Would That We Would Be So Described?

resident alien

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. 

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.”

From A Letter to Diognetus (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401)

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6 Responses to Would That We Would Be So Described?

  1. Wout says:

    “Christians love those who hate them…”
    Today, too many Christians hate. Christians hate gays and lesbians, Christians hate leftish politics, Christians hate medicare. Actually, what is hated depends so much on the culture. I know of no Christians in Canada who hate medicare as it is seen as being very beneficial. Here, Christians can be found who support political parties from social democrat to right wing. This all goes to show that Christians too often cannot separate what is Christianity from what is their culture.

    Would that all Christians throughout the world could be regarded as well as those that the the commenter above observed.

  2. Chris Sherman says:

    Thanks for the post Z. I had read this before a few years ago and it is worth the time to contemplate again.

    Who is Rosa Maria Garcia Lopez? Do you have a domestic worker? ☺

  3. Zrim says:

    Wout,

    You’re stirring my expat temptations. Good thing I have a sun-worshipping wife who insists any future moves will be south. Maybe a lateral move to Windsor? She hates our health care system a little less than our weather. I can’t blame her.

    Chris,

    No, but if we did I wonder if we could take Rosa with us to Canada.

  4. Chris Sherman says:

    Wrong Ca, Zrim, you are supposed to move to California.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Zrim for posting this. I enjoy reading your posts on 2k.

  6. Pingback: A Letter to Diognetus

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