On the Feast of St. Justin Martyr, I thought I’d highlight this interesting exchange recorded at the hearing that preceded his execution in 165 A.D. During the trial of Justin by the Roman prefect Quintus Junius Rusticus, Justin provides his refusal to offer worship to the pagan gods and his allegiance to the Christian God. Along with Justin, several others are tried for the same “crime” of non-worship as demanded by the law of the time.
In the time of the lawless partisans of idolatry, wicked decrees were passed against the godly Christians in town and country, to force them to offer libations to vain idols; and accordingly the holy men, having been apprehended, were brought before the prefect of Rome, Rusticus by name. And when they had been brought before his judgment-seat, said to Justin, Obey the gods at once, and submit to the kings. Justin said, To obey the commandments of our Saviour Jesus Christ is worthy neither of blame nor of condemnation. Rusticus the prefect said, What kind of doctrines do you profess? Justin said, I have endeavoured to learn all doctrines; but I have acquiesced at last in the true doctrines, those namely of the Christians, even though they do not please those who hold false opinions. Rusticus the prefect said, Are those the doctrines that please you, you utterly wretched man? Justin said, Yes, since I adhere to them with right dogma. Rusticus the prefect said, What is the dogma? Justin said, That according to which we worship the God of the Christians, whom we reckon to be one from the beginning, the maker and fashioner of the whole creation, visible and invisible; and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had also been preached beforehand by the prophets as about to be present with the race of men, the herald of salvation and teacher of good disciples. And I, being a man, think that what I can say is insignificant in comparison with His boundless divinity, acknowledging a certain prophetic power, since it was prophesied concerning Him of whom now I say that He is the Son of God. For I know that of old the prophets foretold His appearance among men.
Rusticus the prefect said, Where do you assemble? Justin said, Where each one chooses and can: for do you fancy that we all meet in the very same place? Not so; because the God of the Christians is not circumscribed by place; but being invisible, fills heaven and earth, and everywhere is worshipped and glorified by the faithful. Rusticus the prefect said, Tell me where you assemble, or into what place do you collect your followers? Justin said, I live above one Martinus, at the Timiotinian Bath; and during the whole time (and I am now living in Rome for the second time) I am unaware of any other meeting than his. And if any one wished to come to me, I communicated to him the doctrines of truth. Rusticus said, Are you not, then, a Christian? Justin said, Yes, I am a Christian.
Then said the prefect Rusticus to Chariton, Tell me further, Chariton, are you also a Christian? Chariton said, I am a Christian by the command of God. Rusticus the prefect asked the woman Charito, What say you, Charito? Charito said, I am a Christian by the grace of God. Rusticus said to Euelpistus, And what are you? Euelpistus, a servant of Cæsar, answered, I too am a Christian, having been freed by Christ; and by the grace of Christ I partake of the same hope. Rusticus the prefect said to Hierax, And you, are you a Christian? Hierax said, Yes, I am a Christian, for I revere and worship the same God. Rusticus the prefect said, Did Justin make you Christians? Hierax said, I was a Christian, and will be a Christian. And Pæon stood up and said, I too am a Christian. Rusticus the prefect said, Who taught you? Pæon said, From our parents we received this good confession. Euelpistus said, I willingly heard the words of Justin. But from my parents also I learned to be a Christian. Rusticus the prefect said, Where are your parents? Euelpistus said, In Cappadocia. Rusticus says to Hierax, Where are your parents? And he answered, and said, Christ is our true father, and faith in Him is our mother; and my earthly parents died; and I, when I was driven from Iconium in Phrygia, came here. Rusticus the prefect said to Liberianus, And what say you? Are you a Christian, and unwilling to worship [the gods]? Liberianus said, I too am a Christian, for I worship and reverence the only true God.
The prefect says to Justin, Hearken, you who are called learned, and think that you know true doctrines; if you are scourged and beheaded, do you believe you will ascend into heaven? Justin said, I hope that, if I endure these things, I shall have His gifts. For I know that, to all who have thus lived, there abides the divine favour until the completion of the whole world. Rusticus the prefect said, Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense? Justin said, I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it. Rusticus the prefect said, Let us, then, now come to the matter in hand, and which presses. Having come together, offer sacrifice with one accord to the gods. Justin said, No right-thinking person falls away from piety to impiety. Rusticus the prefect said, Unless you obey, you shall be mercilessly punished. Justin said, Through prayer we can be saved on account of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we have been punished, because this shall become to us salvation and confidence at the more fearful and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Saviour. Thus also said the other martyrs: Do what you will, for we are Christians, and do not sacrifice to idols.
Rusticus the prefect pronounced sentence, saying, Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the command of the emperor be scourged, and led away to suffer the punishment of decapitation, according to the laws. The holy martyrs having glorified God, and having gone forth to the accustomed place, were beheaded, and perfected their testimony in the confession of the Saviour. And some of the faithful having secretly removed their bodies, laid them in a suitable place, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ having wrought along with them, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Source: Translated by Marcus Dods. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
Wow. We may talk about standing up for “what we believe”, but it’s pretty hard to match this episode, either in clarity of purpose or courage.