Today is the feast day of St. Justin Martyr who is one of my favorite saints from the Early Church. I am writing for Catholic Exchange today on why St. Justin is such a great saint for our times:
I was introduced to St. Justin Martyr in my first semester of graduate school. I was taking a Church History class in which we read the book, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, by Robert Louis Wilken. I really enjoyed the book because it focused on the philosophical and theological writings of the first few centuries of the Church. The author devotes quite a few pages to the writings of St. Justin Martyr.
St. Justin lived 100-165 A.D. He was born in Palestine, but referred to himself as a Samaritan. This was probably due to his birth in Neapolis which was in then Roman Palestine. His family was actually Greek, which would be of great influence throughout his life. He was not exposed to the Jewish or Christian teachings of his day until he was an adult. St. Justin began as a philosopher and donned the philosopher’s garb, which was a sign to the world of his dedication to the philosopher’s way of life. Upon his conversion, he continued to wear the garb and to debate with the philosophers of his day. He was one of the early Christian apologists
He went in search of truth early on. He wandered from philosopher to philosopher in order to dig deep into the questions of life. He would leave each different philosopher with a sense of longing that had not been filled. He finally met a Platonist who did not keep to the typical Platonic belief that the soul was immortal and had life within itself. Instead, this sage spoke of the soul as a gift from God. From this teacher, Justin discovered the prophets of old who shared the Word of God. The conversation left him forever changed and he said: “A flame was kindled in my soul and I was seized by love of the prophets and of the friends of Christ. While I was pondering his words in my mind, I came to see that this way of life alone is sure and fulfilling.”
St. Justin settled in Rome among a thriving Christian community and he began to teach. Much of his teaching and writing was in defense of Christianity against the Romans who were largely influenced by Hellenistic culture. His life as a philosopher made him uniquely suited to respond to Roman culture. He also devoted some work to the Christian response to Judaism. His most famous work in that regard is Dialogue with Trypho, which offered an explanation of how the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) must be interpreted in light of Christian revelation.