“Christians live in their respective countries, but only as resident aliens; they participate in all things as citi­zens, and they endure all things as foreigners”

For Christians are no different from other people in terms of their country, language, or customs. Nowhere do they inhabit cities of their own, use a strange dialect, or live life out of the ordinary. They have not discovered this teach­ing of theirs through reflection or through the thought of meddlesome people, nor do they set forth any human doc­trine, as do some. They inhabit both Greek and barbarian cities, according to the lot assigned to each. And they show forth the character of their own citizenship in a marvelous and admittedly paradoxical way by following local customs in what they wear and what they eat and in the rest of their lives. They live in their respective countries, but only as resident aliens; they participate in all things as citi­zens, and they endure all things as foreigners. Every for­eign territory is a homeland for them, every homeland for­eign territory. They marry like everyone else and have children, but they to not expose them once they are born. They share their meals but not their sexual partners. They are found in the flesh but do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth but participate in the life of heaven. They are obedient to the laws that have been made, and by their own lives they supersede the laws. They love everyone and are persecuted by all. They are not understood and they are condemned. They are put to death and made alive. They are impoverished and make many rich. They lack all things and abound in every­ thing. They are dishonored and they are exalted in their dishonors. They are slandered and they are acquit­ ted. They are reviled and they bless, mistreated and they bestow honor. They do good and are punished as evil; when they are punished they rejoice as those who have been made alive. They are attacked by Jews as for­eigners and persecuted by Greeks. And those who hate them cannot explain the cause of their enmity.

To put the matter simply, what the soul is in the body, this is what Christians are in the world. The soul is spread throughout all the limbs of the body; Christians are spread throughout the cities of the world. The soul lives in the body, but it does not belong to the body; Christians live in the world but do not belong to the world. The soul, which is invisible, is put under guard in the visible body; Christians are known to be in the world, but their worship of God remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul and attacks it, even though it has suffered no harm, because it is hindered from indulging in its pleasures. And the world hates the Christians, even though it has suffered no harm, because they are opposed to its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, along with its limbs; Christians love those who hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, but it sustains the body; Christians are detained in the prison of the world, but they sustain the world. The soul, which is immortal, dwells in a mortal tent; Christians temporarily dwell in perishable surroundings but await that which is imperish­able in the heavens. The soul grows stronger even when mistreated by what the body eats and drinks; Christians in­crease daily even when punished. God has appointed them to such a position, and it would not be right for them to abandon it.

Epistle to Diognetus

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17 Responses to “Christians live in their respective countries, but only as resident aliens; they participate in all things as citi­zens, and they endure all things as foreigners”

  1. If the author of the passages were to have included them within a paper submitted in any course I teach, I would have asked him or her if he or she wanted to revise it. Just to begin with the most obvious point: if it is true both that no alien, whether resident or not, is a citizen and that no citizen, whether resident or not, is an alien, then, if we are not engaging in equivocation, isn’t it impossible for Christians (and Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc., or even Aristotelians) to be both aliens in and citizens of any one nation? Similarly, if we are not engaging in equivocation, isn’t it impossible for Christians (etc.) to both lack all things and to have all things (“abound in every­ thing”)?

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  2. Robert Fortuin says:

    It’s neither equivocation nor impossibility when one looks beyond what meets the eye. It is a deeper reality the Christian author is aiming for -the paradox that is the Kingdom of Heaven. One can be first and last, poor and rich, blind and see. May God help us.

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    • I uphold, and in this I am no more than following in the footsteps of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, the principle of non-contradiction, that no being can both be and not be, in any one respect and at any one time. From that principle it follows directly that, say, no person can both be blind and not be blind, in the same respect and at the same time.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Well then it’s high time to add a bit of their analogia ;

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        • Excellent! And how in, say, the case of blind and not blind?

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Without admitting to absolute equivocation analogia points to dissimilarity while insisting on a real similarity. The ‘one respect’ opens up in analogous difference, the one sight into similar and dissimilar vision.

            Obviously this early Christian is fond of rhetorical flourishes. This was quite common in apologetic and polemic pieces; this will have to be taking into account in understanding what the author is conveying.

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      • Richard, I am not so sure you’re Aristotelian logic is serving you well here. First off you are missing the rhetorical point that is quite present in Scripture, namely that the life of the faithful is expressed in seeking a better country we do not yet possess even while we live here (Hebrews 11). As for being and not-being, Plato would disagree I think. Many exist in a sort of tension between being and nonbeing, light and darkness – of course these are analogies but they do signify something real. I don’t think that the rigors of Aristotelian logic (as tremendously useful as it can be) is sufficient to explain the more liminal aspects of human existence and experience.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Richard, the principle of non-contradiction does not come into play here, as Diognetus is clearly speaking figuratively in the passages that you cite.

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  3. villanovanus says:

    “Christians live in their respective countries, but only as resident aliens; they participate in all things as citi­zens, and they endure all things as foreigners”

    Nowadays, I am only aware of JWs, who live and think like that. But many Christians don’t even consider them Christian.

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    • I must confess that I don’t know who the JWs are, much less whether or not they are Christians. But I do know that they cannot both be citizens and not be citizens of any one nation at any one time and so that they cannot both be citizens of and aliens in any one nation at any one time.

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      • villanovanus says:

        JWs is a common short for “Jehowa’s Witnesses.” As for whether they are considered Christians, it is such sore point that even they feel the need to have a webpage on their website, titled “Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Christians?”

        As for your “hard logic” whereby “they cannot both be citizens and not be citizens of any one nation at any one time”, it is superficially impeccable, but substantially wrong. For instance, JWs refuse the compulsory military service (in the countries where it exists). In Nazi Germany they were treated like aliens, even if they were German citizen, and persecuted, very much like Jews were.

        If I may suggest, don’t trust formal logic unduly … 🙂

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        • That citizens may be treated as if they were non-citizens or act as if they were non-citizens does not imply that they are non-citizens or, contrary to the principle of non-contradiction, that they are both citizens and non-citizens (in the same sense of “citizens” and at the same time).

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  4. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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  5. Patrick Halferty says:

    Fr Aidan
    Can you offer any insight into what is meant by ‘expose’ in the statement: “They….have children but do not expose them once they are born.”
    Thanks,
    Patrick

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