Thursday, June 1, 2017

St Justin, Martyr

Today's saint, Justin Martyr (100-165) was born at Flavia Neapolis, ancient Shechem in Judaea (now known as Nablus). He referred to himself as a Samaritan, though his father and grandfather were most likely Greek or Roman. 

Justin obviously had property and private means. He studied philosophy, was converted to Christ around the age of 30, and spent the rest of his life teaching what he called the "true philosophy", still wearing his philosopher’s gown. He seems to have travelled a great deal. We know that he stayed in Ephesus, and then settled in Rome. Justin was one of the early Christian "apologists", who communicated the Gospel in ways that related to the thought forms and concerns of his contemporaries, and defended the Faith against heresies and false belief. 

Among his writings are the apology [defence] Against Marcion and a Refutation of all Heresies. Both of these writings are now lost. Other writings are the Dialogue with Trypho, the First Apology and the Second Apology

In the opening of the Dialogue Justin describes his search for a knowledge of God among the scholars of the Stoic, Peripatetic, and Pythagorean traditions. Eventually he discovered in the teaching of Plato ways to think about the Godhead. But most important was his meeting on a beach with an old man who told him that only by God's revelation of himself can we know the truth, and that through the prophets this revelation has come, with their words being fulfilled in Christ. 

Justin became convinced that this was true. Furthermore, his observation of the day to day life of Christians, together with the courage of the martyrs, persuaded him that the accusations routinely made against them were unfounded. 

Following his conversion, he became a sought after Christian teacher. 

His writings are valuable historically, as they give us a snapshot of Baptism and the Eucharist in the Church of his day (i.e. during the half-century following the death of the Apostle John). 

Justin suffered martyrdom with six others – five men and a woman – at Rome under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius when Rusticus was prefect of the city (between 162 and 168). The church of St John the Baptist in Sacrofano, a few kilometers north of Rome, claims to house his relics. 

Here is Justin's famous passage on the Eucharist, chapters 66 and 67 of his First Apology

. . . this food is called among us the Eucharist, which no one may share with us unless he believes
that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the
remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we
have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Saviour became a man of flesh and blood by the power
of the Word of God, so the food which is blessed by the prayer of his word and from which our
flesh and blood by assimilation are nourished becomes the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was
made flesh.

For the apostles, in their memoirs, which are called gospels, have delivered to us what Jesus
commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, and, when he had given thanks, said: ‘Do
this in memory of me. This is my body.’ In the same manner having taken the cup and given
thanks, he said: ‘This is my blood. The Lord gave this command to them alone.’

Ever since then we have constantly reminded each other of these things. The wealthy among us help
the poor and we always keep together. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe
through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On the day called Sunday all who live in the city or in the countryside gather in one place. The
memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, for as long as time permits. When
the reader has finished, the presider of the assembly speaks to us, urging everyone to imitate the
examples of righteous living we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The presider offers
prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give their assent by saying,
“Amen”. The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take a
portion of what is left over to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they willing, make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The
collection is placed in the custody of the presider, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all
who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a
word, he takes care of all who are in need.

Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly because it is the first day of the week,
the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that
same day our Saviour Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on
Sunday, having appeared to his apostles and disciples, he taught them these things that we have
passed on to you for your consideration. The food we receive, however, is very special.”

And here is the account of St Justin's martyrdom from the anonymous Acts of the Martyrdom of
Saint Justin and his Companion Saints written shortly after the martyrdom of St Justin. This
passage is used in the current Breviary for today's Office of Readings. 

The saints were seized and brought before the prefect of Rome, whose name was Rusticus. As they
stood before the judgment seat, Rusticus the prefect said to Justin: “Above all, have faith in the gods
and obey the emperors.” Justin said: “We cannot be accused or condemned for obeying the
commands of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Rusticus said: “What system of teaching do you profess?” Justin said: “I have tried to learn about
every system, but I have accepted the true doctrines of the Christians, though these are not approved
by those who are held fast by error.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “Are those doctrines approved by you, wretch that you are?” Justin said:
“Yes, for I follow them with their correct teaching.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “What sort of teaching is that?” Justin said: “Worship the God of the
Christians. We hold him to be from the beginning the one creator and maker of the whole creation,
of things seen and things unseen. We worship also the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was
foretold by the prophets as the future herald of salvation for the human race and the teacher of
distinguished disciples. For myself, since I am a human being, I consider that what I say is
insignificant in comparison with his infinite godhead. I acknowledge the existence of a prophetic
power, for the one I have just spoken of as the Son of God was the subject of prophecy. I know that
the prophets were inspired from above when they spoke of his coming among men.”

Rusticus said: “You are a Christian, then?” Justin said: “Yes, I am a Christian.” The prefect said to
Justin: “You are called a learned man and think that you know what is true teaching. Listen: if you
were scourged and beheaded, are you convinced that you would go up to heaven?” Justin said: “I
hope that I shall enter God’s house if I suffer that way. For I know that God’s favor is stored up until
the end of the whole world for all who have lived good lives.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “Do you have an idea that you will go up to heaven to receive some
suitable rewards?” Justin said: “It is not an idea that I have; it is something I know well and hold to
be most certain.

The prefect Rusticus said: “Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and urgent.
Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods.” Justin said: “No one who is right
thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “If you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without
mercy.” Justin said: “We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be
saved. For this will bring us salvation and confidence as we stand before the more terrible and
universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Saviour.”

In the same way the other martyrs also said: “Do what you will. We are Christians; we do not offer
sacrifice to idols.”

The prefect Rusticus pronounced sentence, saying: “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the
gods and to obey the command of the emperor be scourged and led away to suffer capital
punishment according to the ruling of the laws.” Glorifying God, the holy martyrs went out to the
accustomed place. They were beheaded, and so fulfilled their witness of martyrdom in confessing
their faith in their Saviour.

O God,
who through the folly of the Cross
wondrously taught Saint Justin the Martyr
the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,
grant us, through his intercession, that,
having rejected deception and error,
we may become steadfast in the faith.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


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