July 8 – Priscilla/Prisca and Aquila

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Priscilla/Prisca and Aquila, faithful servants

Priscilla (used by Luke in Acts) is a diminutive of Prisca (used by Paul), derived from priscus, Latin for “old or venerable”, a family or clan name. Aquila, more common, is Latin for “eagle”.

There are tantalisingly few references in the New Testament to Prisc(ill)a and Aquila. Paul knew both personally and refers to them twice. Writing to Corinth from Ephesus in the mid 50s CE, Paul includes them among the greetings: “The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord” (1 Cor 16:19). From this we glean that they are a couple, almost certainly married, who have a house in Ephesus of sufficient proportions to be able to host a congregation. A few years later in Corinth Paul writes to the Romans: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Rom 16:3). The couple had moved to Rome in the interim and presumably hosted a house church there, too. They had been his co-workers putting their lives at risk for him in some unspecified danger. Here he reverses the order of names from the usual pattern of naming the husband first, a reversal also present in the brief greeting found in a later letter written in Paul’s name (2 Tim 4:19).

For writing Acts, possibly in the 80s CE, Luke appears to have had access to further information. He refers to Aquila in Corinth as “a Jew … a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla”, a tentmaker- or leatherworker like Paul, and who offered Paul hospitality and worked with him also in advocating the faith to local Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:2-4). Aquila had at some stage moved with Priscilla from Pontus in northern Turkey to Rome. Along with many other Jews they had been expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius, in 42 CE or 49 CE. One source, Suetonius, gives the reason as disturbances related to a “Chrestus”, a common misspelling of “Christus”. Aquila and Prisc(ill)a may well have been converted in Rome. After 18 months Paul left Corinth for Ephesus and they went with him (Acts 18:18). They gave Apollos instruction with additional information, who thereafter left for Corinth (Acts 18:26; 1 Cor 1:12). Here in Acts 18:18 and 26 Luke also reverses the names, listing Prisc(ill)a first, possibly reflecting her higher social status. Was she also more active (or effective)? Was Aquila ageing? We can never know. Clearly both achieved recognition. Hosting house churches inevitably gave key roles to women, who traditionally looked after what occurred at home, but in addition Prisc(ill)a was engaged in mission and teaching, a role later not open to women.

Later tradition identifies Aquila as one of the first bishops of Asia Minor and reports the martyrdom of both Aquila and Priscilla.

William Loader