I just received a book that looks fascinating: The Case for Christianity: St Justin Martyr’s Arguments for Religious Liberty and Judicial Justice, by Robert M. Haddad. It arrived by air mail from Australia. I’m not finding copies for sale yet in the States. Here’s a bit from the preface:
Why is reading about St Justin of Neapolis, a saint and martyr of the second century AD, important for Christians of the twenty-first century?
St Justin lived during times similar to our own in many ways. Rome was the dominant world power and appeared for all intents and purposes unassailable. Economically, militarily and geographically Rome was at its height. Yet, it was beset by a number of growing problems––moral decay, family breakdown, falling birth rates, just to name a few. Religiously, Rome was conservative, yet eastern religions and mystery cults were spreading westwards and gaining many adherents. Fidelity to the gods was seen as essential to Rome’s continued prosperity and survival. Failure to render the gods their due threatened to bring down their wrath and despoil the empire.
Hence, the problem of the Christians. They refused to give any acknowledgement to the Graeco-Roman pantheon, and thus were considered as dangerous and impious atheists. For Rome’s survival, they therefore needed to be eliminated. In their efforts to destroy Christianity the Roman judicial procedure was arbitrary and ruthless. All that was needed for summary execution was the admission of bearing the Christian name and refusing to sacrifice to the Graeco-Roman gods.
St Justin’s efforts were urgent and heroic. He petitioned the very authority that persecuted Christians with a series of arguments pleading for judicial justice and religious liberty. His arguments appealed to the nobler sense in Romans, as well as to common sense. At the same time they contained an ‘evangelistic edge’ that sought his readers’ conversion to Christianity. This spirit of evangelism is very pronounced in St Justin’s other great work, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew.
In a number of respects the plight of second century Christians reflects the suffering of Christians in various modern-day contexts. St Justin’s arguments are, therefore, of a nature that can be appreciated by many a modern reader and should be of interest and relevance to Christians deprived of religious liberty today. St Justin’s struggle also reminds us that we in the West who enjoy religious freedom should never take it for granted.