Welcome to Our Saviour’s Parish. We’re in the third week of our discussion series. In our first week, we covered the oldest known catechism of the church—the Didache, and followed it up last week with St. Clement of Rome. By examining these periods of our early Christian history, we’ve been able to uncover the early foundations of Christians living the philosophy of community rather than living as individuals, the concept of commandments, the early practices of baptism, Apostolic succession, Christian unity, the primacy of the Pope.
As I was reviewing the text for our discussion series, I found it hard to choose Church Fathers, as all played a pivotal role in the early years of Christianity. So the first week, I chose the Didache for the reason to show that early Christians did in fact believe in the same things that we profess today. The second week, I chose Clement to show the importance of Apostolic succession and the Papacy to early Christians. So when deciding on our third weeks topics, I landed on St. Justin Martyr, for the reason that in his written work The First Apology, he illustrates to us a liturgy that is very similar to our contemporary mass.
St. Justin Martyr is important for many reasons, in fact, Pope Benedict XVI says that he is “the most important of the second-century apologist Fathers.”Of course, St. Justin’s fate is usually paired with his fate; however, it’s also important to note him, as many were in the early years, as a convert to the faith. Reviewing our text, we learn that Justin Martyr was born “about twenty miles to the north of the City of David in the ancient biblical town of Shechem”around the year 100 A.D.
D’Ambrosio explains that Justin grew up in a pagan family, and during the time, it would be desirable to become one of the popular cloak wearing philosophers who were gathering their many disciples.In the last month, listening to one of Bishop Robert Barron’s podcasts, Bp. Barron that if any of us desire to become men and women who are learned in our craft then we must put in the time. So Naturally, Justin’s desire to become a philosopher led him to the great libraries of Alexandria and Ephesus to perfect his craft.During his time in these great cities of learning, Justin would be introduced to “numerous systems of thought—The Stoics, then Pythagoras, then finally Plato,” who would so heavily influence the thought of St. Augustine.
Whilst learning from these various schools of thought, it was during this period in which St. Justin Martyr would be converted to the Christian faith. Pope Benedict gives a stirring account of Justin’s conversion story of a trailing old man saying, “he himself (Justin Martry) recounts in the first chapters of his Dialogue with Tryphon, a mysterious figure, an old man he met on the seashore, initially leads him into a crisis by showing him that it is impossible for the human being to satisfy his aspiration to the divine solely with his own forces. He then pointed out to him the ancient prophets as the people to turn to in order to find the way to God and ‘true philosophy’. In taking his leave, the old man urged him to pray that the gates of light would be opened to him.” The story foretells the crucial episode in Justin’s life: at the end of a long philosophical journey, a quest for the truth, he arrived at the Christian faith.”
It’s easy for modernity to dismiss this story as nothing more than pious legend; however, if we take it at face value, can we not ask who was this mysterious old man? Are there mysterious in our lives that have led us closer to Christ? Have we encountered God and should we speak more to these revelations with our fellow Christians?
One of the great aspects of the Catholic faith is that is not an either; or religion, we’re not required by our Church to choose between faith and reason, but rather, we’re given the opportunity to have both; and; this system of thought has been exhibited in recent years by the 1998 encyclical of our patron, Pope St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio. The foundation of the tradition of faith and Reason in our church is very much rooted in the writings and life of St. Justin Martyr. As Catholics, we’re accused of being superstitious by tired stereotypes forged by anti-Catholic rhetoric; however, the truth is that we’re not required to be anti-science but rather pro-science. Furthermore, we can’t be afraid of science because in studying the creations of God we can only move closer to God, the creator of the world, and ultimately nothing can be discovered that would invalidate Him. Of course, this train of thought, is what led men like Fr. Georges Lemitre—the Father of the Big Bang Theory and Augustinian Friar Gregor Mendel—the Father of Modern genetics.
We’re also charged with taking up the principles of Logic and philosophy, more of the realm of St. Justin, as D’ambrosio explains, “Justin did not then take off his philosopher’s cloak. Rather, he believed that it was only after baptism that he was finally entitled to wear it. In Christ, he had found the answer to every question, the key that unlocked all doors, just as the old man had promised.”
After Justin’s conversion to Christianity, his desire for knowledge led him Ephesus where St. John the Apostle lived and died, and then from there, to Rome where St. Paul and St. Peter met their reward in which Justin would later take a share in it. It is at Rome where St. Justin Martyr writes two of his most important defenses of the faith, or apologies. Of course, an apology in the traditional sense doesn’t carry the same connotation as in our modern language,. Pope Benedict XVI explains, “the apologists had a twofold concern: that most properly called “apologetic”, to defend the newborn Christianity (apologhía in Greek means, precisely, “defence”), and the pro-positive, “missionary” concern, to explain the content of the faith in a language and on a wavelength comprehensible to their contemporaries.”
Pope Benedict XVI further explains that it was the message of his apologies and its criticisms of pagan culture as “He founded a school in Rome where, free of charge, he initiated students the new religion…considered as the true philosophy. Indeed, in it he had found the truth, hence, the art of living virtuously. For this reason he was reported and beheaded in about 165 A.d. during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor to whom Justin had actually addressed one of his Apologia.”
Generally, Apologists, because their job description entails the defense of the faith, they’re works are generally reactive to the charges of the non-believers. Justin’s responses are no different in this aspect, from D’ambrosio we learn that the calumny of the day expressed charges of incest and cannibalism, “Rumors had arisen, based on Christians’ terminology, that their secret meetings were “love feasts” between “brothers and sisters” who “consumed the flesh and blood of a man called Christus.”These types of accusations continue through St. Augustine’s day to our present “meme” culture. The First Apology starts off, as D’ambrosio explains, “by blasting the idolatry and sexual immorality of the pagan society of his day…adultery and promiscuity, including homosexual liaisons and pedophilia, were rife in the empire at this time.”By studying Church history, we learn that the culture of “free love” or the modern version “love is love” brought forth by the sexual revolution of the late 60s is not a result of modern progression from the dark ages, but rather, a regression to the pagan moral system of hedonism.
Justin challenges the majority culture of the day with a polemical response accusing the pagan faithful of immoral behavior as exhibited in D’ambrosio’s book:
“as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God, first, because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution…And you receive the hire of these, and duty and taxes from them, whom you ought to exterminate from your realm. And any one who uses such persons, besides the godless and infamous and impure intercourse, may possibly be having intercourse with his own child, or relative, or brother. And there are some who prostitute even their own children and wives, and some are openly mutilated for the purpose of sodomy;(1 Apology 27.)
St. Justin also by discrediting the accusations of incest by Christians gives a magnificent opus of the purity and dignity that is exhibited in Marriage founded on Christian principles taught by Jesus Christ himself:
“Concerning chastity, He uttered such sentiments as these: “Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart before God.” And, “If thy right eye offend thee, cut it out; for it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of heaven with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into everlasting fire.” And, “Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced from another husband, committeth adultery.”4And, “There are some who have been made eunuchs of men, and some who were born eunuchs, and some who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; but all cannot receive this saying.” So that all who, by human law, are twice married,6are in the eye of our Master sinners, and those who look upon a woman to lust after her. For not only he who in act commits adultery is rejected by Him, but also he who desires to commit adultery: since not only our works, but also our thoughts, are open before God. And many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples from childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years; and I boast that I could produce such from every race of men. For what shall I say, too, of the countless multitude of those who have reformed intemperate habits, and learned these things? For Christ called not the just nor the chaste to repentance, but the ungodly, and the licentious, and the unjust; His words being, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” For the heavenly Father desires rather the repentance than the punishment of the sinner. And of our love to all, He taught thus: “If ye love them that love you, what new thing do ye? for even fornicators do this. But I say unto you, Pray for your enemies, and love them that hate you, and bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.”8
What one finds in St. Justin’s text is a belief system pulled straight from scripture. First and foremost, it indicates the early Christian understanding on Jesus’ concept of what constitutes as marriage, as Justin is responding to the promiscuity of pagan culture. In Matthew Chapter 19, as a response to the Pharisees challenging Christ in regards to Moses’ allowance for divorce, Jesus gives a definition of marriage based on Genesis chapter three. The only indication from Christ for a properly ordered relationship, in accordance to God’s creation, is a relationship ordered by biological compatibility and one predisposed to life, anything other type of relationship is one that does not reflect the proper sense of Christian community, but rather, pleasure of each single individual; and therefore, in the most proper sense is not true love.
So, If we compare what we’ve learn from our study of the Didache with the writings of St. Justin Martyr, D’ambrioso articulates that “Justin insists that Chrstianity is not just a belief system but a whole new way of living.”A Christian must choose either the way of life or the way of death. In many ways, the struggle between the two choices sets up much of the frame work of St. Augustine’s text the City of God. We must ultimately between the City of God or the City of Man, while living in the City of Man.
The second biggest accusation towards the Christian faithful is the charge of cannibalism, which much of this was brought about by the secretiveness of the liturgy of the Eucharist. Strangers were not allowed to witness such rites and those learning the faith, known as catechumens, were compelled to leave during the meal part of the liturgy—a practice which still occurred in the old form of the Mass. What is important to note about St. Justin’s explanation in regards to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, by revealing the Mass to the Emperor, is that it very much the same liturgy used during current Masses in our post-Vatican II era. In this manner, one could make the argument that our current Liturgy is much more ancient than the Tridentine Latin Mass. As I’ve heard our more traditional brothers and sisters articulate that “the mass of all ages” has been responsible for more saints than any other form, should we perhaps reassess such a claim in light to Justin’s description of the mass which was used by the Second Vatican Council to “renew the Mass according to the most ancient pattern of the Roman liturgy as recorded by Justin.”
The entire period of patristic era of the Church Is filled with nothing but Saints.
Justin explains the Church’s liturgy:
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; (Liturgy of the Word) then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs(Homly), and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray(Creed and Prayers of petition), and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability,2and the people assent,(Liturgy of the Eucharist)saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each(Communion), and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.
The vital lesson to take from Justin’s life is to consider whether we’ve chosen the way of Christian life, the Christian community—the body of Christ. And if we have chosen the way of life, how have we held true to these beliefs? Do we retreat from our dominating secular culture in regards to defending orthodox Christian beliefs? Or are we willing to challenge that culture, just as St. Justin Martyr did even if it means to die for it.
In the end, it was the critique of Cynic philosopher Crescens of St. Justin Martyr in his Second Apologia that led to being brought forth to Rusticus, the prefect of the Rome.As exhibited in D’Ambrosio’s book, an account of Justin’s witness to Christ exists to this day:
Rusticus—“You are then a Christian?” Justin—“Yes, I am.” The judge then put the same question to each of the rest, viz., Chariton, a man; Charitana, a woman; Evelpistus, a servant of Cæsar, by birth a Cappadocian; Hierax, a Phrygian; Peon, and Liberianus, who all answered, “that, by the divine mercy, they were Christians.” Evelpistus said he had learned the faith from his parents, but had with great pleasure heard Justin’s discourses. Then the prefect addressed himself again to Justin in this manner: “Hear you, who are noted for your eloquence, and think you make profession of the right philosophy, if I cause you to be scourged from head to foot, do you think you shall go to heaven?” Justin replied, “If I suffer what you mention, I hope to receive the reward which those have already received who have observed the precepts of Jesus Christ.” Rusticus said, “You imagine then that you shall go to heaven, and be there rewarded.” The martyr answered, “I do not only imagine it, but I know it; and am so well assured of it, that I have no reason to make the least doubt of it.” The prefect seeing it was to no purpose to argue, bade them go together and unanimously sacrifice to the gods, and told them that in case of refusal they should be tormented without mercy. Justin replied, “There is nothing which we more earnestly desire than to endure torments for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; for this is what will promote our happiness, and give us confidence at his bar, where all men must appear to be judged.” To this the rest assented, adding, “Do quickly what you are about. We are Christians, and will never sacrifice to idols.” The prefect thereupon ordered them to be scourged and then beheaded,
Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 172.