Reading N°47 in the History of the Catholic Church
Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.
Justin was born in the early years of the second century at Sichem, the modern Nablus, in Palestine. His father, Priscus, and his grandfather, Bacchius, were pagans and native Greeks. Justin was brought up in paganism. He was precocious and at a very early age attended various schools of philosophy. Being consumed with a desire for truth, he sought it of the Porch, then at the Academy, and in the school of Pythagoras. Plato's doctrine, which he next encountered, held him longer, but without fully satisfying his mind and heart. An old man, whom he chanced to meet while he was walking alone by the sea, showed him, beyond the light which comes from the study of philosophy, a light which could be found in the reading of the Prophets.
Justin began to read the Bible. By feeding his mind with the Sacred Scriptures, he came to understand better how human wisdom had appeared to him so insipid when he asked it for the reason of life. These things he himself tells us in books filled with his personal experience. He also relates how the sight of Christians, persecuted for their faith and braving all dangers so as to remain faithful to their religion, demolished all the prejudices which his pagan education had given him about the followers of Christ.
About A.D. 135, he became a Christian. But this did not make him abandon philosophy; he merely tried to instil the Christian spirit into it. Or rather, he strove to set forth Christian teaching about God, man, and the world as a new philosophy, which is, he said, "the only safe and profitable one." Still travelling about the world, he continued to wear the philosopher's cloak, defending his faith by spoken word and by pen against all comers - heretics, Jews, and pagans. He was convinced that "everyone who can speak the truth, yet speaks it not, will be judged by God."
One of his most vigorous campaigns was against the Cynical philosopher Crescens, "who said that the Christians are atheists and impious, doing so to win favor with the deluded mob and to please them." Justin not only attacked him wherever he was sowing his calumnies and provoked him to public disputations, but also offered, though unsuccessfully, to debate with him in the presence of the Emperor. In the course of his campaign, he convicted Crescens of not understanding the matter under discussion. The Cynic never forgave the Christian philosopher for the public humiliation he had suffered at his hands.
Justin did not delude himself. He writes:
I too, therefore, expect to be plotted against and fixed to the stake, by some of those I have named, or perhaps by Crescens, that lover of bravado and boasting.
He was in fact denounced to the Roman authorities by Crescens or at Crescens' instigation, along with six other Christians. After a short examination, he was beaten with rods and beheaded. We have the official report of his trial, from which we give the following extracts:
The Prefect (Rusticus): "What science are you studying?"
Justin: "I have studied all the sciences, one after the other. I have chosen the doctrine of the Christians.
Prefect: "What is that doctrine?"
Justin: "To believe in one only God, Creator of all things, and to confess Jesus Christ, the Son of God, future judge of mankind. But I, being a mere feeble man, cannot speak of His infinite divinity as it should be spoken of. This is the work of the prophets, who foretold Him for centuries through an inspiration from on high."
Prefect: "Where do the Christians meet?"
Justin: "Wherever they can; for the God whom the Christians adore is everywhere."
Prefect: "Are you a Christian, then?"
Justin: "I am."
Prefect: "People say you are an eloquent philosopher. If I have you flogged and have your head cut off, do you think you will then ascend to Heaven?"
Justin: "I do not think so; I know it. Of this I am so confident that I have no doubt about it."
Prefect: "Sacrifice to the gods."
Justin: "A man of sense does not abandon piety for error."
|The Trial of Justin the Philosopher|
Fra Angelico (1395-1455)
Justin's companions - Evelpistus, Hierax, Paeon, Liberianus, Chariton, and a Christian woman named Charita - replied in like manner.
Evelpistus was a slave. To him the judge spoke with contempt, saying: "What are you?" Evelpistus answered: "I am a slave of Caesar; but, being a Christian, I have received my freedom from Christ, and I have the same hope as these others." This was the first time that a slave dared publicly claim his dignity as a man before a Roman magistrate. The prefect issued the following sentence: "Let those who have been unwilling to sacrifice to the gods be scourged and beheaded." The sentence was executed at once.
This was in A.D. 163. The Acts tell us that the bodies of these martyrs were removed by the Christians and placed "in a fitting place," that they might be worthily honored by their brethren.
 Cf. Second Apology, Chapter 12.
 Dialogue, Chapter 8.
 Eusebius, H. E., IV, xi, 8; Justin, Dialogue, Chapter 1.
 Dialogue, Chapter 82.
 Second Apology, Chapter 3, No. 2.
 Ibidem, No. 5.
 Ibidem, No. 4.
 Ibidem, No. 1.
 Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos, 19; Eusebius, H. E., IV, xvi, 8.
 Renan made futile efforts to free Marcus Aurelius, the emperor-philosopher, from blame in the execution of Justin, the first Christian philosopher. Scholars have not been convinced by Renan's attempt to push St. Justin's martyrdom back to the reign of Antonius Pius.
Join the discussion at: