The Diognetus Option

The title of this post is a play on recent internet discussions about The Benedict Option, The Daniel Option, The Bithynian Option, The Calvary Option and other theories of how Christians should live in a world that is becoming cold, even hostile, to them.  Now, this increasingly unfriendly world being spoken of is actually only the West.  Christians in other parts of the world have long faced such hostility, a state of existence which dates back at least to the time of Acts.  In the first centuries, after the death of the Apostles and before Constantine, the early Church writers continued to expound what Christ and the Apostles taught about living in the world, but not being of the world.  One of the most beautiful early Church expositions of what Christians are in the world comes from a letter by an unknown author, commonly referred to as the Epistle to Diognetus.  The letter dates from approximately 130 A.D., and appears to be in answer to an inquirer, Diognetus, into the Christian religion:

‘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. 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.

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 [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. 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 lives. 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 dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, 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.

To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world.

 

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ante-Nicene_Fathers/Volume_I/Introductory_Note_to_the_Epistle_of_Mathetes_to_Diognetus
  2. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ante-Nicene_Christian_Library/Epistle_to_Diognetus
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