What is the 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.
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Epistle to Diognetus This letter is an answer to an inquiry which had been addressed to the author as to what was the character of the Christian religion, and what were the reasons why he had embraced it. It is, in point of thought, sentiment, and style, decidedly superior to the works of any of the apostolical fathers, and is deserving of more attention than it has commonly received.
This is believed to have been written around the first or second century. Epistle to Diognetus Chapter I. Since I see thee, most excellent Diognetus, exceedingly desirous to learn the mode of worshipping God prevalent among the Christians, and inquiring very carefully and earnestly concerning them, what God they trust in, and what form of religion they observe, 1 so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves; and why, in fine, this new kind or practice [of piety] has only now entered into the world, 2 and not long ago; I cordially welcome this thy desire, and I implore God, who enables us both to speak and to hear, to grant to me so to speak, that, above all, I may hear you have been edified, 3 and to you so to hear, that I who speak may have no cause of regret for having done so.
Chapter II. Come, then, after you have freed 4 yourself from all prejudices possessing your mind, and laid aside what you have been accustomed to, as something apt to deceive 5 you, and being made, as if from the beginning, a new man, inasmuch as, according to your own confession, you are to be the hearer of a new [system of] doctrine; come and contemplate, not with your eyes only, but with your understanding, the substance and the form 6 of those whom ye declare and deem to be gods.
Is not one of them a stone similar to that on which we tread? Is 7 not a second brass, in no way superior to those vessels which are constructed for our ordinary use?
Is not a third wood, and that already rotten? Is not a fourth silver, which needs a man to watch it, lest it be stolen? Is not a fifth iron, consumed by rust?
Is not a sixth earthenware, in no degree more valuable than that which is formed for the humblest purposes? Are not all these of corruptible matter? Are they not fabricated by means of iron and fire? Did not the sculptor fashion one of them, the brazier a second, the silversmith a third, and the potter a fourth? Was not every one of them, before they were formed by the arts of these [workmen] into the shape of these [gods], each in its 8 own way subject to change?
Would not those things which are now vessels, formed of the same materials, become like to such, if they met with the same artificers? Might not these, which are now worshipped by you, again be made by men vessels similar to others?
Are they not all deaf? Are they not 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 corruptible? These things ye call gods; these ye serve; these ye worship; and ye become altogether like to them. For this reason ye hate the Christians, because they do not deem these to be gods.
But do not ye yourselves, who now think and suppose [such to be gods], much more cast contempt upon them than they [the Christians do]? Do ye notmuch more mock and insult them, when ye worship those that are made of stone and earthenware, without appointing any persons to guard them; but those made of silver and gold ye shut up by night, and appoint watchers to look after them by day, lest they be stolen?
And by those gifts which ye mean to present to them, do ye not, if they are possessed of sense, rather punish [than honour] them? But if, on the other hand, they are destitute of sense, ye convict them of this fact, while ye worship them with blood and the smoke of sacrifices. Let any one of you suffer such indignities! But not a single human being will, unless compelled to it, endure such treatment, since he is endowed with sense and reason.
A stone, however, readily bears it, seeing it is insensible. Certainly you do not show [by your 10 conduct] that he [your God] is possessed of sense. And as to the fact that Christians are not accustomed to serve such gods, I might easily find many other things to say; but if even what has been said does not seem to any one sufficient, I deem it idle to say anything further.
Chapter III. And next, I imagine that you are most desirous of hearing something on this point, that the Christians do not observe the same forms of divine worship as do the Jews.
The Jews, then, if they abstain from the kind of service above described, and deem it proper to worship one God as being Lord of all, [are right]; but if they offer Him worship in the way which we have described, they greatly err.
For while the Gentiles, by offering such things to those that are destitute of sense and hearing, furnish an example of madness; they, on the other hand by thinking to offer these things to God as if He needed them, might justly reckon it rather an act of folly than of divine worship.
For He that made heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and gives to us all the things of which we stand in need, certainly requires none of those things which He Himself bestows on such as think of furnishing them to Him. But those who imagine that, by means of blood, and the smoke of sacrifices and burnt-offerings, they offer sacrifices [acceptable] to Him, and that by such honours they show Him respect,-these, by 11 supposing that they can give anything to Him who stands in need of nothing, appear to me in no respect to differ from those who studiously confer the same honour on things destitute of sense, and which therefore are unable to enjoy such honours.
Chapter IV. But as to their scrupulosity concerning meats, and their superstition as respects the Sabbaths, and their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about fasting and the new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice,-I do not 12 think that you require to learn anything from me. For, to accept some of those things which have been formed by God for the use of men as properly formed, and to reject others as useless and redundant,-how can this be lawful?
And to speak falsely of God, as if He forbade us to do what is good on the Sabbath-days,-how is not this impious? And to glory in the circumcision 13 of the flesh as a proof of election, and as if, on account of it, they were specially beloved by God,-how is it not a subject of ridicule?
And as to their observing months and days, 14 as if waiting upon 15 the stars and the moon, and their distributing, 16 according to their own tendencies, the appointments of God, and the vicissitudes of the seasons, some for festivities, 17 and others for mourning,-who would deem this a part of divine worship, and not much rather a manifestation of folly?
I suppose, then, you are sufficiently convinced that the Christians properly abstain from the vanity and error common [to both Jews and Gentiles], and from the busy-body spirit and vain boasting of the Jews; but you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshipping God from any mortal. Chapter V. For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity.
The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines.
But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking 18 method of life.
They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.
They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They love all men, and are persecuted by all.
They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; 25 they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
Chapter VI. To sum up all in one word-what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world.
The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, 27 though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves 28 that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers 29 of the world.
The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling 30 in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number.
Chapter VII. For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts.
He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things-by whom He made the heavens-by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds-whose ordinances 32 all the stars 33 faithfully observe-from whom the sun 34 has received the measure of his daily course to be observed 35 -whom the moon obeys, being commanded to shine in the night, and whom the stars also obey, following the moon in her course; by whom all things have been arranged, and placed within their proper limits, and to whom all are subject-the heavens and the things that are therein, the earth and the things that are therein, the sea and the things that are therein-fire, air, and the abyss-the things which are in the heights, the things which are in the depths, and the things which lie between.
This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one 36 might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror?
By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God 37 He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God.
As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing? Do you not see them exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest?
This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of His manifestation. Chapter VIII. For, who of men at all understood before His coming what God is? Do you accept of the vain and silly doctrines of those who are deemed trustworthy philosophers? But if any one of these theories be worthy of approbation, every one of the rest of created things might also be declared to be God.
But such declarations are simply the startling and erroneous utterances of deceivers; 39 and no man has either seen Him, or made Him known, 40 but He has revealed Himself. And He has manifested Himself through faith, to which alone it is given to behold God. For God, the Lord and Fashioner of all things, who made all things, and assigned them their several positions, proved Himself not merely a friend of mankind, but also long-suffering [in His dealings with them.
As long, then, as He held and preserved His own wise counsel in concealment, 42 He appeared to neglect us, and to have no care over us. But after He revealed and laid open, through His beloved Son, the things which had been prepared from the beginning, He conferred every blessing 43 all at once upon us, so that we should both share in His benefits, and see and be active 44 [in His service].
Who of us would ever have expected these things? He was aware, then, of all things in His own mind, along with His Son, according to the relation 45 subsisting between them. Chapter IX. As long then as the former time 46 endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, 47 so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able.
But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, 48 punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how 49 the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, 50 He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal.
Letter to Diognetus
Do not miss chapters 5 and 9! These are not meant to interpret the text for you, although I do some of that. It is very hard to find a better introduction to late 1st century Christianity than the Letter to Diognetus. Are you enjoying this site? We have several books with great reviews from readers.
Traduction de "Letter to Diognetus" en français
The Christians in the world "Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. 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.
Epistle to Diognetus
Epistle to Diognetus This letter is an answer to an inquiry which had been addressed to the author as to what was the character of the Christian religion, and what were the reasons why he had embraced it. It is, in point of thought, sentiment, and style, decidedly superior to the works of any of the apostolical fathers, and is deserving of more attention than it has commonly received. This is believed to have been written around the first or second century. Epistle to Diognetus Chapter I. Since I see thee, most excellent Diognetus, exceedingly desirous to learn the mode of worshipping God prevalent among the Christians, and inquiring very carefully and earnestly concerning them, what God they trust in, and what form of religion they observe, 1 so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves; and why, in fine, this new kind or practice [of piety] has only now entered into the world, 2 and not long ago; I cordially welcome this thy desire, and I implore God, who enables us both to speak and to hear, to grant to me so to speak, that, above all, I may hear you have been edified, 3 and to you so to hear, that I who speak may have no cause of regret for having done so. Chapter II. Come, then, after you have freed 4 yourself from all prejudices possessing your mind, and laid aside what you have been accustomed to, as something apt to deceive 5 you, and being made, as if from the beginning, a new man, inasmuch as, according to your own confession, you are to be the hearer of a new [system of] doctrine; come and contemplate, not with your eyes only, but with your understanding, the substance and the form 6 of those whom ye declare and deem to be gods.