This morning I was reading today’s entry in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (which is a helpful prayer book, by the way) and there was a quote from an early Christian writing called “Letter to Diognetus“. This is a very brief letter from the late 100s AD. Diognetus, to whom the letter was written, was the tutor of emperor Marcus Aurelius. You can read the letter free online.
But before you do that…
Just a few moments ago I was finishing up James Davison Hunter’s amazing book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. To my surprise, Hunter quotes the Letter to Diognetus near the end of his book. He quotes the same portion I had read earlier, but he quotes a bit more.
Maybe God is trying to tell me something today?
Here is what Hunter quoted (the italics is my favorite part):
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 emply 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, procliam themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities…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 dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil doers.
In case you do not know, this was a time when Christians were a tiny minority in the Roman Empire and often faced persecution for their faith. Some say it is the time in the history of the church that is most similar to where the church in the West is heading.
At any rate, it is challenging and thoughtful.