ERY many in the olden time wrote Gospels, and fathered them upon Apostles, giving them the names of Apostles, that they might in this manner gain a sanction for their heresies. “Thus,” says S. Jerome, “these were the authoritative books of divers heresies, published by divers authors, such as the Gospel according to the Egyptians, the Gospel of Thomas, of Matthias, of Bartholomew, of The Twelve Apostles, of Basilides, of Apelles, and others which it would be tedious to enumerate. This only is it needful to say, that certain men rose up, who without the Spirit and grace of God attempted rather to weave a tale than to compile historical truth. To these men may justly be applied the words of the Prophet, ‘Woe unto them which prophesy out of their own heart, and walk after their own spirit, who say, The Lord saith, and the Lord hath not sent them.’ Of such the Saviour also speaks in the Gospel of S. John, ‘All that ever came before Me were thieves and robbers.’” And after an interval he adds, “From all these things combined, it may be clearly seen that four Gospels only ought to be received, and that all the follies of the Apocryphal Gospels have been the utterances of dead heretics, rather than of Catholic writers.”
There are then only Four Canonical Gospels, and the Church proves them to be so by the teaching and tradition of the Apostles. For S. Peter gave his sanction to the Gospel of S. Mark, S. Paul to that of S. Luke, the Apostles unitedly to that of S. Matthew, for when they were about to go away to their several provinces they carried it with them. All the Bishops of Asia, and the rest of the faithful are witnesses to the Gospel of S. John. Origen and S. Jerome, cite the authorities for these statements. As for the Gospel according to the Hebrews, attributed to S. Matthew, although it seems to have been the same with his Gospel, it has been depraved by additions from various sources, so that it is of doubtful and uncertain authority. S. Jerome, however, translated it out of Hebrew into Latin. This is what he says in his catalogue of illustrious men, speaking of James, the Lord’s brother: “The Gospel which is called according to the Hebrews, I have lately translated into Greek and Latin. Origen frequently quotes it. It makes the following mention of James after the Lord’s Resurrection. ‘When the Lord had given a linen cloth to the priest’s servant, He went and appeared unto James. For James had sworn that he would not eat bread from the hour in which he had drank of the Lord’s chalice, until he beheld Him risen from the dead.’ And again, ‘Bring forth,’ saith the Lord, ‘bread and a table,’ adding immediately, ‘He took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave it unto James the Just, and saith unto him, My Brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of Man hath arisen from among them that slept.’”
In the same work, Jerome, speaking of S. Ignatius says, “Ignatius wrote an Epistle to the Smyrnæans, in which he quotes a passage from the Gospel which has been recently translated by me, upon the Person of Christ, saying, ‘I indeed, even after His Resurrection, have seen Him in the flesh, and I believe that He is. And when He came unto Peter, and unto them which were with Peter, He saith unto them, Behold Me, and touch Me, for I am not an incorporeal spirit. And immediately they touched Him, and believed.’” Origen moreover (tom. 2 in Joan.) cites from the same Gospel, “Christ hath said, Presently My Mother, the Holy Ghost, received Me, and carried Me by one of My hairs to Mount Tabor.” This sentence, unless it be construed favourably, seems to contain the Gnostic heresy of the Valentinians, who asserted that the Holy Ghost was the Mother of Christ.
Origen, however, defends it thus, that the Holy Ghost is not called the Mother of Christ by generation, but by imitation, forasmuch as He imitated His Father, and conformed Himself to His will. This is but a poor defence however. Bede also quotes this Gospel, and asserts that it was allowed by the ancients. But however this may be, it is certain that it is not canonical, and has not the authority of Holy Scripture.
This Gospel according to the Hebrews was also called the Gospel of the Nazarenes, because the Nazarenes made use of it. Hear S. Jerome (in c. 12 Matth. v. 13), where he is speaking of Christ healing the withered hand: “In the Gospel used by the Nazarenes and the Ebionites, which I have recently translated out of Hebrew into Greek, and which is considered by many an authentic work of Matthew, the man who had the withered hand is said to have been a mason. These are the words in which he cried for help. There was a certain mason who gained his living by the use of his hands, who cried out unto Him and said, ‘I pray Thee, Jesus, that Thou wouldest restore me to soundness, that I may not disgracefully beg my bread.’”
The Nazarenes were Jews who were converted to Christ, who, because they kept the law of Moses together with the Gospel, were cast out of the Church. The Hebrew Gospel of S. Matthew, which they kept at first genuine and untampered with, they seem to have subsequently corrupted by certain additions, in the same way that the Ebionites and Carpocratians did.
You may ask why there are precisely four Evangelists and four Gospels, neither more nor less. 1. S. Augustine (lib. I de Consens. Evang. c. 2) answers, because there are four quarters of the world in which the Gospel must be preached.
2. “These four are, as it were, the four pillars of the Church, on which as on a square stone, the sacred structure of the faith is built.” So says S. Gregory (lib. I, Epist. 24).
3. Because the number four is solid and square. Therefore it denotes the solidity and perfection of the Gospels. Whence Philo (lib. de Mundi Opificio) says, “The number four first shows the nature of a solid: for a point is reckoned in unity, a line by duality; when breadth is added, superficies pertains to the number three; for surface to become a solid body it lacks one thing; when this is added, namely height, we have the number four.” Aristotle calls a perfect man foursquare.
4. Others assign as the reason, that there are just so many letters in the Hebrew name of God, which is called the Tetragrammaton, representing the four primary attributes of God, which are unfolded in the Gospels. Others say, because there were four rivers in Paradise. But these are all mystical and symbolical reasons.
5. The literal and real reason is because, as there are four Cherubim in the court of Heaven, as it were the princes and wise ones of God, so in the Church on earth there are four Evangelists, as it were, princes and cherubim of Christ. This is plain from the first chapter of Ezekiel, where he represents these four Cherubim with four faces, as denoting the four attributes of God. Add that two of the Evangelists, in the beginning of their Gospels, speak of the two natures of Christ—Matthew of His human, John of His divine nature. The other two speak of the two-fold dignity of Christ—Mark of His royal, Luke of His sacerdotal dignity. So Ruperti on the first chapter of Ezekiel. “For Christ was a man by being born, a calf by dying, a lion by rising again, an eagle by ascending,” says S. Jerome. That cherubic chariot then is the Gospel chariot, drawn, as it were, by four horses, that is to say, the four Evangelists, making the circuit of the world. This application of Ezekiel’s vision of the four Cherubim to signify the four Evangelists is given by S. Jerome, Athanasius, Austin, Irenæus, Gregory, Ambrose, Bede, and the rest of the Fathers by a unanimous consensus.
Listen to S. Jerome (Epist. 103, ad Paulinum), “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the Lord’s chariot, the true cherubim, which means the multitude of knowledge, whose bodies were all full of eyes, who gave forth sparks, ran to and fro like lightnings, had straight feet, and who were borne aloft; who had their backs covered with wings, and who flew in all directions. They each take hold of one another, they are mutually intertwined, they revolve as a wheel within a wheel, and they proceed whithersoever the breathing of the Holy Spirit leadeth them.”
Now, the cherubim of Ezekiel had four faces and four forms, namely, of a lion, a man, a calf, and an eagle. S. John, in the Apocalypse (chap. iv.), calls them four living creatures. “The first living creature,” he says, “was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, and the third living creature, having the face, as it were, of a man, and the fourth living creature was like an eagle flying.”
The lion denotes S. Mark, whose face, i.e., the beginning of his Gospel, is the cry and the roar of John the Baptist in the wilderness, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand:” the calf denotes S. Luke, who commences his Gospel with the ancient priesthood, whose victim was a calf. The man denotes S. Matthew, who begins with the human genealogy of Christ. The eagle denotes S. John, who, soaring aloft from earth to heaven, balances himself like an eagle, and thunders forth, as it were, that Divine exordium, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Deservedly does S. Denis the Areopagite, in his Epistle to the same John, call him the sun of the Gospel, and his Gospel itself the memory and the renewal of that Theology, which he drew from the Lord, as he lay upon His breast, and left to be beheld in his Gospel by those who came after, like a ray of the sun.
Listen to S. Jerome in his Preface to S. Matthew: “First of all is Matthew the publican, surnamed Levi, who published a Gospel in Judæa in the Hebrew language, chiefly for the sake of those from among the Jews who had believed in Jesus, but who still observed the shadow of the Old Law, after the truth of the Gospel had come in its place. The second is Mark, the interpreter of the Apostle Peter, and first Bishop of the Church of Alexandria, who had not indeed himself seen the Lord, the Saviour; but related the things which he had heard his master preach, rather according to the truth of what was done, than the order. The third is Luke the Physician, a Syrian by nation, an Antiochene, whose praise is in the Gospel. He was a disciple of the Apostle Paul; and composed his work in the parts of Achaia and Bœotia. He aimed somewhat loftily; and as he himself confesses in his Preface, narrated what he had heard rather than what he had seen. The last is John, the Apostle and Evangelist, who loved Jesus very greatly, and who, lying upon the Lord’s bosom, drank of the very purest streams of doctrine, and who alone was privileged to hear from the Cross, ‘Behold thy Mother.’”
These four so appropriately wrote the words and deeds of Christ, that they seem to make a kind of musical harmony of four chords; for what each one writes is different in style from the others, but agrees with them in meaning and in facts. What one is silent about, another supplies: what one gives concisely, another relates more at large: what one obscurely hints at, another gives at length. As S. Augustine says, “Although each seems to have preserved his own order in writing, yet they are not found to have written as though any one were ignorant of what had been said by him who preceded; but as each was inspired, he added the not superfluous co-operation of his own labour.”
Lastly, the discrepancies of the Evangelists are the greatest possible testimony to their truthfulness. As S. Chrysostom says in his Preface to S. Matthew, “If altogether and in every respect they exactly corresponded, and with the utmost precision with respect to times and places were in perfect verbal agreement, there is not one of our enemies but would believe, that they were engaged in a common design to deceive, and that they had framed the Gospels by human understanding, for they would not judge that this supposed harmony arose from simple sincerity, but was the result of contrivance.” And again, he says, “If any one whatsoever had related everything, the others would have been superfluous: or if again, on the other hand, each had written nothing which was found in the others, there could have been no proof of their agreement. Wherefore they have written many things in common, and yet each hath related something specially and peculiarly his own. And thus they have escaped the charge of writing for writing’s sake, merely to add to the number of the Gospels, as well as the opposite danger of bringing discredit upon everything, by each giving entirely different events.”
HE Syriac version of the Gospels was made, as it would seem, from the Greek, and is extant in the royal Bibles. The Arabic version was printed at Rome with a translation, at the Medici printing press, A.D. 1591. I frequently cite both these versions.
I have also found in the Vatican Library at Rome the Coptic, or Egyptian version of the Gospels, the Ethiopian, and the Persian, all very ancient. For the Gospel was brought into Egypt soon after Christ by S. Mark, into Ethiopia by S. Matthew, into Persia by S. Simon and S. Jude. And so the faith of the Gospel flourished in those regions. In them there were swarms of holy monks and brave martyrs. A Persian version was transmitted by Jerome Xavier, the Jesuit, a cousin of S. Francis Xavier, from the city of Arga, in the territory of the King of Mogor, as a precious gift, and a remarkable monument of antiquity, to the Collegium Romanum, where I have collated it. This Codex was transcribed from the original in the Mahometan year 730 of the Hegira, which corresponds to A.D. 1381. The original itself was very much more ancient, for which reason the version contains a great number of Persian words differing from modern Persian. Of all these versions I propose to make use, though in moderation, and cum grano. For they have not the authority of the Greek and Latin Gospels; but they confirm, and to some extent illustrate them. Moreover there are at Rome Ethiopians, or Abyssinians, whose youthful priests are in the habit of coming to the Collegium Romanum. In Rome too there are those who are skilled in other tongues, for the world is in that city. The various Gospels have been interpreted to me by men of the several nations and languages in which they are written, especially by the Reverend Father Athanasius Kincher of our Society, a man well acquainted with the Oriental languages, as may be seen by the Lexicon which he has lately published.
It is said that S. Matthew preached in hither Ethiopia, now called Sennaar, where there are black Ethiopians. He is said to have died in the city of Luah, where there are still standing churches dedicated to him. The rest of Ethiopia, or Abyssinia, attributes its reception of the Gospels and the rest of Holy Scripture, together with the faith of Christ to a certain Ethiopian monk, named Abba Salama, or the father of peace. He was brought up amongst the Eastern Arabs, from whom he derived his knowledge of Christianity and the Holy Scriptures, which he afterwards communicated to the whole of Ethiopia, for which reason he is called its apostle. The Ethiopic version agrees with the Arabic, from which it was derived.
Very many, both in ancient and modern times, have written commentaries on the Gospels. Not to multiply citations, let us quote what S. Jerome says in his preface to S. Matthew: “I confess that I have read many years ago twenty-five volumes of Origen upon S. Matthew, and as many volumes of Homilies. I have read also the commentaries of Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, of Hippolytus the Martyr, and of Theodore of Heraclea, of Apollinarius of Laodicæa, and Didymus of Alexandria. Of Latin commentators, I have read the works of Hilary, Victorinus, and Fortunatus, from whom, even though little be taken, something worthy of remembrance might be written down.”
Of recent commentators the number is all but infinite. Their superabundance makes it difficult for the reader to know which to choose, so that he might say with Niobe of old, “Abundance has made me poor.”
For myself, I have written the following commentaries, partly at Louvain, A.D. 1600, partly when I was teaching and lecturing publicly on the Gospels at Rome. I am now an old man, and have passed nearly all my life in learning in the school of the Holy Scriptures. In a science so vast, so sublime and difficult, no one ought to be a teacher and doctor until he has spent a long time in studying as a disciple of the doctors.
HIS Gospel in the Latin, Greek, and Syriac versions, has for its title, “The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Matthew.” That is, this is the book which contains the most excellent and joyful message of the advent of Christ, the Messiah promised to the patriarchs, of His Incarnation, Birth, Life, Preaching, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, of the grace of His salvation, and the glory flowing from it and given to the whole world, of which things S. Matthew was the writer, the Holy Ghost the dictator.
The Syriac version prefixes the following title: “In power of the Lord, and of our God, Jescua Christ, we begin to write the book of the most sacred Evangel, the first Gospel, the preaching of Matthew.” At the end of the book is written, “Of the holy Gospel, the preaching of Matthew, which he preached in the Hebrew tongue, in the land of Palestine, the end.” The Arabic has, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ, as Mar (i.e., lord) Matthew, one of His twelve disciples, wrote it.”
Holy: The Gospel both is, and is called holy, because all the things which it contains are pre-eminently holy; viz., holy is the Birth of Christ, holy is His doctrine, holy are His works. There is also an allusion to Daniel ix. 24, where it is said that seventy weeks of years must be fulfilled until Christ, that the Holy of Holies may be anointed, because it is shown in this Gospel that the prophecy of Daniel was fulfilled in Christ which was for to come. For Christ is the Holy of Holies, and therefore as of old to the patriarch Jacob, so now to all Christians, His servants, He will give knowledge of holy things; for His object is our sanctification, “That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve him without fear: in holiness and justice before him, all our days.” (Luke i. 75.)
Gospel, in Greek Evangel, good news, from ευ̉αγγέλλω, I bring good news. So S. Chrysostom. See Budæus, in Pandectas, where he adds that Evangel, by metonyme, signifies a donation, or an offering given for good news. Thus Cicero writes to Atticus, “O, thy sweet letters, for which I confess I owe evangelia!” that is, a reward for good tidings. In Hebrew, Gospel is called besorah, from basar, “flesh,” because besorah is the most joyful tidings of the WORD “being made flesh.”
According to Matthew. The words, according to, denote that primarily and chiefly its author is the Holy Spirit, and in the second place S. Matthew. For Matthew was as it were the organ, instrument, and pen of the Holy Spirit, writing the things which the Holy Ghost dictated to him, according to those words in the forty-fourth Psalm, “My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”
2. According to denotes that the Gospel is one and the same, but was written in a fourfold manner by four Evangelists. Therefore the words indicate that the Gospel of S. Matthew is not another Gospel than that of SS. Mark, Luke, and John, but only that there was a different writer, and a different manner of writing the Gospel.
3. It signifies that the Holy Ghost accommodated Himself to the nature and disposition of S. Matthew. The Holy Ghost illuminated, stirred him up, and directed him, so as to write the things which he had partly witnessed himself, partly had heard from the other Apostles, and partly God had revealed to him, in such a way as should be in accordance with the method, order, style, diction, and genius of S. Matthew. For there was no need of a fresh revelation from God for such things as Matthew already knew, by seeing or hearing them, but only of assistance and direction of the Holy Spirit, lest through forgetfulness, or any other human infirmity, he should err from the truth, even in the very slightest point, or write anything else, or in any different manner from what the Holy Spirit willed.
Some are of opinion that this title was prefixed to his Gospel by S. Matthew himself, as were also the titles of S. Mark, S. Luke, and S. John by those Evangelists. For thus the Prophets prefixed their names to their prophecies, as the Vision of Isaiah, the Vision of Obadiah.
But it is far more probable that the titles of each of the Gospels were attached to them, not by the Evangelists themselves, but by the Church. The similarity of the titles is an indication that such was the case. The title of the Syriac Gospel, which I have already cited, makes it still more probable that it was so. And from hence you may gather an irrefragable argument for the authority of tradition, that Holy Scripture does not suffice for building up the true faith and morals of the Church, but that there is need likewise of Apostolic traditions. This is one of the false negations of the heretics. For tell me if you can, from whence you know that this is the Gospel of S. Matthew, and Canonical Scripture, and that the Gospels of Thomas, of Barnabas, and the Twelve Apostles, which were formerly in circulation, are not Canonical Scripture, except by the tradition and consent of the Church? For many books have false titles, and are inscribed with the names of other authors, as is plain by the works of SS. Augustine, Jerome, Cyprian, and other Fathers. In the same way some Gospels which were compiled by heretics, were inscribed with the names of SS. Bartholomew, Thomas, and Barnabas. By like art and deceit, they might have ascribed a false Gospel to S. Matthew, as in effect the Gnostics did, when they changed and corrupted S. Matthew’s Gospel by their additions. In order, therefore, that we may be sure that this Gospel is rightly ascribed to S. Matthew, and still more, that the whole of it was really dictated by the Holy Ghost, there must needs be the declaration and definition of the Church, which severs it from Apocryphal writings, and pronounces it Canonical. Hence S. Austin, in his book against the Epistle of Manes, which they call Fundamental, wisely says, “I would not believe the Gospel, unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me to do so.” Not because the authority of the Church is worthier, or of more weight than that of Holy Scripture—for Scripture is the word and the oracle of God Himself—but because it is the office of the Church to separate genuine Scripture from what is false and spurious, and to give its true sense and meaning. “When, therefore, we say,” says a weighty author, “that the Evangelists and other sacred writers have authority from the Catholic Church, according to the sense in which we say it, no one has a right to be offended, as if we set the Church before God. For the sense in which we say that the Church confers authority upon the Scriptures is this, that she declares them to be given by God, and pronounces that they have been dictated by Him. Do they prefer the servant to his master, who say, as is commonly done, that the king’s letters have the chancellor’s authority, because he has attached the great seal to them? But the Church has the Seal of God, even the Spirit Himself, who was promised, and has been given to her, that He may abide with her for ever. The Spirit recognizes His own handwriting. He it was who first dictated these four Gospels. And now He makes known to us, by the Church, that He did indite them.”
Matthew. Matthew, who was called by Christ from the receipt of custom to the apostolate, was the first who wrote a Gospel. Blessed Peter Damian, in his sermon on S. Matthew, gives him this eulogium:—“Amongst the greatest saints who have gained their titles of victory in celestial glory by their triumph over the world, Matthew seems to me especially glorious and famous, and to obtain a certain primacy of dignity amongst them. To speak plainly, there is no one after Christ to whom, as it appears to me, the holy universal Church is more indebted. For this is the very cause of the life of the world, that the Gospel has shone upon us. Like a captain, he carried a standard for his followers, and by his example stirred them up to write.”
Cajetan and the Anabaptists are of opinion that S. Matthew wrote in Greek, because Hebrew words—such as Emmanuel; Eli, Eli; lama sabachthani?—are translated into Greek. But these may have been added by the Greek translator. SS. Jerome and Augustine, Eusebius, and the rest of the ancients, unanimously affirm that Matthew wrote in Hebrew, and that he did so because he was asked by the Jews, when he was going away amongst the Gentiles, to leave them in writing what he had orally preached to them. This is asserted by S. Chrysostom, in his first Homily. The Auctor Imperfecti adds, “The cause of S. Matthew’s writing was this: at a time of severe persecution in Palestine, when all were in danger of being dispersed, in order that if the disciples were deprived of teachers of the faith, they might not be deprived of teaching, they asked Matthew to write them a history of all the words and deeds of Christ, that wheresoever they might be, they might have with them a statement of all that they believed. S. Jerome declares that he had seen S. Matthew’s Gospel, written in Hebrew, in the Library of Pamphilus the Martyr, at Cæsarea, and from it had transcribed his own copy. This Hebrew text is now, however, lost. For what Sebastian Munster, an unfrocked renegade, has offered to us, as though he had received it from the Jews, is suspected to have been written, or else falsified, by heretics or Jewish traitors, and has besides an offensive odour of spuriousness.
S. Matthew wrote a Gospel in Hebrew, at the bidding of the Apostles, says S. Epiphanius (Hæres. 51), in the same year that they took counsel about separating, that they might go to the Gentiles. This was in the year 37 after the birth of Christ, the fourth from the Passion. So that the opinion of Baronius is not so probable that Matthew wrote in A.D. 41. Still less probable is what S. Irenæus says (lib. 3, c. I), that he wrote whilst SS. Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome. For S. Peter did not come to Rome before the second year of the Emperor Claudius, and S. Paul not before the third year of Nero. Whence it would follow that S. Matthew did not write until the eighteenth or twentieth year after Christ’s ascension, which is evidently untrue.
Certainly S. Matthew’s Hebrew Gospel was immediately translated into Greek. This was done either by S. Matthew himself, S. John, or S. James, or by some such person. S. Athanasius, in his Synopsis of Holy Scripture, says, “Matthew’s Gospel was written by Matthew in the Hebrew dialect, published at Jerusalem, and a translation made by James, the Lord’s brother.” But Theophylact, in his Preface says, “John, it is reported, translated this Gospel out of Hebrew into Greek.” Some again are of opinion that Barnabas was the translator of this Gospel from Hebrew into Greek. Among others this is asserted by Sixtus Senensis. But Anastasius Sinaita says that Luke and Paul were the translators. The Syriac version of S. Matthew was certainly translated not from the Hebrew, but the Greek. S. Jerome also, when by the command of Pope Damasus, he corrected the Latin translation of the four Gospels, made S. Matthew conform to the Greek rather than the Hebrew, as he tells us in his preface to the Gospels. I may observe in passing that when S. Jerome, at the bidding of Damasus, translated the Old Testament out of Hebrew into Latin, he did not translate afresh the New Testament, but brought the existing translation into accordance with the Greek original.
So that the translator of the New Testament was not S. Jerome, but some one much earlier, though far from being a good Latinist, as is plain to every reader.
S. Jerome says, that when S. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, he appears to have followed the Hebrew original in his citations from the Old Testament. But the Greek translator has preferred to cite them from the Septuagint, as better known to the Gentiles.
Whether S. Matthew wrote in pure Hebrew, such as that of Moses and the Prophets, or in the corrupt Hebrew current after the Babylonish captivity, usually called Syriac, is not plain. It is certain that the Jews in the time of Christ did not speak pure Hebrew. Syriac was their vernacular. It is very evident that the rest of the New Testament was translated from Greek into Syriac, and the same person apparently translated all the books. The Hebrew words quoted in the Greek text differ from the Syriac words used in the Syriac version now extant.
In S. Matthew xxvii. 8, instead of the Hebrew Haceldama, or field of blood, the present Syriac has agurescadama, an evident Grecism, partly formed from άγρος, a field. Instead of the Hebrew Cephas, the Syriac has Kypho. For Eli, Eli, my God, my God, it has Il, Il, omitting the my. For Golgota, it has Golgoulto; for Jacob, Jaacoub, &c.
The Syrians thought that the translator of the New Testament from Greek into their language was S. Mark the Evangelist. But it is difficult to believe this, for both the Cyrils, Clement of Alexandria, SS. Athanasius and Damascene, Theodoret, S. Ephrem, who lived either in Syria, or else in Egypt, make no mention of it. I may add that the Version has several things which are little pleasing to learned men. This translator appears to have lived subsequently to the Fathers just named. He has this good point about him, however, that he was a Catholic opposed to heretics. For in the headings of his chapters he often makes mention of fasts, vigils, feasts, invocation of saints, &c.
As regards divisions, the Gospel of S. Matthew has been variously divided, and parted into sections. By the ancient Latin Church, according to S. Hilary, it was divided into 33 Canons: by others, it was divided into 67 Canons. By the later Latins it is divided into 28 chapters. By the Greeks, according to Euthymius, it was divided into 68 chapters; according to Suidas into 68 titles, and 355 chapters.
Lastly, S. Matthew is pre-eminent amongst the Evangelists in the following respects:—
1. He was the first who published a Gospel, wherefore Tertullian calls him, “that most faithful exponent of the Gospel.” (Lib. de Carne Christi, c. 22.)
2. Because he dwells upon Christ’s regal dignity more than the others.
3. Because S. Matthew was the Apostle of Ethiopia, and the victim of virginity. He was slain by King Hirtacus, because he was not willing that Iphigenia, the daughter of the King of Ethiopia, who had consecrated her virginity to God, should be given him to wife.
4. Because S. Matthew, who was perfectly conversant with business affairs, for he was over the tribute, was converted to Christ, not by seeing His miracles, not by hearing His preaching, says S. Chrysostom, but by a single word, “Follow Me,” obeying this with the utmost promptitude, he was straightway changed into another man, even into an Apostle, so that he left all things, and followed Christ. I may add, that after this he never left Christ, but was a beholder and a witness of His miracles, an imitator of His life, a companion of His journeys and labours a partaker of His cares and griefs, and thus was conversant with Him during the whole period of His earthly ministry.
Matthew means in Hebrew, given, as Origen and Isidore say—or a gift, as Pagninus thinks—from matthan, a gift. Anastasius of Antioch gives a different interpretation, Matthew, he says, means the “command of the Most High.” S. Gregory makes the following remarks about him: “Iron is taken out of the earth. Was not Matthew found in the earth, when he was immersed in worldly business, and served the customs board. But when he was taken out of the earth, he possessed the strength of iron. For by his tongue, and by the dispensation of the Gospel committed to him, the Lord, as by a most sharp sword, transfixed the hearts of unbelievers.” Clement of Alexandria says of this Evangelist, that he was not wont to eat flesh, but to live on seeds, berries, and herbs.
I pass over what Abdias (lib. 3 Hist. Apost.) says, that Matthew on account of the Gospel which he was preaching to the Myrmidons, had his eyes put out by those idolaters, but was restored to sight by the Apostle S. Andrew, at the bidding of an angel, who appeared to him, with many other things, for this Abdias is an apocryphal writer. You may consult Surius, Baronius, John de le Haye, and several other writers for further particulars about S. Matthew.
The last thing I will mention is, that S. Matthew made himself known to S. Brigitt, when she was praying at his tomb in the city of Malphi, and said to her, “When I was writing my Gospel, so intense was the heat of the Divine flame which abode with me, that even if I had wished to keep silence, I could not, because of that burning heat.”