AGATHONICUS OF TARSUS
Probably a fictitious figure, supposed to have been bishop of Tarsus in Cilicia, about the middle of the fourth century. To him are ascribed a few works that have come down in various collections found in diverse editions. The most important collection is found in a papyrus codex now in the Bodmer Library, Geneva (ed. Crum, 1915). We follow its order in listing the works attributed to Agathonicus:
- De fide, transmitted also by one codex from the White Monastery (see DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH), where the doctrine is transformed in order to fit with anthropomorphism; It is a catechetical treatise, composed of (a) a prologue, in which the author describes the doubts that he must overcome before discussing the subject since his inspiration might come from a demon rather than from God; (b) a central discussion concerning anthropomorphism, where the primitive redaction was against anthropomorphism and (c) an exhortatory conclusion regarding, above all, the correct way to pray.
- Dispute with Justin the Samaritan about the Resurrections, transmitted also in three manuscripts, two from the White Monastery and one (Fayyumic) now in Copenhagen (ed. Erichsen, 1932). The Samaritan is persuaded to believe in the resurrection of the body with arguments based on passages from the Old Testament. In the end, he asks to be baptized.
- Dispute with the Cilicians, transmitted also in one codex from the White Monastery. It is composed of (a) a historic prologue about some Council of Ancyra (Ankara) and the origin of the subsequent dispute; and (b) the dispute between Agathonicus and a group of Cilicians guided by Stratonicus, which deals first of all with the idea of providence, then proceeds to many other subjects, both ecclesiastic and monastic. This seems to be the work that “created” Agathonicus, after which his reputation spread so far that it caused other works to be attributed to him.
- Apologia de incredulitate, transmitted also by the Fayyumic manuscript in Copenhagen (cf. above). A treatise in homiletic form, it is composed of (a) a prologue, in which the author describes his difficult spiritual condition and his decision to write in order to help any brothers in similar circumstances; (b) a central portion, in which phrases from the scripture are contraposed to phrases of the unbelievers, as a means of setting forth various moral arguments; and (c) a conclusion, which blames the defection of some Christians on their reading of such pagan texts as the works of Homer and Socrates. Some of the manuscripts also integrate into these texts (1) an apothegm on the Resurrection; (2) an apothegm on the passions of Christ as God and as man; and (3) an anti-Chalcedonian homily (evidently taken from a redaction later than that of the other texts).
The doctrines expounded seem to indicate that the group that produced them was that of some Evagrian monks. In fact, Evagrius is expressly quoted in the Apologia on Incredulity, and the theories expounded in the catechism De fide are in accord with the Evagrian Origenism of the monks at Kellia and Nitria during the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth centuries. The original redactions were probably in Greek, but the different constituents of the corpora indicate the Pachomian milieu as the seat for their translation into Coptic. Interestingly, Shenute’s White Monastery seems to be the place where theological elaborations of some texts were made, and where the works of Agathonicus became interpolated into the official canonical collections of the Coptic church.
- Crum, W. E. Der Papyruscodex Saec. 6-7 der Phillips-Bibliothek in Cheltenham. Koptische Theologische Schriften. Schriften der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft in Strassburg 18. Strasbourg, 1915.
- Erichsen, W. “Faijumische Fragmente der Reden des Agathonicus Bischofs von Tarsus.” Danske videnskabernes selskab meddelelser 19, no. 1. Copenhagen, 1932.
- Orlandi, T. “Il dossier copto di Agatonico di Tarso: Studio letterario e storico.” In Studies Presented to H. J. Polotsky, ed. D. W. Young. East Gloucester, Mass., 1981.