Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
The Apostle Bartholomew: "His Words Present a Double Aspect
of Jesus' Identity"
H.H. Benedict XVI
October 4, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
In the series of apostles called by Jesus during his earthly life,
today our attention is caught by the Apostle Bartholomew. In the
early lists of the Twelve he always appears before Matthew, while
the name of the one who precedes him changes: in some cases it is
Philip (cf. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14) or Thomas (cf. Acts
His name is evidently patronymic, as it makes explicit reference to
the father's name. It is a name probably of Aramaic characteristics,
"bar Talmay," which means "son of Talmay."
We do not have important information about Bartholomew. In fact, his
name appears always and only within the lists of the Twelve that I
have mentioned before; therefore, he is not the protagonist of any
narration. Traditionally, however, he is identified with Nathanael:
a name that means "God-given." This Nathanael was a native of Cana
(cf. John 21:2); therefore, it is possible that he was witness of
some great "sign" wrought by Jesus in that place (cf. John 2:1-11).
The identification of the two personages is probably due to the fact
that Nathanael, in the scene of the vocation narrated by John's
Gospel, is placed next to Philip, that is, in the place that
Bartholomew has in the lists of the apostles referred to by the
other Gospels. It was to this Nathanael that Philip had said that he
had "found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the
prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth" (John 1:45).
As we know, Nathanael posed a weighty prejudice to him: "Can
anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46a). This expression is
important for us. It allows us to see that, according to the Jewish
expectations, the Messiah could not come from such an obscure
village, as was the case of Nazareth (cf. also John 7:42).
At the same time, however, it shows the freedom of God, who
surprises our expectations, manifesting himself precisely there,
where we least expect him. Moreover, we know that, in reality, Jesus
was not exclusively "from Nazareth," but that he was born in
Bethlehem (cf. Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4). Nathanael's objection,
therefore, had no value, as it was founded, as often happens, on
Nathanael's case suggests to us another reflection: In our
relationship with Jesus, we must not only be content with words.
Philip, in his reply, presents a significant invitation to
Nathanael: "Come and see" (John 1:46b). Our knowledge of Jesus is in
need above all of a living experience: Another person's testimony is
certainly important, as in general the whole of our Christian life
begins with the proclamation that comes to us from one or several
witnesses. But we ourselves must be personally involved in an
intimate and profound relationship with Jesus.
In a similar way, the Samaritans, after having heard the testimony
of the compatriot whom Jesus had met at Jacob's well, wished to
speak directly with him and, after that conversation, they said to
the woman: "We no longer believe because of your word; for we have
heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of
the world" (John 4:42).
Returning to the scene of the vocation, the evangelist tells us
that, when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, he exclaims: "Here is a
true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him" (John 1:47). It was
praise that recalls the text of a psalm: "Happy those to whom the
Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no deceit" (Psalm 32:2),
but which arouses Nathanael's curiosity, who, surprised, replies: "
How do you know me?" (John 1:48a). Jesus' answer at first is not
understood. He said to him: "Before Philip called you, I saw you
under the fig tree" (John 1:48b).
Today it is difficult to realize with precision the meaning of these
last words. According to what the specialists say, it is possible
that, given that at times the fig tree is mentioned as the tree
under which the doctors of the law sat to read and teach the Bible,
he is alluding to that type of occupation carried out by Nathanael
at the moment of his calling.
Anyway, what counts most in John's narration is the confession of
faith that Nathanael professes at the end in a limpid way: "Rabbi,
you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49).
Although it does not reach the intensity of Thomas' confession with
which John's Gospel ends: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28),
Nathanael's confession has the function to open the terrain to the
In the latter a first and important step is taken on the path of
adherence to Christ. Nathanael's words present a double and
complementary aspect of Jesus' identity: He is recognized both by
his special relationship with God the Father, of whom he is the
only-begotten Son, as well as by his relationship with the people of
Israel, of whom he is called King, an attribution proper of the
We must never lose sight of either of these two elements, since if
we only proclaim the heavenly dimension of Jesus we run the risk of
making him an ethereal and evanescent being, while if we only
recognize his concrete role in history, we run the risk of
neglecting his divine dimension, which is his proper description.
We do not have precise information on the subsequent apostolic
activity of Bartholomew-Nathanael. According to information referred
to by the historian Eusebius in the fourth century, a certain
Panteno found in India signs of Bartholomew's presence (cf.
"Ecclesiastical History," V, 10,3).
In the later tradition, beginning in the Middle Ages, the account of
his death by flaying was imposed, which later became extremely
popular. Suffice it to think of the very famous scene of the Last
Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, in which Michelangelo presented St.
Bartholomew holding his own skin in his left hand, in which the
artist left his self-portrait.
His relics are venerated here, in Rome, in the church dedicated to
him on the Island of the Tiber, where they were brought by the
German Emperor Otto III in the year 983.
Concluding, we can say that the figure of St. Bartholomew, despite
the lack of information, tells us that adherence to Jesus can be
lived and witnessed even without doing sensational works. Jesus is
the extraordinary one, to whom each one of us is called to
consecrate his life and death.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in
several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today I want to continue my series of reflections on the Apostles by
speaking of Saint Bartholomew. The New Testament gives us very
little direct information about him -- his name is simply included
in lists of the Twelve. However, he is traditionally identified with
Nathanael, who was brought to Jesus by Philip at the beginning of
Saint John's Gospel.
When Philip tells Nathanael that Jesus of Nazareth is the one
foretold by Moses and the Prophets, Nathanael says, "Can anything
good come out of Nazareth?" He could not believe that the Messiah
would come from somewhere so obscure. Yet we know that Jesus was
born in Bethlehem. Nathanael's objection was prejudiced and it was
based, as so often, on incomplete information. This passage teaches
us that God acts in unexpected ways.
Philip's reply is to say, "Come and see." This shows us that, while
others have a part to play in bringing us to Jesus, we need to
discover him for ourselves. Then we will be able, like Nathanael, to
make that great profession of faith, "You are the Son of God, you
are the King of Israel!" Both elements of Nathanael's statement are
important for us. We need to recognize Jesus' unique relationship
with the Father, and we also need to acknowledge his place in
history. Our Savior is true God and true man.
I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims here today, and I greet
especially the Board of Directors of Serra International, the deacon
candidates from the North American College, and the group of new
students from the Beda College. I pray that you will respond
generously to the call to discipleship that you have received. May
God bless you all.
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