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    Rudolf Koch print, a cross with palm branches, bread and wine. The divine food.

    Dear Emperor

    One of the first Christian apologies provides a window into the life of the early church.

    By Justin Martyr

    May 7, 2023
    • bill canonico

      i've been wondering about what form the early christians' worship took, so this reading came at a particularly significant time. what strikes me is the simplicity. the elements of what evolved into the mass are there, but it's the description of a very basic form that i appreciate. i suspect God sees those who worship Him in a liturgical setting and those who worship Him in a much simpler setting (like the one described here) as honoring Him, equally.

    • Julian

      That's the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist --the order of the Catholic Mass-- already formed in the 2nd century.

    Justin was born around AD 100 in what is now the West Bank and grew up in a pagan household. His search led him to the Stoics, Peripatetics, Pythagoreans, and Platonists before he converted to Christianity. The following excerpts from his First Apology, written around AD 150, are addressed to the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius.

    We follow the only unbegotten God through His Son – we who formerly delighted in fornication, but now embrace chastity alone; we who formerly used magical arts, dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to every one in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavour to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all.

    Rudolf Koch print, a cross with palm branches, bread and wine. The divine food.

    Rudolf Koch, The Divine Food, 1932–35.

    I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (John 3:5) Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” (Isa. 1:16–20)

    The wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

    Source: St. Justin Martyr, The First Apology, Chapters 14, 61, 67. Translated by Marcus Dods and George Reith. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing, 1885). Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

    Contributed By placeholder Justin Martyr

    Justin Martyr (ca. AD 100–165) was an early Christian evangelist. Born in Flavia Neapolis, today’s Nablus, he studied philosophy before his conversion to Christianity.

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