Catholic Encyclopedia – Saint Mark

Article

Greek Markos, Latin Marcus

It is assumed in this article that the individual referred to in Acts as John Mark (12:12, 25; 15:37), John (13:5, 13), Mark (15:39), is identical with the Mark mentioned by Saint Paul (Colossians 4:10; II Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24) and by Saint Peter (I Peter 5:13). Their identity is not questioned by any ancient writer of note, while it is strongly suggested, on the one hand by the fact that Mark of the Pauline Epistles was the cousin (ho anepsios) of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), to whom Mark of Acts seems to have been bound by some special tie (Acts 15:37, 39); on the other by the probability that the Mark, whom Saint Peter calls his son (I Peter 5:13), is no other than the son of Mary, the Apostle’s old friend in Jerusalem (Acts 21:12). To the Jewish name John was added the Roman pronomen Marcus, and by the latter he was commonly known to the readers of Acts (15:37, ton kaloumenon Markon) and of the Epistles. Mark’s mother was a prominent member of the infant Church at Jerusalem; it was to her house that Peter turned on his release from prison; the house was approached by a porch (pulon), there was a slave girl (paidiske), probably the portress, to open the door, and the house was a meeting-place for the brethren, “many” of whom were praying there the night St. Peter arrived from prison (Acts 12:12-13).

When, on the occasion of the famine of A.D. 45-46, Barnabas and Saul had completed their ministration in Jerusalem, they took Mark with them on their return to Antioch (Acts 12:25). Not long after, when they started on Saint Paul’s first Apostolic journey, they had Mark with them as some sort of assistant (hupereten, Acts 13:5); but the vagueness and variety of meaning of the Greek term makes it uncertain in what precise capacity he acted. Neither selected by the Holy Spirit, nor delegated by the Church of Antioch, as were Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:2-4), he was probably taken by the Apostles as one who could be of general help. The context of Acts 13:5, suggests that he helped even in preaching the Word. When Paul and Barnabas resolved to push on from Perga into central Asia Minor, Mark, departed from them, if indeed he had not already done so at Paphos, and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). What his reasons were for turning back, we cannot say with certainty; Acts 15:38, seems to suggest that he feared the toil. At any rate, the incident was not forgotten by Saint Paul, who refused on account of it to take Mark with him on the second Apostolic journey. This refusal led to the separation of Paul and Barnabas, and the latter, taking Mark with him, sailed to Cyprus (Acts 15:37-40). At this point (A.D. 49-50) we lose sight of Mark in Acts, and we meet him no more in the New Testament, till he appears some ten years afterwards as the fellow-worker of Saint Paul, and in the company of Saint Peter, at Rome.

Saint Paul, writing to the Colossians during his first Roman imprisonment (A.D. 59-61), says: “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, saluteth you, and Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, touching whom you have received commandments; if he come unto you, receive him” (Colossians 4:10). At the time this was written, Mark was evidently in Rome, but had some intention of visiting Asia Minor. About the same time Saint Paul sends greetings to Philemon from Mark, whom he names among his fellow-workers (sunergoi, Philemon 24). The Evangelist’s intention of visiting Asia Minor was probably carried out, for Saint Paul, writing shortly before his death to Timothy at Ephesus, bids him pick up Mark and bring him with him to Rome, adding “for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (II Timothy 4:11). If Mark came to Rome at this time, he was probably there when St. Paul was martyred. Turning to I Peter 5:13, we read: “The Church that is in Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you, and (so doth) Mark my son” (Markos, o huios aou). This letter was addressed to various Churches of Asia Minor (I Peter 1:1), and we may conclude that Mark was known to them. Hence, though he had refused to penetrate into Asia Minor with Paul and Barnabas, Saint Paul makes it probable, and Saint Peter certain, that he went afterwards, and the fact that Saint Peter sends Mark’s greeting to a number of Churches implies that he must have been widely known there. In calling Mark his “son”, Peter may possibly imply that he had baptized him, though in that case teknon might be expected rather than huios (cf. I Corinthians 4:17; I Timothy 1:2, 18; II Timothy 1:2; 2:1; Titus 1:4; Philemon 10). The term need not be taken to imply more than affectionate regard for a younger man, who had long ago sat at Peter’s feet in Jerusalem, and whose mother had been the Apostle’s friend (Acts 12:12). As to the Babylon from which Peter writers, and in which Mark is present with him, there can be no reasonable doubt that it is Rome. The view of Saint Jerome: “Saint Peter also mentions this Mark in his First Epistle, while referring figuratively to Rome under the title of Babylon”, is supported by all the early Father who refer to the subject. It may be said to have been questioned for the first time by Erasmus, whom a number of Protestant writers then followed, that they might the more readily deny the Roman connection of Saint Peter. Thus, we find Mark in Rome with St. Peter at a time when he was widely known to the Churches of Asia Minor. If we suppose him, as we may, to have gone to Asia Minor after the date of the Epistle to the Colossians, remained there for some time, and returned to Rome before I Peter was written, the Petrine and Pauline references to the Evangelist are quite intelligible and consistent.

When we turn to tradition, Papias asserts not later than A.D. 130, on the authority of an “elder”, that Mark had been the interpreter (hermeneutes) of Peter, and wrote down accurately, though not in order, the teaching of Peter. A widespread, if somewhat late, tradition represents Saint Mark as the founder of the Church of Alexandria. Though strangely enough Clement and Origen make no reference to the saint’s connection with their city, it is attested by Eusebius, by Saint Jerome, by the Apostolic Constitutions, by Epiphanius and by many later authorities. The “Martyrologium Romanum” (25 April) records: “At Alexandria the anniversary of Blessed Mark the Evangelist . . . at Alexandria of St. Anianus Bishop, the disciple of Blessed Mark and his successor in the episcopate, who fell asleep in the Lord.” The date at which Mark came to Alexandria is uncertain. The Chronicle of Eusebius assigns it to the first years of Claudius (A.D. 41-4), and later on states that Saint Mark’s first successor, Anianus, succeeded to the See of Alexandria in the eighth year of Nero (61-2). This would make Mark Bishop of Alexandria for a period of about twenty years. This is not impossible, if we might suppose in accordance with some early evidence that Saint Peter came to Rome in A.D. 42, Mark perhaps accompanying him. But Acts raise considerable difficulties. On the assumption that the founder of the Church of Alexandria was identical with the companion of Paul and Barnabas, we find him at Jerusalem and Antioch about A.D. 46 (Acts 12:25), in Salamis about 47 (Acts 13:5), at Antioch again about 49 or 50 (Acts 15:37-39), and when he quitted Antioch, on the separation of Paul and Barnabas, it was not to Alexandria but to Cyprus that he turned (Acts 15:39). There is nothing indeed to prove absolutely that all this is inconsistent with his being Bishop of Alexandria at the time, but seeing that the chronology of the Apostolic age is admittedly uncertain, and that we have no earlier authority than Eusebius for the date of the foundation of the Alexandrian Church, we may perhaps conclude with more probability that it was founded somewhat later. There is abundance of time between A.D. 50 and 60, a period during which the New Testament is silent in regard to Saint Mark, for his activity in Egypt.

In the preface to his Gospel in manuscripts of the Vulgate, Mark is represented as having been a Jewish priest: “Mark the Evangelist, who exercised the priestly office in Israel, a Levite by race”. Early authorities, however, are silent upon the point, and it is perhaps only an inference from his relation to Barnabas the Levite (Acts 4:36). Papias says, on the authority of “the elder”, that Mark neither heard the Lord nor followed Him (oute gar ekouse tou kurion oute parekoluthesen auto), and the same statement is made in the Dialogue of Adamantius, by Eusebius, by Saint Jerome, by Saint Augustine, and is suggested by the Muratorian Fragment. Later tradition, however, makes Mark one of the seventy-two disciples, and Saint Epiphanius says he was one of those who withdrew from Christ (John 6:67). The later tradition can have no weight against the earlier evidence, but the statement that Mark neither heard the Lord nor followed Him need not be pressed too strictly, nor force us to believe that he never saw Christ. Many indeed are of opinion that the young man who fled naked from Gethsemane (Mark 14:51) was Mark himself. Early in the third century Hippolytus refers to Mark as ho kolobodaktulos, i.e. “stump-fingered” or “mutilated in the finger(s)”, and later authorities allude to the same defect. Various explanations of the epithet have been suggested: that Mark, after he embraced Christianity, cut off his thumb to unfit himself for the Jewish priesthood; that his fingers were naturally stumpy; that some defect in his toes is alluded to; that the epithet is to be regarded as metaphorical, and means “deserted” (cf. Acts 13:13).

The date of Mark’s death is uncertain. Saint Jerome assigns it to the eighth year of Nero (62-63) (Mortuus est octavo Neronis anno et sepultus Alexandriæ), but this is probably only an inference from the statement of Eusebius, that in that year Anianus succeeded St. Mark in the See of Alexandria. Certainly, if St. Mark was alive when II Timothy was written (II Timothy 4:11), he cannot have died in 61-62. Nor does Eusebius say he did; the historian may merely mean that Saint Mark then resigned his see, and left Alexandria to join Peter and Paul at Rome. As to the manner of his death, the “Acts” of Mark give the saint the glory of martyrdom, and say that he died while being dragged through the streets of Alexandria; so too the Paschal Chronicle. But we have no evidence earlier than the fourth century that the saint was martyred. This earlier silence, however, is not at all decisive against the truth of the later traditions. For the saint’s alleged connection with Aquileia, see “Acta SS.”, XI, pp. 346-7, and for the removal of his body from Alexandria to Venice and his cultus there, ibid., pp. 352-8. In Christian literature and art Saint Mark is symbolically represented by a lion. The Latin and Greek Churches celebrate his feast on 25 April, but the Greek Church keeps also the feast of John Mark on 27 September.

MLA Citation

  • J MacRory. “Saint Mark”. Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 1914. Saints.SQPN.com. 25 April 2012. Web. 19 April 2014. <http://saints.sqpn.com/catholic-encyclopedia-saint-mark/>