The Epistle to Diognetus

The Epistle to Diognetus is a short letter addressed by an unknown Christian author to the pagan Diognetus (translated as “Born of Zeus”).

The manuscript is speculated to have been written in the years 100-150AD and was rediscovered in 1436 in Constantinople, when it was found by a young priest in a pile of packing paper in a fish shop!

The Epistle is regarded as an apology (defence) of Christianity and begins with an introductory address to Diognetus, who is curious about Christianity. He wants to know about God, the reasons why they do not follow the practices of the Greeks or the Jews, how they love each other, and why Christianity was not around earlier. These questions are all answered.

It is what this Epistle says about the Christian life that has rendered it as truly being a part of the Holy Tradition. After explaining that Christians are not different in terms of their “country, language or customs” (ch. 5.1), the author explains that Christians:

“are found in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth but participate in the life of heaven. They are obedient to the laws that have been made, and by their own lives they supercede the laws. They love everyone and are persecuted by all. They are not understood and they are condemned. They are put to death and made alive.” (ch. 5.8-5.12)

This Epistle teaches us how “Christians live in the world but do not belong to the world” (ch. 6.3). The late Fr Thomas Hopko, reflecting on this Epistle, calls it “a most beautiful letter” and expresses his desire “that this description of Christians in the second century be a description of Christians today in the twenty-first century.”

Source: Lychnos August/September 2019 edition