Monday, May 31, 2021

First Saint for June is a Church Father, Apologist, Martyr

St. Justin Martyr

Christian apologist, born at Flavia Neapolis, about A.D. 100, converted to Christianity about A.D. 130, taught and defended the Christian religion in Asia Minor and at Rome, where he suffered martyrdom about the year 165. Two "Apologies" bearing his name and his "Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon" have come down to us. Leo XIII had a Mass and an Office composed in his honour and set his feast for 14 April.


Among the Fathers of the second century his life is the best known, and from the most authentic documents. In both "Apologies" and in his "Dialogue" he gives many personal details, e.g. about his studies in philosophy and his conversion; they are not, however, an autobiography, but are partly idealized, and it is necessary to distinguish in them between poetry and truth; they furnish us however with several precious and reliable clues. For his martyrdom we have documents of undisputed authority. In the first line of his "Apology" he calls himself "Justin, the son of Priscos, son of Baccheios, of Flavia Neapolis, in Palestinian Syria". Flavia Neapolis, his native town, founded by Vespasian (A.D. 72), was built on the site of a place called Mabortha, or Mamortha, quite near Sichem (Guérin, "Samarie", I, Paris, 1874, 390-423; Schürer, "History of the Jewish People", tr., I, Edinburgh, 1885). Its inhabitants were all, or for the most part, pagans. The names of the father and grandfather of Justin suggest a pagan origin, and he speaks of himself as uncircumcised (Dialogue, xxviii). The date of his birth is uncertain, but would seem to fall in the first years of the second century. He received a good education in philosophy, an account of which he gives us at the beginning of his "Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon"; he placed himself first under a Stoic, but after some time found that he had learned nothing about God and that in fact his master had nothing to teach him on the subject. A Peripatetic whom he then found welcomed him at first but afterwards demanded a fee from him; this proved that he was not a philosopher. A Pythagorean refused to teach him anything until he should have learned music, astronomy, and geometry. Finally a Platonist arrived on the scene and for some time delighted Justin. This account cannot be taken too literally; the facts seem to be arranged with a view to showing the weakness of the pagan philosophies and of contrasting them with the teachings of the Prophets and of Christ. The main facts, however, may be accepted; the works of Justin seem to show just such a philosophic development as is here described, Eclectic, but owing much to Stoicism and more to Platonism. He was still under the charm of the Platonistic philosophy when, as he walked one day along the seashore, he met a mysterious old man; the conclusion of their long discussion was that he soul could not arrive through human knowledge at the idea of God, but that it needed to be instructed by the Prophets who, inspired by the Holy Ghost, had known God and could make Him known ("Dialogue", iii, vii; cf. Zahm, "Dichtung and Wahrheit in Justins Dialog mit dem Jeden Trypho" in "Zeitschr. für Kirchengesch.", VIII, 1885-1886, 37-66).

The "Apologies" throw light on another phase of the conversion of Justin: "When I was a disciple of Plato", he writes, "hearing the accusations made against the Christians and seeing them intrepid in the face of death and of all that men fear, I said to myself that it was impossible that they should be living in evil and in the love of pleasure" (II Apol., xviii, 1). Both accounts exhibit the two aspects of Christianity that most strongly influenced St. Justin; in the "Apologies" he is moved by its moral beauty (I Apol., xiv), in the "Dialogue" by its truth. His conversion must have taken place at the latest towards A.D. 130, since St. Justin places during the war of Bar-Cocheba (132-135) the interview with the Jew Tryphon, related in his "Dialogue". This interview is evidently not described exactly as it took place, and yet the account cannot be wholly fictitious. Tryphon, according to Eusebius (Hist. eccl., IV, xviii, 6), was "the best known Jew of that time", which description the historian may have borrowed from the introduction to the "Dialogue", now lost. It is possible to identify in a general way this Tryphon with the Rabbi Tarphon often mentioned in the Talmud (Schürer, "Gesch. d. Jud. Volkes", 3rd ed., II, 377 seq., 555 seq., cf., however, Herford, "Christianity in Talmud and Midrash", London, 1903, 156). The place of the interview is not definitely told, but Ephesus is clearly enough indicated; the literary setting lacks neither probability nor life, the chance meetings under the porticoes, the groups of curious onlookers who stop a while and then disperse during the inteviews, offer a vivid picture of such extemporary conferences. St. Justin lived certainly some time at Ephesus; the Acts of his martyrdom tell us that he went to Rome twice and lived "near the baths of Timothy with a man named Martin". He taught school there, and in the aforesaid Acts of his martyrdom we read of several of his disciples who were condemned with him.

In his second "Apology" (iii) Justin says: "I, too, expect to be persecuted and to be crucified by some of those whom I have named, or by Crescens, that friend of noise and of ostentation." Indeed Tatian relates (Discourse, xix) that the Cynic philosopher Crescens did pursue him and Justin; he does not tell us the result and, moreover, it is not certain that the "Discourse" of Tatian was written after the death of Justin. Eusebius (Hist. eccl., IV, xvi, 7, 8) says that it was the intrigues of Crescens which brought about the death of Justin; this is credible, but not certain; Eusebius has apparently no other reason for affirming it than the two passages cited above from Justin and Tatian. St. Justin was condemned to death by the prefect, Rusticus, towards A.D. 165, with six companions, Chariton, Charito, Evelpostos, Pćon, Hierax, and Liberianos. We still have the authentic account of their martyrdom ("Acta SS.", April, II, 104-19; Otto, "Corpus Apologetarum", III, Jena, 1879, 266-78; P. G., VI, 1565-72). The examination ends as follows:

St. Justin Martyr - Saints & Angels - Catholic Online


The only pagan quotations to be found in Justin's works are from Homer, Euripides, Xenophon, Menander, and especially Plato (Otto, II, 593 sq.). His philosophic development has been well estimated by Purves ("The Testimony of Justin Martyr to early Christianity", London, 1882, 132): "He appears to have been a man of moderate culture. He was certainly not a genius nor an original thinker." A true eclectic, he draws inspiration from different systems, especially from Stoicism and Platonism. Weizsäcker (Jahrbücher f. Protest. Theol., XII, 1867, 75) thought he recognized a Peripatetic idea, or inspiration, in his conception of God as immovable above the heavens (Dial., cxxvii); it is much more likely an idea borrowed from Alexandrian Judaism, and one which furnished a very efficacious argument to Justin in his anti-Jewish polemic. In the Stoics Justin admires especially their ethics (II Apol., viii, 1); he willingly adopts their theory of a universal conflagration (ekpyrosis). In I Apol., xx, lx; II, vii, he adopts, but at the same time transforms, their concept of the seminal Word (logos spermatikos). However, he condemns their Fatalism (II Apol., vii) and their Atheism (Dial., ii). His sympathies are above all with Platonism. He likes to compare it with Christanity; apropos of the last judgment, he remarks, however (I Apol., viii, 4), that according to Plato the punishment will last a thousand years, whereas according to the Christians it will be eternal; speaking of creation (I Apol., xx, 4; lix), he says that Plato borrowed from Moses his theory of formless matter; similarly he compares Plato and Christianity apropos of human responsibility (I Apol., xliv, 8) and the Word and the Spirit (I Apol., lx). However, his acquaintance with Plato was superficial; like his contemporaries (Philo, Plutarch, St. Hippolytus), he found his chief inspiration in the Timćus. Some historians have pretended that pagan philosophy entirely dominated Justin's Christianity (Aubé, "S. Justin", Paris, 1861), or at least weakened it (Engelhardt, "Das Christentum Justins des Märtyrers", Erlangen, 1878). To appreciate fairly this influence it is necessary to remember that in his "Apology" Justin is seeking above all the points of contact between Hellenism and Christianity. It would certainly be wrong to conclude from the first "Apology" (xxii) that Justin actually likens Christ to the pagan heroes of semi-heroes, Hermes, Perseus, or Ćsculapius; neither can we conclude from his first "Apology" (iv, 8 or vii, 3, 4) that philosophy played among the Greeks the same role that Christianity did among the barbarians, but only that their position and their reputation were analogous.

In many passages, however, Justin tries to trace a real bond between philosophy and Christianity: according to him both the one and the other have a part in the Logos, partially disseminated among men and wholly manifest in Jesus Christ (I, v, 4; I, xlvi; II, viii; II, xiii, 5, 6). The idea developed in all these passages is given in the Stoic form, but this gives to its expression a greater worth. For the Stoics the seminal Word (logos spermatikos) is the form of every being; here it is the reason inasmuch as it partakes of God. This theory of the full participation in the Divine Word (Logos) by the sage has its full value only in Stoicism (see LOGOS). In Justin thought and expression are antithetic, and this lends a certain incoherence to the theory; the relation established between the integral Word, i.e. Jesus Christ, and the partial Word disseminated in the world, is more specious than profound. Side by side with this theory, and quite different in its origin and scope, we find in Justin, as in most of his contemporaries, the conviction that Greek philosophy borrowed from the Bible: it was by stealing from Moses and the Prophets that Plato and the other philosophers developed their doctrines (I, xliv, lix, ls). Despite the obscurities and incoherences of this thought, he affirms clearly and positively the transcendent character of Christianity: "Our doctrine surpasses all human doctrine because the real Word became Christ who manifested himself for us, body, word and soul." (II, Apol., x, 1.) This Divine origin assures Christianity an absolute truth (II, xiii, 2) and gives to the Christians complete confidence; they die for Christ's doctrine; no one died for that of Socrates (II, x, 8). The first chapters of the "Dialogue" complete and correct these ideas. In them the rather complaisant syncretism of the "Apology" disappears, and the Christian thought is stronger.

Justin's chief reproach to the philosophers is their mutual divisions; he attributes this to the pride of the heads of sects and the servile acquiesence of their adherents; he also says a little later on (vi): "I care neither for Plato nor for Pythagoras." From it all he concludes that for the pagans philosophy is not a serious or profound thing; life does not depend on it, nor action: "Thou art a friend of discourse", says the old man to him before his conversion, "but not of action nor of truth" (iv). For Platonism he retained a kindly feeling as for a study dear in childhood or in youth. Yet he attacks it on two essential points: the relation between God and man, and the nature of the soul (Dial., iii, vi). Nevertheless he still seems influenced by it in his conception of the Divine transcendency and the interpretation that he gives to the aforesaid theophanies.

That which Justin despairs of attaining through philosophy he is now sure of possessing through Jewish and Christian revelation. He admits that the soul can naturally comprehend that God is, just as it understands that virtue is beautiful (Dial., iv) but he denies that the soul without the assistance of the Holy Ghost can see God or contemplate Him directly through ecstasy, as the Platonic philosophers contended. And yet this knowledge of God is necessary for us: "We cannot know God as we know music, arithmetic or astronomy" (iii); it is necessary for us to know God not with an abstract knowledge but as we know any person with whom we have relations. Thr problem which it seems impossible to solve is settled by revelation; God has spoken directly to the Prophets, who in their turn have made Him known to us (viii). It is the first time in Christian theology that we find so concise an explanation of the difference which separates Christian revelation from human speculation. It does away with the confusion that might arise from the theory, taken from the "Apology", of the partial Logos and the Logos absolute or entire.

A. The Old Testament

For Philo the Bible is bery particularly the Pentateuch (Ryle, "Philo and Holy Scripture", XVII, London, 1895, 1-282). In keeping with the difference of his purpose, Justin has other preferences. He quotes the Pentateuch often and liberally, especially Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy; but he quotes still more frequently and at greater length the Psalms and the Books of Prophecy -- above all, Isaias. The Books of Wisdom are seldom quoted, the historical books still less. The books that we never find in his works are Judges, Esdras (except one passage which is attributed to him by mistake-Dial., lxxii), Tobias, Judith, Ester, Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Abdias, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggeus. It has been noticed, too (St. John Thackeray in "Journ. of Theol. Study", IV, 1903, 265, n.3), that he never cites the last chapters of Jeremias (apropos of the first "Apology", xlvii, Otto is wrong in his reference to Jer., 1, 3). Of these omissions the most noteworthy is that of Wisdom, precisely on account of the similarity of ideas. It is to be noted, moreover, that this book, surely used in the New Testament, cited by St. Clement of Rome (xxvii, 5) and later by St. Irenćus (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., V, xxvi), is never met with in the works of the apologists (the reference of Otto to Tatian, vii, is inexact). On the other hand one finds in Justin some apocryphal texts: pseudo-Esdras (Dial., lxxii), pseudo-Jeremias (ibid.), Ps. xevi (xcv), 10 (Dial., lxxii; I Apol., xli); sometimes also errors in ascribing quotations: Zacharias for Malachias (Dial., xlix), Osee for Zacharias for Malachias (Dial., xiv). For the Biblical text of Justin, see Swete, "Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek", Cambridge, 1902, 417-24.

B. The New Testament

The testimony of Justin is here of still greater importance, especially for the Gospels, and has been more often discussed. The historical side of the question is given by W. Bousset, "Die Evangeliencitaten Justins" (Göttingen, 1891), 1-12, and since then, by Baldus, "Das Verhältniss Justins der Märt. zu unseren synopt. Evangelien" (Münster, 1895); Lippelt, "Quć fuerint Justini mart. apomnemoneumata quaque ratione cum forma Evangeliorum syro-latina cohćserint" (Halle, 1901). The books quoted by Justin are called by him "Memoirs of the Apostles". This term, otherwise very rare, appears in Justin quite probably as an analogy with the "Memorabilia" of Xenophon (quoted in "II Apol.", xi, 3) and from a desire to accommodate his language to the habits of mind of his readers. At any rate it seems that henceforth the word "gospels" was in current usage; it is in Justin that we find it for the first time used in the plural, "the Apostles in their memoirs that are called gospels" (I Apol., lxvi, 3). These memoirs have authority, not only because they relate the words of Our Lord (as Bossuet contends, op. cit., 16 seq.), but because, even in their narrative parts, they are considered as Scripture (Dial., xlix, citing Matt., xvii, 13). This opinion of Justin is upheld, moreover, by the Church who, in her public service reads the memoirs of the Apostles as well as the writings of the prophets (I Apol., lxvii, 3). These memoirs were composed by the Apostles and by those who followed them (Dial., ciii); he refers in all probability to the four Evangelists, i.e. to two Apostles and two disciples of Christ (Stanton, "New Testament Canon" in Hastings, "Dictionary of the Bible", III, 535). The authors, however, are not named: once (Dial., ciii) he mentions the "memoirs of Peter", but the text is very obscure and uncertain (Bousset, op. cit., 18).

All facts of the life of Christ that Justin takes from these memoirs are found indeed in our Gospels (Baldus, op. cit., 13 sqq.); he adds to them a few other and less important facts (I Apol., xxxii; xxxv; Dial., xxxv, xlvii, li, lxxviii), but he does not assert that he found them in the memoirs. It is quite probable that Justin used a concordance, or harmony, in which were united the three synoptic Gospels (Lippelt, op. cit., 14, 94) and it seems that the text of this concordance resembled in more than one point the so-called Western text of the Gospels (cf. ibid., 97). Justin's dependence on St. John is indisputably established by the facts which he takes from Him (I Apol., lxi, 4, 5; Dial., lxix, lxxxviii), still more by the very striking similarity in vocabulary and doctrine. It is certain, however, that Justin does not use the fourth Gospel as abundantly as he does the others (Purves, op. cit., 233); this may be owing to the aforesaid concordance, or harmony, of the synoptic Gospels. He seems to use the apocryphal Gospel of Peter (I Apol., xxxv, 6; cf. Dial., ciii; Revue Biblique, III, 1894, 531 sqq.; Harnack, "Bruchstücke des Evang. des Petrus", Leipzig, 1893, 37). His dependence on the Protevangelium of James (Dial., lxxviii) doubtful.

Apologetical method

Justin's attitude towards philosophy, described above, reveals at once the tendency of his polemics; he never exibits the indignation of a Tatian or even of a Tertullian. To the hideous calumnies spread abroad against the Christians he sometimes answers, as do the other apologists, by taking the offensive and attacking pagan morality (I Apol., xxvii; II, xii, 4, 5), but he dislikes to insist on these calumnies: the interlocutor in the "Dialogue" (ix) he is careful to ignore those who would trouble him with their loud laughter. He has not the eloquence of Tertullian, and can obtain a hearing only in a small circle of men capable of understanding reason and of being moved by an idea. His chief argument, and one calculated to convert this hearers as it had converted him (II Apol., xii), is the great new fact of Christian morality. He speaks of men and women who have no fear of death (I Apol., ii, xi, xlv; II, ii; Dial., xxx), who prefer truth to life (I Apol., ii; II, iv) and are yet ready to await the time allotted by God (II, iv1); he makes known their devotion to their children (I, xxvii), their charity even towards their enemies, and their desire to save them (I Apol., lvii; Dial., cxxxiii), their patience and their prayers in persecution (Dial., xviii), their love of mankind (Dial., xciii, cx). When he contrasts the life that they led in paganism with their Christian life (I Apol., xiv), he expresses the same feeling of deliverance and exaltation as did St. Paul (I Cor., vi, II). He is careful, moreover, to emphasize, especially from the Sermon on the Mount, the moral teaching of Christ so as to show in it the real source of these new virtues (I Apol., xv-xviii). Throughout his exposé of the new religion it is Christian chastity and the courage of the martyrs that he most insists upon.

The rational evidences of Christianity Justin finds especially in the prophecies; he gives to this argument more than a third of his "Apology" (xxx-liii) and almost the entire "Dialogue". When he is disputing with the pagans he is satisfied with drawing attention to the fact that the books of the Prophets were long anterior to Christ, guaranteed as to their authenticity by the Jews themselves, and says that they contain prophecies concerning the life of Christ and the spread of the Church that can only be explained by a Divine revelation (I Apol., xxxi). In the "Dialogue", arguing with Jews, he can assume this revelation which they also recognize, and he can invoke the Scriptures as sacred oracles. These evidences of the prophecies are for him absolutely certain. "Listen to the texts which I am about to cite; it is not necessary for me to comment upon them, but only for you to hear them" (Dial., liii; cf. I Apol., xxx, liii). Nevertheless he recognizes that Christ alone could have given the explanation of them (I Apol., xxxii; Dial., lxxvi; cv); to understand them the men and women of his time must have the interior dispositions that make the true Christian (Dial., cxii), i.e., Divine grace is necessary (Dial., vii, lviii, xcii, cxix). He also appeals to miracles (Dial., vii; xxxv; lxix; cf. II Apol., vi), but with less insistence than to the prophecies.



God. Justin's teaching concerning God has been very diversely interpreted, some seeing in it nothing but a philosophic speculation (Engelhardt, 127 sq., 237 sqq.), others a truly Christian faith (Flemming, "Zur Beurteilung des Christentums Justins des Märtyrers", Leipzig, 1893, 70 sqq.; Stählin, "Justin der Märtyrer und sein neuester Beurtheiler", 34 sqq., Purves, op. cit., 142 sqq.). In reality it is possible to find in it these two tendencies: on one side the influence of philosophy betrays itself in his concept of the Divine transcendency, thus God is immovable (I Apol., ix; x, 1; lxiii, 1; etc.); He is above the heaven, can neither be seen nor enclosed within space (Dial., lvi, lx, cxxvii); He is called Father, in a philosophic and Platonistic sense, inasmuch as He is the Creator of the world (I Apol., xlv, 1; lxi, 3; lxv, 3; II Apol., vi, 1, etc.). On the other hand we see the God of the Bible in his all-powerful (Dial., lxxxiv; I Apol., xix, 6), and merciful God (Dial., lxxxiv; I Apol., xix, 6), and merciful God (Dial., cviii, lv, etc.); if He ordained the Sabbath it was not that He had need of the homage of the Jews, but that He desired to attach them to Himself (Dial., xxii); through His mercy He preserved among them a seed of salvation (lv); through His Divine Providence He has rendered the nations worthy of their inheritance (cxviiicxxx); He delays the end of the world on account of the Christians (xxxix; I Apol., xxviii, xlv). And the great duty of man is to love Him (Dial., xciii).

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