When the debate begins, the first question Trypho asks is about circumcision, which was a major stumbling block for Christian converts in the early days of the Church, when many converts were confused on whether they first needed to convert to Judaism before becoming Christian. Converting to Judaism meant you had to be circumcised. St Paul in his Epistles famously reassures his Gentile converts that they only needed to be circumcised in their heart. Not only did Christian converts not need to be circumcised; it was wrong to require that converts be circumcised, and he is quite strident in his exhortations in Galatians in particular. […]
John Chrysostom is the most strident of the early Church writers in his writings opposing the Judaizers where he warned his flock that Christians should not adopt Jewish customs and practices, that Christians needed to celebrate the Church festivals rather than the Jewish festivals, that Christians should not attend services at the synagogue. His work “Against the Judaizers” is so polemic that it is far more anti-Semitic than the writings of Barnabas and St Justin Martyr and many other church fathers, it is painful for us modern readers to read, we who remember the horrific events of the Holocaust. This work is not in the standard collection of the works of the Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers, but it was widely read in medieval times and afterward, and unfortunately was used to justify the European and Russian pogroms and persecutions against the Jews.
One scholar who has pondered the problems posed polemic stands against the Judaizers by St John Chrysostom and also St Cyril is Robert Wilken. In this book “John Chrysostom and the Jews,” he explores the history of the early church to better understand the world of the early Church Fathers. We cannot totally excuse the errors in the teachings of the early Church Fathers, but neither can we blindly judge and condemn them for not knowing the lessons of the Holocaust. There is nothing wrong with reading the Church Fathers as they apply to our modern world, but particularly in this case we should also let the Church Fathers in their ancient historical context, we need to do both lest we have a distorted understanding of the history of our faith. […]
Justin asks him why he needs philosophy when he can profit from Moses, his lawgiver, and the prophets. Trypho responds, “Why not? Do not the philosophers turn every discourse on God? Do not questions continually arise on God’s unity and providence? Is it not truly the duty of philosophy to investigate the Deity?”
How do the Jewish Scriptures and Greek philosophy relate to the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Do they conflict with the Gospel? Can Christians profitably study Jewish Scripture and Greek philosophy? These are the questions this dialogue explores, and St Justin the Martyr was one of the first of apostolic fathers to explore these issues. When you read teachings you have read many times before, remind yourself, you are probably reading the original source. […]
Justin opens his apology, “Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honor and love only what is true, declining to follow the opinions of the ancients if these be worthless,” a surprising argument, given the weight that the Romans placed on the ancient traditions. Right belief matters, “the lover of truth should choose to do and say what is right, by all means, and if threatened with death,” be willing to lay down his own life.
Justin quotes Plato, “unless both the rulers and the ruled philosophize, it is impossible to make states blessed.” The ancients believed that to pursue philosophy was to seek to live a godly life. Justin also echoes Plato when he says “rulers should rule in obedience, not to violence and tyranny, but to piety and philosophy,” a somewhat ironic wish since under the rule of the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius he would suffer a martyr’s death. […]