April 2, 2013

Justin Martyr

About 140 A.D., Justin of Neapolis moved from Ephesus to Rome. A Greek philosopher, he was not a Catholic until his conversion about 10 years earlier. Between 153 and 155 A.D., he wrote his First Apology, a defense of Christian belief against all the accusations then prevalent in Rome. It was addressed to the Emperor, Antoninus Pius, his son and the future Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, the Senate and the Roman people in general.

On the subject of His Body and Blood, Justin wrote: “For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior having been incarnate by God’s logos took both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food eucharistized through the word of prayer that is from Him, from which our blood and flesh are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who became incarnate. For the Apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, thus handed down what was commanded them: that Jesus took bread and having given thanks said: ‘Do this for my memorial, this is my body” (1 Cor. 11:24); and likewise He took the chalice and having given thanks said: ‘This is my blood’ (cf 1 Cor. 11:25); and gave it to them alone.”*

Here we have a glimpse into the early Church. What had been handed down by Christ to the Apostles and then by the Apostles to others alive in Justin’s day is recounted and explained in this work of his.
He demonstrates there is no confusion in the early Church about the Real Presence. They understood that they received His Body in the Eucharist, the same Body that was sacrificed on the Cross. The Mass they celebrated was not just a memorial, but a continuation of that sacrifice by Christ. As with the Passover feast practiced and revered by the Jews, it was a timeless event that joined those celebrating it with those that had been witness to the original event.

For this, they would forfeit their earthly lives rather than renounce it. And so was the fate of Justin as well. Around the year 165, Justin was brought before the Roman prefect Rusticus. After refusing to declare his allegiance to Roman gods, he was sentenced to death and beheaded. He is known today as St. Justin Martyr.

*Martyr, Justin and Barnard, Leslie William, Ancient Christian Writers, The First and Second Apologies (Mahwah, N.J., Paulist Press), vol. 56, chap. 65, p. 70-71).


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