Saint Matthias, Apostle, Martyr

February 24

Today is the feast day of Saint Matthias.  Ora pro nobis.

The Greek Matthias (or, in some manuscripts, Maththias), is a name derived from Mattathias, Heb. Mattithiah, signifying “gift of Yahweh.” Matthias was one of the seventy disciples of Jesus, and had been with Him from His baptism by John to the Ascension (Acts i, 21, 22). It is related (Acts, i, 15-26) that in the days following the Ascension, Peter proposed to the assembled brethren, who numbered one hundred and twenty, that they choose one to fill the place of the traitor Judas in the Apostolate. Two disciples, Joseph, called Barsabas, and Matthias were selected, and lots were drawn, with the result in favour of Matthias, who thus became associated with the eleven Apostles. Zeller has declared this narrative unhistoric, on the plea that the Apostles were in Galilee after the death of Jesus. As a matter of fact they did return to Galilee, but the Acts of the Apostles clearly state that about the feast of Pentecost they went back to Jerusalem. (4)

by Fr .Weninger, 1877

The holy apostle Matthias was born in Bethlehem, a city of Judaea. His parents reared him carefully and instructed him in the Commandments and ordinances of God. As soon as Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, had commenced to preach the Gospel, Matthias was among his hearers, and, taking His teachings deeply to heart, he followed the Divine Master, and was thus admitted among the seventy-two disciples of Christ. He also witnessed most of the miracles which our Saviour wrought during the time of His preaching. It cannot be doubted that Christ, after His resurrection, appeared to him as to others of His disciples, nor that he was present upon the mountain when Christ was so gloriously carried up to heaven. After the ascension of our Lord he repaired, with the apostles and other disciples, into the dining-hall, where they prepared themselves, in obedience to Christ’s command, to receive the Holy Ghost. St. Peter, as the chief of the apostles, rose in the midst of the assemblage and represented to them that one of those men, who had been constant in their attendance on the teachings of Christ, must be chosen in the place of the unhappy Judas. The latter, having betrayed and sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver, had ended his miserable life by hanging himself on a tree, where, his body bursting, had emitted his entrails. The place of this unfortunate traitor, who had been chosen an apostle by Christ, had to be filled and the missing member of the Apostolic College supplied.

Two men were proposed; Joseph, who, on account of his piety, was surnamed the just, and Matthias. The meaning of the latter name is, the gift of God. To ascertain which of the two God wished them to choose as His apostle, they all united in the following fervent prayer: “O Lord, Thou who knowest the hearts of all men, manifest to us which of these two Thou hast chosen to take the place and apostolic function which Judas deserted.” After having thus prayed they drew lots, and as the choice fell upon Matthias, he was associated with the eleven apostles. On the day of Pentecost he received the holy Ghost with the other apostles and disciples, and began at once to preach Jesus Christ as the true Messiah, bearing witness of His resurrection and ascension, and openly announcing the teaching of the Saviour. When, afterwards, the apostles dispersed over the whole world to preach the Gospel of Christ, the part which was assigned to St. Matthias to convert was Judaea. He bean the work of conversion with true apostolic zeal, went through all the cities and villages of the land of Judaea, preaching and announcing Christ, and confirming, with many miracles, the truth of his words, gaining by this means many thousands to the number of the faithful. He was, however, not satisfied with merely converting them, but was also assiduous in directing them to lead a truly Christian life. St. Clement, of Alexandria, records that this holy apostle preached to the newly-converted particularly of mortification: how, in following the precepts of Christ, we must mortify our body, carry our cross, and battle with our evil desires. “Against the flesh,” said he, “we must battle and never yield to its sensual desires.”

The history of the Church states that St. Matthias, during thirty-three years, continued his apostolic labors with unabated zeal in Judaea nnd Galilee. Meanwhile, it became unbearable for the obdurate Jews to see the number of the faithful increase daily, and to observe that Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified as a malefactor, was regarded and honored as the Messiah and Saviour of the world: they therefore determined to make away with the apostle. Ananias, the high-priest, caused Matthias to be brought before him in an assemblage of the elders, and asked how he dared to seduce the people of Judaea from the Commandments of God, and entice them to worship one whom, as a blasphemer, they had nailed to the cross? At the same time he menaced him with death, should he not desist from preaching in future.

Matthias, inspired by the Holy Ghost, demonstrated clearly to all assembled that He whom they had crucified as a blasphemer was the Son of God, the Messiah so long promised, who had risen from the dead, and who was to come again to judge both the living and the dead: adding that he would live and die in his faith in Christ. No one in the vast assemblage could refute his words, and, on this account, they became more furious against him. Ananias pronounced the sentence: “Matthias, as a blasphemer, shall be stoned alive.” The others assented to this judgment, and, seizing the apostle, they led him out of the city to the place of execution. The Saint went joyfully, thanking God for bestowing upon him the grace to die for Christ, and prayed with bended knees for the salvation of all present and for the whole country. The enraged Jews immediately seized stones, and hurled them on him until he sank half dead upon the ground, when a Roman soldier beheaded him with an axe. The Christians buried his body with great honors, and the holy Empress Helena had it afterwards brought to Rome. When, however, the Empress received, from Pope Sylvester, St. Agritius, as Bishop of Treves, she gave to him, among other relics, the seamless garment of Jesus and the body of St. Matthias, to remove them to Treves, where, to this day, they are preserved in great honor, while St. Matthias is invoked as patron of this old and renowned city. (2)

by Rev. Alban Butler, 1857

 St. Clement of Alexandria assures us, from tradition, that this saint was one of the seventy-two disciples, which is confirmed, by Eusebius and St. Jerome; and we learn from the Acts of the Apostles that he was a constant attendant on our Lord from the time of His baptism by St. John to His ascension. St. Peter having, in a general assembly of the faithful held soon after, declared from holy scripture the necessity of choosing a twelfth apostle in the room of Judas, two were unanimously pitched upon by the assembly as most worthy of the dignity–Joseph, called Barnabas, and, on account of his extraordinary piety, surnamed the Just, and Matthias. After devout prayer to God that He would direct them in their choice, they proceeded in it by way of lot, which falling by the divine direction on Matthias, he was accordingly associated with the eleven, and ranked among the apostles. “When in deliberations each side appears equally good, or each candidate of equally approved merit, lots may be sometimes lawfully used; otherwise, to commit a thing of importance to such a chance, or to expect a miraculous direction of divine providence in it, would be a criminal superstition and a tempting of God, except He Himself, by an evident revelation or inspiration, should appoint such a means for the manifestation of His will, promising his supernatural interposition in it, which was the case on this extraordinary occasion. The miraculous dreams or lots which we read of in the prophets, must no ways authorize any rash superstitious use of such means in others who have not the like authority.

We justly admire the virtue of this holy assembly of saints. Here were no solicitations or intrigues. No one presented himself to the dignity. Ambition can find no place in a virtuous or humble heart. He who seeks a dignity either knows himself unqualified, and is on this account guilty of the most flagrant injustice with regard to the public, by desiring a charge to which he is no ways equal; or he thinks himself qualified for it, and this self-conceit and confidence in his own abilities renders him the most unworthy of all others. Such a disposition deprives a soul of the divine assistance, without which we can do nothing; for God withdraws His grace and refuses His blessing where self-sufficiency and pride have found any footing. It is something of a secret confidence in ourselves, and a presumption that we deserve the divine succour, which banishes Him from us. This is true even in temporal undertakings, but much more so in the charge of souls, in which all success is more particularly the special work of the Holy Ghost, not the fruit of human industry. These two holy candidates were most worthy, of the apostleship, because perfectly humble, and because they looked upon that dignity with trembling, though they considered its labours, dangers, and persecutions with holy joy, and with a burning zeal for the glory of God. No regard was had to worldly talents, none to flesh and blood. God was consulted by prayer, because no one is to be assumed to his ministry who is not called by him, and who does not enter it by the door, and with the undoubted marks of his vocation. Judas’s misfortune filled St. Matthias with the greater humility and fervour, lest he also should fall.

We Gentiles are called upon the disinherison of the Jews, and are ingrafted on their stock. We ought therefore to learn to stand always in watchfulness and fear, or we shall be also cut off ourselves, to give place to others whom God will call in our room, and even compel to enter, rather than spare us. The number of His elect depends not on us. His infinite mercy has invited us without any merit on our side; but if we are ungrateful, He can complete His heavenly city without us, and will certainly make our reprobation the most dreadful example of His justice to all eternity. The greater the excess of His goodness and clemency has been towards us, the more dreadful will be the effects of His vengeance. “Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God, but the sons of the kingdom shall he cast forth.”

St. Matthias received the Holy Ghost with the rest soon after his election; and after the dispersion of the disciples, applied himself with zeal to the functions of his apostleship in converting nations to the faith. He is recorded by St. Clement of Alexandria to have been remarkable for inculcating the necessity of the mortification of the flesh with regard to all its sensual and irregular desires, an important lesson he had received from Christ, and which he practised assiduously on his own flesh. The tradition of the Greeks in their menologies tells us that St. Matthias planted the faith about Cappadocia and on the coasts of the Caspian Sea, residing chiefly near the port Issus. He must have undergone great hardships and labours amidst so savage a people. The same authors add that he received the crown of martyrdom in Colchis, which they call Ethiopia. The Latins keep his festival on the 24th of February. Some portions of his relics are shown in the abbatical church of Trier, and in that of St. Mary Major, in Rome, unless these latter belong to another Matthias, who was one of the first bishops of Jerusalem, on which see the Bollandists.

As the call of St. Matthias, so is ours purely the work of God, and his most gratuitous favour and mercy. What thanks, what fidelity and love, do we not owe Him for this inestimable grace! When He decreed to call us to His holy faith, cleanse us from sin, and make us members of His spiritual kingdom, and heirs of His glory, He saw nothing in us which could determine Him to such a predilection. We were infected with sin, and could have no title to the least favour, when God said to us, “I have loved Jacob;” when he distinguished us from so many millions who perish in the blindness of infidelity and sin, drew us out of the mass of perdition, and bestowed on us the grace of His adoption, and all the high privileges that are annexed to this dignity. In what transports of love and gratitude ought we not, without intermission, to adore His infinite goodness to us, and beg that we may be always strengthened by His grace to advance continually in humility and His holy love, lest, by slackening our pace in His service, we fall from this state of happiness, forfeit this sublime grace, and perish with Judas. Happy would the church be if all converts were careful to maintain themselves in the same fervour in which they returned to God; but by a neglect to watch over themselves, and to shun dangers, and by falling into sloth, they often relapse into a condition much worse than the former. (2)

The Latin Church celebrates the feast of St. Matthias on 24 February and the Greek Church on 9 August. (4)

Beverly Stevens photo from St. Matthias Basilica, Trier.  Saint Matthias, the only Apostle’s whose bones are north of the Alps. 

Featured Image: Saint Matthias, artist: Hendrik Goltzuis, circa 1589.   (8)

Research by REGINA Staff


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