St. Barnabas

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St. Barnabas, Apostle

ST. BARNABAS, though not of the number of the twelve chosen by Christ, is nevertheless styled an apostle by the primitive fathers, and by St. Luke himself. 1 His singular vocation by the Holy Ghost, and the great share he had in the apostolic transactions and labours, have obtained him this title. He was of the tribe of Levi, 2 but born in Cyprus, where his family was settled, and had purchased an estate, which Levites might do out of their own country. He was first called Joses, which was the softer Grecian termination for Joseph. After the ascension of Christ, the Apostles changed his name into Barnabas, which word St. Luke interprets, son of consolation, on account of his excellent talent of ministering comfort to the afflicted, says St. Chrysostom. St. Jerom remarks that this word also signifies the son of a prophet, and in that respect was justly given to this apostle, who excelled in prophetic gifts. The Greeks say that his parents sent him in his youth to Jerusalem, to the school of the famous Gamaliel, St. Paul’s master; and that he was one of the first, and chief of the seventy disciples of Christ. Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and St. Epiphanius, 3 testify that he was one of that number, and consequently had the happiness to receive the precepts of eternal life from the mouth of Christ himself. The first mention we find of him in holy scripture is in the Acts of the Apostles, 4 where it is related that the primitive converts at Jerusalem lived in common, and that as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the price and laid it at the feet of the apostles, that they might contribute all in their power to relieve the indigent, and might themselves be entirely disengaged from the world, and better fitted to follow Christ in a penitential and mortified life. No one is mentioned in particular on this occasion but St. Barnabas; doubtless because he was possessed of a large estate; and perhaps he was the first who set the example of this heroic contempt of the world, which has been since imitated by so many thousands, according to the advice of Christ to the rich man. 5 This contribution was entirely free; but seems to have implied a vow, or at least a solemn promise of renouncing all temporal possessions for the sake of virtue. For Ananias and his wife Saphira were struck dead at the feet of St. Peter for having secreted some part of the price; and were reproached by that apostle for having lied to the Holy Ghost, by pretending to put a cheat upon the ministers of God. Origen, 6 St. Jerom, 7 and St. Austin, 8 are willing to hope that their sin was forgiven them by repentance at the voice of St. Peter, and that it was expiated by their temporal punishment. Though St. Chrysostom, 9 and St. Basil 10 rather fear that they might perish eternally by impenitence. St. Austin, St. Jerom, St. Chrysostom, 11 St. Gregory the Great, 12 and other fathers accuse them of a sacrilegious breach of their vow. St. Chrysostom, 13 St. Basil, 14 and St. Isidore of Pelusium, 15 observe that God, by executing his justice by visible judgments on the first authors of a crime, does this to deter others from the like; as in the Antediluvians, Sodomites, Pharaoh, Onan, and Giezi; but those who nevertheless despise his warning, and by a more consummate malice imitate such sinners, if they are not consumed by a deluge, fire, or other visible judgment, must expect a more grievous chastisement in the flames of hell, proportionate to their hardened malice. 1 Continue reading