Justin Martyr is another saint I discovered during my lead-up to returning to the Catholic Church in 2007. In fact, it might even be appropriate to say that it is all his fault. (Yes, I know that last month I said that it was the fault of St. Thomas Aquinas. It was his fault, too. The fact is, it was a conspiracy.)
I made the acquaintance of Justin Martyr while reading Rod Bennett’s excellent book, Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words. In that book, Bennett traces Catholic tradition from the apostolic age to the time of the great councils of the Church through the writings of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons, and shows that there is a continuous thread of witness from the days of the apostles to the days of the ecumenical councils.
I picked up the book because Evangelicals commonly cite the Early Church as foundational for their beliefs, and I wanted to find out what the members of the Early Church actually believed. There’s a notion out there that the Apostles had it right, and then somewhere in the first centuries it all went horribly awry.
Bennett shows that the truth is far otherwise; and for me, the final straw was Justin Martyr’s First Apology, written to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. This was during a time of persecutions, and Christians were being accused of all manner of uncouth, evil, and impious acts, such as killing babies and drinking their blood. One can see where these rumors started, of course. Justin was a philosopher who had come to believe in Christ; he wrote to set the record straight, and as part of his plea he gave a complete description of the Mass and everything that takes place there, including the Eucharist, so that the Emperor could see that no child-murder was taking place.
And that’s where I put the book down for a moment, and uttered a rude word. Because the Mass Justin described was recognizable as the Mass I’d grown up with. The Catholic Church really was the Church established by Christ, as I’d been taught; and I was in the wrong place. It took me a while to come to terms with that.
Justin’s calm, philosophical argumentation was ultimately no help against the Romans; they beheaded him in the year 165. He fought the good fight, and ran the race to the finish, and his feast is celebrated on the 1st of June.
Copyright 2013 Will Duquette