Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks so longeth my soul after thee, O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea even for the living God. [Psalm 42:1, 2a]
St. Justin began life as a typical citizen of the Roman Empire. Born in Nablus, Palestine (Shechem in ancient Samaria) around the year 100, his pagan parents sought the best education of the day for their intelligent son. He studied science, rhetoric, poetry, history, and philosophy in Greece, Alexandria, and Ephesus, and examined in turn the ideas of the Stoics, the Peripatetics, the Pythagoreans, and the Platonists. But his insatiable thirst for knowledge was awaiting knowledge of eternal Truth, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Justin’s introduction to Christianity came in a “chance” conversation with an old man while walking along the seashore at Ephesus. The man reminded the young philosopher that he could not fully comprehend the truth until God had revealed it to him. He began to tell how God had revealed himself in Jesus Christ, how this had been prophesied and prepared for in the Old Testament writings and how it had been recorded by the evangelists and teachers who followed Christ.
Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law, yea, I shall keep it with my whole heart. [Ps. 119:33, 34]
This was what Justin had been seeking all his life. He began to read the scriptures and became thoroughly convinced of the truth of what he read there. Receiving instruction from the leaders of the Ephesian Church (the successors of St. John the Apostle), Justin was baptized around the year 130.
Continuing in the role of philosopher and teacher, Justin now directed his energies toward that form of defense known as “Apologetics”. Particularly disturbed by the accusation that Christians were immoral and atheistic, he used his philosopher’s skills to outline the beliefs and practices of Christians in a logical, rational manner. Today, we are indebted to St. Justin for his descriptions of the Rite of Baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist in these times when the Church was only several generations removed from the Apostles.
Spurred by persecutions of Christians, the philosopher wrote an Apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius which resulted in greater tolerance for Christians. However, this peace was short-lived, as persecution was renewed under the next Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Justin’s second Apology, addressed to the Senate, did not achieve his desire to convince pagans of the truth of the Christian faith.
Zeal for thy house hath consumed me, and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me. [Ps. 69:9]
Justin had moved to Rome around 150 and established a school of Christian philosophy. In those days, a philosopher or teacher made his living by gathering students around him, who paid him for his lectures. As a teacher’s livelihood depended upon having enough students, there was great competition among adherents of the various philosophical schools. Probably as much from rivalry as from a genuine philosophical disagreement, the Stoic philosopher Crescens publicly accused Justin and several of his students of being Christians and disloyal to the Emperor.
An account of the events following, copied from the official court report, still exists. Justin and his students were arrested, put into prison, and then put to the usual fatal test: they were ordered to make an incense offering to the Emperor – in effect, denying the one True God. Blessed Justin, who had searched so diligently for God, who had given his allegiance so completely to Christ, now had the opportunity to give his life for the True Faith. After refusing to sacrifice, he was beheaded and Justin, the philosopher, became St. Justin the Martyr in the year 165.
Justin’s earthly life bore much fruit: His apologetic writings convinced many who needed rational, logical explanations as a preparation for belief. His appeal to the emperor spared the lives of some Christians and his martyrdom gave courage to others who would also receive that crown. His unswerving search for the truth and his never wavering faithfulness to the Truth are an example for us in our increasingly anti-Christian times. May holy Justin pray for us to the Father.