The Christian symbols of the four evangelists appear in many places. They may be found on pulpits, in Bibles, on stained glass windows, or at the ends of a cross. Sometimes all four are combined (as in the image on the left) in an effort to remain more faithful to the description in Ezekiel 1.
Two separate passages of Scripture serve as the origins for the ancient Christian symbols of the four evangelists. Read the following passages:
These creatures bear witness to God's glory in Revelation, and in Ezekiel they appear before Ezekiel hears the word of the Lord. In this way, they seem to be appropriate Christian symbols of the Gospels, which bear witness to God's glory and proclaim the word of the Lord.
Read the passages above, and try to picture what they describe. How does your mental image compare with the images on this page? Given that each creature is associated with one of the four evangelists or gospels, which creature would you pair with which gospel? Do you agree with Irenaeus, Jerome or Augustine as described above? Why or why not?
Naturally, these Christian Symbols are a great way to preach from Ezekiel 1 or Revelation 4. They are also helpful if you are talking about scripture itself. Otherwise, it's not likely that you'll use all four symbols together. In most cases, you will be able to use them more effectively individually.
These ancient Christian symbols are not tied to any particular time or event in the liturgical calendar. With their role as throne bearers, they could be appropriate on Christ the King Sunday. Otherwise, any time a sermon or message is coming from one of the gospels, these symbols may be helpful.
These four ancient Christian symbols have been understood to represent the four evangelists (or gospels), respectively. Irenaeus, writing as early as the mid 100's, concluded in his Against Heresies, that the symbolism was as follows:
Matthew - the man, Mark - the eagle, Luke - the calf, and John - the lion. Jerome in Against Jovinianus and also Victorinus, in his commentary on Revelation (both mid 300's), offered the interpretation which has become dominant:
Winged Man - Matthew
Winged Ox - Luke
Winged Eagle - John
Winged Lion - Mark
Augustine then challenged this understanding of these ancient Christian symbols in his Harmony of the Gospels (ca 400), identifying Matthew with the Lion and Mark with the man. For a discussion of the individual interpretations, see each creature's respective page, linked below.
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