Matthew the Apostle
Feast Day: September 21st
The Calling of St. Matthew
Apostle and Evangelist
Apostle and evangelist.
The name Matthew is derived from the Hebrew Mattija, being
shortened to Mattai in post-Biblical Hebrew. In Greek it is sometimes
spelled Maththaios, B D, and sometimes Matthaios, CEKL, but
grammarians do not agree as to which of the two spellings is the original.
Matthew is spoken of five times in the New Testament; first in Matthew 9:9,
when called by Jesus to follow Him, and then four times in the list of the
Apostles, where he is mentioned in the seventh (Luke 6:15, and Mark 3:18), and
again in the eighth place (Matthew 10:3, and Acts 1:13). The man designated in
Matthew 9:9, as "sitting in the custom house", and "named Matthew" is the same
as Levi, recorded in Mark 2:14, and Luke 5:27, as "sitting at the receipt of
custom". The account in the three Synoptics is identical, the vocation of
Matthew-Levi being alluded to in the same terms. Hence Levi was the original
name of the man who was subsequently called Matthew; the Maththaios
legomenos of Matthew 9:9, would indicate this. The fact of one man having
two names is of frequent occurrence among the Jews.
It is true that the same
person usually bears a Hebrew name such as "Shaoul" and a Greek name, Paulos.
However, we have also examples of individuals with two Hebrew names as, for
instance, Joseph-Caiaphas, Simon-Cephas, etc. It is probable that Mattija,
"gift of Iaveh", was the name conferred upon the tax-gatherer by Jesus Christ
when He called him to the Apostolate, and by it he was thenceforth known among
his Christian brethren, Levi being his original name. Matthew, the son of
Alpheus (Mark 2:14) was a Galilean, although Eusebius informs us that he was a
Syrian. As tax-gatherer at Capharnaum, he collected custom duties for Herod
Antipas, and, although a Jew, was despised by the Pharisees, who hated all
publicans. When summoned by Jesus, Matthew arose and followed Him and tendered
Him a feast in his house, where tax-gatherers and sinners sat at table with
Christ and His disciples. This drew forth a protest from the Pharisees whom
Jesus rebuked in these consoling words: "I came not to call the just, but
sinners". No further allusion is made to Matthew in the Gospels, except in the
list of the Apostles. As a disciple and an Apostle he thenceforth followed
Christ, accompanying Him up to the time of His Passion and, in Galilee, was
one of the witnesses of His Resurrection. He was also amongst the Apostles who
were present at the Ascension, and afterwards withdrew to an upper chamber, in
Jerusalem, praying in union with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with his
brethren (Acts 1:10 and 1:14).
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.
Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X
Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911, Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
St. Matthew, Apostle
by Leonard Goffine, 1871
Matthew, before his
conversion called Levi, was a Galilean, a son of Alpheus (Mark ii. 14.),
consequently a brother of St. James the Less, another of the apostles. (Mark
iii. 18.) Matthew was a collector of the toll which the Jews were obliged to
pay to the Roman emperors, and was called from his custom-house by our Lord to
be an apostle. In his gospel which he wrote later, he calls himself from
humility always by his early designation, Matthew the Publican. He followed
Jesus faithfully, and after the descent of the Holy Ghost remained, as the
historical writers Eusebius and Epiphanus inform us, in Judea and its
neighborhood, until just before the destruction of Jerusalem when the apostles
dispersed, and went into foreign lands to preach the doctrine of Christ. When
obliged to separate from the recent converts in Jerusalem, Matthew wrote his
gospel to leave with them in place of his presence among them, and was the
first to write concerning our Lord's life upon earth. He led a rigorous life,
prayed much, never touched meat, and lived on herbs, roots, and wild fruits.
He was at last stabbed by the Ethiopian King Hirtakus, as the generality of
writers inform us, while standing at the altar and offering the sacrifice of
Mass, because the saint had refused consent to the king's marriage with the
virgin Eugenia who was dedicated to God. His sacred remains were, in the tenth
century, brought to Salerno, Naples, where they are still highly venerated.
Matthew was the first to write a gospel. How proper it is, that he who after
many sins becomes converted, should be the first to announce the infinite
mercy of the Redeemer who came into this world not to call the just, but
In the Introit of the Mass, the Church sings: The mouth of the just man shall
meditate wisdom, and his tongue speak judgment: the law of his God is in his
heart. Be not emulous of evil doers, nor envy them that work iniquity. Glory,
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. Grant, O Lord, we may be aided by the prayers of
blessed Matthew, the apostle and evangelist: that what we cannot obtain by our
own weakness, may be granted us by his intercession. Through etc.
LESSON. (Ezech. i. 10 - 14.) The likeness of the four living creatures
was this: there was the face of a man, and the face of a lion on the right
side of all the four; and the face of an ox on the left side of all the four;
and the face of an eagle over all the four. And their faces and their wings
were stretched upward: two wings of every one were joined, and two covered
their bodies. And every one of them went straight forward: whither the impulse
of the spirit was to go, thither they went, and they turned not when they
went. And as for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was
like that of burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps. This was
the vision running to and fro in the midst of the living creatures, a bright
fire, and lightning going forth from the fire. And the living creatures ran
and returned like flashes of lightning.
EXPLANATION. The four living creatures who were Cherubim, that is,
powers of heaven, many holy fathers understand to be emblems of the four
Evangelists, as these represent Christ in His fourfold attributes of Man,
King, Priest, and God. The emblem of man is given, therefore, to St. Matthew,
because he relates the birth of Christ according to humanity; of a lion to St.
Mark, because he describes Christ as King; of an ox who was slaughtered by the
Jews as a sacrifice to St. Luke, because he represents Christ as High Priest
who was Himself the sacrifice; of an eagle to St. John, because he soared like
an eagle to the heavenly heights, and relates the divinity of Christ and His
Let us agree with heart and with lips to the sacred doctrines of the four
Evangelists, and let us be staggered by nothing we find in their writing.
GOSPEL. (Matt. ix. 9 - 13.) At That Time: Jesus saw a man sitting in
the custom-house, named Matthew; and he said to him: Follow me. And he arose
up, and followed him. And it came to pass as he was sitting at meat in the
house, behold many publicans and sinners came, and sat down with Jesus and his
disciples. And the Pharisees seeing it, said to his disciples: Why doth your
master eat with publicans and sinners? But Jesus hearing it, said: They that
are in health, need not a physician, but they that are ill. Go then and learn
what this meaneth. I will have mercy, and not sacrifice. For I am not come to
call the just, but sinners.
Why were the publicans so hated by the Jews?
Because the Jews regarded it as most unjust and sinful, that they should be
subjected to the pagan Romans and obliged to pay taxes to them, and as the
publicans hired the collection of the taxes from the Romans, and were desirous
to receive a large proportion of them for themselves, they were guilty of much
injustice and extortion, were therefore hated by the Jews, and regarded as so
unprincipled, that the words publican and sinner became synonymous.
What do we learn from Matthew's immediate following of Christ?
That we should at once obey the call to penance, that Christ may not cease to
call, and draw His grace from us; that we should not only avoid sin but also
the occasions of it, as Matthew not only avoided sin, but abandoned the
business of a publican, which gave him opportunities for sin, and followed
How did he live after his conversion?
After his conversion Matthew strove to be like Christ poor and humble, meek
and patient, good and charitable; for he who wishes to follow Christ, must
walk as He walked (John ii. 6.), must take up his cross of daily trials, and
patiently carry it after Christ. Matthew did this unceasingly all his life.
Why was Jesus willing to eat with sinners?
That He might use the occasion to convert them by giving their souls His words
Well would it be for us, if at our meals, instead of vain and often
quarrelsome conversation, we were to speak of God and, sacred things, thus
gaining by God's grace souls for God and heaven, and promoting His honor. As
St. Dionysius says, among all good things which are agreeable to God, the
greatest, the divine one, so to say, is to aid in the conversion of sinners.
Who are those in health, who the sick, who the physician?
Those in health are the just who live in the grace of God. O what a valuable
life is this, and what great care is required to preserve it! The sick are the
sinners, for every sin makes the soul unclean, wounds and even kills it, that
is, robs it of the grace and goodpleasure of God, in which consists the
spiritual life of the soul. How hateful, then, is sin, which steals from her
the highest good! The physician is Christ, of whom it is said in Psalm cvi.:
He sent his word (Christ) and healed them. If thou hast sinned, go to this
physician to be healed, that thou mayst regain thy soul's health.
Why does Christ say: I will have mercy and not sacrifice?
Because the Pharisees thought every thing of external sacrifice and considered
if they only diligently offered, that they were already pleasing to God, even
though they showed no mercy and combatted not against their corrupt
inclinations to anger, envy, malice, and pride. But the sacrifice of our
prayers, our good works and mortifications, will not please God, unless they
come from pure love to Him, far less if they come from a proud, vindictive and
impure heart, and if we out of regard for ourselves fail to do deeds of mercy
to our neighbor.
What did Christ mean by saying: I am not come to call the just but
Sts. Hilary, Jerome and Bede understand these just to be the Pharisees, who
pretended to be just in all things, and would not receive the call of Jesus,
even if he had called them; Jesus knowing this, he called those, whom the
Pharisees regarded very great sinners, who, however, humbly heard and followed
the call of Jesus.
Prayer to Saint
Matthew the Apostle
Apostle, who after thy conversion didst prepare Christ a fine banquet, and a
yet more glorious feast for us in thy holy gospel, for it is like the book
which the angel gave to Ezechiel to eat and which was as sweet as honey in
his mouth (Ezech. iii. 3.), may it be a food for my soul. Implore for me the
grace to read it with attention and in the spirit and meaning of the holy
Catholic Church, to meditate upon it, and to live in accordance with thy
words, written by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, so that I may say with the
Psalmist: How sweet are thy words to my palate; more than honey to my mouth.
(Ps. cxviii. 103.) Amen.
Prayer to St. Matthew as your Patron Saint
Saint Matthew, whom I have chosen as
my special patron, pray for me that I, too, may one day glorify the Blessed
Trinity in heaven. Obtain for me your lively faith, that I may consider all
persons, things, and events in the light of almighty God. Pray, that I may be
generous in making sacrifices of temporal things to promote my eternal
interests, as you so wisely did.
Set me on fire with a love for Jesus,
that I may thirst for His sacraments and burn with zeal for the spread of His
kingdom. By your powerful intercession, help me in the performance of my
duties to God, myself and all the world.
Win for me the virtue of purity and a
great confidence in the Blessed Virgin. Protect me this day, and every day of
my life. Keep me from mortal sin. Obtain for me the grace of a happy death.