Chapter VI.—Of the Four Living Creatures in the Apocalypse, Which Have Been Taken by Some in One Application, and by Others in Another, as Apt Figures of the Four Evangelists.
9. 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. 534 For, in forming their particular idea of p. 81 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.” 535 For in Matthews 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. 536 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 narrators account commences with Zacharias the priest. In it mention is also made of the relationship between Mary and Elisabeth. 537 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; 538 and a careful examination brings a variety of other matters under our notice in this Gospel, by which it is made apparent that Lukes 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. 539
[The latter application is that of Irenæus (Adv. Hær. iii.); but the prevalent application is that of Jerome, which is accepted in mediæval art. It differs from that of Augustin (see table below). As a curious illustration of the fanciful character of such interpretations, the reader may consult the following table, which gives the order of the following living creatures in Rev. iv. 7, with some of the leading “applications.”
Rev. iv. 7. Irenæus. Augustin. Jerome. Lange, Stier.
1. Lion… John. Matthew. Mark. Mark.
2. Calf… Luke. Luke. Luke. Matthew.
3. Man… Matthew. Mark. Matthew. Luke.
4. Eagle… Mark. John. John. John.
No doubt further variations could be discovered. Comp. Schaffs Church History, rev. ed. vol. i. 585-589.—R.]81:535
Rev. v. 5.81:536
Matt. ii. 1-18.81:537
Luke 1:5, 36.81:538
Luke ii. 22-24.81:539
See also Tract. 36, on John i. 5. [This figure of Augustin has controlled all the subsequent symbolism respecting the Evangelist John, and has been constantly cited by commentators.—R.]