As part of my Unschooled Master of Theology Program I started working through the entire corpus of the Church Fathers. All 37 volumes.
I have just finished the second letter in the series, The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus. I have to say, this was an interesting read. And, upon finishing this letter, I found myself turning to the next, making slow and purposeful use of background information so I can ascertain the best context available.
Interestingly, I’ve found myself desiring to read these documents in chronological order, which is surprisingly different than the order they are arranged in. I actually should have left Mathetes for after Ignatius, since it was written around 130 A.D. (and Polycarp around 108 A.D.), but Ignatius proceeded both, at 100 A.D. It is trivial, yes, but the first thing I noticed in Polycarp was the reference to the “Catholic Church,” which is not mentioned previous in earlier letters.
But, more on that later. Right now, let’s jump into all things Mathetes and discover a faith like few found today…
Starting right off in the first Chapter, Mathetes (of course, this is not actually his name, this is the Greek translated word for “disciple”) makes a peculiar statement while commenting on how it was apparent Diognetus wanted to learn about the Christian faith, “inquiring very carefully and earnestly concerning them, what God they trust in, and what form of religion they observe, so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves.”
Am I missing something here? Mathetes is listing the different ways in which Christians do not hold fast to this world or the culture or their life, how they put their faith and their worship of the living God above all other things. I, unfortunately, could not find a Greek version of this letter online.
It is quite possible this is simply a poor translation (though I found the two different translations have the same wording), or, maybe the phrase “despise death” means something different than it did back when it was translated. I read this today and wonder, why do they dislike death in a list of all the ways the Christians reject or disconnect from this life?
I would argue this would possibly be better worded to say, “who despise living” or “who do not despise death.” But, without the underlining Greek text, it will remain ambiguous at best.
Speaking for myself, I agree with the sentiment of the passage. I have a poor opinion of the world itself (both the fallen, physical world, and the people who live upon it), I actually long for death in the hope that I might enter eternity through Christ’s work on the cross, I do not worship any other Gods (of the world), nor do I hold to superstitions (seeing through the delusion, if I’m not deluded myself).
The only difficulty I have in this list is the last statement, “and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves.” I do not have this. I have no love for the church as we see it today, especially it’s modern, corporate, manifestation (or any of the things they do in it). I do have a love (sacrificial) for the true and genuine saints. I long to reach the lost while there is still time, in whatever way God has equipped me. But, the shallow, insubstantial expression we see in the modern church, it is nothing but a poor substitute, a counterfeit reminiscent of how the Mosaic law is but a shadow of Christ.
The Falsity of All Religion
In Chapter 2, we swing toward apostacy, toward false belief, the wandering away after other gods, like the golden calf in the desert or the myriad of gods Paul ran across atop Mars Hill. Mathetes writes:
“Might not these, which are now worshipped by you [was Diognetus a worshiper of these gods?], again be made by men vessels similar to others? Are they not all deaf? Are they not blind? Are they not without life? Are they not destitute of feeling? Are they not incapable of motion? Are they not all liable to rot? Are they not all corruptible? These things ye call gods; these ye serve; these ye worship; and ye become altogether like to them.”
Ever since the veil was lifted from my eyes when I was 17, and I saw for the first time how there was a true and genuine and authentic and living God, that he actually was responsible for creating everything I see and who has protected me all these years (often from myself), I’ve know the falsity of other gods.
When I married my wife (now Ex wife), she was a Wiccan, a witch. She abandoned her beliefs and practices and accepted Christ (though, now looking back on it, I have no idea if she truly ever believed). I remember talking with her at work one day, explaining to her how all these other gods were either dead and dumb, could not speak, could not move or speak or cause or create anything. Or, worse still, the power behind these deaf and dumb idols were demonic entities, ultimately Satan, carrying out God’s will to bring delusion onto those who reject him.
Fear not the gods that are made of wood and stone. Fear the demonic powers that reside behind them in the shadows, for the devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Not the Teachings of Men
But, this is what was predicted by Jesus, the false prophets, the ravenous wolves. There is a reason why he said, “Beware!” Mathetes says of them, “you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshiping God from any mortal” (Chapter 3).
Isn’t that interesting?
In a day and age when the whole of Christianity, the entire work ethic is dependent and focused on “teachers” and “doctrines” and “right beliefs.”
In so much I would say this is the congeries of the Church, to separate it out, I can’t imagine what Christianity could then be?
I will be forever thankful to God for the path in which I was led out from the darkness. Not by the hands or the will or the enabling of other men. I was not preached to. I was not coaxed, convinced, converted or persuaded by what Paul calls, “peddlers of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17).
Rather, it was directly with the Word. In the hands. Upon the lips. Into the soul. The reading of, the consumption of that which was truth hidden up to that point by blindness and ego and rebellion.
Even afterward, I did not seek out church or preachers or other believers. This is not how I was created. Rather, I held away in the desert, in foxholes at night, reading the word. Shortly after, upon arriving overseas, I went to work, hold up in my barracks room evenings and weekends. I did not go out and party like the other soldiers did. I did not go out and try to find a German girlfriend. Instead, I made a decision to read the bible cover to cover, from book to book. No commentaries, no lexicons (not that I even knew of such things then).
It was not until later that I started asking questions of the text, and directing those questions to others – to preachers, to other believers, to evangelists and teachers. Most more often than not they came up short.
A Wrathless God?
By the time I got to Chapter 7 and 8, I was pleasantly surprised at the depth I found in the text. In Chapter 7, Mathetes proffers an argument that there is no violence found in the character of God. He repeats this same idea in Chapter 8:
“Yea, He was always of such a character, and still is, and will ever be, kind and good, and free from wrath, and true, and the only one who is [absolutely] good; and He formed in His mind a great and unspeakable conception, which He communicated to His Son alone. As long, then, as He held and preserved His own wise counsel in concealment, He appeared to neglect us, and to have no care over us. But after He revealed and laid open, through His beloved Son, the things which had been prepared from the beginning, He conferred every blessing all at once upon us, so that we should both share in His benefits, and see and be active [in His service]. Who of us would ever have expected these things? He was aware, then, of all things in His own mind, along with His Son, according to the relation subsisting between them.”
And, this, unfortunately, is simply not true. It is true God is absolutely good. In fact, he is the definitive definition of what is good. He is the essence of good. He is the litmus, the measurement by which all good things are set against and compared.
But it is false to say he has always been, is still, and will always be without wrath. Revelation 6:15ff expresses it pretty well, “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?””
In fact, this is the wrath in which I pray for, and is long overdue. The people of earth are fortunate for God’s grace and his mercy. If it were I, if I were God, I would have dispatched this people long ago. I would have washed my hands with every single one and I would have settled to start over (or better yet) resolved to be alone for the duration of my existence.
But, my wrath, my indignation, it is nothing compared to what God will unleash on the earth when he turns to the Son and say, “Go, gather what I have given to you” and the Son responds, “I will not lose one.”
This is the God I worship. This is the King I serve. A great and terrible and resolute and omnipotent God and creator and judge.
May judgment wash over this earth and may his vengeance be felt to the quick as the blood rises up to the bridle and flesh is separated from the bone.
He may be an all loving God and a merciful God and a forgiving God, but my God is also a God of Wrath and fury and fire and brimstone.
Remind yourselves and take heed:
That Truest Knowledge
By Chapter 10, we get to the crux of the matter, the purpose of the letter, the climax of the story that unfolds, hopefully, for each of us as we walk the path and follow the Way of Christ.
Mathetes states, “if you love Him, you will be an imitator of his kindness….it is not by ruling over his neighbors, or by seeking to hold supremacy over the weak, or in being rich, or showing violence, in which happiness is found, nor can one imitate God by these. Rather, it is the one who takes upon himself his neighbor’s burden, the one who benefits another, who distributes his wealth astutely, these are imitators of God.”
And I ask, how is it possible, this prescription? To empty the self completely that Christ might be all and in all. I have no money. I have no power. I have no influence. Am I simply to wait out my sentence on earth, hoping and praying for a quick and speedy conclusion to all of this?
How does one even approach the giving away of your things if you have nothing from which to give? How does one take on his neighbor’s burdens? If this is Christ, if this is the way by which we enter paradise, I am doomed. I have no interaction with others! There are coworkers and to them I am cordial. Civil. To the few that have inquired of my faith, I have given them an account, a reason for why I believe. I pray, through my actions, they might see at least a glimpse of Christ, but I have no way of knowing. I certainly am not going to put on a tie and a suit and become a pharisee who pretends and vomits to the world great and swelling words as they pray in the market place and on the television, all for the sake of their true God mammon.
This is a mystery to me. A profundity. I pray this too God will make clear.
For Mathetes goes on:
“then thou shall begin to speak the mysteries of God; then shalt thou both love and admire those that suffer punishment because they will not deny God”
And continuing in Chapter 12:
“he who thinks he knows anything without true knowledge, and such as is witnessed to by life, knows nothing…But he who combines knowledge with fear, and seeks after life, plants in hope, looking for fruit. Let your heart be your wisdom; and let your life be true knowledge inwardly received. Bearing this tree and displaying its fruit, thou shalt always gather in those things which are desired by God, which the Serpent cannot reach, and to which deception does not approach; nor is Eve then corrupted, but is trusted as a virgin; and salvation is manifested, and the Apostles are filled with understanding, and the Passover of the Lord advances, and the choirs are gathered together, and are arranged in proper order, and the Word rejoices in teaching the saints, — by whom the Father is glorified: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
He says, “let your life be true knowledge inwardly received.” This is, hopefully, found in my case, when I stand before Christ on the day of Judgment. Maybe I will simply be found innocent and will be on my way, or maybe it will be a kind of inquisition, a kind of inspection for each and every one who has drawn breath.
For it does say, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, of those in heaven, of those on earth, of those under the earth, that Jesus is the Lord” (Philippians 2:10). Is this simply about declaring and (for some) admitting, acknowledging the truth of his authority, the validity of his claim? Or is this about the books in Revelation 20:11ff, “and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.”
Will this only be the lost? Those earth dwellers who willfully chose to reject Jesus, who followed the lusts of their heart and considered God the fool.
I would gladly stand at the judgment seat and be judged for what I’ve done and said and thought. At least with Christ, I know where I stand. I cannot say that with his creation.
Until my next review….
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from Sacred the Circle:
There was a knock at the door.
Campbell got up from the chair and crossed the small distance so he could open it.
A young man stood in the doorway, probably in his early twenties.
Campbell could tell he looked a little disheveled.
He had deep rings around his eyes, as if he hadn’t been sleeping much, and he kept checking the hallway in both directions, as if half expecting someone to be stalking him.
“Hey,” Campbell said.
The kid was stumbling over his own words.
Campbell leaned out into the hallway, checking to make sure there was no one else listening.
This guy wasn’t the only one who was becoming paranoid.
There were two students hanging out at the foyer, near the stairs, but the rest of the floor was clear.
“I’m sorry,” the kid said. “Must be the wrong place. I’m mistaken.”
He started to leave.
“Wait,” Campbell said, putting a hand out. “Hold on a second.”
The kid paused.
“What’s your name?”
He fidgeted with his collar.
“I know it sounds crazy, but – ”
“You’re not crazy, Lloyd,” Campbell said, grinning.
“Did you – ? ”
The kid paused, as if unsure if he should continue.
He looked back toward the stairs, then at Campbell.
“Did you know I was coming?” he finally asked. “I mean, that’s not possible, but, were you expecting me?”
Campbell chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?” Lloyd asked.
“Well – ”
Campbell pushed the door open all the way so Lloyd could see inside his dorm room.
The entire room was full of them, students, non-students, ranging from what looked like eighteen to even a few middle-aged men, scattered about the room, sitting wherever they could find a comfortable spot.
Lloyd’s mouth dropped open.
“I wasn’t really expecting them, either,” Campbell said. “So, I hope you don’t hold it against me when I tell you, I had no idea you’d be showing up here. Do you care to join us, anyway?”
Buy my book Sacred the Circle to find out what these men are hearing from the supernatural realm. Will they answer the questions tugging at them? What are the visions saying? Who are the Multitude? Why are all these men being brought together? By whom? And why, above all else, are they being convicted….to pray?
But, trust me when I say, you’ll be white knuckling this one with every turn of the page!