As one considers theological anthropology, it is important to recognize, as Elizabeth Clark identified and championed, the popular trend of rejecting correspondence theories of truth, or the idea that what is true corresponds to some universal concept of reality (History, Theory, Text). Such rejections are often motivated by the desire to lift oppressed groups; however, I think leaving behind correspondence theory is a miscalculated move concerning human dignity. Justin Martyr provides an early example of how the inherent faculty of reason within a correspondence framework served to protect human worthiness.
In Justin’s day, the church had to address the Valentinian teaching that reserved the capacity for genuine reasoning to select groups according to their differing natures. In contrast, Justin’s participatory ontology played a role in communicating the honor with which each human person was formed. Of particular importance in this pursuit is his doctrine of the Logos Spermatikos. While it is debated in the literature (Pfaettisch, Andresen, Holte, Barnard, Osborn, Helleman, Presley), the Logos Spermatikos can be defined as the aspect of human reason given by the Son by which humans can, by nature, partake of the eternal Logos and arrive at truths that correspond with reality—even if it is mixed with much error in the process (1 Apol. 46, 2 Apol. 8, 10, 13).
Although the gnostic scholars Ismo Dundenberg and Karen King have questioned the legitimacy of the Valentinian belief in a threefold division of humanity, I will argue in favor of the traditional interpretation of Valentinian anthropology (Adv. Haer. 1.7.5; GosTru 33-37; TriTrac 109-10, 118-19) and that Justin’s doctrine of the Logos Spermatikos functioned in his writings to safeguard and promote the dignity of all humanity contra the Valentinian school. To demonstrate this thesis, I will first overview Valentinianism and its anthropology (Thomassen). Then I will detail how Justin provided a better anthropological vision centered around the Logos Spermatikos that emphasized the inherent value of humanity in various ways. In making this argument, this paper seeks to situate Justin in the broader religious context of the second century to provide an interpretative option for a much-debated concept in the literature on Justin.