As he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”
- Acts 26.24
When the holy man with his companions appeared before the king, the greatness of his learning caused him to stand high in the favour of the king and court.
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban, Italian, 7th century
Celtic missionaries were nothing if not learned. Their primary course of study was in the Scriptures, but they also immersed themselves in the fathers of the Church, the great classics of Greece and Rome, the culture of their day, and the created world around them.
They were the most learned men of their day, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the Frankish king should have marveled at Columbanus and his companions. They seemed to know a good deal about everything – including the ways of the royal court and the self-interested ministries of the priests and bishops under the cope of their authority.
But the same learning that can earn us an audience with kings can bring down the scorn of fools. Festus didn’t know what to make of Paul – articulate, learned, saavy, a Roman citizen with the knowledge and skill of a lawyer, hawking the religion of a crucified Jew.
I rather suspect his interruption of the apostle’s speech was more an act of nervous self-defense than an integral part of his examination. Learning makes folks nervous sometimes, it’s true; but in the service of the Gospel, sound learning can be a powerful instrument for conviction.
“Learner”, in fact, is the root idea behind the word, “disciple.” A disciple is one who, as Paul put it, has learned and is learning Christ (Eph. 4.17-24). The great focus of a disciple’s learning, in whatever area of study he is involved, is to learn Christ so as to know Christ and live Christ before the world.
Like Paul and Columbanus.
So let’s not despise wide reading and careful study, just because some folks today look askance at the acquisition of knowledge in pursuit of truth. Rather, like Columbanus and Paul, let us learn all we can and adorn the Gospel of the Kingdom with the beauty of truth from every realm of creation and every area of life.
Because all truth is God’s truth; the more we know of it, the better equipped we will be to serve the cause of the Gospel – whether our learning is considered a blessing or a bane by those who hear us.
Psalm 111.1, 2 (Manoah: “When All Your Mercies, O My God”)
Praise the Lord! O let my heart give thanks here amid His chosen race!
Your works are great, O Lord, and sought by all who know Your grace.
Lord, with Colmám mac Beógnai I ask, What should I learn in order to serve You fully in this life? Guide me in learning and discipleship in the year to come. Adapted from Aipgitir Chrábaid
Thanks again to all of you who have sent in gifts for the ministry during the past few weeks. There's still time for you to make an end-of-the-year contribution to The Fellowship of Ailbe. You can do so by clicking the donate button here or at the website, or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 43135 Rudy Terrace, Leesburg, VA 20176. For your gift in any amount we'll send you a copy of Be Thou My Vision, 28 days of meditations on the unseen realm. Thank you for your prayers and support.
T. M. Moore, Principal