In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, Justin debates with a Jewish philosopher over the merits of the Christian religion. During the beginning of the Socratic dialogue, Justin tells his conversion story.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
In short, he learned under different philosophers but soon found himself settling upon Platonism. Then, one day he happened upon an old man that started exposing the foolishness of his philosophy. The conversation ended with the old man like this:
Justin: Should any one, then, employ a teacher? Or whence may any one be helped, if not even in them there is truth?
Old Man: There existed, long before this time, certain men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved by God, who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets. These alone both saw and announced the truth to men, neither reverencing nor fearing any man, not influenced by a desire for glory, but speaking those things alone which they saw and which they heard, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Their writings are still extant, and he who has read them is very much helped in his knowledge of the beginning and end of things, and of those matters which the philosopher ought to know, provided he has believed them. For they did not use demonstration in their treatises, seeing that they were witnesses to the truth above all demonstration, and worthy of belief; and those events which have happened, and those which are happening, compel you to assent to the utterances made by them, although, indeed, they were entitled to credit on account of the miracles which they performed, since they both glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son, the Christ [sent] by Him: which, indeed, the false prophets, who are filled with the lying unclean spirit, neither have done nor do, but venture to work certain wonderful deeds for the purpose of astonishing men, and glorify the spirits and demons of error. But pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom (Chapter 7).
We may pull several interesting points out of the above comments from the old man.
- When Justin says there cannot be found a teacher of true philosophy, the old man concurs and says that the only true teachers are the prophets who wrote the Scriptures.
- The truth of the prophets does not hinge upon the logical demonstration of what they wrote but on the miracles they performed.
- No one comes to believe except God wills to impart wisdom onto such an individual. This monergism is completely opposed to Platonism and much of Justin’s later writings, but sneaks its way into the conversation.
How did Justin respond to all of this?
When he had spoken these and many other things, which there is no time for mentioning at present, he went away, bidding me attend to them; and I have not seen him since. But straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and while revolving his words in my mind, I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable (Chapter 8).
Being that all of this occurred “straightway,” it appears that Justin was given the conviction that the writings of the prophets and Apostles contained true philosophy. Nothing else was apparently important enough to impinge his upon his conscience and to be likewise held in such high regard. He did not seem to understand that years later, people would teach that the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church or the Roman Catholic Magesterium would be vying for attention viz a viz the Scripture.