HOMILY for the Feast of St Mark
My ‘CTS New Daily Missal’ provides a helpful summary of the tradition concerning who we celebrate today: “St Mark (died c.75), the author of the Gospel bearing his name, is often identified with the young man who ran away when the Lord was arrested. His Gospel gives the teaching and memoirs of St Peter. He joined St Paul and St Barnabas on their first missionary journey and later became St Paul’s secretary in Rome. He is thought to have established the Church in Alexandria, and to have died a martyr there”.
Except that, like the other evangelists, exactly who St Mark was is rather difficult to pin down. It’s like a detective investigation trying to track down the historical evangelist, and the traditional account of Mark’s identity is now thought to be a conflation of several different New Testament figures called Mark.
But this is not new. In fact, the evangelists’ identities have been debated since the second century, yet it seemed unimportant to some of the Church Fathers such as St Irenaeus just who the person of Mark was. Hippolytus of Rome, however, rather tantalizingly refers to him as ‘Mark the stumpy-fingered’. It is widely accepted that Mark’s gospel was written in Rome, and Hippolytus’ mention of a Mark with a specific physical attribute suggests that the author of Mark’s gospel was known and remembered by the Christians in Rome. But what mattered most was not who Mark was but what he wrote, and although he need not have been an eyewitness to Christ’s life, his source must have been, otherwise the early Christians would not have accepted his writings as an authentic witness to Christ’s life, and disseminated it so quickly. From the second century, the Church Father Papias asserted that Mark’s source was no less than St Peter, first bishop of the Roman Church, and there is little reason for us to disbelieve this important apostolic basis for St Mark’s Gospel.