Saint Thomas tells us that their name indicates their abundant knowledge of God. This may be why the Church has adopted these four living creatures as symbols of the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Saint Matthew’s Gospel is concerned with the man Jesus, and intends to convey to his fellow Jews that Jesus was the expected Messias. It was written in Aramaic, the Jewish language of the time, and mentions many things that would be familiar to his Jewish contemporaries. He identified with the winged man because of his interest in Jesus as man—Saint John, on the other hand, is identified by the eagle since his emphasis is on Jesus’ divinity. Traditionally, Matthew was the first to write a Gospel, and we believe it was complete before the destruction of Jerusalem
Matthew would seem to be an unlikely convert. He was a tax collector in the employ of the Romans. It is likely that he was enjoying a comfortable life at the expense of his fellow Jews.
In its inception, the Roman Republic was a marvelous institution of representative government. The people had a significant say in the way they were governed. But about 150 years before Matthew’s conversion the politicians determined that they could seize power by making Rome a welfare state. “Bread and Circuses” was the phrase coined by the Roman poet Juvenal to describe a people who gave up their civic pride in return for being fed and entertained.
Of course, governments produce nothing, so the cost of the bread and circuses had to be borne by the productive classes and by the productive labor of the countries occupied by the Roman military. Publicans, like Matthew, were employed because they know the local people and knew who was productive enough to have taxes extracted from them. The publican had to bid on a contract with Rome to collect a certain amount of taxes during the next few years. He had to submit that much money to Rome (on which he was paid interest) but could keep any surplus for himself. He was also a procurement officer for the Army, and a contractor for Roman public works. The publican had the support of Roman troops in his tax collecting efforts. To the productive Jew, Matthew was a thief.
So it would seem that Matthew was giving up a great deal to give up tax collecting and join Jesus and His rag-tag group of mostly fishermen. In this morning’s Matins, Saint Jerome told us that Julian the Apostate used the story of Matthew’s conversion in an attempt to portray the Apostles as stupid men, who would follow anyone who called them.
To the contrary, Jerome says that
There can be no doubt that before the Apostles believed they had considered the great signs and works of power which had gone before. Moreover, [as a magnet draws iron] the glory and majesty of the hidden God, which shone… through the Face of the Man Christ Jesus, were enough to draw [those who gazed upon Him] even at first sight.
In any event, we know that Matthew gave up his promising position with the Roman government and followed Jesus Christ. The Office says that after our Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension Matthew travelled to Ethiopia, making many converts including the King and his family, by raising the King’s daughter from the dead. But when the King died and his successor wanted to marry this daughter, he became enraged with Matthew, who had persuaded her to vow her virginity to God. The new King, Hirtacus, had Matthew murdered at the altar as he celebrated Holy Mass. Today, his body is buried in a church dedicated to him in Salerno, Italy by Pope Gregory VII.
Saint Matthew’s example should inspire us to honest work and to the recognition of our own shortcomings, and to the seeking of our Lord’s forgiveness for them. It should form in us a desire to die under holy circumstances—if there is anything better than dying at Holy Mass, it can only be dying at Holy Mass on a major feast day of Our Blessed Lady! We should be encouraged by our Lord’s words to the Pharisees:
“I am not come to call the just, but to call sinners.”
 Lesson viii in the third Nocturn of the feast. http://divinumofficium.com/cgi-bin/horas/Pofficium.pl?date1=9-21-2012&command=prayMatutinum&version=Reduced%201955&testmode=regular&lang2=English&votive=
 Ibid. Lesson v