Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: The Works of Justin Martyr



A Rather Boring Note on the Edition: The version of the Works of Justin Martyr I read is that found in the 19th century collection of Ante-Nicene Fathers (recently reprinted by Hendrickson), except Dialogue with Trypho, which I read in this edition put out by Catholic University Press. Consequently, my review of the Dialogue will be of the other edition, while my reviews of Justin's other works will be of the Ante-Nicene Fathers edition. A totally uninteresting note to any but the academics out there, no doubt...

The edition of the works of Justin Martyr I read (see above) included the following:
-The First Apology
-The Second Apology
-Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew
-The Discourse to the Greeks
-Hortatory Address to the Greeks
-On the Sole Government of God
-On the Resurrection, Fragments
-Other Fragments
-Martyrdom
As the editor points out, it is very likely that only the first three are genuinely the writings of Justin Martyr, so I'll keep the bulk of my reviews focused on those.

The First Apology
There are really two streams of argument that run parallel (and occasionally cross each other) in this discourse. The first is that Christians are not the lawbreaking atheists that they are often called by the government, and consequently they should not be executed. Christians, after all, regularly encourage each other to obey the civil law ("whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men", 168) and refuse kill children (172). In fact, if the Roman government was really honest, it would see that Christians in fact are quite law-abiding and virtuous, and that their persecution is at heart deeply irrational.
This leads into the second point of the Apology: that Christianity is the true religion because it alone embodies true Reason. Justin defends this in two ways. First, he points to Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Thus, Jesus is the summation of the Jewish religion, the promised Messiah and Saviour. Second, Jesus is the fulfillment of all that is true in Greek philosophy (which was really lifted from the Jews in any case).
Justin ends with a description of the Christian worship service (reading of Scripture, the sermon, prayer, the Lord's Supper, and the offering), including the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper).

Justin's conclusion:
If these things seem to you to be reasonable and true, honour them; but if they seem nonsensical, despise them as nonsense, and do not decree death against those who have done no wrong, as you would against enemies. For we forewarn you, that you shall not escape the coming judgment of God, if you continue in your injustice; and we ourselves will invite you to do that which is pleasing to God. (186)
The Second Apology
In this Apology, Justin again notes the injustice of persecuting Christians, specifically the persecution in the city of Rome itself. This time, he argues that it is wrong to persecute Christians not only because they are obedient to the law, but because they cling to Christ, who is Reason embodied.
Our doctrines, then, appear to be greater than all human teaching; because Christ, who appeared for our sakes, became the whole rational being, both body, and reason, and soul. (191)
Everyone agrees that it was wrong to kill Socrates (who had a little bit of the truth), how wrong then must it have been to kill Jesus, who was Truth itself? And further how wrong must it be to kill Christians, who bear the word of this Truth within themselves?
Not that Christians are afraid of death- quite the contrary. Christians are so unafraid of death that the threat of it cannot force them to give up their allegiance to the Word of God.
Justin's conclusion:
Henceforth we shall be silent, having done as much as we could, and having added the prayer that all men everywhere may be counted worthy of the truth. and would that you also, in a manner becoming piety and philosophy, would for your own sakes judge justly! (193)
Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew
This work is written in the Platonic style (which is appropriate, given that Justin started out as a Platonist) as a letter to a friend of his relating a dialogue he had with a Jew named Trypho. In the course of the dialogue, we see
1) Justin's conversion narrative (which is one of the best from the ancient world).
2) Justin's thoughts on philosophy and the relationship between faith and reason.
3) The early church's apologetic attempt to reach out to the Jews.
4) The early church's doctrine of Scripture.
5) The early church's Christology.
6) And probably several other things that I'm missing, since I read it fairly quickly.
Most important, however, is the theme that runs through the dialogue: Christianity is truth. That is why philosophy provides the context for the dialogue, then, as well as now, philosophy has been the primary place of the search for truth. As Justin says (echoing Plato)
But what greater deed... could one perform than to prove that reason rules all, and that one who rules reason and is sustained by it can look down upon the errors and undertakings of others, and see that they do nothing reasonable or pleasing to God. Man cannot have prudence without philosophy and straight thinking. Thus, every man should be devoted to philosophy and should consider it the greatest and most noble pursuit; all other pursuits are only of second- or third-rate value, unless they are connected with philosophy. Then they are of some value and should be approved; if they are devoid of philosophy and not connected with it in any way, they then become base and coarse pursuits to those who practice them."
Dialogue with Trypho is Justin's attempt to prove to the Jews that Christ is the truth, just as his Apologies are his attempts to prove the same to the Greeks. Thus, Justin concludes the dialogue
I can wish you no greater blessing than this, gentlemen, that, realizing that wisdom is given to every man through this way [the Gospel], you also may one day come to believe entirely as we do that Jesus is the Christ of God.

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