(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In the mid-second century, Christians lived under persecution and wild rumors, and accusations were made about the mysteries they celebrated in their Sunday worship. Saint Justin Martyr, himself a convert from paganism, wrote his two apologies to explain and defend Christianity as a reasonable religion rooted in the truth and practiced in virtue and thus worthy of toleration rather than persecution. All of his writings, including the two apologies, are intended to clarify the belief of Christians, their moral code, and their sacramental rites.

Justin writes his first apology to Emperor Antoninus Pius to demand justice for Christians and to deny the charge that Christians were atheists because they refused to worship pagan gods. He explained that Christians may not worship false gods, but only the one true God. They should not be punished for this, but only for their personal crimes. True Christians do not commit criminal acts, but rather pursue a life of virtue; of living chastely with their families; of loving rather than exposing their children; of praying for all, including enemies; of cultivating gentleness and patience; of offering charity to all in need; and of obeying civil authority in all things, except those laws commanding them to sin.

The Christian, then, behaves as the model citizen in this life, in expectation of eternal life with God. Christians believe not only in the immortality of the soul, as did many pagan philosophers, but also in the resurrection of the body and of judgment of one’s mortal life and of the quality of one’s deeds. The resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, is the proof of this truth, Justin says. The coming of Jesus into the world, together with his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven are foretold by many writings, including those of Plato and other ancient philosophers, and most important are revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures by the prophets Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Moses as well as in the Psalms of David. Indeed, Jesus redeems all humanity, and so in mysterious ways, his Word has been planted in every human heart. The fulfillment of prophecy is seen in the atoning...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Justin Martyr, Saint. Dialogue with Trypho. Edited by Michael Slusser. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 2003. A doctrinal treatise showing Justin’s knowledge of Hebrew Scriptures and their relations to the New Testament.

Quasten, Johanness. Patrology. Vol. 1. Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1993. A fine summary of the saint’s life, works, and teachings with a summary of the apologies.

Roberts, Alexander, and James Donaldson, eds. Justin Martyr and Athenagoras. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2004. Inexpensive paperback book that includes translations of all of Justin’s works.