CHAPTER 1 Since I see, most excellent Diognetus, that thou art exceedingly anxious to understand the religion of the Christians, and that thy enquiries respecting them are distinctly and carefully made, as to what God they trust and how they worship Him, that they all disregard the world and despise death, and take no account of those who are regarded as gods by the Greeks, neither observe the superstition of the Jews, and as to the nature of the affection which they entertain one to another, and of this new development or interest, which has entered into men's lives now and not before: I gladly welcome this zeal in thee, and I ask of God, Who supplieth both the speaking and the hearing to us, that it may be granted to myself to speak in such a way that thou mayest be made better by the hearing, and to thee that thou mayest so listen that I the speaker may not be disappointed. CHAPTER 2 Come then, clear thyself of all the prepossessions which occupy thy mind, and throw off the habit which leadeth thee astray, and become a new man, as it were, from the beginning, as one who would listen to a new story, even as thou thyself didst confess. See not only with thine eyes, but with thine intellect also, of what substance or of what form they chance to be whom ye call and regard as gods. Are they not forged by iron and fire?
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This rendition of the Letter to Diognetus is in my own words, taken from the Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. I haven't left anything out, and where any important issue comes up, I've leaned towards not changing the wording of the Edinburgh translators. Do not miss chapters 5 and 9! As you read, you'll find my comments sprinkled throughout in text boxes. These are not meant to interpret the text for you, although I do some of that. Instead, I'm trying to show you what early Christianity was like.
It is very hard to find a better introduction to late 1st century Christianity than the Letter to Diognetus. Available wherever books are sold! I see, most excellent Diognetus, the exceptional desire you have to learn the method of worshipping God that prevails among the Christians. You inquire about them with great care and sincerity, seeking to determine what God they trust in and what type of religion they observe that allows them to look down upon the world and to despise death, all the while rejecting both those that are esteemed gods by the Greeks and the superstitions of the Jews.
I hear you asking how they have the kind of affection that is cherished among them and why this new type or practice of religion has only now and so recently come into the world. I welcome this desire of yours, and I implore God, who enable us both to speak and to hear, to let me speak in such a way that, more than anything, I may hear that you have been built up.
And I ask him to enable you to hear in such a way that I, the one speaking, may have no reason to regret doing so. So come, after you have freed yourself from all the prejudices that possess your mind, laid aside what you're accustomed to as something prone to deceive you, and been made a new man all over again.
After all, by your own admission, you are going to be listening to a new teaching. Come and contemplate, not only with your eyes but also with your understanding,the substance and form of those whom you declare and deem to be gods. The early Christians were not afraid to take on the foolishness of idol worship, as the Letter to Diognetus does here. I have to admit I find these attacks on idolatry interesting as well as powerful.
Isn't one a stone like the ones we walk on? Isn't a third wood and already rotting at that? Isn't a fourth silver, which needs a man to watch it so that it's not stolen? Isn't a fifth iron, consumed by rust? Isn't a sixth clay, no more valuable than what's made for the humblest uses? Aren't all of these corruptible matter? Aren't they all made with fire and with iron tools? Didn't the sculptor fashion one of them, the brazier a second, the silversmith a third, and the potter a fourth?
Wasn't every one of them, in its own way, subject to change before they were formed by the skills of these workmen into the shape they're in?
Wouldn't those things which are now containers, formed from the same materials, become just like the gods if they had run into the artisans who made your gods? Couldn't these, which are now worshipped by you, be made by men into containers similar to the others? Are they not all deaf? Are they not all blind? Are they not without life? Are they not destitute of feeling? Are they not incapable of motion?
Are they not all liable to rot? Are they not all perishable? It's for this reason you hate the Christians, because they do not consider these to be gods. But don't you, who think and suppose these articles to be gods, treat them with much greater contempt than the Christians? Don't you mock and insult them ever more when you worship things that are made of stone and clay without appointing anyone to guard them, but the ones made of silver and gold you lock up at night and appoint guards for them during the day so that they won't be stolen?
And when you attempt to present gifts to them, then if they are possessed of sense, don't you punish rather than honor them? On the other hand, if they have no sense, you prove it by worshipping them with blood and the smoke of sacrifices. Would any of you stand for such indignities? Let any one of you tolerate having that done to yourself! Not a single human being will put up with that kind of treatment unless he's forced to, and it's because he's endowed with sense and reason.
A stone, however, readily endures it because it has no feeling. You certainly don't indicate that they are possessed of feeling. So in regard to the fact that Christians are not used to serving gods like that, I could easily find many other things to say; however, if what has already been said is not enough for anyone, then I consider it a waste of time to say anything else.
Is the Letter to Diognetus really calling the sacrifices of the Jews, commanded by Moses in the Law, foolishness? Christians of the second century presented the most amazing Scriptural arguments , based on Jer. The sacrifices, then, were not for God; they were for the Jews, who did not all have the Spirit as New Testament disciples do. The fleshly Jews needed things like sacrifices to keep their attention directed to God—though even this didn't work—but God never wanted them.
Read those two Scriptures I just gave you, and then read Exodus from chapter 20 the delivery of the 10 commandments forward, and see if you don't agree with the argument of the early Christians, which is not only here in the Letter to Diognetus, but is consistent and repeated throughout the 2nd century writings.
Next, I'd guess that you most want to hear something about why the Christians don't observe the same forms of divine worship as the Jews. So then, if the Jews abstain from the kind of service described above [ i.
However, if they offer him worship in the way we've described, they are in great error. The Gentiles, when they offer [sacrifices] to things that are destitute of feeling and hearing, provide an example of madness. The Jews, on the other hand, when they think to offer these things to God as if he needed them, ought to consider their sacrifices an act of foolishness rather than divine worship. For the One that made heaven and earth and everything in them, and who gives us everything we need, certainly does not require any of those things which he himself bestows on the very ones who are thinking to provide them to him!
Those who imagine that they are offering sacrifices to him with blood and the smoke of sacrifices and burnt offerings, and who think that by such "honors" they are showing him respect—well, these people who suppose that they can give anything to the One who stands in need of nothing appear to me to be no different than those who studiously confer the same honor on things that are destitute of feeling and therefore incapable of enjoying such honors.
This note is to complement the sidebar above, so make sure you read that first. Apparently, this author was unfamiliar with the Scriptures, so he doesn't address them. However, the argument that God is not in need of sacrifices is commonly given as an argument against the Jews in other 2nd century writings.
Here, as throughout this letter, we find that the anonymous author of the Letter to Diognetus is thoroughly and accurately taught and deeply immersed in early Christian doctrine, even though he is unfamiliar with the Scriptures themselves.
Again, the writer of the Letter to Diognetus is not familiar with the Scriptures. He is, however, familiar with Christian arguments made by those who are familiar with the Scriptures. Other early Christians did indeed argue that it is foolish to reject some creatures of God and accept others. He marvels that they can't figure out that food can't defile a person.
The early Christians said that the Scriptures on food had a symbolic meaning. The man that is clean is the one who ruminates on the word of God chews the cud , and who separates from the world parts the hoof. So although the Letter to Diognetus doesn't appeal to Scriptural arguments, it is clear that the author has heard the same arguments that are detailed more scripturally in later 2nd century writings.
As far as their meticulous attention to food, their superstition in regard to the Sabbaths, their boasting about circumcision, and their whims about fasting and the new moons—which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of attention—I don't think you need to learn anything from me.
How can it be lawful to accept some of those things which have been formed by God for human use as properly made and to reject others as useless and unnecessary? And to speak falsely of God, as if he forbids us to do what is good on the Sabbath days, in what way is this not ungodly? To glory in the circumcision of the flesh as a proof of election—as though because of it they are especially loved by God—how can this not be a subject of ridicule? And as for observing months and day, who would deem it a part of divine worship to wait for the stars and moon to make appointments for God according to whatever tendencies they have?
Isn't it much rather a demonstration of foolishness to let the changing of the seasons determine whether you are festive or mourning? I'm going to suppose, then, that this is sufficient to convince you that Christians are correct in abstaining from the pride and error that is so common and from the nosiness and useless boasting of the Jews. But you must not hope to learn the mystery of their unique way of worshipping God from any mortal. Chapter five of the Letter to Diognetus is one of the most poetic and beautiful passages in all of Christian history.
Even more importantly, this is not wishful thinking. This is the way Christians were living in the late first and early 2nd centuries. This is how they were known. It's no wonder, then, that a century later, Tertullian would describe the Romans as marveling at the Christians with statements like "Behold how the love one another" and "How they are even ready to lay down their lives for one another! Christians of the 2nd century set a very high standard. Among us you will find uneducated persons, craftsmen, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth.
They do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves. Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, language, nor by the customs which they observe. They do not inhabit cities of their own, use a particular way of speaking, nor lead a life marked out by any curiosity. The course of conduct they follow has not been devised by the speculation and deliberation of inquisitive men.
The do not, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of merely human doctrines. Instead, they inhabit both Greek and barbarian cities, however things have fallen to each of them.
And it is while following the customs of the natives in clothing, food, and the rest of ordinary life that they display to us their wonderful and admittedly striking way of life. They live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through.
As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers. They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.
They obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all.
The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus
Robert M. A late 2d century apology addressed to a certain Diognetus who is otherwise unknown. Diognetus was a tutor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who admired him for his freedom from superstition and sound educational advice Meditations 1. The work itself survived with other writings ascribed to Justin only in a 13th century manuscript, formerly at Strasbourg but burned during the invasion of It is widely believed that the last two chapters were added at a later time.
Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus
The Christians in the world. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
Letter to Diognetus
Question: "What is the Letter to Diognetus? This type of writing is also called an apologetics letter or an apology. The oldest known manuscript of the Letter to Diognetus, dating from the thirteenth or fourteenth century, was found along with the writings of Justin Martyr ; unfortunately, that manuscript was destroyed in a fire in For a time it was believed that the Letter to Diognetus was composed by Justin Martyr, but that theory has since been discarded. In this Letter to Diognetus, the author describes the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives.