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Saint Justin Martyr

“To yield and give way to our passions is the lowest slavery, even as to rule over them is the only liberty.”

Justin Martyr

Saint Justin Martyr was an early Christian apologist, philosopher, and Martyr.

Born around the year 100, Justin Martyr identified himself as a Samaritan and a Gentile. His grandfather had a Greek name and his father a Latin, leading to speculations that they perhaps descended from a Roman diplomatic community in Flavia Neapolis. In his early studies, Justin was unsatisfied due to their failure in providing a solid belief system that would provide sincere theological and metaphysical inspiration. He tried following a local Stoic philosopher but found that he could not explain God's being to him, followed by a Peripatetic philosopher who seemed more focused on collecting fees than educating, followed by a Pythagorean who told him he must first learn music, astronomy and geometry before any philosophy. Put off by this last teacher, Justin tried discussing with a Platonist who had visited the town and would later write:

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.

While walking along the seashore he stopped and talked with a Syrian Christian that forever changed his life and outlook. The Christian explained God and his prophets -

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


"Straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and whilst revolving his words in my mind, I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable."

The conversation was enough to forever set a trajectory in Justin's life. He decided at once to renounce his previous pagan religion and dedicated his life fully to service in Christ. Motivated by the stories of ascetic monks and valiant martyrs, he decided his calling was to travel wherever he could, spreading the Gospel and arguing Christianity was the only "true" philosophy. While Anonius Pius reigned he travelled to Rome and began his own school. The school was extremely successful.

During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, Justin argued philosophy with a cynic philosopher Crescens. Crescens, feeling slighted, went to the Roman authorities and turned him over. Justin was tried alongside six students or friends by the prefect Junius Rusticus. A copy of the court trial has survived the years:

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 Saviour.

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.

Justin Martyr was lead out of the court and beheaded in the year 165 AD.

Much of his writings have survived and his influence and impact on the spread of the early church can not be understated. Some of his famous works include

  • The First Apology (Addressed to Antonius Pius, his sons, and the Senate)

  • A Second Apology (Addressed to the Senate)

  • The Discourse to the Greeks (a discussion with Greeks on their gods)

  • An Hortatory Address to the Greeks

  • On the Sovereignty of God

  • The Dialogue with Trypho

In many of his writings he directly references and quotes the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) frequently. Though he does not directly quote the Book of Revelation he does frequently and clearly refer to it and names Saint John as it's author. His writings have considerable references to the majority of the Pauline Epistles as well. Justin Martyr's writings also contain one of the earliest Christian writings on the Eucharist:

"And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist] ... 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."

His feast day was originally set for April 14th, the date of his death, in 1882 by Pope Leo XIII. Because April 14th frequently falls within the Paschal celebrations, it was moved to June 1st during the 1968 revision.

His relics are held in several places. The Church of Saint John the Baptist in Sacrofano, Italy, claims to contain some as does the Church of the Jesuits in Valletta Malta. A wealthy family in possession of some of his relics brought them from Italy to Baltimore for safekeeping during unrest in Italy around 1873. The box containing these remains was lost for a number of years when it was placed in a vault for safekeeping - the relics were given a proper burial in 1989 at Saint Mary's Church.

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