Justin Martyr is a saint that played a pivotal role in my conversion. It was through his work that I saw a glimpse of the ancient catholic liturgy. He lived in a time where being a Christian was illegal. These believers risked everything, including their lives, to become part of the church. Through his writing we can get a glimpse into some of the charges that the Roman Empire had against Christians. St. Justin addresses these charges in his First Apology.
1. The charge of atheism
The Roman Empire had state sanctioned gods, to include the emperor, that were worshipped. Obviously, this is something that Christians could not do, as there is one God. For this, the Roman Empire called our ancestors in faith atheists, because they would not worship the roman gods.
Saint Justin writes, “Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity.”
2. On cannibalism
The charge of cannibalism was meant to be demeaning, and was a capital offense in second century Rome. The charge would go on to be used as proof of the historicity of Catholic teaching in modern day apologetics. The charge of cannibalism stems from Eucharistic language about Christians eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ. Without mentioning the Last Supper narratives or the Gospel of John chapter six he explains the Christian position.
Saint Justin writes, “For not by common bread nor common drink do we receive these: but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
Christians in Justin’s time referred to each other as brother and sister, much like we still do today. We are related by faith, and adopted as children of God through the sacrament of baptism. Justin outright dismisses these charges as an insult, and told the emperor that the life of the Christian could be looked at as evidence to disprove this charge.
St. Justin writes, “And we think it for the advantage of all men that they are not restrained from learning these things, but are even urged thereto. For the restraint which human laws could not effect, the Word, inasmuch as He is divine, would have effected, had not the wicked demons, taking as their ally the lust of wickedness which is in every man, and which draws variously to all manner of vice, scattered many false and profane accusations, none of which attach to us.”
4. Conspiracy to Overthrow the State
Another charge that was levied against the Christians is that of conspiracy to overthrow the government. These and other charges were exacerbated because Christians did not participate in everyday society. The popular events of the day such as politics and entertainment were intertwined with idolatrous acts, such as burning incense in homage of the emperor. Christians were trying to preserve their piety, lessen temptation, and stay safe during persecution. There assemblies were closed because only believers could partake in the Eucharist.
St. Justin states, “For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid.”
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