Diognetus, Epistle to

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Mid-2nd-century apology that followed five treatises attributed to St. justin martyr and was assigned to the same author in the Codex Argentoratensis, destroyed at Strassburg in 1872. It is not mentioned by any ancient or medieval author, and there is no conclusive internal evidence as to its date, the identity of Diognetus, or authorship of the epistle. Because the author calls himself a "disciple of the Apostles," it has commonly been published along with the apostolic fathers but is really an apology, now generally assigned to the middle or latter half of the 2nd century. The letter proper encompasses the first ten chapters and may have lost its ending. Although addressed to an individual, it is clearly directed toward a wider public but it lacks the quasi-official justificatory attitude toward authority of such apologetic as Justin's. The author sets himself to answer three questions posed by Diognetus: (1) Who is the Christian God?(2) What is this affection that Christians feel for one another? (3) Why has this new race and new way of life entered into the world now?

In simple, lucid, and graceful language, epigrammatic at times, he first treats of the variety and nature of heathen gods and the folly of worshiping them. He then trounces the Jews just as roundly and stigmatizes their sacrifices as foolish and their religious customs as absurd. He gives a moving description of Christians, "who are in the world what the soul is in the body," and in a series of vivid antitheses marks the differences between their way of life and that of their neighbors. Their religion was not discovered by man's intellect but revealed through God's Son and is apprehended by God-given faith. The Son is the agent of salvation, an atonement that is essentially moral, though "ransom" and "substitution" are also used. He came at this time because of the loving purpose of God, who wished men to recognize their inability to work out their own salvation. Finally Christian faith is seen as an imitation of God, and its character and fruits are described. There is no mention of institutional religion or developing heresies regarding the Holy Spirit.

An Appendix (cc.1112) contains an allegory of the six days of Creation and the Garden of Eden to illustrate the indissoluble union between knowledge and life. The florid style and allegorical treatment are quite alien to the foregoing text and more akin to Melito or Hippolytus.

Bibliography: Editions. j. b. lightfoot and j. harmer, eds. and trs., The Apostolic Fathers (New York 1891). k. bihlmeyer, ed., Die Apostolischen Väter (2d ed. Tübingen 1956), new rev. of f. x. funk ed., 2 v. (Tübingen 188187). k. lake, ed. and tr., The Apostolic Fathers 2 v. (Loeb Classical Library ; London-New York-Cambridge, Mass 191719). g. g. walsh, tr., in The Apostolic Fathers (The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation 1; 1948) 355369. j. kleist, ed. and tr., Ancient Christian Writers 6 (1948) 125147. h. i. marrou, ed. and tr., Sources Chrétiennes 33 (1951). m. meecham, The Epistle to Diognetus (Manchester 1949). b. altaner, Patrology, tr. h. graef from 5th German ed. (New York 1960) 135136. j. quasten, Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, Md. 195053) 1:248253. j. t. lienhard, "The Christology of the Epistle to Diognetus," Vigiliae Christianae 24 (1970): 280289. r. brÄndle, Die Ethik der "Schrift an Diognet": eine Wiederaufnahme paulinischer und johanneischer Theologie am Ausgang des zweiten Jahrhunderts (Zürich 1975).

[m. whittaker]