St Justin of Nablus, Palestine, Martyr
By Fr. Igino Grego SDB
St. Justin is a Palestinian Father of the Church, he is the first who tells us about the holy mass, and about Mary as new Eve
We encounter St Justin as the first of the Fathers of the Church immediately after apostolic times. He is rightly considered “the prince of the apologists”, that is, of those Christian writers who undertook the task of defending the Christian faith against pagans and Jews. He is also held to be the first Christian philosopher, and particularly a man of dialogue. According to Lagrange he is the “patron of uprigiht souls of sincere souls, of courageous souls” (Saint Justin, Coll. Les Saints, Paris 1914, 203). He is a genuine Christian to whom the words of Lubac can fittingly be applied: “Apologetics is to witness what words are to example” (cf . sur les chemins de Dieu, Paris 1956,180).
Justin was born in Sichem-Nablus (Flavia Neapolis) in about 110 A.D., of pagan parents, probably of Latin origin. He himself mentions them, “Justin, son of Priscus, son of Baccizus, natives of Flavia Neapolis, a city in Syria Palestine” (1-Apol. 1,1). He had a thirst for the truth and strived to satisfy it. He frequented the different schools of philosophy of his times but remained dissatisfied. Finally he met a mysterious old man near the seashore (perhaps at Ephesus, though others place the meeting at Cesarea of Palestine). This meeting initiated a crisis in which he felt the inability of the soul to satisfy its aspirations for the divine by solely human means. The old man spoke to him of the men to whom he shou!d turn to find the path. which would lead him to God and reveal true philosophy to him, that is, the truth: the prophets of long ago, witnesses to the inspired truth revealed by God in the Holy Scriptures. As he took leave of him, the old man exhorted him to pray for the gates of light to be opened to him, for understanding Scripture is a gift granted by God alone (cf Dial.1-9). This incident took place in about 130 in Ephesus, according to the historian Eusebius (HE 4,18r,6) , where the dialogue with the Jew Trypho also took place. But for the decisive step towards becoming a Christian he needed the example of the martyrs and the witness of the integrity of life of the Christians (2 Apol.12-2). Once he had become a Christian he dedicated himself to deepening his knowledge of the faith, and to defending and spreading his religion in debates with Jews and pagans. In his actions he took the following motto as his norm: “he who can declare the truth and does not do so, will be judged by God” (Dial.82). Thus, wearing his philosopher’s cloak, he enthusiastically gave himself to making Christianity known as “the true philosophy”. As an itinerant missionary he arrived in Rome in about 140 and opened a free school there for those who wished to listen to him and learn the religion of Christ. He had many pupils, and he declared in the coure of his “trial, during which he would be condemned to death: ‘if anyone wished to come to me, I taught him the doctrine of truth’ “(Acta Justini martyris et sociorum 3,3). Amongst his pupils were Tatian, who would later become a Christian apologist, and Crescens the Cynic who denounced Justin as a Christian. Arrested, he was condemned and beheaded with six other Christians by the prefect of Rome, Junius Rusticus, in approximately 165 during the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The authentic Acta of his martyrdom still exist, and his feast day is celebrated by the Church on June 1.
JUSTIN THE WRITER
According to Eusebius, Justin wrote a large number of works “ which reveal his culture and his zeal for the things of God, and they are of great benefit in all areas” (HE 18,1-10). The only works still extant are the First and Second Apologies and the Dialogue with Trypho. The First Apology was written in 153 and addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and his adopted sons, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Commodus. The work has 68 chapters and can be divided into three parts: a. An introduction in which he asks for justice for the Christians. b. An apologetic section in which be denounces and rejects the accusations against the Christians, as well as the fact that they are condemned simply for bearing the name of Christian. c. In the third part he describes who the Christians are and explains their rites, such as baptism, the Eucharist, etc. This is followed by a short conclusion. The Second Apology was written shortly after the first, and is shorter, with only 15 chapters. In it, Justin also defends the Christians, who, by their virtuous life and intrepid courage in the face of death demonstrate the superiority of their religion over that of the pagans. The Dialogue with Trypho was written in about 16O, and is a polemic confrontation between Christianity and Judaism. It has 142 chapters, and can be divided into three parts: In the introduction Justin describes his conversion. a. In the first part he gives the Christian understanding of the Old Testament, which had a transitory and typological value, particularly as regards its legal prescriptions. b. The second part is dedicated to Christ, God and Messiah. c. In the third part he talks of the Church as the fulfilment of the prophecies of Micah, Zechariah and Malachi. A short conclusion brings the work to an end.
ASPECTS OF ST JUSTIN’S DOCTRINE
a. The divine plan of salvatior
This is the centrAL theme of Justin’s writings. This plan is made manifest and carried out in the Christ-Logos. Each person, in so far as rational, “Loghikos”, participates in the Word-Logos, the universal principle of rationality. By reason of Creation itself every man bears within himself a seed of the Logos. This is why he can receive parts of the truth. Only in the Logos can the fullness of truth be found. All other truths, imperfect or grasped only indistinctly, taught by the pagan philosophers, belong to Christians since they proceed from Christ Logos ( cf. 2 Apol. 10 andn 13,4; Apol. 23,1). In this way, then, Justin gives a new value to human history, considered under a double perspective: Christological (the influence of Christ extends to all mankind) and anthropological (the most authentic human values are included in Christianity). Also, since at this time antiquity was a criterion of truth, Justin follows the example of the Jewish apologists and puts forward the theory of “borrowing”: the pagan philosophers would have borrowed from Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament who preceded them (1 Apol. 44,4-6 and chap. 59.60).
b. The notion of God
The Father is absolutely transcendent, source of all perfection and all good. He has manifested his goodness in the creation of the world and the carrying out of his plan of salvation by the Son. The Son-Logos is really and numerically distinct from the Father (cf. Dial. 56,11 and 128,3). He is God born from God, as a fire kindled by another fire, as the light coming from the sun (cf. Dial. 128). The divers Christological titles express the glorification and dignity of the Son and indicate that he is really and specifically what these titles designate (he is everything that the Father has wished to tell us and give us); they also reflect the intensity of the experience of salvation lived by the first Christian community. The functions of the Christ-Logos are essentially three: to mediate between the Father and mankind in creation; to fulfil the plan of salvation desired by the Father; and to reveal the wonders of the Father in favour of mankind. He is the protagonist of the manifestations of God in the Old Testament: the Theophanies were in fact Christophanies. This is why the Scriptures can be claimed by Christians, because they speak of Christ. The Holy Spirit is described by Justin as the one who inspired the prophets, as the divine force and as the one who occupies the third place in the Divinity (1 Apol. 13,3. cf. also 60,7).
Justin is the first author to use the Pauline parallel Adam\Christ and establish a similar opposition betwen Eve and Mary (cf, Dial. 100). He establishes the parallel between two generating moments in history, two scenes “that of the original sin and that of the annunciation”, and he stresses the opposite attitudes of the two protagonists, both of them virgins: Eve disobeys and gives birth to death and Mary obeys and gives life. Mary is therefore the woman who by her faith opens up the pathway of salvation. By the same pathway which brought ruin, humanity is brought salvation. The woman-virgin (Eve-Mary) is reponsible for human history, beside and subordinated to the man, Adam-Christ.
d. Angels and demons
Justin speaks of the veneration of angels (cf. 1 Apol. 6,1): they are the protectors of men (cf. 2Apol. 5,2). Those of them who sinned by uniting themselves with women had begot children, who are the demons (cf.2 Apol. 5,2-3 and 1 Apol. 5,2). The latter try to draw men away from their true end into slavery (cf. 1 Apol. 14,1). They place obstacles before the good and persecute them. They deceive especially by the use of the “plausible”: that is, they transform and disfigure the truth, sowing confusion in souls by “mimiicking” (imitating) the Christian mysteries and rites (cf.1 Apol. 5456 and 62,1.2). In short, their sad and perverse mission consists in drawing man into a plan of perdition and death.
e. The sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist:
The witness of Justin concerning the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist is of prime importance for history, the liturgy and dogma (cf. espccially 1 Apol. 61-67 and Dial. 41 and 70,4). Baptism is presented as an “illumination” and a “regeneration” cf. 1 Apol .61). The Eucharist is presented as the memorial of the Body and Blood of Christ (cf. Dial. 70,4); it is a spiritual sacrifice worthy of God (cf. Dial. 117). Christ is present in a sacramental manner the consecrated food is indeed the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus (1 Apol. 66,2). Justin then describes the rites of the Mass: the Christians gather on the day of the sun”, take part in the liturgy of the word, the consecration of the bread and the wine, and finally there is a collection for the needs of the poor (cf. ApoI. 67). In this way the Mass is extended into life. Justin describes also the Eucharistic liturgy of the newly baptized (cf. 1Apol. 6546), thus revealing the “Arcane” disciplines reserved to the initiates.
f. Eschatological Ideas
Justin stresses the second coming of Christ. The first is fulfilled in suffering, the second in glory (cf. Dial. 49.2). The delay in his coming is justified in consideration of the salvation of mankind, since God in his patience gives them time for conversion (cf. 1 Apol. 28,2 and 45,1). The souls of the martyrs are immediately received into paradise, while others go to the lower places (hell), to await the end. The souls of the just live in joy, whilst the souls of the wicked live in sorrow and punishment ý(cf. Dia5,3). Before the last resurrection, the saints will reign with Christ in a rebuilt and enlarged earthly Jerusalem (cf. Dial. 80-SI). Millenarianism means that God’s plan will be brought to perfection in this world, too, in a provisional stage prior to the last judgement. This is also the proof that the earthly Jerusalem will witness the gathering of pagans and Jews, reconciled amongst themselves (cf. Dial. I39,4-5). Finally, the fire of the last conflagration is not the material fire imagined by the Stoics (cf. 2 Apol. 7,3), but the presence of the glory of the Lord which destroys all evil (cf. Apol. 60,8-9). All history will be brought to a conclusion by the resurrection and last judgement.
g. Christian morality
This is a factor truly capable of transforming man’s life, and a sure proof of the truth of the Christian religion. The holiness of Christians is expressed in a behaviour imbued with charity, high ethical standards in the sexual and matrimonial life, and by patience and serene courage in the face of suffering, as exemplified by the martyrs. Justin describes this life with an ardent enthusiasm. Christians also obey the laws, but do not bow to idolatry. They are loyal in their cooperation for the good of the State, and they pray for the civil authorities. As disciples of Christ they have abandoned their previous life of sin, and seek perfection (cf. 1 Apol. 14,2-3). I