I must start with confession, for when one is arguing with a prayer during prayer, one has failed to actually pray. The prayer I was arguing with is the prayer for Justin Martyr’s feast day (today, on the Western Calendar).
Lord God, in a wonderful way, through the folly of the cross, you taught your martyr Saint Justin the surpassing knowledge of Christ. Heed his prayer for us: dispel every deceiving error, and ground us firmly in our faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
I suspect for many a history lesson might be helpful. Justin (d. 165) desired to be known as a scholar and theologian. None of his theology is remembered; only that he desired that it be remembered. He died at the hand of the Roman Empire and is thus remembered for his martyrdom and not his scholarship.
The prayer says, “you taught your martyr St Justin the surpassing knowledge of Christ.” I was irritated that the prayer focused on knowledge. Justin was united with Christ … and we’re talking about knowledge!?
And then I realized it was a gotcha prayer. The “surpassing knowledge of Christ” isn’t “knowledge” as we typically think about it. The prayer is talking about seeing Christ face to face. It is (to borrow a favorite phrase from Michael Polanyi) “personal knowledge.” The prayer isn’t talking about facts, it’s talking about presence (being in Christ’s presence) and relationship.
And so I realize my initial disappointment is completely misplaced.
The surpassing knowledge of Christ” isn’t head knowledge at all, it’s fellowship, it’s union, it’s witness (the translation of the Greek word martyrion) of who Christ truly is face to face. Thanks be to God.