St. Justin Martyr–sometimes called “the Philosopher”–lived in the time when Christianity was first making its mark on the world, figuring out how to express the Truth of Jesus Christ in a world that was not only unfamiliar with the salvation history of the Jews and the new revelation brought through the Messiah, but hostile towards anyone who did not accept the established beliefs of the majority. Christians (and Jews) were misunderstood, at best, and persecuted to the point of death, at worst, by the Roman authorities who saw the new religion as a threat to society and interpreted certain aspects of the Christian faith as disgusting and backwards.
Justin was a highly educated philosopher before and after his conversion to Christianity, and as an educated Christian, he felt it his responsibility to understand the views of those around him and help those outside of the Church understand Christianity as a rational faith and ultimately, as the one true Faith. He wrote two apologies or defenses of Christianity to the Roman authorities in which he explained the beliefs of the Christians, asked that they be treated as equal citizens under the law, and dispelled rumors about the actions of his fellow believers.
But here’s the best part: St. Justin didn’t do this by sending a Bible (there wasn’t one yet, anyway) to the emperor and expecting that he would see things from his perspective. Instead, he took what he knew the Romans knew–pagan cult worship, philosophy, and mythology–and demonstrated how these sources revealed shadows of the Truth that Christians had now come to know fully. While he certainly rejected many of the pagan ideas and especially their practices, Justin believed that all of God’s creation was imbued with his reason, his patterns, his Logos. Therefore, he viewed non-Christians–yes, even those who persecuted Christians–as bearers of the “seeds of the word,” as humans in which God had implanted his Truth who simply needed the right kind of cultivation to help those seeds grow.
And hence there seem to be seeds of truth among all men… -First Apology XLIV
Are we, like St. Justin, looking for the little bits of truth in the world around us? Do we have the discernment of the Spirit to know what from outside the Church can be praised and lifted up as part of God’s intended pattern and which are the distortions that must be rejected? Do we see in every person, especially those who disagree with our Christian faith, the mark of our Maker, His own handiwork, the seeds of His Word? Are we cultivating those seeds with love and gentleness or do we let them lie dormant in our neighbors or worse, try to throw them out as garbage?
Following the Philosopher, we can take away a few principles:
- To engage others, our education should be well-rounded–we have to know what others know and believe to open up a dialogue.
- While recognizing the innate goodness of God’s creation, we should pray for the spiritual discernment to recognize distortions of that truth for what they are, not accepting all things wholeheartedly.
- Every person has been made in the image and likeness of God, and that includes their reasoning. We have to be respectful of the conclusions others have drawn with that reasoning, even if we think it is incomplete or incorrect.
- We should recognize the seeds of the truth in the thoughts of others as a point of reconciliation and agreement and let them be a starting place for dialogue.
And let me add one more, though I’m sure St. Justin would agree…
Love is the water by which the seeds of the Word grow.