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It is quite a question whether the philosophic activities of leading Christian intellectuals served to moderate the imperial policy. Melito of Sardis, writing probably in 176, mentions a 'rescript' of the Emperor Antoninus, in which he checked certain onslaughts which had been made by the populace upon the Christians in Greece, mentioning particularly the cities of Larissa, Thessalonica and Athens; and since Justin quotes the rescript of Hadrian in his First Apology, and fails to mention the rescript of Antoninus, to whom the Apology was addressed, we are justified in allotting it to a date after the Apology was written, that is to say after 150 or 152. The anti-Christian outbreaks in Greece which it attempted to curb may have had some connexion with the wave of persecution in Asia which led to the martyrdom of Polycarp in 155 or 156. The indications, such as they are, make this a likely date.
If this is accepted, the next step would be to identify the persecution in Athens which was referred to in this rescript with the one mentioned by Dionysius of Corinth ten or fifteen years later. It brought about a crisis in the history of that church, Dionysius says. There were a number of apostasies; the Athenian bishop Publius died as a martyr; and the new bishop Quadratus had the greatest difficulty in reorganizing the church; nevertheless, by his zeal he brought the people together again and rekindled their faith. No doubt this was the Quadratus who presented an Apology to Hadrian in Athens some thirty years before, according to the date given by Eusebius; but one could wish that there was enough material to make a more substantial reconstruction of these events.
As the reign of Antoninus comes to its end in 161, we notice a deterioration in the position of the Christians. Under his mild rule, at least in its earlier years, it was possible, apparently, for the champions of Christianity to come forward publicly, and present the new religion for consideration as a philosophic cult which was entitled to the same immunities as the other philosophers enjoyed, though some of them were admittedly 'atheistic'. Such was the line which was taken by the First Apology of Justin, which we dated about 150, and it was hoped that the case for Christianity would be impartially examined. Some restraints were placed by Antoninus on lawless persecution, but apparently no such impartial examination took place. The Second Apology,
|159 which was written before 161, shows that the appeal had been disregarded by the authorities. What is more, it had aroused the resentment of the professional philosophers, and especially of Cynics like Crescens, and even of Platonists like Celsus. Fronto, the tutor of Marcus Aurelius, was bitterly adverse and Marcus himself was unsympathetic.
In Rome the prefect of the city was Lollius Urbicus, an old soldier of Hadrian, who had made his reputation in Britain and had held this high judicial position in Rome from 144 to 161. He was no friend of the new faith, as can be seen by his conduct of a case which came before him.
There was a Christian teacher named Ptolemaeus, who numbered among his pupils a lady of rank and fortune, whose name is not preserved. Her husband was a notorious rake, and she had been guilty of marital irregularities herself before she became a Christian and adopted the life of virtue and self-discipline. Her position now became a difficult one, and while her husband was on a voyage to Alexandria, she divorced him. Such an action illustrates the disruptive effect of the Christian standards of chastity on the old pagan social life. The situation was open to misrepresentation, and her husband, on his return, determined to have his revenge. He informed the authorities that she was a Christian, a charge which she managed to evade by placing herself under the protection of the emperor, who was ready, it would seem, to shield a Christian from persecution, at all events if she was of high social standing. We hear no more of her. According to the principles of Hermas and Justin, she must have enrolled with the widows and virgins.
Foiled, in this attempt, the husband turned upon her teacher Ptolemaeus. The text is not perfectly clear at this point; but what is clear is that the husband bribed a centurion, who was a friend of his, to put to him the fatal question, 'Are you a Christian ?' Ptolemaeus had no alternative but to confess and soon found himself in prison. It would seem that he might have gone on teaching the principles of Christianity, without disturbance, had he not provoked the enmity of the aggrieved husband.
He was kept in prison for a long time before his case was heard; and |160 when he appeared in court before Lollius Urbicus, the same procedure was adopted. There was no enquiry or examination; he was simply asked, 'Are you a Christian ?' and when he admitted it, he was summarily condemned to death. The whole story was probably very well known to everyone, and one of the spectators in the court, a man named Lucius, rose and protested.
'What is the crime?' he asked. 'This man is no adulterer or fornicator; no murderer or thief or robber; he has not been convicted of any crime. All that you have punished him for is his admission that he is called by the name of Christian. You are judging in a manner which is not worthy of the pious emperor, or his son the philosophic Caesar, or the sacred senate.'
Lucius was a Christian himself, and Urbicus knew this at once.
'I think you are another of the same sort', he said.
'I certainly am', replied Lucius, and was ordered off to execution; and according to the Christian custom he offered a thanksgiving.
A third Christian protested and was also condemned.
Justin did not let the matter rest there. He penned a document in which he brought the whole case to the attention of the highest authorities. This document is the so-called Second Apology and is found in the manuscripts appended to the First Apology ; it certainly carries on some of the arguments contained in that document. It must have been written before 7 March 161, when Antoninus died; for Antoninus is the pious emperor, and Marcus Aurelius the philosophic Caesar. It was in this year, too, that Urbicus ceased to be prefect of the city; Marcus appointed Junius Rusticus in his place. Rusticus was even less sympathetic with the Christians.
The so-called Second Apology of Justin is the source from which we have drawn this very instructive narrative. He goes on to expatiate on the injustice and futility of a legal process which refused to make any effective inquiry into the nature of a crime, or actually a mere name, for which it condemns a just and innocent man to death. He also answers a few criticisms and objections which have been levelled, either at his First Apology, or at his public teaching. In particular he fastens upon a Cynic philosopher named Crescens, who had attacked the faith without |161 even knowing what it was, a fact which Justin had demonstrated, he said, by coming forward and engaging in public argument with him. The debate had been reduced to writing, like the discussion which he had held with Trypho, and he hopes that the emperor has read it. It looks as if the Christian philosophy had made a stir.
Meanwhile he is fully expecting to be plotted against by ' Crescens the Philopsopher', and nailed to a cross. The comic title means a lover of sound (psophos), rather than a lover of sense (sophia). The philopsophic Crescens may also have had a friend who was a centurion, and his plans included the liquidation of Tatian as well as Justin; or so Tatian says.
Crescens [he says] who made his nest in the great city, and surpassed all men in his passion for boys, and was a great lover of money, and a despiser of death, was actually so afraid of death, that he made it his business to bring Justin (and me too) to death as if it were an evil thing, because he announced the truth, and convicted the philosophers of being gluttons and cheats: but which of the philosophers except you alone did he ever attack?
(Tatian, To the Greeks, xix.)
The Greek text is a little corrupt in the last sentence, but this seems to be its sense. It is written in the spirit of Tatian, not the spirit of Justin, but it suggests that Justin had not hesitated to use strong language.
As if to compensate for his attack on Crescens, Justin opens up to its widest extent his generous recognition of the old philosophers like Socrates and Heracleitus, and even the more recent Musonius, the tutor of Epictetus. They were inspired men. In every human soul, Justin said, the word of God exists as a seed or germ. Socrates listened to the word of God as much as Abraham or Elijah.
I pray and contend with all my might that I may be found to be a Christian, and yet I profess that the teachings of Plato are not foreign to those of Christ. But I do say that they are not in all respects alike. And so it is too in the case of the others, whether it be the Stoics or the other writers; for each one saw what was akin, and spoke well ... according to his portion of the divine germinative Word, so whatever was said well by any of them belongs to us as Christians.
(Justin, Second Apology, xiii, 2 and 4.)
It may be that Justin left Rome for a while after this incident, in connexion with which he seems to have attracted an undue amount of hostile attention. He states during the trial which preceded his martyrdom |162 that he had resided in Rome for two separate periods. The most obvious point at which to place his departure from Rome is after the Crescens incident, and therefore prior to 161. It is convenient to take the Address to the Greeks of Tatian at the same time, since it alludes to the same incident; but some scholars place it at a later date.
Tatian, the pupil and devout admirer of Justin, had come, like him, from an eastern land. He was a pagan from the country which the Romans called Assyria, east of the Euphrates and west of the Tigris. He came to acquire the western culture. In Athens he had attended the schools and been admitted into the mysteries. No doubt he felt some glow of appreciation at the time, but that was turned into contempt and anger. He went on his way to Rome, and inspected the array of statues which had been brought there from every quarter of the world, and marvelled at their beautiful futility. He saw human blood being poured out in honour of Saturn and Latiarian Jupiter; or heard about it. We are surprised to hear of human sacrifice at this stage of the world's civilization; but Justin mentions it too, and so do the other apologists. The slaying of the king-priest of Diana at Aricia by his successor in office was still going on. The civilization which accepted torture as a normal part of legal procedure and delighted to watch men torn to pieces by wild beasts in the arena, would not have denied an ancient deity his offering of human blood.
Like other intellectuals, Tatian was drawn to Christianity by the study of the Hebrew prophets, which were so much older than any other literature he knew and so far in advance of it spiritually. It introduced him to the one sovereign deity, and delivered him from an infinite array of rulers and tyrants. He allowed himself to be initiated and put off evil and become like an infant. He attached himself to the school of Justin, 'the marvellous Justin', as he calls him, and developed into a teacher and writer of no small merit. We find him back in Athens, where he writes his treatise Concerning Animals, which has not been preserved, and his brilliant Address to the Greeks, from which we have drawn these particulars. The indications are not as firm as we would like, but the Address reads best as an appeal to the Greeks in Athens, and its reference to the hostility of Crescens seems to place it not long
|163 after the Second Apology. He seems to speak as if Justin were still living, and if so the date of writing must be before 165. In any case the hostility of Crescens is still fresh in his mind; he turns upon him fiercely as if he were present: 'which of the philosophers did he ever attack but you?'
Tatian is harsh, critical, emotional, inflated, unfair, and one-sided; but there is no denying his ability, sincerity and genius. He was a masterly and influential man; an oriental Tertullian.
He had an excess of temperament. He is all superlatives and extremes. He has no good to say about Greek culture; he finds it superficial, immoral, and lacking in originality. He ridicules the academic culture of Athens, its emphasis on verbal subtlety and felicity, and even its affected accent. If ever there was a case of an inferiority feeling, it is Tatian. He is the hapless outsider who has broken into the charmed circle of an academic tradition. Conscious of his genius, he has asserted himself too loudly, and has been laughed down. His return from Rome as a Christian will be hailed as the latest joke. 'Tatian', they will say, ' has turned aside from the Greeks with their vast multitude of philosophers, and has carved out something new for himself, the doctrines of the barbarians.' This reads as if it were written shortly after his conversion.
He glories in this word 'barbarian', which only meant a person who had no knowledge of the Greek language and letters. 'I said good-bye to the arrogant boasting of the Romans and the chilly verbosity of the Athenians, with their inconsistent doctrines, and embraced our own barbarian philosophy.' It was a piece of abuse, no doubt, which had been thrown at the Christian intellectuals, but they had picked it up with pride. Tatian introduces it with dramatic effect in the first sentence of his treatise. 'Gentlemen of Hellas,' he says, 'do not show yourselves too antagonistic to the barbarians, or look with ill-will upon their doctrines, for which of your pursuits has not been derived from the barbarians ?' A rhetorical question which he immediately backs up with a host of examples. Tatian has ransacked libraries and made numerous journeys and personal researches, on which he prides himself. He empties the contents of treatises and note-books into the current of his satire. He grudgingly concedes some merit to Socrates |164 among the philosophers, and Heracles among the demigods; but he has nothing but savage scorn for most of the great figures of Greek philosophy, literature, and religion. There is an emotional intensity about his writing which compares ill with the calm appeal to reason of his master. We can see the trends of thought which led him later on into heresy. He is formally orthodox in his doctrine, but he has a low view of man and of material existence; and his inability to see anything good in the Hellenic culture is in harmony with this attitude. He had a queer view of the heavenly world; he had a queer psychology. He followed Hernias and the Jewish moralists in looking on the spirit which was in man as a gift or loan from God. If he retains it, it enables him to live a life of heroic sanctity and renunciation; if he loses it, he is simply an animal. To repudiate matter is his summary of the good life. He combines an intense and unsteady spirituality with a strong and literal eschatology.
His book is not an apology. It is not a plea to the emperor on behalf of persecuted Christians; it is an onslaught upon the Hellenic culture which he patronized and endowed. It blames the Greeks, by which he means the intellectuals, for the policy of persecution, and derides their philosophy and literature and pretensions to wisdom. He is totally at variance with his master Justin, who reveres the great names of Plato and Socrates and accepts them as forerunners of the gospel. The fact is that he is not speaking altogether as a Christian. He is speaking as an oriental who has plunged into a western imperialistic culture and then turned from it again in disgust, and found truth and happiness in a new oriental philosophy, which was nevertheless older and truer than all the others.
Tatian reminds us of one point that Justin had forgotten; Christianity was an oriental religion, not a European one. He was destined to become the theologian of a Christian Syrianism, not of a Christian Hellenism. He reminds us that Syrian Christianity existed, and that it comprised a large proportion of all living Christians, who may not all have been loyal and devoted subjects of the Roman king.
Antoninus Pius died on 7 March 161, and was succeeded by Marcus Aurelius, in whose reign it would appear that persecution grew more intense. He had been co-emperor with Antoninus since 147, and he |165 proceeded to give the same position to Lucius Verus, his brother by adoption, with the title of Augustus. It was an act of generosity and piety, but it was not wise. The older adoptive principle, which had permitted the choice of mature men with administrative experience, was thus brought to an end. The new method of educating promising young members of the imperial family and investing them with the purple step by step had, of course, been initiated by Hadrian himself when he chose Marcus and Lucius for this purpose; but the rigorous moral and intellectual training which they had received from the greatest rhetoricians and philosophers of the day produced strangely different effects in the two young men. Marcus had grown up serious and thoughtful, but without much trace of humour or social feeling, so far as we can see; he lived a life of monastic or puritan severity. Lucius indulged his natural desires and enjoyed the social pleasures which Marcus despised.
Marcus Aurelius describes his adopted father Antoninus as a man of splendid physical health and equable temperament. He found no difficulty in long hours of administrative labour. He was uniformly affable. Marcus lacked these natural advantages. We gather from his own words that he was physically unequal to the work which he imposed upon himself. He had to drive himself to face the daily routine and to endure discourtesy or bad manners. He had fits of giddiness and haemorrhages; he suffered from laboured breathing; and in view of these facts there is a pathetic interest in his repeated exhortations to himself to act like a man and a Roman, which covered such small but significant points as getting up in the morning. These exhortations were based ultimately on the example of Socrates, who was a miracle of physical vigour and endurance. There was no room for sentiment or tender feeling in Marcus, either as a Greek philosopher or as a Roman gentleman; he shows no sign of it in his writings, either for himself or for others; but in his relations with his family it certainly came to the surface.
He has been described by his detractors as a prig, a judgement which has been further elaborated in the phrase' a great and good man, and he knew it'. These judgements are hard; but it must be confessed that he was too serious-minded. He was keyed up constantly to a high sense of duty and self-discipline, and had no sympathy with the weaknesses of the average man. He was no judge of character. When all this has been said, it remains that he was a great emperor, perhaps the greatest of
|166 Roman emperors. If he had never written the book of confessions which reveal his inner life and thought, he might be remembered simply as a ruler and general of indomitable spirit, who met one military reverse after another with great ability and unfailing courage.
[katapi ed: read or download the Meditations HERE!]
Marcus Aurelius is of value to us in our historical researches as a favourable example of the Stoic idealism which transformed the old Roman culture in its last phase and prepared the way for the Syrian and Iranian religious ideas. It was not literary; for he warned himself against too much book-reading, which he regarded as a dangerous form of self-indulgence. He disliked the flowery and artificial style of the popular writers, and had no interest in metaphysical speculation. Philosophy was for him the art of living in accordance with nature and with reason. He attempted to face facts and to speak plainly. He took seriously the great masters of the moral life.
He was conscious of the existence of much evil in the world; but he strove to impress upon himself the dogma that the universe is governed in accordance with reason, and therefore everything that happens must be good when it is looked at from the point of view of the whole. This rather inhuman reason, which pervaded and directed all things, made itself known in the breast of man. It was the real man; his body and his passions were extraneous things and not parts of his true self. Nothing that happened to the body could be described as evil, since it was external; man should be superior to all external things. He should remain unmoved by good or evil fortune – death itself is only a fact of nature, and therefore must be good; the actor's part was ended and he walked off the stage. He must depart without emotion, and without concern. He must do it as a deliberate act of judgement, and not out of mere obstinacy like the Christians; there should be nothing loud or theatrical; it must be done with gravity and decorum.
The title which he gave to his book of meditations was To Himself. It is a spiritual diary which he wrote during his military campaigns. The analysis of the inner life is a form of literature which begins to appear about this time. St Paul was an example of it to a certain degree; the supreme examples are Marcus Aurelius and St Augustine. Marcus owes much to Epictetus, who had set the moral tone to which the best
|167 minds in the pagan world responded at this time. Their books were not lost. They were taken over in the Christian church and became manuals of piety in the cloisters of the middle ages. Once again we notice how the culture of an age which is often regarded as decadent did much to fix the modes of thought which helped to form the European civilization.
There is only one reference to the Christians in the writings of Marcus, and we have already quoted it. It proves that he had watched the martyrdoms, and had been repelled by the bravado of the more fanatical of the martyrs and by the 'obstinacy' of the more reasonable. He detected a note of what we would call exhibitionism. It is possible that he did not like persecuting; but he had trained himself to do many things that he did not like. As an emperor, he was bound to suppress disorderly and disloyal organizations which might prove dangerous to the government. He was bound to defend the recognized gods and goddesses who were so violently denounced in the Christian propaganda. He was a firm believer in the gods, whose existence, he thought, could be proved. He performed the unromantic rituals of the old Roman religion as a serious and sacred duty. It was the existence of these gods and the continuance of their rituals which was now the main issue in the battle between the church and the empire. The religion of the empire was a very real one. It was genuinely believed that the ancestral deities and virtues had made Rome great. Christianity threatened them.
Among the tutors who had left a deep impression upon his docile mind had been a certain Junius Rusticus, whom he appointed prefect of the city at the beginning of his reign, in succession to Lollius Urbicus. It was Rusticus who put Justin Martyr to death, and it is plain that he looked down on Christianity as a debased and extravagant superstition, as Pliny had done in his time. Another of his tutors was Aemilianus Pronto, a Latin grammarian and stylist of African origin, who had studied the subject of Christianity, and had come to the conclusion that the charges of cannibalism and incest were perfectly true.
Two more bishops were put to death in Asia Minor, both of whom were Phrygians; Thraseas, the bishop of Eumenea, was brought to Smyrna to suffer there, which suggests another high festival like that in which Polycarp had been done to death; Sagaris of Laodicea witnessed in his own city apparently. We have no Acts of these martyrdoms, but they were well remembered even at the end of the century, since other events were dated by referring to them. A conflict between the Phrygian bishops and the Montanist prophets is said to have occurred about the time that Thraseas witnessed; a controversy about the Pascha broke out in Laodicea about the time that Sagaris witnessed, which is further defined as 'when Servilius Paulus was proconsul of Asia'; a mistake for Sergius Paulus, whose years as proconsul would be 166-7, or else 162, which is not considered so likely. Thraseas is mentioned before Sagaris in the catalogue of names quoted by Poly-crates of Ephesus about 190. The synchronisms are a little shadowy, but the relative dates are fairly probable.
There are also some Acts of Martyrs from Pergamum which may be assigned to the same period, since they make mention of emperors in the plural. They seem to be genuine and contemporary, but are written up in a rather inflated style, very different from those of Polycarp and Justin.
The first martyr was asked his name, and replied, 'My first and choicest name is Christian; but if you seek my worldly name, it is Carpus.'
He refused to sacrifice, and made a long discourse on the worship of the gods which we cannot help thinking may have been elaborated by the writer of the Acts. It is a declaration in favour of monotheism and an onslaught on the idols and the daemons. Carpus was tortured with the 'shell' or iron comb, but continued to repeat the words '/ am a Christian' until he could speak no more.
The second martyr was an old man named Papylus, who came from Thyatira. He was a teacher, and in all probability an ascetic.
'Have you any children?' asked the proconsul.
'Many, by God's mercy', he answered; upon which one of the spectators broke in.
'That is the Christian way of speaking', he said. ' He means that he has children according to the faith.'
|169 'Why did you tell a lie?' asked the proconsul.
'I have children according to God in every province and city.'
' Will you sacrifice, or will you not?'
'From my youth up, I have served God, and have never sacrificed to idols. I am a Christian, and you will get no other answer from me; for there is nothing greater or nobler that I can say.'
He was tortured like Carpus and bore it without uttering a sound. They were both nailed to stakes and burned to death. Papylus died more quickly than Carpus. Carpus smiled as he was nailed; 'he saw the glory of the Lord, and was glad'. He died with a prayer of thanksgiving on his lips and this so moved a Christian woman standing by that she offered herself for martyrdom and rushed eagerly into the flames. Her name was Agathonice.
Their bones were carefully guarded to the glory of Christ and the praise of his martyrs.
Another reason can be suggested for the increase of persecution between 160 and 165. Marcus Aurelius was unfortunate from the beginning of his reign, and had need of all his philosophy to sustain him. The peaceful administration of Antoninus may not have been sufficiently energetic, and a general policy of tightening up may have been necessary. This may have become apparent when a Teutonic tribe called the Hatti crossed the Danube and invaded the Roman provinces of Germany and Rhaetia. Simultaneously Vologases II, the Parthian monarch, invaded the empire in the east. He made himself master of Armenia and Cappadocia without difficulty, and raided into other parts of Asia Minor. Lucius Verus, the second emperor, was despatched to take command in the east.
Verus made his home at Antioch for five years (162-6), and lived a life of pleasure, while his generals conducted the war, pushing far into Media and Babylonia. In 165 his commander-in-chief, the energetic Avidius Cassius, who was a Syrian by birth, reached the twin cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, which were near the site of the ancient Babylon; he destroyed the cities and demolished the royal palace of Vologases. No attempt was made to hold this distant territory; he had reached the end of his tether, and his armies were beginning to suffer from the |170 plague; but the more northerly country remained under his control. The province of Mesopotamia, which had been set up for two years by Trajan, was restored to the Empire. In 166 the Emperor Verus returned to Rome from Antioch with great reluctance, for he had come to look upon the east as his kingdom. It is the beginning of a Romano-Syrian connexion which will be of greater historical importance as we proceed. Romanized Syria grew in wealth and military power.
The war years of 162-6 were also the period of the Asian martyrdoms, and possibly of martyrdoms elsewhere. It is the background against which we must place the anti-Roman and anti-Greek diatribes of the oriental Tatian in his Address to the Greeks. It also provides an explanation for the appeals of Celsus to the Christians to fight in the army and not allow the empire to fall into the hands of barbarians; and we shall see that they did fight in the armies against the barbarians. Feeling runs high in times of war and calamity, however, and the public likes to find a scapegoat. This attitude is well summed up in a sentence from the Apology of Tertullian, written some thirty years later:
If the Tiber floods its banks, if the Nile fails to flood the fields, if heaven holds back the rain, if the earth shakes or famine comes, or pestilence; at once the cry goes up; 'The Christians to the lion!'
(Tertullian, Apology, xl.)
It is a famous sentence; but it may be that Tertullian took the idea from an earlier apologist, Melito of Sardis, who wrote in the reign of Marcus. In the first year of the reign of Marcus, the Tiber did overflow its banks, and brought disaster to many; there was pestilence and famine; and in the year of victory, 166, when Marcus and Lucius celebrated their ' triumph' in Rome, the oriental plague which had decimated the armies of Avidius Cassius near the site of the ancient Babylon, struck the imperial city itself.
It is likely, therefore, that the pagan population blamed the Christians for these calamities, that Melito protested against this attitude in his Apology, and that Tertullian transferred the protest of Melito to his own pages, expressing it in his own epigrammatic style. It is possible, too, that oriental Christians may have taken the Parthian side in the war.
During the years 162-7, Junius Rusticus, the tutor of Marcus Aurelius, was prefect of the city, and during his term of office Justin was in Rome for his second period of residence there. He had a well-organized school, and no doubt he was working on some of his books. Rusticus decided to suppress this centre of Christian propaganda.
It was not, after all, the enmity of Crescens the Cynic that brought Justin to trial, so far as we can see, though Eusebius comes to this conclusion. He and his companions were arrested by police action, and brought before the prefect for examination. In answer to the first question, he gave a simple account of the Christian faith in God and in Christ; but the prefect was not interested in his theology. He wanted to track down more Christians.
'Where do you assemble?' he asked; but Justin evaded the point of this question by giving a theological answer.
'Where each one chooses or can', he said. 'Do you suppose that we all meet in the same place? Not so. The God of the Christians is not limited by spatial conditions. He is invisible, and fills heaven and earth, and is worshipped everywhere, and glorified by the faithful.'
We recognize here the doctrine of a universal world-wide worship which has appeared in so many different forms in apologetic and liturgical texts. Rusticus changed the question.
'Tell me where you assemble,' he said, 'or in what place you collect your followers.'
Justin had nothing to conceal on this point, since the arrest had been made.
'I live above a man named Martin at the Thimotinian baths', he said; ' and during the whole time – for I am now residing in Rome for the second time – I have known no other place of meeting; and if anyone wished to see me, I communicated to them the teaching of the truth.'
He had answered strictly according to the letter of the question, which referred only to his own school. It is easy for us to see from his reply how his hearers and pupils could mix with the crowds that came to the baths, and find their way unnoticed to his upper room.
'Are you a Christian ?' asked Rusticus.
'I am a Christian', answered Justin. It was the fatal question which the code of the martyr forbade him to evade by the use of theological |172 subtleties or baffling answers. The same question was put to the other prisoners in turn.
'I am a Christian by the grace of God', answered Charito and Chariton. They were brother and sister, no doubt; and they were playing on the meaning of their own names, which were derived from the word charis, which means grace.
Euelpistus was a Cappadocian and a servant of Caesar; a member of the civil service, as we would say. He followed suit. 'I am a Christian, too, set free by Christ; and by the grace of God I share the same hope.' He was a pupil of Justin, he admitted, but had learned to be a Christian from his parents in his own country. His answer contained a reference to his name, which means 'hopeful'.
'I am a Christian, said Hierax, who was a difficult and obstinate case; he refused to say whether Justin had converted him to Christianity. 'I am a Christian,' he repeated, 'I was a Christian, and I will go on being a Christian.' With regard to his parents he condescended to give a little information; 'Christ is our true father,' he said, 'and faith is our true mother; my earthly parents died, and when I was driven away from Iconium in Phrygia, I came here.' We note that it is the Phrygian who makes use of baffling answers. He reminds us of Carpus and Papylus.
Paeon and Liberianus also admitted that they were Christians. Paeon had received the good confession from his parents, like Euelpistus. None would incriminate Justin by saying that he had converted them.
The prefect now attempted to break them down by threats.
'Listen', he said to Justin. 'You call yourself learned, and think that you know true teachings; if you are scourged and beheaded, do you believe that you will ascend into heaven?'
'If I endure these things', said Justin, 'my hope is that I will receive his gifts.'
'Suppose we get down to business. Offer sacrifice to the gods.'
'No right-thinking person falls away from piety to impiety.'
'Unless you obey, you will be mercilessly punished.'
'Even if we are punished we can be saved through prayer, through our Lord Jesus Christ; for this will become our salvation and our confidence at the more fearful and universal judgement-seat of our Lord and Saviour.'
|173 All the martyrs assented to this, saying, 'Do whatever you like; for we are Christians, and do not sacrifice to idols.'
It was the Christian martyr now, and not the enlightened pagan philosopher, who was standing for the sanctity of his convictions and the freedom of the human spirit, before the organized and educated tyranny of a deified world-power using naked force. The prefect proceeded to pronounce the sentence.
'Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods, and will not 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 glorified God, the narrative says, and went forth to the accustomed place, and were beheaded, and so made perfect their witness by the confession of the Saviour; and some of the faithful removed die bones secretly and laid them in a fitting place, the grace of our Lord having wrought with them: to whom be glory for ever and ever: Amen.
(The Martyrdom of Justin.)
The narrative seems to be taken from the records of the court, or else it was written down at once when the dialogue was still fresh in the memory; but its liturgical close and response prove that it was composed to be read in church, perhaps on the birthday of the martyrs, though nothing is said about this. In the cemetery of Priscilla there is a stone which bears the inscription 'ΜΧΟΥΣΤΙΝΟΣ' in Greek letters; it looks almost like the name of Justin preceded by the letter 'M' for the word 'martyr'; and possibly it marks the resting-place of the body of the founder of Christian philosophy, awaiting the visitation from heaven. His day in early Roman martyrologies is 14 April; in the east it is 1 June. The Syrian Chronicle gives the year of his death as 165.
The catacomb legends tell tales of other martyrs under Marcus Aurelius.
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