Epistle to Diognetus

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The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus[1] (Greek: Πρὸς Διόγνητον Ἐπιστολή) is an example of Christian apologetics, writings defending Christianity against the charges of its critics. The Greek writer and recipient are not otherwise known. Estimates of dating based on the language and other textual evidence have ranged from AD 130[2] (which would make it one of the earliest examples of apologetic literature), to the late 2nd century, with the latter often preferred in modern scholarship.[3]

Author and audience[edit]

The text itself does not identify the author. The word "mathetes" is the Greek word for "student" or "disciple," and it appears only once in the text, when the author calls himself a "student of the Apostles" (ἀποστόλων γενομένος μαθητής). Hence it is not a proper name at all, and its use in the title is strictly conventional. The writer, whoever he or she was, sounds to many like a Johannine Christian, inasmuch as he uses the word "Logos" as a substitute for "Christ" or "Jesus."[4]

Nothing is known either about its recipient, Diognetus. It is likely that he was the tutor of the same name to the emperor Marcus Aurelius.[5][6] It is entirely possible, without verification of the author, that we have a fictitious character, since the name "Diognetus," means "God-born" in Greek.[7]


The epistle survived only in one manuscript. It was initially discovered in a 13th-century codex that included writings ascribed to Justin Martyr.[8] The 13th-century manuscript was mostly intact, exhibiting damage only in one place, several lines in the middle of the text. It was first published in 1592, and attributed to Justin Martyr because of the context of its discovery. Unfortunately the original was subsequently destroyed in a fire during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870,[8] but numerous transcriptions of the letter survive today. Oddly, there is no evidence that any Apostolic Father or Church Father knew of its existence, even though it has been esteemed by many modern readers as a gem of early Christian apologetics. It has been suggested that the Epistle should be identified with the Apology of Quadratus of Athens, mentioned by Eusebius in his Church History,[9] but this is disputed among scholars (see below).


The Epistle has twelve chapters:

  • Chapter I: Occasion of the Epistle.
  • Chapter II: The Vanity of Idols.
  • Chapter III: Superstitions of the Jews.
  • Chapter IV: The Other Observances of the Jews.
  • Chapter V: The Manners of the Christians.
  • Chapter VI: The Relation of Christians to the World.
  • Chapter VII: The Manifestation of Christ.
  • Chapter VIII: The Miserable State of Men Before the Coming of the Word.
  • Chapter IX: Why the Son Was Sent So Late.
  • Chapter X: The Blessings that Will Flow from Faith.
  • Chapter XI: These Things are Worthy to Be Known and Believed.
  • Chapter XII: The Importance of Knowledge to True Spiritual Life.

The 10th chapter breaks off in mid thought. When the text resumes, the epistolary style has been abandoned and the final two chapters resemble a peroration. They are often considered to be later additions from the 3rd-century. Some have attributed them to Hippolytus, based on similarities of thought and style.

Possible identification[edit]

In 1947 P. Andriessen suggested that the Epistle to Diognetus is to be identified with the Apology of Quadratus of Athens, mentioned by Eusebius in his Church History.[10][9] In 1966 Edgar J. Goodspeed wrote that such identification is an ingenious theory, but considered it improbable, also stating that the fragment does not fit the gap.[11]

More recently, Michael W. Holmes has called Andriessen's proposal "intriguing": while admitting that Epistle to Diognetus does not contain the only quotation known from Quadratus's work, Holmes defends this identification by noting "there is a gap between 7.6 and 7.7 into which it would fit very well."[12]


  1. ^ The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus by Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Richardson, Cyril C. (1953), Early Christian Fathers, pp. 206–10.
  3. ^ Norris, Richard A Jr (2004), "The Apologists", in Young, Frances; Ayres, Lewis; Louth, Andrew (eds.), The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, p. 43.
  4. ^ "Diognetus", Early Christian Writings.
  5. ^ Schaff, "ANF", Christian Classics Ethereal Library, vol. 1, III.i.
  6. ^ Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations", Classics, MIT, 1.6.
  7. ^ "Letter to Diognetus", Britannica.
  8. ^ a b Foster, Paul (2007). "The Epistle to Diognetus". The Expository Times. 118: 162–168.
  9. ^ a b Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae, Book IV, Chapter 3
  10. ^ Andriessen, "The Authorship of the Epistula ad Diognetum," Vigiliae Christianae 1 (1947), pp. 129–36.
  11. ^ Goodspeed, Edgar J. (1966). A History of Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 97. ISBN 0226303861.
  12. ^ Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 290


  • Crowe, Brandon D. 2011 "O Sweet Exchange! The Soteriological Significance of the Incarnation in the Epistle to Diognetus." Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 102, no. 1: 96–109.
  • Foster, Paul 2007. "The Epistle to Diognetus." Expository Times 118, no. 4: 162–68.
  • Jefford, Clayton N. 2013 The Epistle to Diognetus (with Fragments of Quadratus): Introduction, Text and Commentary. ed. by N. Brox, K. Niederwimmer, H. E. Lona, F. R. Prostmeier, and J. Ulrich. Oxford Apostolic Fathers series. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19921274-3
  • Lienhard, Joseph T. 1970 "Christology of the Epistle to Diognetus." Vigiliae Christianae 24, no. 4: 280–89.
  • Lona, Horacio E. 2001 "An Diognet", Übersetzt und erklärt, ed. by N. Brox, K. Niederwimmer, H. E. Lona, F. R. Prostmeier, and J. Ulrich. Kommentar zu frühchristlichen Apologeten series, KfA, Vol. 8. Verlag Herder: Freiburg u.a. ISBN 3-451-27679-8
  • Nielsen, Charles Merritt 1970. "Epistle to Diognetus: Its Date and Relationship to Marcion." Anglican Theological Review 52, no. 2: 77–91.

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