Wednesday, June 1, 2011

For the Faith and Courage of St. Justin Martyr

It's the first day of a new month on the calendar. Summer breezes are blowing, and the grass is green. In my neck of the woods, school is out and the pools are open. Some folks have already made trips to the beach to enjoy the sun and the sand. You know, to get away from it all.

Juxtaposed against the fantasy of a relaxing vacation to the sound track of the rolling surf, I present you with the trial of the Samaritan named Justin Martyr. What you are about to read took place in the year 165 AD. Let me do a little math in my head, hmm. Yes, about 132 years after Christ died.

Say you were Justin. If you were in his shoes today, in the Year of Our Lord 2011, you would be about to be executed for believing in something that you knew occurred in the year 1879. Not so long ago as to have lost much significance, especially given that the Fall of the Temple in Jerusalem happened in the year 70, or in the year 1916 from our modern day Justin's perspective.

Let's have a look through the glass,

from The Martyrdom of Justin and Others

Though nothing is known as to the date or authorship of the following narrative, it is generally reckoned among the most trustworthy of the Martyria. An absurd addition was in some copies made to it, to the effect that Justin died by means of hemlock. Some have thought it necessary, on account of this story, to conceive of two Justins, one of whom, the celebrated defender of the Christian faith whose writings are given in this volume, died through poison, while the other suffered in the way here described, along with several of his friends. But the description of Justin given in the following account, is evidently such as compels us to refer it to the famous apologist and martyr of the second century.

What follows is a snippet, or two. As you read them, imagine how the ordinary rank and file citizenry, say like the denizens of the various portals at (for example) would tsk, tsk, in astonishment at the behavior of this fellow named Justin. Perhaps they would lament all the while the demise of this noble, upright, possessor of radically unbalanced views.

After they had been brought before his tribunal, the prefect Rusticus said to Justin: “First of all, you must obey the gods and submit to the orders of the emperors.”

Justin said: “There is no blame or condemnation in obeying the commands of our Savior Jesus Christ.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “What are the doctrines that you practice?”

“I have tried to become acquainted,” said Justin, “with all doctrines. But I have committed myself to the true doctrines of the Christians, even though they may not please those who hold false beliefs.”

“You miserable fellow,” said the prefect Rusticus, “are these then the doctrines that you prefer?”

“Yes,” said Justin, “for I adhere to them on the basis of a correct belief.”

The prefect Rusticus said “What belief do you mean?”

The Prefect, see, was a very busy man. He probably didn't realize that Justin had done a lot of reading, and thinking, and had figured out that Christianity is true. He wrote a book about it too. But time being of the essence, he gives Rusticus the Cliff Notes version here,

Justin said: “The belief that we piously hold regarding the God of the Christians, whom alone we believe to have been the maker and creator of the entire world from the beginning, both visible and invisible; also regarding the Lord Jesus Christ, the child of God, who was also foretold by the prophets as the one who was to come down to mankind as a herald of salvation and a teacher of good doctrines.

Now I, being but a man, realize that what I say is insignificant when measured against his infinite godhead; but I acknowledge the power of prophecy, for proclamation has been made about him who I have just now said to be the Son of God. For you know that in earlier times the prophets foretold his coming among men.”

"The Maine,"Havana 1898
Oh, my dear fellow, Rusticus may have thought, if you would only be reasonable, and stop being so damn sure of yourself! But Rusticus is the one being closed minded here. Justin was willing to live and let live in the name of religious freedom.

But force him to belief in something else? Sorry.  Being only 132 years removed from the death of Christ is like being as sure today that your great-grandfather was killed when the Maine was blown up in Havana. "Remember the Maine!" Justin's behavior, then, in a word? Intransigent. Which is poles apart from "balanced."

… the prefect Rusticus said: “If you do not obey, you will be punished without mercy.”

Justin said: “We are confident that if we suffer the penalty for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, for this is the confidence and salvation we shall have at the terrible tribunal of our Savior and Master sitting in judgment over the whole world.”

And guess what his companions said?

Similarly the other martyrs said, “Do what you will. We are Christians and we do not offer sacrifice to idols.”

I love esprit de corps and camaraderie.

The prefect Rusticus passed judgment, saying: “Those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the emperor’s edict are to be led away to be scourged and beheaded in accordance with the laws.”

And thus the happy conclusion.

The holy martyrs having glorified God, and having gone forth to the accustomed place, were beheaded, and perfected their testimony in the confession of the Savior. And some of the faithful having secretly removed their bodies, laid them in a suitable place, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ having wrought along with them, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Stick that in your "balanced" pipes and smoke it. St. Justin, and Companions, pray for us.