What We Can Learn from the Letter to Diognetus

Map of the Roman Empire, 2nd century AD. Publication of the book “Meyers Konversations-Lexikon”, Volume 7, Leipzig, Germany, 1910

Fellow blogger Joel Edmund Anderson wrote a short summary of the Letter to Diognetus on his blog, Resurrecting Orthodoxy (March 19, 2022). This is part of his series on early church fathers.

I feel like we tend to believe that we have advanced from our peers centuries ago, and I am ever skeptical of that advancement. I tend to believe the writer of Ecclesiastes:

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Yes, we have made great technological advancements, but how different are people, really? I direct your attention to the Ukraine where Russian bombs fall on hospitals, schools and people fleeing a war with very questionable motivations.

Lest we be too smug, more people died at the hands of despotic rulers in the 20th Century than all the previous centuries combined.

But, I don’t want to preach, and I don’t exempt myself from my personal indictment. I am not exempt. People are still people, and we have a tendency to do bad things.

On this point, though, I like reading the thoughts of ancient minds to remind myself of the ways in which we tread the same ground. The Letter to Diognetus is a good example, and I commend the article I have linked for your consideration.

Joel Edmund Anderson observes that the Letter to Diognetus is the first communication (in records we have) attempting to explain Christianity to pagans. It was written early, around 130 AD, and it distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and from paganism.

Who is Diognetus? What was the occasion for the letter? Was the letter sent unsolicited? Did Diognetus inquire about Christianity? Was it the product of a discussion? Who wrote the letter? We don’t know.

I imagine the letter wasn’t unsolicited. Writing utensils and parchment, papyrus or whatever medium was used then not in abundant supply in the 2nd Century. Writing was an effort.

That the letter was preserved speaks, perhaps, to the way the letter was received. Whoever received this letter thought it was valuable enough to keep it and preserve it.

As I read the summary of the letter today, though, I am interested in several points made in the letter and how they relate to us 19 centuries later.

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Here Today and Gone Tomorrow

What gain is there to the person who toils for the wind?


“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15‭-‬16 ESV)

This was “the verse of the day” today, and it’s a timely one. It’s easy to get caught up in this world, what is happening day to day and thinking about the future… in this life… and forget about or gloss over the importance of the kingdom of God.

Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God. Jesus came looking for followers. He challenged people to leave behind the things that anchored them to this world. To the rich young ruler, he said, “Give everything to the poor and come follow me.” When Jesus invited Peter and his brother Andrew, “Come follow me,” they left their nets to follow him.

But, it isn’t just about leaving things behind. The reason John urges us not to love the world is that “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17) Paul said the same thing to the Corinthians: “[T]his world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) Why would we want to hold onto it?

Continue reading “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow”