Justin was born into a Greek-speaking pagan family about the year 100 (or 110) in Samaria, near Shechem. He was educated well in rhetoric, poetry, and history before turning to philosophy, which he studied at Ephesus and Alexandria. He joined in turn the schools of the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, and the Platonists, but was left restless by all this learning. During a walk along the coast at Ephesus, he fell in with a stranger, who told him about Jesus Christ. “Staightway a flame was kindled in my soul,” he later wrote, “and a love of the prophets and those who are friends of Christ possessed me.” He became a Christian as a result of this encounter, about the year 130, and he thereafter regarded Christianity as the only “safe and profitable philosophy”.
About 150, Justin moved to Rome. As was common with philosphers of the time, he opened a school – in his case, a school of Christian philosophy – and accepted students. He held disputations with Jews, pagans, and heretics. He also wrote, his extant writings being among the earliest literature of the subapostolic age that reflect the outlook of the Christian intellectual. One of the writings is a dialogue in Platonic style with a Jew named Trypho, in which he defends the Church against the Jewish charge of distorting the Old Testament scriptures, interpreting the Old Testament as a foreshadowing of the New. His First and Second Apologies defend the Christian faith against the Greek charge of irrationality and the Roman charge of disloyalty to the empire, and provide us with important insights into the developing theological ideas and liturgical practices of the early Church in Rome. Justin’s aim in the Apologies was evangelistic. He thought that pagans would become Christians if they were made aware of Christian doctrine and practice through articulate, well-reasoned writings.
While teaching in Rome, he engaged in a public debate with a philosopher of the Cynic school named Crescens, accusing him of ignorance and immorality. Angered, Crescens brought legal charges against Justin. Justin and six of his students were arrested and brought before the prefect Rusticus. As was the custom, Rusticus offered them the opportunity to renounce their faith. All steadfastly refused to do so. The record of the trial indicates that Justin clearly confessed his Christian beliefs, refused to sacrifice to the gods, and accepted suffering and death as the means of salvation.
Justin and his companions were put to death during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, about the year 167.
prepared from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980) and
The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
Almighty and everlasting God, you found your martyr Justin wandering from teacher to teacher, seeking the true God, and you revealed to him the sublime wisdom of your eternal Word: Grant that all who seek you, or a deeper knowledge of you, may find and be found by you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of Justin, Martyr at Rome, are published on the Lectionary Page website.
The icon of Saint Justin Martyr is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons and is reproduced here with his generous permission.