Friday, June 1, 2007

+ St. Justin the Martyr +

Today is the recognized commemoration of the first century apologist Justin Martyr (100-165). An apologist is a defender of the faith. In modern use the word "apology" is usually understood as a polite excuse and expression of regret. However, the meaning here is from the root meaning of the Greek word apologia, namely reason or defense.

The latest hymnal of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, Lutheran Service Book, now has a section of commemorations that includes this early father of the faith. This is encouraging, as even Lutherans have developed a bit of the Protestant amnesia when it comes to the history of the church (see my previous article on "Lessons from History"). In previous Lutheran hymnals only those figures referenced directly in the Bible were mentioned, with the possible exception of St. Lorenz, which was probably a concession to the "mother church" of the Bavarians in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Nevertheless, the Augsburg Confession, article 21 states that "Our churches teach that the remembrance of the saints is to be commended in order that we may imitate their faith and good works according to our calling." These "saints" include many of the notable personalities of the church throughout time, not just up through the death of the last apostle.

A nice summary of Justin's life and work may be found in the Wikipedia article bearing his name. As the title attached to his name indicates, Justin is known, in part, as one of the many brave Christians who died for the faith, in his case by being beheaded along with six other companions. He was a converted pagan who studied philosophy. After conversion to the faith he continued to wear his philosopher's robe as a sign that he had found the truth. It is believed that he eventually settled in Rome and established a school there.

A fair amount of literature exists by his pen, which includes two well-known Apologies. These are addressed to the Emperor and senate in defense of Christianity in response to the false accusations against the church, as a reasoned bridge between paganism and Christianity, and to give an insight into the liturgical life of the Early Church.

Justin writes: "For sound reason not only demands that we do not heed those who did or taught anything wrong, but it requires that the lover of truth must choose, in every way possible, to do and say what is right, even when threatened with death, rather than save his own life." One would hope that this courageous and bold spirit is still alive among many in our church today, for there is a renaissance of paganism in our time, and men like Justin and needed more than ever.

Justin also appeals to them that "after an accurate and thorough examination" they would "hand down a decision that will not be influenced by prejudice or by the desire to please superstitious men; a decision that will not be the result of an irrational impulse or of an evil rumor long persistent, lest it become a judgment against yourselves." Such words need to be repeated to the current enemies of the church that seek just as diligently to discredit Christians based on half-truths, rumor, and innuendo. We deserve, as all people, to be judged on the objective truth of what we proclaim and do, not on what people have developed in caricatures of us. "It is our duty, therefore," writes Justin, "to give everyone a chance of investigating our life and doctrines, lest we should pay the penalty for what they commit in their blindness, they who persist in being ignorant of our ways."

Justin is also bold to explain the demonic influence behind false gods that many 'politically correct' people today would be loathe to do. His awareness of the reality of the demonic realm would appear to some as overly mystic or superstitious. He writes that "the truth shall be told, for the wicked demons from ancient times appeared and defiled women, corrupted boys, and presented such terrifying sights to men that those who were not guided by reason in judging these diabolical acts were panic-stricken. Seized with fear and unaware that these were evil demons, they called them gods and greeted each by the name which each demon had bestowed upon himself."

For those who object to the Christian faith, one popular reason given is the so-called violence and injustice they have read about in the actions of those in the past, especially indicting the time of the Crusades. Although others are quick to indict all Christians based on the actions of only a few in any era. Justin seemed to have faced this problem as well. He asks that those so-called Christians "arrested and convicted as criminals" be judged on their personal offenses, "so that whoever is convicted may be punished as an offender, not as a Christian."

Aside from these matters Justin's description of the worshipping assembly is equally valuable to us today, especially in light of those who have deviated from the one, true faith and justify this on the basis of scripture, ignorant of what the Early Church believed and practiced. Regarding fellowship at the Table Justin willingly admits that already in the second century communicants were limited to those who have "acknowledged the truth of our teachings, who [have] been cleansed by baptism for the remission of sins and for [their] regeneration, and who regulates [their] life upon the principles laid down by Christ." Obviously the practice of "open communion" was unknown in the Early Church, and that they recognized the need for responsible pastoral care of those who communed.

Justin furthermore supports the real presence in the sacrament. It is no mere "ordinary bread" or "ordinary wine." Rather, he notes that the church even then believed that this is rather the "flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh."

For those Christians such as the Seventh-Day Adventists and those of various cults and sects that insist that it is sub-Christian to worship on Sunday verses Saturday, there is no support from this ancient father. He also gives us a 'snapshot' of early Christian worship, showing us how much our own practice relfects that of the ancient church. Justin writes that "On the day which is called Sunday we have a common assembly of all who live in the cities or in the outlying districts, and the memoirs of the Apostles [Gospels] or the writings of the prophets are read as long as there is time. Then when the reader has finished, the president of the assembly verbally admonishes and invites all to imitate such examples of virtue. Then we all stand up together and offer up our prayers, and as we said before, after we finish our prayers, bread and wine and water are presented. He who presides likewise offers up prayers and thanksgivings to the best of his ability, and the people express their approval by saying 'Amen.' The Eucharistic elements are distributed and consumed by those present, and to those who are absent they are sent through the deacons. The wealthy, if they wish, contribute whatever they desire, and the collection is placed in the custody of the president. With it he helps the orphans and widows, those who are needy because of sickness or any other reason, and the captives and strangers in our midst; in short, he takes care of all those in need. Sunday, indeed, is the day on which we all hold our common assembly because it is the first day on which God, transforming the darkness and prime matter, created the world; and our Savior Jesus Christ arose from the dead on the same day. Fro they crucified Him on the day before that of Saturn, and on the day after, which is Sunday, He appeared to His Apostles and disciples, and taught them the things which we have passed on to you...." [From: Readings in Church History, Vol. I, ed. by Colman J. Barry, O.S.B] --Incidently, it would be nice to see the church reclaim its original role in the support of the poor, a role, in some ways, long since abdicated to the state, which has had a checked history in its success in this area.

There is much more that could be shared that Justin has left us, but this is sufficient to demonstrate his great contribution to the church of his day as well as ours, nearly 2,000 years later. His voice is needed again. May others so gifted take up the apologist's mantle and bravely proclaim Christ and the Truth of his life, death, and resurrection, to our pagan and evil culture today!

A blessed St. Justin's day to all!

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