Born: c. 100 AD
Birthplace: Nabulus, Palestine
Died: c. 165 AD
Location of death: Rome, Italy
Cause of death: Execution
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Apology
Justin Martyr, one of the earliest and ablest Christian apologists, was born about 100 at Flavia Neapolis (ancient Sichem) now Nablus, in Samaria. His parents, according to his own account, were Pagans. He describes the course of his religious development in the introduction to the dialogue with the Jew Trypho, in which he relates how chance intercourse with an aged stranger brought him to know the truth. Though this narrative is a mixture of truth and fiction, it may be said with certainty that a thorough study of the philosophy of Peripatetics and Pythagoreans, Stoics and Platonists, brought home to Justin the conviction that true knowledge was not to be found in them. On the other hand, he came to look upon the Old Testament prophets as approved by their antiquity, sanctity, mystery and prophecies to be interpreters of the truth. To this, as he tells us in another place, must be added the deep impression produced upon him by the life and death of Jesus Christ. His conversion apparently took place at Ephesus; there, at any rate, he places his decisive interview with the old man, and there he had those discussions with Jews and converts to Judaism, the results of which he in later years set down in his Dialogue. After his conversion he retained his philosopher's cloak, the distinctive badge of the wandering professional teacher of philosophy, and went about from place to place discussing the truths of Christianity in the hope of bringing educated Pagans, as he himself had been brought, through philosophy to Christ. In Rome he made a fairly long stay, giving lectures in a classroom of his own, though not without opposition from his fellow teachers. Among his opponents was the Cynic Crescentius. Eusebius concludes somewhat hastily, from the statement of Justin and his disciple Tatian, that the accusation of Justin before the authorities, which led to his death, was due to Crescentius. But we know, from the undoubtedly genuine Acta SS. Justini et sociorum, that Justin suffered the death of a martyr under the prefect Rusticus between 163 and 167.
To form an opinion of Justin as a Christian and theologian, we must turn to his Apology and to the Dialogue with the Jew Trypho, for the authenticity of all other extant works attributed to him is disputed with good reason. The Apology -- it is more correct to speak of one Apology than of two, for the second is only a continuation of the first, and dependent upon it -- was written in Rome about 150. In the first part Justin defends his fellow believers against the charge of atheism and hostility to the state. He then draws a positive demonstration of the truth of his religion from the effects of the new faith, and especially from the excellence of its moral teaching, and concludes with a comparison of Christian and Pagan doctrines, in which the latter are set down with naive confidence as the work of demons. As the main support of his proof of the truth of Christianity appears his detailed demonstration that the prophecies of the old dispensation, which are older than the Pagan poets and philosophers, have found their fulfilment in Christianity. A third part shows, from the practices of their religious worship, that the Christians had in truth dedicated themselves to God. The whole closes with an appeal to the princes, with a reference to the edict issued by Hadrian in favor of the Christians. In the so-called Second Apology, Justin takes occasion from the trial of a Christian recently held in Rome to argue that the innocence of the Christians was proved by the very persecutions.
Even as a Christian Justin always remained a philosopher. By his conscious recognition of the Greek philosophy as a preparation for the truths of the Christian religion, he appears as the first and most distinguished in the long list of those who have endeavored to reconcile Christian with non-Christian culture. Christianity consists for him in the doctrines, guaranteed by the manifestation of the Logos in the person of Christ, of God, righteousness and immortality, truths which have been to a certain extent foreshadowed in the monotheistic religious philosophies. In this process the conviction of the reconciliation of the sinner with God, of the salvation of the world and the individual through Christ, fell into the background before the vindication of supernatural truths intellectually conceived. Thus Justin may give the impression of having rationalized Christianity, and of not having given it its full value as a religion of salvation. It must not, however, be forgotten that Jnstin is here speaking as the apologist of Christianity to an educated Pagan public, on whose philosophical view of life he had to base his arguments, and from whom he could not expect an intimate comprehension of the religious position of Christians. That he himself had a thorough comprehension of it he showed in the Dialogue with the Jew Trypho. Here, where he had to deal with the Judaism that believed in a Messiah, he was far better able to do justice to Christianity as a revelation; and so we find that the arguments of this work are much more completely in harmony with primitive Christian theology than those of the Apology. He also displays in this work a considerable knowledge of the Rabbinical writings and a skilful polemical method which was surpassed by none of the later anti-Jewish writers.
Justin is a most valuable authority for the life of the Christian Church in the middle of the 2nd century. While we have elsewhere no connected account of this, Justin's Apology contains a few paragraphs (61 seq.), which give a vivid description of the public worship of the Church and its method of celebrating the sacraments (Baptism and the Eucharist). And from this it is clear that though, as a theologian, Justin wished to go his own way, as a believing Christian he was ready to make his standpoint that of the Church and its baptismal confession of faith. His works are also of great value for the history of the New Testament writings. He knows of no canon of the New Testament, that is, no fixed and inclusive collection of the apostolic writings. His sources for the teachings of Jesus are the "Memoirs of the Apostles", by which are probably to be understood the Synoptic Gospels (without the Gospel according to St. John), which, according to his account, were read along with the prophetic writings at the public services. From his writings we derive the impression of an amiable personality, who is honestly at pains to arrive at an understanding with his opponents. As a theologian, he is of wide sympathies; as a writer, he is often diffuse and somewhat dull. There are not many traces of any particular literary influence of his writings upon the Christian Church, and this need not surprise us. The Church as a whole took but little interest in apologetics and polemics, nay, had at times even an instinctive feeling that in these controversies that which she held holy might easily suffer loss. Thus Justin's writings were not much read, and at the present time both the Apology and the Dialogue are preserved in but a single manuscript (cod. Paris, 450, AD 1364).
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