Diognetus the Epistle to, an anonymous Greek letter to an inquiring heathen of some distinction, by the name of Diognetus, in vindication of Christianity, and one of the most precious remains of Christian antiquity, equal, both in matter and style, to the best, and superior to most of the writings of the apostolic fathers and early apologists.
1. Contents. — It consists of twelve (or rather ten) chapters. It opens with an address to Diognetus, who is described as exceedingly desirous to learn the Christian doctrine and mode of worship in distinction from the Greeks and the Jews. The writer, rejoicing in this opportunity to lead a Gentile friend to the path of truth, exposes first the vanity of idols (chapter 2), then the superstitions of the Jews (chapters 3 and 4), after which he gives, by contrast, a striking and truthful picture of Christian life, which moves in this world like the invisible, immortal soul in the visible, perishing body (chapter 5 and 6), and sets forth the benefits of Christ's coming (chapter 7). He next describes the miserable condition of the world before Christ (chapter 8), and answers the question why he appeared so late (chapter 9). In this connection occurs a beautiful passage on the atonement, which is almost worthy of St. Paul, and is fuller and clearer on that subject than any that can be found before Irenaeus. He concludes with an account of the blessings and moral effects which flow from the Christian faith (chapter 10). This is a fit conclusion of the epistle. The last two chapters, which are probably an addition by a later hand, treat of knowledge, faith, and spiritual life with reference to the tree of knowledge and the tree of life in Paradise.
II. Form and Value. — Within this short compass the writer brings out a mine of rich thought in elegant style, and betrays throughout Hellenic culture and elegant taste. The epistle is acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful and valuable memorials of primitive Christianity. It belongs to the literature of apologetics, or evidences of Christianity, and forms the connecting link between the practical exhortations of the apostolic fathers and the more elaborate apologies of Justin Martyr and his successors. It reflects vividly the power of Christianity in those days, which tried the hearts of believers when the profession of Christ was connected with the risk of life. It breathes the spirit of true martyrdom. "Do you not see the Christians exposed to wild beasts, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes their number? This does not seem to be the work of man, but the power of God" (chapter 7). The picture of true Christianity, as related to the world, is a perfect gem, and as applicable to the present time as to the age of confessors and martyrs. "The Christians," says the writer (chapter 5 and 6), "are not distinguished from other men by country, by language, nor by civil institutions; for they neither dwell in cities by themselves, nor use a peculiar tongue, nor lead a singular mode of life. They dwell in the Grecian or barbarian cities, as the case may be; they follow the usage of the country in dress, food, and the other affairs of life. Yet they present a wonderful and confessedly paradoxical conduct. They dwell in their own native lands, but as strangers. They take part in all things as citizens, and they suffered all things as foreigners. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every native land is a foreign. They marry, like others; they have children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have the table in common, but not wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They live upon earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the existing laws, and excel the laws by their lives. They love all, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned. They are killed and made alive. They are pure and make many rich. They lack all things, and in all things abound, They are reproached, and glory in their reproaches. They are calumniated, and are justified. They are cursed, and they bless. They receive scorn, and they give honor. They do good, and are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice, as being made alive. By the Jews they are attacked as aliens, and by the Greeks persecuted; and the cause of the enmity their enemies cannot tell. In short, what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world. The soul is diffused through all the members of the body, and the Christians are spread through the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but it is not of the body; so the Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world. The soul, invisible, keeps watch in the visible body; so also the Christians are seen to live in the world, but their piety is invisible. The flesh hates and wars against the soul, suffering no wrong from it, but because it resists fleshly pleasures; and the world hates the Christians with no reason but that they resist its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh and members by which it is hated; so the Christians love their haters. The soul is inclosed in the body, but holds the body together; so the Christians are detained in the world as in a prison, but they contain the world. Immortal, the soul dwells in the mortal body;
so the Christians dwell in the corruptible, but look for incorruption in heaven. The soul is the better for restriction in food and drink; and the Christians increase, though daily punished. This lot God has assigned to the Christians in the world, and it cannot be taken from them." Another passage on the atonement deserves to be cited. In meeting the question why Jesus Christ, if he was the author of the only true religion, appeared so late, the epistle says (chapter 9): "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 hatred, 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. 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 unsearchable 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 transgressors!"
III. Authorship and Time of Composition. — The writer calls himself (chapter 11) a disciple of the apostles (ἀποστόλων γενόμενος μαθητής), and thus seems to place himself in a line with the apostolic fathers. But the eleventh and twelfth chapters are not free from the suspicion of being a later interpolation. (See the arguments well put by Semisch, Justin der Martyrer, 1:174, note; Otto, 2d ed. page 56 sq.; and Hefele, Patr. Apost. Proleg. page 92.) Nevertheless, some of the most learned historians, such as Tillemont (Memoires, 2:493), Moiller (Patrologie, 1:165), Hefele (Proleg. p. 91), Werner (Geschichie der apolog. und polem. Literatur der christl. Theol. 1:127), put it in the first, or, at all events, in the beginning of the second century, under the reign of Trajan. Dorner places it a little later, in the reign of Hadrian, and is disposed to attribute it to the apologist Quadratus. Bunsen's conjecture of Marcion as the author has found no favor, and has been amply refuted by Otto (2d ed. page 42 sq.). Still others name Aristides as the probable author. Cave, Fabricius, Baumngarten-
Crusius, and Otto, with two of the MSS., ascribe it to Justin Martyr. Otto conjectures, on the ground solely of the accidental identity of name, that Diognetus, to whom the epistle is addressed, was the preceptor and friend of the emperor Marcus Aurelius in the middle of the second century, and exerted a happy influence on his pupil, who, however, was a pure Stoic, and a bloody persecutor of the Christians in Asia Minor and in Southern Gaul. But the epistle is superior to the genuine writings of Justin Martyr, both in clearness and force of thought, and in purity and terseness of style. It betrays the freedom of the school of St. Paul. Its whole character would rather place it somewhat earlier, between the apostolic fathers and Justin Martyr; for Christianity is. represented as something new, which had but recently appeared in the world (chapters 1, 2, 9), and yet repeated persecutions are already presupposed (chapter 7). For a fuller discussion of the arguments for and against the authorship of Justin Martyr, see Otto's Prolegonzena to his second edition of the Ep. page 9 sq., Semisch, Justin der Martyrer, 1:172 sq., and Hefele, Patr. apost. Opera, Proleg. page 86 sq.
IV. Editions and Literature. — So far there are only three manuscript copies of the epistle extant, two of which ascribe it to Justin Martyr. The first printed edition was prepared by Henry Stephanus at Paris, 1592, under the title Ι᾿ουστίνου τοῦ φιλοσόφου καὶ μάρτυρος Ε᾿πιστολὴ πρὸς Διόγνητον καὶ Λόγος πρὸς Ε᾿λληνας — Justini philosophi et martyris Epistola ad Diognetum, etc. It then appeared in connection with the works of Justin Martyr. Hefele incorporated it in his edition of the Apostolic Fathers (4th ed. Tubingoe, 1855, page 296 sq.). The best edition is that of J. C. Th. Otto, Epistola ad Diognetum Justini philosophi et martyris nonmenprae seferens (Jen. 1845; 2d ed. Lips. 1853, with Proleg. and Annot.). German translation by Hollenberg, Der Brief an Diognet, Berlin, 1853. English translations, Christian Rev. 9:280; Princeton Rev. 25:44; and in Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Edinb. 1867, 1:303 sq. Compare also C. D. a Grossheim, De Epist. ad Diogn. (1828); Hoffmann, Ueber Justinus des Martyrers Brief an Diognet (1851); Snoeck, Introd. in Ep. ad Diogn. (L. Bat. 1861); Semisch, Justin der Martyrer (Breslau, 1840, page 172 sq.), and his article Diognet in Herzog's Real-Encylop. 3:407-410; Werner, Geschichte der apolog. und polem. Literatur des christl. Theologie (Schaffhausen, 1861, 1:126 sq.).