|Fenton John Anthony Hort
LECTURE III: JUSTIN AND IRENAEUS
Last week we finished those of the Fathers who are called Apostolic Fathers. We considered two of them who were also martyrs, though at a long interval of time, one a Bishop
Antioch who was conducted
through Asia Minor to perish by the fangs of
wild beasts at ,
the other a Bishop of Smyrna who welcomed him on his way to death, collected
his letters and wrote about him at the time, journeyed himself in extreme old
age from Rome Asia Minor to to confer about difference of Church
usages, came peacefully home, and then before long was himself called to perish
at the stake in his own Rome
because he too would not deny his Lord. Smyrna
We come today to a third martyr, one who conventionally bears the title of martyr almost as if it were part of his name. Justin was born at Mavia Neapolis close to Sychem in
but, it would seem, of heathen parentage. His Dialogue, to which we shall come presently, is represented as
having had its scene laid at Samaria .
Eventually Justin would seem to have been much at Ephesus , at that time a special place of resort
for those who took an active part in religious movements: and there he suffered
The genuine works of his which have come down to us in their original form are at most three in number, without counting a little treatise against heresies, lost in its original form, but apparently in great part copied by Irenaeus. Several others bear his name in manuscripts, but are certainly by other authors of various ages, some quite late. Early in the fourth century his name was attached to a partially different list of writings, the genuineness of which we have no means of testing. But the books of his which we do possess are so valuable from several points of view that we have every reason to be satisfied. They are two Apologies, as they are called, defending Christians against heathen misrepresentations and heathen persecutions; and a Dialogue with a Jew named Trypho in which the faith of Christians is vindicated against Judaism. It is hardly necessary to say that Justin’s Apologies have nothing whatever to do with courteous excuses, i.e. with the modern English sense of the word ‘apology.’ It is simply the common Greek word to denote any kind of defense against any kind of accusation, in a court of justice or anywhere else. Justin’s Apologies were not quite the earliest of which we have any knowledge; but, so far as we do know, their predecessors were of less permanent value.
Justin’s first and longest Apology is addressed to the Roman Emperor, i.e. Antoninus Pius, and his two adopted sons, one of them the philosopher Marcus Aurelius, to the Sacred Senate and all the people of the Romans. The time is two or three years before the middle of the second century. Justin writes, he says, on behalf of them who out of every race of mankind are the subjects of unjust hate and contumely, being himself one of them. He begins by appealing to the names Pious and Philosopher borne by the rulers. “Reason,” he says, “instructs those who are truly Pious and Philosophers to honor and cherish that only which is true, refusing to follow mere opinions of the ancients if they are bad ones ; for sober reason instructs us not only not to follow those actions or decisions which have been unjust, but the lover of truth is bound in every way, and with disregard of his own life, to choose to say and do such things as are just, though he be threatened with death for so doing.” He protests against condemnation of Christians for the mere name, without anything evil being proved against them. He repudiates the vulgar imputation of atheism, pointing out how the same charge had been brought against Socrates, and had caused his death. That crime he attributes to the inspiration of the demons, whom he identifies with the gods of the heathen, and whom he represents as similarly inspiring the attacks upon Christians. As regards such gods as these, he confesses atheism, but not as regards the most true God, the Father of right, and temperance and the other virtues, Himself free from all mixture of evil; and His Son and the prophetic Spirit. As regards the lives of Christians, he courts the fullest enquiry, demanding that any found guilty of misconduct be duly punished, but for his crimes, not for being a Christian. Then follow several chapters on the true service of God, on the Divine kingdom for which Christians look, and on their living as ever in God’s sight; and this is followed by free quotation from the Sermon on the Mount, and other similar passages from Gospel records; and by reference to Christ’s own authority for the faithful loyalty which Christians practiced towards the emperors. But it would take far too long to give even a slight sketch of the contents of the Apology. At every step we find attempts to trace analogies between Christian beliefs on the one hand and Greek philosophy or Greek mythology on the other. This was no mere diplomatic ad hominem accommodation, but connected with Justin’s own deepest convictions.
The doctrine of the Divine Word or logos received from Scripture he connected with the Stoic doctrine of the Word or Reason (logos) a seed of which is inborn in all men; and thus he was enabled to recognize the workings of God in the ages before the Word became Incarnate. He also appeals largely to the testimony of the Jewish prophets; but on this subject he is hampered by his habit of looking chiefly to supposed literal fulfillments of verbal predictions and by a want of perception of the true nature of prophecy. The last few chapters contain a valuable account of baptism as then practiced (i.e. adult baptism, for nothing is said of infant baptism), and then of the conducting of the newly-baptized person to the assembly of “the brethren,” followed by the offering up of prayers for him and “for all others everywhere,” and by the joining of all in the feast of thanksgiving or Eucharist, of which he gives a further explanation. “And we from that time forward,” he proceeds, “always have each other in remembrance ; and we that are wealthy give help to all that are in need, and we are in company with each other always. And for all that we partake of we bless the Maker of all things through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.” Last he describes the Sunday service including the Eucharist, and the distribution of the offerings among orphans and widows, the sick and the needy, prisoners and sojourners from other lands.
The second or Shorter Apology is probably a sort of Appendix to the first. It begins with a complaint how Urbicus the city prefect (or mayor, as we should say) had condemned three Christians in succession to death, without any crime on their part. Justin declares that he too is expecting a similar fate, perhaps by the false accusations of the Cynic Crescens who went about declaiming against the Christians. In what follows Justin speaks still more explicitly than before of the seed of the Word which had been implanted in the wiser and better heathen, causing them to be persecuted, not Socrates only but Musonius and other Stoics: but they all differed, he explains, from Christ, because what with them was in part only was with Him complete and whole. “Whatsoever things therefore,” he says, “have been said well in any men’s words belong to us Christians; for we worship and love next to God the Word who Cometh forth from the unborn and unutterable God, since for our sakes also He hath become man, that becoming also a partaker of the things that affect us He might also accomplish for us a cure. For all those writers were able to see but dimly, through the seed of the Word inborn in them, the things that are. For a seed of a thing and imitation of it granted according to capacity is one thing, and quite other is that which graciously gives itself to be imparted and imitated.”
The other work of Justin, a much larger one, is the Dialogue with Trypho:
“While I was walking one morning in the walks of the Xystus, a certain man, with others in his company, having met me, said, ‘Hail, O philosopher!’ And immediately after saying this, he turned round and walked along with me; his friends likewise turned round with him. And I for my part addressed him, saying, ‘Well, what is it?’ And he replied, ‘I was taught,’ says he, ‘by Corinthus the Socratic in Argos, that I ought not to despise or neglect those who wear this dress, but to show them all kindness, and to associate with them, if so be some advantage might arise from the intercourse either to some such man or to myself. It is good, moreover, for both, if either the one or the other be benefited. On this account, therefore, whenever I see anyone in such dress, I gladly approach him, and now, for the same reason, have I willingly accosted you; and these accompany me, in the expectation of hearing for themselves something profitable from you.’
‘But who are you, best of mortals?’ So I replied to him in jest.
Then he told me simply both his name and his race. ‘Trypho,’ says he, ‘I am called; and I am a Hebrew of the circumcision, escaped from the war lately carried on there, and now spending my days in
for the most part at .’
‘And in what’ said I, ‘would you be profited by philosophers so much as by your own lawgiver and the prophets.’
‘What?’ he replied. ‘Do not the philosophers make their whole discourse on God? And are they not continually raising questions about His unity and providence? Is not this truly the duty of philosophy, to investigate concerning the Divinity?”
‘Yes,’ said I, ‘so we too have supposed. But the most have not even cared about this, whether there be one or more gods, and whether they take thought for each one of us or no, as if this knowledge contributed nothing to our happiness; nay, they moreover attempt to persuade us that God takes care of the universe as a whole with its genera and species, but not of me and you, and each individually, since otherwise we would surely not need to pray to Him night and day. But it is not difficult to understand the upshot of this, for fearlessness and license in speaking result to such as maintain these opinions, doing and saying whatever they choose, neither dreading punishment nor hoping for any benefit from God. For how could they? They affirm that the same things shall always happen; and, further, that I and you shall again live in like manner, having become neither better men nor worse. But there are some others, who, having supposed the soul to be immortal and immaterial, believe that though they have committed evil they will not suffer punishment (for that which is immaterial is insensible), and that the soul, in consequence of its immortality, needs nothing from God.'
“And he, smiling gently, said, ‘Tell us your opinion of these matters, and what idea you entertain respecting God, and what your philosophy is.’
“‘I will tell you,’ said I, ‘what seems to me, for philosophy is in fact the greatest possession, and most honorable before God, to whom it leads us and alone commends us; and these are truly holy men who have bestowed attention on philosophy. What philosophy is, however, and the reason why it has been sent down to men, have escaped the observation of most; for there would be neither Platonists, nor Stoics, nor Peripatetics, nor Theoretics, nor Pythagoreans, this knowledge being one. I wish to tell you how it has become many-headed. It has happened that those who first handled it [i.e. philosophy], and who were therefore esteemed illustrious men, were succeeded by those who made no investigations concerning truth, but only admired the perseverance and self-discipline of the former, as well as the novelty of the doctrines; and each thought that to be true which he learned from his teacher. Then, moreover, those latter persons handed down to their successors such things, and others similar to them, and this system was called by the name of him who was styled the father of the doctrine.
“Being at first desirous of personally conversing with one of these men, I surrendered myself to a certain Stoic; and having spent a considerable time with him, when I had not acquired any further knowledge of God (for he did not know himself nor did he say that this was a necessary part of teaching) I left him, and betook myself to another, who was called a Peripatetic, and as he fancied, shrewd. And this man, after putting up with me for the first few days, requested me to fix a fee, in order that the intercourse might not be unprofitable to us. Him too for this reason I abandoned, believing him to be no philosopher at all. But as my soul was still yearning to hear the peculiar and choice part of philosophy, I came to a Pythagorean, very celebrated – a man who thought much of his own wisdom. And then, when I had an interview with him, willing to become his hearer and disciple, he said, ‘What then? Are you acquainted with music, astronomy and geometry? Do you expect to perceive any of those things which conduce to a happy life, if you have not been first informed on those points which wean the soul from sensible objects, and render it fitted for objects which appertain to the mind, so that it can contemplate that which is honorable in its essence and that which is good in its essence?’
“Having commended many of these branches of learning, and telling me that they were necessary, he dismissed me when I confessed to him my ignorance. Accordingly I took it rather impatiently, as was to be expected when I failed in my hope, the more so because I deemed the man had some knowledge; but reflecting again on the space of time during which I would have to linger over those branches of learning, I was not able to endure longer procrastination. In my perplexity it occurred to me to have an interview with the Platonists likewise, for their fame was great. And so I conversed much with one who had lately settled in our city – a man of intelligence, holding a high position among the Platonists – and I made progress, and gained ever so much increase day by day. 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.
“And while I was thus disposed, when I wished at one time to be filled with great quietness, and to shun the tramp of men, I used to go to a certain field not far from the sea. And when I was near that spot one day, which having reached I purposed to be by myself, a certain old man, by no means contemptible in appearance, showing a meek and grave disposition, followed me at a little distance. And when I turned round to him, having halted, I fixed my eyes rather keenly on him.” —
Then Justin recounts how the old man, after much discourse on philosophy, and especially that of Plato and Pythagoras, guided him to the prophets and the Christ of whom they prophesied.
“‘But pray’ he concluded ‘that before all things, the gates of light may be opened to thee; for these things are not perceptible to the eyes or mind of all, but only of the man to whom God and His Christ shall give the power to understand.’
‘When he had spoken these and many other things, which there is no time for mentioning at present, he went away, bidding me follow them up; and I saw him no more. But straightway
a fire was kindled in my soul, and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of
Christ, possessed me; and whilst revolving his words in my mind, I found this philosophy alone to be safe and expedient. Thus, then, and for this reason, I am a philosopher. Moreover, I would wish that all with a resolution similar to my own would never separate themselves from the words of the Savior. For they possess an awe in themselves, and are sufficient to abash those who turn aside from the path of rectitude; while the sweetest rest comes to those who carefully practice them. If then, thou hast any care for thyself, and seek after salvation and put thy trust in God, thou may come to know the Christ of God, and become perfect, and so be happy.’
“When I had said this, my beloved friend, those who were with Trypho laughed; but he,
smiling, says, ‘I approve of your other remarks, and admire the eagerness with which you study divine things, but it were better for you still to abide in the philosophy of Plato, or of some other man, cultivating endurance, self-control, and moderation, rather than be deceived by false words, and follow the opinions of men of no reputation. For if you remain in that mode of philosophy, and live blamelessly, a hope of a better destiny were left to you; but when you have forsaken God, and reposed confidence in man, what safety still awaits you? If, then, thou art willing to listen to me (for I have already considered you a friend), first be circumcised, then keep as the law hath ordained the Sabbath, and the feasts, and the new moons of God; and, in a word, do all things which have been written in the law, and then perhaps thou shalt have mercy from God. But Christ – if He has indeed been born, and exists anywhere – is unknown, and does not yet even recognize Himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. But ye, accepting a vain report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for His sake arc now inconsiderately perishing.’
“‘I excuse and forgive you, my friend,’ I said, ‘for you know not what you say, but have been persuaded by teachers who do not understand the Scriptures; and you speak, like a diviner, whatever comes into your mind. But if you are willing to listen to an account of Him, how we have not been deceived, and shall not cease to confess Him – although men’s reproaches be heaped upon us, although the most terrible tyrant compel us to deny Him, – I shall prove to you as you stand here that we have not believed empty fables, or words without any foundation, but words filled with the Spirit of God, and big with power, and flourishing with grace.” [Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, from pp. 85-97 in Rev. G. Reith’s translation (Antenicene Christian Library).]
Some of Trypho’s companions depart with jeers, and then the dialogue begins in earnest.
It ranges over the various points of difference between Judaism and the Christian faith of that time, and large masses of the Old Testament are naturally quoted and discussed. But we must be content with the autobiographic sketch, for such it doubtless is, which forms the introduction. Of course we must not expect that that story of passing from philosopher to philosopher is a complete account of the course of Justin’s conversion. In his second Apology he speaks strongly of the impression made on him by the virtues of the Christians while he was in his Platonist stage, and we may be sure that this impression acted powerfully on him. But the name which he commonly bore, Justin philosopher and martyr, was entirely appropriate. He is the first prominent representative of what was to be the characteristic of many Fathers of the Church, both Greek and Latin, the construction of a theology out of the biblical elements of the faith in combination with this or that Gentile philosophy of the loftier sort.
How soon Justin’s anticipations of martyrdom were fulfilled is not known with certainty.
There is fair evidence however that the interval was not long. A short and simple narrative of his examination before the prefect still survives, and is almost certainly genuine. He and his companions died by the headsman’s sword.
We possess other Greek Apologies written later in the same century. The most individual of them is by Tatian, an erratic disciple of Justin’s, the compiler of a famous Diatessaron or composite Gospel narrative formed by putting together small fragments of the four Gospels. He was by birth a Syrian, not a Greek, and his fiery nature bursts forth in his Apology in bitter hatred and contempt for all that was Greek. The other Apologies have a value of their own, but are far below Justin’s in force and freshness. We must now turn to a different region from any in which we have as yet paused. Irenaeus, one of the greatest of the Fathers, belongs to different countries, but he must always be chiefly associated with
the scene of his principal labors and episcopal authority. There is however a prelude to his work which
must not be passed over. Marseilles was a Greek
colony of great antiquity, and from it the Greek language and culture spread
not only along the coast but for a considerable distance up the Rhone. How the
Gospel first found its way there we do not know, but there is some evidence of
a connection between the churches of Western Asia Minor and those of the Rhone. Now the
historian Eusebius has preserved for us the greater part of a letter which
“The servants of Christ who sojourn in
Vienna and Lyons in Gaul to the brethren throughout Asia and Phrygia who have the same faith and hope of redemption
with us: peace and grace and glory from God the Father and Christ Jesus our
Lord.” The purpose of the letter is to
describe a grievous persecution which had fallen upon them, Pothinus the
bishop, a man of 90 years of age, being among the victims. The story of
Christian heroism, especially as shown by the slave girl Blandina, has hardly
an equal in literature: but it must be read as a whole, and it is of considerable
While some of these Christians of Lyons and
Vienna were in
prison, they wrote various letters, among others one to Eleutherus, Bishop of Rome, “on behalf of the peace of the churches,” i.e.
probably to urge toleration for the votaries of the new enthusiastic movement
proceeding from Phrygia which we know under
the name Montanism. The bearer of the
letter was an elder of Lyons, Irenaeus by name; and the writers of the letter
warmly commend him to Eleutherus, as one who was zealous for the covenant of
Christ. How long he had been in Gaul, we
know not, but he came from Asia Minor, where
as we know from the passage read last week he had listened eagerly to the aged
Polycarp, and his reminiscences of his intercourse in youth with men who had seen
There is also some evidence that he was at
at the time of Polycarp’s death, and heard there the sound as of a trumpet
proclaiming “Polycarp hath suffered martyrdom.”
Later in life he addressed himself to Rome for another mission of peace. The importance which the Church of Rome
derived from its position in the central city of the Empire was gradually
fastening itself to the person of its bishop, and assumed exaggerated
proportions when the arrogant Victor was its bishop. The differences between the Asiatic and the
Roman customs as to the time of keeping the Paschal festival had now become
aggravated into a deadly strife, and Victor endeavored to impose the Roman
custom on all churches. Irenaeus was now
a follower of the Roman custom, but this did not prevent his writing a strong
letter of remonstrance to Victor in the name of the Christians of Rome Gaul. This
incident occurred somewhere in the last few years of the second century.
After this we hear no more of Irenaeus on any tolerable authority. He may or may not have lived into the new century. Essentially he is the best representative of the last half, and especially the last quarter, of the second century.
Besides minor works, chiefly Epistles, of which we have only fragments, we possess entire Irenaeus’ great work, the Refutation and Overthrow of the Knowledge (Gnosis) falsely so called. Only a small proportion of it is preserved in Greek, but it is a great thing that the ancient Latin version is completely preserved. Thus far I have said nothing about the theologians who are now called Gnostics. Unfortunately not many fragments are preserved of their own writings; so that our knowledge of them comes chiefly from opponents who saw truly the impossibility of reconciling their main principles with the historical Gospel, but who as a rule had but a dim sense of the real meaning of their speculations, and a very imperfect sympathy with the speculative difficulties which led to them. The so-called Gnostic systems were various attempts to interpret history and nature by a medley of Christian ideas with the ideas and mythologies suggested by various Eastern religions. The most definite types of so-called Gnosticism were further shaped by Greek influence, and it is in this form that they chiefly came into collision with the ordinary churches. Their great time was about the middle of the first half of the second century, but they lasted on in one shape or another for a considerable time. The great leaders had passed away before Irenaeus wrote, but even in
his flock was troubled by some of the successors; and it was no superfluous
task that he undertook when he set about an elaborate refutation.
Doubtless he had other predecessors besides Justin. Thus Papias had written “Expositions of the Lord’s Oracles” to correct and supersede the fantastic interpretation of our Lord’s parables and other discourses by which some of the so-called Gnostics endeavored to find authority for their speculations. Nor was he the only elder to use the often recurring title, whom Irenaeus was thankful to quote and sometimes to transcribe at considerable length. Doubtless, if so large a proportion of the Christian literature of the preceding half-century had not perished, we should have found yet clearer evidence of the width of his reading.
But it is a striking fact that, while his censure of the so-called Gnostic systems is always unreserved and pitiless, he is unconsciously influenced by the new thoughts which they had brought forward. The Christianity which he proclaims has a comprehensiveness such as no earlier Christian Father known to us could ever have dreamed of. His doctrine of the Word is a true expansion of St. John’s doctrine, a rich application of it to bring order into the retrospect of the spiritual history of mankind, and so his vision of the future is inspired by the thought which he loves to repeat out of the Epistle to the Ephesians, how that it was the eternal purpose of the Father to sum up all things in Christ (anakefalaiwsasthai, recapitulare).
Two passages must suffice, though many are tempting to read. The first shall be a familiar one from the second book, on our Lord’s taking upon Him all the ages of man up to adult manhood.
“He was thirty years of age when He came to the Baptism, thenceforth having the full age of a teacher, when He came to
that He might rightly be able to receive the title of Teacher from all. For to
seem one thing, and be another, was not His way, as is said by those who
represent Him as being in appearance only: but what He was, that He also
seemed. Being therefore a Teacher, He had likewise the ages of a Teacher, not
rejecting nor transcending man, nor breaking the law of the human race in
Himself, but hallowing every age by its likeness to Himself. For He came to save all through Himself; all,
I mean, who through Him are born anew unto God, infants, and little children,
and boys, and youths, and elders. Accordingly He came through every age, with
infants becoming an infant, hallowing infants; among little children a little
child, hallowing those of that very age, at the same time making Himself to
them an example of dutifulness, and righteousness, and subjection; among young
men a young man, becoming an example to young men and hallowing them to the
Lord. So also an elder among elders,
that He might be a perfect Teacher in all things, not only as regards the
setting forth of the Truth but also as regards age, at the same time hallowing
also the elders, becoming likewise an example to them. Lastly He came also even
unto death, that He might be the first begotten from the dead, Himself holding
the primacy in all things, the Author of life, before all things, and having
precedence of all things.” [Irenaeus, p. 358,
The other passage shall be from the end of the book, the end also of the millennial speculations which filled Irenaeus as they did other men of that age. If some of the thoughts are difficult to follow, yet they manifestly deserve to be listened to and pondered.
“In clear vision then did John see beforehand the first resurrection of the righteous, and the inheritance of the earth during the kingdom (reign): to the same effect also did the prophets prophesy concerning it. For thus much the Lord also taught, in that He promised that He would have a new mixing of the Cup in the kingdom with the disciples. And the apostle too declared that the creation should be free from the bondage of corruption to enter the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. And in all these [events], and through them all, the same God, even the Father, is shown forth, who fashioned man, and promised the inheritance to the fathers, who prepared it (?) for the resurrection of the righteous, and fulfils the promises for His Son’s kingdom, afterward bestowing as a Father things which neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard, and which have not ascended into the heart of man. For One is the Son, who accomplished the Father’s will; and one the human race, in which the mysteries of God are accomplished, which angels desire to see, and have not power to explain the wisdom of God, through which the being which He fashioned is brought into conformity and concorporation with the Son; that His offspring, the first begotten Word, might descend into the creature, that is into the being that [God] fashioned, and be received by Him; and that the creature again might receive the Word, and ascend up to Him, mounting above the angels, and come to be after the image and likeness of God.”