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The So-called Letter to Diognetus


The Mystery of the New People

1 To His Excellency, Diognetus:

I understand, sir, that you are really interested in learning about the religion of the Christians, and that you are making an accurate and careful investigation of the subject. You want to know, for instance, what God they believe in and how they worship him, while at the same time they disregard the world and look down on death, and how it is that they do not treat the divinities of the Greeks as gods at all, although on the other hand they do not follow the superstition of the Jews. You would also like to know the source of the loving affection that they have for each other. You wonder, too, why this new race or way of life has appeared on earth now and not earlier.618618These three questions are dealt with in the text, more or less in order, but with some overlapping. The reference to the "New [third] Race" calls attention to an issue of great importance for the life of the Early Church, which concerned such varied questions as the Church's understanding of its vocation in history and the Roman world's attitude toward the Church. Cf. I Peter 2:9 f.; I Cor. 1:22–24; 10:32; The Preaching of Peter (Clement of Alexandria, Strom. VI. 5:39); Aristides, Adversus Gentes (Syriac) 16:4; Origen, Contra Celsum, I; ch. 26; Arnobius, Adversus Gentes, II, ch. 69. There is a full discussion in Harnack, Mission and Expansion, I, 247 ff. I certainly welcome this keen interest on your part and I ask God, who gives us the power to speak and the power to listen, to let me speak in such a way that you may derive the greatest possible benefit from listening, and to enable you to listen to such good effect that I may never have a reason for regretting what I have said.  2Now, then, clear out all the thoughts that take up your attention, and pack away all the old ways of looking at things that keep deceiving you. You must become 214like a new man from the beginning, since, as you yourself admit, you are going to listen to a really new message.

The Stupidity of Idolatry

Look at the things that you proclaim and think of as gods. See with your outward eyes and with your mind what material they are made of and what form they happen to have.  2Is not one a stone, like the stones we walk on, and another bronze, no better than the utensils that have been forged for our use? Here is a wooden one, already rotting away, and one made of silver, that needs a watchman to protect it from being stolen. Yet another one is made of iron, eaten by rust, and another of pottery, no more attractive than something provided for the most ignoble purpose.  3Were not all these things made out of perishable material? Were they not forged by iron and fire? Surely the stonemason made one of them, and the blacksmith another, the silversmith a third, and the potter a fourth! These things have been molded into their present shapes by the arts of these craftsmen. Before they were shaped, they could just as easily have been given a different form—and would this not be possible even now? Could not vessels like them be made out of the same material, if the same craftsmen happened to be available?  4Moreover, could not these things that you worship now be made by men into vessels like any others? They are all dumb, after all, and blind. They are without life or feeling or power of movement, all rotting away and decaying.  5These are the things you call gods, the things you serve. You Gentiles adore these things, and in the end you become like them.  6That is why you hate the Christians, because they do not believe that these objects are gods.  7But is it not you yourselves who, when in your own thoughts you suppose that you are praising the gods, are in reality despising them? Surely it is mockery and insult to worship your stone and earthenware gods without bothering to guard them, while you lock up your gods of silver and gold at night, and set guards over them during the day, to keep them from being stolen.

8Moreover, if they are not lacking in sensation, you punish them by the very honors you try to pay them, while, if they are senseless, you show them up by the mere act of worshiping them with blood and sacrificial fat.  9Just picture one of yourselves enduring this kind of thing, or allowing it to be done to him! There is not one man who would willingly tolerate this 215sort of punishment, because he has feeling and intelligence, but the stone tolerates it, because it has no feeling. Do you not then really disprove its power of feeling?  10I could say a good deal more about the fact that Christians are not the slaves of gods like these, but if anyone cannot see the force of these arguments, I think that nothing is to be gained by arguing the matter further.619619While this line of attack on paganism is admittedly limited in its range, it reflects very well the contemptuous attitude of the Old Testament, and is an example of how, despite the author's dislike of Judaism and his lack of overt reference to the Old Testament, the latter's outlook directs his thinking. Cf. Isa. 44:9–20; 40:18–21; Jer. 10:1–16; Ps. 115:4–8. Against most of the Apologists; who think of idols as dwellings of demons, the Epistle agrees with Justin's description of them as "lifeless and dead" (Apol. I, ch. 9). The gods of the Gentiles are so completely unreal that there is nothing behind the images.

The Superstitions of Judiaism

3 Next, I gather that you are particularly anxious to hear why Christians do not worship in the same way as Jews.  2It is true that the Jews refrain from the kind of worship that I have been describing, and on this score they are right in thinking that they adore the one God of all things and honor him as Lord; but since they offer this worship more or less in the same manner as those already mentioned, they are completely mistaken.  3While the Greeks provide a proof of their own lack of understanding, by making offerings to senseless and deaf objects, the Jews themselves might perhaps consider it folly rather than piety if they only recognized that they were offering gifts to God just as if he needed them.  4For "he who made the heaven and the earth and all that is in them,"620620Cf. Acts 14:15, from which this is an almost exact quotation, and Acts 17:22–31. The emphasis on Creation is further evidence of the Old Testament's influence on Diognetus, and effectively scotches the accusations of Marcionism, brought against the author by some critics. Cf. Ps. 50:7–15, for the attack on Jewish worship. and provides us with everything we need, can scarcely need any of the things that he himself supplies to those who fancy that they are giving something to him.  5It seems clear to me that people who imagine that they are offering sacrifices to him when they give blood and fat and whole burnt offerings, and are really honoring him by these tokens of reverence, do not differ at all from people who pay the same honor to deaf images. The latter think that they are offering something to objects which in 216reality cannot appropriate the honor, while the former imagine that they are giving something to him who has need of nothing.

4 As for Jewish taboos with respect to food, along with their superstition about the Sabbath, their bragging about circumcision, and their hypocrisy about fast days and new moons, I hardly think that you need to be told by me that all these things are ridiculous, and not worth arguing about.  2How can it be anything but godlessness that makes men accept some of the things made by God for man's use as created good, and reject other things as useless and superfluous?  3And is it not impious to pretend that God forbids a good deed on the Sabbath Day?  4And are they not asking for ridicule when they boast of the mutilation of the flesh as a sign of their choice by God, as if for this reason they were especially beloved by him?  5Again, when they constantly gaze at the stars and watch the moon, in order to observe months and days with scrupulous care and to distinguish the changes of the seasons which God has ordained, in order to cater to their own whims, making some into festivals, and others into times of mourning, who could call this evidence of devotion rather than of folly?  6All this being so, I think that you have learned enough to see that Christians are right in holding themselves aloof from the aimlessness and trickery of Greeks and Jews alike, and from the officiousness and noisy conceit of the Jews. But as far as the mystery of the Christians’ own religion is concerned, you cannot expect to learn that from man.

The Church in the World621621The heading is chosen quite deliberately, despite Meecham's criticism of Puech's reference to the "onction ecclésiastique" of the Epistle. Cf. A. Puech, Les Apologistes grecs, p. 252; Histoire de la littérature grecque chrétienne, II, p. 219; H. G. Meecham, The Epistle to Diognetus, p. 31. In support of his criticism Meecham is compelled to quote an obscure upholder of the ultraspiritual doctrine of the Church (more judiciously defended by Sohm). Altogether apart, however, from the Hippolytean fragment, the whole discussion of the Christian's citizenship in the Epistle rests on those great churchly documents, Ephesians and First Peter—most notably, perhaps, on Eph. 2:19–22.

5 For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs.  2They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life.  3This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a 217merely human teaching, as some people do.  4Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man's lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth.  5They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.  6They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring.  7They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed.  8It is true that they are "in the flesh," but they do not live "according to the flesh."622622Cf. II Cor. 10:3; 5:16; Rom. 8:4; John 17:13–19; 18:36, 37. Note this passage's vivid contrast between the created world, in which we live, and its corruption, which both affects our attitude toward it and conditions our life. The Pauline Johannine doctrine of original sin, the full meaning of which some other Apologists failed to grasp, is here clearly implied.9They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.623623Cf. Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:19–22; I Peter 2:9–17. The translation of Phil. 3:20, which refers to Christians as a "colony of heaven" (Moffatt), expresses most aptly the point of our Epistle, with its simultaneous recognition of the transcendent destiny and the earthly responsibility of the Christian.10They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require.  11They love all men, and by all men are persecuted.  12They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life.  13They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance.  14They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated.  15They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect.  16When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life.  17They are treated by the Jews as foreigners and enemies, and are hunted down by the Greeks; and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity.624624II Cor. 6:4–10 is obviously the pattern of this passage; Cf. Diog. 5:13; II Cor. 6:10. The influence of John 15:25 should also be noted; the parallel destiny of the Vine and the branches (John 15:1, 5), implied in John 15:24 to 16:3, is the hidden background of our text. Here, as so often in the Epistle, we can sense a profound theological interest which, because of the aim of the work, must not become too obvious.


6 To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world.  2The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world.  3The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world.  4The soul, which is invisible, is kept under guard in the visible body; in the same way, Christians are recognised when they are in the world, but their religion remains unseen.  5The flesh hates the soul and treats it as an enemy, even though it has suffered no wrong, because it is prevented from enjoying its pleasures; so too the world hates Christians, even though it suffers no wrong at their hands, because they range themselves against its pleasures.  6The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and its members; in the same way, Christians love those who hate them.  7The soul is shut up in the body, and yet itself holds the body together; while Christians are restrained in the world as in a prison, and yet themselves hold the world together.  8The soul, which is immortal, is housed in a mortal dwelling; while Christians are settled among corruptible things, to wait for the incorruptibility that will be theirs in heaven.  9The soul, when faring badly as to food and drink, grows better; so too Christians, when punished, day by day increase more and more.  10It is to no less a post than this that God has ordered them, and they must not try to evade it.

The Christian Revelation

7 As I have indicated, it is not an earthly discovery that was committed to them; it is not a mortal thought that they think of as worth guarding with such care, nor have they been entrusted with the stewardship of merely human mysteries.  2On the contrary, it was really the Ruler of all, the Creator of all, the invisible God himself, who from heaven established the truth and the holy, incomprehensible word among men, and fixed it firmly in their hearts. Nor, as one might suppose, did he do this by sending to men some subordinate—an angel, or principality, or one of those who administer earthly affairs, or perhaps one of those to whom the government of things in heaven is entrusted. Rather, he sent the Designer and Maker of the universe himself, by whom he created the heavens and confined the sea within its own bounds—him whose hidden purposes all the elements of the world faithfully carry out, him from whom the sun has received the measure of the daily 219rounds that it must keep, him whom the moon obeys when he commands her to shine by night, and whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon. He sent him by whom all things have been set in order and distinguished and placed in subjection—the heavens and the things that are in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and the things in the sea, fire, air, the unfathomed pit, the things in the heights and in the depths and in the realm between; God sent him to men.

3Now, did he send him, as a human mind might assume, to rule by tyranny, fear, and terror?  4Far from it! He sent him out of kindness and gentleness, like a king sending his son who is himself a king. He sent him as God; he sent him as man to men. He willed to save man by persuasion, not by compulsion, for compulsion is not God's way of working.  5In sending him, God called men, but did not pursue them; he sent him in love, not in judgment.  6Yet he will indeed send him someday as our Judge, and who shall stand when he appears?625625For the last clause, cf. Mal. 3:2. At this point there is a lacuna, indicated by a marginal note in the MS. Dom Andriessen would insert the Eusebian fragment of the Apology of Quadratus here (cf. note 2). A full statement of God's mighty acts through Christ, culminating, like many other Apologetic arguments (cf. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, chs. 110; 121; Apol. I, ch. 39; Irenaeus, Adv. haer. IV. 34:3; 33:9), in a description of Christian fidelity in tribulation, would certainly not be inappropriate at this point. . . .

7Do you not see how they are thrown to wild animals to make them deny the Lord, and how they are not vanquished?  8Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the more do others increase?  9These things do not seem to come from a human power; they are a mighty act of God; they are proofs of his presence.

8 As a matter of fact, before he came, what man had any knowledge of God at all?  2Or do you really accept the idle nonsense talked by those plausible philosophers, some of whom asserted that God was fire—the very thing that they are on the point of going to, they call God!—while others claimed that he was water, and others said that he was yet another one of the elements created by God?  3And yet, if any one Of these lines of argument is acceptable, then each and every one of the other creatures could in the same way be shown to be God.  4No, this is just quackery and deceit practiced by wizards.  5No man has ever seen God or made him known, but he has manifested himself.  6And he manifested himself through faith, by which alone it has been made possible for us to see God.


7For God, the Master and Maker of the universe, who made all things and determined the proper place of each, showed himself to be long-suffering, as well as a true friend of man.  8But in fact he always was and is and will be just this—kind and good and slow to anger and true; indeed, he alone is good.  9And when he had planned a great and unutterable design, he communicated it to his Child alone.  10Now, as long as he kept back his own wise counsel as a well-guarded mystery, he seemed to be neglecting us and to take no interest in us;  11but when he revealed it through his beloved Child and made known the things that had been prepared from the beginning, he granted us all things at once. He made us both to share in his blessings and to see and understand things that none of us could ever have looked for.

9 And so, when he had planned everything by himself in union with his Child, he still allowed us, through the former time, to be carried away by undisciplined impulses, captivated by pleasures and lusts, just as we pleased. That does not mean that he took any delight in our sins, but only that he showed patience. He did not approve at all of that season of wickedness, but on the contrary, all the time he was creating the present age of righteousness, so that we, who in the past had by our own actions been proved unworthy of life, might now be deemed worthy, thanks to God's goodness. Then, when we had shown ourselves incapable of entering the Kingdom of God by our own efforts, we might be made capable of doing so by the power of God.  2And so, when our unrighteousness had come to its full term, and it had become perfectly plain that its recompense of punishment and death had to be expected, then the season arrived in which God had determined to show at last his goodness and power. O the overflowing kindness and love of God toward man! God did not hate us, or drive us away, or bear us ill will. Rather, he was long-suffering and forbearing. In his mercy, he took up the burden of our sins. He himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us—the holy one for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.626626Cf. Mark 10:45; I Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14; and above all Rom. 8:32 ff. The whole argument of Rom., chs, 5 to 8, with its exposition of our new life in Christ who died in perfect obedience to the Father, underlies this passage. The development of the theme in Diognetus shows how realistically the author interpreted the Pauline doctrine of justification.3For what else could cover our sins 221except his righteousness?  4In whom could we, lawless and impious as we were, be made righteous except in the Son of God alone?  5O sweetest exchange! O unfathomable work of God! O blessings beyond all expectation! The sinfulness of many is hidden in the Righteous One, while the righteousness of the One justifies the many that are sinners.  6In the former time he had proved to us our nature's inability to gain life; now he showed the Saviour's power to save even the powerless, with the intention that on both counts we should have faith in his goodness, and look on him as Nurse, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, Mind, Light, Honor, Glory, Might, Life—and that we should not be anxious about clothing and food.

10 If you too yearn for this faith, then first of all you must acquire full knowledge of the Father.  2For God loved men, and made the world for their sake, and put everything on earth under them. He gave them reason and intelligence, and to them alone he entrusted the capacity for looking upward to him, since he formed them after his own image. It was to them that he sent his only-begotten Son, and to them that he promised the Kingdom in heaven which he will give to those who love him.  3And when you have acquired this knowledge, think with what joy you will be filled! Think how you will love him, who first loved you so!  4And when you love him, you will be an imitator of his goodness. And do not be surprised to hear that a man can become an imitator of God. He can, because God wills it.

5To be happy does not, indeed, consist in lording it over one's neighbors, or in longing to have some advantage over the weaker ones, or in being rich and ordering one's inferiors about. It is not in this way that any man can imitate God, for such things are alien to his majesty.  6But if a man takes his neighbor's burden on himself, and is willing to help his inferior in some respect in which he himself is better off, and, by providing the needy with what he himself possesses because he has received it from God, becomes a god to those who receive it—then this man is an imitator of God.  7Then, while your lot is cast on earth, you will realize that God rules in heaven; then you will begin to talk of the mysteries of God; then you will love and admire those who are being punished for their refusal to deny God; then you will condemn the fraud and error of the world, once you really understand the true life in heaven, once you look down on the apparent death here below, once you fear the real death kept for those who are condemned to the eternal fire, which will punish to the end those that are handed 222over to it.  8Then you will admire those who for righteousness' sake endure the transitory fire, and will call them happy, when you learn about that other fire627627There is evidently a lacuna here, as a note in the MS. indicates, but it is doubtful that the missing passage was very long. In the ten chapters as they stand the author has pretty well accomplished what he set out to do.. . .


11 I am not speaking of things that are strange to me, nor is my undertaking unreasonable, for I have been a disciple of apostles, and now I am becoming a teacher of the Gentiles. The things that pertain to the tradition I try to minister fittingly to those who are becoming disciples of the truth.  2Can any man who has been properly taught, and has come to love the Logos, keep from trying to learn precisely what has been shown openly by the Logos to those to whom he manifestly appeared and spoke in the plainest terms? He remained, indeed, unrecognized by unbelievers, but he gave a full explanation to his disciples who, because he looked upon them as faithful, came to know the mysteries of the Father.  3For this reason the Father sent the Logos to appear to the world—the Logos who was slighted by the chosen people, but preached by apostles and believed in by the Gentiles.  4This is he who was from the beginning, who appeared new and was found to be old, and is ever born young in the hearts of the saints.628628With this magnificent sentence the reader should compare Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus, ch. I (Loeb Classical Library, ed. G. W. Butterworth, pp. 16–19), where the theme is bound up with the real antiquity of the "New People" in the eternal purpose of God, and the gospel of the incarnate Logos is proclaimed as the "New Song."5This is the eternal one, who today is accounted a Son,629629This text may be a reference to the Hippolytean idea that the Logos becomes (or is manifested as) "perfect Son" only in the incarnation. Cf. Hippolytus, Contra Noetum, chs. 4; 11; 15; 17. In that case, the fragment should probably be construed as an Epiphany homily (so Kirsopp Lake). On the other hand, the passage could embody an allusion to Rom. 1:5, in which case Otto's identification of these chapters as an Easter homily must be accepted. The reference (ch. 12:9) to the "Lord's Passover" seems to support this view. Cf. also note 7. by whom the Church is made rich and grace is multiplied as it unfolds among the saints—the grace that gives understanding, makes mysteries plain, announces seasons, rejoices in believers, is given freely to seekers, that is, to such as do not break the pledges of their 223faith,630630This is presumably an allusion to the baptismal promises or profession of faith. In the rite of baptism described in Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition, the threefold immersion follows the threefold confession of faith, step by step, and the developed creed or symbolum of Christianity grew out of just this baptismal invocation of the divine name as revealed to Christian faith. Cf. I Peter 3:21, which may be relevant here. or go beyond the bounds set by the fathers.  6Then the reverence taught by the Law is hymned, and the grace given to the Prophets is recognized, and the faith of the Gospels is made secure, and the tradition of the apostles is maintained, and the grace of the Church exults.  7And if you do not grieve this grace, you will understand what the Logos speaks, through whom he pleases and whenever he chooses.  8For we simply share with you, out of love for the things that have been revealed to us, everything that we have been prompted to speak out under stress, in obedience to the will and commandment of the Logos.

12 If you read this, and listen to it earnestly, you will discover what God has prepared for those who love him as they ought, and have become a Paradise of delight, cultivating in themselves a flourishing tree, rich with all kinds of fruit, while they themselves are decked out with a variety of fruits;  2for in this Garden a tree of knowledge and a tree of life have been planted.631631Cf. Gen. 2:8, 9, which is interpreted typologically in this chapter, a parallel being drawn again and again between the primordial Paradise and the Church. But it is not the tree of knowledge that destroys; it is disobedience that brings destruction.  3Indeed, there is a deep meaning in the passage of Scripture which tells how God in the beginning planted a tree of knowledge and a tree of life in the midst of Paradise, to show that life is attained through knowledge. It was because the first men did not use this knowledge with clean hearts that they were stripped of it by the deceit of the serpent.  4For there cannot be life without knowledge any more than there can be sound knowledge without genuine life, and so the two trees were planted close together.  5Because the apostle saw the force of this, he found fault with the knowledge that is put into effect in life without regard to the reality of the commandment, pointing out that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."632632Cf. I Cor. 8:1. The judicious approach to the question of the place of the intellect in the Christian scheme of things should be noted. The author does not let opposition to Gnostic excesses stampede him into anti-intellectualism.6For the man who thinks he knows anything apart from knowledge that is genuine and borne out by 224life has actually learned nothing, but is deceived by the serpent, because he does not love life. But he who has gained full knowledge with reverence and seeks after life can plant in hope and look for fruit.

7Let your heart be knowledge, and your life the true teaching that your heart contains.  8If you bear the tree of this teaching and pluck its fruit, you will always be gathering in the things that are desirable in the sight of God, things that the serpent cannot touch and deceit cannot defile. Then Eve is not seduced, but a Virgin is found trustworthy.633633It is fairly clear that the author intends to state the common Patristic contrast (cf. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 100; Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III. 22:4; V. 19:1; Tertullian, De carne Christi, 17) between Eve, the disobedient mother of death, and Mary, the obedient mother of life, in which case the parthenos of the text will be the blessed Virgin Mary.9Furthermore, salvation is displayed, and the apostles are interpreted, and the Lord's Passover goes forward, and the seasons are brought together and set in order, and the Logos rejoices as he teaches the saints—the Logos through whom the Father is glorified. To him be glory forevermore. Amen.

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