Who was Justin Martyr?
Justin Martyr was a Christian Apologist, best known as the first exponent of the Divine Word, the Logos. He was born into a pagan family in Samaria, in around 100 AD. His father had a Latin name while his grandfather had a Greek name, which gave birth to speculations that they were not natives and that they had come presumably from the Roman Empire. He looked for theological and metaphysical education as a young boy but he was deprived of it and hence, he was never quite satisfied with the education he received. He attended classes of Stoic Philosophy, Peripatetic Philosophy and the Pythagorean Philosophy before he adopted Platonism. However, chance meeting with a Syrian Philosopher, who preached the word of God to him had Justin becoming interested in Christianity. This led Justin to shred off all philosophical education and he began travelling in service of the Divine. Most of the theological works produced by him got lost eventually, but two remained, including the two Apologies and one Dialogue. He also opened a school in Rome and had many students spreading his message around. However, like many saints that questioned the popular beliefs, he was martyred along with some of his students and he ended up attaining sainthood at the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church.
Childhood & Early Life
Justin Martyr was born in Flavia, Neapolis, Judea, in 100 AD, to a Latin father. The exact date and month of his birth is still debated. His father Priscus had a Latin name and his grandfather Bacchius had a Greek one. This further led to a lot of speculations arising about his ancestry. Hence, it is assumed that his parents/grandparents shifted to Neapolis after the city was established. It is also assumed that his ancestors came there as Roman diplomats.
Currently, there are many scholars that do not agree that Justin had a very sound intellectual mind. But there are many who oppose that and claim that Justin had an inquisitive mind ever since he was young. As a young boy growing up in Neapolis, he received a good early education in subjects such as poetry and history.
But he was not satisfied with the education he was getting and he wanted to understand the meaning of life, and to study metaphysics and theology. The search for true knowledge had him moving from place to place during his late teenage years.
In search of the meaning of God, he first tried studying the philosophy of Stoicism, but it did not provide him the answers that he wanted. He then met a Peripatetic Philosopher who was only interested in his money.
He also met a Pythagorean Philosopher, who told him to study music, geometry and astronomy first. But Justin had no interest in learning all these things. His search was becoming impossible.
He then met a Platonist thinker who had shifted to the city. In the end, he decided to stick with the Philosophy of Platonism, where he found the answers to most of the questions that he had. But he did not achieve the total satisfaction that he desired even then.
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As a Christian
As he was tired of finding the answers in different schools of philosophical thoughts, he looked for something else. And a chance meeting with a Syrian Christian was that breakthrough that he needed. Christianity was a totally new concept for him and as they sat down talking, Justin became further more interested. He was 30 years old at that time.
The man told him about Jesus Christ and how he was the ‘Son of God’ promised by the Hebrew Prophets. The man also dismantled the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle and told Justin that asking too many questions was not the way to find the God. The man told Justin that the only way to find God is to achieve salvation by getting in touch with the Christian Prophets.
This had a strong impression on Justin and he renounced all his previously held beliefs about God and its meaning and decided to spend his life in the service of the Divine. Listening to the Syrian man’s arguments about the spiritual and moral superiority of the Christian doctrine and the heroic examples of Martyrs, Justin decided to spend the rest of his life in the service of the God and spread the message of Christianity.
His official conversion to Christianity took place at Ephesus. He took on the dress of a Philosopher and began walking towards Rome, preaching message of the God through the way.
However, he stayed in Ephesus for sometime around 132 AD at a Church planted there by St. Paul. There he had a very intense and heated argument with a Jew named Typho, about the true interpretation of the Bible.
He reached Rome sometime in his late 30s, when it was being ruled by Antoninus Pius. In Rome, Justin started his own school where he taught the Christian doctrines. He had Tatian, a renowned writer and theologian as one of his pupils.
He thought of himself more as a philosopher than a preacher or a theologian. In his school, he taught that Plato and other philosophers had stolen most of their thoughts and ideas from the Holy Bible. He also hailed Bible as a sacred text written by the God himself. He claimed that only Bible was one true philosophy and that Christian beliefs were well worth dying for.
However, the Romans were not very fond of the Christians and hence, his school did not run that successfully. Justin began preaching the message of God to private houses as well. In Rome, he lived in the room above a man named Martinus.
Early Church Fathers have mentioned Justin a lot, but not a lot of his original works have survived. There are only three of them that can be attributed to Martyr without a doubt- one Dialogue and two Apologies.
One among them was The Dialogue with Trypho, which Christians used for the next many years as their defence for Christianity. However, the book is known to be anti-Semitic by today’s standards.
Justin’s first Apology was directed towards the Emperor Antoninus Pius of Rome. Written in 153 AD, the text was an attempt to convince Antoninus that Christianity was not a threat to the Roman Empire. Instead, it was an ethical, faith-based system which came down from the God himself. However, he made some points that were controversial, such as Christians would die before worshipping idols and that Christianity was the best among all faiths.
The second Apology was presumably dedicated to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who himself was a philosopher of Stoicism. It is also noteworthy that the Second Apology was highly similar to the first one in many aspects.
There are many more documents that are said to have been written by Martyr, but their authenticity has not been proven yet. There are also many documents written by other people under Martyr’s name, which was a not very uncommon practice in earlier times.
Later Life & Death
Justin Martyr engaged in many debates with philosophers and men from other belief systems. He got into a heated argument with Crescens, who was a cynic. Justin bested him in the argument and angry at this, Crescens reported Justin and six students of his to Rusticus, a general of Rome.
In 165 A.D., his trial went underway, where he preached the message of Christianity to Rusticus. But Rusticus denied that and ordered their execution. Martyr was hence beheaded, along with his students.
Justin is known as a Christian who tried mending the distance between Christianity and philosophy. But his critics neither accepted him as a true philosopher, nor a true Christian.