The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus[1] (Greek: Πρὸς Διόγνητον Ἐπιστολή) is an example of Christian apologetics, writings defending Christianity against the charges of its critics. The Greek writer and recipient are not otherwise known. Estimates of dating based on the language and other textual evidence have ranged from AD 130[2] (which would make it one of the earliest examples of apologetic literature), to the general era of Melito of Sardis, Athenagoras of Athens, and Tatian.[3]

Author and audience

The text itself does not identify the author. The word "mathetes" is the Greek word for "student" or "disciple," and it appears only once in the text, when the author calls himself a "student of the Apostles" (ἀποστόλων γενομένος μαθητής). Hence it is not a proper name at all, and its use in the title is strictly conventional. The writer, whoever he or she was, sounds to many like a Johannine Christian, inasmuch as he uses the word "Logos" as a substitute for "Christ" or "Jesus."[4]

Scholars have suggested individuals who could be the addressee of the Letter to Diognetus, one implausible (one of the emperor Marcus Aurelius' tutors),[5] the other quite possible (an Alexandrian procurator, Tiberios Claudios Diognetos, c.200). Charles E. Hill cites an inscription from Smyrna, probably from the second century, by ‘Diognetos, son of Apollonius, son of Diognetos, archon’. This is evidence of an aristocratic family in Smyrna during the time of Polycarp, of which at least two members bore the name Diognetos. At least one of these two was a member of the city council, a status that would make the term κράτιστος, used of the addressee of the Letter to Diognetus, very appropriate.[6] It is entirely possible, without verification of the author, that we have a fictitious character, since the name "Diognetus," means "God-born" in Greek.[7]


The epistle survived only in one manuscript. It was initially discovered in a 13th-century codex that included writings ascribed to Justin Martyr.[8] The 13th-century manuscript was mostly intact, exhibiting damage only in one place, several lines in the middle of the text. It was first published in 1592, and attributed to Justin Martyr because of the context of its discovery. Unfortunately the original was subsequently destroyed in a fire during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870,[8] but numerous transcriptions of the letter survive today. Oddly, there is no evidence that any Apostolic Father or Church Father knew of its existence, even though it has been esteemed by many modern readers as a gem of early Christian apologetics. It has been suggested that the Epistle should be identified with the Apology of Quadratus of Athens, mentioned by Eusebius in his Church History,[9] but this is disputed among scholars (see below).


The Epistle has twelve chapters:

The 10th chapter breaks off in mid thought. When the text resumes, the epistolary style has been abandoned and the final two chapters resemble a peroration. They are often considered to be later additions from the 3rd-century. Some have attributed them to Hippolytus, based on similarities of thought and style. J.B. Lightfoot suggested that the final two chapters may have been written by Pantaenus in the mid-late second century.[10]

Possible identification

In 1947 Paulus Andriessen suggested that the Epistle to Diognetus is to be identified with the Apology of Quadratus of Athens, mentioned by Eusebius in his Church History.[11][9] In 1966 Edgar J. Goodspeed wrote that such identification is an ingenious theory, but considered it improbable, also stating that the fragment does not fit the gap.[12]

More recently, Michael W. Holmes has called Andriessen's proposal "intriguing": while admitting that Epistle to Diognetus does not contain the only quotation known from Quadratus's work, Holmes defends this identification by noting "there is a gap between 7.6 and 7.7 into which it would fit very well."[13]


  1. ^ The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus by Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Richardson, Cyril C. (1953), Early Christian Fathers, pp. 206–10.
  3. ^ Norris, Richard A Jr (2004), "The Apologists", in Young, Frances; Ayres, Lewis; Louth, Andrew (eds.), The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, p. 43.
  4. ^ "Diognetus", Early Christian Writings.
  5. ^ Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations", Classics, MIT, 1.6.
  6. ^ Richard Bauckham. (2009). [Review of] Charles E. Hill, From the Lost Teaching of Polycarp: Identifying Irenaeus’ Apostolic Presbyter and the Author of Ad Diognetum. The Journal of Theological Studies, Volume 60, Issue 2, October 2009, Pages 674–676,
  7. ^ "Letter to Diognetus", Britannica.
  8. ^ a b Foster, Paul (2007). "The Epistle to Diognetus". The Expository Times. 118: 162–168.
  9. ^ a b Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae, Book IV, Chapter 3
  10. ^ Lightfoot, J.B. The Apostolic Fathers. pp. 488–489.
  11. ^ Andriessen, "The Authorship of the Epistula ad Diognetum," Vigiliae Christianae 1 (1947), pp. 129–36.
  12. ^ Goodspeed, Edgar J. (1966). A History of Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 97. ISBN 0226303861.
  13. ^ Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 290