So, who was this man whose feast we celebrate today?
What we know about St. Justin mainly comes from his own writings. He was born in about 103 AD to pagan parents in Flavia Neapolis. He had a great love of philosophy and studied various philosophical systems:
“…I surrendered myself to a Stoic Philosopher…but when I had not acquired any further knowledge of God (for he did not know himself, and said such instruction was unnecessary)…I left him…
A Peripatetic Philosopher… asked me for money. For this reason I left him, believing him to be no philosopher at all….
I came to a Pythagorean Philosopher, very celebrated – a man who thought much of his own wisdom… He said, ‘What then? Are you acquainted with music, astronomy, and geometry?’ Having commended many of these branches of learning, and telling me that they were necessary, he dismissed me.
In my helpless condition it occurred to me to have a meeting with the Platonists, for their fame was great. I thereupon spent as much of my time as possible with one who had lately settled in our city…and I progressed, and made the greatest improvements daily. And the perception of immaterial things quite overpowered me, and the contemplation of ideas furnished my mind with wings, so that in a little while I supposed that I had become wise; and such was my stupidity, I expected forthwith to look upon God, for this is the end of Plato’s philosophy. – Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 2
It was at this point that St. Justin met an old man when he was walking in a field close to the sea. They engaged in conversation and this man witnessed to him Jesus Christ. This encounter had a profound impact upon Justin:
“When he had spoken these and many other things…he went away, bidding me attend to them; and I have not seen him since. But straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and whilst revolving his words in my mind, I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable. Thus, and for this reason, I am a philosopher.” – Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 8
Justin never saw this man again, yet this chance encounter gave rise to one of the greatest Christian apologists of the Early Church and a prolific martyr! I often wonder about that unnamed stranger. I wonder if the old man ever found out about what happened to that philosopher with whom he once took a stroll. I guess this just goes to show that you may never know what seeds you sow…
Unfortunately, most of St. Justin’s works are lost.
St. Justin Martyr, pray for us!