THE EPISTLE TO DIOGNETUS
Translated by J.B. Lightfoot.
Adapt. and mod. (c) 1990. ATHENA DATA PRODUCTS
Since I see, most excellent Diognetus, that thou art exceedingly
anxious to understand the religion of the Christians, and that thy
enquiries respecting them are distinctly and carefully made, as to
what God they trust and how they worship Him, that they all disregard
the world and despise death, and take no account of those who are
regarded as gods by the Greeks, neither observe the superstition of
the Jews, and as to the nature of the affection which they entertain
one to another, and of this new development or interest, which has
entered into men's lives now and not before: I gladly welcome this
zeal in thee, and I ask of God, Who supplieth both the speaking and
the hearing to us, that it may be granted to myself to speak in such
a way that thou mayest be made better by the hearing, and to thee
that thou mayest so listen that I the speaker may not be
Come then, clear thyself of all the prepossessions which occupy thy
mind, and throw off the habit which leadeth thee astray, and become a
new man, as it were, from the beginning, as one who would listen to a
new story, even as thou thyself didst confess. See not only with
thine eyes, but with thine intellect also, of what substance or of
what form they chance to be whom ye call and regard as gods.
Is not one of them stone, like that which we tread under foot, and
another bronze, no better than the vessels which are forged for our
use, and another wood, which has already become rotten, and another
silver, which needs a man to guard it lest it be stolen, and another
iron, which is corroded with rust, and another earthenware, not a
whit more comely than that which is supplied for the most
Are not all these of perishable matter? Are they not forged by iron
and fire? Did not the sculptor make one, and the brass-founder
another, and the silversmith another, and the potter another? Before
they were molded into this shape by the crafts of these several
artificers, was it not possible for each one of them to have been
changed in form and made to resemble these several utensils? Might
not the vessels which are now made out of the same material, if they
met with the same artificers, be made like unto such as these?
not these things which are now worshipped by you, by human hands
again be made vessels like the rest? Are not they all deaf and blind,
are they not soul-less, senseless, motionless? Do they not all rot
These things ye call gods, to these ye are slaves, these
ye worship; and ye end by becoming altogether like unto them.
Therefore ye hate the Christians, because they do not consider these
to be gods.
For do not ye yourselves, who now regard and worship them, much more
despise them? Do ye not much rather mock and insult them, worshipping
those that are of stone and earthenware unguarded, but shutting up
those that are of silver and gold by night, and setting guards over
them by day, to prevent their being stolen?
And as for the honors which ye think to offer to them, if they are
sensible of them, ye rather punish them thereby, whereas, if they are
insensible, ye reproach them by propitiating them with the blood and
fat of victims.
Let one of yourselves undergo this treatment, let him submit to these
things being done to him. Nay, not so much as a single individual
will willingly submit to such punishment, for he has sensibility and
reason; but a stone submits, because it is insensible Therefore ye
convict his sensibility.
Well, I could say much besides concerning the Christians not being
enslaved to such gods as these; but if any one should think what has
been said insufficient, I hold it superfluous to say more.
In the next place, I fancy that thou art chiefly anxious to hear
about their not practicing their religion in the same way as the
The Jews then, so far as they abstain from the mode of worship
described above, do well in claiming to reverence one God of the
universe and to regard Him as Master; but so far as they offer Him
this worship in methods similar to those already mentioned, they are
altogether at fault.
For whereas the Greeks, by offering these things to senseless and
deaf images, make an exhibition of stupidity, the Jews considering
that they are presenting them to God, as if He were in need of them,
ought in all reason to count it folly and not religious worship.
For He that made the heaven and the earth and all things that are
therein, and furnisheth us all with what we need, cannot Himself need
any of these things which He Himself supplieth to them that imagine
they are giving them to Him.
But those who think to perform sacrifices to Him with blood and fat
and whole burnt offerings, and to honor Him with such honors, seem to
me in no way different from those who show the same respect towards
deaf images; for the one class think fit to make offerings to things
unable to participate in the honor, the other class to One Who is in
need of nothing.
But again their scruples concerning meats, and their superstition
relating to the Sabbath and the vanity of their circumcision and the
dissimulation of their fasting and new moons, I do [not] suppose you
need to learn from me, are ridiculous and unworthy of any
For of the things created by God for the use of man to receive some
as created well, but to decline others as useless and superfluous, is
not this impious?
And again to lie against God, as if He forbad us to do any good thing
on the Sabbath day, is not this profane?
Again, to vaunt the mutilation of the flesh as a token of election as
though for this reason they were particularly beloved by God, is not
And to watch the stars and the moon and to keep the observance of
months and of days, and to distinguish the arrangements of God and
the changes of the seasons according to their own impulses, making
some into festivals and others into times of mourning, who would
regard this as an exhibition of godliness and not much more of folly?
That the Christians are right therefore in holding aloof from the
common silliness and error of the Jews and from their excessive
fussiness and pride, I consider that thou hast been sufficiently
instructed; but as regards the mystery of their own religion, expect
not that thou canst be instructed by man.
For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either
in locality or in speech or in customs.
For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they
use some different language, nor practice an extraordinary kind of
Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any
intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any
human dogma as some are.
But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of
each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the
other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own
citizenship, which they set forth, is marvelous, and confessedly
They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear
their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships
as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and
every fatherland is foreign.
They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do
not cast away their offspring.
They have their meals in common, but not their wives.
They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the
Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.
They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their
They love all men, and they are persecuted by all.
They are ignored, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death,
and yet they are endued with life.
They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of
all things, and yet they abound in all things.
They are dishonored, and yet they are glorified in their dishonor.
They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated.
They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect
Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they
rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life.
War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, and persecution is
carried on against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them
cannot tell the reason of their hostility.
In a word, what the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in
The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and
Christians through the divers cities of the world.
The soul hath its abode in the body, and yet it is not of the body.
So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of
The soul which is invisible is guarded in the body which is visible:
so Christians are recognized as being in the world, and yet their
religion remaineth invisible.
The flesh hateth the soul and wageth war with it, though it receiveth
no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the
world hateth Christians, though it receiveth no wrong from them,
because they set themselves against its pleasures.
The soul loveth the flesh which hateth it, and the members: so
Christians love those that hate them.
The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holdeth the body
together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house,
and yet they themselves hold the world together.
The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a mortal tabernacle- so
Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the
imperishability which is in the heavens.
The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meats and drinks is
improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more
So great is the office for which God hath appointed them, and which
it is not lawful for them to decline.
For it is no earthly discovery, as I said, which was committed to
them, neither do they care to guard so carefully any mortal
invention, nor have they entrusted to them the dispensation of human
But truly the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the Invisible God
Himself from heaven planted among men the truth and the holy teaching
which surpasseth the wit of man, and fixed it firmly in their hearts,
not as any man might imagine, by sending (to mankind) a subaltern, or
angel, or ruler, or one of those that direct the affairs of earth, or
one of those who have been entrusted with the dispensations in
heaven, but the very Artificer and Creator of the Universe Himself,
by Whom He made the heavens, by Whom He enclosed the sea in its
proper bounds, Whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe,
from Whom [the sun] hath received even the measure of the courses of
the day to keep them, Whom the moon obeys as He bids her shine by
night, Whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by
Whom all things are ordered and bounded and placed in subjection, the
heavens and the things that are in the heavens, the earth and the
things that are in the earth, the sea and the things that are in the
sea, fire, air, abyss, the things that are in the heights, the things
that are in the depths, the things that are between the two. Him He
sent unto them.
Was He sent, think you, as any man might suppose, to establish a
sovereignty, to inspire fear and terror?
Not so. But in gentleness [and] meekness has He sent Him, as a king
might send his son who is a king. He sent Him, as sending God; He
sent Him, as [a man] unto men; He sent Him, as Savior, as using
persuasion, not force: for force is no attribute of God.
He sent Him, as summoning, not as persecuting; He sent Him, as
loving, not as judging.
For He will send Him in judgment, and who shall endure His presence?
....[Dost thou not see] them thrown to wild beasts that so they may
deny the Lord, and yet not overcome?
Dost thou not see that the more of them are punished, just so many
These look not like the works of a man; they are the power of God;
they are proofs of His presence.
For what man at all had any knowledge what God was, before He came?
Or dost thou accept the empty and nonsensical statements of those
pretentious philosophers: of whom some said that God was fire (they
call that God, where-unto they themselves shall go), and others
water, and others some other of the elements which were created by
And yet if any of these statements is worthy of acceptance, any one
other created thing might just as well be made out to be God.
Nay, all this is the quackery and deceit of the magicians;
and no man has either seen or recognized Him, but He revealed
And He revealed (Himself) by faith, whereby alone it is given to see
For God, the Master and Creator of the Universe, Who made all things
and arranged them in order, was found to be not only friendly to men,
but also long-suffering.
And such indeed He was always, and is, and will be, kindly and good
and dispassionate and true, and He alone is good.
And having conceived a great and unutterable scheme He communicated
it to His Son alone.
For so long as He kept and guarded His wise design as a mystery, He
seemed to neglect us and to be careless about us.
But when He revealed it through His beloved Son, and manifested the
purpose which He had prepared from the beginning, He gave us all
these gifts at once, participation in His benefits, and sight and
understanding of (mysteries) which none of us ever would have
Having thus planned everything already in His mind with His Son,
He permitted us during the former time to be borne along by
disorderly impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts,
not at all because He took delight in our sins, but because He bore
with us, not because He approved of the past season of iniquity, but
because He was creating the present season of righteousness, that,
being convicted in the past time by our own deeds as unworthy of
life, we might now be made deserving by the goodness of God, and
having made clear our inability to enter into the kingdom of God of
ourselves, might be enabled by the ability of God.
And when our iniquity had been fully accomplished, and it had been
made perfectly manifest that punishment and death were expected as
its recompense, and the season came which God had ordained, when
henceforth He should manifest His goodness and power (O the exceeding
great kindness and love of God), He hated us not, neither rejected
us, nor bore us malice, but was long-suffering and patient, and in
pity for us took upon Himself our sins, and Himself parted with His
own Son as a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless
for the evil, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the
corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.
For what else but His righteousness would have covered our sins?
In whom was it possible for us lawless and ungodly men to have been
justified, save only in the Son of God?
O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable creation, O the unexpected
benefits; that the iniquity of many should be concealed in One
Righteous Man, and the righteousness of One should justify many that
Having then in the former time demonstrated the inability of our
nature to obtain life, and having now revealed a Savior able to save
even creatures which have no ability, He willed that for both reasons
we should believe in His goodness and should regard Him as nurse,
father, teacher, counselor, physician, mind, light, honor, glory,
strength and life.
This faith if thou also desirest, apprehend first full knowledge of
For God loved for whose sake He made the world, to whom He
subjected all things that are in the earth, to whom He gave reason
and mind, whom alone He permitted to look up to heaven, whom He
created after His own image, to whom He sent His only begotten
Son, to whom He promised the kingdom which is in heaven, and will
give it to those that have loved Him.
And when thou hast attained to this full knowledge, with what joy
thinkest thou that thou wilt be filled, or how wilt thou love Him
that so loved thee before?
And loving Him thou wilt be an imitator of His goodness. And marvel
not that a man can be an imitator of God. He can, if God willeth it.
For happiness consisteth not in lordship over one's neighbors, nor in
desiring to have more than weaker men, nor in possessing wealth and
using force to inferiors; neither can any one imitate God in these
matters; nay, these lie outside His greatness.
But whosoever taketh upon himself the burden of his neighbor,
whosoever desireth to benefit one that is worse off in that in which
he himself is superior, whosoever by supplying to those that are in
want possessions which he received from God becomes a God to those
who receive them from him, he is an imitator of God.
Then, though thou art placed on earth, thou shalt behold that God
liveth in heaven; then shalt thou begin to declare the mysteries of
God; then shalt thou both love and admire those that are punished
because they will not deny God; then shalt thou condemn the deceit
and error of the world; when thou shalt perceive the true life which
is in heaven, when thou shalt despise the apparent death which is
here on earth, when thou shalt fear the real death, which is reserved
for those that shall be condemned to the eternal fire that shall
punish those delivered over to it unto the end.
Then shalt thou admire those who endure for righteousness' sake the
fire that is for a season, and shalt count them blessed when thou
perceivest that fire...
* * * * *
Mine are no strange discourses nor perverse questionings, but having
been a disciple of Apostles I come forward as a teacher of the
Gentiles, ministering worthily to them, as they present themselves
disciples of the truth, the lessons which have been handed down.
For who that has been rightly taught and has entered into friendship
with the Word does not seek to learn distinctly the lessons revealed
openly by the Word to the disciples; to whom the Word appeared and
declared them, speaking plainly, not perceived by the unbelieving,
but relating them to disciples who being reckoned faithful by Him
were taught the mysteries of the Father?
For which cause He sent forth the Word, that He might appear unto the
world, Who being dishonored by the people, and preached by the
Apostles, was believed in by the Gentiles.
This Word, Who was from the beginning, Who appeared as new and yet
was proved to be old, and is engendered always young in the hearts of
He, I say, Who is eternal, Who today was accounted a Son, through
Whom the Church is enriched and grace is unfolded and multiplied
among the saints, grace which confers understanding, which reveals
mysteries, which announces seasons, which rejoices over the faithful,
which is bestowed upon those who seek her, even those by whom the
pledges of faith are not broken, nor the boundaries of the fathers
Whereupon the fear of the law is sung, and the grace of the prophets
is recognized, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the
tradition of the apostles is preserved, and the joy of the Church
If thou grieve not this grace, thou shalt understand the discourses
which the Word holds by the mouth of those whom He desires when He
For in all things, that by the will of the commanding Word we
were moved to utter with much pains, we become sharers with you,
through love of the things revealed unto us.
Confronted with these truths and listening to them with attention,
ye shall know how much God bestoweth on those that love (Him)
rightly, who become a Paradise of delight, a tree bearing all manner
of fruits and flourishing, growing up in themselves and adorned with
For in this garden a tree of knowledge and a tree of life hath been
planted; yet the tree of knowledge does not kill, but disobedience
for the scriptures state clearly how God from the beginning planted a
tree [of knowledge and a tree] of life in the midst of Paradise,
revealing life through knowledge; and because our first parents used
it not genuinely they were made naked by the deceit of the serpent.
For neither is there life without knowledge, nor sound knowledge
without true life; therefore the one (tree) is planted near the
Discerning the force of this and blaming the knowledge which
is exercised apart from the truth of the injunction which leads to
life, the apostle says, Knowledge puffeth up, but charity
For the man who supposes that he knows anything without the true
knowledge which is testified by the life, is ignorant, he is deceived
by the serpent, because he loved not life--whereas he who with fear
recognizes and desires life plants in hope expecting fruit.
Let your heart be knowledge, and your life true reason, duly
Whereof if thou bear the tree and pluck the fruit, thou shalt ever
gather the harvest which God looks for, which serpent toucheth not,
nor deceit infecteth, neither is Eve corrupted, but is believed on as
and salvation is set forth, and the apostles are filled with
understanding, and the Passover of the Lord goes forward, and the
congregations are gathered together, and [all things] are arranged in
order, and as He teacheth the saints the Word is gladdened, through
Whom the Father is glorified, to Whom be glory for ever and ever.