JUNE 1, 2011 - FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN: ACTS 17:15-18:1

By a Providential coincidence the liturgy for this sixth Wednesday of the Easter season takes as the theme of its first reading Saint Paul’s experience at the Areopagus in Athens, the very center and symbol of Greek wisdom. Saint Justin, whose feast we commemorate with this mass, had devoted much of the energetic study of some of his best years to the search for true wisdom. He passed through various schools of Greek philosophy. He persisted in his search, however, having adopted the simple lifestyle and by adopting the pallium, he publically identified himself as dedicated to the philosophical life. When his works were printed in 1742 he was identified as “Our Holy Father Justin, philosopher and martyr” by his editor. However, as he advanced through the various schools of thought, neither Aristotle nor the stoics proved satisfying to his very sharp and inquisitive mind.

The peace he found in Plato’s views stimulated him to pursue solitude so as to favor contemplation of the hidden God. On a solitary walk one day he was accosted by a venerable stranger with whom he spoke of his efforts to gain a perfect idea of God. He also spoke in praise of Plato’s insights with enthusiasm. The conversation turned out to be a changing point in his life that led to his conversion to Christianity. For he was told by his new acquaintance that long before Greek philosophers there were prophets inspired by the Spirit of God whose writings were preserved. In order properly to understand them, he added, Justin should pray for grace, for only the light that God gives true understanding. Justin, who himself relates this story, goes on to tell of his response: “my spirit was immediately set on fire, and an affection for the Prophets and for those who are friends of Christ took hold of me. . . . I discovered that Christ’s was the only true philosophy.” (Dialog with Trypho,71) For Justin the study and appreciation of Greek thinkers proved to be a preparation for accepting the teachings of Jesus that he followed with fervor and taught aggressively, even when he recognized that it was dangerous.

Saint Justin was one of the earliest writers on Christian teachings as well as a courageous witness by his life and preaching of the faith. His familiarity with the Prophetic writings and the Old Testament is to the degree that some scholars consider him a Doctor of the Church. He came to recognize the truth that Paul preached to the Corinthians whose Greek culture, like that of the men of Athens spoken of in today’s first reading, taught a worldly wisdom. Justin enthusiastically adopted Paul’s view that remains a guide for us in our own time, when science, technology and moral liberalism create a society based on a worldly wisdom. Paul wrote in these terms: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and thwart the cleverness of the clever. … Has not God turned the wisdom of this world into folly? … the Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified,… Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1: 18 ff)

Paul addressing the Areopagites spoke positively of Greek philosopher even while making clear that it is limited, yet he stresses that its limits call for completion that is provided by the revelation brought by the risen Christ. His words encourage us today to live in trusting faith in Jesus who obtains for us still in our times the true wisdom, embodied in the Eucharist, that is the wisdom of the cross that is stronger than the folly of the godless of this world. Ω

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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