Recently, the Church celebrated the memory of Saint Justin the Philosopher. He is an important historic figure as he represents a closing of the wisdom of the Hellenistic age and the ushering in of the true philosophy – in its truest sense “to love wisdom”.
Saint Justin lived from 100 – 165 AD and was martyred, alongside some of his students. We know of his early life from his own description in one of his dialogues. Justin describes his early education, stating that his initial studies left him unsatisfied for their failure to provide a belief system that would provide theological and metaphysical inspiration. In his yearning for true wisdom he first the school of a Stoic philosopher, who was unable to explain God’s being to him. He then attended a Peripatetic philosopher but was dismayed at the philosopher greater concern for his fee. His next stop on his journey led him to a Pythagorean philosopher who demanded that he first learn music, astronomy and geometry, which he did not wish to do. Finally he adopted Platonism after encountering a Platonist thinker who had recently settled in his city. In his zeal and pride, he was driven further and further to find the Truth and Wisdom that is not fleeting:
“And the perception of immaterial things quite overpowered me, and the contemplation of ideas furnished my mind with wings, so that in a little while I supposed that I had become wise; and such was my stupidity, I expected forthwith to look upon God, for this is the end of Plato’s philosophy.”
The soil of his heart was ready. God saw him as a chosen vessel and instructed him by the none other than the Evangelist of the Logos. In his travels, St. Justin met his match. He chanced upon an old man in the vicinity of the seashore, who engaged him in a dialogue about God and spoke of the testimony of the prophets as being more reliable than the reasoning of philosophers.
“There existed, long before this time, certain men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved by God, who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets. These alone both saw and announced the truth to men, neither reverencing nor fearing any man, not influenced by a desire for glory, but speaking those things alone which they saw and which they heard, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Their writings are still extant, and he who has read them is very much helped in his knowledge of the beginning and end of things, and of those matters which the philosopher ought to know, provided he has believed them. For they did not use demonstration in their treatises, seeing that they were witnesses to the truth above all demonstration, and worthy of belief; and those events which have happened, and those which are happening, compel you to assent to the utterances made by them, although, indeed, they were entitled to credit on account of the miracles which they performed, since they both glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son, the Christ [sent] by Him: which, indeed, the false prophets, who are filled with the lying unclean spirit, neither have done nor do, but venture to work certain wonderful deeds for the purpose of astonishing men, and glorify the spirits and demons of error. But pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.”
Moved by these words, Justin renounced both his former religious faith and recognized the foolishness of his supposed wisdom, acquired from the philosophies of men. He chose rather to re-dedicate his life to the service of the Divine, the Author of all wisdom and rughteousness. His newfound convictions were strengthened by the ascetic lives of the early Christians and the heroic example of the martyrs, whose piety convinced him of the moral and spiritual superiority of Christian doctrine. These proofs led him to travel throughout the land, spreading the knowledge of Christianity as the “true philosophy.”
Beloved, our Lord and Saviour is sometimes called the Word of God, the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. What greater act can there be than to love the ultimate wisdom – the Wisdom of God! Through our Saviour, the greatest Wisdom was revealed to the world. By His incarnation, His Passion, His Resurrection, and His Ascension, mankind is renewed, humanity is returned once more to its rightful place as “sons of God”.
The following words from Saint Justin are as applicable today as they were in the middle of the second century. Truly, the wisdom of this age is bereft of the true wisdom of the true knowledge of God! As Saint Justin stated, so can we state:
“Do not suppose… that my separation from your customs is unreasonable and unthinking; for I found in them nothing that is holy or acceptable to God.”
It is written,
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. John 1:11
Beloved Orthodox Christians, so it must be with those who wish to continually follow our Lord. We reject the foolishness of this world, casting aside all Earthly care so that we too may acquire true and godly wisdom in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Discourse to the Greeks
CHAP. I.—JUSTIN JUSTIFIES HIS DEPARTURE FROM
Do not suppose, ye Greeks, that my separation from your customs is unreasonable and unthinking; for I found in them nothing that is holy or acceptable to God. For the very compositions of your poets are monuments of madness and intemperance. For any one who becomes the scholar of your most eminent instructor, is more beset by difficulties than all men besides. For first they say that Agamemnon, abetting the extravagant lust of his brother, and his madness and unrestrained desire, readily gave even his daughter to be sacrificed, and troubled all Greece that he might rescue Helen…Such things I have no desire to be instructed in. Of such virtue I am not covetous, that I should believe the myths of Homer. For the whole rhapsody, the beginning and end both of the Iliad and the Odyssey is—a woman.