The Roman Minute: Four Gospel Writers

Please enjoy this second installment of "The Roman Minute." In this episode, you get to learn a little symbolism--useful in travels and whenever you're feeling ecclesiastical.


Hello, I'm Lindsey Scholl and welcome again to "The Roman Minute," where you can sample a little history, religion, and possibly even food of Rome in around a minute.

In "Fall of Rome, Sort Of," I referred to the gospel writers as animals. This is an old tradition, dating back as far as the Christian writer Irenaeus of Lyons in the 100s. And you'll remember that beautiful mosaic of them in the Roman church, Santa Maria Maggiore, which was built in the 400s. Here they are again: an ox (there on the left), a man, a lion, and an eagle (on the far right). These are the four gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but not necessarily in that order. Christians adopted this symbolism because the four creatures were originally found in book of Ezekiel (there he is there, surrounded them) and then again in Revelation. In both books, they give glory to God alone, just like the gospel writers, and it's fun is to match them up. 

Irenaeus thought that Matthew should be the man, Mark the Eagle, Luke the Ox, and John  the Lion. Three hundred later, Augustine taught that Matthew should be the lion, Mark the man, Luke still was the ox, and John was the eagle. For much of western Christian history, though, it settled to this: Matthew is the man because of how he depicts Christ's humanity, Mark is the lion because of his emphasis on the royal dignity of Christ; Luke is the ox because of how he portrays Christ as a sacrifice, and John the eagle because of the elevated philosophical tone of his gospel. 

There you have it. You'll see these four characters represented as a group, also known as the Tetramorph, or individually in churches throughout the world, and, of course in the city of Rome. I'm Dr. Lindsey Scholl bringing you the Roman minute and wishing you Pax Christi.