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Christianity for the Rest of Us


June 1 celebrates Justin Martyr (d. 165), a Christian philosopher who integrated faith and philosophy–appreciating ancient wisdom and argued that “Socrates was a Christian before Christ.” Before embracing Christianity, Justin mastered many ancient philosophies (he studied at the best schools of antiquity) including Stoicism and Platonism.  While walking on a beach in Ephesus, an elderly Christian man witnessed to Justin of Jesus.  The young philosopher felt “a flame kindled in his soul” and “a love of the prophets and those who are friends of Christ possessed me.” 

 Justin has always seemed to me a very contemporary sort of saint, whose mystical insights and intellectual journey serve as a great example for Christians today.  He developed what is know as the “correlationist method” of Christian theology by relating pagan intellectual traditions to Christianity in order to prove the new faith’s credibility to a skeptical and hostile Roman audience.  He hoped to show that Christianity was an intellectual system that, like the best of ancient philosophy, entailed growth in a life of virtue and deserved a fair hearing.  Unlike some other Christian theologians, Justin did not reject the philosophy and science of his day but tried to find elements of Christian wisdom in pagan thought and ideals.  The best of the ancient world acted as a bridge to the fullness of Christian revelation.  He hoped to draw people to Christ by affirming the riches of ancient culture.  He wanted to engage the world, not flee from it.  In many ways, Justin’s intellectual life of “both-and” embodies the Christian dictum to be “in the world, not of it.” 

 A prayer for Justin from the Episcopal tradition: “Almighty and everlasting God, who found your martyr Justin wandering from teacher to teacher, seeking the true God, and revealed to him the sublime wisdom of your eternal Word: Grant that all who seek you, or a deeper knowledge of you, may find and be found by you.”  

Portions of this post were adapted from my book, A People’s History of Christianity.

 

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