Weekly catechesis 02.25.2007

REGISTER SUMMARY During his general audience Feb. 7, Pope Benedict XVI continued his series of teachings on some of the leading figures of early Christianity. He dedicated his catechesis to a Roman couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who worked together with St. Paul and played an active role in the life of the early Church. “This couple, in a special way, proves just how important the work of Christian couples is,” the Pope said. “When couples are supported by faith and a strong spirituality, their courageous commitment to the Church and within the Church becomes natural.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, as we take another step in our walk through what is like a portrait gallery of the early witnesses to the Christian faith, which we started a few weeks ago, we will consider a married couple. Priscilla and Aquila, the couple in question that I mentioned briefly last Wednesday, were part of the Apostle Paul’s large circle of co-workers. Based on the information we have, this couple played a very active role in the early Church during the time following Easter Sunday.

The names of Aquila and Priscilla are Latin, but they themselves were of Jewish origin. Geographically, Aquila came from the Diaspora in the northern part of Anatolia, overlooking the Black Sea in present-day Turkey, while Priscilla, whose name is sometimes abbreviated to Prisca, was probably a Jew from Rome (see Acts 18:2). In any case, they came from Rome to Corinth, where Paul met them at the beginning of the 50s.

There, as Luke tells us, Paul worked together with them, since they, like Paul, were tentmakers. They also welcomed Paul into their home (see Acts 18:3). They had moved to Corinth when the Emperor Claudius decided to expel the Jews living in Rome from the city.

The Roman historian Suetonius tells us that he expelled the Jews because “they were rioting on account of someone named Chrestus” (see The Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Claudius, 25). As we can see, he was not very familiar with the name: Instead of Christ, he wrote “Chrestus,” and he only had a very vague idea about what had happened.

In any case, there were disagreements within the Jewish community about whether Jesus was the Christ, and these problems provided the emperor with a reason to simply expel all the Jews from Rome. We can deduce from all this that the couple had already embraced the Christian faith in Rome during the 40s, and had now found in Paul someone who not only shared their faith with them — that Jesus is the Christ — but who was also an apostle whom the risen Lord had called personally.

Thus, their first encounter was in Corinth, where they welcomed him into their home and where they worked together making tents.

The Church in Ephesus

Later, they moved to Ephesus in Asia Minor. There they played a decisive role in completing the formation of Apollo, a Jew from Alexandria, of whom we spoke last Wednesday. Since Apollo only had a superficial knowledge of the Christian faith, “when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).

When the Apostle Paul wrote his First Letter to the Corinthians while he was in Ephesus, besides his own words of greeting he explicitly added those of “Aquila and Prisca, together with the church at their house” (1 Corinthians 16:19). Therefore, we realize the very important role that this couple played within the early Church, welcoming into their own home the group of local Christians when they gathered together to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist.

This type of gathering, which is called ekklesìa in Greek — the Latin word is ecclesia, denotes a gathering or an assembly.

Thus, the Church, summoned by Christ, gathered together in the home of Aquila and Priscilla to celebrate the sacred mysteries. In this way, we can see the very birth within the homes of the believers of that reality that is the Church. In fact, until around the third century, Christians did not have their own places of worship.

At first, they gathered in the Jewish synagogues, until the original symbiosis between the Old and New Testament broke apart and the Church of the Gentiles was forced to assume its own identity, which remained deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Later, after this “split,” they gathered in the homes of Christians, and these became the “church.” Finally, in the third century, buildings that were truly for Christian worship appeared. But here, in the first half of the first century as in the second century, Christian homes were “church” in a very real way.

As I have already said, they read sacred Scripture together and celebrated the Eucharist. This is what used to happen, for example, in Corinth, where Paul mentions a man named “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole Church” (Romans 16:23), or in Laodicea, where the community would get together in the house of a woman named Nympha (Colossians 4:15), or in Colossae, where the gathering would take place in the house of a man named Archippus (Philemon 2).

The Church in Rome

After having returned to Rome at a later date, Aquila and Priscilla continued to provide this same very valuable service in the capital of the empire, as well. In fact, Paul, when writing to the Romans, adds this very precise greeting: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful but also all the churches of the Gentiles; greet also the church at their house” (Romans 16:3-5).

What extraordinary praise we find in these words and it is the Apostle Paul, no less, who praises them! He explicitly recognizes in them two people who are truly important co-workers in his apostolate. The reference to the fact that they risked their lives for him is probably due to an intervention they made on his behalf during one of his imprisonments, perhaps at Ephesus itself (see Acts 19:23; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Even though the way in which he expresses himself is perhaps a little exaggerated, the fact that Paul adds the gratitude of all the churches of the Gentiles to his own gratitude gives us an insight into their vast range of activity and their influence in spreading the Gospel.

Subsequent hagiographic tradition highlights Priscilla in a special way, even though it is somewhat problematic since she is identified with another Priscilla who was a martyr. In any case, here in Rome we have both a church dedicated to St. Prisca on the Aventine and the Catacombs of Priscilla on the Via Salaria, thereby perpetuating the memory of a woman who was, without doubt, a very active and important person in the history of Christianity in Rome.

One thing is certain: Besides the gratitude of those early churches of which Paul speaks, we must add our own since it is because of the faith and apostolic commitment of faithful laypeople, families and married couples like Priscilla and Aquila that Christianity has been handed down to our generation. It was able to grow not only thanks to the apostles who proclaimed it; in order to take root among the peoples and to develop in a vibrant way, the commitment of these families, of these couples, of these Christian communities and of these faithful laypeople who offered fertile ground to the growth of faith was needed.

It is only in this way that the Church continues to grow. This couple, in a special way, proves just how important the work of Christian couples is. When couples are supported by faith and a strong spirituality, their courageous commitment to the Church and within the Church becomes natural. Their commonality of daily life is extended and, in a certain way, exalted as they take on a common responsibility for the mystical body of Christ, even if just for a small part of it. This is how it was in the first generation and this is how it will often be.

Model for Married Couples

There is one last lesson we cannot help but take away from their example. Every home can be transformed into a small church, not only in the sense that Christian love must reign there — typically consisting of altruism and mutual care — but even more in the sense that the entire life of the family, founded on faith, is called to revolve around the lordship of Jesus Christ alone.

It is not by chance that Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians, compares the relationship of a married couple to the communion as spouses that exists between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:25-33). Moreover, we could even say that the Apostle Paul indirectly models the entire life of the Church upon that of the family.

In reality, the Church is the family of God. So, let us honor Aquila and Priscilla as models of married life, responsibly committed to the service of the entire Christian community. We find in them the model of the Church, the family of God for all ages.

Register translation

of the Feb. 7 catechesis.