Epistle to Diognetus
Since I see, most excellent Diognetus, that you are extremely interested in learning about Christianity and are asking very clear and careful questions about Christians -- specifically: 1) What God do they believe in? 2) How do they worship him? 3) Why did this new race of men begin now and not before? -- I am glad to respond by the empowerment of God. I ask, though, that you will clear your mind of all its prejudices and read what I have to say with an open mind.
First, you wonder why Christians don’t worship all the gods that you worship. Stop and think about your gods! Is not one of them stone, like that which we walk upon, and another bronze, no better than the utensils that have been forged for our use, and another wood, already rotted away, and another silver, which needs a watchmen to guard it lest it be stolen, and another iron, corroded by rust, and another pottery, not a bit more attractive than that made for the most unmentionable use? Couldn’t we, right now, make some more? Do they have souls? Do they have feelings? Do they move on their own? I think, deep down, you know the foolishness of worshipping such gods! And if you don’t, there’s no point in reading any further!
Second, you wonder why Christians don’t worship like the Jews. Well, Jews rightly claim to worship the one God, but insomuch as they offer this worship in the same way as described above, they are altogether mistaken! Do they really think that God is pleased with the blood and fat of animals? Is God really concerned with kinds of food, specific days of the week, physical circumcision, and holidays? They fell in love with the shadow instead of the light. No wonder that Christians keep their distance from such a darkness as a man-made religion. Instead, Christians rely on a God who speaks for Himself and needs nothing.
Third, let’s take a closer look at Christianity. Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. They live where they are born, but only as aliens. They are ‘in the flesh,’ but don’t live ‘according to the flesh.’ They love everyone even though they are persecuted by all. When some are killed, the others seem to become livelier. And those that hate them are unable to give reason for their hostility.
What the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world. The soul is dispersed through all the parts of the body, and Christians are dispersed throughout the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body without being part of the body, and Christians dwell in the world without being part of the world. The flesh hates the soul because it hinders its indulgences, and the world hates the church since it serves as a conscience. The soul loves the flesh even though the flesh hates the soul, and Christians love the world even though the world hates the church. The soul is a prisoner to the body, yet holds the body together. In the same way, Christians are prisoners in the world, yet hold the world together.
Christians, as I said, get ‘Christianity’ from God Himself, not from man. For God revealed Himself to men in Jesus Christ. God sent him in gentleness and meekness. He sent him as God. He sent him as man to men. He sent him as one who saves by persuasion, not compulsion, for compulsion is no attribute of God. He sent him as one loving, not judging, for the Day of Judgment is yet future. No one has either seen or recognized him, but he has revealed himself. And he revealed himself through faith, which is the only means by which it is permitted to see God.
With great patience, God permitted us in the former time to be carried away by undisciplined impulses, as we desired. Once we clearly demonstrated our inability to enter the Kingdom on our own, God enabled us to do so by His power. When our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and its wages made known, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last his goodness and power. For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? Oh, the sweet exchange, Oh, the incomprehensible work of God, Oh, the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners.
If this faith is what you long for, then first of all you must acquire this knowledge of the Father: God so loved men that He made the world, made them rulers, gave them reason, permitted them alone to yearn for perfection, sent to them alone His one and only Son, and promised them the Kingdom which He will give to those who love Him.
Once you have accepted this truth, you will be so overwhelmed with joy that you will respond by imitating His goodness. You will no longer fear the transitory death, but the true death, which is reserved for the wicked.