Anglican Essentials: Going Deeper–Introduction to the early Christians

From the Letter to Diognetus (2nd Century AD)

Here we examine a short document written sometime between the 1st and 3rd  centuries by an unknown Christian author (named only Mathetes = disciple) to Diognetus, a pagan of high rank, to answer some of the latter’s questions about Christians.  It was written during a time of persecution, and is listed among the works of the “Apostolic Fathers,” although it is different in character from the others of that genre in that it is written to a pagan and not to Christians.  It represents an apology, that is, a defense of the Christian faith.  Historian Philip Schaff calls it a “short but precious document” and says the unknown author “must be ranked with the great unknown authors of Job and the Epistle to the Hebrews, who are known only to God.”

The author describes the Christians of the time in this way:

Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric lifestyle …While they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. [Note: another translation renderrs the last clause as “they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking manner of life.”]

They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are `in the flesh,’ but do not live `according to the flesh.’ They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws.

They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life. They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything. They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in their dishonor; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated. They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life ….Those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility. (5.1-17).

(Link to the source of this translation; see also this link for the full document.)

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