The Holy Father dedicated his catechesis during this morning's general audience to the figure of St. Justin, philosopher and martyr, the most important of the Apologist Fathers of the second century. The audience took place in St. Peter's Square and was attended by around 25,000 people.
St. Justin, said the Pope, was born in Samaria around the year 100. He "long sought after the truth" by studying Greek philosophy before converting to Christianity after meeting a mysterious old man who spoke to him "of mankind's incapacity to satisfy his aspiration to the divine through his own efforts," then indicated "in the ancient prophets ... the path to God and 'true philosophy'," exhorting Justin to pray in order to open the "doors of light."
After his conversion, Justin founded a school in Rome where he taught the new religion to his pupils free of charge. He was denounced for his activities and decapitated during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
In his works "Justin seeks to explain, above all, the divine project of salvation that comes about in Jesus Christ, the Word of God," said the Holy Father. "All men and women, as rational beings, share in the Logos, they carry in themselves a 'seed' and can catch some glimmers of the truth.
"Thus," he added, "the same Logos that was revealed in prophetic figures to the Jews in the ancient Law, was also partially manifested as 'seeds of truth' to the Greeks. ... And because Christianity is the historical and personal manifestation of the Logos in its entirety, it follows that 'everything of beauty that has ever been expressed by anyone belongs to us Christians'."
Justin, in the conviction that Greek philosophy tends towards Christ, "believed that Christians could draw from that philosophy with complete confidence. ... The figure and work of Justin mark the ancient Church's decisive option in favor of philosophy, rather than of pagan religion," with which the early Christians rejected "any form of compromise."
"In fact, pagan religion did not follow the paths of Logos but persisted along those of myth, even though myth was recognized by Greek philosophy as having no foundation in truth. Therefore the decline of paganism was inevitable, stemming as a logical consequence of the removal of religion - reduced to an artificial agglomeration of ceremonies and conventions - from the truth of existence."
Justin and the other apologists chose "the truth of existence over the myth of convention. ... In an age such as our own, marked by relativism in its debate of values, religion and inter-religious dialogue, this is a lesson that must not be forgotten.
At the end of today's catechesis, the Pope recalled that March 24 is World Tuberculosis Day. "May this anniversary," he said, "favor increased responsibility in the treatment of this sickness and an ever greater solidarity towards those who suffer from it. Upon them and their families I invoke the comfort of the Lord while encouraging the many initiatives the Church promotes in this field."
St. Justin Martyr was the first Church Father I studied and his writings were the basis of my very first college paper. In addition, he holds a very special place in my heart because it was by reading his First Apology that I learned the history of the Mass.