Justin Martyr

c.100-165. Christian apologist. Born of pagan parents at Flavius Neapolis, formerly Shechem, in Samaria, he appears from his youth to have been intent on finding intellectual peace and satisfaction. He studied the leading philosophies of his day: Stocism, Aristotelianism, Pythagoreanism, and Platonism. At last through a conversation with an old man he discovered that Christianity was the “one sure worthy Philosophy.” From his conversion (c.132) he sought to proclaim his newfound faith, and he taught in many of the leading cities of the ancient world. He seems to have spent considerable time in Rome, where Tatian was one of his pupils. Justin was one of a number of Christian apologists who set themselves to defend the Christian faith against misrepresentation and ridicule. Justin, especially, attempted to show that Christianity was the embodiment of the noblest concepts of Greek philosophy and was the Truth par excellence.

In his First Apology (c.152) addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius and to his son Verissimus and the philosopher Lucius, he argued that the teaching of Christ and the prophets is alone true and older than all other writings. He asserts that the divine Logos had been in the world from the beginning, and that those who lived according to “reason,” whatever their race, were Christians. Justin emphasizes, however, that the whole Logos resided in Jesus Christ. Christianity was not therefore a new revelation, but supremely the full revelation of truth because Christ was Himself the incarnation of the whole divine Logos. The purpose of His coming was to save men from the power of demons and to teach the truth. More than any other second-century apologist, Justin states frequently that Christ saves mankind by His death on the cross and by His resurrection. Although he speaks of Father, Son, and Spirit, it is clear that his emphasis upon the transcendence of God led him to subordinate the Son and Spirit. In the later chapters of the First Apology he gives an account of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist which are of great value to students of the early liturgy.

The Second Apology (c.153) is much shorter than the first and was called into existence by Justin's indignation at the unjust persecution of Christians. The Dialogue with Trypho comes from a different background: it narrates Justin's conversation with a learned Jew, Trypho, and certain of his friends. This writing shows Justin's desire to win Jews for Christ as well as the Gentiles. The book closes with an eloquent appeal to Trypho to accept the truth and “enter upon the greatest of all the contests for your own salvation, and to endeavour to prefer to your own teaching the Christ of Almighty God.”

The main significance of Justin, indeed, is that he is the first Christian thinker after Paul to grasp the universalistic implications of Christianity. With his own distinctive understanding of the Logos concept, he sums up in one bold stroke the whole history of mankind as finding its consummation in Christ.

Works in J.P. Migne (ed.), PG VI (1857); E. Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr (1923); H. Chadwick, “Justin Martyr's defence of Christianity,” BJRL XLVII (1965), pp. 275- 97, and Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (1966); W.A. Shotwell, Biblical Exegesis in Justin Martyr (1965); L.W. Barnard, Justin Martyr: His Life and Thought (1967).