SAINT MATTHEW THE APOSTLE
from The Golden Legend
Matthew was also called Levi. Matthew is interpreted a gift hastily given, or a giver of counsel. Or it comes from magnus, great, and Theos, God, meaning great unto God, or from manus, hand, and Theos, meaning the hand of God. For Matthew was a gift hastily given by reason of his speedy conversion, a giver of counsel by his salutary preaching, great unto God by the perfection of his life and the hand of God by his writing of the Gospel. Levi is interpreted assumed, or united, or added, or attached; for he was assumed from the exaction of the taxes, united to the apostles, added to the number of the evangelists, and attached to the catalogue of the martyrs.
While Matthew the apostle was preaching in Ethiopia, in a city called Nadaber, he found two magicians named Zaroes and Arphaxat, who so deluded men by their sorceries that they lost the use of their limbs and their reason, whereat the magicians were so filled with pride that they made men worship them as gods. Matthew, having found hostel in the house of that eunuch of Queen Candace who was baptized by Philip, unmasked the magicians' tricks in such wise that whatsoever they wrought to the harm of men, he converted to their welfare.
The eunuch asked Saint Matthew how he was able to speak and understand so many tongues. In answer, Matthew explained to him that when the Holy Ghost came upon the apostles, He gave knowledge of all tongues, so that, as those who had sought from pride to build a tower reaching to Heaven had been stayed therefrom by the confusion of tongues, so by the knowledge of tongues the apostles might build a tower, not of stones but of virtues, whereby all who believed might mount to Heaven.
Then came one who announced that the magicians were approaching with two dragons, which belched forth a sulphurous fire from their mouths and nostrils, and slew all within reach. The apostle, arming himself with the sign of the cross, went out to them confidently; and as soon as the dragons saw him, they fell asleep at his feet. Then said he to the sorcerers: 'Where then is your skill! Awaken them if you can: for had I not prayed the Lord, I should have turned upon you the bale which you thought to inflict upon me!' And when the populace gathered together, he commanded the dragons in the name of Jesus to go away, and they went off, harming no one.
Then the apostle preached a wondrous sermon to the people concerning the earthly paradise. He said that it was higher than all mountains and near to Heaven; no thorns or brambles grew therein, nor did the lilies and the roses wittier; there was no old age, all men remaining ever young; there the angels made sweet music, and the birds came at one's call. He said that man had been driven out of the earthly paradise, but that by the birth of Christ all were called again to the heavenly Paradise.
As he spoke these things to the people, a loud cry of mourning broke out for the king's son, who had died. When the sorcerers were unable to raise him to life, they persuaded the king that his son had been taken up into the company of the gods, and that he should build a temple and make an image in his honour. But the aforementioned eunuch caused the magicians to be taken prisoners, and summoned the apostle, who prayed over the youth and restored him to life. At this the king, whose name was Egippus, sent heralds throughout his realm, proclaiming: 'Come and see God hiding in the form of a man!' They came therefore with golden crowns and divers kinds of victims, wishing to sacrifice to him. But Matthew forbade them, saying: 'Men, what do ye? I am not a god, but the servant of Jesus Christ!' At his command they then used their offerings of gold and silver to build a great church, which they erected within thirty days; and in this church the apostle presided for three and thirty years, and converted all of Egypt to the faith; and King Egippus was baptized with his wife and all the people. The apostle also dedicated the king's daughter Ephigenia to God, and set her over more than two hundred virgins.
Some time later Hirtacus succeeded the king, and, lusting after the virgin Ephigenia, promised the apostle the half of his kingdom if he would prevail upon her to become his wife. The apostle answered that, following the usage of his predecessor, he should come to the church on the following Sunday, and there, in the presence of Ephigenia and the other virgins, hear how good was godly matrimony. Thither the king hastened with joy, thinking that the apostle meant to urge Ephigenia to marry. Matthew therefore preached for a long time to the virgins and the assembled populace concerning the good of matrimony; wherefore he was much praised by the king, Then, commanding silence, the apostle continued: Since marriage is a good thing, ve who are present well know that if a servant dared to molest the king's spouse, he would deserve not only the king's displeasure, but death besides; and this not because he wished to take a wife, but because he violated the king's marriage by carrying off his wife. And thou, 0 king, who knowest that Ephigenia is espoused to the eternal King, how canst thou purloin the spouse of One mightier than thou, and take her to wife?'
When he heard these words, the king was consumed with rage, and went out of the church, while the apostle, intrepid and unmoved, exhorted all to patience and constancy, and blessed Ephigenia and the other virgins, who had prostrated themselves in his feet. After the Mass the king sent a swordsman, who came behind Matthew as he stood at the altar with his hands raised to Heaven in prayer, drove his sword into his back, and so consummated the apostle's martyrdom.
When the populace heard these tidings, they ran to the king's palace to set it afire, but were restrained by the priests and deacons and made gladsome celebration for the saint's martyrdom. Meanwhile the king could not bend Ephigenia to his will, either by matrons whom he despatched to her, or by the artifices of the magicians. He therefore heaped up a great fire about her house in order to destroy her and the other virgins; but the apostle appeared to them, and warded the flames from the house, and it swept the royal palace and burned it to the ground, the king and his only son barely escaping. Thereupon the king's son was seized by the Devil, and sped to the apostle's tomb, loudly proclaiming his father's sins; while the infamous father was stricken with an incurable leprosy, and killed himself with his own sword.
The people then chose Ephigenia's brother, who had been baptized by the apostle, to be their king. He reigned for seventy years, and then gave his throne to his son. He enhanced the Christian worship lavishly, and filled the whole province of Egypt with the churches of Christ. As for Zaroes and Arphaxat, they fled to Persia the very day that Matthew raised the king's son to life, but there Simon and Jude vanquished them.
Happy feast day to our friends in Chicago - After returning from an overnight stay in London for a meeting of the Keys, I celebrated a quiet Mass in honour of St John Cantius whose feast day it is t...
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