The Commemoration of Justin, Martyr
Today we commemorate Justin. He was born around the year 100 AD and was martyred in 165. He is, therefore, one of those who give us a good look at the Christian Church in the time immediately following the days of the Apostles. It is to Justin that credit must be given for much of what we know about the worship life of the Church during this time period including information concerning Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the reading in worship from both the Old and New Testaments.
Justin was born of pagan Greek parents at Flavia Neapolis in Samaritan territory (ancient Schechem, modern Nablus). Early in life he began an intense search for a satisfying philosophy and religious truth. This led to him being well educated in rhetoric, poetry, and history, as well as the current philosophical systems. He lived and studied in Ephesus and Alexandria, before moving to Rome in 135. He joined in turn the schools of the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, and the Platonists. Justin had been impressed by the Christian martyrs and, after all his study, he happened upon an old man on a beach one day who was a Christian. He told Justin about the Old Testament prophets, and Christ was the fulfillment of them. Through the witness of that man Justin became a Christian. It was the year 130 (or thereabout). Justin dedicated the rest of his life to defending and proclaiming Christ, becoming the “first Christian philosopher.”
Three of his works survive: two Apologies (defenses) of the Christian Faith (one to the emperor and the other to the Roman senate) and his Dialogue with Trypho. The Apologies defend the Christians against all the slanders and misunderstanding of the day. The dialogue is an explanation of the Old Testament in light of Christ as the fulfillment of what the prophets wrote.
Justin once wrote, “No one believes in Socrates to the point of dying for what he taught … But for the sake of Christ not only philosophers and scholars but even laborers and uneducated people have scorned fame, fear, and death.” He demonstrated the truth of his observation. He and some of his students were arrested. They refused to make sacrifices to the pagan idols. As a result they were flogged and then beheaded. We still have copies of the official records. His death took place in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Rusticius was the Roman prelate who heard the case.
Justin has been a source of inspiration for the persecuted ever since.
In iconography Justin is often wearing philosopher’s robes. He sometimes is holding a crown, depicting the crown of life he received when he suffered martyrdom. He is sometimes depicted with a book or scroll, indicating his roll as a teacher of the faith and a contender for the written word. He is also sometimes depicted with a cross, which can be seen as reflecting both his message and his martyrdom. He is also, sometimes, depicted as holding a Communion Chalice. This reflects what he taught about the Lord’s Supper:
And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist] … For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.
Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, You found Your martyr Justin wandering from teacher to teacher, searching for the true God. Grant that all who seek for a deeper knowledge of the sublime wisdom of Your eternal Word may be found by You, who sent Your Son to seek and to save the lost; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert