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Chapter 3

CHAPTER III: ST. JUSTIN MARTYR (AD 166)

Although Trajan was no friend to the Gospel, and put St. Ignatius to
death, he made a law which must have been a great relief to the
Christians. Until then they were liable to be sought out, and any
one might inform against them; but Trajan ordered that they should
not be sought out, although, if they were discovered, and refused to
give up their faith, they were to be punished. The next emperor,
too, whose name was Hadrian (AD 117-138) did something to make their
condition better; but it was still one of great hardship and danger.
Notwithstanding the new laws, any governor of a country, who
disliked the Christians, had the power to persecute and vex them
cruelly. And the common people among the heathens still believed the
horrid stories of their killing children and eating human flesh. If
there was a famine or a plague,--if the river Tiber, which runs
through Rome, rose above its usual height and did mischief to the
neighbouring buildings,-- or if the emperor's armies were defeated
in war, the blame of all was laid on the Christians. It was said
that all these things were judgments from the gods, who were angry
because the Christians were allowed to live. And then at the public
games, such as those at which St. Ignatius was put to death, the
people used to cry out, "Throw the Christians to the lions! away
with the godless wretches!" For, as the Christians were obliged to
hold their worship secretly, and had no images like those of the
heathen gods, and did not offer any sacrifices of beasts, as the
heathens did, it was thought that they had no God at all, since the
heathens could not raise their minds to the thought of that God who
is a spirit, and who is not to be worshipped under any bodily shape.
It was, therefore, a great relief when the Emperor Antoninus Pius
(AD 138 to 161), who was a mild and gentle old man, ordered that
governors and magistrates should not give way to such outcries, and
that the Christians should no longer be punished for their religion
only, unless they were found to have done wrong in some other way.

There were now many learned men in the Church, and some of these
began to write books in defence of their faith. One of them,
Athenagoras, had undertaken, while he was a heathen, to show that
the Gospel was all a deceit; but when he looked further into the
matter, he found that it was very different from what he had
fancied; and then he was converted, and, instead of writing against
the Gospel, he wrote in favour of it.

Another of these learned men was Justin, who was born at Samaria,
and was trained in all the wisdom of the Greeks; for the Greeks, as
they were left without such light as God had given to the Jews, set
themselves to seek out wisdom in all sorts of ways. And, as they had
no certain truth from heaven to guide them, they were divided into a
number of different parties, such as the Epicureans, and the Stoics,
who disputed with St. Paul at Athens (Acts xvii. 18). These all
called themselves "philosophers," (which means, "lovers of wisdom");
and each kind of them thought to be wiser than all the rest. Justin,
then, having a strong desire to know the truth, tried one kind of
philosophy after another, but could not find rest for his spirit in
any of them.

One day, as he was walking thoughtfully on the sea-shore, he
observed an old man of grave and mild appearance, who was following
him closely, and at length entered into talk with him. The old man
told Justin that it was of no use to search after wisdom in the
books of the philosophers, and went on to speak of God the maker of
all things, of the prophecies which He had given to men in the time
of the Old Testament, and how they had been fulfilled in the life and
death of the blessed Jesus. Thus Justin was brought to the knowledge
of the Gospel; and the more he learnt of it, the more was he
convinced of its truth, as he came to know how pure and holy its
doctrines and its rules were, and as he saw the love which
Christians bore towards each other, and the patience and firmness
with which they endured sufferings and death for their Master's
sake. And now, although he still called himself a philosopher, and
wore the long cloak which was the common dress of philosophers,
the wisdom which he taught was not heathen but Christian wisdom. He
lived mostly at Rome, where scholars flocked to him in great
numbers. And he wrote books in defence of the Gospel against
heathens, Jews, and heretics, or false Christians.

The old Emperor Antoninus Pius, under whom the Christians had been
allowed to live in peace and safety, died in the year 161, and was
succeeded by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, whom he had adopted as his
son. Marcus Aurelius was not only one of the best emperors, but in
many ways was one of the best of the heathens. He had a great
character for gentleness, kindness, and justice, and he was fond of
books, and liked to have philosophers and learned men about him.
But, unhappily, these people gave him a very bad notion of
Christianity, and, as he knew no more of it than what they told him,
he took a strong dislike to it. And thus, although he was just and
kind to his other subjects, the Christians suffered more under his
reign than they had ever done before. All the misfortunes that took
place, such as rebellions, defeats in war, plague, and scarcity,
were laid to the blame of the Christians; and the emperor himself
seems to have thought that they were in fault, as he made some new
laws against them.

Now the success which Justin had as a teacher at Rome had long
raised the envy and malice of the heathen philosophers; and, when
these new laws against the Christians came out, one Crescens, a
philosopher of the kind called "Cynics", or "doggish" (on account of
their snarling, currish ways), contrived that Justin should be
carried before a judge, on the charge of being a Christian. The
judge questioned him as to his belief, and as to the meetings of
the Christians; to which Justin answered that he believed in one God
and in the Saviour Christ, the Son of God, but he refused to say
anything which could betray his brethren to the persecutors. The
judge then threatened him with scourging and death: but Justin
replied that the sufferings of this world were nothing to the glory
which Christ had promised to His people in the world to come. Then
he and the others who had been brought up for trial with him were
asked whether they would offer sacrifice to the gods of the heathen,
and as they refused to do this, and to forsake their faith, they were
all beheaded (AD 166). And on account of the death which he thus
suffered for the Gospel, Justin has ever since been especially
styled "The Martyr."