Sunday, September 20, 2009
Feast of St. Matthew, September 21
As our Muslim brothers and sisters celebrate Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, we Catholics celebrate tomorrow the feast of a great evangelist, St. Matthew. Matthew the Evangelist (מתי/מתתיהו, "Gift of Yahweh", Standard Hebrew and Tiberian Hebrew: Mattay or Mattithyahu; Septuagint Greek: Ματθαίος, Matthaios, Modern Greek: Ματθαίος, Matthaíos), most often called Saint Matthew, is a Christian figure, and one of Jesus's Twelve Apostles. He is credited by tradition with writing the Gospel of Matthew, and is identified in that gospel as being the same person as Levi the publican (tax-collector).
Matthew the Evangelist is complex for a number of reasons. Both Epiphanius and Jerome state that Matthew wrote the Gospel according to the Hebrews. The gospel to bear the name "Matthew" was written anonymously, with tradition ascribing authorship to Matthew at a later date. Both the style of Greek used and the means of describing events leads a few to conclude that the author of the gospel was not a companion of the historic Jesus. Some use the designation "Matthew the Evangelist" to refer to the anonymous gospel author, and "Matthew the Apostle" to refer to the Biblical figure described. Christian tradition holds that they are the same person.
Matthew's depiction in the New Testament is likewise complex. In the gospels of Mark and Luke, as well as in the Acts of the Apostles, Matthew is mentioned without any title, identifier, descriptions, or actions. Virtually nothing besides his apostleship can be determined from these accounts, and he is not mentioned at all in the Gospel of John or subsequent epistles.
The Gospel of Matthew, on the other hand, names Matthew as the publican called by Jesus, whom the other gospels name "Levi". This gospel subsequently gives Matthew the title "the tax collector" in its list of the Twelve Apostles. Christian tradition holds that Matthew and Levi were, in fact, two names for the same person (similarly, tradition posits a "Jude Thaddeus" to reconcile the Jude of Luke and Acts with the Thaddeus of Matthew and Mark).
According to the tradition of the Catholic Church, St. Matthew is the author of the first Gospel. He was the son of Alpheus and was called to be an Apostle while sitting in the tax collectors place at Capernaum. Before his conversion he was a publican, i.e., a tax collector by profession.
His apostolic activity was at first restricted to the communities of Palestine. Nothing definite is known about his later life. There is a tradition that points to Ethiopia as his field of labor; other traditions mention of Parthia and Persia. It is uncertain whether he died a natural death or received the crown of martyrdom.
St. Matthew's Gospel was written to fill a sorely-felt want for his fellow countrymen, both believers and unbelievers. For the former, it served as a token of his regard and as an encouragement in the trial to come, especially the danger of falling back to Judaism; for the latter, it was designed to convince them that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus, our Lord, in Whom all the promises of the Messianic Kingdom embracing all people had been fulfilled in a spiritual rather than in a carnal way: "My Kingdom is not of this world." His Gospel, then, answered the question put by the disciples of St. John the Baptist, "Are You He Who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
Writing for his countrymen of Palestine, St. Matthew composed his Gospel in his native Aramaic, the "Hebrew tongue" mentioned in the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Soon afterward, about the time of the persecution of Herod Agrippa I in 42 AD, he took his departure for other lands.
Matthew is recognized as a Saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican churches. His feast day is celebrated on 21 September in the West, 16 November in the East (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, 16 November currently falls on 29 November of the modern Gregorian Calendar). He is also commemorated by the Orthodox, together with the other Apostles, on 30 June (13 July), the Synaxis of the Holy Apostles.
Like the other evangelists, Matthew is often depicted in Christian art with one of the four living creatures of Revelation 4:7. The one that accompanies him is in the form of a winged man.