Feast Day: June 1st
Just a bit more than a century after Jesus ascended to His Father, a philosopher in Rome, who had found annoying and empty all the philosophies of his day, and been converted by an extraordinary conversation on the beach with an old man who introduced him to Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophets, wrote an extraordinary letter to the Emperor. Antonius Pius had been ruling the Roman Empire since 138, so he was now into his second decade of his reign. The empire was at peace. Antoninus never led armies into battle, in fact, he probably never went within 500 miles of a Roman Legion, who were adroitly quelling various problems on the outskirts of the empire. He governed well, expanded Rome’s infrastructure including its marvelous aqueducts bringing free and clean water to all, built temples and promoted the arts and philosophy. He was an ideal emperor to receive Justin’s letter:
To the Emperor Titus Ælius Adrianus Antoninus Pius Augustus Cæesar… and to the sacred senate, with the whole people of the Romans, I, Justin… present this address and petition in behalf of those of all nations who are unjustly hated and wantonly abused, myself being one of them. Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions, if these be worthless. For not only does sound reason direct us to refuse the guidance of those who did or taught anything wrong, but it is incumbent on the lover of truth, by all means, and if death be threatened, even before his own life, to choose to do and say what is right. Do you, then, since ye are called pious and philosophers, guardians of justice and lovers of learning, give good heed, and hearken to my address; and if ye are indeed such, it will be manifested. …
He spends many pages outlining for the emperor the truths that Christians believe, explaining how it is a reasonable religion and should be at least tolerated alongside of all the other religions then swirling around the Roman Empire. But his purpose is not just to clarify, but also to evangelize, he spends many chapters explaining Jesus as the Logos-Incarnate, God-made-man, and then gives the emperor an account of the Church’s practices. It is to these words that I want to turn:
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethrenbread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.
Notice that already, just a few decades after the death of the Apostles, and over a century beforethe great waves of persecution that would seek to destroy the Church under Diocletian, we already have a foundational belief in the Divinity of Christ, a recognition that if Christianity is true, every other philosophy and religion is at best incomplete. We already see the Church having bishops, priests, and deacons, and emphasis that divine life is given in Baptism and that the Eucharist is really, truly, Jesus’ Body and Blood, and we can only receive it if we have received from God faith and forgiveness and continue to live in His truth. I stop here for this week. We will return to Justin’s letter next week to see what he knows to be the life that Christians are called to from all of these truths.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin while studying in Rome, went with other priests and seminarians from Illinois for lunch to a restaurant in a town outside of Rome. There were rumors that St. Justin was buried in the Church there, but we were saddened to find the Church was not open Sunday afternoon. Turns out, his remains are not in Italy, at least not all of them. After he was beheaded, Justin’s relics were treasured by the Church and reverenced in various Churches in Italy all the way until the 1800s, during which, at a time of upheaval in Italy, they were given to a priest of Baltimore, Maryland. There they stayed until rediscovered in 1989, at which point the Church of St. Mary’s in Annapolis, MD, gave them a proper burial.