(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Justin the Philosopher, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Justin the Philosopher
Religion and philosophy are so intertwined that no line can be drawn between them with any degree of accuracy, as a result of which many of our greatest theologians have been called philosophers, and vice versa. Out of this vast array of thinkers the only one whose name is linked with philosophy is a man who has come to be known as Justin the Philosopher, a title he richly deserves above so many other great intellectuals of the Church because he possessed perhaps one of the finest minds in the history of mankind. The gap between philosophy and Christianity is quite narrow, but the catalyst for uniting the two has escaped many great minds. It did not escape Justin, whose intellectual curiosity kept him in search of something he knew was there but couldn’t find until he came upon a man who gave him a simple answer.
Justin was as gifted as Plato in the art of philosophy but was more fortunate in having been born at about the turn of the first century and, therefore, not denied knowledge of the Savior as Plato had been some five hundred years before. He was a native of Flavia Neapolis in Palestinian Syria, born just before the close of the first century to pagan parents who made certain their child prodigy received the best education. An ardent student of Plato, he also mastered other philosophies, among which were Peripatetics, Pythagorianism, and Stoicism. An independent thinker, he sought answers to questions for which his own logic and deduction were found wanting, and he was so immersed in the philosophies that he had studied that he lost sight of the simple truth offered by a humble carpenter of Nazareth.
A chance encounter, like that of St. Paul and the Savior on the road to Damascus, changed the life of Justin, and the mysteries that had baffled his deep philosophy were cleared up in a few moments by the simplicity of a holy man. He was walking along a shore of the Mediterranean when he happened to meet an aging monk who poured out the story of Jesus of Nazareth. When the ancient cleric had finished, Justin came to the full realization that the most noble purpose in life was to follow Jesus Christ and to bring others his message of peace and salvation.
Justin hoped to go to Jerusalem but was denied the privilege of launching his religious career from there because the Holy Land was in a state of siege, so he turned to Ephesus where, in addition to studying the Church Fathers, he taught philosophy in his own school. Soon afterward he engaged in debate with the Jewish philosopher Tryphon, whose challenges to Christian philosophy he successfully answered and which are recorded in his treatise Apologia, a masterful manuscript in which he outlines the Christian truth and beauty of life, and in which he maintains that the Old Testament is an accepted expression of the will of God through his prophets in preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah who was Jesus Christ. Abandoning his Greek philosophy, Justin writes convincingly of the truth of the Christian ideals and succeeds in forming a Christian philosophy that established a pattern for all subsequent religious thinkers.
Justin left Ephesus for Rome, where he convinced the emperor, Marcus Aurelius, that the Christians posed no threat to the empire, for they chose to conquer men’s souls, not their lands or their kings. Having thus disarmed the heretofore hostile rulers, Justin was free to open his own school, whose courses in philosophy and Christian religion attracted hundreds of bright young men and women, who in turn took the message of the Messiah to countless other Romans. Although Justin had brought Christianity a tenuous hold through his school, there were those close to the emperor who frowned on his success and who spelled doom for the philosopher-theologian.
A pagan philosopher named Crescentius, who envied the success of Justin, planted the seed of suspicion in the minds of some of the emperor’s courtiers, and just as he was realizing the fulfillment of his life’s purposes, Justin was arrested and imprisoned under deceptive circumstances. Here he was denied the plea for his case through another Apologia, with which he challenged pagan philosophy and by which Crescentius knew himself to be outclassed. Justin was executed about the year 167, leaving the legacy of his Apologia for all of Christianity.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.