Saint Matthew: Noble, Powerful, and Gentle Man

st Matthew

What good are riches and temporal power for someone who converts an entire nation?

Newsroom (September 23, 2021, 20:45 PM, Gaudium Press) The Apostle St. Matthew evangelized Ethiopia, where he unmasked and exposed as agents of the devil the magi who deceived the king and people of that country.

Saint Elesbon, a pious and combative black king

St. Mathew’s apostolate was very effective, for Ethiopia became Christian. The nations where the other Apostles worked and even left distinguished remembrances, such as India, did not convert.

In the sixth century, Ethiopia’s king was a black saint, Elesbon, a zealous and combative man who, after a war against the murderers of Christians, established Catholicism in a region that is now Yemen.

The Martyrology states that at the time of Justin I, the Roman Emperor of the East, Saint Elesbon sent his royal crown to Jerusalem and lived as a monk to fulfill a promise he had made. The church celebrates his memory on May 15.

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira made the following comments about St. Matthew that we summarize below. [1]

Medieval people had some notion of a Christian kingdom beyond Egypt, where, according to the news brought by Portuguese navigators, lived the famous Preste John – Father John, in archaic Portuguese. That would be Ethiopia.

According to the ‘Legende Dorée,’ [2] Ethiopia and its King had strayed from the worship of the true God due to the work of the magicians. St. Matthew confronted and unmasked them. He proved that they were unable to do anything without the help of the devil. St. Mathew performed authentic miracles, thus confusing those impostors before the people, demonstrating the farce they used to deceive everyone.

Thus, this spiritual man, noble, powerful, gentle, welcoming, had a strong influence over those who were admiring people.

Two hundred ebony virgins gather in a convent

Shortly after, St. Matthew resurrected the son of King Egippus. The king wanted to worship him as a god and offered him a great treasure. The Apostle did not allow such worship and instead built a large church with the gold and silver they had brought to him and lived there for 33 years.

Egippus, his wife, and all the people were baptized. Iphigenia, the king’s daughter, consecrated to God and became the superior of two hundred virgins in a convent.

It is not difficult for us to understand the immense significance of this fact. A nation, immersed for centuries in paganism and all sorts of vices, converted simply by the preaching of an Apostle. An entire country baptized, and two hundred ebony virgins, along with the king’s own daughter, gather in a convent to become the wives of the King par excellence, our Lord Jesus Christ!

Another detail: how beautiful the first church in Ethiopia must have been, built directly under the inspiration of St. Matthew, and how this building caused joy in Heaven to the Angels, to God, and Our Lady!

The Apostle rebukes the king in defense of the virgin Iphigenia

In the meantime, King Egippus died; and his successor, Hyrthacus, wished to marry Iphigenia because he considered her the only young woman worthy of him and his position. The new monarch asked St. Matthew to convince the princess to accept him as her husband and promised to give the Apostle, in case of success, half of his kingdom.

You can see the vain and frustrating attempt of bribery. What good are riches and temporal power for someone who converts an entire nation? Incomparably more than that, St. Matthew possessed the soul of these people and gave it to God.

The Apostle then asked King Hyrthacus to come to church the following Sunday, when he would give him a solution to the case. The sovereign agreed and went to the temple, finding it full of believers who began to hear from the lips of St. Matthew a marvelous sermon on the benefits of marriage.

Let’s imagine a Hyrthacus, with thick, red lips and white teeth, smiling with contentment as St. Matthew praised marriage. Undoubtedly, he thought, “Now I don’t have to give you half my kingdom, as I promised because you have done me the service in advance. The princess will be mine, and then he will settle with me.” The king was sure of the young woman’s consent.

However, continuing his sermon, at a given moment, the Apostle said, “Since marriage is so sacred and inviolable, anyone who wanted to possess his king’s wife would deserve punishment. So, Hyrthacus, knowing that Iphigenia is the wife of the eternal king, how dare you take the wife of the One infinitely more powerful than you?

Upon hearing these words, Hyrthacus withdrew from the church, overcome with hatred. When the Mass was over, the king sent an executioner who killed St. Matthew with a sword. The outraged people rushed to the royal palace to avenge the crime, but the other priests stopped them, advising them to unite instead in a grand celebration in honor of the saintly martyr.

The Catholic Faith is the seed of all good

Meanwhile, Hyrthacus ordered Iphigenia’s convent to be set on fire so that she and the other virgins would perish. But St. Matthew appeared and diverted the fire to the king’s palace, which was entirely consumed.

Only the sovereign and his only son escaped the fire. The prince immediately ran to the Apostle’s tomb to ask forgiveness, and the king, stricken with horrible leprosy, committed suicide.

After these episodes, the people chose Iphigenia’s brother as sovereign, who reigned for 60 years, spreading the Holy Church and building temples all over Ethiopia.

The previous Martyrology included St. Iphigenia, whose memory was celebrated on September 21. In São Paulo, there is a Basilica dedicated to her; it served as the city’s cathedral for some time.

One has the impression that this reign was serene, tranquil, elevated. Of course, one cannot say that it is enough to build churches; and think all is well. But by building them and getting the faithful people, who practice the true religion to visit them, everything needed for their prosperity will come. In other words, by authentically establishing the Catholic Faith, the seed of all good is planted. Such was the work of the Apostle Saint Matthew in the land he evangelized. (JSG)

By Paulo Francisco Martos
(in “Notions of Church History” – 17)

Compiled by Ena Alfaro


[1] – Cf. CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Plinio. Saint Matthew, Evangelizing Apostle of Ethiopia. In revista Dr. Plinio, São Paulo. Year X, n. 114 (September 2007), p. 26-29.

[2] – “Golden Legend,” a collection of the lives of saints written by Blessed Jacopo de Varazze, Dominican and Archbishop of Genoa (1229-1298).


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