The Letter to Diognetus provides a potent description of early Christianity. This letter, sometimes known as the Epistle of Mathetes and written by an unknown author, represents what may be the earliest apologetic defense of Christianity (Schaff, loc. 1557). It is usually dated to around the mid to late second century; Justo Gonzales classifies the letter with the second-century Greek apologists (see Gonzales, 116). The author simply identifies himself as a “disciple” (Gr. mathētes). Schaff believes the author to have been either a disciple or associate of the apostle Paul, and since the writer speaks of Christianity as a recent development, it seems reasonable to place it in the second century (Schaff, loc. 1568). Schaff also believes that the recipient, Diognetus was the tutor of Marcus Aurelius. The text though offers a beautiful description of Christianity in its formative years. You see here a Christianity that is markedly different from the surrounding culture–and thus a potent message for today’s church, which too often looks exactly like the surrounding culture! Below is the text of chapter five from The Letter to Diognetus:
The Letter to Diognetus: Chapter V – The Manner of Christians
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 have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. 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 poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; 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.
Gonzales, Justo. A History of Christian Thought Vol. 1: From the Beginning to the Council of Chalcedon. 1970. Reprint, Nashville: Abingdon, 1987.
Schaff, Philip. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. 1885. Reprint. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition, 2012.