Denver, Colo., May 29, 2011 / 03:47 am
On June 1, one day before 2011's celebration of the Ascension of Christ, the Catholic Church will honor the memory of the early Christian philosopher St. Justin Martyr.
Justin was born around the year 100 in the Palestinian province of Samaria, the son of Greek-speaking parents whose ancestors were sent as colonists to that area of the Roman Empire. Justin's father followed the Greek pagan religion and raised his son to do the same, but he also provided Justin with an excellent education in literature and history.
As a young man, Justin became interested in philosophy and looked for truth in the various schools of thought that had spread throughout the empire. But he became frustrated with the professional philosophers' intellectual conceits and limitations, as well as their apparent indifference to God.
After several years of study, Justin had a life-changing encounter with an old man who urged him to study the Jewish prophets. He told Justin that these authors had not only spoken by God's inspiration, but also predicted the coming of Christ and the foundation of his Church.
“Above all things, pray that the gates of life may be opened to you,” the old man told Justin, “for these are not things to be discerned, unless God and Christ grant to a man the knowledge of them.” The aspiring philosopher began to take the claims of the Christians more seriously, and he eventually decided to be baptized around age 30.
After his conversion, Justin continued to wear the type of cloak that Greek culture associated with the philosophers. Inspired by the dedicated example of other Catholics whom he had seen put to death for their faith, he embraced a simple and austere lifestyle even after moving to Rome.
Justin was most likely ordained a deacon, since he preached, did not marry, and gave religious instruction in his home. He is best known as the author of early apologetic works which argued for the Catholic faith against the claims of Jews, pagans, and non-Christian philosophers.
Several of these works were written to Roman officials, for the purpose of refuting lies that had been told about the Church. Justin sought to convince the rulers of the Roman Empire that they had nothing to gain, and much to lose, by persecuting the Christians.