Saint Justin (the) Martyr, theologian and philosopher, was one of the first Christian apologists, sainted and numbered among the Fathers of the Church. He was born in the city of Flavia Neapolis (now Nabulus, West Bank), a Roman city built on the site of the ancient Shechem, in Samaria. His parents practiced the Roman religion. Justin studied Greek philosophy, especially that of Plato and the Stoics, before converting to Christianity; he also knew Judaism and Greco-Roman religion well. After his conversion to Christianity, he traveled about on foot defending its truths, often entering into violent controversies, and later opened a Christian school in Rome. He developed the conception of a divine plan in history and laid the foundation for a theology of history drawing from both philosophy and Christian revelation.
In Rome, Justin wrote the Dialogue with Trypho, emphasizing the continuity of the Old and the New Testaments, and two Apologies for the Christians, collections of reasoned defenses against Roman allegations of Christian insurrection, directed to the emperors Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. Justin’s work in general addressed a philosophically sophisticated Greek and Roman audience. After debating with the Cynic Crescens, however, Justin was denounced to the Roman prefect as subversive and condemned to death; he was scourged and martyred by beheading in Rome during the rule of Marcus Aurelius.
In this very short selection from “The Second Apology,” Justin provides an earnest answer to the sort of flippant remark that might be made by a non-Christian detractor, perhaps a Roman who is influenced by Stoicism and thus views suicide as a potentially rational and prudent act, and who mocks the Christian belief in a personal afterlife. If Christians believe in a personal afterlife in which one will be received into the presence of God, the detractor seems to imply, why do they suffer martyrdom rather than commit suicide? Why not kill oneself and go directly to God? Justin’s brief answer alludes to the central Christian values of the educative, formative purpose of human life, the pursuit of moral good and the rejection of evil, and the importance of continuing the Christian faith (i.e., instruction in the divine doctrines), as well as preserving God’s creation, the human race itself; his reasons display the basis of the Christian belief that suicide is wrong.
Justin Martyr, “The Second Apology of Justin for the Christians Addressed to the Roman Senate,” ch. 4. In Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, vol I: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Edinburgh, 1867.
from THE SECOND APOLOGY: WHY CHRISTIANS DO NOT KILL THEMSELVES
Lest any one should say to us, ‘All of you, go, kill yourselves and thus go immediately to God, and save us the trouble,’ I will explain why we do not do that, and why, when interrogated, we boldly acknowledge our faith. We have been taught that God did not create the world without a purpose, but that He did so for the sake of mankind; for we have stated before that God is pleased with those who imitate His perfections, but is displeased with those who choose evil, either in word or in deed. If, then, we should all kill ourselves we would be the cause, as far as it is up to us, why no one would be born and be instructed in the divine doctrines, or even why the human race might cease to exist; if we do act thus, we ourselves will be opposing the will of God.