September 2, 2019

Saint Justus, Bishop of Lyon (+ 389)

St. Justus of Lyon (Feast Day - September 2)

Justus was born in Vivarais in the south-east of France and came from an aristocratic family. A contemporary biographer describes him as being a meek and merciful man. He became a deacon of the Church of Vienne. Sometime after 343, he was chosen to succeed Bishop Verissimus, as Bishop of Lyons. In 374, Bishop Justus assisted at regional Synod at Valencia. In 382, he attended the Synod of Aquileia, as one of the two representatives of the Bishops of Gaul, which rejected Arianism and condemned Palladius and S├ęcondien. At that time, he maintained a correspondence with Ambrose of Milan of which there remain only two letters from Ambrose discussing sections of Scripture. The two letters suggest that Justus was a man respected for his learning.

Some time after the Synod of Aquileia, an incident took place where an insane individual in a violent fit, had attacked and killed several people in the streets of the city with a sword. Although eventually restrained, he managed to escape and take refuge in the church, at that time located on the side of the present Church of Saint Nizier. Despite threats, the Bishop maintained the right of sanctuary. At length a city magistrate arrived and persuaded Bishop Justus to hand the accused over to him, giving his word that the matter would be handled according to law. Relying on the magistrate's assurances Justus delivered the man over; but scarcely had the man left the church when the mob overpowered guards and seizing him, put him to death.

The bishop came to believe that his failure to adequately protect the murderer had made him unworthy to continue to lead the Christian community, and he resolved to devote the remainder of his life to doing penance. Disillusioned, Justus resigned his See, and retired to his house at Tournon. His friends could neither convince him that he was not responsible for the unfortunate man's death, nor to reconsider his decision of being unworthy to be bishop. One night he secretly left to take up the ascetical life of a hermit. He traveled to Arles, and then on to Marseilles where he planned to embark for Alexandria. The cathedral lector, Viator suspected the Bishop's intentions, and decided to follow his master. He caught up with Justus at Marseilles, and together they boarded ship for Egypt.

Once there, they joined the community of monks in the desert of Scetes, about 40 or 50 miles south of Alexandria, beyond the mountains of Nitria, in the Libyan Desert. At that time the leader or abbot of this community was Saint Makarios of Egypt († 390), a disciple of one of the founders of monasticism in Egypt, Saint Anthony († 356). Makarios had a reputation for great holiness and a fierce asceticism. Most of the monks lived in cells, either dug in the ground or built of stones, and each out of sight of others. They came together only on Saturdays to celebrate the liturgy. They supported themselves by manual labor, and ate only the poorest of foods. Fasting, prayer, silence, and the keeping of night vigils, characterized their lives.

The story is told of a pilgrim in North Africa who some years later recognized Justus and reported this on his return to Lyon. The city folk being eager to regain their bishop, sent a delegation led by Antioch, a priest of Lyon, to find him and bring him back to his diocese. Antioch found but could not convince Justus to return, so Antiochus returned to Gaul and was later himself appointed Bishop of Lyon.

Justus died at a monastery of Scetes (present-day Wadi El Natrun) in AD 389. Upon his death, Antiochus now himself Bishop of Lyon made arrangements to repatriate the body of the bishop and that of his companion Viator, who died shortly after, and interred them in the Basilica of the Maccabees which Antiochus renamed the Saint Just Basilica