May 31, 2017

Saint Justin Martyr, Philosopher and Apologist

Saint Justin Martyr

It is ironic, perhaps, that it was the witness of the martyrs that helped inspire the conversion of St. Justin from paganism to the Christian faith; it was because he clung to and defended that faith that his own life would end in martyrdom in 165.

Though his exact birthdate is unknown, scholars surmise that he was born into a pagan family sometime around the year 100. As a young man, he was drawn to the study of philosophy as a way of discovering truth, and he spent a great deal of time reading and contemplating the works of Plato. Still, those works did not satisfy his desire to understand the basic questions he was asking about life.

It was a chance meeting on a beach that led him to the answers he was seeking. There he fell into conversation with an old man who shared with him the message of Jesus Christ. This, coupled with the witness of the Christian martyrs, convinced him that the truths he sought could be found, not in the ethereal speculations of philosophy alone, but in the person of the Word made Flesh — Jesus of Nazareth.

Justin did not abandon his intellect or his intellectual pursuits. He simply put them to use defending his newfound faith, writing Christian apologies for both Jews and Romans. Combining the best elements of Greek philosophy with Christian theology, he defended Christianity and corrected false assumptions about it. Some of those errors, such as believing that Christians were “cannibals” because they spoke of “eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ”, we would find preposterous today (although the charge is still asserted by some today). In Justin’s time, such misconceptions were believed and his writings did much to dispel them. Two of his works, one written to the Roman emperor and to the Roman Senate, as well as a “Dialogue to the Jew Tryphon”, have survived.

When Marcus Aurelius became emperor in Rome in 161, an era of increased persecution of Christians began.  Among those martyred for the faith was St. Justin, whose name would even come down to us with the cognomen “Martyr.” One of Christianity’s greatest apologists, Justin Martyr is honored as the patron saint of philosophers. His feast day is celebrated June 1st. O God, who through the folly of the Cross wondrously taught Saint Justin the Martyr the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, grant us, through his holy intercession, that, having rejected deception and error, we may become steadfast in faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

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