Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On Aquila and Priscilla
"Every House Can Be Transformed Into a Small Church"
H.H. Benedict XVI
February 7, 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Taking a step forward in this kind of portrait gallery of the witnesses
to Christian faith that we started a few weeks ago, today we consider a
married couple. The couple in question are Priscilla and Aquila, who
have their place among the circle of numerous collaborators drawn to the
apostle Paul, and whom I already briefly mentioned last Wednesday. Based
on the information we have, this married couple developed a very active
role at the time of the post-paschal origins of the Church.
The names of Aquila and Priscilla are Latin, but the man and woman who
bear them were of Jewish origin. However, Aquila, at least, came
geographically from the Diaspora of northern Anatolia, which overlooks
the Black Sea, in what is now Turkey; while Priscilla, whose name is
sometimes abbreviated to Prisca, was probably a Jew originating from
Rome (cf. Acts 18:2).
In any case, it is from Rome that they arrive at Corinth, where Paul met
them at the beginning of the 50s; there he became associated with them,
since, as Luke tells us, they also practiced Paul's trade of tentmakers
for domestic use, and he was even welcomed into their home (cf. Acts
The reason for their coming to Corinth was the decision of Emperor
Claudius to expel from Rome the Jews living in the city. The Roman
historian Suetonius tells us that he expelled the Jews because "they
were rioting on account of someone named Chrestus" (cf. "The Lives of
the Twelve Caesars, Claudius," 25).
One can see that he did not know the name well -- instead of Christ he
writes "Chrestus" -- and that he only had a very confused idea about
what had happened. In any case, there were disagreements within the
Jewish community about the issue of whether Jesus was the Christ. And
these problems were the reason the emperor simply expelled all Jews from
One can deduce from 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 with them this faith, that Jesus is the
Christ, but who was also an apostle, personally called by the Risen
Lord. Therefore, their first encounter is in Corinth, where they welcome
him into their home and they work together making tents.
In a second moment, they move to Ephesus, in Asia Minor. There they
played a decisive role in completing the formation of the Alexandrian
Jew, Apollo, of whom we spoke last Wednesday. Since he only had a
superficial knowledge of the Christian faith, "Priscilla and Aquila
heard him, then took him aside and explained to him the way of God more
accurately" (Acts 18:26).
When the apostle Paul writes his First Letter to the Corinthians from
Ephesus, together with his characteristic greetings, he explicitly
mentions "Aquila and Prisca, together with the church at their house" (1
In this way we come to know the hugely important role this couple played
in the sphere of the primitive Church: that of welcoming in their own
home the group of local Christians when they got together to listen to
the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist.
It is precisely that type of gathering that in Greek is called "ekklesìa"
-- the Latin word is "ecclesia" -- the Italian "chiesa" -- that means
assembly, gathering. So, in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, the
Church gets together, the Church summoned by Christ, which celebrates
here the Sacred Mysteries.
In this way we can see the very birth of the reality of the Church in
the homes of the believers. Christians, in fact, until around the third
century, did not have their own places of worship: At first, they
gathered in Jewish synagogues, until the original symbiosis between the
Old and New Testament was dissolved and the Church of the people was
forced to give itself its own identity, always deeply rooted in the Old
Then, after this "split," they gather in the homes of Christians, which
in this way become "Church." And finally, in the third century,
authentic buildings for Christian worship were born.
But here, in the first half of the first century as in the second
century, Christian houses become true and proper "church." As I have
said, they read Scripture together and celebrated the Eucharist. That
was what used to happen, for example, in Corinth, where Paul mentions a
certain "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 certain Nympha (Colossians 4:15), or in Colossae, where the
gathering would take place in the house of a certain Archippus (cf.
Having subsequently returned to Rome, Aquila and Priscilla continue to
develop that most precious function in the capital of the empire as
well. Paul, in fact, writing to the Romans, sends this 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
What extraordinary praise is found in these words! And it is the apostle
Paul, no less, who offers it! He explicitly recognizes in them two true
and important collaborators of his apostolate.
The reference to their having risked their lives for him is probably
linked to an intervention in his favor during an imprisonment of his,
perhaps in Ephesus itself (cf. Acts 19:23; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2
And that Paul should associate all the Churches of the Gentiles with his
own gratitude, although the statement may seem to be hyperbole, allows
us, in any case, to intuit how great their range of action and their
influence for the good of the Gospel was.
Later hagiographic tradition has conferred singular importance on
Priscilla, even if the problem remains of her identification 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 Via Salaria.
In this way, the memory of a woman who has surely been an active person
of great value in the history of Roman Christianity is perpetuated. One
thing is certain: Together with the gratitude of those first Churches,
of which Paul speaks, our own must be added, since due to the faith and
apostolic commitment of faithful lay people, of families, of married
couples such as Priscilla and Aquila, Christianity has reached our
It was not only able to grow thanks to the apostles who announced it. In
order to take root in peoples' land, in order to develop in a living
way, it was necessary that there be the commitment of these families, of
these couples, of these Christian communities, of faithful lay people
who offered "humus" to the growth of faith.
And it is always in this way that the Church grows. In particular, this
couple proves just how important the action of Christian spouses is.
When these are supported by faith and a strong spirituality, their
courageous commitment to and in the Church becomes natural.
Their daily community of life is prolonged and somehow sublimated in the
taking on of a public responsibility for the good of the Body of Christ,
even if just a small part of it. This is how it was in the first
generation and this is how it will often be.
One further lesson we cannot neglect to take from their example: Every
house can be transformed into a small church. Not only in the sense
that, therein, Christian love, typically made of altruism and mutual
care, should reign, but even more in the sense that the whole of family
life, founded on faith, is called to revolve around the sole lordship of
Not by chance, in the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul compares the
relationship of matrimony to the spousal communion between Christ and
the Church (Ephesians 5:25-33). Even more, we can maintain that the
Apostle shapes the life of the whole Church on that of the family. And
the Church, in reality, is the family of God.
For this reason we honor Aquila and Priscilla as models of conjugal
life, responsibly committed to the service of the entire Christian
community. And we find in them the model of the Church, family of God
for all times.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted the pilgrims in various
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today's catechesis, we consider a married couple, Priscilla and
Aquila, who played an active part in the early Church, and particularly
in the ministry of Saint Paul. The Apostle first met them in exile in
Corinth, and then again in Ephesus and finally in Rome. At Ephesus, they
instructed Apollos in the faith and in every city they opened their home
to the local Christian community for worship. Paul praises them in his
Letter to the Romans as his "fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked
their necks for my life, to whom not only I, but also all the churches
of the Gentiles give thanks" (Rom 16:3-4). This remarkable tribute
bespeaks their great influence in the apostolic Church and reminds us
that we ourselves have received the faith through the witness of
countless committed Christians like them. Priscilla and Aquila show us
the important role played by married couples in the life of the Church.
Every home is called to become a "domestic church" in which family life
is completely centered on the lordship of Christ and the love of husband
and wife mirrors the mystery of Christ's love for the Church, his Bride
(cf. Eph 5:25-33).
I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present at
today's Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, China, and the
United States of America. May your visit to Rome inspire you to live the
truth of the Gospel ever more fully. Upon all of you I invoke God's
blessings of joy and peace.
© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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