January 22 – Timothy the Apostle; William Joseph Chaminade

Manuscript illumination of the martyrdom of Timothy, 11th centuryTimothy the Apostle (ca. 17–97) was a disciple of St. Paul (of Bible fame) and sometime bishop of Ephesus. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that he was widely known to have a Greek father, so when Paul deputized him for preaching to the Jewish diaspora, he had him, erm, adjusted, to avoid offense. Exactly how his audiences were meant to know this in order to take offense at all (announcement in the papers? handbills?), it is perhaps best we don’t ask. Timothy then began a whirlwind tour of the northeastern Mediterranean, both with and without Paul. We are not told which he preferred. We are told a lot about Paul’s personality. Let the reader draw conclusions as seems reasonable.

The New Testament contains two letters of Paul to Timothy. One consists primarily of advice on how to run a church; the other is a somewhat more personal letter ending with a request to fetch some stuff Paul had left in a locker in the Greyhound terminal in Troas[1]. In First Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to drink some wine to ease his stomach, yet he also says that bishops ought not to be “given to wine.” This tells us two things: (a) Timothy may have had the tendency to apply Paul’s personal advice a little too zealously, and (b) he had frequent indigestion. Ultimately he was stoned to death by pagans after he tried to stop a procession of devotees of Diana (the Greek goddess, not the British princess).

Timothy’s relics, as you might expect, were nearly as peripatetic after his death as his living body was before. They were transferred from Ephesus to Constantinople in the fourth century, where they rested for a long while in the Church of the Holy Apostles in close proximity to the relics of Andrew (Nov 30) and Luke (Oct 18) (we assume everybody was happy with this arrangement). A crusader count in the thirteenth century appears to have moved them to Italy[2], and they were interred in the Termoli Cathedral “around” 1239. Then they pass out of the narrative for a while until they were rediscovered in 1945 during restoration work. Unsurprisingly, Timothy is the patron “against” stomach and intestinal disorders.

Portrait (painting) of William Joseph Chaminade, date and artist unknownBlessed William Joseph Chaminade (1761–1850) was a French priest who managed to survive the Terror with body and head in intimate proximity. The fourteenth child of deeply religious and reliably fertile parents, he followed three older brothers into the priesthood, entering seminary at the age of 10 and becoming a priest at the age of 24. They took vocational formation seriously in those days. When the Revolution came, he refused to sign an oath disclaiming the authority of the Church, and was forced to go underground. (These aren’t the priests you’re looking for.) Later, when the government decided that that liberté stuff might apply to Catholics too, he helped fifty compromised priests reconcile with the Church. (These are the priests you’re looking for.) Later still the pendulum swang back, and he fled to Zaragoza, Spain, which less than 10 years later would be besieged not once but twice by Napoleon’s armies. By that time he was long gone, though, and the townsfolk blamed their misfortune on something else.

Returning to France, he started a Catholic youth sodality (lay movement), seeking to re-un-secularize France by the example of “a people of saints.” (Imagine, trying to promote Christianity by living exemplary lives. Wait, am I editorializing?) They say a prophet is without honor in his own country, and sure enough the old guard opposed him, seeking instead to recapture the privileges the church had had before the Revolution. (Hmm. Living godly lives, or demanding rights? Sorry, there I go again.) Fortunately the higher-ups, realizing (this time) that it’s better to side with the good guys before they die rather than wait and say “oops” afterwards, affirmed William Joseph and his Marian Sodality. He went on to form two religious societies, both also dedicated to the Virgin Mary.


[1] Or (rough) equivalent.
[2] My source painstakingly avoids saying what crusade this was, and how a count from Termoli would come by the relics of an apostle in Constantinople. But judging by the dates, and assuming they have readers on both sides of the Bosphoros, their reticence is perhaps not unwise.