October 24th

The four writers of the Gospels are traditionally depicted in Christian art in a rather strange ways: as a man, as a lion, as an ox, and as an eagle.  These symbols are derived from prophetic visions found in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Both in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel and in the Book of Revelation we hear about four “living creatures” which resembled a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle.  Traditionally, these are seen as symbols of the four Gospel writers.

In last week’s article, I mentioned that Saint Luke is the Gospel writer represented by the ox because his Gospel begins with the Angel appearing to Zechariah as he was ministering in the Temple of Jerusalem.  Oxen were just one example of animals offered in sacrifice in the Temple.  The ox is taken to represent Saint Luke because his Gospel opens in the Temple.

The “living creature” which resembled a man is taken to represent Saint Matthew, because his Gospel begins with the human genealogy of Jesus Christ.  Saint Matthew’s Gospel is written to a Jewish audience.  He assumes that his readers are familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and makes many allusions to events and people in the Old Testament.  Because he is writing to a Jewish audience, Saint Matthew is particularly concerned with showing how Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament.

The lion traditionally represents Saint Mark.  The reason for this is again found at the beginning of his Gospel.  Saint Mark’s Gospel begins with action: Jesus is baptized and is immediately led out into the desert where He is among the “wild beasts.”  There are mountain lions in the wilderness surrounding the Jordan River; hence the fittingness of the lion used to depict Saint Mark.

Saint Mark was a companion to Saint Peter, just as Saint Luke accompanied Saint Paul.  It is held that Saint Mark wrote much of what he wrote based on things that he learned from Saint Peter.  Saint Mark wrote his Gospel to the Christians in Rome, which is the reason that it is so clear, direct and terse.  (Romans tended to be succinct and efficient.)  Saint Mark’s Gospel has the fewest chapters but it is filled with action.  Saint Mark tried to capture many of Our Lord’s actions and miracles within a relatively short space.

Finally, we come to Saint John.  Of course the eagle is the last of the four symbols that we have mentioned, therefore it obviously represents Saint John.  The eagle represents this last Gospel, not because of it’s opening lines (as is the case with the other Gospels); the eagle represents this last Gospel because just the eagle soars high above all other birds, so too, Saint John’s Gospel is said to soar above the other Gospels due to its lofty theology.  Whereas the other Gospels begin on earth, Saint John’s begins “In the beginning . . .”  Saint John starts out by showing that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son of God, Who became incarnate in order to reveal God to us.  The first chapter of his Gospel is a beautiful meditation on the Incarnation.

The authors of the four Gospel write from different perspectives and to different audiences, but they each give us great insight into the things that Our Lord said and did.  Through meditating upon the Gospels we come to know Jesus in a most intimate way.  Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: pray for us!

God bless,

Father White