Feast of St. Justin – June 1, 2019 – St. Mary’s Convent, Sewanee
I know a lot of people with PhDs.
In college, in seminary, and even out and about in the Episcopal Church, I have met (and even come to like!) a lot of folks who went to school for a long, long time.
Funnily enough, most of the folks I know with PhDs won’t admit to being smart.
When I was discerning my call to the priesthood a college professor on my parish discernment committee told me, “With each degree I earn, the less I feel like I know.”
Her admission makes a kind of sense.
Advanced degrees are about specializing in certain disciplines. The deeper you dive into a specific subject area, the less time you have to focus on other things. There is a whole world of knowledge that you are not studying.
My other high-achieving friends agree; earning a PhD is humbling. It makes one keenly aware that there is always something more to learn, a different question to answer, a new problem to solve.
Today we celebrate Justin Martyr, another learned man. Sort of a PhD in his own day. His appetite for knowledge was immense. He was educated in various schools of Greek philosophy including stoicism, platonism, pythagoreanism, and peripateticism (whatever that is!).
Alas, even with such a strong command of philosophical knowledge, Justin did not find wholeness until one day when he met a disciple of Jesus who revealed to him the testimony of the prophets. Following this encounter, Justin became a Christian and dedicated himself to God.
He even founded a school in Rome and wrote ardent defenses of the Christian faith. His faith in Jesus became so strong that he refused to renounce it, even when it meant the loss of his mortal life.
This is all to say, Justin found wholeness only when his quest for knowledge was complemented by his encounter with the divine.
There is always going to be a vast amount of knowledge yet unknown to us. That’s a good thing. It keeps us motivated to learn by considering new perspectives. Faith benefits from the expansion of the mind.
Another holy man of the calendar, John Wesley, used to talk about the union of knowledge and vital piety. That is, knowledge and faith. Learning and holiness. Truth and love. It’s not one or the other. It’s both of them together.
Knowledge alone cannot save us. Salvation is found in our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. That relationship, both individually and corporately, gives our pursuit of knowledge order, discipline, and focus.
In Christianity Justin did not simply find the knowledge he was looking for. He also found a communion with the One who put his quest for knowledge in perspective and gave his life deep meaning.
In Christianity Justin found the God who established with him—and who establishes with each of us—a bond so strong that Becky Wright (one of my favorite PhDs) might even call it “absolute, rock-solid, covenant loyalty.” In response to that loyalty, Justin went all in. Even to point of death.
As mere mortals, like Justin, there is no way we can match God’s loyalty to us, but we can do something. We can take the knowledge we do have, the knowledge of our life-giving relationship with Jesus, and we can share it with all whom we meet.
For that there is no PhD required.