Aristobulus of Britannia

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Saint Aristobulus of Britannia
St. Aristobulus of Britain.jpg
Icon of Saint Aristibule the Old, Apostle, Martyr, and First Bishop of Britain
First Bishop of Britain
Born Cyprus
Died1st century
Venerated in Christianity
Feast 15 March (Roman Catholic)
16 March (Eastern Orthodox)
19 Paremhat (Coptic Christianity) [1]

Aristobulus of Britannia is a Christian saint named by Hippolytus of Rome (170-235) and Dorotheus of Gaza (505-565) as one of the Seventy Disciples mentioned in Luke 10:1–24 and as the first bishop in Roman Britain. [2]

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers.

Saint one who has been recognized for having an exceptional degree of holiness, sanctity, and virtue

A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God. However, the use of the term "saint" depends on the context and denomination. In Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Oriental Orthodox, and Lutheran doctrine, all of their faithful deceased in Heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered worthy of greater honor or emulation; official ecclesiastical recognition, and consequently veneration, is given to some saints through the process of canonization in the Catholic Church or glorification in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Hippolytus of Rome 3rd-century theologian in the Christian Church

Hippolytus was one of the most important second-third century Christian theologians, whose provenance, identity and corpus remain elusive to scholars and historians. Suggested communities include Palestine, Egypt, Anatolia, Rome and regions of the mideast. The best historians of literature in the ancient church, including Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome, openly confess they cannot name where Hippolytus the biblical commentator and theologian served in leadership. They had read his works but did not possess evidence of his community. Photios I of Constantinople describes him in his Bibliotheca as a disciple of Irenaeus, who was said to be a disciple of Polycarp, and from the context of this passage it is supposed that he suggested that Hippolytus so styled himself. This assertion is doubtful. One older theory asserts he came into conflict with the popes of his time and seems to have headed a schismatic group as a rival to the Bishop of Rome, thus becoming an Antipope. In this view, he opposed the Roman Popes who softened the penitential system to accommodate the large number of new pagan converts. However, he was reconciled to the Church before he died as a martyr.


Full title in various languages

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Transliteration is a type of conversion of a text from one script to another that involves swapping letters in predictable ways.

Transcription in the linguistic sense is the systematic representation of language in written form. The source can either be utterances or preexisting text in another writing system.


Pseudo-Hippolytus lists "Aristobulus, bishop of Britain" among the seventy disciples. [2]

Aristobulus may be mentioned in the New Testament in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 16:10: "...Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household") although this may mean members of the household of the late Aristobulus IV. [4] According to Lionel Smithett Lewis, the writings of St Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre AD 303, assert that he is the one saluted by Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. [5] :118–121

New Testament Second division of the Christian biblical canon

The New Testament is the second part of the Christian biblical canon, the first part being the Old Testament. The New Testament discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. Christians regard both the Old and New Testaments together as sacred scripture. The New Testament has frequently accompanied the spread of Christianity around the world. It reflects and serves as a source for Christian theology and morality. Extended readings and phrases directly from the New Testament are incorporated into the various Christian liturgies. The New Testament has influenced religious, philosophical, and political movements in Christendom and left an indelible mark on literature, art, and music.

Epistle to the Romans book of the Bible

The Epistle to the Romans or Letter to the Romans, often shortened to Romans, is the sixth book in the New Testament. Biblical scholars agree that it was composed by the Apostle Paul to explain that salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the longest of the Pauline epistles.

Aristobulus IV was a prince of Judea from the Herodian dynasty, and was married to his cousin, Berenice, daughter of Costobarus and Salome I. He was the son of Herod the Great and his second wife, Mariamne I, the last of the Hasmoneans, and was thus a descendant of the Hasmonean Dynasty.

Orthodox tradition

Orthodox tradition says Aristobulus was the brother of the Apostle Barnabas, of Jewish Cypriot origin. Like Barnabas, he accompanied Saint Paul on his journeys. [6] He was one of the assistants of Saint Andrew, [7] along with Urban of Macedonia, Stachys, Ampliatus, Apelles of Heraklion and Narcissus of Athens. On his missionary journey to Britain, he stopped to preach to the Celtiberians of northern Hispania. [7] Catholic tradition identifies Aristobulus with Zebedee, father of James and John. [8]

Barnabas one of the earliest Christian disciples

Barnabas, born Joseph, was according to tradition an early Christian, one of the prominent Christian disciples in Jerusalem. According to Acts 4:36, Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew. Named an apostle in Acts 14:14, he and Paul the Apostle undertook missionary journeys together and defended Gentile converts against the Judaizers. They traveled together making more converts, and participated in the Council of Jerusalem. Barnabas and Paul successfully evangelized among the "God-fearing" Gentiles who attended synagogues in various Hellenized cities of Anatolia.

Cyprus Island country in Mediterranean

Cyprus, officially the Republic of Cyprus, is an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean and the third largest and third most populous island in the Mediterranean, located south of Turkey, west of Syria and Lebanon, northwest of Israel, north of Egypt, and southeast of Greece.

Urban of Macedonia one of the Seventy disciples according to Pseudo-Hippolytus

Urban of Macedonia is numbered among the Seventy Apostles. Along with the Apostles Ampliatus, Stachys, Narcissus of Athens, Apelles of Heraklion and Aristobulus of Britannia he assisted Saint Andrew. St. Andrew ordained Urban bishop in Macedonia. He died a martyr, and his feast day is October 31.

Aristobulus preached and died in Roman Britain. [6] While some orthodox traditions say he "died in peace", [9] others say he was martyred in Wales. [7] Catholic tradition says he was martyred. [8] The Benedictine monk Serenus de Cressy (1605–1674) maintained that Aristobulus was ordained by St. Paul and died at Glastonbury Abbey in 99; but Michael Alford (author of Fides Regia Britannica Sive Annales Ecclesiae Britannicae) says that Aristobulus was the husband of "Mary" Salome, which makes this date appear too late. [5] Alford gives his death as "the second year of Nero" – 56. [10] Alford also asserts that "It is perfectly certain that, before St Paul had come to Rome, Aristobulus was away in Britain". [11] [12] This is in accord with the date given by Gildas (c. 500–570 AD) that the "Light of Christ" shone in Britain in the last year of Emperor Tiberius. [13] However, George Smith points out that this a misinterpretation of Gildas, and asserts that the Gospel was not preached in Britain before the reign of Claudius. [14]

Roman Britain part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire

Roman Britain was the area of the island of Great Britain that was governed by the Roman Empire, from 43 to 410 AD. It comprised almost the whole of England and Wales and, for a short period, southern Scotland.

Dom Serenus Cressy, O.S.B.,, was an English convert and Benedictine monk, who became a noted scholar in Church history.

Michael Alford was an English Jesuit missionary and ecclesiastical historian. He left two major works, Britannia Illustrata, Annales Ecclesiastici et Civiles Britannorum also known as Annales Ecclesiae Britannicae.

British tradition

From these traditions, it seems that Aristobulus was the founder of British Christianity. There is no evidence for any connection with Glastonbury and John Scott shows in An Early History of Glastonbury that the legend purporting that Joseph of Arimathea founded the Abbey there is of 12th or 13th-century origin and has no basis in fact. Rather, the early writings frequently centre on Aristobulus. [5] There is no mention of Joseph prior to the Conquest. For this and other reasons, Smith also considers the account of Joseph of Arimathea a "superstitious fable of comparatively modern invention". [15]

John Williams identifies Aristobulus with Arwystli Hen, a "man of Italy", and one of four missionaries believed to have brought Christianity to the British Isles. [16] There is a tradition linking him to one of the medieval Welsh saints Arwstyl ap Cunedda. [17] The title "Arwystli Hen" [5] :119 may have originated through a later British tradition.

Herodian parallels

Aristobulus of Chalcis was the son of Herod of Chalcis and Mariamme, the daughter of Olympias. [18] He married Salome, the daughter of Herod II and Herodias. [19] They had three sons: Herod, Agrippa, and Aristobulus. [20] Lionel Smithett Lewis maintains that this latter Aristobulus could have been the Aristobulus of Britannia, [21] and referred to by Cressy. However, it is this man's father who was the husband of Salome, as mentioned by Alford (see previous section).

In 55, Nero appointed Aristobulus of Chalcis as King of Armenia Minor. He participated with his forces in the Roman–Parthian War of 58–63, where he received a small portion of Armenia in exchange, [22] an area he continued to rule until 72 when Vespasian reduced the regional autonomy of some of the provinces. [23]

It is probable that the "Philip" (mentioned above) are those mentioned in the New Testament are Philip the Tetrarch. The matter is disputed by scholars. There is no contemporary evidence for Philip the Tetrarch's use of the name "Herod Philip" as a dynastic title, as did occur with his brothers Herod Antipas and Herod Archelaus, yet he was of the same family and the scriptural reference may be emphasising this fact, as do later scriptural commentators. Today, Herod II is sometimes called "Herod Philip I" (because the gospels call the husband of Herodias "Philip"), and then Philip the Tetrarch is called "Herod Philip II", but this is an anachronistic convention. [24] [25] Kokkinos says, "The stubborn existence of many theologians in referring to Herod III as 'Herod Philip' is without any value...No illusory Herod Philip ever existed." [25] [p 223-233]; [266] Philip the Tetrarch, "unlike his brothers, did not use Herod as a dynastic name." [26] Philip's half-brothers, Archelaus and Antipas, had adopted the name of Herod, "presumably" for a dynastic claim from Herod the Great. [27]


In the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar, Aristobulus' personal feast day is 16 March. [6] He is also one of the saints commemorated on 4 January (feast of the Seventy Disciples) [28] and on 31 October (feast of the assistants of Saint Andrew). [9] In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, his feast is 15 March. [8]

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Herod Agrippa II 1st-century Judean ruler

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Aristobulus of Chalcis was a son of Herod of Chalcis and his first wife Mariamne. Herod of Chalcis, ruler of Chalcis in Iturea, was a grandson of Herod the Great through his father, Aristobulus IV. Mariamne was a granddaughter of Herod the Great through her mother, Olympias; hence Aristobulus was a great-grandson of Herod the Great on both sides of his family.

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Herodian Tetrarchy

The Herodian Tetrarchy was formed following the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE, when his kingdom was divided between his sons Herod Archelaus as ethnarch, Herod Antipas and Philip as tetrarchs in inheritance, while Herod's sister Salome I shortly ruled a toparchy of Jamnia. Judea, the major section of the tetrarchy, was transformed by Rome in 6 CE, abolishing the rule of Herod Archelaus, thus forming the Province of Judea by joining together Judea proper, Samaria and Idumea. With the death of Salome I in 10 CE, her domain was also incorporated into the new Judea province. However, other parts of the Herodian Tetrarchy continued to function under Herodians. Thus, Philip the Tetrarch ruled Batanea, with Trachonitis, as well as Auranitis until 34 CE, while Herod Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea until 39 CE. The last notable Herodian ruler with some level of independence was Agrippa I, who was even granted lands of the Judea province, though with his death in 44 CE, the provincial status of Judea was restored for good.

Philip the Tetrarch

Philip the Tetrarch, sometimes called Herod Philip II by modern writers was the son of Herod the Great and his fifth wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem. Philip II was born in c.26 BCE. He was a half-brother of Herod Antipas and Herod Archelaus; and should not be confused with Herod II, whom some writers call Herod Philip I.

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Narcissus of Athens is numbered among the Seventy Disciples. Along with the Apostles Urban of Macedonia, Stachys, Ampliatus, Apelles of Heraklion and Aristobulus of Britannia he assisted Saint Andrew. The Apostle Philip ordained St. Narcissus bishop of Athens. His feast day is October 31.

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Kingdom of Chalcis

Chalcis was a small ancient Iturean majority kingdom situated in the Beqaa Valley, named for and originally based from the city of the same name. The ancient city of Chalcis (a.k.a. Chalcis sub Libanum, Chalcis of Coele-Syria was located midway between Berytus and Damascus. The modern town of Anjar in Lebanon is believed to be the site of ancient Chalcis sub Libanum, although this has not been definitively demonstrated. The ruins of a Roman temple are located a few kilometers south-west of Anjar near Majdal Anjar. Other sources indicate that Chalcis sub Libanum is located at "Husn esh-Shadur" near Baalbek.


  2. 1 2 Pseudo-Hippolytus. "Church Fathers: On the Apostles and Disciples". New Advent. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  3. "Μνήμη τοῦ ἁγίου ἀποστόλου ᾿Αριστοβούλου, ἐπισκόπου Βρεττανίας, ἀδελφοῦ τοῦ ᾿Αποστόλου Βαρνάβα" ["Commemoration of the Sainted Apostle Aristobulus, Bishopf of Britain, Brother of the Apostle Barnabas]. Apostoliki Diakonia: Eorlogio (in Greek). Apostoliki Diakonia (Apostolic Auxiliary) of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  4. Carrington, Philip (11 August 2011). The Early Christian Church: Volume 1, The First Christian Church. Cambridge University Press. p. 149. ISBN   9780521166416 . Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Smithett Lewis, Lionel (1955). St Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury. London: James Clarke & Co.
  6. 1 2 3 "Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy the Bishop of Britain". Calendar of Saints. Orthodox Church in America . Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  7. 1 2 3 "Saint Aristobulus, Apostle of Britain", Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries
  8. 1 2 3 "St. Aristobulus". Saints & Angels. Catholic Online. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  9. 1 2 "Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy". Calendar of Saints. Orthodox Church in America . Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  10. Lewis p.120.
  11. Lewis pp.14–15.
  12. "Regia Fides" vol.1, p.19.
  13. Lewis p.19.
  14. Smith, George. The History of the Religion of Ancient Britain, 3rd ed., (revised and edited by W.B.Smith), p.114, Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green, London, 1865
  15. Smith, p.119.
  16. Williams, John. The Ecclesiastical Antiquities of the Cymry, 1844
  17. Baring-Gould, S.; Fisher, John (30 June 2005). The Lives of the British Saints: The Saints of Wales, Cornwall and Irish Saints. Kessinger Publishing. p. 175. ISBN   9780766186798 . Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  18. Flavius, Josephus (1965). Antiquities of the Jews (Loeb Classical Library ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  19. Antiquities xvii: 137 ; xx: 13, 104
  20. Antiquities xviii: 137
  21. Lewis p.121
  22. Tacitus, Annals, XIII.7; XIV.26
  23. PD-icon.svg   Elder, Edward (1870). "Aristobu'lus". In Smith, William (ed.). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology . 1. p. 301.
  24. Note: It is an example of the great difficulty in establishing the relationships of various holders of the same name in the same area or family - especially in the Herodian dynasty.
  25. 1 2 Kokkinos, Nikkos 'The Herodian Dynasty: Origins, Role in Society and Eclipse', Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series, 1998, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 236–240
  26. Bowman, Alan K., Champlin Edward, and Lintott, Andrew (edd) (2001), Cambridge Ancient History, Vol.10, The Augustan Empire, 43 B.C.-A.D. 69, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press; Refers to him throughout as Philip, or Philip the Tetrarch.
  27. Cambridge Ancient History, (latest reprint 1965), Gen. eds.: J.B. Bury, S.A. Cook, F.E. Adcock, M.P. Charlesworth, N.H. Baynes, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: Vol.10, The Augustan empire, 44 B.C.-A.D. 70
  28. "Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy". Calendar of Saints. Orthodox Church in America . Retrieved 15 July 2012.