Feast Day of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist

Welcome to Rome Across Europe! This December we have gotten into the trend of sharing stories of events, people, holidays, etc taking place on a specific day.

A few articles we’ve done thusly have been about the following: Berengar I of Italy – Crowning a Holy Roman Emperor (12/5); Imperium Charlemagne (12/9); Battle of Tricamarum – This Day in AD 533 (12/15); and The Death of Vitellius (12/22).

Today we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist!Simone_Cantarini_-_São_João_Batista_em_Meditação

The calendar of saints is a traditional Christian method of organizing a liturgical year by associating each day with one or more Saints and referring to the day as the feast day or feast of said saint. The word “feast” in this context does not mean “a large meal, typically a celebratory one”, but instead “an annual religious celebration, a day dedicated to a particular saint”.

The system arose from the early Christian custom of commemorating each martyr annually on the date of his or her death, or birth into heaven, a date therefore referred to in Latin as the martyr’s Dies Natalis (Day of Birth).

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, a calendar of saints is called a MenologiumMenologium may also mean a set of icons on which saints are depicted in the order of the dates of their feasts, often made in 2 panels.

Hans_Memling_039The Feast Day of Saint John in the Roman Catholic Church, which calls him “Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist”, is on 27 December. In the Tridentine Calendar he was commemorated also on each of the following days up to and including 3 January, the Octave of the 27 December feast.

This Octave was abolished by Pope Pius XII in 1955. The traditional liturgical color is white.

Until 1960, another feast day which appeared in the General Roman Calendar is that of “Saint John Before the Latin Gate” on May 6, celebrating a tradition recounted by Jerome that St John was brought to Rome during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, and was thrown in a vat of boiling oil, from which he was miraculously preserved unharmed. A church (San Giovanni a Porta Latina) dedicated to him was built near the Latin gate of Rome, the traditional site of this event.

The Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite commemorate the “Repose of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian” on September 26. Other Christians highly revere him but do not canonize or venerate saints.

John the Apostle (HebrewYohanan Ben Zavdai; Latin and Koine GreekIoannes) was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. He was the son of Zebedee and the younger brother of James, son of Zebedee (Saint James the Greater another of the Twelve Apostles). According to Church tradition, their mother was Salome.

Christian tradition holds that John outlived the remaining Apostles and that he was the only one not to die a martyr’s death. John lived more than half a century after the martyrdom of James, who was the original Apostle to die a martyr’s death.

John_EvangelistThe Church Fathers consider him the same person as John the EvangelistJohn of Patmos and the Beloved Disciple. Zebedee and his sons fished in the Sea of Galilee. The brothers were originally disciples of John the Baptist.

Jesus then called Saint PeterSaint Andrew and these sons of Zebedee to follow him. Jesus referred to the pair as Boanerges (Sons of Thunder).

Although their nature was calm and gentle, when their patience was pushed to its limits their anger became wild and thunderous causing them to speak out like an untamed storm. A gospel story relates how the brothers wanted to call down heavenly fire on a Samaritan town, but Jesus rebuked them [Luke 9:51-6].

The tradition of many Christian denominations holds that he is the author of several books of the New Testament. Church tradition holds that John is the author of the Gospel of John and 4 other books of the New Testament – the 3 Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation.Valentin_de_boulogne,_John_and_Jesus

In the Gospel, authorship is internally credited to the “disciple whom Jesus loved” [John 20:2]. John 21:24 claims that the Gospel of John is based on the written testimony of the “Beloved Disciple”.

The authorship of some Johannine literature has been debated since about the year 200. Some doubt that the “Gospel of John” was written by an individual named “John”. Nevertheless, the notion of “John the Evangelist” exists, and is usually thought of as the same as the Apostle John.

In his Ecclesiastical HistoryEusebius says that the First Epistle of John and the Gospel of John are widely agreed upon as his. However, Eusebius mentions that the consensus is that the Second and Third Epistles of John are not his but were written by some other John.

The Gospel according to John differs considerably from the Synoptic Gospels, likely written decades earlier than John’s gospel. The Bishops of Asia Minor supposedly requested him to write his gospel to deal with the heresy of the Ebionites, who asserted that Christ did not exist before Mary.

John probably knew and undoubtedly approved of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, but these gospels spoke of Jesus primarily in the year following the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist.

Around AD 600, however, Sophronius of Jerusalem noted that “two epistles bearing his name … are considered by some to be the work of a certain John the Elder” and, while stating that Revelation was written by John of Patmos, it was “later translated by Justin Martyr and Irenaeus”, presumably in an attempt to reconcile tradition with the obvious differences in Greek style.

Today, many theological scholars continue to accept the traditional authorship. Scholars state that since John the Evangelist has been named consistently in the writings of early church fathers, “it is hard to pass by this conclusion, despite widespread reluctance to accept it by many, but by no means all, modern scholars.”Pietro_Perugino_St John at the Crucifixion

John is considered to have been exiled to Patmos, during the persecutions under Emperor Domitian. Revelation 1:9 says that the author wrote the book on Patmos: “I, John, both your brother and companion in tribulation… was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

Adela Yarbro Collins, a biblical scholar at Yale Divinity School, writes:

Early tradition says that John was banished to Patmos by the Roman authorities. This tradition is credible because banishment was a common punishment used during the Imperial period for a number of offenses. Among such offenses were the practices of magic and astrology. Prophecy was viewed by the Romans as belonging to the same category, whether Pagan, Jewish, or Christian. Prophecy with political implications, like that expressed by John in the book of Revelation, would have been perceived as a threat to Roman political power and order. Three of the islands in the Sporades were places where political offenders were banished.

There is no information in the Bible concerning the duration of John’s activity in Judea. According to tradition, John and the other Apostles remained some 12 years in this first field of labor. The persecution of Christians under Herod Agrippa I led to the scattering of the Apostles through the Provinciae of the Imperium Rōmānum [Ac 12:1-17].

According to Tertullian (in The Prescription of Heretics) John was banished after being plunged into boiling oil in Rome and suffering nothing from it. It is said that all in the audience of the Colosseum were converted to Christianity upon witnessing this miracle. This event would have occurred in the late 1st Century, during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, who was known for his persecution of Christians.Martyrdom_of_Saint_John_the_Evangelist_by_Master_of_the_Winkler_Epitaph

When John was aged, he trained Polycarp who later became Bishop of Smyrna. This was important because Polycarp was able to carry John’s message to future generations.

Polycarp taught Irenaeus, passing on to him stories about John. In Against Heresies, Irenaeus relates how Polycarp told a story of John, the Disciple of the Lord, going to bath at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the thermae without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.”

In art, John as the presumed author of the Gospel is often depicted with an eagle, which symbolizes the height he rose to in his gospel. In Orthodox icons, he is often depicted looking up into heaven and dictating his Gospel (or the Book of Revelation) to his disciple, traditionally named Prochorus.

We hope you enjoyed learning about St John the Apostle and Evangelist, and maybe even participated in his feast. Stop by tomorrow to see what we have in store for you.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Culpepper, R. Alan. John, the Son of Zebedee: The Life of A Legend. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000. ISBN 9780567087423.

Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: a historical introduction to early Christian writings. Oxford University Press.

Halton, Thomas Patrick. On illustrious men, Volume 100 of The Fathers of the Church. CUA Press, 1999.

Harris, Stephen L. Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1985.

Francis J. Moloney, SDB. Reading John. Dove Press, 1995.

Kruse, Colin G. The Gospel According to John: An Introduction and Commentary. Eerdmans, 2004. ISBN 0-8028-2771-3.

Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem. The Life of the Evangelist John, The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to JohnHouse Springs, Missouri, USA. Chrysostom Press. ISBN 1-889814-09-1.

Rasimus, Tuomas. The Legacy of John: Second-Century Reception of the Fourth Gospel. BRILL, 2010. ISBN 9789004176331.

Feast – definition of feast in English from the Oxford dictionary. oxforddictionaries.com.

Relics and Reliquaries – Treasures of Heaven. Columbia.edu.

Calendarium Romanum. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969.

Saint John the Apostle. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Eusebius of Caesarea. Ecclesiastical History Book.

Foley OFM, Leonard. Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast (revised by Pat McCloskey, OFM). American Catholic.org

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