Last rites

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

Justin, at long last, is finally reaching the end of his letter to Caesar, and he closes with a description of various rites practiced by the Christians of his day—rites that were strangely familiar to anyone accustomed to pagan worship services. Justin is sticking to his story, though: the reason that Christian worship is so similar to pagan worship is because the pagans are imitating the practices God revealed through the Jewish prophets.

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Pagan roots

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

One of the more interesting aspects of Justin Martyr’s writings is the way he promiscuously borrows from whatever sources he feels will bolster his case, be they Christian sources, Jewish sources, or pagan sources. If you’re a thinking person, you might read Justin’s frequent parallels between Christian dogma and pagan myths, and might wonder just how much of new Christian revelation is really just old pagan superstition, re-packaged and re-branded.

That notion apparently bothered Justin too, and today he’s going to take a few moments to try and poison the well so that we don’t pursue that thought too far. The parallels, he says, don’t mean that Christianity imitated paganism. Oh no.

But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race.

Notice how Justin chastizes the pagans for failing to provide proofs for what they claim. If you were a cynic, you might hazard a guess that Justin would immediately follow that accusation with an argument for which he himself “adduces no proof.” And you’d be exactly right.

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Fast forward

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

One nice thing about modern DVD players is that they have this little button you can push during the boring parts of the movie to skim through it in fast-forward mode. Justin’s getting pretty boring these days, with his endless repetition of the same misquotations, twisted interpretations, and overdrawn conclusions, so I think we should just engage fast forward mode and just hit the highlights of the next several chapters.

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Predestination and salvation by works

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

Let’s see, where were we? For the past several chapters, Justin has been telling us how God (meaning the One True God) has everything under His control, and foretold even the most minute details of Jesus birth, death, and alleged resurrection. In Chapter 58, though, Justin’s mind goes off on a new tangent. Apparently he worries that, if God predicted everything in advance, some people will draw the conclusion that all of men’s actions are predestined by fate.

But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us … that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity … this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets … that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions… For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be.

That’s not necessarily the direction I’d have gone if I were Justin, but he seems to think it’s a valid concern, so it will be interesting to hear his arguments against predestination.

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