On this day: A Married Couple

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day we celebrate the feast of Saints Priscilla and Aquila, a married couple, tentmakers, missionaries, friends and associates of Saint Paul.

[1] After these things, departing from Athens, he came to Corinth. [2] And finding a certain Jew, named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with Priscilla his wife, (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome,) he came to them. [3] And because he was of the same trade, he remained with them, and wrought; (now they were tentmakers by trade.) . . . [18] But Paul, when he had stayed yet many days, taking his leave of the brethren, sailed thence into Syria (and with him Priscilla and Aquila), having shorn his head in Cenchrae: for he had a vow. [19] And he came to Ephesus, and left them there. But he himself entering into the synagogue, disputed with the Jews. . . . [24] Now a certain Jew, named Apollo, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus, one mighty in the scriptures. [25] This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, spoke, and taught diligently the things that are of Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John. [26] This man therefore began to speak boldly in the synagogue. Whom when Priscilla and Aquila had heard, they took him to them, and expounded to him the way of the Lord more diligently. [27] And whereas he was desirous to go to Achaia, the brethren exhorting, wrote to the disciples to receive him. Who, when he was come, helped them much who had believed.

--Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 18.

They are mentioned in three epistles: Paul asks the recipients of Romans and Second Timothy to greet Priscilla and Aquila, and in First Corinthians he says, Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house, with whom I also lodge.

In his monograph on Women in the Earliest Churches, Cambridge University Press, 1991, Ben Witherington III analyses the role of this couple.

"Apollos is depicted as already having basically a correct framework and knowledge . . . and this presupposes that Luke wants his audience to see that Priscilla and Aquila were also adept and knowledgeable enough in scripture to teach Apollos in such a fashion that he would accept it from both a woman and a man. Obviously, since Luke does not care to expound on exactly what was taught, it is the fact of the teaching and the identity of the teachers and pupil he wishes his audiences to note. . . . Priscilla and Aquila are portrayed as a team, and perhaps a team ministry is different from a woman acting alone. It appears, however, that Luke depicts Priscilla as taking the initiative here, if either one did, and her being married does not seem to be a determining factor". Page 154.

Priscilla and Aquila: Paul's Coworkers in Christ Jesus (Paul's Social Network: Brothers & Sisters in Faith), by Marie Noël Keller, RSM, Liturgical Press, 2010, is another interesting study.

". . . text without context is pretext", Dr. Keller says in her Acknowledgments, and she places each detail about Priscilla and Aquila in historical and cultural context. (The sample at Google Books is limited, and there is no Search Inside at Amazon, but the book is available on Kindle.)

In his General Audience on February 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said:

"Taking a new step in this type of portrait gallery of the first witnesses of the Christian faith which we began some weeks ago, today we take into consideration a married couple.

"The couple in question are Priscilla and Aquila, who take their place, as we already mentioned briefly last Wednesday, in the sphere of numerous collaborators who gravitated around the Apostle Paul. Based on the information in our possession, this married couple played a very active role in the post-Paschal origins of the Church.

"However, it was from Rome that they reached Corinth, where Paul met them at the beginning of the 50s. There he became associated with them, as Luke tells us, practicing the same trade of making tents or large draperies for domestic use, and he was even welcomed into their home (cf. Acts 18: 3)." . . .

"Hence, we come to know the most important role that this couple played in the environment of the primitive Church: that of welcoming in their own house the group of local Christians when they gathered to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist. It is exactly this type of gathering that in Greek is called 'ekklesìa' - the Latin word is 'ecclesia', the Italian 'chiesa' - which means convocation, assembly, gathering.

"In the house of Aquila and Priscilla, therefore, the Church gathered, the convocation of Christ, which celebrates here the Sacred Mysteries.

"Thus, we can see the very birth of the reality of the Church in the homes of believers."

Click here for images of Priscilla and Aquila.

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