Like many of the Apostles, we don’t know all that much about today’s saint, Bartholomew, the ‘son of consolation’, as its etymology suggests in Hebrew whom our Tradition identifies with the ‘Nathaniel’, which is ‘God has given’, the enigmatic figure in the first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel:
When the Apostle Philip approached Nathaniel, declaring that he had found the One Who fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, the same Nathaniel is the one who asked that famous question, applied to any number of Podunk towns across the world: ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’.
But along he went with Philip, and when Christ saw Nathaniel, He declared him to ‘be without guile (dolos, in Greek)’. Nathaniel was taken aback: How do you know me? Christ opaquely replied that He had seen Nathaniel ‘under the fig tree’. Whatever happened under said tree, Nathaniel then makes what seems like a metaphysical quantum leap: ‘Thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel‘!, echoing the confession of Faith of Peter and, later, Thomas. From whatever motive, Bartholomew-Nathaniel seems to have been converted then and there. Perhaps it was his very lack of guile, or deceit, that allowed him to be so transparent to the supernatural, and amenable to the transcendent truth of our Faith.
Tradition has it that Bartholomew preached the faith all the way to India and Armenia, converting the people and their king, whose brother, resisting conversion, ordered the Apostle’s execution by the horrific method of being flayed alive and crucified upside down. Hence, Bartholomew is often depicted in art holding his own skin in hand, as seen here in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement; the face on the skin is the artist’s own., signifying what, we may only ponder. Hmm. The Catholic faith is nothing if not incarnate.
Saint Bartholomew, ora pro nobis!