Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 24

Today is the feast day of Saint Bartholomew (also known as Saint Nathanael).  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Bartholomew (also known as Saint Nathanael, first century), Martyr of the Church and Apostle of Christ. The name (Bartholomaios) means “son of Talmai” (or Tholmai) which was an ancient Hebrew name, borne, e.g. by the King of Gessur whose daughter was a wife of David (2 Samuel 3:3). It shows, at least, that Bartholomew was of Hebrew descent; it may have been his genuine proper name or simply added to distinguish him as the son of Talmai. Outside the instances referred to, no other mention of the name occurs in the New Testament. 

In the Gospel of John, Bartholomew (Nathanael) is introduced as a friend of Philip.  Little is known for sure about the life of Bartholomew after the Ascension of Jesus. But tradition has it that he preached with great apostolic zeal throughout the East, traveling to India, Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, and Armenia—where a monastery remains on the site of his martyrdom. 

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

A witness of the Son of God, one of the princes who announced His glory to the nations, lights up this day with his apostolic flame. While his brethren of the sacred college followed the human race into all the lands whither the migration of nations had led it, St. Bartholomew appeared as the herald of the Lord at the very starting point, the mountains of Armenia, whence the sons of Noe spread over the earth. There had the Ark of Noe rested; humanity, everywhere else a wanderer, was there seated in stillness, remembering the dove with its olive branch, and awaiting the consummation of the alliance signified by the rainbow which had there for the first time glittered in the clouds. Behold, blessed tidings awake in those valleys the echoes of ancient traditions: tidings of peace, making the universal deluge of sin subside before the Wood of salvation. The serenity announced by the dove of old, was now far outdone. Love was to take the place of punishment. The ambassador of Heaven showed God to the sons of Adam, as the most beautiful of their own brethren. The noble heights whence formerly flowed the rivers of paradise, were about to see the renewal of the covenant annulled in Eden, and the celebration, amid the joy of Heaven and earth, of the Divine nuptials so long expected, the union of the Word with regenerated humanity.

Personally, who was this Apostle whose ministry borrowed such solemnity from the scene of his apostolic labors? Under the name or surname of Bartholomew (“Son of Tholmai”), the only mark of recognition given him by the first three Gospels, do we see, as many have thought, that Nathaniel, whose presentation to Jesus by Philip forms so sweet a scene in St. John’s Gospel (1: 45-51)? A man of uprightness, innocence, and simplicity, who was worthy to have had the dove for his precursor, and for whom the Man-God had choice graces and caresses from the very beginning.

Be this as it may, the lot which fell to our Saint among the Twelve, points to the special confidence of the Divine Heart; the heroism of the terrible martyrdom which sealed his apostolate reveals his fidelity; the dignity preserved by the nation he grafted onto Christ, in all the countries where it has been transplanted, witnesses to the excellence of the sap first infused into its branches. When, two centuries and a half later, St. Gregory the Illuminator so successfully cultivated the soil of Armenia, he did but quicken the seed sown by the Apostle, which the trials never wanting to that generous land had retarded for a time, but could not stifle.

How strangely sad that evil men, nurtured in the turmoil of endless invasions, should have been able to rouse and perpetuate a mistrust of Rome among a race whom wars and tortures and dispersion could not tear from the love of Christ Our Savior! In spite of this schism, some chosen sons of this illustrious nation returned to the true fold, labored perseveringly for reunification by dispelling the prejudices of her people, by preserving the treasures of her literature, so truly Christian, and the magnificence of her liturgy, and above all by praying and devoting themselves to the monastic state under the standard of the father of western monks (the Mekhitarists, Armenian monks of St. Benedict). Let us also pray to St. Bartholomew their Apostle; to St. Thaddeus (thought to be one of the 72 Disciples of Our Lord, or perhaps even the Apostle St. Jude Thaddeus) who also shared in the first evangelization; to St. Hripsima the heroic virgin, who from the Roman territory led her 35 companions to the conquest of a new land (and eventually to martyrdom); and to all the martyrs whose blood cemented the building upon the only foundation set by Our Lord. Like these great forerunners, may the leader of the second apostolate, St. Gregory the Illuminator, who wished to “see Peter” in the person of St. Sylvester and receive the blessing of the Roman Pontiff, may the holy kings, patriarchs and doctors of Armenia, become once more her chosen guides, and lead her back entirely and irrevocably to the one fold of the one Shepherd!

We learn from Eusebius and from St. Jerome that before going to Armenia, his final destination, St. Bartholomew evangelized the Indies, where Pantaenus a century later found a copy of St. Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew characters, left there by him. St. Dionysius records a profound saying of the glorious Apostle, which he thus quotes and comments: “The Blessed Bartholomew says of theology, that it is at once abundant and succinct; of the Gospel, that it is vast in extent and at the same time concise; thus excellently giving us to understand that the beneficent Cause of all beings reveals or manifests Himself by many words or by few, or even without any words at all, as being beyond and above all language or thought.”

The city of Rome used to celebrate the Feast of St. Bartholomew on the following day, as do also the Greeks who commemorate on August 25 a translation of the Apostle’s relics. It is owing, in fact, to the various translations of his holy body and to the difficulty of ascertaining the date of his martyrdom that different days have been adopted for his Feast by different Churches, both in the east and in the west. The 24th of this month, consecrated by the use of most of the Latin Churches is the day assigned in the most ancient martyrologies, including that of St. Jerome. In the 13th century Pope Innocent III, having been consulted as to the divergence, answered that local custom was to be observed.

The Church gives just the following Lessons for the life of the Apostle of Armenia:

The Holy Apostle Bartholomew was a native of Galilee. It fell to his lot to preach the Gospel in western India; and he announced to those nations the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the Gospel of St. Matthew. But after converting many souls to Jesus Christ in that province and undergoing much labor and suffering, he went into eastern Armenia.

Here he converted to the Christian Faith the king Polymius and his queen, as well as twelve cities. This caused the pagan priests of that nation to be exceedingly jealous of him, and they stirred up Astyages, the brother of King Polymius against the Apostle, so that he commanded him to be flayed alive and finally beheaded. In this cruel martyrdom he gave up his soul to God.

His body was buried at Albanapolis, the town of eastern Armenia where he was martyred; but it was afterwards taken to the island of Lispari, and thence to Beneventum. Finally it was translated to Rome by the Emperor Otto III and place on the island of the Tiber in a church dedicated to God under his invocation.

On this day of thy Feast, O holy Apostle, the Church (in the Collect of the Mass) prays for grace to love what thou didst believe and to preach what thou didst teach. Not that the Bride of the Son of God could ever fail either in faith or in love; but She knows only too well that, though Her Head is ever in the light, and Her heart ever united to the Spouse in the Holy Ghost Who sanctifies Her, nevertheless Her members and particular churches may detach themselves from their center of life and wander away in darkness. O thou who didst choose the west as the place of thy rest; thou whose precious relics Rome glories in possessing, bring back to St. Peter the nations thou didst evangelize, that we may together enjoy the treasures of our concordant traditions, and go to God, even at the cost of being despoiled of all things, by the course so grand and yet so simple taught us by thy example and by thy sublime theology. (1)

He is the patron of Armenia, bookbinders, butchers, cobblers, Forentine cheese and salt merchants, leather workers, nervous diseases, neurological diseases, plasterers, shoemakers, tanners, trappers, twitching, and whiteners.

GOSPEL. (Luke vi. 12 – 19.) At That Time: Jesus went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God. And when day was come, he called unto him his disciples: and he chose twelve of them (whom also he named Apostles): Simon whom he surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon who is called Zelotes, and Jude the brother of James and Judas Iscariot who was the traitor. And coming down with them, he stood in a plain place, and the company of his disciples, and a very great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon, who were come to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases. And they that were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the multitude sought to touch him, for virtue went out from him, and healed all.

Image: St. Bartholomew (6)


Research by REGINA Staff


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