St. Justin - Philosopher and Martyr

St. Justin was born in the Samaritan village of Shechem in Palestine in 103.  As a young man he devoted himself to philosophy, exploring the major schools of Greek thought in his quest for religious truth.  He mastered the teachings of the Stoics, the Peripatetic’s, the Pythagoreans and finally the Platonists.

One day an old man appeared and spoke to him of the Prophets and Apostles who had learned of God not by their own wisdom, but by the revelation of God Himself.  Justin then studied the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian writings and he became convinced of the truth of the Christian Faith.   He saw no need to renounce philosophy and refused to be baptized or to call himself a Christian until he had tested all the pagans' arguments against Christianity. He regarded Christianity as the "true philosophy," the goal toward which Plato and the other philosophers had been groping.  Justin committed his talents as a philosopher and teacher to expounding the Christian faith and engaging in debate with other religious seekers. Wearing the "philosopher's cloak," he remained a layman, traveling throughout the Greek world before settling in Rome.

In Rome he witnessed the martyrdom of St. Ptolemy and of St. Lucian; this moved him to be baptized and to write an Apologia [defense] for the Christian faith and the Christian people, which he gave to the Emperor Antonius and the Roman Senate.  Justin offered a spirited argument for the truth of Christianity and its superiority over pagan religion and philosophy. In doing so he stressed the continuity between Christianity and the glimmering of truth which was accessible to all people of good will. Just as the prophecies of the Old Testament were realized in Christ, so, he argued, the philosopher's search for truth was fulfilled in Christianity. The Emperor and the Senate were so moved by his arguments that the Emperor ordered that persecution of Christians should cease.  You can listen to a wonderful reading of this important document on You Tube by copying and pasting this link into your internet browser; or simply search for Justin Martyr in the You Tube search key. 

Justin's Apologia contains the early basis for an "inclusive" understanding of the salvation of those outside the church: "We have been taught that Christ is the First-begotten of God, and have previously testified that he is the Reason [Logos] of which every race of man partakes. Those who lived in accordance with Reason are Christians, even though they were called godless, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus and others like them."  What distinguishes Christianity from these other philosophies and religions, according to Justin, is the fact that in Christ the Logos [Word of God] has entered history by becoming a human being. In addition to his Apologia, he wrote a number of other learned defenses of the faith.  For the remainder of his life, Justin devoted his skills to the proclamation of the Gospel and the defense of Christians. To the end of his life, wherever he preached Christ, he always wore his philosopher's robe.  

Eventually he was imprisoned following the false accusations of Crescens, a jealous Cynic philosopher. When asked what teaching he followed, Justin replied, "I have studied all in turn, but have given my adhesion to the teaching of the Christians, however displeasing it may be to those who follow error."  He was martyred in Rome in 167 under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, successor to Antonius, when he refused the order to sacrifice to the gods.  His final words were, “You can kill us but you cannot do us any real harm."

Today, as Christians are being ‘martyred’ in Syria for refusing to renounce Christ and abandon God, we call upon the great martyr St. Justin to intercede and turn the hearts of the godless haters of Christ and defend those who are persecuted for their Christian Faith.   

St. Justin before the Emperor Marcus Aurelius

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