February 7, 2017

Saint John of Matha, Founder of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity

St. John of Matha
St. John of Matha receiving the approved Order from Pope Innocent II.

According to the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, February 8th is the feast of St. John of Matha, priest and founder.

Saint John of Matha (1160 - 1213), the founder of the Trinitarian Order, was born at Faucon, on the borders of Provence, in France. He was trained as a young noble in horsemanship and the use of arms, decided to study for the priesthood, and was ordained in Paris. After some years in solitude, he conceived the idea of founding an order to ransom Christian captives from the Muslims and journeyed to Rome to obtain the blessing of Pope Innocent III.

Houses of the order were established at Cerfroid and Rome and in Spain. He was very successful in the work of ransoming captives and his order spread. Very little is known for certain about his life, and in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to bolster his reputation, certain members of his order fabricated stories about him, filled his life with miracles and amazing adventures, and connected the beginnings of his order with St. Felix of Valois.

The Trinitarian Order had not preserved any archives of their order and had little knowledge of the life of their founder. Another order, the Order of Mercy, was founded for the same reason as their own, and they compiled a fictitious record of the beginnings of their order. This takes nothing away from the achievements of St. John of Matha, but it does obscure the true story of his life and work.

We do know that he received approval of his order from Pope Innocent III in 1198 and that he died in Rome in 1213. His relics were taken to Madrid in 1655, and he was recognized as a saint in 1694. At his death, there were thirty-five houses of the order throughout Europe. The Trinitarians were one of the first religious orders to combine monastic discipline with pastoral work and one of the first to become international in its work. The order flourishes today in several countries and in 1906 made a foundation in the United States.

Almighty God, pour into our hearts we pray, the Holy Spirit, at whose prompting your servant Saint John of Matha taught of your mysteries and preached your Word, from whom he received the strength to serve you alone. Called in the loving plan of God, may we strive to model the love and unity of the Trinity in all our prayers and works. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Excerpted from The One Year Book of Saints, Father Clifford Stevens.

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