Orthodox America

  A Missionary Epistle

This second century treatise, "To Diognetus”, by an unknown author, gives a splendid characterization of the early Christians who were so readily distinguished from their pagan contemporaries, If only we could offer such a compelling witness today! 

Since I see, most excellent Diognetus, that you are so very anxious to understand the religion O of the Christians, and that your inquiries 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 superstitions of the Jews, and as to the nature of the affection which they entertain one to another, and of this new development of interest, which has entered into men's lives now and not before: I gladly welcome this zeal in you, and I ask of God, Who supplieth both the speaking and the hearing to us, that I may be granted to speak in such a way that you may be made better by the heating, and that you may so listen that l the speaker may not be disappointed. /../ 

      Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practice an extraordinary kind of life 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. 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 marvelous, and confessedly contradicts expectation. 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 a foreign country. They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have their meals in common, but not their wives. They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh. Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all men, and they are persecuted by all. They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, and yet in dying they are endued with life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things. They are dishonored, and yet they are glorified in their dishonor. They an slandered, yet they are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect. Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby given new life. The Jews war against them as heretic- and the Greeks persecute them, although none of those that hate them can tell the reason of their hostility.

      In a word, what the soul is to the body, so are the Christians to the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world Just as the soul has 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. The soul, which is invisible, is guarded in the body, which is visible: so Christians are recognized as being in the world, and yet their religion remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul and wars against it, though it receives no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hates Christians, though it receives no wrong from them, because they oppose its pleasures. Nevertheless, the soul loves the flesh and its members in spite of this hatred: so, too, Christians love these that hate them. The soul is enclosed in the body and yet holds the body together; se Christians are confined within the world as in a prison house, and yet they are the ones who hold the world together. The soul, though it is immortal, dwells in a mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens. The soul when hardly treated in the matter of food and drinks is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more. So great is the office for which God has appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline.

      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 been entrusted with the stewardship of human mysteries. But truly the Almighty Creator of the universe, the invisible God Himself from heaven planted among men the Truth and the holy teaching which surpasses the wit of man, and fixed it firmly in their hearts, not as any man might imagine, by sending (to mankind) an emissary 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 has 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 thy 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. Was He sent, think you, as any man might suppose, to establish a sovereignty, to inspire fear and terror? 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, He sent Him, as summoning, not as persecuting; He sent Him, as loving, not as judging. For He will send Him in judgment, and who shall endure His presence?...Do you not see them thrown to wild beasts that so they may deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, just so many others abound? These are not like the works of a man; they are the power of God; they are proofs of His presence...

      Mine are no strange discourses or perverse questionings, but, having been a disciple of the 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. For who that has been rightly taught and has entered into friendship with the Word does not seek to learn precisely 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 God? For which cause He sent forth the Word, that He might appear unto the world. Who, although dishonored by the Chosen people, was preached by the Apostles and believed in by the Gentiles. This Word, who was from the beginning, who appeared as new and yet is known to be of old, is ever born anew in the hearts of His saints. This is He, I say, Who is eternal, Who today 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--those who do not break the pledges of faith nor transgress the boundaries of the fathers. Whereupon the fear of the law is sung, and the grace of the prophets is made known, and the faith of the Gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the joy of the Church exults. If you do not grieve this grace, you will understand the discourse which the Word holds by the mouth of those whom He desires when He wishes. 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 truths He has revealed to us…

 Adapted from A Treasury of Early Christianity, edited by Anne Freemantle; Viking Press, 1953