Some would have us believe that the only individual that contributed to Christianity after the ascension of Christ was the apostle Paul. That assertion is erroneous. The twelve apostles of Jesus Christ literally changed the world.
The apostles listed in Mark 3:16-19 are “Simon, whom he named Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus; Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.”
Peter the leader of the apostles, founded a church at Antioch (Gal 2:11), moved to Corinth for a time and went finally to Rome. He was the first bishop of Rome. Due to his first place among the apostles and his special commission from our Lord (Matt 16:18) his successors, the bishops of Rome are the leaders of the Church to this day. He was martyred there sometime around AD 67. Tradition indicates he was crucified upside-down. St. Peter’s Cathedral was later built over his grave.
James, the brother of John, is known as James the Greater. James was murdered with a sword at the order of Herod before Peter had even left for Antioch. (Acts 12:2-3)
John, the brother of James the Greater, was the beloved disciple (John 21:20-24) who wrote the Gospel known by his name, and four other books of the Bible. He was exiled to the Island of Patmos (Rev 4:9) where he did most of his writing. Some sources indicate he died on Patmos while others place his death in Ephesus. He died around the end of the first century.
St. Andrew traveled to the Scythians in Thrace which is current-day Ukraine and Russia. He was martyred on an X shaped cross in Greece.
Philip died and was buried in Hierapolis, a city in the province of Phrygia (modern Turkey), where he had been preaching.
Early writings tell us that Bartholomew planted the faith in India. To the early writers, however, India meant any one of a number of places outside the Roman Empire: Arabia, Ethiopia, Libya, Parthia, or Persia. Most likely his teaching took place in Ethiopia or Arabia, or both. Bartholomew is the patron saint of Armenia, and it is a tradition that he died there. Apocryphal accounts indicate he was skinned alive.
Matthew wrote his Gospel, written in Aramaic, probably while he was still in Palestine. Matthew remained with Peter and the others for some time, preaching in Judea. After the apostles separated, each going a different way to spread the new faith, he is said to have brought Christianity to the Persians and to other Eastern nations. Some authorities say he died a natural death; others say he suffered martyrdom. The Church venerates him as a martyr, and portions of his relics are claimed by the cathedral at Salerno, Italy.
Thomas traveled to India and spread the gospel there. These “Thomas Christians” were “discovered” by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century. Saint Thomas founded seven churches in Malabar, was martyred near Madras, and buried at Mylapore.
James, son of Alphaeus, is called James the Lesser. He was the first bishop of Jerusalem. He took part in the first council there (Acts 15:13-22). He wrote an epistle, which is included in the New Testament. He was beaten to death with rocks for refusing to renounce Christ around the year 62. The liturgy of the Syriac rite is attributed to St. James the Apostle. This liturgy was used by the church in Antioch in present-day Syria and was also the basis for the Byzantine liturgy.
Little is known of the fate of St. Simon the “zealous”. He is thought to have preached in Egypt, then gone to Persia with St. Jude, where some sources say he was martyred.
Thaddeus, sometimes called Judas (Luke 6:16) or Jude, is believed to have done missionary work in Mesopotamia. Some sources say he went to Persia with St. Simon and was martyred there, being killed with a battle axe. He wrote a letter which is included in the New Testament.
Mathias was added to the list of apostles to replace Judas Iscariat (Acts 1:26). There is a tradition that he went to the coast of the Black Sea and converted many before being martyred.
It is easy to simply ignore or forget most of the apostles. Most were not discussed in any great detail in scripture. There is little concrete historical evidence about their lives after the crucifixion. Therefore it is easy to get the idea that Paul played the largest role in building up the early Church. This is not the case. The twelve apostles, through their efforts, literally changed the world.
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Published by The Minnesota St. Thomas More Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith, February 2001.