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Occasion of the epistle.
1. Since I see
thee, most excellent Diognetus, exceedingly desirous to learn the mode of
worshipping God prevalent among the Christians, and inquiring very carefully and
earnestly concerning them, what God they trust in, and what form of religion
they observe, so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death.
neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold
to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish
among themselves; and why, in fine, this new kind or practice [of piety] has
only now entered into the world, and not long ago;
3. I cordially
welcome this thy desire, and I implore God, who enables us both to speak and to
hear, to grant to me so to speak, that, above all, I may hear you have been
edified, and to you so to hear, that I who speak may have no cause of regret for
having done so.
The vanity of idols.
1. Come, then,
after you have freed yourself from all prejudices possessing your mind, and laid
aside what you have been accustomed to, as something apt to deceive you, and
being made, as if from the beginning, a new man, inasmuch as, according to your
own confession, you are to be the hearer of a new doctrine; come and
contemplate, not with your eyes only, but with your understanding, the substance
and the form of those whom ye declare and deem to be gods.
2. Is not one of
them a stone similar to that on which we tread? Is not a second brass, in no way
superior to those vessels, which are constructed for our ordinary use? Is not a
third wood, and that already rotten? Is not a fourth silver, which needs a man
to watch it, lest it be stolen?
3. Is not a fifth
iron, consumed by rust? Is not sixth earthenware, in no degree more valuable
than that which is formed for the humblest purposes? Are not all these of
corruptible matter? Are they not fabricated by means of iron and fire?
Did not the
sculptor fashion one of them, the brazier a second, the silversmith a third, and
the potter a fourth? Was not every one of them, before they were formed by the
arts of these into the shape of these [gods], each in its own way subject to
Would not those
things, which are now vessels, formed of the same materials, become like to
such, if they met with the same artificers? Might not these, which are now
worshipped by you, again be made by men vessels similar to others?
6. Are they not
all deaf? Are they not blind? Are they not without life? Are they not destitute
of feeling? Are they not incapable of motion? Are they not all liable to rot?
Are they not all corruptible?
7. These things ye
call gods; these ye serve; these ye worship; and ye become altogether like to
them. For this reason ye hate the Christians, because they do not deem these to
be gods. But do not ye yourselves, who now think and suppose [such to be gods],
much more cast contempt upon them than they the Christians do?
8. Do ye not much
more mock and insult them, when ye worship those that are made of stone and
earthenware, without appointing any persons to guard them; but those made of
silver and gold ye shut up by night, and appoint watchers to look after them by
day, lest they be stolen?
9. And by those
gifts, which ye mean to present to them, do ye not, if they are possessed of
sense, rather punish them? But if, on the other hand, they are destitute of
sense, ye convict them of this fact, while ye worship them with blood and the
smoke of sacrifices.
10. Let any one of
you suffer such indignities! Let any one of you endure to have such things done
to himself! But not a single human being will, unless compelled to it, endure
such treatment, since he is endowed with sense and reason. A stone, however,
readily bears it, seeing it is insensible.
11. Certainly you
do not show that he is possessed of sense. And as to the fact that Christians
are not accustomed to serve such gods, I might easily find many other things to
say; but if even what has been said does not seem to any one sufficient, I deem
it idle to say anything further.
Superstitions of the Jews.
1. And next, I
imagine that you are most desirous of hearing something on this point, that the
Christians do not observe the same forms of divine worship, as do the Jews. The
Jews, then, if they abstain from the kind of service above described, and deem
it proper to worship one God as being Lord of all, [are right]; but if they
offer Him worship in the way which we have described, they greatly err.
For while the
Gentiles, by offering such things to those that are destitute of sense and
hearing, furnish an example of madness; they, on the other hand by thinking to
offer these things to God as if He needed them, might justly reckon it rather an
act of folly than of divine worship.
For He that
made heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and gives to us all the things
of which we stand in need, certainly requires none of those things which He
Himself bestows on such as think of furnishing them to Him.
4. But those who
imagine that, by means of blood, and the smoke of sacrifices and
burnt-offerings, they offer sacrifices to Him, and that by such honors they show
Him respect, --these, by supposing that they can give anything to Him who stands
in need of nothing, appear to me in no respect to differ from those who
studiously confer the same honor on things destitute of sense, and which
therefore are unable to enjoy such honors.
The other observances of the Jews.
1. But as to their
scrupulosity concerning meats, and their superstition as respects the Sabbaths,
and their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about fasting and the
new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice, --I do not think
that you require to learn anything from me.
2. For, to accept
some of those things which have been formed by God for the use of men as
properly formed, and to reject others as useless and redundant, --how can this
be lawful? And to speak falsely of God, as if He forbade us to do what is good
on the Sabbath-days, --how is not this impious?
3. And to glory in
the circumcision of the flesh as a proof of election, and as if, on account of
it, they were specially beloved by God, --how is it not a subject of ridicule?
4. And as to their
observing months and days, as if waiting upon the stars and the moon, and their
distributing, according to their own tendencies, the appointments of God, and
the vicissitudes of the seasons, some for festivities, and others for mourning,
--who would deem this a part of divine worship, and not much rather a
manifestation of folly?
then, you are sufficiently convinced that the Christians properly abstain from
the vanity and error common [to both Jews and Gentiles], and from the busy-body
spirit and vain boasting of the Jews; but you must not hope to learn the mystery
of their peculiar mode of worshipping God from any mortal.
The manners of the Christians.
1. For the
Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language,
nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their
own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life, which is marked out
by any singularity.
The course of
conduct, which they follow, has not been devised by any speculation or
deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the
advocates of any merely human doctrines.
3. But, inhabiting
Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has
determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing,
food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful
and confessedly striking method of life.
4. 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; they beget children; but they do not
destroy their offspring.
5. 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
6. 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 dishonored, and yet in their very
dishonor are glorified.
They are evil
spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are
insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as
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.
The relation of Christians to the world.
To sum up all
in one word--what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The
soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are
scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet
is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world.
soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in
the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and
wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from
enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise
injured, because they abjure pleasures.
3. The soul loves
the flesh that hates it, and its members; Christians likewise love those that
hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and
Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the
preservers of the world.
soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in
corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens.
The soul, when
but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the
Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in
number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful
for them to forsake.
The manifestation of Christ.
For, as I said,
this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere
human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor
has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God
Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent
from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and
incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts.
2. He did not, as
one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one
of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the
government of things in the heavens has been entrusted.
3. But the very
Creator and Fashioner of all things--by whom He made the heavens--by whom he
enclosed the sea within its proper bounds--whose ordinances all the stars
faithfully observe--from whom the sun has received the measure of his daily
course to be observed--whom the moon obeys, being commanded to shine in the
night, and whom the stars also obey, following the moon in her course.
4. By whom all
things have been arranged, and placed within their proper limits, and to whom
all are subject--the heavens and the things that are therein, the earth and the
things that are therein, the sea and the things that are therein--fire, air, and
the abyss--the things which are in the heights, the things which are in the
depths, and the things which lie between.
5. This He sent to
them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny,
or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of
clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He
Him; as God He sent Him; as to men
6. He sent Him; as
a Savior He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence
has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as
vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will
yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?
Do you not see
them exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and
yet not overcome? Do you not see
that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest?
This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are
the evidences of His manifestation.
The miserable state of men before the coming of the
1. For, who of men
at all understood before His coming what God is? Do you accept of the vain and
silly doctrines of those who are deemed trustworthy philosophers? Of whom some
said that fire was God, calling that God to which they themselves were by and by
to come; and some water; and others some other of the elements formed by God.
2. But if any one
of these theories be worthy of approbation, every one of the rest of created
things might also be declared to be God. But such declarations are simply the
startling and erroneous utterances of deceivers; and no man has either seen Him,
or made Him known, but He has revealed Himself, and He has manifested Himself
through faith, to which alone it is given to behold God.
3. For God, the
Lord and Fashioner of all things, who made all things, and assigned them their
several positions, proved Himself not merely a friend of mankind, but also
long-suffering. Yea, He was always
of such a character, and still is, and will ever be, kind and good, and free
from wrath, and true, and the only one who is good.
4. And He formed
in His mind a great and unspeakable conception, which He communicated to His Son
alone. As long, then, as He held and preserved His own wise counsel in
concealment, He appeared to neglect us, and to have no care over us. But after
He revealed and laid open, through His beloved Son, the things which had been
prepared from the beginning.
5. He conferred
every blessing all at once upon us, so that we should both share in His
benefits, and see and be active. Who
of us would ever have expected these things? He was aware, then, of all things
in His own mind, along with His Son, according to the relation subsisting
Why the Son was sent so late.
1. As long then as
the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses,
being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that
He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He
approved the time of working iniquity, which then was.
But that He
sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in
that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should
now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it
manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we
might through the power of God be made able.
3. But when our
wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its
reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come
which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how
the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with
4. Nor thrust us
away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and
bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His
own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One
for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for
the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal.
5. For what other
thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one
was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the
only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O un-searchable operation! O benefits
surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a
single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many
therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain
to life, and having now revealed the Savior who – is - able to save even those
things which were impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us
to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher,
Counselor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we
should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.
The blessings that will flow from faith.
If you also
desire to possess this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the
knowledge of the Father. For God has loved mankind, on whose account He made the
world, to whom He rendered subject all the things that are in it, to whom He
gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of
looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent
His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will
give it to those who have loved Him.
2. And when you
have attained this knowledge, with what joy do you think you will be filled? Or,
how will you love Him who has first so loved you? And if you love Him, you will
be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an
imitator of God. He can, if he is willing.
3. For it is not
by ruling over his neighbors, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those
that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are
inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an
imitator of God.
things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon
himself the burden of his neighbor; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be
superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever
things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a
god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God.
Then thou shalt
see, while still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over [the universe];
then thou shall begin to speak the mysteries of God; then shalt thou both love
and admire those that suffer punishment because they will not deny God; then
shall thou condemn the deceit and error of the world when thou shall know what
it is to live truly in heaven.
When thou shalt
despise that which is here esteemed to be death, when thou shalt fear what is
truly death, which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal
fire, which shall afflict those even to the end that are committed to it.
7. Then shalt thou
admire those who for righteousness' sake endure the fire that is but for a
moment, and shalt count them happy when thou shalt know [the nature of] that
The things worthy to be known and believed.
I do not speak
of things strange to me, nor do I aim at anything inconsistent with right
reason; but having been a disciple of the Apostles, I am become a teacher of the
Gentiles. I minister the things delivered to me to those that are disciples
worthy of the truth.
2. For who that is
rightly taught and begotten by the loving Word, would not seek to learn
accurately the things which have been clearly shown by the Word to His
disciples, to whom the Word being manifested has revealed them, speaking
plainly, not understood by the unbelieving, but conversing with the disciples,
who, being esteemed faithful by Him, acquired a knowledge of the mysteries of
reason He sent the Word, that He might be manifested to the world; and He, being
despised by the people, was when preached by the Apostles, believed on by the
Gentiles. This is He who was from the beginning, who appeared as if new, and was
found old, and yet who is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints.
4. This is He who,
being from everlasting, is today called the Son; through whom the Church is
enriched, and grace, widely spread, increases in the saints. Furnishing
understanding, revealing mysteries, announcing times, rejoicing over the
faithful. Giving to those that seek, by whom the limits of faith are not broken
through, nor the boundaries set by the fathers passed over.
5. Then the fear
of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of
the gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and
the grace of the Church exults; which grace if you grieve not, you shall know
those things which the Word teaches, by whom He wills, and when He pleases.
6. For whatever
things we are moved to utter by the will of the Word commanding us, we
communicate to you with pains, and from a love of the things that have been
revealed to us.
The importance of knowledge to true spiritual life.
1. When you have
read and carefully listened to these things, you shall know what God bestows on
such as rightly love Him, being made [as ye are] a paradise of delight,
presenting in yourselves a tree bearing all kinds of produce and flourishing
well, being adorned with various fruits.
2. For in this
place the tree of knowledge and the tree of life have been planted; but it is
not the tree of knowledge that destroys--it is disobedience that proves
destructive. Nor truly are those words without significance, which are written,
how God from the beginning planted the tree of life in the midst of paradise,
revealing through knowledge the way to life.
3. And when those
who were first formed did not use this [knowledge] properly, they were, through
the fraud of the Serpent, stripped naked. For neither can life exist without
knowledge, nor is knowledge secure without life. Wherefore both were planted
4. The Apostle,
perceiving the force of this, and blaming that knowledge which, without true
doctrine, is admitted to influence life, declares, "Knowledge puffs up, but
love edifies." For he who thinks he knows anything without true knowledge,
and such as is witnessed to by life, knows nothing, but is deceived by the
Serpent, as not loving life.
5. But he who
combines knowledge with fear, and seeks after life, plants in hope, looking for
fruit. Let your heart be your wisdom; and let your life be true knowledge
inwardly received. Bearing this tree and displaying its fruit, thou shalt always
gather in those things, which are desired by God, which the Serpent cannot
reach, and to which deception does not approach.
6. Nor is Eve then
corrupted, but is trusted as a virgin; and salvation is manifested, and the
Apostles are filled with understanding, and the Passover of the Lord advances,
and the choirs are gathered together, and are arranged in proper order, and the
Word rejoices in teaching the saints, --by whom the Father is glorified: to whom
be glory for ever. Amen.