August 24th, Feast of St. Bartholomew
“St. Bartholomew the Apostle, who preached the Gospel of Christ in India; thence he went into Greater Armenia, and when he had converted many folk there to faith, he was flayed alive by the barbarians, and by command of King Astyages fulfilled his martyrdom by beheading. His holy body was translated first to the Isle of Lipari, then to Benevento, and finally to Rome, to the island in the Tiber, where it is honoured with loving veneration by the faithful.” (Roman Martyrology)
The name “Bartholomew” does not seem to be the proper name of this Apostle, but is more of a title – for it means only “son of Tholmai”. Indeed, little is known about this great man. However, if we consider the Gospel which the Roman Church reads on the feast, we gain an insight into his identity. The Gospel does not mention St. Bartholomew, but is the calling of St. Nathanael through the cooperation of St. Philip.
The Greek tradition
It seems that Nathanael must be a significant figure in the life of the Church, since he receives a special calling from the Lord and is honored by our Savior as “an Israelite without guile”. However, he does not at first seem to be one of the Apostles.
Some of the Greeks hold that Nathanael is the Apostle St. Simon Zelotes, and this is commemorated in the Greek Menaea on the 22nd of April as follows: “The Holy Apostle Nathanael, which is Simon Zelotes, of Cana in Galilee, where Christ at the marriage feast turned the water into wine.”
The Latin tradition
It is worth noting that Bartholomew is not mentioned in John’s Gospel, while Nathanael is not mentioned by the Synoptics. Moreover, while Nathanael is connected with Philip in John’s Gospel, Bartholomew is mentioned always next to Philip by the Synoptic writers.
Hence, based on this close connection with Philip – as well as an ancient tradition which connects Bartholomew with Nathanael – the Latin tradition affirms that “Nathanael” is simply the proper name of Bartholomew.
For this reason, the Roman Church reads the Gospel of the call of Nathanael on the feast of St. Bartholomew: The two are indeed one and the same Apostle.
Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide defends the identification of Bartholomew with Nathanael
“Rupertus and Jansen in this passage think Nathanael is the Apostle Bartholomew. They show this, firstly, because the other Evangelists always join together Philip and Bartholomew, as John here joins Philip and Nathanael.
“Secondly, because we nowhere read of Christ’s calling Bartholomew, unless it were this call of Nathanael.
“Thirdly, because the other three Evangelists who make mention of Bartholomew make no mention of Nathanael, and vice versâ with S. John.
“Fourthly, because S. John (xxi. 2) associates Nathanael with the Apostles Peter, Thomas, James, and John in fishing, and the vision of Jesus. It would seem therefore that he was an Apostle, and yet it is not apparent who else he could be if he were not Bartholomew.
“Fifthly, because Bartholomew does not seem to be a proper name, but only to signify that he was the son of Tolmai; and his proper name seems to have been Nathanael.
“Sixthly, because Christ said of Nathanael, Behold an Israelite indeed, it whom is no guile. And then Christ promises him a vision of angels ascending and descending upon Himself. Christ therefore seems to have specially loved him, and to have chosen him for a friend and Apostle.”
St. Bartholomew, Pray for us!