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St. Barnabas 9. Antioch.

      Last week we looked at the Biblical record of the early evangelization from around 32 to 34 AD by the Apostles, Deacons, and disciples, which undoubtedly would have included Barnabas. And we know that later, probably about 41 AD, Barnabas is sent to evangelize in Antioch of Syria (Ac 11:22).

      What were the beginnings of the Church in Antioch?

      In the tradition of the Eastern Church, St. Peter founded the Church of Antioch in 34 AD, which is the same time frame of this early evangelization when some went as far as Antioch (Ac 11:19-20). The Bible doesn’t tell us, but it may well be that Peter came to Antioch with this group. Barnabas also could have come. As he was a Cypriot, it may have been with the second group (Ac 11:20). As one author puts it: “Barnabas as a Cypriote would have felt quite at home in Antioch, and the people of the city would have recognized him as a member of a neighboring community with which they were familiar.” [1] Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark, was from Cyrene so he also could have been in that second group.

3D Reconstruction of Ancient
Antioch of Syria
      Antioch at that time was one of the most splendid cities in the whole Empire, and capital of the Roman province of Syria. [2] It was the headquarters of the Roman military power which destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. [3] In the First Century, Antioch had “a large and ancient Jewish community which seems to have felt no great hostility toward the Gentiles, and, in turn, appears not to have been looked upon with any marked degree of disfavor by the Gentiles as a whole, at this time,” and the “Jewish community in Antioch attracted to its ceremonies and teachings a number of Gentiles who found in Jewish monotheism and ethics a form of religion which was more satisfying than the pagan beliefs.” [4] Purportedly the Jewish colony was about 50,000 strong, about one-fifth or one-sixth of the population. [5] We see this Greek-to-Judaism conversion in Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch, who was one of the first deacons in Jerusalem (Ac 6:5).

      There is an early report that “one of the most prominent men in Antioch, named Theophilus, donated his ‘huge house’ for use as a church, and the ‘cathedra’ [bishop’s chair] of Peter was placed in this.” [6] Who was this Theophilus? Could he be the same Theophilus to whom St. Luke addresses his Gospel and the Acts? Perhaps, but we don’t know.

      However, in the late 1940's visions of Maria Valtorta, Theophilus was another name for Lazarus, the man who Jesus raised from the dead (John 11). In Voltorta’s visions, Lazarus was quite wealthy with property in Antioch of Syria. This brings us to an interesting back-story to the Antiochian Church. In these visions, at the end of his second year of public ministry, Jesus had sent an elderly Jewish teacher, John of Endor, and a runaway Greek slave woman, Syntyche, to Antioch to live on Lazarus’/Theophilus’ property. He sent them for their safety and to have them avoid his coming sufferings and crucifixion, and he also gave them the mission of preparing for “the triumph of the Gospel in Antioch.” [7] In Antioch they opened a school and taught both Jew and Gentile about Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. After Jesus’ death and resurrection – elderly John had previously died – Syntyche was packing up to come to Jerusalem when Jesus appeared to her in Antioch and instructed her: “Remain where you are and continue to work for Me. Now more than previously. Your brothers, the disciples, need the work of everybody to propagate My doctrine.” [8] So Syntyche remained in Antioch and could now give a personal witness as proof of the resurrection of Christ (something she had never doubted).

      Now before we can discuss Barnabas’s formal commissioning to Antioch (Ac 11:22), we need to catch up with Peter, Barnabas, and Saul back in Jerusalem.

Dibby Allan Green
[1]  Downey, Glanville, A History of Antioch in Syria from Seleucus to the Arab Conquest (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961), p. 275.
[2] Daniel-Rops, Henri, The Church of Apostles and Martyrs, Vol. 1, Butler, Audrey, tr. (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1962) [first pub. in France, 1948], p. 60.
[3] Downey, ibid., p. 287.
[4] Ibid., pp. 272-273.
[5] Daniel-Rops, ibid., pp. 60-61.
[6] Pseudo-Clementine, Recognitiones 71 (PG 1.1453), referenced in Downey, ibid., p. 284.
[7] Voltorta, Maria, Poem of the Man-God, Picozzi, Nicandro, tr., McLaughlin, Patrick, rev. (Isola del Liri, Italy: Centro Editoriale Valtortiano srl., 1989), Book 3, §311, p. 190. As before, these visions are related as merely interesting speculation and without any assertion of historicity.
[8] Ibid., Book 5, §628, XIV, p. 809.

Originally published in the print edition of the Mojave Desert News  dated July 1, 2021, modified.

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Dibby Allan Green has a BA in Religious Studies (Westmont College, 1978) and MA in Theology (Augustine Institute, 2019), is a lay Catholic hermit, and a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.