Saint of the Day – 17 December – St John of Matha O.SS.T (1160-1213) – Priest, Founder of The Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives, also known as the Order of the Most Holy Trinity or the Trinitarians, Confessor, – born on 23 June 1160 at Faucon, Provence, France and died on 12 December 1223 at Rome, Italy of natural causes.
Patronage – The Trinitarians.
Between the eighth and the fifteenth centuries, medieval Europe was in a state of intermittent warfare between the Christian kingdoms of southern Europe and the Muslim polities of North Africa, Southern France, Sicily and portions of Spain. The threat of capture, whether by pirates or coastal raiders, or during one of the region’s intermittent wars, was not a new but rather a continuing threat to the residents of Catalonia, Languedoc and the other coastal provinces of medieval Christian Europe.
The redemption of captives is listed among the corporal works of mercy. The period of the Crusades, when so many Christians were in danger of falling into the hands of Muslims, witnessed the rise of religious orders vowed exclusively to this pious work.
St John of Matha was born to noble parents on the borders of Provence on 23 June 1169. He was baptised John, in honour of St John the Baptist. His father Euphemius sent him to Aix, where he learned grammar, fencing, riding, and other exercises fit for a young nobleman. It is said that while there he gave the poor a considerable part of the money his parents sent him and he visited the hospital every Friday, assisting the sick poor.
He studied theology at the University of Paris and was ordained a priest at the age of 32 in December 1192.
According to Trintarian tradition, on 28 January 1193, John celebrated his first Mass. During that Mass, he was struck with a vision of Christ holding by the hand two chained captives, one a Moor, the other a Christian (the Crusades were in full force at the time). The Christian captive carried a staff with a red and blue cross. After the Mass, John decided to devote himself to the task of ransoming Christian captives from the Moors. Before entering upon this work, he thought it needful to spend some time in retirement, prayer and mortification and having heard of a holy hermit, St Felix of Valois (1127–1212), living in a great wood near Gandelu, in the diocese of Meux, he repaired to him and requested him to instruct him in the practice of perfection.
One day while walking with Felix, John had another vision–a white stag appeared at a stream with a red and blue cross between its antlers. John disclosed to Felix the design he had conceived on the day on which he said his first mass, to succour captive Christians under slavery and Felix offered his help in carrying it out. They set out for Rome in the midst of a severe winter, towards the end of the year 1197, to obtain the pope’s benediction.
On 17 December 1198, he obtained the preliminary approval of Pope Innocent III for a new order dedicated in honour of the Blessed Trinity for the redemption of Christian captives. This order was fully approved in 1209. The Order of the Most Holy Trinity’s first monastery was established at Cerfroid (just north of Paris) and the second at Rome at the church of San Tommaso in Formis. Christian slaves were first rescued by the Order in 1201. In 1202 and 1210 John travelled to Tunisia himself and brought back countless Christian slaves.
St John founded the Trinitarians to go to the slave markets, buy the Christian slaves and set them free. To carry out this plan, the Trinitarians needed large amounts of money. So, they placed their fund-raising efforts under the patronage of Mary. In gratitude for her assistance, St John of Matha honoured Mary with the title of “Our Lady of Good Remedy.” Devotion to Mary under this ancient title is widely known in Europe and Latin America and the Church celebrates her feast day on 8 October. Our Lady of Good Remedy is often depicted as the Virgin Mary handing a bag of money to St John of Matha.
Before his death, Trinitarian tradition says he met St Francis of Assisi and introduced Francis to the Frangipani family, one of the benefactors of the Franciscan order. St John of Matha died on 17 December 1213, in Rome in the house of St Thomas In Formis on the Caelian Hill.
In 1655, his relics were transferred from Rome to Madrid. He was Canonised on 21 October 1666 by Pope Alexander VII (cultus confirmed).
Today the Trinitarian family is composed of priests, brothers, women (enclosed nuns and active sisters) as well as committed laity. Members of the Trinitarian family include the Trinitarian religious, the Trinitarian contemplative nun,; the Trinitarian Sisters of Valence, the Trinitarian Sisters of Rome, Valencia, Madrid, Mallorca and Seville, the Oblates of the Most Holy Trinit, the Third Order Secular (tertiaries) and other Trinitarian laity. All are distinguished by the cross of red and blue which dates from the origins of the Order. Trinitarians are found throughout Europe and in the Americas as well as in Africa, India, Korea and the Philippines.
In 2000 the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life approved “The Trinitarian Way” rule of life which would guide all the lay groups associated with the Trinitarians including the Third Order Secular, the Trinitarian Movement, Confraternities, etc.
Like the Jesuits, Trinitarians also pledge not to seek promotion within the Church hierarchy. If promotion is offered, however, it is accepted.
The Order of the Most Holy Trinity is active on five continents and in many countries.