Justin Martyr, St.

views updated


Christian philosopher and apologist; b. Flavia Neapolis (Shechem, modern Nablus, in Samaritan territory) of Greek parents; d. Rome, c. 165. His father was Priscus; his grandfather, Bacchius. With various teachers at Ephesus he studied philosophy: Stoic, Peripatetic, Pythagorean, and finally Platonist. His quest was for religious truth, and Platonism spoke of the vision of God. But an old Christian by the seashore undermined his Platonism, spoke of the Old Testament Prophets, and converted him to Christianity. He had already been impressed by the martyrs. For a time he taught Christian philosophy in Ephesus, but left soon after 135. He next appears in Rome, teaching at his house, apparently on the Viminal. He disputed with the Cynic philosopher Crescens. About 165 he was delated to the city prefect Rusticus and martyred for his faith. In the ninth century he was introduced in the martyrology of florus of lyons on April 13. Leo XIII transferred him to April 14. The Greek Acts of Justin's martyrdom rest on contemporary record and survive

in a good MS tradition. In Byzantine times many works circulated under his name; but from the three collections of writings ascribed to him in MSS (Paris. Gr. 451, dated 914; Paris. Gr.450, dated 1364; and a Strassburg codex of c. 1300 destroyed in 1870), criticism allows as authentic only the two apologies and the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, a corrupt text of which is transmitted by Paris. Gr. 450. Apologia II is a supplement to Apologia I, which was addressed to Antoninus Pius soon after 150. The Dialogue, purporting to represent a debate at Ephesus in 135, was written after Apologia I. To Apologia I Justin appended a rescript of Hadrian of 124; this document is genuine.

Justin and Philosophy. As a Christian philosopher, Justin adopted the philosopher's cloak. He describes his conversion from Platonism to Christianity in such a way as to imply that there is no sharp discontinuity between them: Christianity fulfills the highest aspirations of Plato. Justin regards both the Bible and Plato as agreed: that God is transcendent, unchangeable, incorporeal, impassible, beyond time and space; that the world is created (Justin does not say created out of nothing); and that the soul is akin to God and has free will. Not, indeed, that Plato is always right: he mistakenly thought that the soul is naturally immortal and undergoes transmigration. But Plato correctly saw the deceit in pagan cult and myth. So Christianity can have no compromise with pagan religion, but has much in common with the best philosophers. Accordingly, Justin presents his faith as a virtually corrected Platonism, expressed in forms suitable for universal apprehension even by the uneducated, and elevated above the uncertainties of human reasoning by the gift of supernatural revelation. An almost equal optimism appears in Justin's estimate of stoicism, excellent in its ethical teaching, but mistaken in adopting materialism, pantheism, and cosmic fatalism.

Justin has two ways of explaining how philosophers have found the truth. First, they have studied the Old Testament, whence they learned, e.g., of punishment hereafter. The reference to the divine triad in the second (pseudo-) Platonic epistle shows that Plato had learned from Moses of the mystery of the Trinity. (So Justin first attests the coming together of the Christian Trinity with late Platonic speculation.) Because the divine oracles are obscure and because allegory can be penetrated only through inspiration from the divine Author, the philosophers have erred. For example, the Stoic belief in a cycle of cosmic conflagrations "misunderstands" the fire of God's judgment. Second, the philosophers have also discovered truth independently of the Biblical revelation. Christ, the divine logos, is the universal reason, the "seminal logos" in which all rational beings participate; therefore seeds of truth are found in everyone endowed with reason, particularly in the most gifted. Disagreements among philosophers show that each has but a partial apprehension; Christ is the whole Logos. Socrates, like Abraham, was a "Christian before Christ." Justin implies the thesis developed by clement of alexandria that philosophy is God's gift to the Greeks, a preparation for the gospel parallel to the Old Testament.

Justin's philosophy is eclectic, not in the sense of seeking to reconcile everyone and everything, but in taking the Biblical revelation as the criterion of truth and welcoming all philosophy compatible with it. In fact, the philosophy of the educated public he addresses is already a fusion of Stoic ethics and Platonic metaphysics. The distinctive and original feature of his thought lies in his conception of a divine plan in history, bringing together the Old Testament and the highest aspirations of the Greeks as two tributaries of the great river of Christianity. As a thinker, Justin should not be overestimated, but he was as good a Platonist as most of his pagan contemporaries; it is a measure of his impact that the anti-Christian writer celsus took him very seriously. Of the three classical arguments of ancient apologetics (miracles, prophecies, and the spread of the gospel), the argument from prophecy is prominent in Justin's armory, not only in the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, but also in Apologia I addressed to the emperor (see apologetics).

Justin's Theology. Justin's Platonism seriously affects his theology of the relation between the Father and the Logos. Arguing against Trypho's thesis that Biblical monotheism excludes the honor in which Christians hold Jesus, Justin replies that the theophanies of the Old Testament imply the existence of "another God," "other than the Father in number, not in will"; for the supreme Father is too remote and transcendent to be in direct contact with this world. The presuppositions of the argument had been made commonplace by philo judaeus, but it is not certain that Justin had read Philo. The presuppositions were later exploited by arianism until Justin's legacy was finally purged by Augustine's De Trinitate.

Because Justin is distinguishing "Father" and "Son" as God transcendent and God immanent, he remains unclear about the work of the Holy Spirit, who (he says) is "in the third rank," except as inspiring the Prophets. Apart from his Logos theology, Justin is the most eloquent representative of the popular theology of the second century with its characteristic credal stress on the historic facts of Redemptionpassionately opposed to the docetism and gnosticism that spiritualized away both the historicity of the gospel and the hope of resurrection, and acutely aware of the conflict with marcion's denial that the Old Testament God is Father of Jesus Christ. Justin wrote a treatise against Marcion that is lost. He insists that the Incarnation is the culmination of the Creator's plan. Christ as Logos is the agent in creation, manifesting Himself to the Patriarchs, and finally taking of Mary our entire manhood: body, reason, and soul. To the Pauline typology of Adam and Christ, Justin adds the analogy of Eve with Mary, seeing in this "recapitulation" a proof of the unity of Old and New Testaments and the continuity of creation and Redemption. Here Justin contributed much to the thought of Irenaeus and Tertullian. Anti-Gnostic polemic may also be seen in his eschatology: preceded by Elijah as forerunner, Christ will return to a renewed Jerusalem for 1,000 years until the final resurrection. Justin thinks it heresy to hold that souls ascend to heaven immediately at death. A toleration that he extends to fellow Christians who do not accept the virgin birth is not accorded to those who deny millennial hopes.

Church and Sacraments. Though undeveloped, Justin's doctrine of the Church stresses unity and universality. The Church is the true Israel, vindicated against rival sects by being the object of persecution. The Romans ought to recognize an ally in it and suppress the heretics. To dispel pagan suspicion that the Sacraments are black magic Justin describes Baptism and the Eucharist. His account is noteworthy for references to pagan analogies (e.g., a Mithraic initiation ceremony with bread and water), which Justin explains as diabolical counterfeits. (demonology is prominent in Justin's world view.) Baptism, which is washing with water in the name of the Trinity, signifies remission of sins, regeneration, "illumination," and transference from necessity to freedom. The weekly Eucharist is thanksgiving for both creation and Redemption. After readings from Prophets and Apostles, a sermon, prayers, and the kiss of peace, the "president" is given bread and wine mixed with water (the stress on dilution meets pagan gossip about Christian inebriation) and offers a long prayer of thanksgiving. The deacons distribute the Eucharist to the baptized, who receive it not as bread and drink, but as Jesus' flesh and blood. They also take the Sacrament to absent members.

Justin is a crucial witness to the emerging New Testament corpus. He cites synoptic sayings as from "the apostles' memoirs," probably using a synoptic gospel harmony that his follower tatian enlarged to include St. John. Justin's tradition included a few apocryphal points and sayings diverging from canonical forms. The Apocalypse he regards as the work of the Apostle John. He never names St. Paul but has many echoes of several Epistles, including Hebrews. He is the first certain writer to use Acts. His knowledge of St. John's Gospel is probable.

Justin was not translated into Latin before 1554. His influence is marked above all in irenaeus, tertullian, hippolytus, and origen, who built on foundations laid by him. Between the Apostles and Irenaeus he is much the greatest figure.

Feast: April 14; June 1 among the Greeks.

Bibliography: justin martyr, The Dialogue with Trypho, tr. a. l. williams (New York 1930), well-annotated translation. e. j. goodspeed, Die ältesten Apologeten (Leipzig 1914), critical apparatus misleading. r. knopf and g. krÜger, Ausgewählte Märtyrerakten (3d ed. Tübingen 1929). w. schmid, "Die Textüberlieferung der Apologie des Justin," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenchaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 40 (1941) 87138. c. andresen, Logos und Nomos: Die Polemik des Kelsos wider das Christentum (Berlin 1955); Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 6 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195763) 3:1076. h. wey, Die Funktionen der bösen Geister (Winterthur 1957). w. pannenberg, "Die Aufnahme des philosophischen Gottesbegriffs," Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 70 (1959) 145. k. gross, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, 5:122526. j. quasten, Patrology (Westminster, Md.) 1:196219, bibliog.

[h. chadwick]