Bartholomew, a True Israelite
When we talk about the lives of the Twelve Apostles, we are always confronted with the fact that we know almost nothing about them. This is because no detailed records about their early life were written, by themselves or by others who knew them personally. Yet these “hidden men” are also the foundation stones of Christ’s Church which encompasses the whole earth. This is our concern with our dear St. Bartholomew.
The Gospels mention Bartholomew’s name. He was included in the lists of the chosen Twelve in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16. Biblical scholars identify him with Nathanael, a man of Cana in Galilee who was summoned by Philip. Philip, who was from Bethsaida, met Jesus in Galilee. He believed that Jesus was the One of whom the prophets of old spoke about. When Philip found Nathanael, he told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth” (John 1:45b). Nathanael answered him, and perhaps the only instance that he spoke recorded in the Gospel of John, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
Nevertheless, Nathanael went with Philip to meet Jesus. Upon seeing him, Jesus paid him a great compliment, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him” (John 1:47b). Nathanael was confused, so he asked Him how He knew him. Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree” (John 1:48b). Biblical scholars believe that an amazing revelation was involved in this scene which brought Nathanael to exclaim, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (John 1:49b). However, Jesus countered: “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this” (John 1:50b).
Seeing “Greater Things”
True enough, Nathanael did see greater things since his encounter with Jesus. He was with Jesus in His public ministry. He saw by his very own eyes the Son of God. He heard His teachings. He witnessed the miracles wrought by Him.
Nathanael was one of those to whom the Risen Jesus appeared on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias (see John 21:1-14). They had been trying to catch fish all night, but all in vain. As the morning breaks, they saw a man standing on the shore and asked if they caught some fish. They answered with dismay that they did not catch anything. The man told them to cast their net again and made so great a catch that they could barely haul the net. After seeing such a marvelous event, John cried out to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).
After the Holy Spirit’s descent upon the Apostles on Pentecost, Bartholomew traveled to foreign lands to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. It is said that he founded Christian communities in parts of India and countries we now call Turkey and Armenia. According to tradition and ancient hagiographical writings, Bartholomew was believed to have been martyred by flaying alive and was beheaded at the order of the Armenian king Astyages. His feast day is August 24.
Five Interesting Facts About St. Bartholomew
- St. Bartholomew is the patron saint of Armenia, tanners, leatherworkers, bookbinders, farmers, butchers, plasterers, house painters, tailors, and glove makers.
- The name Bartholomew translates from the Hebrew name, Bartholomaios, meaning “son of Talmai.”
- Nathanael in Hebrew means “God has given” or “gift of God”.
- St. Bartholomew’s relics had been deposited in churches named to honor him: his arm in Canterbury, England; skull in Frankfurt, Germany; and body in Lipari.
- In Christian art, St. Bartholomew is often depicted alongside his flayed skin or holding a knife in his right hand.
Prayer to St. Bartholomew
Strengthen in us, O Lord, the faith,by which the blessed Apostle Bartholomewclung wholeheartedly to your Son,and grant that through the help of his prayersyour Church may become for all the nationsthe sacrament of salvation.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.