Justin was a second-century Christian in Rome who explained and defended his faith to the Roman emperor. As such, his writings provide a useful historical resource. Our devotion today details some of Justin’s accounts of early Christian worship and is taken from The Church from Age to Age.
More is known about the liturgical life of the Church in Rome than elsewhere, especially from the remarks in the First Apology of Justin Martyr and from The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. The work of Justin is the first extended account we have of Christian worship. This account exists only because the pagans accused the Christians of doing all sorts of hideous deeds as part of their worship, including the worship of animals, eating children and drinking their blood, and engaging in various kinds of indecency. In order to show the pagans just how wrong they were and precisely what the Christians did in their assemblies, Justin attached his description of worship to a defense of Christianity that he addressed to the emperor.
Justin described the baptismal rite:
“Those who believe what we teach and are willing to live accordingly are instructed to ask God in prayers and fastings to forgive their past sins. We pray and fast with them. They are brought to a place where there is water and . . . bathed in the name of God the Father and Lord of all, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit” (1 Apology, 61).
The Didache, Justin Martyr, and Hippolytus make it clear that the common form of Baptism in the Early Church was immersion. This symbolized dying and rising again with Christ. But immersion was not the only manner of Baptism. Pictures from the Roman catacombs depict the initiate being drenched with water poured on him from a seashell. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in the middle of the third century, wrote that the method of sprinkling was also used. He went on to assert that the manner in which the water was applied was of minor importance as long as it was done by a priest of the true Church (Letter 69, 7–11).
After describing Baptism, Justin continues:
“On the day called Sunday meetings are held where the memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. After the reading is finished, the leader in a discourse invites us to imitate these things. Then we stand for prayer” (1 Apology, 67).
Members of the congregation exchanged the kiss of peace, expressing reconciliation with one another (see Matthew 5:22–24), to mark the beginning of the Eucharist, that is, the “Thanksgiving,” the joyful and thankful response to the Christ expressed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Devotional reading is adapted from The Church from Age to Age, pages 16–17, 19, 22 © 2011 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
I believe and confess that I am a poor sinner before God and deserve condemnation, and I am heartily afraid because I have disobeyed my God again and again and not rightly regarded or considered His Commandments, much less kept the greatest or least of them. Yet I entertain no doubts, but let myself be pointed to Christ that I may seek grace and help from Him and believe firmly that I will find them. For He is the Lamb of God provided from eternity to the end that He might take away the sin of the whole world and by His death make full atonement for it. Amen.
Prayer is from Lutheran Prayer Companion, page 171 © 2018 Matthew Carver. Published by Concordia Publishing House.