What Is a Christian?

The following excerpts are from two chapters of the Epistle to Diognetus, an anonymous apology of the second century addressed to the high-ranking pagan Diognetus. The author of this epistle calls himself simply “Mathetes,” meaning in Greek “a disciple.” As we hear him describe the Christian of his day, let us ask ourselves, Can this same description be given today?

Mathetes writes: “The Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. . . . 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. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life.” (5)

“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 immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens.” (6)

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Bible, Catholic, Catholicism, Christianity, Faith, Inspiration, Meditation, Prayer, Religion, Theology, Wisdom. Bookmark the permalink.