Around A.D. 155-157, the man known to modern observers as "Justin Martyr" wrote what is called his First Apology. "Apology" here is used in the sense of "apologetics"––this was a letter he wrote to Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius defending Christianity and Christians against the persecution they were suffering.
It is certainly worth reading in its entirety. It is an eye-opening account of the sufferings they endured, as well as a poignant reminder of the ancient roots of our faith. For the purposes of this article, however, I will draw just a few notes from toward the end of the letter.
- From Chapter LX: "It is not, then, that we hold the same opinions as others, but that all speak in imitation of ours. Among us these things can be heard and learned from persons who do not even know the forms of the letters, who are uneducated and barbarous in speech, though wise and believing in mind; some, indeed, even maimed and deprived of eyesight; so that you may understand that these things are not the effect of human wisdom, but are uttered by the power of God." This section is the conclusion of Justin's recounting of various philosophical constructs (especially from Plato). His insight is akin to one C.S. Lewis arrived at several centuries later: Christianity is not one truth among many. Instead, it is the one truth from which many borrow. The Gospel is the clue that helps make sense of everything else in life.
- From Chapter LXI: "As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. ... And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the layer the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. ... And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed." This section was especially interesting to me given his obviously high evaluation of baptism––he certainly viewed it as being for the remission of sins. It is also notable for the early example of a trinitarian baptismal "formula" (baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit.)
- Chapter LXV-LXVII: I love the recounting here of their simple, beautiful worship practices. The similarities (as well as the differences) are striking.