St. Bartholomew, Apostle
Bartholomew is listed as one of the twelve apostles in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and again in Acts. In these synoptic lists his name immediately follows that of Philip. The list of the Twelve in the Fourth Gospel has the name Nathaniel rather than Bartholomew, and it is sometimes assumed that the apostle’s given name was Nathaniel and that Bartholomew was a patronymic, representing the Aramaic for “son of Tolmai” (ef. “Simon Bar-Jonah” in Matthew 16:17). Nathaniel was from the town of Cana in Galilee where Jesus performed his first miracle. He was invited to discipleship by Philip, who told him that he and Andrew and Peter had found the Messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. At first Nathaniel was doubtful, but after a word from Jesus, he followed.
The story of his call (John 1:45-51) is all that is recorded in the New Testament of the life of St. Bartholomew, but there are several traditions about his later labors. He is variously reported to have preached in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India; in connection with India Eusebius says that Bartholomew left a copy of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew which Pantaenus, a missionary of the third century, found there in the hands of the local people. Most of these stories agree that St. Bartholomew spent his last years preaching in Armenia and was flayed and beheaded in Albanus (modern Derbend) on the Caspian coast. (The flayed Bartholomew is portrayed in a prominent place in the Sistine Chapel in Michaelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment.) The Armenian Church believes that the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus were the first to bring the gospel to the Armenians, and that Bartholomew spent a number of years there before his death. The Armenian Church commemorates him on two days in the year: once together with St. Thaddeus and again together with an Armenian martyr.
A very different story of St. Bartholomew’s mission appears in the traditions of the Coptic and Ethiopian churches, which also revere him highly, observing his day on August 29. Their accounts tell of his preaching at an oasis in Upper Egypt (there is a special commemoration of this even on November 15), then going among the Berbers where he was rescued from wild beasts by a cannibal, and finally preaching along the coast of North Africa where a local king, Agrippa, had him sewn into a leather bag and dropped into the sea.
August 24 has been St. Bartholomew’s day on calendars of the Western church since the eighth century, but no reason for the date is known. The Eastern Orthodox churches commemorate him with St. Barnabas on June 11. In European history St. Bartholomew’s Day is remembered for the massacre of Protestants which took place on that day in Paris in 1572.
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, chose Bartholomew to be an apostle to preach the blessed Gospel. Grant that Your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Luke 22:24-30 or John 1:43-51
All praise for him whose candor
Through all his doubt You saw
When Philip at the fig tree
Disclosed You in the law.
Discern, beneath our surface,
O Lord, what we can be,
That by Your truth made guileless,
Your glory we may see. (LSB 518:23)