Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Diognetus, Epistle to
Diognetus, Epistle to. The Greek writing known under this name was first printed in 1592 by Henricus Stephanus, along with a companion piece To Greeks, as hitherto unknown writings of Justin Martyr, taken by him from a single faded exemplar.
In his edition, as in the transcript in his own handwriting extant at Leyden, the writing To Greeks was not prefixed, but appended to the writing To Diognetus; but in the MS. from which he took the pieces (identified by Gebhardt with that collated by Cunitz at Strasburg, where it perished in 1870) three works, each ascribed by name to Justin, were followed by the two pieces Of the Same to Greeks and Of the Same to Diognetus. The correctness of the ascription of each of these two pieces to Justin was separately called in question by subsequent critics; but the connexion between the two pieces, the contrast in style presented by both alike to the spurious or dubious works of Justin to which in the MS. they were appended, and the fact that it was not directly to Justin Martyr, but to the author of the address To Greeks that the address To Diognetus was in the MS. ascribed, were forgotten.
In the MS., again, the text given under the heading To Diognetus was broken into three fragments by two clear breaks with marginal notes from the old 13th-cent. scribe, saying, "Thus I found a break in the copy before me also, it being very ancient." Of these two breaks the former, occurring near the end of c. vii., is ignored by Stephanus in his division of the writing into chapters. Whether more or less be missing, the writing comprised in cc. vii.-x. is plainly the continuation of the writing commenced in cc. i.-vii. In the concluding fragment (cc. xi. xii.), appended after the second break, the writer calls himself "disciple of apostles," and on this ground the writer To Diognetus has been included among the apostolic Fathers. But the contrast between cc. i.-x. and cc. xi. xii. is so great that critics have concluded the final appended fragment to be no part of the writing to Diognetus, but the peroration of another treatise by another writer.
No other ancient copy of the Greek of any of the writings published in 1592 has been found; but the writer To Greeks, with whom the writer To Diognetus was in the MS. immediately identified, has been plainly distinguished from Justin by the discovery and publication by Cureton in his Spicilegium Syriacum from a 6th or 7th cent. MS. of a Syriac version of an almost identical discourse ascribed to one "Ambrosius, a chief man of Greece, who became a Christian, and all his fellow-councillors raised a clamour against him." We may thus say that the true traditional writer To Greeks and To Diognetus is a certain otherwise unknown Ambrosius, convert like Justin from Hellenism to Christianity—the reply To Greeks, the assailants of the writer, being naturally followed by the response To Diognetus, the inquirer.
This conclusion is confirmed by internal evidence. The style of the two writings is identical. In each there is the same Attic diction joined with the same Roman dignity. Nay, in each there is the same occurrence of two contrasted styles, the same passage from the scornful vigour of the satirist to the joyous sweetness of the evangelist.
"Come, be taught," says the writer To Greeks (c. v.); and it seems that Diognetus came. Common as the name was, the only Diognetus known to us after Christ was a painting master who c. 133 had charge of the young Marcus Aurelius. Whether this was the Diognetus who came to the Christian teacher we do not know. The writing addressed to him is not in form an epistle, it seems rather to be a discourse delivered in a Christian Assembly into which the eminent inquirer had found his way. His coming implied a triple question: (i) "On what God relying, Christians despise death and neither reckon those gods who are so accounted by the Greeks, nor observe any superstition of Jews"; (ii) "What the kindly affection is that they have one for another"; and (iii) "What, in short, this new race or practice might be that has invaded
society now and no earlier." To (i) the writer replies in cc. i.- vii., first bidding the Greek look at his manufactured gods (c. ii.), and convicting the Jews of vain oblations (c. iii.) and ungrateful service (c. iv.) to the Giver of all to all, then (c. v.) portraying the wondrous life of Christians, at home yet strangers everywhere, like the soul in the body of the world (c. vi.), and so (c. vii.) passing from the earthly things to the heavenly to tell how it was God Who implanted the Word by the mission of the Maker of all, sent as an imperial Son, in love, to be sent again as Judge. So the inquirer is answered that the reasons for non-compliance with Hellenism and Judaism are obvious, but the Christians' God is the one God of the Jews, and their religion consists of purity and charity, and was founded by the mission of the Son, Whom God will send again. At this point something has dropped out. The argument may be surmised to have continued after this fashion: "An end of all things is the doctrine of your Greek sages; but the Jews looked for a perpetual earthly kingdom, and when Christ proclaimed a kingdom not of this world, they slew Him, and yet He is not dead, and Christian worship is not to deny Him." For as resumed (c. vii.) after a break in the middle of a sentence, the discourse points to martyrdoms as "signs," not of the return but "of the presence" of the Lord, as though saying, "You see, He is still with us." Then proceeding (c. viii.) to contrast the follies of philosophy with the assurance wrought by the Father's revelation of Himself to faith, he explains (c. ix.) how God waited to shew forth what He had prepared till unrighteousness had been made manifest, and then, when the time came, Himself took our sins and gave His own Son for us and would have us trust Him. So (c. x.) he passes from expounding "on what God Christians rely" to expound "what the love is that they bear one to another," the outcome of their love to Him Who first loved them.
The first two questions of the inquirer are thus answered, and in answering them completely the third question, "What the new institution might be," would be answered along with them; but that answer seems not to be completed before the second break. It could not be complete till it had been carried further than merely saying that "it was God Who implanted the Word," and that He did so "when the time came." "The Word that appeared new" must have been "found old"; and this is the answer that we find in the final fragment (cc. xi. xii.) after the second break. The style has become different. We find ourselves listening to the peroration of a homily, before the withdrawal of the catechumens and the celebration of the mysteries. It does not follow that the final fragment does not belong to the preceding discourse. If Diognetus had shewn his desire for instruction by coming into a Christian assembly, the whole discourse may have been delivered before such an audience as is addressed in the peroration at the close. We are brought into a new region. The satirist of superstition and evangelist of atoning, justifying mercy is succeeded by a mystical believer in a Christ born anew in hearts of saints. The new thing is portrayed as "that which was from the beginning," yet ever new. "This is He that is ever reckoned a Son today." But what it is can be known only by taking up the cross and so coming to be with Christ in Paradise, "Whose tree if thou bearest fruit and if thou choosest thou shalt eat those things that with God are desired."
The loss of intervening matter makes the transition to the new region abrupt and the contrast patent. "The Lord's Passover cometh forth, and, teaching saints, the Word is gladdened." But the course is still straightforward and the guide is not diverse. The style is different only so far as is necessitated by the difference of subject. It exhibits the same anarthrous use of nouns, the same accumulation of clause on clause, not pursued too far; the same unexpected turns at the close of the sentences; the same union of dignity with sweetness, the same blending of Pauline with Johannine teaching; the same persistent subordination of doctrine to life. On these grounds we may venture to differ from the wide consent of critics in imagining a second nameless author.
It is worth noting that an Ambrose, of the consecration of Antioch, is said in a Syriac tradition to have been the third primate of Edessa and the East (Burkitt, Early Eastern Christianity, p. 29). The writer To Greeks and To Diognetus may have been this bringer of Greek Pauline Christianity to the regions beyond Euphrates conquered by Trajan and abandoned by Hadrian, and have been ancestor of the friend of Origen and of the great Milanese archbp. and of the legendary father of King Arthur.
Probably an old copy exhibited three works of Ambrosius—an avowal of Christianity, and answers To Greeks and To Diognetus, each a brave act as well as a solid work, the first now lost, the second a fine sample of a class of controversial works of which samples are numerous, the third, To Diognetus, preserved in fragments only, but unique, not apologetic merely, but catechetical, a portraiture of early Christianity not in its manifestation only, but in its springs, bringing us to the gates of the Paradise of God.
In free allied states like Antioch and Athens avowal of Christianity may have been tolerated when not suffered in Roman or subject regions. In the 2nd cent. the world was not yet all Roman.
The date of the writings may be determined with great probability, not with absolute certainty, except that, if genuine, they cannot be post-Nicene. The picture of the church presented to Diognetus pretty plainly belongs to a date earlier than the accession of Commodus. The chief school of Christian thought would seem still to be at Athens, though on the eve of its transference to Alexandria by Athenagoras. It is among the writings of Tatian, Melito, and Theophilus and the fragments of Apollinaris, Abercius, etc., that these pieces seem most at home. The writer seems to appear in his freshness beside Justin in his ripeness, and to be the meeting-point of the teachings of Justin and Marcion, as he is at the point of departure of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Origen on the one hand, and Praxeas, Noetus, and Sabellius on the other.
Lost in the crowd of predecessors whom Irenaeus and Clement hardly ever name and merged in Justin's shadow, convinced that God alone can reveal Himself, and content to be hidden in his Saviour's righteousness, the old writer has gradually emerged by virtue of an inborn lustre, at once the obscurest and most brilliant of his contemporaries, and has cast a glory on the early church while remaining himself unknown.
Authorities.—Gallandi, ap. Migne, Patr. Gk. ii. 1159 ff.; Bickersteth, Christian Fathers, (1838); Dorner, Person of Christ, i. 260 ff.; Hefele, Patres Apostolici (Tübingen, 1842); Neander, Church History, ii. 420, 425 (Bohn); Westcott, Canon (ed. 1875), pp. 85 ff.; Bunsen, Hippolytus, i. 187 ff., Analecta Antenicaena, i. 103 ff.; Donaldson, Hist. Christ. Lit. ii. 126 ff.; Davidson, Intro. to N. T. ii. 399; Harnack, Patres Apostolici, i. 205 ff . (Leipz. 1875, 2nd ed. 1878); Cureton, Spicilegium Syriacum (Lond. 1854); Ceillier, Auteurs sacrés, i. 412 (ed. 1865); Bigg, Origins of Christianity; Lightfoot and Harmer, Apost. Fathers, p. 487. An Eng. trans. of the Ep. to Diognetus is included in the Ante-Nicene Lib. and another by L. B. Radford is pub. cheaply by S.P.C.K.