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Justin Martyr, 165 AD

In 02 Apostolic Fathers on 2011/10/10 at 8:00 AM

The first Christians were contradictory in that while they would pray for their emperor, they would not burn incense in worship to him; while they loved all men, they considered all men sinners; although not accepted by Jews, they considered themselves heirs of Moses. Pagans and Jews did not understand them and accused them of every crime possible, blaming them for all natural calamities, making scapegoats out of them until the Emperor and the Senate ordered them persecuted.

Many a pagan was converted by the example of the martyrs.  Justin, who himself would be a martyr and through subsequent history bear the name of Justin Martyr, was strongly impressed by the Christians: “what courage and constancy, rather than betray their religion, or commit the least sin, they suffered the sharpest tortures, and encountered, nay, even courted death itself, in its most horrible shapes…they were fearless and rushing on death.”

Justin was part of a Greek colony transplanted by Emperor Vespasian to Samaria.  His pagan father raised him with both the errors of the pagan world and a classical curriculum.  The young man read all the works of the major literary figures of the time.  However, his great desire was to study philosophy to find truth.

First he followed the Stoic philosophy, then the Pythagorean and then Platonism.   That was, until he was told by a man he met that he was going in the wrong directions, telling him that if he really wanted to know truth he should study the prophets in order to find the real God.  He told him that there was only one God and that He had sent his Son into the world to save it.  As Justin studied Christian doctrine, he discovered that what he had been told and what he believed about Christianity was false.  His life was transformed; now he dedicated himself to explaining and defending the truth of his newly found faith in the Redeemer and refuted every error by sound explanations.

Justin then moved to Rome where he would remain the rest of his life.  His home became a haven for Christians to meet and a place where anyone who wished to be instructed would receive his attention.  In 155, Justin wrote to the pagan Emperor Antoninus a magnificent description of the Christian liturgy: “The food that has been made the Eucharist by the prayer of His word, and which nourishes our flesh and blood by assimilation, is both the flesh and the blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

Justin became a deacon as is evidenced by the fact that he preached.  However, he remained a layman, dedicating himself completely to the school of Christian philosophy which he founded and which was the first school of apologetics. Methodically, the apologists explained what the Christian believed and defended it even with their lives.

He wore his philosopher’s cloak with dignity and distinction according to St. Jerome, and has always been honored as the master of first apologists.  Tertullian related that Justin Martyr wrote within the living memory of the time of the Apostles, and that Justin stated that census reports mentioned by Luke in his gospel were in the archives of Rome.

Justin’s works have been cited through the ages.  In modern times, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council reflect two of Justin’s most famous APOLOGIES and the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes him extensively  when considering the Eucharist.  (#1345)

During a particular persecution a pope, several bishops and Christian laity were condemned to hard labor in the salt mines, but Justin would be scourged and then beheaded.  His last words to his judges spoke for them all: “There is nothing which we more earnestly desire than to endure torments for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; for this is what will promote our happiness, and give us confidence at His bar, where all men must appear to be judged. Do quickly what you are about. We are Christians, and will never sacrifice to idols.”

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