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§ 170. The Epistle to Diognetus.


Epistola Ad Diognetum, ed. Otto (with Lat. transl., introduction and critical notes), ed. II. Lips. 1852.

In the Leipz. edition of the Apost. Fathers, by O. v. Gebhardt and Ad Harnack, I. 216–226; in the Tübingen ed. of Hefele-Funk, I. pp 310–333.

W. A. Hollenberg: Der Brief an Diognet. Berl. 1853.

E. M. Krenkel: Epistola, ad Diogn. Lips. 1860.

English translation: in Kitto’s "Journal of S. Lit." 1852, and in vol. I of the "Ante-Nicene Library." Edinb. 1867.

French versions by P. le Gras, Paris 1725; M. de Genoude, 1838; A. Kayser, 1856.


Otto: De Ep. ad Diognetum. 1852.

A. Kayser: La Lettre à Diognète 1856 (in "Révue de Théologie ").

G. J. Snoeck: Specimen theologicum exhibens introductionem in Epistolan ad Diogn. Lugd. Bat. 1861.

Donaldson: A Critical Hist. of Christian Liter., etc. Lond., 1866, II 126 sqq. He was inclined to assume that Henry Stephens, the first editor, manufactured the Ep., but gave up the strange hypothesis, which was afterwards reasserted by Cotterill in his Peregrinus Proteus, 1879.

Franz Overbeck: Ueber den pseudo-justinischen Brief an Diognet. Basel 1872. And again with additions in his Studien zur Geschichte der alten Kirche (Schloss-Chemnitz, 1875), p. 1–92. He represents the Ep. (like Donaldson) as a post-Constantinian fiction, but has been refuted by Hilgenfeld, Keim, Lipsius, and Dräseke.

Joh. Dräseke: Der Brief an Diognetos. Leipz. 1881 (207 pp.). Against Overbeck and Donaldson. The Ep. was known and used by Tertullian, and probably composed in Rome by a Christian Gnostic (perhaps Appelles). Unlikely.

Heinr. Kihn (R.C.): Der Ursprung des Briefes an Diognet. Freiburg i. B. 1882 (XV. and 168 pages).

Semisch: art. Diognet, in Herzog2 III. 611–615 (and in his Justin der Märt., 1840, vol. I. 172 sqq.); Schaff, in McClintock and Strong, III. 807 sq., and Birks, in Smith and Wace, II. 162–167.

The Ep. to D. has also been discussed by Neander, Hefele, Credner, Möhler, Bunsen, Ewald, Dorner, Hilgenfeld, Lechler, Baur, Harnack, Zahn, Funk, Lipsius, Keim (especially in Rom und das Christhum, 460–468).

1. The short but precious document called the Epistle to Diognetus was unknown in Christian literature13101310    Not even Eusebius or Jerome or Photius make any mention of it. Möhler (Patrol. p. 170) refers to Photius, but Photius speaks of Justin Martyr, with whose writings he was well acquainted. See Hergenröther, Photius, III. 19 sq.310 until Henry Stephens, the learned publisher of Paris, issued it in Greek and Latin in 1592, under the name of Justin Martyr.13111311    ΙΟΥΣΤΙΝΟΥ ΤΟΨ φιλοσόφου καὶ μάρτυροσ Ἐπιστολὴ πρὸς Διόγνητον, καὶ Λόγος πρὸσ Ἕλληνας. lustini Philosophi et Martyris Ep. ad Diognetum, et Oratio ad Graecos, nunc primum luce et latinitate donatae ab Henrico Stephano. Eiusdem Henr. Stephani annotationibus additum est Io. lacobi Beureri de quorundam locorum partim interpretatione partim emendations iudicium. Tatiani, discipuli Iustini, quaedam. Excudebat Henricus Stephanus. Anno MDXCII. The copy of Stephens is still preserved in the University library at Leiden. The copy of Beurer is lost, but was probably made from the Strassburg Codex, with which it agrees in the readings published by Stephens in his appendix, and by Sylburg in his notes.311 He gives no account of his sources. The only Codex definitely known is the Strassburg Codex of the thirteenth century, and even this (after having been thoroughly compared by Professor Cunitz for Otto’s edition), was destroyed in the accidental fire at Strassburg during the siege of 1870.13121312    "Epistulae ad Diognetum unum tantummodo exemplar antiquius ad nostram usque pervenit memoriam: codicem dico loannis Reuchlini quondam, postea Argentoratensem, qui misero illo incendio die nono ante Calendas Septembres anni MDCCCLXX cum tot aliis libris pretiosis in ciner es dilapsus est." Von Gebhardt and Harnack, p. 205. They assert, p. 208, that the copies of Stephens and Beurer were taken from the Cod. of Strassburg. Otto (Prol. p. 3) speaks of tres codices, Argentoratensis, apographon Stephani, apoqraphon Beureri."312 So great is the mystery hanging over the origin of this document, that some modern scholars have soberly turned it into a post-Constantinian fiction in imitation of early Christianity, but without being able to agree upon an author, or his age, or his nationality.

Yet this most obscure writer of the second century is at the same time the most brilliant; and while his name remains unknown to this day, he shed lustre on the Christian name in times when it was assailed and blasphemed from Jew and Gentile, and could only be professed at the risk of life. He must be ranked with the "great unknown" authors of Job and the Epistle to the Hebrews, who are known only to God.

2. Diognetius was an inquiring heathen of high social position and culture, who desired information concerning the origin and nature of the religion of the Christians, and the secret of their contempt of the world, their courage in death, their brotherly love, and the reason of the late origin of this new fashion, so different from the gods of the Greeks and the superstition of the Jews. A Stoic philosopher of this name instructed Marcus Aurelius in his youth (about 133) in painting and composition, and trained him in Attic simplicity of life, and "whatever else of the kind belongs to Grecian discipline." Perhaps he taught him also to despise the Christian martyrs, and to trace their heroic courage to sheer obstinacy. It is quite probable that our Diognetus was identical with the imperial tutor; for he wished especially to know what enabled these Christians "to despise the world and to make light of death."13131313    Comp. Ep. ad Diog., c. 1, with Marcus Aur. Medit., IX. 3 (his only allusion to Christianity, quoted p. 329). Marcus Aurelius gratefully remembers his teacher Diognetus Medit., I.6. Diognetus was not a rare name; but the one of our Epistle was a person of social prominence, as the term κράτιστος, honorable, implies. Otto and Ewald identify the two. Keim and Dräseke (p. 141) admit that our Diognetus belonged to the imperial court, but put him later.313

3. The Epistle before us is an answer to the questions of this noble heathen. It is a brief but masterly vindication of Christian life and doctrine from actual experience. It is evidently the product of a man of genius, fine taste and classical culture. It excels in fresh enthusiasm of faith, richness of thought, and elegance of style, and is altogether one of the most beautiful memorials of Christian antiquity, unsurpassed and hardly equalled by any genuine work of the Apostolic Fathers.13141314    Ewald (Geschichte des Volkes Israel, Bd. VII. p. 150) places it first among all the early Christian epistles which were not received into the N. T., and says that it combines perfectly "the fulness and art of Greek eloquence with the purest love of truth, and the ease and grace of words with the elevating seriousness of tlle Christian." Bunsen: "Indisputably, after Scripture, the finest monument of sound Christian feeling, noble courage, and manly eloquence." Semisch (in Herzog) calls it "ein Kleinod des christl. Alterthums, welchem in Geist und Fassung kaum ein zweites Schriftwerk der nachapostolishen Zeit gleichsteht." Keim (Rom und das Christenthum, p. 463 sq.) calIs it "das lieblichste, ja ein fast zauberhaftes Wort des zweiten Jahrhunders." and eloquently praises "die reine, klassische Sprache, den schönen, korrekten Satzbau, die rhetorische Frische, die schlagenden Antithesen, den geistreichen Ausdruck, die logische Abrundung ... die unmittelbare, liebswarme, begeisterte, wenn schon mit Bildung durchsättigte Frömmigkeit."314

4. Contents. The document consists of twelve chapters. It opens with an address to Diognetus who is described as exceedingly desirous to learn the Christian doctrine and mode of worship in distinction from that of the Greeks and the Jews. The writer, rejoicing in this opportunity to lead a Gentile friend to the path of truth, exposes first the vanity of idols (ch. 2), then the superstitions of the Jews (ch. 3, 4); after this he gives by contrasts a striking and truthful picture of Christian life which moves in this world like the invisible, immortal soul in the visible, perishing body (ch. 5 and 6),13151315    Quoted above, § 2, p. 9.315 and sets forth the benefits of Christ’s coming (ch. 7). He next describes the miserable condition of the world before Christ (ch. 8), and answers the question why He appeared so late (ch. 9). In this connection occurs a beautiful passage on redemption, fuller and clearer than any that can be found before Irenaeus.13161316    See above, § 153, p. 587.316 He concludes with an account of the blessings and moral effects which flow from the Christian faith (ch. 10). The last two chapters which were probably added by a younger contemporary, and marked as such in the MS., treat of knowledge, faith and spiritual life with reference to the tree of knowledge and the tree of life in paradise. Faith opens the paradise of a higher knowledge of the mysteries of the supernatural world.

The Epistle to Diognetus forms the transition from the purely practical literature of the Apostolic Fathers to the reflective theology of the Apologists. It still glows with the ardor of the first love. It is strongly Pauline.13171317    "As if no less a person than Paul himself had returned to life for that age." Ewald, vii. 149.317 It breathes the spirit of freedom and higher knowledge grounded in faith. The Old Testament is ignored, but without any sign of Gnostic contempt.

5. Authorship and Time of composition. The author calls himself "a disciple of the Apostles,"13181318    Ἀποστόλων γενόμενος μαθητής ch. 11.318 but this term occurs in the appendix, and may be taken in a wider sense. In the MS. the letter is ascribed to Justin Martyr, but its style is more elegant, vigorous and terse than that of Justin and the thoughts are more original and vigorous.13191319    The Justinian authorship is defended by Cave, Fabricius, and Otto, but refuted by Semisch, Hefele, Keim, and others.319 It belongs, however, in all probability, to the same age, that is, to the middle of the second century, rather earlier than later. Christianity appears in it as something still new and unknown to the aristocratic society, as a stranger in the world, everywhere exposed to calumny and persecution of Jews and Gentiles. All this suits the reign of Antoninus Pius and of Marcus Aurelius. If Diognetus was the teacher of the latter as already suggested, we would have an indication of Rome, as the probable place of composition.

Some assign the Epistle to an earlier date under Trajan or Hadrian,13201320    Tillemont and Möhler to the first century, Hefele and Ewald to the reign of Hadrian (120-130). Westcott (Can. N. T. p. 76): Not before Trajan, and not much later; everything betokens an early age.320 others to the reign of Marcus Aurelius,13211321    So Keim, who suggests the bloody year 177.321 others to the close of the second century or still later.13221322    So Hilgenfeld, Lipsius, Gass, Zahn, Dräseke (under Septimus Severus, between 193-211). Overbeck’s hypothesis of a post-Constantinian date is exploded.322 The speculations about the author begin with Apollos in the first, and end with Stephens in the sixteenth century. He will probably remain unknown.13231323    Justin M. (the MS. tradition); Marcion before his secession from the church(Bunsen); Quadratus Dorner); Apelles, the Gnostic in his old age (Dräseke, p. 141). The writer of the art. in Smith and Wace, II. 162, identifies the author with one Ambrosius, "a chief man of Greece who became a Christian, and all his fellow councillors raised a clamor against him." and refers to Cureton’s Spicil. Syriacum, p. 61-69. The Stephanie hypothesis of and Cotterill is a literary and moral impossibility.323

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