May 27, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. Justin

John F. FinkFor some reason, St. Justin, whose feast is on June 1, always seems to be referred to as St. Justin Martyr, as if “Martyr” was his last name. It is true, of course, that he was a martyr, but no other martyr is thus named.

Besides being a martyr, Justin was also a great philosopher of the second century. Indeed, he is the patron of philosophers along with St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Born a pagan, he studied numerous philosophies and became a Platonist before discovering Christianity. He was then convinced that it answered the great questions about life and our purpose for existence better than any other philosophy.

He opened a school in Rome where public debates were held. He wrote many books defending Christianity, but only two have come down to us—the Apology and Dialogue With Trypho. He was beheaded by the prefect Rusticus in 165 during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

In the Apology, he wrote about what Christians believed about the Eucharist.

First, he said that “no one may share the Eucharist unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.”

He said that we do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink. Rather, “the food that our flesh and blood assimilate for their nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.”

Because of Justin, we know how the Christians of the second century celebrated the liturgy. See if what follows sounds a bit familiar.

On Sunday, he wrote, the Christians had a common assembly of all their members. First, “the recollections of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us; he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.”

After the prayers are finished, he said, “Bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give their assent by saying, ‘Amen.’ The Eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.”

He also says that a collection is taken up, with everyone deciding for himself or herself the amount. “The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress.”

Finally, he said that the common assembly is held on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. †

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