Saint Justin, Martyr

Justin (100-165) was an early Christian apologist (i.e. a defender of the Christian faith against heresies and false beliefs). His works represent the earliest surviving Christian apologies of significance. Most of what we know about the life of Justin comes from his own writings, although it has to be read with some caution.

He was born at Flavia Neapolis (ancient Shechem in Judaea and now modern-day Nablus). He called himself a Samaritan, but his father and grandfather were probably Greek or Roman and he was brought up a non-believer. It seems that Justin had property, studied philosophy, converted to Christianity about the age of 30, and devoted the rest of his life to teaching what he considered the true philosophy, still wearing his philosopher’s gown to indicate that he had attained the truth. It is thought he travelled widely and, having spent some time in Ephesus, ultimately settled in Rome as a Christian teacher.

The earliest mention of Justin is found in the Oratio ad Graecos by Tatian, who calls him “the most admirable Justin”. Irenaeus speaks of his martyrdom and of Tatian as his disciple. He quotes him twice. Tertullian, in his Adversus Valentinianos, calls him a philosopher and martyr and the earliest antagonist of heretics. Hippolytus and Methodius of Olympus also mention or quote him. Eusebius of Caesarea deals with him at some length and gives a list of his writings. 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 relates his vain search among the Stoics, Peripatetics, and Pythagoreans for a satisfying knowledge of God; his finding in the ideas of Plato ways to attain the contemplation of the Godhead; and his meeting on the seashore with an elderly man who told him that only by divine revelation could blessedness be attained, that the prophets had conveyed this revelation to humanity, and that their words had been fulfilled. Through his own studies he became convinced of the truth of their teachings. And the daily life of Christians, and the courage of the martyrs, convinced him that the accusations thrown against them were false.

From him we have one of the earliest descriptions of how Baptism was administered and of the rite of the Eucharist. According to church tradition, Justin suffered martyrdom with six others – five men and one woman – in Rome under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, when Rusticus was prefect of the city (between 162 and 168).

His relics are said to be housed in the church of St John the Baptist in Sacrofano, a few kilometers north of Rome. Pope Leo XIII had a Mass and an Office composed in his honour and set his feast day on April 14. It is now celebrated on June 1.

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