Of course the man who could thus tell the Roman senate and people that all that they held sacred was unspeakably and hideously wicked could expect but one fate.
Continuing Early Christian Martyrs,
with a selection by Homersham Cox. This selection is presented in 3 easy five minute installments.
Previously in Early Christian Martyrs.
Place: Rome and Smyrna, Turkey
Justin then proceeds to give a remarkably interesting and graphic account of his conversion to Christianity:
“And while I was thus disposed, when I wished to be filled with great quietness and to shun the path of men, I used to go into a certain field not far from the sea. And when I was near that spot one day where I purposed to be by myself, a certain old man of dignified appearance, exhibiting meek and venerable manners, followed me at a little distance. And when I turned around on him, having halted, I fixed my eyes rather keenly upon him.”
Justin gets into conversation with the old man and says that he delights in solitary spots, where his attention is not distracted and where his converse with himself is uninterrupted, and proceeds to a fervid laudation of philosophy.
“‘Does philosophy, then, make happiness?’ said he, interrupting. ‘Assuredly,’ said I, ‘and it alone.’ ‘What, then, is philosophy?’ he said, ‘and what is happiness? Pray tell me, unless something hinders you from saying.’
“‘Philosophy,’ said I, ‘is a knowledge of that which really exists and a clear perception of truth, and happiness is the reward of such knowledge and wisdom.’ ‘But what do you call God?’ said he. ‘That which always maintains the same nature and is the cause of all other things — that, indeed, is God.’ So I answered him, and he listened with pleasure.”
The conversation, which is too long to be fully transcribed, turns on the attributes of the soul. Justin discourses on that topic after the manner of the Platonists. The old man, on the other hand, urges him to study the prophets of the Old Testament, for they predicted the coming of Christ, and their prophecies have been fulfilled. “‘They,’ said he, ‘both glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all, and proclaimed his Son the Christ sent by him. But,’ he added, ‘pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you, for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by him to whom God and his Christ have imparted wisdom.’
“When he had spoken these and many other things which there is no time for mentioning at present, he went away, bidding me attend to them, and I have not seen him since. But straightway a flame was kindled in my soul, and a love of the prophets and of those men who are friends of Christ possessed me; and whilst revolving his words in my mind I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable. Thus and for this reason I am a philosopher. Moreover, I would that all, making a resolution similar to my own, would regard the words of the Saviour, for they possess a terrible power in themselves, and are sufficient to inspire those who turn aside from the path of rectitude with awe, while the sweetest rest is afforded to those who diligently observe them.”
The Dialogue from which these passages are taken is a real or imaginary disputation with Trypho, a learned Jew at Ephesus, respecting the principles of Christianity, and contains an elaborate demonstration that Christ is the Messiah of the Old Testament. The controversy is carried on with courtesy on both sides, and each disputant is equally earnest in his attempt to convert the other.
Justin was a very copious writer. The two most important of his writings now remaining are the two Apologies. These are certainly the two earliest of the numerous ancient pleas for toleration of Christianity now extant. The first Apologia is addressed to the emperor Antoninus Pius and the Roman senate and the “whole people of the Romans”; and the purport of it may be inferred from the commencement, in which Justin says that he presents this “address and petition in behalf of all nations who are unjustly hated and wantonly abused, myself being one of them.”
The second Apologia was addressed to the Roman senate, probably in the reign of Antoninus Marcus Aurelius, and successor of Antoninus Pius. In this work Justin appeals indignantly to the Roman senate against the unjust conduct of one Urbicus, who at Rome had condemned several persons to death simply because they professed to be Christians. This Urbicus seems to have held the office of prefect of the city — a magistrate from whom there was no appeal except to the prince himself, or, as this Apologia would suggest, to the senate.
The two Apologies contain the most vehement invectives against the whole system of heathen idolatry, and accuse Jupiter and the other gods whom the Romans revered of ineffable vices.
Of course the man who could thus tell the Roman senate and people that all that they held sacred was unspeakably and hideously wicked could expect but one fate. Justin threw down the gauntlet, and the constituted authorities very quietly took it up, with a result which, as the human power was all with them, it was not difficult to foresee.
Some time in the reign of Aurelius, but in what year is not known, Justin and several other Christians were accused before Rusticus, prefect of Rome, of disobedience to certain decrees then in force, by which Christians who refused to sacrifice to the gods were liable to be put to death. It is difficult to reconcile the passing of these decrees with the known character of Aurelius, who is universally described as a humane, as a benevolent king. The probable explanation is that, like his predecessor Trajan, he was actuated by motives of state policy, and regarded Christianity as rebellion against the authority of the State.
Eusebius has given an account of the martyrdom of Justin upon the authority of Tatian, who was a disciple of the martyr. This account substantially agrees with the very ancient Martyrdom of Justin, which concludes thus:
“The prefect says to Justin: ‘Hearken, you who are called learned and think that you know true doctrines: if you are scourged and beheaded, do you believe that you will ascend into heaven?’
“Justin said, ‘I hope that if I endure these things I shall have this gift, for I know that to all who have thus lived there abides the divine favor until the completion of the world.’
“Rusticus, the prefect, said, ‘Do you suppose that you will ascend into heaven to receive such a recompense?’ Justin said, ‘I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.’
“Thus also said the other Christians, ‘Do what you will, for we are Christians and do not sacrifice to idols.’
“Rusticus, the prefect, pronounced sentence, saying, ‘Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the command of the Emperor be scourged and led away to suffer decapitation according to the law.’
“The holy martyrs, having glorified God and having gone forth to the accustomed place, were beheaded, and perfected their testimony in the confession of the Saviour. And some of the faithful, having secretly removed their bodies, laid them in a suitable place, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ having wrought along with them, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
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