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Pope Benedict On Aquila and Priscilla

2/8/2007 - 7:00 AM PST

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"Every House Can Be Transformed Into a Small Church"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at Wednesday's general audience. The Pope spoke about Aquila and Priscilla, a married couple active in the early Church.

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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 18:3).

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 Rome.

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 Corinthians 16:19).

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 "ekklesža" -- 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 Testament.

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 ...

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