Justin was considered a great steward of Christian teachings a century after the apostles, and is regarded as the first significant Christian philosopher. Some even consider him to be the most prominent person in Christianity between Saint Paul (death ca. 67) and Saint Irenaeus (death ca. 200).
Born of Greek parents in the ancient city of Shechem (now, Nablus, in the West Bank), he was well educated in rhetoric, poetry, history and philosophy. After studying and teaching philosophy, Justin converted to Christianity around 130, having been impressed with the connection between Christ and the Old Testament prophecies as well as with those who suffered martyrdom for their faith.
Justin was attracted to the writings of the Greek philosopher, Plato, and how they complemented Christian teaching. But it was the teachings of Jesus Christ that became for him what he called “the only sure and useful philosophy.”
After his conversion, Justin continued teaching philosophy, but now as a Christian, teaching first at Ephesus and eventually in Rome. He publicly debated others, including Jewish scholars, and those who embraced other religions and worshiped Roman gods. Around 150, he founded a school of philosophy, taught the Christian faith, and wrote his major works. His writings disclose important information about the contemporary rites of Baptism and Eucharist. He wanted to show that they were not “magical” rites as pagans said they were. It is also important to note that Justin taught from the lived tradition of the Christian community and not from the New Testament, since that portion of Sacred Scripture had not yet been developed into what we know it to be today.
Justin’s writings strengthened the morale of Christians at the time. Justin was arrested in Rome and at his trial he openly confessed his faith and refused to worship Roman gods. He was severely beaten and beheaded.
Justin Martyr is the patron saint of philosophers and his feast day is June 1.
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