1902 Encyclopedia > Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr
Greek theologian
(c. 100 - c. 165 AD)




JUSTIN, Martyr and Apologist as he is usually called, was an able and eloquent advocate of Christianity in the 2d century. Almost all we know about him is told us in his own writings. He was born in Palestine, at Flavia Neapolis (Apol., i. 1), the ancient Shechem, now Nabulus. The names of his father Priscus and grandfather Bacchius suggest that he was of Latin descent, and some passages in his writings seem to say that his parents were heathens. He relates his own conversion in two passages. In the one he says that he was drawn to Christianity because he saw the Christians dauntless in death (ApoL, ii. 12); in the other he tells how chance intercourse with an aged stranger brought him to know the truth (Dial. c. Tryph., c. 2), but this passage may be allegorical. In the intro-duction to the dialogue with Trypho, Justin describes various systems of pagan philosophy and his relation to them. At first he associated with the Stoics; from them he went to a Peripatetic, then to a Pythagorean; and at length he embraced the doctrines of Platonism. His Platonism clung to him through life, and curiously coloured many of his Christian speculations. We know little about Justin's life after his conversion. It is very probable that he retained his philosopher's cloak, the distinctive badge of the wandering and professional teacher of philo-sophy, and went about from place to place discussing the truths of Christianity in the hope of bringing educated pagans, as he himself had been brought, through philosophy to Christ. At Ephesus he held the famous disputation with Trypho the Jew, and in Borne he argued with Crescens the Cynic. If the Cohortatio be genuine, he also visited Alexandria and Cumee. His martyrdom is well authenticated. In his second Apology Justin declares that he expected martyrdom, and that he believed that his opponent Crescens, silenced in public by his arguments, would do his best to get him thrown into prison and condemned to death; and this declaration is probably the reason why Eusebius, who often manufactures facts out of suppositions, asserts that Justin was slain through the plots of Crescens. An old martyrium, of unknown authorship, records the trial and death of a Justin, who is probably Justin Martyr, though there is no corroborative historical evidence. If the account can be accepted, Justin was brought before Eusticus, a Roman magistrate who was a Stoic; during his trial he was brave, quiet, and dignified; he professed his faith in the God of heaven and earth, and in His Son "the Master of Truth," and confidently expressed the conviction that after death he would share a blessed immortality. He was condemned and put to death on the same day. We cannot fix with any certainty the dates of Justin's birth and death. He was probably born near the beginning of the 2d century, and was martyred somewhere between 148 and 165.





Justin was one of the earliest and ablest of the Christian Apologists, and it is as an apologist rather than as a theo-logian that he must be criticized, for his Apologies did not lead him directly to exhibit and defend the truths of Christianity. He was defending Christians not Christi-anity. Trajan had formally authorized the persecution of the Christians. Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had done nothing to put this decree in operation, but it hung over the Christian church, and might have been put in force at any moment. The Christians were legally proscribed. This was the state of matters which gave rise to Justin's Apologies. He wrote like a man full of Christianity; it was his philosophy, his religion, his rule of daily life. And he wrote boldly, having nothing to fear and nothing to conceal. The argument of his first Apology, addressed to the emperor Antoninus Pius, may be thus condensed. " In the name of these unjustly hated and much abused men, I, Justin, one of themselves, present to you this discourse and petition. You are everywhere called the Pious, the guardian of justice, the friend of truth; your acts shall show whether you merit these titles. My design is neither to natter you by this letter nor to win your favour. Judge us by a scrupulous and enlightened equity, not by mere presumption, nor in the name of superstition, nor by the persuasion of calumny; .... we fear no harm if we are not guilty of any crime. You can kill, you cannot injure us. All that we ask for is investigation; if the charges made against us are true, let us be punished. . . . Our duty is to make our deeds and doctrines fully known ; yours is to investigate our cause and to act as good judges." Justin then proceeds to set forth the iniquity of the summary modes of trial in use against the Christians, and goes on to state and deal with the charges brought against his brethren. These were three: the Christians were denounced as atheists, as rebels, and as evil-doers—faithless to God, the emperor, and society. Justin answers, " We are atheists, if it be atheism not to acknowledge your gods; but we hold this glorious atheism in common with Socrates, who was martyred for it as we are; we are no atheists, for we worship the God of truth, the Father of righteousness, of wisdom, and of all virtues. We are no rebels : the kingdom founded by Jesus is purely spiritual, and need be no cause of alarm to the emperors ; we worship God only, but with this exception we joyfully obey you and acknowledge you as our princes and governors. So far from our being rebels, our religion helps true and good government; men may always hope to elude human law, but they cannot hope to escape God, who sees and knows all things. We are no criminals: the Crucified One whom we worship is the Divine Word, living truth, and has enjoined us to live holy and pure lives." Justin contrasts pagan morals and the Christian life, the pagan deities and Jesus of Nazareth. The empire, and Christianity were at war because of the persecuting edicts of the emperors, and Justin has no doubt that Christianity must in the end win the day. The Apology ends with solemn dignity : " If this doctrine appears true and reasonable give heed to it; if not, treat it as of no value. But do not condemn men to death who have done you no wrong; for we declare to you that you will not escape the judgment of God if you persist in injustice. For ourselves, we have but one cry—' The will of God be done.'" In the dialogue with Trypho, Justin endeavoured to show the truth of Christianity from the Old Testament Scriptures, and he described the New Testament as the new law which superseded, while it ful-filled, the old. It is not possible to construct a scheme of Christian dogmatic from the writings of Justin, but some ideas may be gathered from his Apologies. Christ is the centre of religion, and the exposition of Christian doctrine is to be grouped around a description of Christ. God is the God and Father of Jesus Christ. He is the only and the one God in opposition to the polytheism of the heathen ; the unbegotten God, not born and reared like Dionysus the son of Semele or Apollo son of Leto ; the unspeakable God, because every thinking man knows that God's existence cannot be thought of or described. God is spiritual; He has indescribable glory and shape; He is omniscient and almighty ; He is creator; He has made the world for man, and cares for His creatures; He is full of mercy and good-ness. With Justin the great fact in Christianity is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; he does not spend much time in thinking out what this means, but he is one of the earliest writers who unconsciously tries to explain the incarnation by the Platonic thought of the Logos. Justin, however, thinks of the Logos as a personal being. The begetting of the Logos is an act of the Father's; but we cannot say when the Logos was begotten, because He was before all creation, and so before all time. The Logos is the instrument through whom God created and preserves the universe; He is the instrument in the miraculous history of the Jews ; He inspired the heathen sages ; He is God; He became incarnate. Justin does not seem to distinguish between the divine and human natures of Christ, but he believes Christ to be man and to be God. And so on with other doctrines. In Justin we see the earnest living Christianity of the 2d century firmly centred on Jesus Christ, very God and very man, trying to live again His life, taught by His Spirit. The faith rested in the great central facts of Christianity, but the power of defining doctrine had not become vigorous.

No ancient writer gives a complete list of Justin's writings ; the fullest is that of Eusebius (Eccl. Hist., iv. 18). The following, now extant, have been ascribed to him :—The two Apologies ; Dia-logue with the Jew Trypho ; A Speech to the Greeks; An Address to the Greeks; On the Sole Government of God; An Epistle to Diognetus; Fragments on the Resurrection ; and other fragments. The follow-ing, now extant, and attributed to Justin, are deemed spurious:— The Exposition of the True Faith; Epistle to Zenas and Serenus; A Refutation of Certain Doctrines of Aristotle ; Questions and Answers to the Orthodox ; Questions of Christians to Heathens ; Questions of Heathens to Christians.

The First Apology is undoubtedly genuine. It refers to the Jewish rebellion, 131-136, and was probably written 138-140 A.D. The Second Apology which has come down to us is probably not the second apology mentioned by Eusebius, which has been lost, but a portion of the first. The authenticity of the Dialogue with Trypho has been disputed by Lange, Koch, Wettstein, &c, but their arguments are not convincing ; more interest attaches to the question whether it is historical or written in imita-tion of the dialogues of Plato ; the greater weight of evidence lies on the side that it is historical. The Speech to the Greeks is probably Justin's ; but the weight of evidence is against the authenticity of the remaining writings.

Editions.—Robert Stephanus, Paris, 1551; Sylburg, Heidelberg, 1593 ; Morell, Paris, 1615; Maran, Paris, 1742. The best edition is Otto's, 3d ed., Jena, 1876 and following years.

Good translations of Justin have appeared in the Oxford Library of the Fathers, and in Clarke's Ante-Nicciic Library.

Full information about Justin's history and views may be had from Otto, Dc Justini Martyris Scriptis ct Doctrina, Jena, 1841; and from Donaldson's History of Christian Literature and Doctrine, London, 1866, vol. ii. For information about MSS., see Donald-son, p. 144, and Otto's prefaces. Otto refers, ii. p. xxvi., to & Codex GlascovieTisis, but this is a mistake ; the MS. referred to con-tains the orations of an Italian humanist Justiniani. (T. M. L.)







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