ST. BARTHOLOMEW, APOSTLE

     (1st century- c.71AD)

 
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Saint Bartholomew, Bar-Tolmai or son of Tolmai, was one of the twelve Apostles called to the apostolate by our Blessed Lord Himself. His name is more adequately rendered by his given name, Nathanael. If one wonders why the synoptic Gospels always call him Bartholomew, it would be because the name Nathanael in Hebrew is equivalent to that of Matthew, since both in Hebrew signify gift of God; in this way the Evangelists avoided all confusion between the two Apostles. He was a native of Cana in Galilee, a doctor of the Jewish law, and a friend of Philip.

Philip, advised by Peter and Andrew, hastened to communicate to his friend the good news of his discovery of Christ: “We have found Him whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, wrote! Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile.” (Cf. John 1:45-49) His innocence and simplicity of heart deserved to be celebrated with this high praise in the divine mouth of Our Redeemer. And Nathanael, when Jesus told him He had already seen him in a certain place, confessed his faith at once: “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel!”

Being eminently qualified by divine grace to discharge the functions of an Apostle, he carried the Gospel through the most barbarous countries of the East, penetrating into the remoter Indies, baptizing neophytes and casting out demons. A copy of the Gospel of Saint Matthew was found in India by Saint Pantænus in the third century, taken there, according to local tradition, by Saint Bartholomew. Saint John Chrysostom said the Apostle also preached in Asia Minor and, with Saint Philip, suffered there, though not mortally, for the faith. Saint Bartholomew’s last mission was in Greater Armenia, where, preaching in a place obstinately addicted to the worship of idols, he was crowned with a glorious martyrdom. The modern Greek historians say that he was condemned by the governor of Albanopolis to be crucified. Others affirm that he was flayed alive, which treatment might well have accompanied his crucifixion, this double punishment being in use not only in Egypt, but also among the Persians.



St. Bartholomew, a doctor in the Jewish law, was a dear friend of St. Philip the Apostle. Because Bartholomew was a man "in whom there was no guile," his mind was open to the truth. He went willingly with Philip to see Christ, and recognized the Savior immediately as the Son of God. After having received the gifts of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost, Bartholomew evangelized Asia Minor, northwestern India, and Greater Armenia. In the latter country, while preaching to idolaters, he was arrested and condemned to death.

In St. John's Gospel, Bartholomew is known by the name Nathaniel (the liturgy does not always seem aware of this identity). He hailed from Cana in Galilee, was one of the first disciples called by the Lord. On that initial meeting Jesus uttered the glorious compliment: "Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile!" After the Resurrection he was favored by becoming one of the few apostles who witnessed the appearance of the risen Savior on the sea of Galilee (John 21:2). Following the Ascension he is said to have preached in Greater Armenia and to have been martyred there. While still alive, his skin was torn from his body. The Armenians honor him as the apostle of their nation. Concerning the fate of his relics, the Martyrology says: "His holy body was first taken to the island of Lipari (north of Sicily), then to Benevento, and finally to Rome on an island in the Tiber where it is honored by the faithful with pious devotion."

The Church of Armenia has a national tradition that St. Jude Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew visited the Armenians early in the first century and introduced Christianity among the worshippers of the god Ahura Mazda. The new faith spread throughout the land, and in 302 A.D., St. Gregory the Illuminator baptized the king of Armenia, Dertad the Great, along with many of his followers. Since Dertad was probably the first ruler to embrace Christianity for his nation, the Armenians proudly claim they were the first Christian State.

Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch











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