Symbols of the Four Evangelists
compiled by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

Christian tradition has long connected the authors of the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) with the four "living creatures" that surround God's throne, as described in Rev 4:7, in the following pairs:
 

Matthew = Human/Angel Mark = Lion Luke = Ox John = Eagle

(These four small stained glass windows were designed by artist Pat Haegar of San Jose, CA.)
(They are located near the altar of Our Lady of Mercy Parish, Daly City, CA -- used here with permission.)

However, various traditions about four heavenly creatures, are already found in several older biblical texts:

Moreover, early Christian writers connected the four evangelists with the four living creatures in various combinations:
 
Early Christian Author Human/Angel Lion Ox Eagle
St. Irenaeus of Lyons Matthew John Luke Mark
St. Augustine of Hippo Mark Matthew Luke John
Pseudo-Athanasius Matthew Luke Mark John
St. Jerome Matthew Mark Luke John
Click on the  authors'  names  above to read the full texts.

The four "living creatures" (not to be confused with other "beasts" in the Book of Revelation) have captured the imaginations of Christian artists throughout the centuries. The following links are just some of the artistic depictions available on the Internet:


The Symbols of all Four Evangelists together:

My Photos:

Depictions in Ancient and Medieval Art available on the Internet:

Depictions in Modern Art available on the Internet:

Individual Depictions of St. Mark and/or the Lion:

Individual Depictions of St. Matthew and/or the Angel/Human:

Individual Depictions of St. Luke and/or the Ox:

Individual Depictions of St. John and/or the Eagle:


(Note: If you know of other images or sites, please e-mail fjust--at--calprov.org (replacing --at-- with @) so that I can add them to this growing list. Thanks!)

General Information on the Four Gospels:


Biblical and other Ancient Texts related to the Four Living Creatures

Rev 4:5-11 (NRSV)
"Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 4:6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 4:7 the first living creature like a LION, the second living creature like an OX, the third living creature with a face like a HUMAN face, and the fourth living creature like a flying EAGLE. 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come." 4:9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 4:10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 4:11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."
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Ezekiel 1:1-14 (NRSV)
"In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. 1:2 On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), 1:3 the word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was on him there. 1:4 As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. 1:5 In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. 1:6 Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. 1:7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf's foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze. 1:8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: 1:9 their wings touched one another; each of them moved straight ahead, without turning as they moved. 1:10 As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a HUMAN being, the face of a LION on the right side, the face of an OX on the left side, and the face of an EAGLE; 1:11 such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 1:12 Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 1:13 In the middle of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; the fire was bright, and lightning issued from the fire. 1:14 The living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning."
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Ezekiel 10:1-22 (NRSV)
"Then I looked, and above the dome that was over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in form resembling a throne. 10:2 He said to the man clothed in linen, "Go within the wheelwork underneath the cherubim; fill your hands with burning coals from among the cherubim, and scatter them over the city." He went in as I looked on. 10:3 Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house when the man went in; and a cloud filled the inner court. 10:4 Then the glory of the LORD rose up from the cherub to the threshold of the house; the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the glory of the LORD. 10:5 The sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks. 10:6 When he commanded the man clothed in linen, "Take fire from within the wheelwork, from among the cherubim," he went in and stood beside a wheel. 10:7 And a cherub stretched out his hand from among the cherubim to the fire that was among the cherubim, took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out. 10:8 The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under their wings. 10:9 I looked, and there were four wheels beside the cherubim, one beside each cherub; and the appearance of the wheels was like gleaming beryl. 10:10 And as for their appearance, the four looked alike, something like a wheel within a wheel. 10:11 When they moved, they moved in any of the four directions without veering as they moved; but in whatever direction the front wheel faced, the others followed without veering as they moved. 10:12 Their entire body, their rims, their spokes, their wings, and the wheels--the wheels of the four of them--were full of eyes all around. 10:13 As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing "the wheelwork." 10:14 Each one had four faces: the first face was that of the cherub, the second face was that of a human being, the third that of a lion, and the fourth that of an eagle. 10:15 The cherubim rose up. These were the living creatures that I saw by the river Chebar. 10:16 When the cherubim moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the cherubim lifted up their wings to rise up from the earth, the wheels at their side did not veer. 10:17 When they stopped, the others stopped, and when they rose up, the others rose up with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in them. 10:18 Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the house and stopped above the cherubim. 10:19 The cherubim lifted up their wings and rose up from the earth in my sight as they went out with the wheels beside them. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the LORD; and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. 10:20 These were the living creatures that I saw underneath the God of Israel by the river Chebar; and I knew that they were cherubim. 10:21 Each had four faces, each four wings, and underneath their wings something like human hands. 10:22 As for what their faces were like, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the river Chebar. Each one moved straight ahead."
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Daniel 7:1-8 (NRSV)
"In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 7:2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 7:3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 7:4 The first was like a lion and had eagles' wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it. 7:5 Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, "Arise, devour many bodies!" 7:6 After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it. 7:7 After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. 7:8 I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly."
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St. Irenaeus of Lyons  (ca. 120-202 AD)  -  Adversus Haereses 3.11.8 (in ANF 1.854-55)
"It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the "pillar and ground" of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, "Thou that sittest between the cherubim, shine forth." For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, "The first living creature was like a lion," symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but "the third had, as it were, the face as of a man," -- an evident description of His advent as a human being; "the fourth was like a flying eagle," pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church. And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated. For that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Also, "all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made." For this reason, too, is that Gospel full of all confidence, for such is His person. But that according to Luke, taking up [His] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates His generation as a man, saying, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham;" and also, "The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise." This, then, is the Gospel of His humanity; for which reason it is, too, that [the character of] a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole Gospel. Mark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Esaias the prophet," -- pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character. And the Word of God Himself used to converse with the ante-Mosaic patriarchs, in accordance with His divinity and glory; but for those under the law he instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical service. Afterwards, being made man for us, He sent the gift of the celestial Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings. Such, then, as was the course followed by the Son of God, so was also the form of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living creatures, so was also the character of the Gospel. For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord. For this reason were four principal covenants given to the human race: one, prior to the deluge, under Adam; the second, that after the deluge, under Noah; the third, the giving of the law, under Moses; the fourth, that which renovates man, and sums up all things in itself by means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into the heavenly kingdom." (Adversus Haereses 3.11.8)
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St. Augustine of Hippo  (354-430 AD)  -  De consensu evangelistarum 1.6.9 (in NPNF 1,  6.168-169)
"For these reasons, it also appears to me, that of the various parties who have interpreted the living creatures in the Apocalypse as significant of the four evangelists, those who have taken the lion to point to Matthew, the man to Mark, the calf to Luke, and the eagle to John, have made a more reasonable application of the figures than those who have assigned the man to Matthew, the eagle to Mark, and the lion to John (cf. Irenaeus - above). For, in forming their particular idea of the matter, these latter have chosen to keep in view simply the beginnings of the books, and not the full design of the several evangelists in its completeness, which was the matter that should, above all, have been thoroughly examined. For surely it is with much greater propriety that the one who has brought under our notice most largely the kingly character of Christ, should be taken to be represented by the lion. Thus is it also that we find the lion mentioned in conjunction with the royal tribe itself, in that passage of the Apocalypse where it is said, "The lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed" (Rev 5:5). For in Matthew's narrative the magi are recorded to have come from the east to inquire after the King, and to worship Him whose birth was notified to them by the star. Thus, too, Herod, who himself also was a king, is [said there to be] afraid of the royal child, and to put so many little children to death in order to make sure that the one might be slain. (Matt 2:1-18). Again, that Luke is intended under the figure of the calf, in reference to the pre-eminent sacrifice made by the priest, has been doubted by neither of the two [sets of interpreters]. For in that Gospel the narrator's account commences with Zacharias the priest. In it mention is also made of the relationship between Mary and Elisabeth (Luke 1:5, 36). In it, too, it is recorded that the ceremonies proper to the earliest priestly service were attended to in the case of the infant Christ (Luke 2:22-24); and a careful examination brings a variety of other matters under our notice in this Gospel, by which it is made apparent that Luke's object was to deal with the part of the priest. In this way it follows further, that Mark, who has set himself neither to give an account of the kingly lineage, nor to expound anything distinctive of the priesthood, whether on the subject of the relationship or on that of the consecration, and who at the same time comes before us as one who handles the things which the man Christ did, appears to be indicated simply under the figure of the man among those four living creatures. But again, those three living creatures, whether lion, man, or calf, have their course upon this earth; and in like manner, those three evangelists occupy themselves chiefly with the things which Christ did in the flesh, and with the precepts which He delivered to men, who also bear the burden of the flesh, for their instruction in the rightful exercise of this mortal life. Whereas John, on the other hand, soars like an eagle above the clouds of human infirmity, and gazes upon the light of the unchangeable truth with those keenest and steadiest eyes of the heart."  (De consensu evangelistarum 1.6.9, in N/PNF 6.168-169; see also De consensu evangelistarum 4.10.11 and Tractatus in Joannis evangelium 36.5)
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Pseudo-Athanasius - Synopsis (PG 28.431)
[text coming soon]
St. Jerome (ca. 347-420 AD) - Preface to the Commentary on Matthew (summary and excerpts from NPNF 2,  6.1036-37)
Jerome assigned the four pairs in the combination described above, influencing all later Christian tradition.
"The Preface addressed to Eusebius of Cremona, was written A.D. 398. Eusebius was at this time starting for Rome, and he was charged to give a copy of this Commentary to Principia, a friend of Marcella, for whom he had been unable through sickness to write on the Song of Songs as he had wished. Jerome begins by distinguishing the canonical from the apocryphal Gospels, quoting the words of St. Luke, that many had taken in hand to write the life of Christ. He gives his view of the origin of the Gospels as follows:

" 'The first evangelist is Matthew, the publican, who was surnamed Levi. He published his Gospel in Judaea in the Hebrew language, chiefly for the sake of Jewish believers in Christ, who adhered in vain to the shadow of the law, although the substance of the Gospel had come. The second is Mark, the amanuensis of the Apostle Peter, and first bishop of the Church of Alexandria. He did not himself see our Lord and Savior, but he related the matter of his Master's preaching with more regard to minute detail than to historical sequence. The third is Luke, the physician, by birth a native of Antioch, in Syria, whose praise is in the Gospel. He was himself a disciple of the Apostle Paul, and composed his book in Achaia and Boeotia. He thoroughly investigates certain particulars and, as he himself confesses in the preface, describes what he had heard rather than what he had seen. The last is John, the Apostle and Evangelist, whom Jesus loved most, who, reclining on the Lord's bosom, drank the purest streams of doctrine, and was only one thought worthy of the words from the cross, 'Behold! thy mother' [John 19:27]. When he was in Asia, at the time when the seeds of heresy were springing up (I refer to Cerinthus, Ebion, and the rest who say Christ has not come in the flesh, whom he in his own epistle calls Antichrists, and whom the Apostle Paul frequently assails), he was urged by almost all the bishops of Asia then living, and by deputations from many Churches, to write more profoundly concerning the divinity of the Savior, and to break through all obstacles so as to attain to the very Word of God (if I may so speak) with a boldness as successful as it appears audacious. Ecclesiastical history relates that, when he was urged by the brethren to write, he replied that he would do so if a general fast were proclaimed and all would offer up prayer to God; and when the fast was over, the narrative goes on to say, being filled with revelation, he burst into the heaven-sent Preface: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: this was in the beginning with God' [John 1:1-2]."

"Jerome then applies the four symbolical figures of Ezekiel to the Gospels: the Man is Matthew, the Lion, Mark, the Calf, Luke, 'because he began with Zacharias the priest,' and the Eagle, John."  (Preface to the Commentary on Matthew, summary and excerpts from N/PNF 2, 6.1036-37).

Latin version of this text, only summarized in the English translation of N/PNF 2:
Haec igitur quattuor euangelia  multo ante praedicta Hiezechielis quoque uolumen probat, in quo prima uisio ita contexitur: Et in medio sicut similitudo quattuor animalium, et uultus eorum facies hominis et facies leonis et facies uituli et facies aquilae [Ezek 1:5, 10]. Prima hominis facies Matheum significat qui quasi de homine exorsus est scibere: Liber generationis Iesu Christi filii Dauid filii Abraham [Matt 1:1]; secunda Marcum in quo uox leonis in hermo rugientis auditur: Vox clamantis in deserto: Parate uiam Domini, rectas facite semitas eius [Mark 1:3]; tertia uituli quae euangelistam Lucam a Zacharia sacerdote sumpsisse initium praefigurat [cf. Luke 1:5]; quarta Iohannem euangelistam qui adsumptis pinnis aquilae et ad altiora festinans de Verbo Dei disputat [cf. John 1:1].  Cetera quae sequuntur in eundem sensum proficiunt: crura eorum recta, et pinnati pedes, et quocumque spiritus ibat, ibant et non reuertebantur, et dorsa eorum plena oculis, et scintillae ac lampades in medio discurrentes, et rota in rota, et in singulis quattuor facies.  Vnde et Apocalypsis Iohannis post expositionem uiginti quattuor seniorum qui tenetes citharas et fialas adorant agnum Dei, introducit fulgora et tonitrua et septem spiritus discurrentes et mare uitreum et quattuor animalia plena oculis, dicens: Animal primum simile leoni et secundum simile uitulo et terium simile homini et quartum simile aquilae uolani [Rev 4:7]; et post paululum: Plena, inquit, erant oculis et requiem non habebant die ac nocte dicenia: Sanctus sanctus sanctus Dominus Deus omnipotens qui erat et qui est qui uenturus est [Rev 4:8]. Quibus cunctis perspicue ostenditur quattuor tantum debere euangelia suscipi et omnes apocriphorum nenias mortuis magis hereticis quam ecclesiasticis uiuis canendas.  Satisque miror, Eusebi dilectissime, cur Romam subito nauigaturus hanc tibi a me quasi sitharciam dari uolueris ut Matheum breuiter exponens uerbis stringerem, sensibus dilatarem.  Si meminisses responsionis meae, numquam in paucis diebus rem annorum peteres.  Primum enim difficile est omnes legere qui in euangelia scripserint, deinde multo difficilius adhibito iudicio quae optima sunt excerpere (Preface, lines 55-90; from Sources Chretiennes 242, pp. 64-68).
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