Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The proper relationship of Christians to the world

From the Epistle (chapters 5-6) of St. Mathetes, a disciple of the Apostles, to Diognetus (perhaps the tutor of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius), written in about AD 120:
For 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 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 land is to
them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of
strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not
destroy their offspring. 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 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 make many rich; they are in lack of all
things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very
dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they
are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour;
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 any
reason for their hatred.

To sum up all in one word— what the soul is in the body, that are
Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the
body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul
dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world,
yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and
Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains
invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself
suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world
also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure
pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members;
Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the
body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as
in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul
dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible
[bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when
but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the
Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in
number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful
for them to forsake.

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