Justin (c.100-165)

1st June. The first Christian philosopher

I have never been fully comfortable with the expression sometimes used in religious circles, that ‘the longest journey is from the head to the heart’ - as if the head needs to be empty for the heart to be full. While no doubt wise, it can imply an inferiority of the mind that somehow diminishes God’s gift of reason. Faith and reason need not be enemies, and our saint this month was a man who sought to reconcile them.

Justin was a Palestinian, born in Nablus at the beginning of the second century. He came from a pagan Greek family and seems to have had sufficient independence to travel and study in various philosophical schools. From his early years he had a searching mind and a passion for discovering the truth:

“Philosophy is the knowledge of that which exists, and a clear understanding of the truth; and happiness is the reward of such knowledge and understanding.”

He studied widely, investigating many philosophical and religious systems until, aged about 30, he came across Christianity which he embraced as the only safe and certain philosophy, the only way to salvation. Although remaining a lay person, he travelled from place to place proclaiming the gospel, including teaching at Ephesus and twice visiting Rome - ‘It is our duty to make teaching known’. After his conversion he continued to wear the distinctive robes of a professional philosopher as a sign that he had attained the only true philosophy.

He is honoured as an outstanding thinker and apologist for the Christian faith, and was the first to engage in serious dialogue with other intellectual disciplines, including Judaism. He is the earliest such writer whose major works survive today.

Existing court records detail how Justin was brought before Rusticus, Prefect of Rome, after being denounced as a Christian by a Cynic philosopher. Eventually ordered to sacrifice to the Roman gods he responded “No right-minded man forsakes truth for falsehood”. Five others accused with him also refused on the grounds they were Christians, and all were beheaded. Such was his reputation that, after his death - and in spite of court records, stories circulated that he had been poisoned with hemlock - the way philosophers were killed, or both poisoned and executed. This ‘double death’, or double witness to faith and reason, is reflected when his name is given with the surname ‘Martyr’, Justin Martyr the martyr.

It is a challenging, but also an encouraging thought, that everybody has something to teach us (also, hopefully, something to learn from us). Rarely is this as clear as in the case of Justin, who showed us we can use our intellect to find God - and to serve him. Logic, as well as love, is a dimension of faith and a route to holiness.

Jim McLean

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 31st May 2000