Dialogue with the culture

Daily Reading for June 1 • Justin, Martyr at Rome, c. 167

Justin was born in Samaria and tells us how he came to Christian faith in a little piece of autobiography which is also a parable of his position in the revelation/reason debate—in fact it may be no more than a parable. He tells us that he travelled to Ephesus for his higher education and had a series of disappointments. He started predictably enough with a tutor in the most influential philosophy of the age, Stoicism, but that tutor could tell Justin nothing about God. . . . Justin had no more luck with an exponent of Aristotle, who was mainly concerned with fixing a fee for his services. . . . A Pythagorean was no help to him, because he demanded that Justin should first become expert in music, astronomy and geometry before contemplating the mysteries which these skills illustrated. Finally Justin went to a Platonist and found satisfaction in what he learned—but then, in a field near the Ephesus seashore, he met an old man who culminated a long conversation by speaking to him of the Hebrew prophets who had foretold Christ. Justin’s journey was complete. His clinching point in the saga was that the wisdom of the prophets was older than that of the Greeks, and in an age which was inclined to see oldest as best, this was the most promising argument open to any exponent of the new faith in Christ. Yet Justin never ceased to wear his philosopher’s cloak (pallium), as distinctive a mark of identity as the modern Christian clerical collar—or perhaps a better analogy would be with the gown and square cap of the properly dressed Oxford don, since to wear the cloak was to make a claim to be a teacher in a school for advanced students. It was also a dramatic and continual visual sign in his everyday life and in his teaching that Justin was committed to the proposition that two traditions might speak as one. Because Justin valued the whole of his spiritual exploration, he was concerned to explain his newly acquired Christian faith to those outside its boundaries in terms that they would understand; he was chief among a series of “Apologists” who, in the second century, opened a dialogue with the culture around them in order to show that Christianity was superior to the elite wisdom of the age.

From Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch (New York: Viking, 2009).

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