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Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus

The following is transcribed from Kirsopp Lake in The Apostolic Fathers (published London 1912), v. II, pp. 348-349.

The epistle to Diognetus is an anonymous writing of uncertain date. The Diognetus to whom it is addressed is unknown, though some scholars have sought to identify him with a Diognetus who was a teacher of Marcus Aurelius. Its claim to be included among the apostolic fathers rests on custom rather than right, for it is probably later than any of the other writings in this group, and if it were judged by the character of its contents would more probably be placed among the works of the Apologists.

Like most early apologies for Christianity it begins by expounding the foolishness of the worship of idols, and the inadequacy of the Jewish religion and then proceeds to give a short sketch of Christian belief, a panegyric on Christian character and a description of the benefit which it offers to converts. In this respect it resembles the apology of Aristides, and somewhat less closely those of Justin and Tatian, and the suggestion has been made that it may have been written by Aristides. Its style is, however, rhetorical in the extreme and it may be doubted whether it was not an academic treatise or possibly the exercise of some young theologian rather than an actual apology sent to a living person. The general impression made by the document is unfavourable to any theory of an early date and quite decisive against the tradition which seems to have been preserved in the lost MS. in which the epistle was found, attributing it to Justin Martyr. Harnack thinks that it more probably belongs to the third than to the second century, but early tradition does not mention the epistle and there is nothing in the internal evidence to justify any certainty of opinion.

The concluding chapters (xi-xii) have clearly no connection with the preceding ones, and it is generally conceded that they belong to a different document, probably an Epiphany homily, though possibly, as Otto thought, an Easter homily. Bonwetsch has shown very strong reasons for thinking that Hippolytus was the author. (Nachrichten d. Gesellschaft d. Wissenschaften zu Gottingen, 1902.)

The best authority for the text is the third edition of Otto's Corpus Apologeticum, vol. 3, published in 1879, as the unique MS. of the epistle in the library at Strasburg was twice collated for Otto's edition but was destroyed by fire in 1870. This MS., probably written in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, was formerly the property of Reuchlin, passed about 1560 to the Alsatian monastery of Maursmunster, and between 1793 and 1795 came to Strasburg. It was collated for the first edition by Otto by Cunitz and for the third edition by Reuss. Earlier copies were made by Stephanus in 1586 (now preserved in Leiden, Cod. Voss. Gr. 30) and about 1590 by Beurer and (a collation of this copy which is no longer extant was published by Stephanus at the end of his edition of 1592). A third copy was made by Hausius about 1580 for Martin Crucius and is now preserved in Tubigen (Cod. Misc. M.b. 17). The fullest account of these MSS. and the proof that none of them are more than copies of the Strasburg MS. is given in O. von Gebhardt's edition of the Apostolic Fathers, vol. i, part 2, published in 1878.

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Kirby, Peter. "Introduction to the Epistle to Diognetus." Early Christian Writings. <>.