21 Sep Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Today is the feast day of Saint Matthew. Ora pro nobis.
Matthew, a Jew, was a tax collector for the Romans and accused of being a traitor to his own people, went on to write his Gospel. In the list of the apostles (Matt 10:3) Matthew is called “the tax collector”. Jesus saw him sitting by the customs house in Capernaum and said to him: “Follow me”. And leaving everything, he got up and followed him (Mt 9:9). Mark (2:14) and Luke (5:27-32) call him Levi when they describe this event.
As a Roman tax collector, the people would have regarded Matthew as an exploiter and collaborator with the Romans, in that sense a traitor to his people. And so when Jesus and other disciples were at dinner at Matthew’s house, the scribes and Pharisees taunt the disciples, “Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1: 1). The Eagle and Lion have already risen in the heavens of the holy liturgy; today we salute the Man; and next month the Ox will appear, to complete the number of the four living creatures, who surround His throne in Heaven and draw the chariot of God through the world (Ezech. 1; according to the traditional interpretation, the “living creature” with the face of an eagle represents St. John, that with the face of a lion represents St. Mark, that with the face of an ox represents St. Luke, and that with the face of a man represents St. Matthew). These mysterious beings, with their six seraph wings, are ever gazing with their innumerable eyes upon the Lamb Who stands upon the throne as it were slain; and they rest not day and night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, Who was, and Who is, and Who is to come.” St. John beheld them giving to the elect the signal to praise their Creator and Redeemer; and when all created beings in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth, have adoringly proclaimed that the Lamb, Who was slain, is worthy of power and divinity and glory and empire forever, it is they that add to the world's homage the seal of their testimony, saying: “Amen!” (Apoc. 5: 14)
Great and singular, then, is the glory of the Evangelists. The name of Matthew signifies one who is given. He gave himself when, at the word of Jesus “follow Me,” he rose up and followed Him; but far greater was the gift he received from God in return. The Most High, who looks down from Heaven upon the low things of earth, loves to choose the humble for the princes of His people. Levi, occupied in a profession that was hated by the Jews and despised by the Gentiles (tax collector), belonged to the lowest rank of society; but still more humble was he in heart, when, laying aside the delicate reserve shown in his regard by the other Evangelists, he openly placed his former ignominious title beside the glorious one of Apostle. By so doing, he published the magnificent mercy of Him Who had come to heal the sick not the healthy, and to call not the just but sinners. For thus exalting the abundance of God's grace, he merited its superabundance; St. Matthew was called to be the first Evangelist. Under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, he wrote, with that inimitable simplicity which speaks straight to the heart, the Gospel of the Messias expected by Israel, and announced by the prophets; the descendant of its kings, and Himself the King of the daughter of Sion; of the Messias Who had come not to destroy the Law, but to bring it to its full completion in an everlasting, universal covenant.
In his simple-hearted gratitude, Levi made a feast for his Divine Benefactor. It was at this banquet that Jesus, defending His disciple as well as Himself, replied to those who pretended to be scandalized: “Can the children of the Bridegroom mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast” (Matt. 9: 15). Clement of Alexandria bears witness to the Apostle's subsequent austerity; assuring us that he lived on nothing but vegetables and wild fruits. The Breviary lessons will tell us moreover of his zeal for the Master Who had so sweetly touched his heart, and of his fidelity in preserving for Him souls inebriated with the “wine springing forth virgins” (Zach. 9: 17). This fidelity, indeed, cost him his life; his martyrdom was in defense and confirmation of the duties and rights of holy virginity. To the end of time the Church, in consecrating Her virgins, will make use of the beautiful blessing pronounced by him over the Ethiopian princess, which the blood of the Apostle and Evangelist has imbued with a special virtue (Pontifcale Romanum).
The Church gives us this short account of a life better known to God than to men:
St. Matthew, also named Levi, was an Apostle and Evangelist. He was sitting in the custom-house at Capharnaum when called by Christ, Whom he immediately followed; and then made a feast for Him and His disciples. After the resurrection of Christ, and before setting out for the province which it was his lot to evangelize, St. Matthew was the first to write the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He wrote it in Hebrew, for the sake of those of the circumcision, who had been converted. Soon after, he went into Ethiopia, where he preached the Gospel, and confirmed his teaching by many miracles.
One of the greatest of these was his raising to life the king's daughter, whereby he converted the king and his wife, and the whole country. After the king's death, his daughter Iphigenia was demanded in marriage by his successor Hirtacus, who, finding that through St. Matthew's exhortation she had vowed her virginity to God and now persevered in her holy resolution, ordered the Apostle to be put to death, as he was celebrating the Holy Mysteries at the altar. Thus on the eleventh of the Kalends of October (September 21), he crowned his apostolate with the glory of martyrdom. His body was translated to Salerno; and in the time of Pope St. Gregory VII it was laid in a church dedicated to his name, where it is piously honored by a great concourse of people.
O St. Matthew, how pleasing must thy humility have been to Our Lord; that humility which has raised thee so high in the Kingdom of Heaven, and which made thee, on earth, the confidant of Incarnate Wisdom. The Son of God, Who hides His secrets from the wise and prudent and reveals them to little ones, renovated thy soul by intimacy with Himself, and filled it with the new wine of His heavenly doctrine. So fully didst thou understand His love, that He chose thee to be the first historian of His life on earth. The Man-God revealed Himself through thee to the Church. She has inherited thy glorious teaching as She calls it in the Secret of the Mass; for the Synagogue refused to understand both the Divine Master and the prophets who were His heralds.
There is one teaching, indeed, which not all, even of the elect, can understand and receive; just as in Heaven not all follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, nor can all sing the new canticle reserved to those whose love here on earth has been undivided. O Evangelist of holy virginity, and Martyr for its sake! Watch over the choicest portion of Our Lord's flock. Remember also, O Levi, all those for whom, as thou tellest us, the Emmanuel received His beautiful Name of Savior. The whole redeemed world honors thee and implores thy assistance. Thou hast recorded for us the admirable Sermon on the Mount; by the path of virtue there traced out, lead us to that Kingdom of Heaven, which is the ever-recurring theme of thy inspired writing. (1)
Of Matthew's subsequent career we have only inaccurate or legendary data. St. Irenæus tells us that Matthew preached the Gospel among the Hebrews, St. Clement of Alexandria claiming that he did this for fifteen years, and Eusebius maintains that, before going into other countries, he gave them his Gospel in the mother tongue. Ancient writers are not as one as to the countries evangelized by Matthew, but almost all mention Ethiopia to the south of the Caspian Sea (not Ethiopia in Africa), and some Persia and the kingdom of the Parthians, Macedonia, and Syria. According to Heracleon, who is quoted by Clement of Alexandria, Matthew did not die a martyr, but this opinion conflicts with all other ancient testimony. Let us add, however, that the account of his martyrdom in the apocryphal Greek writings entitled “Martyrium S. Matthæi in Ponto” and published by Bonnet, “Acta apostolorum apocrypha” (Leipzig, 1898), is absolutely devoid of historic value. Lipsius holds that this “Martyrium S. Matthæi”, which contains traces of Gnosticism, must have been published in the third century. There is a disagreement as to the place of St. Matthew's martyrdom and the kind of torture inflicted on him, therefore it is not known whether he was burned, stoned, or beheaded. The Roman Martyrology simply says: “S. Matthæi, qui in Æthiopia prædicans martyrium passus est”. Various writings that are now considered apocryphal, have been attributed to St. Matthew. In the “Evangelia apocrypha” (Leipzig, 1876), Tischendorf reproduced a Latin document entitled: “De Ortu beatæ Mariæ et infantia Salvatoris”, supposedly written in Hebrew by St. Matthew the Evangelist, and translated into Latin by Jerome, the priest. It is an abridged adaptation of the “Protoevangelium” of St. James, which was a Greek apocryphal of the second century. This pseudo-Matthew dates from the middle or the end of the sixth century. The Latin Church celebrates the feast of St. Matthew on 21 September, and the Greek Church on 16 November. St. Matthew is represented under the symbol of a winged man, carrying in his hand a lance as a characteristic emblem. (7)
Matthew is the patron of bankers and those who work in financial institutions.
Image: The evangelist Matthew and the angel, artist: Rembrandt, circa: 1661. (11)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff