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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.”[1]Of course, St. Justin’s name 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”[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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 Martyr) 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.”[6]

It’s easy for modernity to dismiss this story as nothing more than a 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.”[7]

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 in 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.”[8]

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.”[9]

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008),17.

[2] Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers (Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 47.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Pope Benedict XVI, 17.

[7] D’Ambrosio, 48.

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, 17.

[9] Ibid, 18.

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