Justin Martyr was born circa 100 AD at at Nablus, Palestine (Samaria) of pagan parents. He was an early Christian Apologist (defender of the faith), and although he was most certainly not the first apologist, his writings which are still existent, are the earliest surviving apologies. Most of what we know of his life come from his writings, three of which the majority of scholars agree are attributable to him, and some later writings mentioning him and his writings from Eusebius, Saint Irenaeus, and Saint Jerome. There are some other works in which Saint Justin is identified as the author, but, most scholars attribute these to having been written by unknown sources one to three centuries or more after his death. The works most definitely agreed upon as being his are (the titles are clickable links to read the works) :
1. The Apology addressed to Antoninus Pius, his sons, and the senate;
2. a Second Apology addressed to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus; and
3. the Dialogue with Trypho.
Justin calls himself a Samaritan, but, his father and grandfather were most likely Greek or Roman, and he was raised a pagan. He began searching for God, and he began studying philosophy as a means to help him understand God, and to bring him closer to God, as he felt that only philosophy could bring him true knowledge and understanding of God.
In the beginning of “The Dialogue with Trypho”, Justin relates his story of his vain search for the knowledge of God among the Stoics ( an originally Greek school of philosophy, founded by Zeno about 308 B.C., believing that God determined everything for the best and that virtue is sufficient for happiness. Its later Roman form advocated the calm acceptance of all occurrences as the unavoidable result of divine will or of the natural order), Peripatetics (followers of the philosophy of Aristotle), and Pythagoreans (philosophy expounded by Pythagoras, distinguished chiefly by its description of reality in terms of arithmetical relationships).
Among the Stoics, he found he had learned nothing about God,and that his teacher had nothing to teach him on God. The Peripatetic teacher welcomed him at first, yet later demanded a fee, proving to Justin that this “teacher” was not a philosopher. The Pythagorean teacher refused to accept him until he had learned music, astronomy, and geometry. He found what he thought was the most helpful philosophy for him in the ideas of Plato, yet even still he was not quite satisfied, not quite happy with what he was finding.
He was still infatuated with Platonist philosophy, when he went for a walk alone along the seashore one day, as he had done many times before, in an area where he never saw anyone else, and where he could think and consider what he had learned from the Platonist school of thought. This day however, he unexpectedly met an old man who was searching “for members of his household”. They began a discussion, and the old man convinced him, that there could be no understanding of God through human knowledge, and that only through the Prophets and the guidance of the Holy Spirit could man know God. He showed to Justin, how the Prophets told of the coming of Jesus Christ, and that Christ was the fulfillment of all that the Prophets had said, taught, and written. He convinced Justin, that Christianity was a far nobler philosophy than anything he had yet studied. Justin was never to see this man again, and he felt the urge to learn more about these Prophets and these Christians. He became convinced, that Christianity, was the true philosophy, and he converted and was baptized at the age of 30. Later in his “Second Apology”, he would write, "When I was a disciple of Plato, 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" (Second Apology, Chapter 18).
Saint Justin continued to wear his philosophers gown, to indicate that he had attained to the truth. For Saint Justin knew he had now attained the true philosophy, and traveled widely where he would contend with pagans, and use his philosophical skills to explain and defend the Faith. He eventually made his way to Rome where he opened a school of public debate. In the year 165 AD, along with six others, Saint Justin Martyr (during the persecutions of the emperor Marcus Aurelius) was tried before the Roman Prefect Rusticus, and they were all condemned and were beheaded.
The account of the trial still exists (read it in entirety here: Martyrdom of Saint Justin), and some excerpts are included below. Along with six others (Chariton, Charito, Euelpistus, Hierax, Paeon, and Liberianus) he was brought before the Roman prefect, Rusticus:
And when they had been brought before his judgment-seat, said to Justin, “Obey the gods at once, and submit to the kings.” Justin said, “To obey the commandments of our Saviour Jesus Christ is worthy neither of blame nor of condemnation.” Rusticus the prefect said, “What kind of doctrines do you profess?” Justin said, “I have endeavoured to learn all doctrines; but I have acquiesced at last in the true doctrines, those namely of the Christians, even though they do not please those who hold false opinions.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Are those the doctrines that please you, you utterly wretched man?” Justin said, “Yes, since I adhere to them with right dogma.” Rusticus the prefect said, “What is the dogma?” Justin said, “That according to which we worship the God of the Christians, whom we reckon to be one from the beginning, the maker and fashioner of the whole creation, visible and invisible; and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had also been preached beforehand by the prophets as about to be present with the race of men, the herald of salvation and teacher of good disciples. And I, being a man, think that what I can say is insignificant in comparison with His boundless divinity, acknowledging a certain prophetic power, since it was prophesied concerning Him of whom now I say that He is the Son of God. For I know that of old the prophets foretold His appearance among men.”
...Rusticus the prefect said, “Tell me where you assemble, or into what place do you collect your followers?” Justin said, “I live above one Martinus, at the Timiotinian Bath; and during the whole time (and I am now living in Rome for the second time) I am unaware of any other meeting than his. And if any one wished to come to me, I communicated to him the doctrines of truth.” Rusticus said, “Are you not, then, a Christian?” Justin said, “Yes, I am a Christian.”
The prefect says to Justin, “Hearken, you who are called learned, and think that you know true doctrines; if you are scourged and beheaded, do you believe you will ascend into heaven?” Justin said, “I hope that, if I endure these things, I shall have His gifts. For I know that, to all who have thus lived, there abides the divine favour until the completion of the whole world.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense?” Justin said, “I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Let us, then, now come to the matter in hand, and which presses. Having come together, offer sacrifice with one accord to the gods.” Justin said, “No right-thinking person falls away from piety to impiety.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Unless ye obey, ye shall be mercilessly punished.” Justin said, “Through prayer we can be saved on account of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we have been punished, because this shall become to us salvation and confidence at the more fearful and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Saviour.” Thus also said the other martyrs: “Do what you will, for we are Christians, and do not sacrifice to idols.”
Rusticus the prefect pronounced sentence, saying, “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the command of the emperor be scourged, and led away to suffer the punishment of decapitation, according to the laws.” The holy martyrs having glorified God, and having gone forth to the accustomed place, were beheaded, and perfected their testimony in the confession of the Saviour. And some of the faithful having secretly removed their bodies, laid them in a suitable place, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ having wrought along with them, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
This is from Saint Jerome's work, "Lives of Illustrious Men":
Justin the philosopher
Justin, a philosopher, and wearing the garb of philosopher, a citizen of Neapolis, a city of Palestine, and the son of Priscus Bacchius, laboured strenuously in behalf of the religion of Christ, insomuch that he delivered to Antoninus Pius and his sons and the senate, a work written Against the nations, and did not shun the ignominy of the cross. He addressed another book also to the successors of this Antoninus, Marcus Antoninus Verus and Lucius Aurelius Com-modus. Another volume of his Against the nations, is also extant, where he discusses the nature of demons, and a fourth against the nations which he entitled, Refutation and yet another On the sovereignty of God, and another book which be entitled, Psaltes, and another On the Soul, the Dialogue against the Jews, which he held against Trypho, the leader of the Jews, and also notable volumes Against Marcion, which Irenaeus also mentions in the fourth book Against heresies, also another book Against all heresies which he mentions in the Apology which is addressed to Antoninus Pius. He, when he had held diatribae in the city of Rome, and had convicted Crescens the cynic, who said many blasphemous things against the Christians, of gluttony and fear of death, and bad proved him devoted to luxury and lusts, at last, accused of being a Christian, through the efforts and wiles of Crescens, he shed his blood for Christ.
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