Rorate Caeli

Saints of the Old Testament: St. Malachias, prophet

With the conclusion of the Octave of the Epiphany of Our Lord yesterday, the Church now recalls a courageous defender of the doctrine of the Trinity, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and the martyr priest St. Felix of Nola. But third on the list of today's saints in the traditional Roman Martyrology is the heavenly birthday of an Old Testament saint, the holy prophet Malachias:

This Day, the Fourteenth Day of January

St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers and confessor, who entered Heaven on the thirteenth day of this month. 

At Nola, in Campania, the birthday of St. Felix, priest, who (as is related by bishop St. Paulinus), after being subjected to torments by the persecutors, was cast into prison and extended, bound hand and foot, on (snail) shells and broken earthenware. In the night, however, his bonds were loosened and he was delivered by an angel. The persecution over, he brought many to the faith of Christ by his exemplary life and teaching, and, renowned for miracles, rested in peace. 

In Judaea, St. Malachy, prophet.

St. Malachias (or Malachi -- Hebrew Malakhi, a diminutive of Malakhiyahu, "Messenger/Angel of the Lord") has the distinction of being the author of the last of the Twelve Minor Prophets.  The book of prophecy that God inspired him to write, along with the witness of ancient Jewish and Christian tradition, show that he was one of the Post-Exilic prophets.  That his book is the last of the Minor Prophets is no doubt due to his being the last of the Twelve chronologically. The old Catholic Encyclopedia briefly discusses what may certainly be known of him:

All that is known of him, however, is summed up in the tenor of his preaching and the approximate period of his ministry. The Jewish schools identified him quite early with the scribe Esdras. This identification, which is without historical value and is based according to St. Jerome on an interpretation given to Mal., ii, 7, was at first probably suggested by the tradition which beheld in Esdras the intermediary between the prophets and the "great synagogue", whose foundation was attributed to him and to which he was considered to have transmitted the deposit of doctrine handed down by the prophets (Pirqe Abhôth, I, 2). The position of intermediary fully belonged to Esdras on the hypothesis that he was the last of the prophets and the first member of the "great synagogue". The name Malachias figures at the head of the book in the Septuagint. The Alexandrine translator, however, did not understand Mal., i, 1, to contain the mention of the author's proper name; he translates the passage: "The word of the Lord by the hand of his Angel," so that he has evidently understood the Hebrew expression to be the common noun augmented by the suffix; he has, moreover, read Mál'akhô instead of Mál'akhî. We cannot say whether this reading and interpretation should not be considered as an effect of Jewish speculations concerning the identity of the author of the book with Esdras, or whether an interpretation of this kind was not at the foundation of the same speculation. However that may be, the interpretation of the Septuagint found an echo among the ancient Fathers and ecclesiastical writers, and even gave rise, especially among the disciples of Origen, to the strangest fancies.

A large number of modern authors likewise refuse to see in Mál'akhî the proper name of the author. They point out that in Mal., iii, 1, the Lord announces: "Behold I send my angel (mál'akhî)...". According to them, it is from this passage that the name Mál'akhî was borrowed by a more recent author, who added the inscription to the book (i, 1). But, in the first place, this epithet Mál'akhî could not have the same value in i, 1, as in iii, 1, where it is the noun augmented by the suffix (my angel). For in i, 1, the Lord is spoken of in the third person, and one would expect the noun with the suffix of the third person, as in fact is given in the Septuagint (his angel). The messenger of the Lord is moreover announced in iii, 1, to arrive thereafter (cf. iv, 5; Hebrew text, iii, 23); consequently no one could have imagined that this same messenger was the author of the book. There would remain the hypothesis that Mál'akhî in i, 1, should be understood as a qualifying word signifying angelicus --- i.e. he who was concerned with the angel, who prophesied on the subject of the angel (iii, 1). This explanation, however, is too far-fetched. It is at least more probable that Mál'akhî in i, 1, should be understood as the proper name of the author, or as a title borne historically by him and equivalent to a proper name. We are no doubt in presence of an abbreviation of the name Mál'akhîyah, that is "Messenger of Yah."

As noted above, there is no historical basis for the old Jewish tradition identifying St. Malachias as St. Esdras the Scribe. The first century A.D. Jewish work called The Lives of the Prophets apparently antedates the sources that testify to the "Malachias=Esdras" tradition, but knows nothing of it, instead recounting the following legends:

He was born in Sopha, after the return from the exile. Even in his boyhood he lived a blameless life, and since all the people paid him honor for his piety and his mildness, they called him "Malachi" (angel); he was also fair to look upon. Moreover, whatever things he uttered in prophecy were repeated on that same day by an angel of God who appeared; as had happened in the days when there was no king in Israel, as is written in the book of Judges. While yet in his youth, he was gathered to his fathers in his own field.

It is uncertain which Jewish locale is meant by the place name "Sopha," but it may be the same as Ramah or Ramathaim-Zophim (Arimathaea) in Mount Ephraim, the home of the family of the prophet and judge St. Samuel. Though we cannot tell how reliable these legends of St. Malachias may be, it is at least clear from the things he wrote that he was roughly contemporary with Nehemias the Governor and Esdras the Scribe about the middle of the 400s B.C.  In his book, St. Malachias decries several sins and abuses of his contemporaries, and St. Nehemias confronted the same abuses during his tenure as Governor of Judaea. Among these grievous sins were impious or sacrilegious offerings, a failure to pay the commanded tithes, divorce and remarriage, and intermarriage between God's People and pagans. But, as is also the case of the other prophets of Israel, St. Malachias did not merely reproach his people for their sins and warn of God's impending punishment, but he also told of the true remedy of their sins, delivering a message of Messianic hope. He announced that before the Advent of the Messiah ("the Messenger of the Covenant") God would send a "messenger" who would prepare the way for God. The forerunner, according to St. Malachias, would be the great St. Elias the Prophet -- not literally Elias, however, for St. Gabriel the Archangel says this prophecy of St. Malachias was fulfilled by St. John the Baptist (Luke 1:17), last in the long line of Old Testament prophets. The prophet Malachias even foresees a day when holy sacrifice would be continually offered to God not only in Jerusalem but all over the world (Mal. 1:11) -- a prophecy fulfilled when Jesus instituted the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Catholic priesthood. Lastly, though his message was prompted by the particular circumstances and concerns of his own day, the prophecy of St. Malachias nevertheless serves as a timely warning to all men of every generation to examine their consciences and prepare for Judgment Day:

Behold he cometh, saith the Lord of hosts. And who shall be able to think of the day of his coming? and who shall stand to see him? for he is like a refining fire, and like the fuller's herb: And he shall sit refining and cleansing the silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold, and as silver, and they shall offer sacrifices to the Lord in righteousness. And the sacrifice of Juda and of Jerusalem shall please the Lord, as in the days of old, and in the ancient years. And I will come to you in judgment, and will be a speedy witness against sorcerers, and adulterers, and false swearers, and them that oppress the hireling in his wages; the widows, and the fatherless: and oppress the stranger, and have not feared me, saith the Lord of hosts. (Mal. 3:1-5)

All ye holy patriarchs and prophets,

Pray for us!