Epistle to Diognetus

                              THE EPISTLE TO DIOGNETUS

The Epistle to Diognetus is an anonymous Christian treatise that is counted among the apologetic literature of the early church. A sixth-century Syriac manuscript asserts that its author was Ambrosius, “a principal man of Greece who became a Christian,” but this remains uncertain. The recipient must have occupied some position of authority, however, considering the nature of the document. The writer establishes the superiority of Christianity over Hellenistic and Jewish religious traditions through a series of well-crafted inquiries and arguments. Its treatment of a believer’s identity under Roman rule is particularly enduring. Based on style, content, and language, it is assigned to the sub-apostolic age (roughly 110-125). The probable place of composition was Athens, like the Apology of Aristides, for both works maintain a simple yet profound understanding of the faith and date from same period. Due to a few lacunae, portions of the text are unverifiable, and the document ends without a formal conclusion. In fact, a different theological treatise is currently appended to it and comprises Henricus Stephanus copythe final two chapters. The epistle is preserved in a single manuscript and survives only in transcripts.


The Epistle to Diognetus (text) was unknown until Henricus Stephanus published it in 1592. He assigned the apologetic treatise to Justin Martyr; however, modern scholars reject this conclusion. The sole witness to the text was discovered in a thirteenth-century manuscript housed in the Strassburg Library, but it was burnt during the Franco-German War of 1870. In this particular codex the title simply reads, “To Diognetus,” without a mention of its author. The same transcript also states that its writer composed an oration entitled, “To Greeks,” but this document likewise remains uncertain. A seventh-century Syriac manuscript, however, ascribes such a work to a nobleman named Ambrosius, and this is the only hint to the author’s identity. The textual authorities consist of an edition that J. Beurer of Friburg copied from the manuscript between 1587 and 1591, known as Codex Argentoratensis, and the printed forms of Stephanus (1592) and Sylburg (1593). Another copy was preserved in Codex Leidensis; it belonged to Isaac Vossius, the Dutch scholar, and was later housed in the library at Leyden. B. Haus made a third transcript in 1580, and it is retained in the University of Tübingen library.