Research the four symbols that are traditional for the four evangelists. Explain in written form why you think each symbol reflects the work of the corresponding evangelist.

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This essay gives a short history of the symbols associated with, and their relationship to the

Gospels. Images of the Evangelistic symbols over the centuries are included as they have been very important for communicating Christian ideas over the centuries.

The four symbols associated with the gospels are from the Old Testament;

Eze 1:10: As for the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man; and they four had the face of a lion on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four had also the face of an eagle. (ASV)

The root of man is H120




From H119; ruddy, that is, a human being (an individual or the species, mankind, etc.): - X another, + hypocrite, + common sort, X low, man (mean, of low degree), person.

The root of lion is H738

אריה ארי

'ărîy 'aryêh

ar-ee', ar-yay'

From H717 (in the sense of violence); a lion: - (young) lion, + pierce [from the margin].

The root of ox is H7794




From H7788; a bullock (as a traveller). wall used by mistake for H7791: - bull (-ock), cow, ox, wall [by mistake for H7791].

The root of eagle is H5404




From an unused root meaning to lacerate; the eagle (or other large bird of prey): - eagle. (1)

The four creatures are also associated with Revelations 4:7: "And the first creature was like a

lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man,

and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle."(YLT)

Through the ages many saints and scholars have associated these symbols in differing


Early Christian Author Human/Angel Lion ox Eagle

St. Irenaeus of Lyons Mark Matthew Luke John

St. Augustine of Hippo Mark Matthew Luke John

Pseudo-Athanasius Matthew Luke Mark John

St. Jerome Matthew Mark Luke John (2)

They didn't all agree with St. Jerome's association, however, " Gregory's homilies on Ezekiel, delivered in Rome in 593, reinforce Jerome's identification of the four living creatures of Ezekiel's vision with the four Evangelists in the order Matthew-man; Mark-lion; Luke-calf; John-eagle.

Gregory's important contribution to the tradition was to show how each gospel, as epitomised by its opening lines and characterised by its symbolic creature, reveals a particular aspect of the redemption of humanity wrought by Christ who became a man at his birth, a (sacrificial) ox at his death, a (waking) lion at his resurrection and an eagle at his ascension.

The pairing of the four living creatures in Ezekiel's vision with the four Evangelists follows Jerome's order but adds Gregory the Great's symbolic identification of Christ with the man, calf, lion and eagle at his birth, death, resurrection and ascension.

Jerome relates each of the four faces of the four living creatures in Ezekiel's vision to one of

the four Evangelists in an order, which differs from that of Irenaeus but was to become standard". (3)

The Evangelists are symbolized in art by emblematic figures, usually winged, a human head, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. The human head indicates Saint Matthew, because he begins his Gospel with the human ancestry of our Saviour. The lion, the dweller in the desert, is emblematic of Saint Mark, who opens his narrative with the mission of Saint John the Baptist, "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." The sacrificial ox is the symbol of Saint Luke, for his Gospel begins with the story of the priest Zachary. The eagle, soaring far into the heavens, is the emblem of Saint John. (6)

The human, lion, ox and eagle are symbols of the four evangelists. These symbols adorn many works of art, buildings and objects used in worship. Each may identify one evangelist, or the four may represent the Gospel as a whole. In addition, the four symbols taken together represent the mystery of Christ's life. They recall in turn the birth, sacrifice, resurrection and...
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