Pope Benedict On Aquila and Priscilla
"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 "ekklesěa" -- 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 place in the house of a certain Archippus (cf. Philemon 2).
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 16:3-5).
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 Corinthians 1:8-9).
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 generation.
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 Jesus Christ.
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.
[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.
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