The Epistle of "Mathetes" to Diognetus

For several weeks earlier this Spring the adult catechism class was studying some of the early post-apostolic fathers. One of the documents we studied was the Epistle of “Mathetes” (the disciple) to a certain Diognetus. It’s an excellent example of the erudition, theology, and ethics of some of the early fathers.

Dated from c. 115-150 AD (and even later by some), this letter seeks to explain the Christian view and practice of worship, Christian conduct, and the relations of the Christian faith to paganism and Judaism. In short, the letter seeks to defend Christian faith and practice in a hostile culture and it does so without doing what so many modern defenses have done, namely, by giving away the store. Unlike so many moder (post 1700) theologians, “Mathetes” doesn’t concede the very ground of Christianity in order to defend it. He doesn’t grant autonomy to unbelievers. He doesn’t defend mere theism and he doesn’t give speeches to cultured despisers of religion. Rather, he attacks pagan idolatry in the spirit of Elijah. Instead of seeking to hide behind the skirts of Judaism (a potentially very attractive rhetorical and political option) he shows how Judaism is not completely different from paganism. Here he sounds much like Paul to the Colossians.

One of the most interesting features of the epistle is his account of the way Christians relate to the rest of the world. If one didn’t know better, one might think that he had a nascent doctrine of the two kingdoms. 

One of our long-time members, Ed Whitehouse, reminded me to post a link so the entire congregation would have access to this letter. Here it is.

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