When I started getting into catholicism (in the broad sense – Roman, Eastern, Lutheran, Anglican, hadn’t decided yet) one of the things I found myself hoping for was that there’d be more information on the Saints. Where did the twelve apostles go, besides Paul? What did they do, and how did they die? It was a naive hope, of course, because we’ve all got the same Bible, and the Bible is still the surest witness to the history of that generation.
We all have access to the same histories, too, which indicate the further stories all of the apostles, but some of that is legendary, and it’s often hard (if not impossible) to separate fact from fancy. To some degree it doesn’t matter: if we know what kind of people the apostles were (thanks to the Bible) then we can infer the kinds of things they did, even if the details have gotten muddled over the centuries.
But we can’t teach as doctrine what history only assumes and the Bible doesn’t tell or infer… so how do we celebrate saints days like today’s? We know nothing about Bartholomew’s activity in the Bible, and assuming he’s the same man as Nathaniel we’ve only got about one instance of Jesus even speaking directly to him (toward the end of John 1).
So what we do is have a Collect of the Day that’s more generic. The wording is a little different between classic and modern prayer books but in this case the content is the same:
Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As you can see, we assert nothing specific about his life, only the generic fact that he believed and preached the Word of God, as did all the apostles, especially after the Day of Pentecost. New-to-traditional-Christianity-me was disappointed at this sort of thing; I was unconsciously feeling the gnostic pull, hoping for secret knowledge and insight that was previously denied me in the generic non-denominational setting. But it is good, in its own way, that we don’t know much about most of the apostles. For the reason that we celebrate them isn’t for their own sake. If that were so we’d need to know a lot about them… each would need his own biography in the Bible! But we celebrate the saints for the sake of Christ. We live by their light not because they shine like the sun but because they’re moons that reflect the sun’s light back toward us from another angle. (This analogy has long been used of Mary, too, to the extent were you’ll occasionally see a moon associated with her in certain strands of iconography.)
So, with St. Bartholomew, the lesson is going to be generic but fundamental: let us love the Word which the apostles taught, and let us go and preach the same.