REGISTER SUMMARY Pope Benedict XVI met with 6,000 pilgrims in the Paul VI Hall for his general audience on Jan. 31. He resumed his series of teachings on some prominent figures of early Christianity, concentrating on three co-workers of St. Paul: Barnabas, Silas and Apollos. “We are all humble ministers of Jesus,” he said. “We serve the Gospel insofar as we are able, according to our gifts, and we ask God to make his Gospel and his Church grow today.”
Dear brothers and sisters,
As we continue our journey among the key leaders of early Christianity, we focus our attention today on some of St. Paul’s other co-workers. We have to acknowledge the fact that the apostle Paul is an eloquent example of a man who is open to collaboration. In the Church, he did not do everything by himself, but made use of his many different colleagues. We are not able to devote time to all of his priceless helpers since there are so many. But let us recall, among others, men like Epaphras (see Colossians 1:7; 4:12; Philemon 23), Epaphroditus (see Philippians 2:25; 4:18), Tychicus (see Acts 20:4; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12), Urbanus (see Romans 16:9), Gaius and Aristarchus (see Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2; Colossians 4:10), and women like Phoebe (see Romans 16:1), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (see Romans 16:12), Persis, the mother of Rufus, who, he says, is “his mother and mine” (see Romans 16:12-13). Moreover, we must not forget married couples like Prisca and Aquila (see Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19).
Today, among this great army of men and women who worked with St. Paul, we will focus our attention on three people who had a particularly significant role in the first wave of evangelization: Barnabas, Silas and Apollos.
“Barnabas,” which means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) or “son of consolation,” is the nickname of a Levite Jew from Cyprus. After having moved to Jerusalem, he was among the first to embrace Christianity after the Lord’s resurrection. He generously sold a field that belonged to him, giving the proceeds to the apostles for the needs of the Church (see Acts 4:37). He vouched for the genuineness of Saul’s conversion before the Christian community of Jerusalem, which still was suspicious of its former persecutor (see Acts 9:27).
Sent to Antioch of Syria, he went to Tarsus — where Paul had gone — to find Paul and together they spent a whole year evangelizing Antioch, an important city where Barnabas was known in the local church as prophet and a teacher (see Acts 13:1). In other words, when the first conversions took place among the pagans, Barnabas realized that Saul’s hour had come. However, Saul had gone to Tarsus, his home town. Barnabas went there to look for him. At that important moment in time, he literally brought Paul back to the Church. In a certain sense, he once again gave the Church this Apostle of the Gentiles.
From the church in Antioch, Barnabas was sent out on mission with Paul, undertaking what is known as Paul’s first missionary journey. In reality, though, it was Barnabas’ missionary journey, since he was the person in charge. Paul joined him as a co-worker, and they went to the regions of Cyprus and south-central Anatolia in present-day Turkey, where the cities of Atalia, Perga, Antioch in Psidia, Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe are located (see Acts 13-14).
Together with Paul, he then went to what is known as the Council of Jerusalem where, after an in-depth examination of the question, the apostles, together with the elders, decided to disassociate the practice of circumcision from being a Christian (see Acts 15:1-35). Only in this way did they finally officially allow pagans to enter the Church — a Church without circumcision. We are children of Abraham simply through faith in Christ.
These two men, Paul and Barnabas, later had a disagreement at the beginning of their second missionary journey, because Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along as a companion while Paul did not want to do so since the young man had deserted them in their previous journey (see Acts 13:13; 15:36-40). Thus, there are disagreements, differences, and controversies even among the saints. This is very consoling for me because we see that the saints do not simply “fall from heaven.” They are men like us, with problems, even complicated problems.
Holiness does not consist in never having made mistakes or sinned. Holiness increases with our capacity for conversion and repentance, a willingness to begin anew and, above all, with our capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness. Therefore, Paul, who had been somewhat hard and bitter toward Mark, met up with him once again in the end. Indeed, in St. Paul’s last letters, to Philemon and in his second letter to Timothy, Mark appears as one of his “co-workers.” We become saints not because we have never made a mistake, but rather because of our capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation. Moreover, we can all learn this way of holiness.
In any case, Barnabas returned to Cyprus with John Mark (see Acts 15:39) around the year 49. From then on, we lose all traces of him. Tertullian attributes the Letter to the Hebrews to him, which is not totally out of the question since Barnabas, who was from the tribe of Levi, probably had an interest in the topic of priesthood. Indeed, the Letter to the Hebrews interprets Jesus’ priesthood in an extraordinary way.
Another of Paul’s companions was Silas, the Greek form of a Hebrew name (perhaps from the word sheal meaning “to request” or “to invoke” which is the same root as the name “Saul” and from which the Latin form of the name, Silvanus, is also derived). The name Silas is only mentioned in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, whereas Silvanus only appears in Paul’s letters. He was a Jew from Jerusalem, one of the first to become a Christian, and he enjoyed great esteem in that church (see Acts 15:22), where he was considered a prophet (see Acts 15:32). He was entrusted with communicating the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem “to the brothers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia” (Acts 15:23) and explaining these decisions to them.
Evidently they thought that he was capable of carrying out some sort of mediation between Jerusalem and Antioch — between Jewish Christians and Christians of pagan origin — and, in this way, serving the unity of the Church in its diversity of rites and origins.
When Paul parted ways with Barnabas, Paul took Silas as his new traveling companion (see Acts 15:40). Together with Paul, Silas traveled to Macedonia (to the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea), where he stayed, while Paul continued on to Athens and afterward to Corinth. Silas joined up with him in Corinth, where he worked with him to preach the Gospel. In fact, in Paul’s second letter to that church, he speaks of “Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me” (2 Corinthians 1:19). This explains why he appears as the co-author, along with Paul and Timothy, of the two Letters to the Thessalonians. This, too, seems important to me. Paul does not act as a “loner,” as an isolated individual, but together with these co-workers as the “we” of the Church. Paul’s “I” is not an isolated “I” but an “I” that is part of the “we” of the Church, the “we” of the apostolic faith.
Finally, Silvanus is also mentioned in the First Letter of Peter, where we read, “I write you this briefly through Silvanus, whom I consider a faithful brother” (1 Peter 5:12). Thus, we also see the communion of the apostles. Silvanus serves Paul and serves Peter, because the Church is one and its missionary proclamation is one.
The third companion of Paul that we wish to recall today is named Apollos, which is probably an abbreviation for Apollonius or Apolodorous. Even though his name has pagan overtones, he was a fervent Jew from Alexandria in Egypt. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes him as “an eloquent speaker … an authority on the scriptures ... with ardent spirit” (18:24-25). Apollos’ arrival on the scene of the first wave of evangelization took place in the city of Ephesus.
He had traveled there to preach and it is there that he had the good fortune of meeting a Christian couple, Priscilla and Aquila (see Acts 18:26), who “took him aside and explained to him the Way [of God] more accurately” (see Acts 18:26). From Ephesus, he went to Achaia, to the city of Corinth. He arrived there with a letter from the Christians of Ephesus vouching for him and asking the Corinthians to welcome him (see Acts 18:27).
In Corinth, Luke writes, “he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus” (Acts 18:27-28). However, his success in that city had an ending that was somewhat problematic since some members of the church there, enthralled by his manner of speaking, opposed other members of the church there in his name (see 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4-6; 4:6). Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, expresses his appreciation for Apollos’ work, but reprimands the Corinthians for causing divisions in the Body of Christ by forming opposing factions. He draws an important lesson from everything that occurred: Both Apollos and I, he says, are nothing more than diakonoi, that is, simple ministers, through whom you came to the faith (see 1 Corinthians 3:5). Each one has a different task in the Lord’s field: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth ... for we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).
Upon returning to Ephesus, Apollos resisted Paul’s invitation to return immediately to Corinth and postponed the journey to a later date, which remains unknown to us (see 1 Corinthians 16:12). We have no further information on him, although some scholars think that he might possibly be the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, whose author, according to Tertullian, was Barnabas.
These three men shine in the firmament of witnesses of the Gospel thanks to one characteristic that is common to all of them in addition to each one’s own individual traits.
Besides their Jewish origin and the fact that all three were co-workers of the apostle Paul, they all shared a dedication to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. In this very first mission of evangelization, they found the meaning of life. Therefore, they stand before us as shining models of selflessness and generosity. Finally, let us recall once again the words of St. Paul: Both Apollos and I are ministers of Jesus, each one in his way, since it is God who gives growth. This is valid for us also today — for the Pope, as well as for cardinals, bishops, priests and laity.
We are all humble ministers of Jesus. We serve the Gospel insofar as we are able, according to our gifts, and we ask God to make his Gospel and his Church grow today.
of the Jan. 31 catechesis.