On Jan. 26, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the liturgical memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, close companions of the Apostle Paul and bishops of the Catholic Church in its earliest days.
Both men received letters from St. Paul, which are included in the New Testament.
Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians also venerate the
saints, but do not combine their commemorations. Instead, the Byzantine
tradition remembers St. Titus on Aug. 25 and St. Timothy on Jan. 22.
Pope Benedict XVI discussed these early bishops during a general
audience on Dec. 13, 2006, noting “their readiness to take on various
offices” in “far from easy” circumstances. Both saints, the Pope said,
“teach us to serve the Gospel with generosity, realizing that this also
entails a service to the Church herself.”
The son of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, Timothy came from
Lystra in present-day Turkey. His mother, Eunice, and his grandmother,
Lois, are known to have joined the Church, and Timothy himself is
described as a student of Sacred Scripture from his youth.
After St. Paul’s visit to Timothy’s home region of Lycaonia, around the
year 51, the young man joined the apostle and accompanied him in his
travels. After religious strife forced Paul to leave the city of Berea,
Timothy remained to help the local church. Paul later sent him to
Thessalonica to help the Church during a period of persecution.
The two met up again in Corinth, and Timothy eventually journeyed to
Macedonia on Paul’s behalf. Problems in the Corinthian Church brought
Timothy back for a time, after which he joined Paul and accompanied the
apostle in subsequent travels.
Like Paul, Timothy endured a period of imprisonment in the course of
his missionary work. His release is mentioned in the New Testament
Epistle to the Hebrews.
Around the year 64, Timothy became the first bishop of the Church of
Ephesus. During that same year, he received the first of two surviving
letters from St. Paul. The second, written the next year, urges Timothy
to visit St. Paul in Rome, where he was imprisoned before his martyrdom.
Ancient sources state that St. Timothy followed his mentor in dying as a
martyr for the faith. In the year 93, during his leadership of the
Church in Ephesus, he took a stand against the worship of idols and was
consequently killed by a mob. The pagan festival he was protesting was
held Jan. 22, and this date was preserved as St. Timothy’s memorial in
the Christian East.
In contrast with Timothy’s partial Jewish descent and early Biblical
studies, St. Titus – who was born into a pagan family – is said to have
studied Greek philosophy and poetry in his early years. But he pursued a
life of virtue, and purportedly had a prophetic dream that caused him
to begin reading the Hebrew Scriptures.
According to tradition, Titus journeyed to Jerusalem and witnessed the
preaching of Christ during the Lord’s ministry on earth. Only later,
however – after the conversion of St. Paul and the beginning of his
ministry – did Titus receive baptism from the apostle, who called the
pagan convert his “true child in our common faith.”
St. Paul was not only Titus’ spiritual father, but also depended on his
convert as an assistant and interpreter. Titus accompanied Paul to the
Apostolic Council of Jerusalem during the year 51, and was later sent to
the Corinthian Church on two occasions. After the end of Paul’s first
imprisonment in Rome, the apostle ordained Titus as the Bishop of Crete.
Paul sent his only surviving letter to Titus around the year 64, giving
instructions in pastoral ministry to his disciple as he prepared to
meet up with him in the Greek city of Nicopolis. Titus evangelized the
region of Dalmatia in modern Croatia before returning to Crete.
Titus is credited with leading the Church of Crete well into his 90s,
overturning paganism and promoting the faith through his prayers and
preaching. Unlike St. Timothy, St. Titus was not martyred, but died
peacefully in old age.