Reading N°52 in the History of the Catholic Church
Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.
|St. Justin Martyr|
Justin was a layman, but he had delved into the teachings of the Church. He even opened a sort of theological school at Rome. His noble attempt at a synthesis is not without inexactitudes and even errors, but this first essay of religious philosophy exercised an immense influence over the minds of his and of the next century.
The publication of Justin's first apology is generally placed at about the year AD 150. The second made its appearance a few years later, about AD 155, and the Dialogue with Trypho some few years after that, about AD 160.
If we separate the philosophic doctrine from what is purely discussion, arguments ad hominem and claims for actual rights, it can be reduced to this: Christianity is the true religion because it is the universal and absolute religion. Although the Word is fully manifested in Christ, yet the ancient world, everywhere and in all ages, possessed the seed of it. The great day of the Incarnation was preceded by a vast and brightening dawn.
As a basis for his contention, Justin takes two sacred sayings. One is from St. Paul:
When the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law, these having not the law are a law to themselves [...] their conscience bearing witness to them. (Romans 2:14f)
The other is from St. John:
[The Word is] the true light, which enlighteneth every man. (John 1:9)
He says: "All men are partakers of the Divine Word; its seed is implanted in their soul." "This germinal understanding comes from the Word; by virtue of it the wise men of old were, from time to time, able to teach beautiful truths. [...] For, whatever good the philosophers and lawmakers said, they owed to a partial view or knowledge of the Word. [...] Socrates, for instance, knew Christ in a certain way, because the Word penetrates everything with His influence. [...] Therefore, too, Plato's doctrines are not altogether contrary to those of Christ, although not absolutely like them, as may also be said of the teachings of the Stoics, the poets, and the historians. [...] So we may say that whatever good the ancients had belongs to us, to us Christians. [...] Besides, all who have lived according to the Word are Christians, even though they have been regarded as atheists: such were Socrates and Heraclitus among the Greeks, and, among others, Abraham, Ananias, Azarias, Misael, and Elias, besides many more. [...] As they knew the Word only in part, they did not have that lofty knowledge, free from all blame, which is our portion. Therefore was the Word made man. [...] It is one thing to possess only a seed of the Word; quite another thing is it to possess the Word Himself, who is communicated to us by His grace."
Freppel, after summing up St. Justin's theory of the Word, says: "Such is that enlightening and fruitful doctrine which at the school of Alexandria will presently open those great vistas into which Clement and Origen will rush with daring and not without some danger. It is a whole programme of Christian philosophy, embracing the theory of human knowledge, the intellectual constitution of the ancient world, and its relations with Christianity."
Justin considers humanity as a great unit, with its different parts brought together by Christ, who is the center and the soul of it all. Yet he does not hold that natural reason is sufficient for the possession of saving grace, or that it is absolutely sufficient even when aided by interior grace, to the exclusion of any external revelation. No one more forcibly shows the eminent part of external revelation in the genesis of faith than Justin. He even admits a direct influence of the books of Moses upon the teaching of the Greek philosophers and seems to attribute to revealed faith alone whatever truth Hellenic wisdom possessed. In short, his expressions have not all the exactness we might wish. If some of them may be interpreted in the sense of an unorthodox "subjectivism," others seem, on the contrary, to be inspired by a suspect "extrinsicism." In an admirably majestic attempt, Justin wished to include all the objective and subjective elements of a belief to which he clung with loyal submission, without surrendering any of the rights of his philosophic reason. But at times, this proved an impossible task for him, or at least, in the exposition of the Catholic faith he did not find those precise expressions which the Church, aided by the Holy Ghost, was to employ later.
Some defects of expression and of thought, still more striking and no less explicable, are to be noted in Justin's writings when he speaks of the Trinity, the angels, and the end of the world. He clearly teaches the existence of one only God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Neophytes, he says, are baptised in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.
In all the offerings that we make, we bless the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Ghost.
In these words, Justin merely purposes expressing and professing the faith of the Church, and he is quite orthodox. But when he attempts a philosophical explanation, he, like Hermas, expresses himself in terms which the later decisions of the Church would no longer allow to be used. Between the Father and the Son, he seems to admit a certain subordination, hard to understand, in the perfect unity of will and divine essence. He supposes the angels have an airy body; and he says:
Although many true Christians think otherwise [...] I am assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead that will last a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be rebuilt.
In other words, he professes Millenarianism as a private opinion.
When Justin speaks as a philosopher, his assertions can be accepted only with reservation. But they should be accepted with the greatest veneration when he speaks as a witness of the faith of the Church. In this capacity, his testimony on the sacrifice of the Eucharist is one of the most precious bequeathed to us by Christian antiquity.
Until his time, the "Discipline of the Secret," as it was later called, did not permit this holiest of mysteries to be divulged. But Justin, considering it necessary to have the pagans see Christianity with its whole economy of doctrines, ceremonies, and moral practices, could not conceal the fact that the Eucharist was the center of all these. Moreover, the people and even the philosophers had too long believed, or pretended to believe, that the Christians' secret was a cloak for some shameful practices. Justin considered that the time had come to disclose everything.
The following are the two famous passages in which the Christian philosopher for the first time reveals to the whole public the sacred ceremonies of the Eucharistic sacrifice:
Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss of peace. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water. And he, taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being accounted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying "Amen". This word "Amen" answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτό [so be it]. And when the president has made the eucharist, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us "deacons" give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion. And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called "Gospels", have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread and, when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood." And He gave it to them alone.
This is the apologist's first description of the Mass. But, as though he feared not to have sufficiently described this supreme act of religion, he returns to the subject a few lines further on:
On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings with all the earnestness of his soul, and the people assent, saying "Amen". And there is a distribution of the consecrated Eucharist to each, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well-to-do and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.
"In this account," says Freppel, "it is easy to recognize the sacrifice of the Mass in all its essential or integral parts: the offertory, the consecration, and the communion. A single officiant with deacons, the reading of a portion of the Old or New Testament, an exhortation to the people based on the passage read, the offering of bread and wine (with water added) as the matter for use in the sacrifice, thanksgiving offered to God by the presiding officer, and hymns of praise in which the whole assembly joins, a lengthy prayer by the celebrant alone, during which he consecrates the offerings by the Savior's own words, the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, again prayers of thanksgiving interrupted by the people's acclaim, expressing by a word their participation in the act performed by the celebrant, the kiss of peace (a public sign of Christian brotherhood), communion distributed to those present and brought by the deacons to the sick and others who are absent, a collection for the benefit of the poor: this whole picture of the Christian liturgy in the middle of the second century is evidently that of the sacrifice of the Mass as it is celebrated today all over the world. St. Justin's description corresponds point by point with the great central act of Catholic worship. It would be difficult to imagine a more impressive condemnation of Protestantism than this testimony by one of the earliest apologists of the Christian religion."
We know that Justin's courageous plea did not stop the course of the persecution and did not prevent his own martyrdom. But his work was nonetheless fruitful. Certain calumnies could no longer be repeated against the Christians except by people who were in bad faith. It was thenceforth established that Christian thought could fearlessly enter the domain of philosophy and count for something there.
 Second Apology, 8.
 First Apology, 46; Second Apology, 8, 16, 13, 14.
 Freppel, Les Apologistes chrétiens du IIe siècle, p. 328.
 First Apology, 61; cf. Dialogue, 56, 60, 126, 127; First Apology, 13.
 Dialogue, 80.
 First Apology, 65-67.
 Freppel, op. cit., p. 304.
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