Posted March 24, 2007
On St. Justin Martyr
He Considered Christianity the "True Philosophy"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 21, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience today in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on St. Justin Martyr.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With these catecheses we are reflecting on the great figures of the early Church. Today, we will talk about St. Justin, philosopher and martyr, the most important among the apologist fathers of the second century.
The term "apologist" refers to those ancient Christian writers who wanted to defend the new religion from the weighty accusations of the pagans and the Jews, and to spread Christian doctrine in terms understandable for the times.
Thus, the apologists have a twofold objective: the properly apologetic one, that is, to defend newborn Christianity (in fact, the Greek word "apologhía" means defend); and the "missionary" objective, which seeks to explain the faith using language and ideas which were understandable to their contemporaries.
Justin was born around the year 100, near the ancient city of Sichem, in Samaria, in the Holy Land. For a long time he searched for truth, passing through the various schools of traditional Greek philosophy.
Finally -- as he himself tells in the first chapters of his "Dialogue with Trypho" -- a mysterious person, an old man he met on the beach, initially unsettles Justin by showing him that it is impossible for the human person to satisfy the desire for the divine with human strengths alone.
Then, this man pointed to the ancient prophets as the ones who could show Justin the path to God and "true philosophy." Before leaving, the old man exhorts him to pray so that the doors of light would be opened to him.
The story symbolizes a crucial moment in Justin's life: At the end of a long philosophical journey in search of truth, he comes to find Christianity. He then founded a school in Rome, where, for free, he initiated his students into the new religion, which he considered the true philosophy.
In this religion, in fact, he had found the truth and, therefore, the way to live uprightly. Because of this he was denounced and decapitated around the year 165, under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the emperor-philosopher to whom Justin had dedicated an "Apologia."
His two "Apologies" and the "Dialogue with Trypho" are the only works of his still in existence. In them, Justin aims above all to show the divine projects of creation and of salvation brought about by Christ, the "Logos," that is, the eternal Word, eternal Reason, creative Reason.
Every person, as a rational creature, participates in the "Logos," carrying within himself a "seed," and can perceive glimmers of truth. In this way, the same "Logos," who had revealed himself as a prophetic image to the Jews in the Old Covenant, had also partially revealed himself, as with "seeds of truth," in Greek philosophy.
Thus, Justin concludes, given that Christianity is a historical and personal manifestation of the "Logos" in its entirety, "all that is beautiful which has been expressed by anyone, belongs to us Christians" (II Apologia 13,4). In this way, Justin, even while contesting Greek philosophy for its contradictions, decidedly directs any philosophical truth toward the "Logos," justifying from a rational viewpoint the unusual "pretension" of truth and the universality of the Christian religion.
If the Old Testament tends toward Christ in the same way that a figure tends toward the reality which it represents, Greek philosophy also tends toward Christ and the Gospel, just as a part tends toward union with the whole.
And he says that these two realities, the Old Testament and Greek philosophy, are like two roads leading to Christ, to the "Logos." This is why Greek philosophy cannot be opposed to evangelical truth, and Christians may confidently draw from it, as if it was their own possession. This is why my venerable predecessor, Pope John Paul II, defined Justin as a "pioneer of a positive engagement with philosophical thinking -- albeit with cautious discernment. Although he continued to hold Greek philosophy in high esteem after his conversion, Justin claimed with power and clarity that he had found in Christianity 'the only sure and profitable philosophy,' ("Dialogue with Trypho" 8,1)" ("Fides et Ratio," No. 38).
On the whole, the person and the work of Justin mark the ancient Church's decisive option for philosophy, because of reason, instead of pagan religions. In fact, the first Christians refused any compromise with the pagan religion. They considered it idolatry, even at the cost of being accused as "impious" and "atheists." In particular and especially in his first "Apology," Justin harshly criticized the pagan religion and its myths, which he considered diabolical "disorientations" on the path to truth.
Instead, philosophy represented the privileged meeting place for paganism, Judaism and Christianity, precisely at the level of critiquing the pagan religion and its false myths.
Another apologist, Justin's contemporary, Bishop Melito of Sardis, defined the new religion as "our philosophy …" ("Hist. Eccl." 4,26,7).
In fact, the pagan religion did not walk along the path of the "Logos," but insisted on following its myths even if recognized by Greek philosophy as inconsistent with the truth. Therefore, the fall of the pagan religion was inevitable: It was the logical consequence of detaching religion from the truth of things, reducing it to a fake collection of ceremonies, traditions and customs.
Justin, and with him other apologists, took the position of the Christian faith as the God of the philosophers instead of the false gods of the pagan religion. It was a choice for the truth of being versus the myth of traditions. Some decades after Justin, Tertullian defined the same option of the Christians with a perennially valid phrase: "Dominus noster Christus veritatem se, non consuetudinem, cognominavit -- Christ said he was the truth, not the tradition" ("De virgin. vel." 1,1).
Note that the term "consuetudo," used here by Tertullian with reference to the pagan religion, may be translated in modern languages with expressions like "cultural fashions" or "fads."
In an era such as ours, marked by relativism in the debate on values and on religion -- as well as in interreligious dialogue -- this is a lesson that should not be forgotten. With this objective, and here I'll conclude, I again present to you the words of the mysterious old man that Justin found by the sea: "You, above all, pray that the doors of light will be opened for you. For, no one can see nor understand if God and his Christ do not give him understanding" ("Dial." 7,3).