St. Justin (100?-165) was the first Christian philosopher. He was born of a pagan Greek family in Palestine (the Holy Land). As a young man, he studied one system of philosophy after another. He was principally attracted to Platonism (based on the teachings of Socrates and Plato some 500 years earlier), but through Platonism he came to know of and accept Christianity, finding that it answered great questions about life and existence better than the teachings of any earlier philosophers.
Justin was about 33 when he became a Christian. He remained a layperson, but actively proclaimed the gospel. He was an apologist, or defender of Christianity, and his writings (the Apologies and the Dialogue with Trypho ) are valuable to us today because of the information they give about early Christian teachings and customs. Justin was a dedicated philosopher, combining Christianity with the best elements of Greek philosophical thought. He traveled widely as a missionary, twice staying in Rome.
In the year 165 Justin was denounced as a Christian and arrested, along with five other men and a woman. Upon being ordered by the Roman prefect to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, Justin replied, “No right-minded man forsakes truth for falsehood,” and his companions said, “Do with us as you will — we are Christians, and we cannot sacrifice to idols.” St. Justin and the others were thereupon beheaded. Ever since then, he has been known as St. Justin the Martyr.
1. Sometimes an inadequate but sincere search for wisdom can lead a person to accept the truth of the gospel; St. Justin’s familiarity with Greek philosophy predisposed him to believe the claims of Christianity.
2. St. Justin realized that once we have discovered the truth, we must not forsake it for anything, even at the cost of our lives — for as Jesus said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Angela Merici (1540), Virgin, Foundress of the Ursulines