Friday, June 01, 2007

Feast of Justin, Martyr at Rome

Justin was born to a Greek-speaking Roman family around the year 114 in Samaria, near Shechem, close to Jacob's Well. He was a seeker, studying different philosophies, searching for God. He first went to Ephesus to study. His first tutor was a Stoic, which was the most popular philosophy at that time. He went from that tutor to an Aristotelian teacher, followed by a Pythagorean, and then a Psatonist. and was a follower of Socrates and Plato. Justin's mind was always working and this made him restless, so he liked to take long walks along the beach so that he would be uninterrupted in his reflections. Once, while walking along a beach in Ephesus, he met a man who began to talk to him about Christianity. Justin was already impressed by the moral life lived by Christians and by their bravery in persecution. While talking with this man Justin says, "Straight away a flame was kindled in my soul and a love for the prophets and those who are friends of Christ possessed me." He became a Christian as a result of this encounter, and he began to preach the gospel and Christianity as the only "safe and profitable philosophy." However, he didn't believe that his conversion required him to abandon his philosophical questioning or to renounce all that he had gleaned from Platonism. He took to wearing a philosopher's robe. He moved to Rome in the year 150 and started a school of Christian philosophy which had many students. He also began to write and produced three books: First Apology, Second Apology, and Dialogue with Trypho. The First and Second Apologies of Justin are philosophical defenses of Christianity. Dialogue With Trypho is also an apology, and is written in the style of a conversation. The Apologies are defenses of Christianity against the Greek charges of irrationality and the Roman charge that Christians are atheists. Dialogue with Trypho is a defense of Christianity against the Jewish accusation that the Christians distorted the Hebrew scriptures. Here is a passage from Justin's First Apology: You call us Christians "atheists." We confess that we are atheists in so far as the gods of this world are concerned, but not in respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness, moderation, and all other virtues, who is entirely pure. It is this God, and the Son (who came forth from God and taught us these things, and about the host of other good angels who follow and are made to be like him), and the prophetic Spirit whom we worship and adore. When you hear that we are looking for a kingdom, you rashly suppose that we mean something merely human. But we are speaking of a kingdom with God, as must be clear from our confession before you when you bring us to trial, though we know that death is the penalty for such a confession. For if we looked for a human kingdom we would deny our Christ in order to save our lives, and would try to remain in hiding in order to obtain the things we look for. But since we do not place our hopes on the present world, we are not troubled by being put to death, and we know we will have to die one day in any case.

Justin taught that Christianity was the completion of all philosophy and that the philosophies of Plato and Socrates were merely small glimpses of what was to come. He taught that other religions, especially the various mystery cults which spread throughout the Roman Empire were demonic distortions of the truth proclaimed in the Good News of Jesus. Such teaching, of course, did not make him very popular with other philosophical teachers in Rome. Justin accused one teacher, Crescens, of the Cynic school of philosophy, of ignorance and immorality. Crescens was less than happy with this accusation and decided to take care of Justin and get rid of a philosophical rival. Crescens brought legal charges against Justin, and Justin and six of his pupils were arrested and brought before the prefect Rusticus. Rusticus gave them the opportunity to renounce their faith and live, if they would only offer sacrifice (incense) to the emperor. They all declined this offer. Rusticus asked Justin, "Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven and receive some recompense?" To which Justin replied, "I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it." Rusticus gave them all another chance to renounce their faith, to which Justin said, "No right-thinking person falls away from piety to impiety." Rusticus said, "Unless you obey you will be mercilessly punished." Justin said, "Through prayer we can be saved on account of our Lord, Jesus Christ, even when we have been punished, because this shall become to us salvation . . ." The others, Justin's students, said, "Do what you will, for we are Christians and do not sacrifice to idols." So Justin and his six students were taken out and scourged and then beheaded. Rusticus and others may have believed that this would put an end to things, but, as Tertullian said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Although thousands of Christians would die terrible deaths just like Justin and his students, the martyrs would win in the end. By the year 313 the Roman Empire was becoming Christian, and the government which once took property away from Christians returned it and also gave them new lands and buildings. The government which once killed Christians for not offering incense to the emperor now built new churches like Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, where incense was now offered to the Triune God. The martyrs did not die in vain, and their witness shows us that God can help us endure anything.

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