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The Church And The World

So long as chiliastic expectations were the basis of the Christian's hope
and his judgment of the order of this present world, the Christian felt
that he was but a stranger and sojourner in the world, and that his real
home was the kingdom of Christ, soon to be established here on earth. With
such a view the Christian would naturally define his relation to the world
as being in it, yet not of it. As time passed, the opinion became more
common that the kingdom of Christ was not a future world-order to be set
up on His return, but the Church here on earth. This thought, which is the
key to the City of God by St. Augustine, was not to be found in the
first century and a half of the Church.

Ep. ad Diognetum, 5, 6.

The Epistle to Diognetus is one of the choicest pieces of
ante-Nicene literature. Although it is commonly included among the
Apostolic Fathers, the date is uncertain, it is anonymous, and the
reason for its inclusion is not clear. The weight of opinion is in
favor of an early date. It was preserved in but one manuscript,
which was unfortunately destroyed in 1870. The main themes of the
epistle are the faith and manners of the Christians, and an
attempt to explain the late appearance of Christianity in the
world. The work, therefore, is of the nature of an apology, and
should be compared with The Apology of Aristides. A translation
of the epistle may be found in ANF, I, 23.

Ch. 5. 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. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian
cities, according as the lot of each of them has been determined, and
following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the
rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and
confessedly striking method of life. 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 country
is to them as their native land, and every land of their birth as a land
of strangers. They marry as do all; they beget children; but they do not
commit abortion. 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 the 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 they make many rich;
they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all. They are
dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are
evil-spoken of, and yet are justified. They are reviled and bless; they
are insulted and repay insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished
as evil-doers. When punished they rejoice as if quickened into life; they
are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks;
yet those who hate them are unable to assign a reason for their hatred.

Ch. 6. What the soul is in the body, that the Christians are in the world.
The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians
through the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but is not
of the body; so Christians dwell in the world, but they are not of the
world. The invisible soul is guarded in the visible body; so Christians
are known as existing in the world, but their religion remains invisible.
The flesh hates the soul and wages war on it, though it has received no
wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hates
Christians, though it receives no wrong from them, because they are
opposed to its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh which hates it, and it
loves the members; so Christians love those who hate them. The soul is
enclosed in the body, yet itself holds the body together; so the
Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, yet they themselves
hold the world together. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle;
so Christians sojourn amid corruptible things, looking for the
incorruptibility in the heavens. The soul when hardly treated in the
matter of meats and drinks is improved; so Christians when punished
increase more and more daily. In so great an office has God appointed
them, which it is not lawful for them to decline.

Next: Theological Ideas

Previous: Chiliastic Expectations

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