernest Leonard Oulton. (Specific references also cited as H.E. with book and chapter).
Salmon 1889 A Historical Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament: Being an Expansion of Lectures delivered in the Divinity School of the University of Dublin, by George Salmon. 4th edition; London: John Murray.

This article, received in 2001, was researched and written by Dr. Clyde Curry Smith, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Religion, University of Wisconsin, River Falls.

Click here for Abbreviations and Source References for Ancient African Christians.