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The History of the Text

The so-called Epistula ad Diognetum is one of the most puzzling of ancient documents. While Lightfoot's description of it as "the noblest of early Christian writings"611611J. B. Lightfoot, Commentary on Colossians, 8th edition, pp. 154 f. expresses the common estimate, there is no agreement as to its authorship and very little as to its exact date. The Epistle is unique among patristic works of distinction, in the fact that we can find no references to it (under its present title, at least) in the writings of the scholars of the ancient Church. Moreover, the one MS. (itself medieval) in which it came to us no longer exists, so that we are dependent on later transcripts and printed editions for all that we can hope to know of the work, barring a miracle of discovery.

The unique MS. of the Epistle, Codex Argentoratensis Graecus 9, containing five treatises ascribed to Justin Martyr, with our Epistle in fifth place, followed by other contemporary material, was written in the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Its history is obscure, although it is known, from his annotation on the back of the codex, that it belonged to the Hebraist Reuchlin (d. 1522), who had brought it from the charterhouse of his native town. Apart from a brief appearance about 1560 at the monastery of Maursmünster in Alsace, it vanishes from sight until 1793–1795. At that time it came to the municipal library of Strasbourg (whose ancient name, Argentoratum, gave its title to the MS.), and remained there until August 24, 1870, when it was burned during the German attack on the city.

Our knowledge of the MS. comes largely from three sixteenth century transcripts. The first, which was made by H. 206Stephanus, of Paris, and served as the basis of the editio princeps (1592), still exists at Leyden (Codex Graec. Voss., Q.30). The second, made c. 1590 by J. J. Beurer, of Freiburg, seems to have perished, but some of its readings appear in an appendix to Stephanus’ edition, as well as in the edition of F. Sylburg (1593). The third copy, made in 1580 by B. Haus, was found in 1880 at Tübingen (Codex Misc. Tübing., M.b.17). Most early editions relied on Stephanus, but the MS. was collated by E. Cunitz (1842) and E. Reuss (1861) for the first and third editions respectively of J. C. T. Otto's Corpus Apologetarum (3d edition, 1879), while F. X. Funk (Patres apostolici, 2d edition, 1901, later revisions by F. Diekamp and K. Bihlmeyer), on whose text this translation is based, made use of the Tübingen transcript. No major textual problems are presented by these more or less independent witnesses, but there are obvious lacunae at ch. 7:8 and ch. 10:8, and there may be a small break at ch. 10:1. While a number of readings are doubtful in detail, the emendations proposed by Lachmann and Bunsen in Bunsen's Analecta Ante-Nicaena, Vol. I (1854), have found favor with most editors.

Date and Authorship

Some critics have been led by the Epistle's peculiar history to regard it as a brilliant forgery, while others have looked on it as a mere showpiece, without any real relation to the experience of the Early Church. The real beauty, however, of its picture of the Christian life, the freshness of its language, and the undeveloped character of its theology all combine to suggest a date in the second or the early third century, and to guarantee the authenticity of the Epistle as an expression of early Christian piety.

To place it more precisely is another matter. Justin, to whom the MS. attributes the Epistle, is impossible. It does share with Justin's writings certain commonplaces of early apologetic, but some striking differences must be noted, such as our Epistle's disregard of Hebrew prophecy and contempt for Greek philosophy. Furthermore, the style of the work is far superior to Justin's.

A stronger candidate, whose claims have recently been revived by Dom P. Andriessen, is Quadratus of Asia Minor, who (in 123–124 or 129) addressed an "Apology" to the emperor 207Hadrian.612612Dom P. Andriessen, "L’Apologie de Quadratus conservée sous le titre d’Épître à Diognète," Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale, 13 (1946), pp. 5–39, 125–149, 237–260; 14 (1947), pp. 121–156.    Andriessen, "The Authorship of the Epistula ad Diognetum," Vigiliae Christianae, I (April, 1947), pp. 129 f.
   Eusebius, Hist. eccl. IV. 3:1, 2.

   Jerome, De Vir. Ill. 19; Epistula 70: 4.
Andriessen argues that the fragment dealing with Christ's healing miracles, which Eusebius quotes from Quadratus, fits very appropriately into the lacuna at Diog. 7:8. He also notes a number of passages in the Epistle that make the identification of "Diognetus" with Hadrian most plausible. The fact that Jerome was probably mistaken in identifying Quadratus, whom he describes as discipulus apostolorum, with the bishop of Athens of the same name, is not really relevant, and it is certainly true that the internal evidence points to the view that our Epistle, like Quadratus’ Apology, originated in Asia Minor.

Before making use of this evidence, however, we must deal with the prior problem of the integrity of the Epistle and the related question of the possible common authorship of the two sections into which the lacuna at ch. 10:8 seems to divide it. It may be briefly stated that, on grounds of style alone, the critic is justified in doubting the unity of the Epistle as it stands, while differences of outlook between chs. 1 to 10 and 11; 12 (e.g., with respect to the Old Testament) decide the matter conclusively. Moreover, while the bulk of the differences might be explained by the assumption that the same author produced the two distinct sections at different times and for different purposes, the unresolved differences make the hypothesis of a common authorship untenable. At the same time, since the community of fundamental outlook is obvious enough, we can hardly doubt that the two documents stem from closely related circles. An examination of this common viewpoint may help us to place the two authors more exactly.

The Epistle as a whole is classical in style, with definite Biblical overtones. The Pauline influence is often perceptible, while the Johannine outlook dominates the work.613613The following is a far from exhaustive list of parallels between the Epistle to Diognetus and the Johannine corpus: Diognetus Johannine Writings Diognetus Johannine Writings ch. 6:3 John 16:19 ch. 7:2 John 1:1—3   ch. 17:14—16 ch. 8:5 John 1:18   ch. 18:36   I John 4:12 ch. 10:4 I John 4:19 ch. 11:4 I John 13:34, 35   (as read by Codex Sinaiticus and some other MSS.)   I John 1:1–3     I John 2:7, 8     I John 5:1, 2     II John 5,6 ch. 11:4 John 1:1, 14 ch. 12:1 Rev. 22:2   John 3:3, 5     When one notes in addition the obvious influence of Ephesians and First 208Peter on the Epistle, the case for the Asian origin of the latter becomes very strong indeed.

Among post-Biblical influences that have been detected, a number are of secondary importance for our understanding of Diognetus. J. Armitage Robinson, for example, has shown that The Preaching of Peter (c. 100–130) underlies both the Epistle and the Apology of Aristides, but some of his evidence is too general to be relevant, and none of it outweighs the divergence of outlook between the Epistle and the passages from the Preaching preserved by Clement of Alexandria, although it remains clear that our author (of Diog., chs. 1 to 10) was familiar with the latter in some form.614614J. Armitage Robinson, Texts and Studies, Vol. I, No. I, pp. 86 ff.    Clement of Alexandria, Strom., I. 29: 182; VI. 5: 39 ff.; etc. Similarly, while resemblances have been noted between the Epistle and the Apology of Aristides itself, the evidence hardly goes far enough to justify a definite assertion of the influence of either upon the other, and certainly fails to demonstrate a common authorship. Pfleiderer, indeed, argues for "the acquaintance of the author of the Epistle to Diognetus with the earlier Apology of Aristides," but this goes beyond the data, which simply indicate some contact. It is not necessary, then, to play down the strongly Asian character of our Epistle, or even to rule out Quadratus as the author, simply on the ground that it must have been influenced by (and thus be later than) the work of Aristides the Athenian (c. 140).615615H. Kiln, Der Ursprung des Briefes an Diognet (1882), gives the fullest statement of the case for the common authorship of Diognetus and the Apology of Aristides.    O. Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity (E.T., 1911), IV, p. 482.
   E. Molland, "Die literatur- und dogmengeschichtliche Stellung des Diognetbriefes," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 33 (1934), pp. 289–312, gives a careful account of the relationship of the two works.

The resemblances between the Epistle and the Protrepticus of Clement of Alexandria (d.c. 215) are even more general, and certainly do not justify the suggestion, contrary to the indications 209of another source and an earlier date, that the Epistle simply reflects the work of Clement. It has been argued more persuasively that it should be ascribed to Theophilus of Antioch (whose three books Ad Autolycum appeared c. 180), but even here the similarities are not strong enough to compel any such conclusion, particularly in view of the relatively undeveloped theology of the Epistle, although they do point to its Asian provenance and to its link with the school represented by Irenaeus.616616The case for the connection between Diognetus and Clement's Protrepticus, with the possible corollary of the priority of the latter, may be studied with the aid of the following:    A. Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, I, p. 758; II, p. 514.
   J. Geffcken, Der Brief an Diognetos. Carl Winter, Heidelberg, 1928.

   The relation of Diognetus to the work of Theophilus of Antioch is discussed by F. Ogara, "Aristidis et Epistolae ad Diognetum cum Theophilo Antiocheno cognatio," Gregorianum, 25 (1944), pp. 74–102.

The most significant literary parallels, however, go beyond this to establish without question the association of both sections of our Epistle with that theology of Asia Minor which so ably represented the central tradition of primitive Catholicism. The work of R. H. Connolly puts the connection between Diog., chs. 1 to 10, and both Irenaeus and Hippolytus (particularly the latter's anti-Gnostic work, the so-called Philosophumena) beyond any reasonable doubt. As for chs. 11 and 12, Connolly has shown that they strikingly resemble certain of the acknowledged writings of Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235), while Campbell Bonner has pointed out certain interesting stylistic parallels between these chapters and the surviving fragments of the homilies of Melito of Sardis, who is known to have exerted a strong influence on Hippolytus.617617R. H. Connolly, "The Date and Authorship of the Epistle to Diognetus," The Journal of Theological Studies, 36 (October, 1935), pp. 347–353; "'Ad Diognetum xi–xii,'" JTS, 37 (January, 1936), pp. 2–15.    C. C. J. Bunsen, Hippolytus and His Age, E.T., I, pp. 185 ff., 193 ff., claimed Diog., chs. 11; 12 as the conclusion of the Philosophumena. Before Connolly, this position was also argued by J. Dr seke, in Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie, 46 (1902), pp. 263 ff., and A. Di Pauli, Theologische Quartalschrift, 88 (1906).
   E. Schwartz, Zwei Predigten Hippolyts, Munich (1936), argues that the same chapters belong to one of the Paschal tractates of Hippolytus.

   Campbell Bonner, Studies and Documents,12 (1940), The Homily on the Passion by Melito.

In the light of the evidence thus summarily presented, it is possible to offer a tentative answer to the question of date and authorship. Our answer assumes that chs. 1 to 10 were written by Quadratus in Asia Minor, as Andriessen argues, and 210constitute the body of his Apology to Hadrian (129?). This will account for the strong Asian (notably Johannine) flavor of the work, and for its relatively primitive character. If this precise identification is not accepted, we must still attribute the Epistle to the same period and circle. R. H. Connolly's explanation of the relationships involved in terms of the dependence of our author (identified with Hippolytus) on Irenaeus, rather than in terms of the influence of an earlier writing on Irenaeus and through him on Hippolytus, fails to account for such significant factors as the attitude of our author toward the Old Testament, his relatively rudimentary Christology, and his failure to refer to the Church's Tradition (paradosis), which on the other hand played so large a part in the teaching of Irenaeus and Hippolytus.

As far as chs. 11 and 12 are concerned, the argument for Hippolytean authorship, as summed up by R. H. Connolly, seems convincing enough, although the case for the identification of the fragment as the lost tenth book of the Philosophumena may well be thought less persuasive, and we may prefer to regard it as a festal homily. At any rate, this over-all theory, with its ascription of chs. 1 to 10 to a predecessor of Irenaeus, and its attribution of chs. 11; 12 to one of his successors, offers a more comprehensive treatment of the evidence than any alternatives that have so far been presented.

Purpose and Content

The bulk of the Epistle (chs. 1 to 10) constitutes an apology for Christianity, based on the unique part played by Christians in society. This argument is set in the context of a "theology of history," which emphasizes the divine initiative as decisive for history, and contrasts Christianity as a supernatural factor in human relationships with the man-made religion of Gentiles and Jews alike. The attack on non-Christian religions is sometimes unfair and superficial, and must have had a very mixed effect on pagan readers, but the description of Christian life in the world comes to us across eighteen centuries with an astounding force and fragrance. To this moving statement someone possessed of a remarkable sense of fitness has added the passage from Hippolytus (chs. 11; 12), with its announcement of God's gifts of grace and truth in Christ's Church, where at this very moment Christians can renew their life at that divine source from which its unique power flows.


This vivid symbolic expression of the supernatural character of Christian life points up the fundamental theological theme of the body of the Epistle, which is concerned to present Christianity as a supernatural mystery. The writer deals with the first of Diognetus’ supposed questions by affirming that the God whom Christians worship, to the contempt of all so-called gods, is the transcendent Lord of all things, who in his "Child" has revealed himself to men, destroying the divinities of human imagination. He goes on to argue that the nature of Christian life is itself a primary piece of evidence for the intrinsically supernatural basis of the Christian religion. Christians are different and mysterious, because they live by a superhuman power. The reader should note the numerous references to Christianity as a "mystery," and the realistic doctrine of sanctifying grace with which this emphasis is allied, as again and again the Christian doctrine of God and the glowing portrayal of Christian life are brought together.

The very novelty of Christianity shows its transcendent origin. The description of Christians as the "New Race" reflects, in language widely used in the Early Church, the Biblical expression of the supernatural in terms of the "New Age, Covenant, Creation." In other words, the Epistle manifests the strong historical sense characteristic of the Bible itself, and sees in the supernatural mystery of Christianity the fulfillment of the divine purpose in the creation of nature, worked out in history in accordance with the possibilities of historical situations. In the exposition of the divine oikonomia in history, this apprehension of the truth that the divine wisdom acts in accordance with the historical kairos is more effectively expressed than in any other writing before Irenaeus’ magnificent picture of the workings of Providence. Some appreciation of this profound understanding of Christianity that underlies both the Epistle proper and the Hippolytean epilogue is necessary, if we are not to be led by the Epistle's tightly controlled use of its dogmatic material into overlooking its deepest roots; and the reader should always be on the watch for these fundamental theological motifs.

Aids to Study

Since this edition is intended as a simple introduction to the Epistle by way of notes on its background and central themes, accompanying a free English translation, the reader who is attracted to the study of Diognetus must go on to more 212adequate treatments of the Epistle. Hence this preamble should conclude with a guide (necessarily brief and selective) to the relevant literature.

Among the standard English editions, which the student will want to consult, the place of honor belongs to Lightfoot's Apostolic Fathers (5 vols., 1886–1890, on which all subsequent study of all these writings has in some measure depended), despite the fact that the English translations are less readable than most. Kirsopp Lake's well-known Loeb Classical Library edition (The Apostolic Fathers, II, 1913, reprinted, Putnam, 1930) offers a very literal (although not uniformly accurate) translation, founded on Otto's text, which is printed in parallel, and prefaced by a slight introduction. James Kleist, in Ancient Christian Writers, No. 6 (1948), gives us a useful introduction, followed by a free-flowing translation—the best in English. The Epistle to Diognetus, by H. G. Meecham, with its critical text, founded on that of Funk, and its exhaustive introduction and notes, is an indispensable tool for the scholarly study of the Epistle. Its (very pedestrian) translation is always reliable, while its introductory material is a mine of accurate references to other editions and to secondary material, as well as to illustrative passages from classical literature.

Reference should also be made to the standard general histories of patristic literature and thought, among which B. Altaner's Patrologie (2d edition, 1950) gives the most up-to-date account of the subject, with very full references to contemporary studies, both in German and in other languages. A. Harnack's Mission and Expansion of Christianity (E.T., 2 vols., 1908), contains the richest account of the life of the Church in the age of Diognetus, and should most certainly be read, provided that one is aware of its learned author's occasional weakness for substituting "liberal" intuitions for scholarship.

Apart from items otherwise mentioned in the introduction and notes, attention should be called to three useful discussions of the outlook of the Apologists: J. Rivière, St. Justin et les apologistes du second siècle (1907); P. Carrington, Christian Apologetics of the Second Century (1921); and A. Puech, Les Apoligistes grecs du II e siècle de notre ère (1912: the best comprehensive treatment of the Apologists). With the help of these works, the reader should acquire a fuller appreciation of the enterprise undertaken by the Apologists, and a better understanding of the peculiar contribution made by tile Epistle to Diognetus.

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