The Fire of the First Christians
What was the reaction of the first Christians to the world in which they were immersed? We may be tempted to explain the spread of the Gospel in terms of marvels and miracles. Their faith was the “miracle” that attracted people from all classes, conditions and cultures. Their faith, and their love for Christ.
June 03, 2008
It is still a few hours till dawn. A man is walking along the shore of the beach, contemplating the sea. He is famous in many intellectual circles. Soon he comes upon another person in that deserted place—an old man. The intellectual is surprised to find someone else here at this hour of the morning, but he says nothing. The old man notices his hesitancy, and starts a conversation with him. He tells him he is waiting for some family friends, who are out on the sea in a boat. The conversation continues. The intellectual speaks about many different topics: culture, politics, religion. He likes to talk. The old man listens politely; when he makes a comment he does so from a Christian point of view. Perhaps on other occasions the intellectual would have ridiculed him or cut him short. But the old man’s simplicity is disarming. The intellectual is unable to accept all his ideas, but he realizes that the two of them have a lot in common. He finds the old man’s humble faith attractive. Hours go by. They say good bye. They never meet again.
The intellectual will never forget that meeting. A few months later, he comes to realize that only the old man’s words hold the answer to his yearnings for the truth. A chance encounter has brought him to the faith, opening up a much broader horizon than all his previous ideas had permitted. A short time later, Justin the Philosopher will be baptized and become one of the greatest Christian apologists.
Perhaps something similar has happened to our friends or even to us. The story of St. Justin is quite relevant today, since the answers to the questions that all men and women ask—the meaning of life, the possibility of happiness, the way to reach it, the reason for suffering—are found only in Christ. But it is not immediately apparent that happiness and fulfillment are found in the Cross. Perhaps that is why at times we divert our attention from this question. We seek to flee suffering at any cost, but suffering is unavoidable. We seek success, the security of money, pleasure—but these prove false in the end, and lead only to boredom and disgust. Finally the only thing that remains is the loneliness the prodigal son experienced, the destitution of one who tries to live without God.
When we read St. Augustine’s Confessions or the lives of the early converts, we see that they have the same basic concerns as people today. The same anxieties, the same solutions, the same alternatives, the same sole answer: Christ. Some deny