The Four Living Creatures and the Four Gospels

One of Ireneaus’s analogies to the fourfold Gospel was the four cherubim.  Irenaeus seems to be harmonizing descriptions from Rev 4:6-9 and Ezek 1:5-26 (on the question of whether Irenaeus is using a source here see T.C. Skeat, “Irenaeus and the four-gospel canon,” NTS 34 [1992] and response from Annette Yoshiko Reed, “EUAGGELION:  Orality, Textuality and Christian Truth in Irenaeus’ Adversus Haeresis VC 56 [2002]).   So the Lion represents John’s high and confident Christology of the powerful Word, the human Matthew’s opening geneology of Jesus as son of David and Abraham, the calf Luke’s priestly character from its introduction of the priest Zechariah as the father of John the Baptist and the Eagle Mark’s prophetic character with its first reference to Isaiah the prophet followed by the descent of the spirit in the baptism.  However, other patristic writers were quite fond of this analogy, though they depart from Irenaus about which symbolizes which Gospel.  I found this useful chart below in the classic commentary by Henry Barclay Swete, The Gospel According to St. Mark: The Greek Text with Introductory Notes and Indices (2nd Edition; London: Macmillan and Co, 1908), xxxviii.  Guess which Gospel stands out as being assessed differently by Irenaues, Victorinus of Pettau notes on the Apocalypse, Augustine (De cons. ev. 1.9) and the Pseudo-Athanasian Synopsis

Irenaeus Victorinus Augustine Ps.-Athanasius
Matthew [HU]MAN [HU]MAN LION [HU]MAN
Mark EAGLE LION [HU]MAN CALF
Luke CALF CALF CALF LION
John LION EAGLE EAGLE EAGLE
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One Response to The Four Living Creatures and the Four Gospels

  1. […] animal imagery for the Gospels is indebted to Irenaeus and is used to good effect in his popular Gospel introduction Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic […]

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