St. Matthew the Apostle

Feast Day: September 21st

The Calling of St. Matthew

Saint 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).

    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.

The 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 sinners.

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, &c.

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 eternal origin.

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 Christ.

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 for food.

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 sinners?

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

O holy 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. Amen