St Justin Martyr: Have You Applied Yourself to Philosophy?

Feast of St John the Abstainer, Patriarch of Constantinople

Justin_Martyr_square_2.jpgEARLY ONE morning as I was walking along the colonnades of the gymnasium, a man, accompanied by some friends, came up to me and said, “Good morning, Philosopher.” Whereupon, he and his friends walked along beside me.

After returning his greeting, I asked, “What is the matter? Is there anything special you wish of me?”

He answered, “In Argos I was taught by Corinthus, the Socratic philosopher, never to slight or ignore those who wear that gown of yours, but to show such a conversation some good might be derived by them or myself. It would be to the advantage of both if either should benefit from this meeting. Accordingly, whenever I see anyone wearing such a gown, I gladly accost him. So, for this same reason, it has been a pleasure to greet you. These friends of mine share my hope of hearing something profitable from you.”

Which mortal man are you, my fine fellow?” (Homer, The Iliad, 6.123) I asked with a smile.

He did not hesitate to tell me his name and background. “Trypho,” he said, “is my name.” I am a Hebrew of the circumcision, a refugee from the recent war, and at present a resident of Greece, mostly in Corinth.”

“How,” I asked, “can you gain as much from philosophy as from your own lawgiver and prophets?”

“Why not,” he replied, “for do not the philosophers speak always about God? Do they not constantly propose questions about this unity and providence? Is this not the task of philosophy, to inquire about the Divine?”

“Yes, indeed,” I said, “we, too, are of the same opinion. But the majority of the philosophers have simply neglected to inquire whether there is one or even several gods, and whether or not a divine providence takes care of us, as if this knowledge were unnecessary to our happiness. Moreover, they try to convince us that God takes care of the universe with its genera and species, but not of me and you and of each individual, for otherwise there would be no need of our praying to him night and day.

“It is not difficult to see where such reasoning leads them. It imparts a certain immunity and freedom of speech to those who hold these opinions, permitting them to do and to say whatever they please, without any fear of punishment or hope of reward from God. How could it be otherwise, when they claim that things will always be as they are now, and that you and I shall live in the next life just as we are now, neither better nor worse. But there are others who think that the soul is immortal and incorporeal, and therefore conclude that they will not be punished even if they are guilty of sin; for, if the soul is incorporeal, it cannot suffer; if it is immortal, it needs nothing further from God.”

Then, with a subdued smile, he said, “Explain to us just what is your opinion of these matters, and what is your idea of God, and what is your philosophy.”

“I will tell you,” I replied, “my personal views on this subject. Philosophy is indeed one’s greatest possessions, and is most precious in the sight of God, to whom it alone leads us and to whom it unites us, and in truth they who have applied themselves to philosophy are holy men. But, many have failed to discover the nature of philosophy, and the reason why it was sent down to men; otherwise, there would not be Platonists, or Stoics, or Peripatetics, or Theoretics, or Pythagoreans, since this science is always one and the same.”

—St Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho

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