a letter to Diognetus
The Christian in the world
hristians are indistinguishable
from others either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit
separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some
outlandish way of life. their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired
by the curiosity of others. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely
human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general,
they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether
it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something
extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though
they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but
labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland,
but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like
others, they marry and have children, but do not abandon their children to die
of exposure. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh,
but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon
earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a
level that transcends the law.
Christians love everyone, but
everyone persecutes them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are
put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich
many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything.
They suffer dishonour, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated.
A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult.
For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even
then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked
by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can
explain the reason for this hatred.
To speak in general terms, we
may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body.
As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct
from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot
be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible
soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life
remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because
of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul
places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because
they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its
Christians love those who hate
them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the bodys
hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held
together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as
in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal,
has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst
perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that
will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food
and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the lofty and
divinely appointed function of Christians, from which they are not permitted
to excuse themselves.
From a letter to Diognetus
(Office of Readings,
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter)