The Feast of St. Justin Martyr
June 1 marks the feast day of St. Justin Martyr, an early Father of the Church and one of the first apologists for the Christian faith. Born at Neapolis around the year 100 A.D., Justin was born in a pagan society and was a pagan philosopher until he converted around the age of 30. After converting, Justin became one of the first great apologists of the Church. Using his skill in philosophy to dispute pagans and explain Christian faith, he taught and defended the faith and even opened a school of debate in Rome. The words of the second Eucharistic prayer in the Mass of the Roman Rite are attributed to this great, early saint.
To be a Christian in Rome was a dangerous thing; to be a Christian was to recognize an authority above the Empire- something Rome couldn't tolerate. In later years, Justin Martyr recalled that even before his conversion, he recognized the fallacy of Rome's perception of Christians as people of debauchery, immoral, perverse sorcerers who practiced vampirism:
“For I myself, too, when I was delighting in the doctrines of Plato, and heard the Christians slandered, and saw them fearless of death, and of other things which are counted fearful, perceived that It was impossible that they could be living in wickedness and pleasure. For what sensual or intemperate man, or who that counts it good to feast on human flesh, could welcome death that he might be deprived of his enjoyments, and would not rather continue always the present life, and attempt to escape the observation of the rulers.” - The Second Apology of Justin
When he was about 30, Justin did convert, in the city of Ephesus. And while he was no doubt welcomed into the Christian community, he still associated with the same crowd he had before his conversion. He acted as a philosophical apologist, lead by a desire to see his friends and fellow philosophers learn the truth of Christianity. And his writings were capable of doing so. He wrote, and spoke, with the reason and logic the pagan philosophers sought. He defended the Christian faith, armed with reason, and used reason to show the inaccuracies of the Roman rumors of what Christianity was, and why it was illogical to persecute Christians based on the rumors, and not actual instances of wrongdoing.
St. Justin Martyr has handed down to us, one of the earliest defenses of the Holy Eucharist, in his First Apologia (# 66):
"We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
In the end, Justin was tried and martyred for teaching Christianity, not alone, but with 6 of those who had come to follow him, taken away in the night when they were gathered in study of the Sacred Scriptures. After steadfastly refusing to renounce their faith and rejoin society as pagans, Justin Martyr watched the six followers beheaded before him, as the custom of the day was to make the shepherd watch his flock go first. Justin, too, was then beheaded, though some later texts describe his manner of death as being forced to drink a cup of poison.
Prayer to St. Justin Martyr -
St Justin Martyr, pray for us that we would defend the faith, not just in word, but in deed as you showed by your life and death as a martyr for Our Lord Jesus Christ.
O God, through the folly of the Cross You taught the Blessed Martyr Justin, the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ; grant us, by his intercession to avoid all the deceits of error, and to become steadfast in faith. Through the same, Amen.
This article has been adapted from the book Four Witnesses - The Early Church in Her Own Words, and from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia entry on St. Justin Martyr.