Here are some quick lessons from the life of Pantaenus. Never heard of him? That’s why it’s so important that you learn from him! The greatest cross-cultural witnesses are, of course, invisible.
You may never have heard of Pantaenus, but you have probably heard of his most famous disciples – the church fathers Clement and Origen.
Clement pays tribute to him as his best teacher. Jerome acknowledged his debt to the many excellent Bible commentaries of Pantaenus – none of which unfortunately survive.
Lesson #1 When no-one has heard of you but they have heard of those you influenced
He was “acknowledged as the greatest Christian teacher of his age,” Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia. He headed up the training school attached to the cathedral in Alexandria which was to become a world-famous centre of theological learning under Clement and Origen. He is also credited with adopting the Greek alphabet in the Coptic script.
When a deputation from India visited Alexandria in the 180s, they were so impressed with Pantaenus that they asked Bishop Demetrius to send him to India. So he was commission and sent to India. It’s important to be invited, and it’s important to be sent.
Lesson #2 Invited and Sent
Leaving a fruitful, successful, settled ministry of theological training, he undertook the risky, dangerous journey into the unknown.
Pantænus did not seek to display his talents in that centre of literature and commerce; but his great progress in sacred learning was discovered, and he was drawn out of the obscurity in which his humility had sought to bury itself. He was placed at the head of the Christian school some time before the year 179. His learning and excellent manner of teaching raised the school’s reputation above all schools of the philosophers, whom he strove to win to Christianity. The lessons which he read and commented, gathered from the prophets and Apostles, conveyed light and knowledge into the minds of all his hearers. (www.sanctoral.com)
He was happy to walk away from the immense success and fruitfulness he was enjoying to go and pioneer again in the ends of the earth.
Lesson #3 Leave your success behind you
To the enormous credit of Bishop Demetrius, he saw fit to send his best man into the most difficult and risky context. The toughest places need the best people.
Lesson #4 Send your best
Although he was a leading theologian of his generation, he was also a pioneer to India. Somewhere you might have picked up the idea that theology and mission are only distant cousins, or that teachers are not pioneers. Yet in Pantaenus, we see a teacher who was also on pioneering mission.
Lesson #5 The unreached need theologians too