Like Paul and Barnabas, Matthias is recognized by the Church as an Apostle, even though he was not one of the pre-Easter Twelve. New Testament information about Matthias, whose name is short for Mattathias – Gift of God– is minimal. He is mentioned only on the occasion of his election to take the place of Judas Iscariot.
Matthias’ story is of considerable historical and theological interest. It confirms the impression left by the fourth Gospel and several Synoptic passages that, in addition to the Twelve, there were other women and men who followed Jesus throughout his ministry and were accorded special status in the primitive community (cf. Lk 8:1-3; Mk 15:41).
The theological significance of Matthias’ election is it connection with Pentecost, which for the author of Acts marks the birth of the church. The new People of God, the church must be founded on the new Twelve Patriarchs. After Pentecost, however, the need to express that connection is no longer considered important, and after the death of James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12.2) no one is chosen to replace him as an Apostle.
Matthias exhibited all the traits of an authentic Apostle. He followed Jesus and heard his teaching first hand. By divine intervention he was integrated into the group of the Twelve, lived in communion with them, and gave witness to the Lord’s resurrection.
As is the case with several of the Twelve, we can only speculate as to what became of them. Three hundred years later, Eusebius wrote in his Ecclesiastical History that Matthias evangelized Ethiopia. On the other hand, his tomb is venerated in the Church of the Benedictine Abbey of Trier (Germany), whose proper name is St. Matthias Abbey. A tradition, first recorded in the eleventh century, states that St. Helen ordered the Apostle’s remains to be moved to Trier. His epitaph reads: “Learned in the law of the Lord, pure in body and wise in spirit, a gifted interpreter of the Scriptures, prudent counselor, outstanding preacher, and worker of numerous miracles, he entrusted his spirit to God suffering martyrdom, his hands raised to heaven” (1, p. 152).
Archbishop Claret, disgusted with clergy, who curried his favor in their efforts to advance their careers, makes this interesting comment on the election of Matthias: “There were two candidates, regarded by all as possessing the requisite qualities, Matthias and Joseph the Just, a relative of Jesus. Yet God, who according to the Scriptures governs the destinies of all, wished to make clear that ecclesiastical dignities are not to be bestowed because of family connections or friendship, but based on the merits and talents of the candidate” (3, p. 215).
“Jesus called his friends to be Apostles, to witness to his power, to heal the sick, expel demons and raise the dead. In a word, they were chosen to spread the Gospel throughout the world and establish the kingdom of Jesus Christ. The fact is that, if Matthias was chosen from among many, he had to be a person of exceptional virtue and considerable merit. It is also true that God had destined and appointed him from eternity to be an Apostle. Nonetheless, he wished to confirm his choice in the presence of the church and these virtues of Matthias”(2, p. 358).
“One hundred and twenty were in the upper room, all of them undoubtedly men of exceptional virtue. We know or can conjure up the names of only a few:
St. Philip, the deacon led by an angel to baptize the eunuch of Queen Candace; Luke and Mark, prefigured in the prophecy of Ezekiel; St. Barnabas, Apostle, who accompanied Paul in much of his travels, and proclaimed the Gospel of Christ; St. Stephen, the first martyr, to whom the heavens were opened, enabling him to experience the consolation of Jesus seated at the right hand of God the Father. Among men of such outstanding virtue Matthias must have been seen as extraordinary. Such zeal, such faith, such love of the truth, such solicitude for the churches. Such constancy and wisdom!” (2, p. 360).
- CELLETTI, M. C., Art. Mattia, in Bibliotheca Sanctorum, t. IX, Rome 1967.
- CLARET. Collection of selected Panegyrics, t. V, Barcelona 1860.
- CLARET. The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to St Matthew, Barcelona 1859.
- LEON-DUFOUR, X., Voice of the Apostle, in dictionary of the New Testament, Bilbao 2002.
- MÜLLER, D., Voice of the Apostle, in theological Dictionary of the New Testament, t. I, Salamanca 1980.