Justin

Icon of St. Justin.

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Apologetics
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Dialogue with Trypho

In a hypothetical debate with Trypho the Jew, Justin explains how Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and the Christian is the true Israelite. 

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Discourse to the Greeks

Justin criticizes Greek Mythology and calls the Greeks to instead worship the Divine Word.

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First Apology

Justin brings a legal petition to Roman emperor Antoninus Pius: presenting the case that Christians shouldn’t be persecuted.

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Second Apology

Justin refutes allegations of sexual immorality and cannibalism, and explains that the demons are behind all prejudice against Christians.

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The Resurrection

Justin defends the doctrine of the resurrection against those who believe it to be impossible for the human body to be restored once it decays.

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The Sole Government Of God

Justin quotes a wide-variety of ancient philosophers to point to the One True God.

Life

Justin Martyr was born at Flavia Neapolis (today Nablus) in Judaea into a pagan family, and defined himself as a Gentile. His grandfather, Bacchius, had a Greek name, while his father, Priscus, bore a Latin name, which has led to speculations that his ancestors may have settled in Neapolis soon after its establishment or that they were descended from a Roman “diplomatic” community that had been sent there.

In the opening of the Dialogue, Justin describes his early education, stating that his initial studies left him unsatisfied due to their failure to provide a belief system that would provide theological and metaphysical inspiration to their young pupil. He says he tried first the school of a Stoic philosopher, who was unable to explain God’s being to him. He then attended a Peripatetic philosopher but was put off because the philosopher was too eager for his fee. Then he went to hear a Pythagorean philosopher who demanded that he first learn music, astronomy and geometry, which he did not wish to do. Subsequently, he adopted Platonism after encountering a Platonist thinker who had recently settled in his city.

And the perception of immaterial things quite overpowered me, and the contemplation of ideas furnished my mind with wings, so that in a little while I supposed that I had become wise; and such was my stupidity, I expected forthwith to look upon God, for this is the end of Plato’s philosophy.

Some time afterwards, he chanced upon an old man, possibly a Syrian Christian, in the vicinity of the seashore, who engaged him in a dialogue about God and spoke of the testimony of the prophets as being more reliable than the reasoning of philosophers.

There existed, long before this time, certain men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved by God, who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets. These alone both saw and announced the truth to men, neither reverencing nor fearing any man, not influenced by a desire for glory, but speaking those things alone which they saw and which they heard, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Their writings are still extant, and he who has read them is very much helped in his knowledge of the beginning and end of things, and of those matters which the philosopher ought to know, provided he has believed them. For they did not use demonstration in their treatises, seeing that they were witnesses to the truth above all demonstration, and worthy of belief; and those events which have happened, and those which are happening, compel you to assent to the utterances made by them, although, indeed, they were entitled to credit on account of the miracles which they performed, since they both glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son, the Christ [sent] by Him: which, indeed, the false prophets, who are filled with the lying unclean spirit, neither have done nor do, but venture to work certain wonderful deeds for the purpose of astonishing men, and glorify the spirits and demons of error. But pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.

Moved by the aged man’s argument, Justin renounced both his former religious faith and his philosophical background, choosing instead to re-dedicate his life to the service of the Divine. His newfound convictions were only bolstered by the ascetic lives of the early Christians and the heroic example of the martyrs, whose piety convinced him of the moral and spiritual superiority of Christian doctrine. As a result, he thenceforth decided that the only option for him was to travel throughout the land, spreading the knowledge of Christianity as the “true philosophy.” His conversion is commonly assumed to have taken place at Ephesus though it may have occurred anywhere on the road from Judaea to Rome.

He then adopted the dress of a philosopher himself and traveled about teaching. During the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161), he arrived in Rome and started his own school. Tatian was one of his pupils. In the reign ofMarcus Aurelius, after disputing with the cynic philosopher Crescens, he was denounced by the latter to the authorities, according to Tatian (Address to the Greeks 19) and Eusebius (HE IV 16.7-8). Justin was tried, together with six companions, by Junius Rusticus, who was urban prefect from 163-167, and was beheaded. Though the precise year of his death is uncertain, it can reasonably be dated by the prefectoral term of Rusticus (who governed from 162 and 168). The martyrdom of Justin preserves the court record of the trial.

The Prefect Rusticus says: “Approach and sacrifice, all of you, to the gods.”

Justin says: “No one in his right mind gives up piety for impiety.”

The Prefect Rusticus says: “If you do not obey, you will be tortured without mercy.”

Justin replies: “That is our desire, to be tortured for Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and so to be saved, for that will give us salvation and firm confidence at the more terrible universal tribunal of Our Lord and Savior.”

And all the martyrs said: “Do as you wish; for we are Christians, and we do not sacrifice to idols.”

The Prefect Rusticus read the sentence: “Those who do not wish to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the emperor will be scourged and beheaded according to the laws.”

The holy martyrs glorifying God betook themselves to the customary place, where they were beheaded and consummated their martyrdom confessing their Saviour.

Works

The earliest mention of Justin is found in the Oratio ad Graecos by Tatian who, after calling him “the most admirable Justin,” quotes a saying of his and says that the Cynic Crescens laid snares for him. Irenaeus speaks of Justin’s martyrdom and of Tatian as his disciple. Irenaeus quotes Justin twice and shows his influence in other places. Tertullian (in his Adversus Valentinianos) calls Justin a philosopher and a martyr and the earliest antagonist of heretics. Hippolytus and Methodius of Olympus also mention or quote him.

Eusebius implies that other works were in circulation; from St Irenaeus he knows of the apology “Against Marcion,” and from Justin’s “Apology” of a “Refutation of all Heresies.” Epiphanius and St Jerome mention Justin.

After Rufinus, Justin was known mainly from St Irenaeus and Eusebius or from spurious works. The Chronicon Paschale assigns his martyrdom to the year 165. A considerable number of other works are given as Justin’s by Arethas, Photius, and other writers, but this attribution is now generally admitted to be spurious. The Expositio rectae fidei has been assigned by Draseke to Apollinaris of Laodicea, but it is probably a work of as late as the 6th century. The Cohortatio ad Graecos has been attributed to Apollinaris of Laodicea, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, as well as others. The Epistola ad Zenam et Serenum, an exhortation to Christian living, is dependent upon Clement of Alexandria, and is assigned by Pierre Batiffol to the Novatian Bishop Sisinnius (c. 400). The extant work under the title “On the Sovereignty of God” does not correspond with Eusebius’ description of it, though Harnack regards it as still possibly Justin’s, and at least of the 2nd century. The author of the smaller treatise To the Greeks cannot be Justin, because he is dependent on Tatian; Harnack places it between 180 and 240.

First Apology

Addressing Criticisms of Christians

In the early chapters of the First Apology, Justin discusses the principal criticisms of contemporary Christians; namely, atheism, immorality, and disloyalty to the Empire. He first argues that “the name” of Christianity by itself is not reason enough to punish or persecute, and he urges the Empire instead to only punish evil actions, writing, “For from a name neither approval nor punishment could fairly come, unless something excellent or evil in action can be shown about it.” He then goes on to address the charges more directly, in which he argues that they are “atheists” toward Roman gods, but not to the “most true God.” He acknowledges that some Christians have performed immoral acts, but urges officials to punish these individuals as evildoers rather than Christians. With this claim, Justin demonstrates his desire to separate the Christian name from the evil acts performed by certain individuals, lamenting how criminals tarnish the name of Christianity and are not true “Christians.” Finally, he addresses the alleged disloyalty to the Empire, discussing how Christians do seek to be members of another kingdom, but this kingdom is “of that with God” rather than a “human one.”

Jesus Christ as the Logos

Justin goes to great lengths in the First Apology to defend Christianity as a rational philosophy. He remarks at how Christianity can provide moral teaching for its followers, and how many of the Christian teachings parallel similar stories in pagan mythology, making it irrational for contemporary pagans to persecute Christians.

One of Justin’s most important themes involves his description of the logos, a philosophical concept of order of reason and knowledge. Throughout the First Apology, Justin argues that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the Logos, which leads him to the proof that any individual who has spoken with reason, even those who lived before Christ, connected with the logos in the form of Christ, and is thus, in fact, a Christian.

This theme is paramount to understanding Justin’s defense of Christianity, and was a groundbreaking statement in Christian apologetic writing. The use of the term “logos” indicates that Justin likely drew upon prior philosophical teachings, but Justin makes the argument that these teachings represent only partial truth because they possess and are connected with only part of the overall logos. For Justin, Christianity represents the full truth (logos), meaning that Christianity is not only a meaningful philosophy, but it also completes and corrects prior thought to achieve the highest level of knowledge and reason.

Early Church Practices

The First Apology provides one of the most detailed accounts of contemporary Christian practice. Those that are baptized are “brought by us where there is water,” where they are “born again in the same manner of rebirth by which we ourselves were born again.” After the discussion of baptism, Justin describes the practice of the Eucharist, as well as the miracle of transubstantiation, in which “we have been taught that the food eucharistized through the word of prayer that is from Him, from which our blood and flesh are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of Jesus who became incarnate.” Finally, he provides information on the weekly Sunday meetings of the congregation, consisting of readings from the Jewish prophets and “the memoirs of the apostles”, prayers, and a meal.

Second Apology

Persecution of Christians under Urbicus

Justin recounts the story of a certain woman who on hearing the teachings of Jesus and having become a Christian refused to comply with the immoral practices of her husband. Because the disagreements were severe she desired to be divorced, but not being encouraged to do so, she continued in that relationship until one day when it became ethically unlivable, and she gave him a bill of divorce. The husband retaliated by bringing accusations against her before the Emperor. But when he couldn’t do anything against her, he turned against the Christian leaders whom Urbicus the prefect began to severely persecute.

Demonic Control of the World

According to Justin, it is the demons who incite such hatred and evil against the people of God – the ones who know the Son of God and have responded by faith to the Word of God. These demons are the spirits of those offsprings born through union of spirits and women before the Flood and who were destroyed by the Flood. They control humans through magic arts, libations, and such intimidating systems that hold people in bondage. They are exorcised by the Christians from people in the Name of Jesus. All in whom the Word dwells have been hated; Heraclitus and Musonius for example.

Apology against Propaganda

The Christians were being accused of cannibalism and sexual immorality. Justin asks that if that was the case, and if Christians were pleasure-mongers, then why would they be fearless of death and faithful to what they believe. Their faithfulness to Christ in face of death proves that they are not pleasure seekers. On the contrary, it was the accusers who had a system of religion in which noble men sacrificed humans to gods such as Saturn and in which sexual immorality was openly practiced without shame. He cries out:

But would that even now some one would mount a lofty rostrum, and shout with a loud voice, “Be ashamed, be ashamed, ye who charge the guiltless with those deeds which yourselves openly commit, and ascribe things which apply to yourselves and to your gods to those who have not even the slightest sympathy with them. Be ye converted; become wise.”

Dialogue with Trypho

Identity of Trypho

The identity of Trypho, as rabbi Tarfon (the Hebrew name Tarfon likely derived from Greek Trypho) has been proposed, but virtually all scholars mentioned in Setzer’s ‘Jewish Responses to Early Christians’ do not accept the notion that Trypho is Tarfon. These scholars say that Trypho is a fictional character invented by Justin for his literary goals. Setzer’s book further claims that, whether a character on which Trypho was based existed or not, one can generally assume that Trypho’s words are “largely put in his mouth by Justin.”

Setting and structure

The setting is presented as a chance meeting between Justin and Trypho in Ephesus. Justin had just converted to Christianity from a philosophical background and Trypho had just fled the disturbances in Palestine.

When Justin suggests to Trypho to convert to Christianity, the dialogue becomes animated. Trypho criticizes Christians on a number of grounds, and Justin provides answers to each criticism.

In the opening of the “dialogue,” Justin relates his vain search among the Stoics, Peripatetics, and Pythagoreans for a satisfying knowledge of God; his finding in the ideas of Plato wings for his soul, by the aid of which he hoped to attain the contemplation of the God-head; and his meeting on the sea-shore with an aged man who told him that by no human endeavor but only by divine revelation could this blessedness be attained, that the prophets had conveyed this revelation to man, and that their words had been fulfilled. Of the truth of this he assured himself by his own investigation; and the daily life of the Christians and the courage of the martyrs convinced him that the charges against them were unfounded. So he sought to spread the knowledge of Christianity as the true philosophy.

In the Dialogue, Justin also wrote, “For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines delivered by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this truth, and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians.”  This passage is sometimes cited as evidence that the early church subscribed to the doctrine of soul sleep, though it is likely that Justin’s emphasis is on saying that denial of the resurrection of the dead is what makes them non-Christian, especially considering that he claims that “even after death souls are in a state of sensation” in Chapter 18 of his First Apology.

In his critical edition (with French translation), Philippe Bobichon demonstrates the particular nature of this text, equally influenced by Greek and Rabbinic thought.

Authenticity

The authenticity of the Dialogue with Trypho and the two Apologies is universally accepted. They are preserved only in the Sacra parallela; but, besides that they were known by Tatian, Methodius, and Eusebius, their influence is traceable in Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, the Pseudo-Melito, and especially Tertullian. Eusebius speaks of two Apologies, but he quotes them both as one, which indeed they are in substance. The identity of authorship is shown not only by the reference in chapter 120 of the Dialogue to theApology, but by the unity of treatment. Zahn showed that the Dialogue was originally divided into two books, that there is a considerable lacuna in chapter 74, as well as at the beginning, and that it is probably based on an actual occurrence at Ephesus, the personality of the Rabbi Tarfon being employed, though in a Hellenized form.

The Resurrection

The treatise On the Resurrection, of which extensive fragments are preserved in the Sacra parallela, is not so generally accepted. Even earlier than this collection, it is referred to by Procopius of Gaza (c. 465-528). Methodius appeals to Justin in support of his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:50 in a way which makes it natural to assume the existence of a treatise on the subject, to say nothing of other traces of a connection in thought both here in Irenaeus (V., ii.-xiii. 5) and in Tertullian, where it is too close to be anything but a conscious following of the Greek. The Against Marcion is lost, as is the Refutation of all Heresies to which Justin himself refers in Apology, i. 26; Hegesippus, besides perhaps Irenaeus and Tertullian, seems to have used it.The fragments of the work “On the Resurrection” begin with the assertion that the truth, and God the author of truth, need no witness, but that as a concession to the weakness of men it is necessary to give arguments to convince those who gainsay it. It is then shown, after a denial of unfounded deductions, that the resurrection of the body is neither impossible nor unworthy of God, and that the evidence of prophecy is not lacking for it. Another fragment takes up the positive proof of the resurrection, adducing that of Christ and of those whom he recalled to life. In yet another fragment the resurrection is shown to be that of what has gone down, i.e., the body; the knowledge concerning it is the new doctrine, in contrast to that of the old philosophers. The doctrine follows from the command to keep the body in moral purity.

Recommended Reading

Justin Martyr: His Life and Thought by L. W. Barnard
Justin Martyr and His Worlds by Sara Parvis (Author, Editor), Paul Foster (Editor)

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