Title: The Epistle To Diognetus.
Translated by: Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891
By: Mathetes Anonymous Writings
Published: 130-200 A.D.
(PDF File Size: xx mb) xx pages
Our Ref: ECW-Mathetes-01
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“Mathetes” is not a proper name; it simply means “a disciple.” The writer may be a Johannine Christian, although the name “Jesus” and the expression the “Christ” are not present in the text. The author prefers, rather, to refer to the “son” as “the Word.”
Diognetus was the name of a tutor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who admired him for his freedom from superstition and sound educational advice. It is unlikely, however, that this is the “Diognetus” that the text has in mind.
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.
1 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.
2 Is not one of them stone, like that which we tread under foot, and another bronze, no better than the vessels which are forged for our use, and another wood, which has already become rotten, and another silver, which needs a man to guard it lest it be stolen, and another iron, which is corroded with rust, and another earthenware, not a whit more comely than that which is supplied for the most dishonourable service?
3 Are not all these of perishable matter? Are they not forged by iron and fire? Did not the sculptor make one, and the brass-founder another, and the silversmith another, and the potter another? Before they were moulded into this shape by the crafts of these several artificers, was it not possible for each one of them to have been changed in form and made to resemble these several utensils? Might not the vessels which are now made out of the same material, if they met with the same artificers, be made like unto such as these?
4 Could not these things which are now worshipped by you, by human hands again be made vessels like the rest? Are not they all deaf and blind, are they not soul-less, senseless, motionless? Do they not all rot and decay?
5 These things ye call god’s, to these ye are slaves, these ye worship; and ye end by becoming altogether like unto them.
6 Therefore ye hate the Christians, because they do not consider these to be gods.
7 For do not ye yourselves, who now regard and worship them, much more despise them? Do ye not much rather mock and insult them, worshipping those that are of stone and earthenware unguarded, but shutting up those that are of silver and gold by night, and setting guards over them by day, to prevent their being stolen?
8 And as for the honours which ye think to offer to them, if they are sensible of them, ye rather punish them thereby, whereas, if they are insensible, ye reproach them by propitiating them with the blood and fat of victims.
9 Let one of yourselves undergo this treatment, let him submit to these things being done to him. Nay, not so much as a single individual will willingly submit to such punishment, for he has sensibility and reason; but a stone submits, because it is insensible. Therefore ye convict his sensibility.
10 Well, I could say much besides concerning the Christians not being enslaved to such gods as these; but if any one should think what has been said insufficient, I hold it superfluous to say more.
1 In the next place, I fancy that thou art chiefly anxious to hear about their not practising their religion in the same way as the Jews.
2 The Jews then, so far as they abstain from the mode of worship described above, do well in claiming to reverence one God of the universe and to regard Him as Master; but so far as they offer Him this worship in methods similar to those already mentioned, they are altogether at fault.
3 For whereas the Greeks, by offering these things to senseless and deaf images, make an exhibition of stupidity, the Jews considering that they are presenting them to God, as if He were in need of them, ought in all reason to count it folly and not religious worship.
4 For He that made the heaven and the earth and all things that are therein, and furnisheth us all with what we need, cannot Himself need any of these things which He Himself supplieth to them that imagine they are giving them to Him.
5 But those who think to perform sacrifices to Him with blood and fat and whole burnt offerings, and to honour Him with such honours, seem to me in no way different from those who show the same respect towards deaf images; for the one class think fit to make offerings to things unable to participate in the honour, the other class to One Who is in need of nothing.
1 But again their scruples concerning meats, and their superstition relating to the sabbath and the vanity of their circumcision and the dissimulation of their fasting and new moons, I do [not] suppose you need to learn from me, are ridiculous and unworthy of any consideration.
2 For of the things created by God for the use of man to receive some as created well, but to decline others as useless and superfluous, is not this impious?
3 And again to lie against God, as if He forbad us to do any good thing on the sabbath day, is not this profane?
4 Again, to vaunt the mutilation of the flesh as a token of election as though for this reason they were particularly beloved by God, is not this ridiculous?
5 And to watch the stars and the moon and to keep the observance of months and of days, and to distinguish the arrangements of God and the changes of the seasons according to their own impulses, making some into festivals and others into times of mourning, who would regard this as an exhibition of godliness and not much more of folly?
6 That the Christians are right therefore in holding aloof from the common silliness and error of the Jews and from their excessive fussiness and pride, I consider that thou hast been sufficiently instructed; but as regards the mystery of their own religion, expect not that thou canst be instructed by man.
1 For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs.
2 For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life.
3 Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some are.
4 But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their
own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvellous, and confessedly contradicts expectation.
5 They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.
6 They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring.
7 They have their meals in common, but not their wives.
8 They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh.
9 Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.
10 They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives.
11 They love all men, and they are persecuted by all.
12 They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life.
13 They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things.
14 They are dishonoured, and yet they are glorified in their dishonour. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated.
15 They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect.
16 Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life.
17 War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell the reason of their hostility.
1 In a word, what the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world.
2 The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world.
3 The soul hath its abode in the body, and yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world.
4 The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible: so Christians are recognised as being in the world, and yet their religion remaineth invisible.
5 The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war with it, though it receiveth no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hateth Christians, though it receiveth no wrong from them, because they set themselves against its pleasures.
6 The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members: so Christians love those that hate them.
7 The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together.
8 The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens.
9 The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meats and drinks is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily.
10 So great is the office for which God hath appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.
1 For it is no earthly discovery, as I said, which was committed to them, neither do they care to guard so carefully any mortal invention, nor have they entrusted to them the dispensation of human mysteries.
2 But truly the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the Invisible God Himself from heaven planted among men the truth and the holy teaching which surpasseth the wit of man, and fixed it firmly in their hearts, not as any man might imagine, by sending (to mankind) a subaltern, or angel, or ruler, or one of those that direct the affairs of earth, or one of those who have been entrusted with the dispensations in heaven, but the very Artificer and Creator of the Universe Himself, by Whom He made the heavens, by Whom He enclosed the sea in its proper bounds, Whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe, from Whom [the sun] hath received even the measure of the courses of the day to keep them, Whom the moon obeys as He bids her shine by night, Whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by Whom all things are ordered and bounded and placed in subjection, the heavens and the things that are in the heavens, the earth and the things that are in the earth, the sea and the things that are in the sea, fire, air, abyss, the things that are in the heights, the things that are in the depths, the things that are between the two. Him He sent unto them.
3 Was He sent, think you, as any man might suppose, to establish a sovereignty, to inspire fear and terror?
4 Not so. But in gentleness [and] meekness has He sent Him, as a king might send his son who is a king. He sent Him, as sending God; He sent Him, as [a man] unto men; He sent Him, as Saviour, as using persuasion, not force: for force is no attribute of God.
5 He sent Him, as summoning, not as persecuting; He sent Him, as loving, not as judging.
6 For He will send Him in judgment, and who shall endure His presence? …
7 [Dost thou not see] them thrown to wild beasts that so they may deny the Lord, and yet not overcome?
8 Dost thou not see that the more of them are punished, just so many others abound?
9 These look not like the works of a man; they are the power of God; they are proofs of His presence.
1 For what man at all had any knowledge what God was, before He came?
2 Or dost thou accept the empty and nonsensical statements of those pretentious philosophers: of whom some said that God was fire (they call that God, whereunto they themselves shall go), and others water, and others some other of the elements which were created by God?
3 And yet if any of these statements is worthy of acceptance, any one other created thing might just as well be made out to be God.
4 Nay, all this is the quackery and deceit of the magicians;
5 and no man has either seen or recognised Him, but He revealed Himself.
6 And He revealed (Himself) by faith, whereby alone it is given to see God.
7 For God, the Master and Creator of the Universe, Who made all things and arranged them in order, was found to be not only friendly to men, but also long-suffering.
8 And such indeed He was always, and is, and will be, kindly and good and dispassionate and true, and He alone is good.
9 And having conceived a great and unutterable scheme He communicated it to His Son alone.
10 For so long as He kept and guarded His wise design as a mystery, He seemed to neglect us and to be careless about us.
11 But when He revealed it through His beloved Son, and manifested the purpose which He had prepared from the beginning, He gave us all these gifts at once, participation in His benefits, and sight and understanding of (mysteries) which none of us ever would have expected.
1 Having thus planned everything already in His mind with His Son, He permitted us during the former time to be borne along by disorderly impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts, not at all because He took delight in our sins, but because He bore with us, not because He approved of the past season of iniquity, but because He was creating the present season of righteousness, that, being convicted in the past time by our own deeds as unworthy of life, we might now be made deserving by the goodness of God, and having made clear our inability to enter into the kingdom of God of ourselves, might be enabled by the ability of God.
2 And when our iniquity had been fully accomplished, and it had been made perfectly manifest that punishment and death were expected as its recompense, and the season came which God had
ordained, when henceforth He should manifest His goodness and power (O the exceeding great kindness and love of God), He hated us not, neither rejected us, nor bore us malice, but was long-suffering and patient, and in pity for us took upon Himself our sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless for the evil, _ the just for the unjust, _ the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.
3 For what else but His righteousness would have covered our sins?
4 In whom was it possible for us lawless and ungodly men to have been justified, save only in the Son of God?
5 O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable creation, O the unexpected benefits; that the iniquity of many should be concealed in One Righteous Man, and the righteousness of One should justify many that are iniquitous!
6 Having then in the former time demonstrated the inability of our nature to obtain life, and having now revealed a Saviour able to save even creatures which have no ability, He willed that for both reasons we should believe in His goodness and should regard Him as nurse, father, teacher, counsellor, physician, mind, light, honour, glory, strength and life.
1 This faith if thou also desirest, apprehend first full knowledge of the Father.
2 _ For God loved _ men for whose sake He made the world, to whom He subjected all things that are in the earth, to whom He gave reason and mind, whom alone He permitted to look up to heaven, whom He created after His own image, to whom _ He sent His only begotten Son, _ to whom He promised the kingdom which is in heaven, and will give it to those that have loved Him.
3 And when thou hast attained to this full knowledge, with what joy thinkest thou that thou wilt be filled, or how wilt thou love Him that so loved thee before?
4 And loving Him thou wilt be an imitator of His goodness. And marvel not that a man can be an imitator of God. He can, if God willeth it.
5 For happiness consisteth not in lordship over one’s neighbours, nor in desiring to have more than weaker men, nor in possessing wealth and using force to inferiors; neither can any one imitate God in these matters; nay, these lie outside His greatness.
6 But whosoever taketh upon himself the burden of his neighbour, whosoever desireth to benefit one that is worse off in that in which he himself is superior, whosoever by supplying to those that are in want possessions which he received from God becomes a God to those who receive them from him, he is an imitator of God.
7 Then, though thou art placed on earth, thou shalt behold that God liveth in heaven; then shalt thou begin to declare the mysteries of God; then shalt thou both love and admire those that are punished because they will not deny God; then shalt thou condemn the deceit and error of the world; when thou shalt perceive the true life which is in heaven, when thou shalt despise the apparent death which is here on earth, when thou shalt fear the real death, which is reserved for those that shall be condemned to the eternal fire that shall punish those delivered over to it unto the end.
8 Then shalt thou admire those who endure for righteousness’ sake the fire that is for a season, and shalt count them blessed when thou perceivest that fire …
* * * * * *
1 Mine are no strange discourses nor perverse questionings, but having been a disciple of Apostles I come forward as a teacher of the Gentiles, ministering worthily to them, as they present themselves disciples of the truth, the lessons which have been handed down.
2 For who that has been rightly taught and has entered into friendship with the Word does not seek to learn distinctly the lessons revealed openly by the Word to the disciples; to whom the Word appeared and declared them, speaking plainly, not perceived by the unbelieving, but relating them to disciples who being reckoned faithful by Him were taught the mysteries of the Father?
3 For which cause He sent forth the Word, that He might appear unto the world, Who being dishonoured by the people, and preached by the Apostles, was believed in by the Gentiles.
4 This Word, Who was from the beginning, Who appeared as new and yet was proved to be old, and is engendered always young in the hearts of saints,
5 He, I say, Who is eternal, Who to-day was accounted a Son, through Whom the Church is enriched and grace is unfolded and multiplied among the saints, grace which confers understanding, which reveals mysteries, which announces seasons, which rejoices over the faithful, which is bestowed upon those who seek her, even those by whom the pledges of faith are not broken, nor the boundaries of the fathers overstepped.
6 Whereupon the fear of the law is sung, and the grace of the prophets is recognised, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the apostles is preserved, and the joy of the Church exults.
7 If thou grieve not this grace, thou shalt understand the discourses which the Word holds by the mouth of those whom He desires when He wishes.
8 For in all things, that by the will of the commanding Word we were moved to utter with much pains, we become sharers with you, through love of the things revealed unto us.
1 Confronted with these truths and listening to them with attention, ye shall know how much God bestoweth on those that love (Him) rightly, who become a Paradise of delight, a tree bearing all manner of fruits and flourishing, growing up in themselves and adorned with various fruits.
2 For in this garden a tree of knowledge and a tree of life hath been planted; yet the tree of knowledge does not kill, but disobedience kills;
3 for the scriptures state clearly how God from the beginning planted a tree [of knowledge and a tree] of life in the midst of Paradise, revealing life through knowledge; and because our first parents used it not genuinely they were made naked by the deceit of the serpent.
4 For neither is there life without knowledge, nor sound knowledge without true life; therefore the one (tree) is planted near the other.
5 Discerning the force of this and blaming the knowledge which is exercised apart from the truth of the injunction which leads to life, the apostle says, _ Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth._
6 For the man who supposes that he knows anything without the true knowledge which is testified by the life, is ignorant, he is deceived by the serpent, because he loved not life; whereas he who with fear recognises and desires life plants in hope expecting fruit.
7 Let your heart be knowledge, and your life true reason, duly comprehended.
8 Whereof if thou bear the tree and pluck the fruit, thou shalt ever gather the harvest which God looks for, which serpent toucheth not, nor deceit infecteth, neither is Eve corrupted, but is believed on as a virgin,
9 and salvation is set forth, and the apostles are filled with understanding, and the passover of the Lord goes forward, and the congregations are gathered together, and [all things] are arranged in order, and as He teacheth the saints the Word is gladdened, through Whom the Father is glorified, to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.