Still More Diognetus…

As my reading turns toward others among the Apostolic Fathers, let me present one final post from the Epistle to Diognetus, regarding the distinctiveness of Christianity and of Christians living in the world:

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 way of life.  This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious people, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do.  But 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:

They live in their own countries, but only as nonresidents;
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 to do not expose their offspring.
They share their food but not their wives.
They are in the flesh, but they 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.
By the Jews they are assaulted as foreigners, and by the Greek they are persecuted, yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility.

In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world…

Again, I am amazed by the beauty of the writer’s language.  While the other two passages on which I wrote discussed the grace and wonder of God’s revelation to humanity through Christ (here and here), this passage…actually earlier in the Epistle…discusses an array of stark contrasts between the lives of Christians those of the unbelieving world.  “In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world…”  Wow!

At another level, it also points out the difference in lives lived according to the flesh and lives lived according to the Spirit, in essence painting a picture of Luther’s doctrine of Simul Justus et Peccator–simultaneously righteous and sinner:

  • In my flesh, I do not want to obey the law, I want to do my own thing…
  • In my flesh, I do not want to love everyone, just those who will love me in return…
  • In my flesh, I do not want to bless those who curse me, I want to strike back…
  • In my flesh, I do not want to be respectful to those who insult me, I want to slug them…

And yet, by the mercy of Christ Jesus and through great struggle against the flesh, I am able to do these things that in the flesh I do not want to do, to the glory of God.  To no credit of my own, I am able to live a life of obedience, love, blessing, respect, etc.  All the while, I still sin and repeatedly fall short, only to be repeatedly pardoned and forgiven.

Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison.
Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον.
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.

Amazing…thanks be to God for his great mercy and grace!

…not where I started out to go at all…sometimes the journey is like that (grin).


2 thoughts on “Still More Diognetus…

  1. In short, I’m not sure! Most seem to posit a rather early date for its writing, so it may potentially have been extant at the time of the Fathers, though it clearly did not get reproduced and passed around like other, more well-known writings.

    I hate to peer into the hidden recesses of Providence to speculate why this letter or any others failed to gain wide recognition, but I would venture to say there were many more wonderful writings from the early church that likewise never became well-known…just as there are many similar writings today we will never be blessed to read. As they are non-canonical, we certainly would not suggest we are missing anything essential to our faith, though we could clearly argue that such a gold mine of good Christian thought would be a blessing to share!

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