The Significance of St. Justin Martyr

Author: George A. Jackson


By George A. Jackson

Philosopher and Martyr are the distinguishing titles of this chief of the early apologists. He was born in Samaria, of Greek parents, somewhere about A.D. 100. Becoming an earnest seeker after God as he tells us in his "Dialogue with Trypho," he studied with the various philosophical sects, hearing the most to commend among the Platonists. At last, finding the object of his search revealed in the prophetic writings, which pointed to God the Father of all and to Christ as the Son of God (see "Dialogue"), he became a Christian. His conversion, like that of Paul, was a call to proclaim to the world the knowledge if Christ; not like the apostle, by founding Churches, but by retaining his philosopher's dress and habits, and quietly teaching this new and divine philosophy to all seekers after truth.

Like Paul, he felt himself a debtor to all men, of every race and rank in life, to teach them, as much as in him lay, of his new Master and of the way of salvation. We see him at Ephesus using all his knowledge of Scripture to persuade a little group of Jews to receive Jesus as the promised Christ. We hear him in his apologies to the Emperors not merely arguing as a philosopher for the toleration of Christians, but appealing personally to the sovereigns of the world to accept this faith in a crucified Lord. Again we see him in his work at Rome, commending the truth to all who congregated there from every nation, and denouncing the falsehoods of heretics like Marcion and Crescens. In such labors he passed his life, his reward being -- again like Paul -- a martyr's death at Rome, A.D. 163. An ancient "Martyrium" says that, in company with other confessors, he was beheaded.

Justin's praises are sounded by the whole early Church. Writers like Ireneus and Tertullian borrowed very largely from his works; later fathers appeal to him as to one speaking with authority; no other name so great as his intervenes between John and Origin...

He appears in the midst of that cultured and curious, but hollow and heartless second century, like an old Hebrew prophet waking after a sleep of centuries, and assuming the philosopher's cloak as the nearest approach to his old sheepskin mantle. He denounces woes upon the Ceasar if he does not repent, as boldly as Elijah rebuked the sins of Ahab. He feels through every fiber of his being that he is called to utter the truth of God, and so speaking he knows no fear. And yet, with all his prophetic boldness, Justin was a philosopher, and, in spite of occasional narrow reasonings, he was a broad thinker. He could dicern good beyond the circle of nominal believers in Christ. For his doctrine of the Logos, by which Christianity appeared to him as the fuil and perfect manifestation in humanity of that Divine Word or Reason of which philosophy and prophecy had already given feeble suggestions, led him to commend everything that was true in philosophy, as well as in prophecy, as of God. They who had uttered such truth were Christians. Socrates was a Christian; Elijah was a Christian. They were not, however, Christ. Some seeds of the Logos had germinated within them. They were not themselves the Word that was God. Still, for what they were, Justin revered them. God had spoken through them. Suffering for the truth, they had been martyrs of the Word, as truly as any who were then witnessing with their lives. Thus the history of the world had been one continuous progress of the Divine Word, making himself felt somewhat among the Greeks, revealing himself more fully among the Hebrews, but at last standing forth in entirety in the Saviour of the world.



Hence we render worship to God alone, but we serve you the Emperor gladly in other things, acknowledging you to be kings and rulers of men, and praying that you may be found to unite to your imperial power, sound wisdom also. But if you disregard our prayers and public professions, we shall suffer no loss, since we believe -- I should rather say, we are fully convinced -- that each will suffer punishment by eternal fire, according to the merit of his actions; and that an account will be required of everyone in proportion to the powers which he received from God, as Christ has declared in these words: "For unto whomsoever God hath given much, of him shall the more be required."

For look back to the end of each of the Emperors, how they died the death which is common to all, which, if it terminated in insensibility, would be a godsend to all the wicked. But since sensation remains in all men who have been in existence, and everlasting punishment is in store, do not hesitate to be convinced and believe that these things are true.


This is the truth of the matter. In days of old evil spirits appeared in various guises and defiled women and corrupted boys, and made a show of such horrors that those who did not judge actions by the light of reason were struck with amazement. Such men were seized with dread and failed to understand that they were wicked spirits: instead they called them gods and addressed them all by the titles which each demon bestowed on himself. When Socrates tried to bring these matters to the light and to rescue mankind from those demons by the critical application of sound reasoning, then those very demons used the agency of men who delighted in wickedness to secure his execution for atheism and impiety, alleging that he was introducing novel supernatural powers. They are active against us on just the same lines.


Thus we were called atheists. And we admit that in respect of such supposed gods as those we are atheists: but not in regard to the most rue God, the Father of righteousness and moderation and the other virtues, the God who is without a trace of evil. Him we worship and adore, and his Son, who came from him and taught us of these things, and the host of the other good angels who attend of God and are of god-like nature, and the Spirit of prophecy. These we worship with reason and truth.


We are taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have shown above that he is the Word, of whom the whole human race are partakers. And those who lived according to reason are Christians, even though accounted atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus and those who resembled them, and of the barbarians Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others, from going through the list of whose actions or names, knowing that it would be tedious, I now begto be excused. So also they who have been before him and lived without reason were worthless, and enemies to Christ, and murderers of those who governed their lives by reason; but they who lived and now live in accordance with it are Christians, and are fearless and tranquil.


And in all our oblations we bless the Maker of all things, through his Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day which is called Sunday there is an assembly in the same place of all who live in cities or in country districts; and the records of the apostles, or the writings of the prophets, are read as long as we have time. Then the reader concludes, and the president verbally instructs and exhorts us to the imitation of these excellent things. Then we all rise together and offer up our prayers. And, as I said before, when we have concluded our prayer, bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president in like manner offers up prayers and thanksgivings with all his strength, and the people give their assent by saying Amen; and there is a distribution and partaking by every one of the eucharistic elements, and to those who are not present they are sent by the hands of the deacons. And such as are in prosperous circumstances, and wish todo so, give what they will, each according to his choice; and what is collected is placed in the hands of the president, who assists the orphans, and widows, and such as through sickness or any other cause are in want; and to those who are in bonds, and to strangers from afar, and, in a word, to all who are in need, he is a protector.

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the day on which God, when he changed the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. "The Apostolic Fathers, and the Apologists, 95-180 A.D." By Rev. George A. Jackson (1881).

Taken from the Fall 1993 issue of "The Dawson Newsletter." For subscriptions send $8.00 to "The Dawson Newsletter", P.O. Box 332, Fayetteville, AR 72702. John J. Mulloy, Editor