The Epistle to Diognetus Part 11 – The Church of Christ

“I do not speak of things strange to me, nor do I aim at anything inconsistent with right reason; but having been a disciple of the Apostles, I am become a teacher of the Gentiles. I minister the things delivered to me to those that are disciples worthy of the truth. For who that is rightly taught and begotten by the loving Word, would not seek to learn accurately the things which have been clearly shown by the Word to His disciples, to whom the Word being manifested has revealed them, speaking plainly [to them], not understood indeed by the unbelieving, but conversing with the disciples, who, being esteemed faithful by Him, acquired a knowledge of the mysteries of the Father? For which reason He sent the Word, that He might be manifested to the world; and He, being despised by the people [of the Jews], was, when preached by the Apostles, believed on by the Gentiles (1 Tim 3.16). This is He who was from the beginning, who appeared as if new, and was found old, and yet who is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints. This is He who, being from everlasting, is to-day called the Son; through whom the Church is enriched, and grace, widely spread, increases in the saints, furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, announcing times, rejoicing over the faithful, giving to those that seek, by whom the limits of faith are not broken through, nor the boundaries set by the fathers passed over. Then the fear of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the grace of the Church exults; which grace if you grieve not, you shall know those things which the Word teaches, by whom He wills, and when He pleases. For whatever things we are moved to utter by the will of the Word commanding us, we communicate to you with pains, and from a love of the things that have been revealed to us.” The Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 11

Here in the second-last chapter of the Epistle to Diognetus, we receive some biographical details about our author, “Mathetes”. He is reportedly a disciple of the Apostles themselves. Having received his ministry and his teaching from the Apostles, he has now become a minister to the Gentiles. In light of this, his foregoing pronouncements against the idolatry of the pagan religions and his claim that Christianity is the rational faith become highly relevant. As a skillful disciple, he has been able to craft an account of the Christian faith which is relevant to those of his time. Christ is the Risen Lord of every age, both then and now. Should we hope to be true disciples, we must also see how Christ permeates and fulfills the questions and concerns of this modern age. Moreover, we should seek out how it is Christ fulfills this age.

After all, Mathetes states that Christ became manifest that He might give to us a knowledge of The Father. “If you had known me, you would know the Father (Jn 14.7).” St. Athanasius will later say similarly that The Logos comes to us through a body for we had become drawn and seduced by that which is nearer to us, namely the body and its needs and desires.

“For with everyone smitten and troubled in soul from demonic deceit and the vanity of idols, how was it possible to convert the human soul and the human mind, when they cannot even see them? How can one convert what one cannot see? But perhaps one might say that creation was sufficient. But if creation sufficed, such evils would not have occurred. For there was creation, and human beings wallowed no less in the same error regarding God. Who again was needed, except the God Word who sees both soul and mind, who moves everything in creation, and through them makes known the Father? For he who by his own providence and ordering of the universe teaches about the Father, his it was to renew the same teaching. How could this be done? Perhaps one might say that it was possible through the same means, so as to show the things concerning him through the works of creation. But this was no longer certain. Not at all! Human beings had neglected this before, and no longer were their eyes held upwards but downwards. So, rightly wishing to help human beings, he sojourned as a human being, taking to himself a body like theirs and from below—I mean through the works of the body—that those not wishing to know him from his providence and governance of the universe, from the works done through the body might known the Word of God in the body, and through him the Father.” St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation, Chapter 14.

God comes and speaks to us on our own terms, in our very own flesh. He does this that we might obtain a true knowledge of The Father and cease from mistaking our petty idols for the God Who creates and preserves us. This Living Christ is the One renewed in the hearts of all the saints both in ages gone past and even today.

The other interesting element of this letter is its profound statements about the life of the Church in the Apostolic age. This epistle gives us the impression that the early Church was indeed a body of believers, all of whom gathered to worship Jesus as Lord. This Church is what fostered the writings of the books of the New Testament as well as the Apostolic Fathers like Mathetes and their own writings. It was within the matrix of the early Church that all these writings came to be and also it is the Church for Whom they are written. The Church as established by Christ through the sending of The Spirit is She Who fulfills all the types and shadows as revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures. This is affirmed pointedly by Mathetes as he says,

“Then the fear of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the grace of the Church exults; which grace if you grieve not, you shall know those things which the Word teaches.”

The true teaching of The Word (the Logos) is that which is ministered by The Church and which contains within it the fear of the law and the grace of the prophets (A clear allusion to the Gospel of John, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1.17). Through Christ grace is to be seen even in the prophets but also in The Church. Moreover, it is in the grace of the Church that one shall be taught all that the Logos teaches and speaks.

Come, let us explore that we might live by every Word which proceeds from the mouth of God as it is ministered to us by the Church of Christ.

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