What made Christianity so believable in those first centuries?
This brief second-century epistle was written by an anonymous believer to his friend, to answer questions raised about the Christian faith and to urge the reader to seek true knowledge and happiness in Christ alone. It provides important insights to the way early Christians lived their faith and how they sought to communicate it their neighbors.
Here is a chapter-by-chapter summary. I have included quotes from this epistle to help in communicating the fervor and beauty of it.
Mathetes agrees to address the questions of Diognetus concerning Christian faith.
He exposes the folly of idolatry: “Are not all these of corruptible matter? Are they not fabricated by means of iron and fire? Did not the sculptor fashion one of them, the brazier a second, the silversmith a third, and the potter a fourth? Was not every one of them, before they were formed by the arts of these [workmen] into the shape of these [gods], each in its own way subject to change?” And he notes, “For this reason ye hate the Christians, because they do not deem these to be gods. But do not ye yourselves, who now think and suppose [such to be gods], much more cast contempt upon them than they [the Christians do]?” Compare this with Steve Smith’s analysis of why modern pagans hate Christians.
Chapters 3 and 4
Jewish religion is misguided, for it thinks to bestow on God, Who needs nothing whatsoever, the offerings and works of their ow hands: “For while the Gentiles, by offering such things to those that are destitute of sense and hearing, furnish an example of madness; they, on the other hand by thinking to offer these things to God as if He needed them, might justly reckon it rather an act of folly than of divine worship.”
Christians, who are in every place, and who participate in culture and society according to their station, nonetheless are a distinct people, set apart by their practices and virtues: “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.”
Christians are to the world as the soul is to the body: “To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible.”
The remarkable distinctiveness and widespread distribution of Christians is a work of God, Who came among us in His Son to accomplish our salvation: “As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?” The more believers are persecuted, the more they increase.
The ideas of philosophers about God are false and unreliable. God must make Himself known to us by revelation, which He has done, supremely in His Son.
God allowed the world to languish in sin so that it would discover its need for deliverance, we being unable to accomplish salvation in our own strength. “Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Saviour who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.”
He calls on Diognetus to seek the true knowledge of God. This is why we are made, and in this does all true happiness consist: “If you also desire [to possess] this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the knowledge of the Father. For God has loved mankind, on whose account He made the world, to whom He rendered subject all the things that are in it, to whom He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him. And when you have attained this knowledge, with what joy do you think you will be filled?”
True knowledge and life are to be found in Christ alone: “This is He who was from the beginning, who appeared as if new, and was found old, and yet who is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints. This is He who, being from everlasting, is to-day called the Son; through whom the Church is enriched, and grace, widely spread, increases in the saints, furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, announcing times, rejoicing over the faithful, giving to those that seek, by whom the limits of faith are not broken through, nor the boundaries set by the fathers passed over.”
True knowledge is coupled with fear and brings forth fruit pleasing to God. “But he who combines knowledge with fear, and seeks after life, plants in hope, looking for fruit.”
This epistle - and all the major writings of the early Church - is available in the series, The Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers which is available on Kindle from a ridiculously low price.