It is ironic, perhaps, that it was the witness of the martyrs that helped inspire the conversion of St. Justin from paganism to the Christian faith; it was because he clung to and defended that faith that his own life would end in martyrdom in 165.
Though his exact birth date is unknown, scholars surmise that he was born into a pagan family sometime around the year 100. As a young man, he was drawn to the study of philosophy as a way of discovering truth, and he spent a great deal of time reading and contemplating the works of Plato. As profound as those works were, they did not satisfy his desire to fully understand the most basic and important questions he was asking about life.
It was a chance meeting on a beach that led him toward the answers he was seeking. There he fell into conversation with an old man who shared with him the message of Jesus Christ. This, coupled with the witness of the Christian martyrs, convinced him that the truths he sought could be found, not in the speculations of philosophy alone, but in the person of the Word made Flesh–Jesus of Nazareth.
Justin, however, did not abandon his intellect or his intellectual pursuits. He simply put them to use defending his newfound faith, writing Christian apologies (a word which means, in a theological sense, explanations of the faith) for both Jews and Romans. He was able to combine the best elements of Greek philosophy with Christian theology to both defend Christianity and correct erroneous assumptions about it. Some of those errors–such as believing that Christians were "cannibals" because they spoke of "eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ"–we would find preposterous today. However, in Justin's time, such misconceptions were believed and his writings did much to dispel these misunderstandings. Two of his "Apologies," one each written to the Roman emperor and to the Roman Senate, as well as a "Dialogue to the Jew Tryphon" have survived.
When Marcus Aurelius became emperor in Rome in 161, an era of increased persecution of Christians began. Among those martyred for the faith was St. Justin, whose name would even come down to us with the cognomen "Martyr." One of Christianity's greatest apologists, Justin Martyr is honored as the patron saint of philosophers. His feast day is celebrated June 1.
Sources for these articles include:
Lebreton, Jules. "St. Justin Martyr." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.
"Saint Justin Martyr," CatholicSaints.Info. 8 August 2015.
Schreck, Alan. Catholic Church History from A to Z. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.
- Published in Saints & Sacred