The Epistle to Diognetus Part 12 – Knowledge That Gives Life

“When you have read and carefully listened to these things, you shall know what God bestows on such as rightly love Him, being made a paradise of delight, presenting [ie bringing forth] in yourselves a tree bearing all kinds of produce and flourishing well, being adorned with various fruits. For in this place the tree of knowledge and the tree of life have been planted; but it is not the tree of knowledge that destroys— it is disobedience that proves destructive. Nor truly are those words without significance which are written, how God from the beginning planted the tree of life in the midst of paradise, revealing through knowledge the way to life, and when those who were first formed did not use this [knowledge] properly, they were, through the fraud of the Serpent, stripped naked. For neither can life exist without knowledge, nor is knowledge secure without life. Wherefore both were planted close together. The Apostle, perceiving the force [of this conjunction], and blaming that knowledge which, without true doctrine, is admitted to influence life, declares, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies (1Cor 8.1).” For he who thinks he knows anything without true knowledge, and such as is manifested to by [his/her] life, knows nothing, but is deceived by the Serpent, as not loving life. But he who combines knowledge with fear, and seeks after life, plants in hope, looking for fruit. Let your heart be your wisdom; and let your life be true knowledge inwardly received. Bearing this tree and displaying its fruit, you shall always gather in [or harvest] those things which are desired by God, which the Serpent cannot reach, and to which deception does not approach; nor is Eve then corrupted, but is trusted as a virgin; and salvation is manifested, and the Apostles are filled with understanding, and the Passover of the Lord advances, and the choirs are gathered together, and are arranged in proper order, and the Word rejoices in teaching the saints,—by whom the Father is glorified: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” The Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 12.

We have here the final chapter of this letter to Diognetus. Here Mathetes, the anonymous disciple, discusses all that this knowledge should bestow upon us. He makes its abundantly clear that ‘knowledge’ in the sense of intellectual or academic pursuit is not nearly enough. Our author hearkens back to themes we have seen before (Genesis: The Book of Life and Death), it is not ‘knowledge’ (in the way we typically would think of it) that destroys. Rather it is false knowledge that destroys. Disobedience is itself the result of a distrust of the one who has given us the command. The toddler who trusts their father or mother does not think himself wiser than his parents as to when to cross the street. Disobedience in the case of the toddler can amount to destruction and this is precisely what we see in the Genesis narrative of Adam and Eve. However our anonymous author has also spoken to us of much more than knowledge as science the way we would see it today. Here he speaks of knowledge as experience and intimacy with the thing being known, God.

To ‘know’ something is more than to have just measured its externally measurable features and memorized a list of a particular thing’s attributes. To know is to enter into relationship with something or someone. One cannot say that they know their husband or wife if they had simply been given details about the individual prior to their marriage. Rather this implicitly means that the relationship is there and is the very essence of this knowledge. Thereby we learn that we too must come to know God in similar fashion to how it is we would come to know a loved one; namely through encounter. God is not simply the unmoved mover as later systematic theologies would have it. God is first and foremost the selfless lover of the human-being as is said in the services of both the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches. St. John of the Ladder has said,

“God is Love. Whoever sought to define Him would be like a blind person trying to count the grains of sand on the seashore.” St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Chapter 30.

By experience, by encounter, by trust, we come to union and relationship with the Living God. This is the knowledge that our author speaks of, the knowledge that is rooted in relationship and not simply academic study. This is the Tree of Life which has been barred from Adam and Eve because of the destructive disobedience they have brought upon themselves (Genesis: The Book of The Promise). St. Gregory the Theologian also defines God and what it means to have knowledge of Him,

“God has always existed and he always will exist: or to put it better, God always exists. In fact ‘past’ and future’ express the fragments of duration as we know it, gliding naturally along. But he, God, is external Existence and this is the name that he gives himself when he reveals the future to Moses on the mountain. He actually contains in Himself all being, that which had no being and will have no end, what I would call an ocean of being without limit and without end, beyond any notions of duration and nature that our intellect could form for itself. … He enlightens the higher part of our being, provided it has been purified, just as a sudden flash of lightning strikes our eyes; and that, in my opinion, is so that he may draw us to himself in proportion to the understanding we have of him… and that, in so far as we fail to understand, he may excite our curiosity; this will awake in our soul the longing to know him further; this longing will lay bare our soul; this nakedness will make us like God. When we have reached this state, God will converse with us as friends. if I may dare say so, God will be united with gods, and revealing Himself to them, and will be known to the same extent as he is known.’ St. Gregory the Theologian Oration 45 (for easter), chapter 3.

God will be united with gods. For inasmuch as we draw near to Him, He fills us with what He is Himself. To the extent that we draw far from Him, we come to be according to our true nature, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return (Gen 3.19).” This choice is presented to every one of us as much as it was to the prototypes, Adam and Eve. We read in the apocryphal book of 2 Baruch,

“Adam is therefore not the cause, except only of his own soul, But each of us has been the Adam of his own soul. 2 Baruch 54.19.

We are each given open entry into the Divine Life. With that freedom we can also enclose ourselves within ourselves and therefore to be taken according to our being which is fleeting and impermanent. To the extent that I pursue myself as an end and find comfort in all of the fleeting things of this world, I shall draw ever nearer to the fleeting things which I have attached myself to. To the extent that we draw near to Him Who is the true life, obtaining knowledge of Him Who is Life, we draw near to Life. This point is stated beautifully in Deuteronomy,

“I call both heaven and earth to witness this day against you, I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: choose life, that you and you seed may live; to love the Lord thy God, to hearken to his voice, and cleave to him; for this is your life, and the length of your days.” Deuteronomy 30.19,20.

Mathetes has placed before the one reading the choice to choose knowledge of Him Who is Life or to put one’s treasure where moth and rust can enter in,

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6.19-21.

Let Him be our treasure. Let the Church which He has established be the means by which we can lay hold of and appropriate this treasure.

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