Who is Saint Silas?>
The following life of S. Silas was written by the Revd. Frank Lacy Hillier, Vicar at S. Silas Church from 1930 to 1963. It was printed in a small booklet and sold for 6d.
Who is Saint Silas?
His name occurs twelve times in the Acts of the Apostles; and, in its Latin form Silvanus, once in St. Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1. 19), once in each of his two Epistles to the Thessalonians (I. 1. 1, II. 1. 1), and once in St. Peter's First Epistle (5. 12).
The Apostolic Council. Acts 15. 1-29.
About twenty years after our Lord's Ascension, Paul and Barnabas, at the end of their first missionary journey, appeal to "the apostles and elders" at Jerusalem for a decision about the pressing question of Gentile converts to Christianity-is it necessary that they should submit to circumcision as well as baptism in order to become members of the Church, and that they should obey the Jewish Law in all its other details? Paul and Barnabas strongly urge the Gentile claim to freedom, and are supported by Peter and by James, "the Lord's brother," the "apostle" of the local church of Jerusalem.
Judas Barnabas and Silas, described as "chief men among the brethren," are chosen to go with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch (where the question was causing great dissension) as bearers of a letter announcing the decision of the council in favour of the Gentiles. They set out northwards to Antioch in Syria. This first appearance of Silas coincides with the last mention of Peter in Acts. Later we shall find them together again in Rome.
Joy among the Gentiles. Acts 15. 30.-16. 8.
After the reading of the letter Judas and Silas, "being prophets also themselves," explain the decrees of the council, amid great con solation. Judas returns to Jerusalem, but Silas prefers to stay in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. Soon Paul's thoughts turn anxiously towards the converts of his recent journey, and he plans with Barnabas to re-visit them. Barnabas wants to take with them again his young relative John Mark, but Paul objects because Mark had suddenly left them during the first journey (Acts 13. 13). The disagreement is so sharp that they part company. Barnabas takes Mark and sails to Cyprus, their home, and is heard of no more in Acts. Paul chooses Silas in place of Barnabas, and, "being recommended to the grace of God," they set off on the second missionary journey.
They pass through Syria and Ciicia (a single Roman province), confirming the churches already founded. Thence they go up through the grim passes of the mighty Taurus Mountains-four or five days' hard travel, then down to the cities of the plain of Lycaonia in the province of Galatia-Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, re-visiting the churches and delivering the decrees of the council. Here the young Timothy is chosen to join them, taking the place of John Mark. Now the time has come to break new ground. Being "forbidden of the Holy Ghost" to preach in the provinces of Asia and Bithynia, they go on, waiting for divine guidance, until they reach the coast of Mysia at the port of Troas. They have travelled some nine hundred miles on foot since leaving Antioch.
A man of Macedonia. Acts 16. 9-11.
Here at last God's will is made known to them. At night in a vision a man of Macedonia appears to Paul, beseeching him-"Come over into Macedonia, and help us."
St. Luke, the author of Acts, now for the first time uses the words "we" and "us" in describing events; this is generally taken to mean that he joined Paul, Silas and Timothy here in Troas. They waste no time, but take ship and go by the island of Samothracia to the port of Neapolis, making the passage of 125 miles in two days. At Neapolis they are now in Europe, treading the Egnatian Way on the main route towards Rome.
Four heralds of Christ - St. Paul, St. Silas, St. Timothy and St. Luke - enter for the first time upon the scene of his greatest future victories.
Stripes and Imprisonment. Acts 16. 12-40.
Here, in "the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony," the missionaries preach to a body of women by a river-side, as there is no synagogue. Among the Macedonians, a tough and hardy race, women enjoyed unusual independence. One of the number, Lydia, "a seller of purple," is baptized with her household, and Paul and his companions make their headquarters in her home.
Trouble begins when an evil spirit, speaking through a girl medium who repeatedly hails the missionaries as "the servants of the most high God," is exorcised by Paul. Her employers, seeing the hope of their gains gone, drag Paul and Silas to the market-place and accuse them before the magistrates of teaching customs unlawful for Romans to observe. The opposition is on personal and civic grounds, not directly religious ones. With the arrest St. Luke drops the "we" and speaks only of "Paul and Silas," seeming to show that neither he nor Timothy is involved.
Paul and Silas, without trial, are stripped and beaten with many stripes, and thrown into the inner prison, their feet being made fast in the stocks. At midnight the other prisoners hear them praying and singing praises to God in the midst of their affliction. Suddenly there is a great earthquake, shaking the prison to its foundations and wrenching the doors out of their sockets. The prison-governor, waking up in his house and rushing out, sees the prison doors open and draws his sword to kill himself, thinking that the prisoners have escaped in the darkness and confusion, and that he will be put to death for negligence. Paul restrains him, assuring him that all the prisoners are there. The governor falls trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas, asking, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They tell him to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." He takes them to his house, washes their stripes and gives them food, while they speak "the word of the Lord" to him and his household, and baptize them.
In the morning the magistrates send word to the governor by the sergeants (lictors) to release Paul and Silas. But Paul refuses to be dismissed in this way, saying that the magistrates, having broken the law by beating Roman citizens uncondemned, should come themselves and make some amends by formally conducting them out. The magistrates are alarmed when they hear that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens; they come and implore them to go away quietly. Paul and Silas return to Lydia's house, and, after comforting the brethren, set out again on their travels.
They leave at Philippi two church-households, Lydia's and the prison-governor's, to be the nucleus of that church for which later Paul in his epistle to them gives thanks for their fellowship in the gospel from this first day "until now" (about ten years later). From them, and from them alone, he could bring himself to accept money for his own needs (Philippians 1. 4. 5, 4. 15-18).
Labour and Travail. Acts 17. 1-10.
They pass westwards along the Egnatian Way through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica (the modern Saloniki), the capital of the province of Macedonia. The Epistles written later to the Thessalonians suggest a longer stay than the three weeks mentioned in v.2, and St. Paul says that he and Silas and Timothy worked for their own living while they were there (I Thessalonians 2. 9). It was the Jewish custom to teach all boys some manual trade, and Paul's was tent-making (Acts 18. 3). At Thessalonica there is a synagogue, where Paul preaches that Jesus is Christ. Some converts are made, not only among the Jews, but also "of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few." But unbelieving Jews stir up a rabble and attack the house of Jason, expecting to find Paul and Silas who are, however, in hiding. The Jews drag Jason and others before "the rulers of the city" (politarchs), crying, "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus." This Jewish opposition takes its stand outwardly on civic grounds, and recalls the words of our Lord's accusers before Pilate-"We have no king but Caesar." The rulers of the city are not so hasty as the magistrates at Philippi; they take security of Jason and the others, and let them go. Paul and Silas are smuggled out by night and sent to Berea, about forty miles to the south. west.
Note on "politarchs." "This title has not been met with in classical literature, and so it was once quoted as a proof of St. Luke~s inaccuracy, not to say powers of invention. In fact it proves to be exactly the reverse. The scholars who made that criticism were unaware that, at the very time they were writing, there was standing at Saloniki a Roman triumphal arch, erected probably in the first century after Christ, on which the word 'politarch' was engraved in large letters. Unfortunately the arch was destroyed in 1867, but the block containing the word was rescued and is now to be seen in the British Museum." R. B. Rackham on The Acts of the Apostles.
Jews more Noble. Acts 17. 11-14.
At Berea (the modern Verria) there is a synagogue, and here the Jews are "more noble" than those at Thessalonica, listening readily to the Gospel, and searching the scriptures daily. Many of them are converted; "also of honour-able women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few." But Jews from Thessalonica come along and stir up strife, and Paul is sent away in haste with an escort "to go as it were to the sea." Silas and Timothy remain; this is the first mention of Timothy by name since he joined the others. Those who conducted Paul take him to Athens; they return with an urgent message for Silas and Timothy to join him there. It is while he waits impatiently for them at Athens that his spirit is stirred in him as he sees the great city "wholly given to idolatry." But soon after they arrive he sends them back to Macedonia, because of his anxiety for the converts there. Timothy goes to Thessalonica (I Thessalonians 3. 1-3), but nothing is said about Silas. The "we" of I Thessalonians 3. 1, may refer to both Paul and Silas as thinking it good to be left at Athens alone; but if Silas came he left again, for later both he and Timothy arrive at Corinth "from Macedonia."
Two Epistles. Acts 18. 1-11.
Paul leaves Athens and goes to Corinth. Silas and Timothy return from Macedonia, the latter with good news of the stedfastness of the converts in Thessalonica (I Thessalonians 3. 6). This is the last mention of Silas in Acts. Paul stays here for eighteen months, working at his trade. During this time "Paul and Silvanus and Timothy" address the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. Paul, writing back to the Corinthians after he had left, reminds them of the teaching given to them by himself and Silvanus and Timothy (II Corinthians 1. 19).
The Faithful Brother.
The First Epistle General of Peter is written from Rome ("Babylon"), and is sent "by Silvanus, a faithful brother." Dr. Selwyn, Dean of Winchester, in his commentary on I Peter, says that there is no reason for disputing the identity of this Silvanus with the one who is named in the two Epistles to the Thessalonians, nor the identity of Silvanus with the Silas of Acts. The "bearer" of an epistle was much more than a post-man. and Peter's phrase "I have written briefly" suggests that Silas is to explain the letter, as Judas and Silas were directly commissioned to explain the letter from
Peter and the other Apostles at Jerusalem about fourteen years before.
Silas leaves Rome and travels eastwards again, carrying the letter to the churches to whom it is addressed in "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia." In these last two provinces Paul and Silas had previously been forbidden to preach by the Holy Ghost.
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"In Macedonia (the death) of blessed Silas, who, being one of the first brethren and sent by the Apostles to the churches of the Gentiles with Paul and Barnabas, was full of the grace of God, and readily fulfilled the office of preaching; and, glorifying Christ in his sufferings, was afterwards at rest." From the Roman Martyrology for July the thirteenth, the date on which the feast of Saint Silas is generally observed.
Fr. Hillier concluded with some further notes.
According to Crockford's Clerical Directory there are churches dedicated to St. Silas in the following places: - Birmingham, Blackburn, Bristol (destroyed by air-raids in 1941). Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, London (Pentonville, Nunhead and Kentish Town), Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield, Glasgow, Belfast (destroyed by air-raids in 1941); Australia - Melbourne, North Geelong, Breadalbane, Crystal Springs, Waterloo; New Zealand - Papanui; South Africa - Maritzburg; West Indies - Barbados, Windward Islands (St. Silvan, Stubbs).
Most of the overseas churches are small mission buildings, and unconsecrated. St. Silas', Albert Park, Melbourne, is a fine building, but unfinished and not yet consecrated. The earliest date of consecration is 1841 (Liverpool). It seems to have been reserved for the Church of England in the nineteenth century to dedicate churches in honour of St. Silas; but among the ruins of Philippi, as Mr. H. V. Morton tells us (In the Steps of St. Paul), there stand the piers and gateway of a basilica, and this, it is reasonable to suppose, was dedicated to St. Paul and St. Silas.
THE SON OF GOD, JESUS CHRIST, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. II Corinthians 1. 19.
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