Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for September 10, 2006

St. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho follows the ancient philosophical method of “dialogue.” The Greek philosophical “dialogue” was popularized with Plato, who often portrayed Socrates in “dialogue” with other philosophers to illustrate the truth of the matter at hand. The Dialogue of Justin is no different; he encounters Trypho, a Jewish man, who asks him to share the truth that he knows. This work opens our minds not only to the philosophy of Justin, but also of second-century Judaism and its relationship to the early Church. Justin agrees to share his beliefs, because “philosophy is, in fact, the greatest possession, and most honorable before God, to whom it leads us and alone commends us” (ch. 2).

Justin then recounts his own encounters with Platonists, Stoics, Pythagoreans, and others, all of which left him wanting yet more. He happened upon an elderly man one day who questioned him about his beliefs, and then opened the Scriptures to Justin. He immediately offers the hope of this Faith to Trypho: “If, then, you have any concern for yourself, and if you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God, you may … become acquainted with the Christ of God, and, after being initiated, live a happy life” (ch. 8).

Trypho, however, rejects the existence of Christ, and questions Justin on the Christians’ way of life; Justin describes the New Covenant as fulfilling the old: “The true spiritual Israel, and descendents of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham … are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ” (ch. 11). Justin then uses many examples, particularly from the prophet Isaiah to demonstrate the fulfillment of the Old Covenant in Christ and the Church.

Justin quotes extensively from the Scriptures (the Old Testament) as a common ground with Trypho, upon which to have their dialogue; nevertheless, their understanding varies a great deal. Justin sees the Law and the Prophets as foreshadowing Christ and His Church, fulfilling the Law, and opening salvation to all nations in Christ: “Though a man be a Scythian or a Persian, if he has the knowledge of God and of His Christ, and keeps the everlasting righteous decrees, he is circumcised with the good and useful circumcision [of Baptism], and is a friend of God, and God rejoices in his gifts and offerings” (ch. 28).

Already in the early Church, the Psalms were understood to speak of Christ; Justin explains the prophecies contained in the Psalms as well. Trypho is astonished: “You utter many blasphemies, in that you seek to persuade us that this crucified man was with Moses and Aaron, and spoke to them in the pillar of the cloud; then that he became man, was crucified, and ascended up to heaven, and comes again to earth, and ought to be worshipped” (ch. 38). In an impassioned plea, Justin then opens the Jewish rituals to their deeper meaning in Christ, particularly the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, the offerings of flour, and the ritual garments.

One of the strongest points and most insistent arguments Justin makes is that this prophecy of Isaiah refers to the Virgin Birth: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Is. 7:10ff., cf. Dialogue, ch. 66, 77, 84). The final and challenging argument is then to determine that this Jesus is in fact God, co-eternal with the Father, and yet also the same man who was crucified, and yet risen from the dead, fulfilling all the prophecies.

Justin concludes by encouraging Trypho and his companions to embrace the Faith: “I exhort you to give all diligence in this very great struggle for your own salvation, and to be earnest in setting a higher value on the Christ of the Almighty God than on your own teachers” (ch. 142).

There are additional works of St. Justin Martyr, including an Address to the Greeks, as well as other fragments of lost writings. Finally, the touching account of his martyrdom recalls his great holiness; Justin, replying to threats of death, said: “Through prayer we can be saved on account of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we have been punished, because this shall become to us salvation and confidence at the more fearful and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Savior” (Martyrdom of Justin, ch. 4).

Next week we will begin exploring the works of St. Irenaeus of Lyon. May God bless you all!