The Writings of the Early Church: The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (Part 2: Chapters 6-10)

For Part 1, check here.

Chapter 6: The Revelation of Christians to the World
If I were to sum up all this in one word, I’d say that the Christians are to the world what the soul is to the body. Just as the soul of a person is dispersed throughout all the members of the body, so too are Christians scattered throughout all the cities of the world. And just as the soul dwells in the body, but isn’t part of the body, so too do Christians dwell in the world, but aren’t part of the world. Just as the invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, Christians are known to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible.

The flesh may hate the soul and war against it, but the soul doesn’t suffer any injury because it can’t enjoy bodily pleasures in the first place. In the same way, the world hates the Christians, yet they do not suffer injury because they have rejected the pleasures of the world. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, as well as its members. In the same way, Christians love those who hate them. In addition, even though the soul is imprisoned in the body, it is the soul that preserves that very body. And in the same way, even though Christians are confined in the world as one is confined in a prison, they are nevertheless the preservers of the world.

Just as the immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle, so too do Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible bodies, as they look forward to an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. And just as the soul becomes better when it is deprived of food and drink, so too do Christians, although they are subjected to daily punishment, actually continue to increase in number.

This is the illustrious position that God has assigned the Christians, and it is unlawful for them to forsake it.

Chapter 7: The Manifestation of Christ
Like I said before, this Christianity is no mere earthly invention that someone gave to them. What they so carefully preserve isn’t a mere human system of opinion. And it isn’t simply mere human mysteries that have been committed to them. No, it comes from God Himself, who is the invisible, all-powerful Creator of all things. He has sent from heaven, and has placed among men, the One who is the truth—the holy and incomprehensible Word. God has firmly established Him in their hearts.

Now despite what some might think, God did not send to men just one of His servants, or an angel, or some ruler, or anyone who holds sway over earthly things. He didn’t send a being who was entrusted with watching over the heavens either. No, God sent the very Creator and Fashioner of all things, the One by whom He made the heavens; the One by whom He enclosed the sea within its proper limits; the One whose ordinances are faithfully obeyed by the stars; the One from whom the sun has received instructions for its daily course; the One whom the moon obeys when He commands it to shine in the night, and whom the stars obey when He commands them to follow the moon in her course.

He is the One by whom all things have been arranged and placed within their proper limits, and the One to whom they are all subject: the heavens and everything in them, the earth and everything in it, the sea and everything in it; fire, air, and the abyss; the things in the heights, the things in the depths, and the things that lie in between. This is the messenger that God sent to them.

An Early Church Depiction of Christ

Now, one might think that God did this for the purpose of becoming a tyrant, or to instill fear and terror into humanity, but one would be wrong. On the contrary, this messenger came by means of mercy and meekness. Just as a king might send his son, who is also a king, so did God send Him. God sent Him to mankind to be a Savior who seeks out and persuades, not one who forcibly compels anyone, for violence has no place in the character of God.

God sent Him to call to us, not to vengefully pursue us. He sent Him out of His love for us, not just to judge us. Now at some point in the future, God will send Him again to judge us, and when that happens, who will be able to endure His appearing?

You’ve seen how these Christians are exposed to wild beasts, in order to try to get them to deny the Lord. Despite that, they are still not overcome. You know full well that the more of them that are punished, that their numbers increase and become greater. Certainly, this is not the work of mere man. This is, quite simply, the power of God, and these are the evidences of His manifestation among His followers.

Chapter 8: The Miserable State of Men Before the Coming of the Word
Before the Word came, who among men really understood what God is? Do you really accept the vain and silly doctrines of those who are considered to be trustworthy philosophers? Some of them said that fire was God, some of them said water was God, and some of them said some other of the elements that was formed by God. But if any of those claims were true, then who is to stop anyone from declaring any other created thing to be God?

The fact is, declarations like those are simply the shocking and false babblings of deceivers. No man has ever seen God or made Him known; instead, it is God Himself who has revealed Himself, and has manifested Himself through faith. That is the only way that one can behold God. For God, the Lord and Fashioners of all things, the one who made all things and who assigned them their places in the world, has shown that He is not just a friend to mankind, but that He also patiently suffers with them in His dealings with them.

Christ, depicted as a shepherd: the catacombs of Rome

He has always been this way, and His character will always be this way—kind and good, free from wrath, true, and the only one who is absolutely good. And the great and unspeakable plan He formed in His mind, He communicated to His Son alone. For that long time when He concealed His own wise counsel, it might have seemed that He had neglected us and didn’t care for us. But after He revealed His plan through His beloved Son—those things that had been prepared from the beginning—He conferred every blessing upon us all at once, so that we could share in His benefits, understand what He was doing, and then be active in His service. Who among us would have ever expected any of this?

He was fully aware of everything in His own mind, as was His Son, according to the relationship that existed between them.

Chapter 9: Why the Son was Sent So Late
During all that time before He sent the Son, He allowed us to be carried along by our unruly passions and impulses as we were continually being distracted and drawn away by our desire for pleasure and various lusts. It’s not that He delighted in our sins, but rather that He simply put up with them. And it’s not that He approved of the time when we constantly worked hard at cultivating iniquity, but rather He wanted to form a mind that was conscious of righteousness, so that once it had been convinced of our unworthiness and inability to attain true life through our own works, righteousness could then be given to us through the kindness of God. Once it was obvious to us that we couldn’t enter into the kingdom of God by ourselves, we’d realize that it could only happen through the power of God.

When our wickedness had gotten as bad as it could get, and it was clearly shown that the reward for such wickedness was impending punishment and death, the time that God had appointed to manifest His own kindness and power had come. It was because of the love of God that He cared so much for mankind, and did not look upon us with hatred or just throw us away. He chose not to hold our iniquity against us, but instead showed tremendous patience and suffered with us for so long. He actually took upon Himself the burden of our iniquities and gave His own Son as a ransom for us: the Holy One on behalf of transgressors; the Blameless One on behalf of the wicked; the Righteous One on behalf of the unrighteous; the Incorruptible One on behalf of the corruptible; the Immortal One on behalf of those who are mere mortals.

What else could possibly cover over our sins, other than His righteousness? Who other than the only Son of God could possibly justify wicked and ungodly men like us? What a sweet exchange! No one saw this plan coming! The benefits that God has given has surpassed all expectations! Think of it: the wickedness of so many people has been hidden and covered over in a single Righteous One, and the righteousness of that One has justify so many transgressors!

He first had to convince us in the former time that our own nature was unable to attain life, and then has now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those things that had formerly been impossible to save. This was the way that God wanted to lead us to trust in His kindness, and to regard Him as our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, and Healer. He wanted us to regard Him as our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we would no longer be so anxious about things like clothing and food.

Chapter 10: The Blessings that will Flow from Faith
If you want to possess this faith, you will also receive, first of all, the knowledge of the Father. For God absolutely loves mankind—He made the world for mankind, after all. Not only that, but He made all things in the world subject to mankind and gave reason and understanding to mankind. And it was to mankind alone that God gave the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, for God formed mankind after His own image. And it was to mankind that God sent His only-begotten Son, the one to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven. And He will give the kingdom also to those who love Him.

So when you have attained this knowledge, how much joy do you think you will feel? How do you think you will love Him who has first loved you? If you love Him, you will just be imitating His kindness, so don’t bother trying to figure out exactly how a man can become an imitator of God. Trust me, he can, if he is willing. For true happiness is not found in ruling over your neighbors, or seeking to hold power over those who are weaker, or by being rich, or violently harassing those who are inferior. No one will become an imitator of God by doing those things. His majesty has nothing to do with those things.

To the contrary, the one who makes it a priority to bear the burden of his neighbor, and who is willing to give benefit to someone who is worse off than he is, and who gives whatever he has received from God to the needy—that person is a veritable god to those who receive his benefits. That person is a true imitator of God.

When you do that, you will see, even when you are still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over the entire universe, and you will begin to speak about the mysteries of God. You will find yourself loving and admiring those that undergo punishment because they will not deny God, and once you know what it is to live truly in heaven, you will begin to condemn the deceit and falsehood that is in the world. You’ll spurn what is considered to be death in this world, and you’ll fear what true death really is—that which is reserved for those condemned to the eternal fire that will afflict them to the very end. You’ll come to admire those who endure any momentary fire for the sake of righteousness, and you’ll consider them to be happy, once you know the nature of that fire.

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