A spiritual evangelist

Daily Reading for September 21 • Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

The first Evangelist, who was chosen by God,

[was] named Matthew, whom the Saviour chose

from being a worldly taxgatherer to be a spiritual Evangelist,

and he was one of the twelve servants of God;

he wrote the Gospel first in Hebrew,

which is set in order in the first book.

He wrote it in Hebrew for the Hebrew people

who in the land of Judea believed in Christ;

and desired, by that scripture whereon they were fed,

to confirm their faith, because he loved them;

and he had to depart then into far distant lands

to heathen nations, to teach them.

Then he desired first of all to write the Gospel

for his own people, before he departed from them. . . .

These four Evangelists are chosen of God,

and they enlightened all the world by their lore,

even as the four rivers which run from Paradise

together water all this orb;

and these four Evangelists God revealed of old

in the Old Law, to the prophet Ezekiel.

He saw in his vision four beasts such as these;

one of the four beasts was seen as it were the appearance of a Man,

the second was like a Lion’s form,

and the third stood like a Stirk (Calf),

and the fourth was like a variously colored Eagle.

The Man’s likeness belongeth to Matthew,

because he began his Gospel about Christ’s humanity.

The Lion belongeth, as the orthodox say,

to Mark’s likeness, because he cried with a loud sound,

even as the lion roareth greedily in the desert

“A voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye God’s ways,

make his paths straight.”

The Calf’s likeness belongeth to Luke,

because he began his Gospel, even as God directed him,

from the priest who was called Zacharias;

because people offered, in the old fashion,

a calf for the priest, and slew it at the altar.

The Eagle’s likeness belongeth to John,

because the eagle flieth the highest of all birds,

and can most steadily stare at the sun’s light.

So did John, the divine writer;

he flew far up, as if with eagle’s wings,

and beheld sagaciously how he might write most nobly of God.

From The Lives of Saints, Volume 1, by Aelfric, edited by Walter W. Skeat (Early English Text Society edition).

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