Justinus, known to us as “St. Justin” or “Justin Martyr,” was born in Samaria around 114 A.D. His parents were Greek pagans living among the Samarians. Justin was educated in Alexandria and Ephesus, where he learned the works of the classical philosophers. He became a Stoic, then a Pythagorean, and later a Platonist. He encountered Christians while studying at Ephesus, where he learned about the Christian martyrs of his day.
Justin was one of an emerging group of pagans who were converted to Christianity without prior contact with a synagogue. One day, while walking along the seashore, he began to converse with an old Christian. The old Christian told him about the thought of the Hebrew prophets and how they pointed to Jesus. Justin later wrote, "Straightway a flame was kindled in my soul, and a love of the prophets and those who are friends of Christ possessed me." After reflection, he was converted to Christianity at the age of 30. He soon began to view Platonism as only partly true, and as a step toward the truth found in Christ. He viewed Christianity as the "true philosophy," and thought it was consistent with Platonic thinking. He engaged in debates with non-Christians, Jews and Greeks alike, using Greek philosophy to explain Christianity to the Greeks. In so doing, he saw the heart of Christianity as God’s love for people revealed in the Bible and in Jesus Christ.
Justin is not known for extensive philosophical knowledge, or for clear reasoning, or even for being a great writer, although he was prolific. Historian W.H.C. Frend describes Justin’s writing as “verbose, inconsistent, and not always convincing.” Roberts, et al (The Ante-Nicene Fathers), concur in Victorian manner: “The writings of Justin are deficient in charms of style; and, for us, there is something the reverse of attractive in the forms of thought which he had learned from the philosophers.” He saw Socrates as a Christian, and he saw Christ as a philosopher and also as God.
However, Justin was an innovator of the finest sort. Living in an era when Christians lived with the risk of being turned over to Roman persecutors by informants, and when they especially ran the risk of being killed by the Roman government on pagan feast days, he sought to show their persecutors the contradiction between their philosophical positions and their treatment of Christians. He not only sought freedom of faith and an end to the persecutions; he also sought to present Christianity as the truest expression of the Greco-Roman values of the philosophers.
In so doing, he was the first person ever to do a lot of things that others later did better. He is described by historian Henry Chadwick as “the first writer to think of the annals of humanity as a twofold story of sacred and profane history, with a nodal point in the coming of Christ.” W.H.C. Frend wrote that Justin was “the first orthodox Christian to work out a systematic theology which attempted, not altogether successfully, to integrate millenarianism, the arguments for the truth of Christianity derived from philosophy, and Stoic and Platonic ideas of creation into a single Christian system.”. He laid the groundwork for the Church’s communication with the Roman world in the face of Gnostic and Marcionite opposition.
Justin eventually opened a Christian school of philosophy in Ephesus during the reign of Antoninus Pius (131 to 161 A.D.) He later opened such a school in Rome, founded on the pattern of the schools of the pagan philosophers. There he encountered opposition from the Cynic philosopher Crescens. Yet, the fact that his small school attracted opposition is indicative that a transition had occurred: There were now Christian intellectuals who drew enough attention to warrant a reply.
In ca. 150 to155 A.D., he wrote his first Apology (defense of Christianity) as a petition to Emperor Antoninus Pius. He appealed primarily to the morality of Christianity, and gave accounts of the martyrdoms of Christians who had died before him. Among these, Eusebius, in his History of the Church, singled out Justin's story of a woman who lived with a non-Christian husband prone to “drunken revels and vice of every kind.” When she left him, he brought an accusation against her as a Christian. In approximately 160 to 161 A.D., Justin wrote a second Apology addressed to the Roman Senate.
Around 165 A.D., Justin was arrested and charged with practicing an unauthorized religion. Placed on trial, he refused to renounce his faith. He and six of his students were beheaded during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Remarkably, one of the students who died with him was a woman named Charito, and one was a slave named Euelpistus.
Some of the works once ascribed to Justin are no longer considered authentic. However, the First and Second Apologies and Dialogue with Trypho are widely accepted as authentic. Justin’s revolutionary steps greatly influenced the thinking of those who followed him, including St. Clement of Alexandria and St. Irenaeus, both of whom followed Justin's early framework of apologetics in better intellectual style.
Anonymous, “The Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs Justin, Chariton, Charites, Paeon, and Liberianus, who Suffered at Rome”, translated by the Rev’d M. Dods, M.A., as contained in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Bernard, Introduction to St. Justin Martyr: The First and Second Apologies
Chadwick, Henry, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition
Chadwick, Henry, The Early Church
Daniélou, Jean, and Henri Marrou, The First Six Hundred Years
Eusebius, The History of the Church
Frend, W.H.C., The Rise of Christianity
Justin Martyr, The First and Second Apologies
Roberts, Alexander (editor) and translators, introduction and translators' notes to The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, reprinted in Christian Classics Ethereal Library