Four Evangelists (Tetramorphs)

The tetramorphs (Greek, four forms) were four angelic beings, drawn from much earlier Babylonian symbolism, described in a vision of the Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel:

“As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle

The beasts are later described in the Revelation of John: And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.”

The four faces thus described were Babylonian symbols representing the four fixed signs of the zodiac- the Ox, representing the sign of Taurus, the lion the sign of Leo, the Eagle of the sign of Scorpio, and the man, symbol of the sign of Aquarius. The four likewise symbolize the four ancient elements of air, water, earth, and fire. Christians applied this symbolism to the four evangelists, the apostles so-called because they are the reputed authors of the four gospels bearing their names. The astrological symbolism was not lost on these early Christians, as the four zodiac signs form a cross, in the center of which Christ is often depicted.

Today, much of the earlier, transcendent celestial symbolism is eschewed in favor of representative symbolism, wherein each evangelist is said to represent a portion of Christ’s life and sacrifice. For example, that the gospel of Mark discusses Christ’s royalty, therefore Mark is symbolized as a lion- or that John is portrayed as an eagle because he is “caught up in the spirit” or has “spiritually soared.” These explanations appear to be contrived in later times to avoid associations with astrology, which is now typically considered occult.

An image of Luke the Evangelist from the Book of Kells, an ancient illuminated manuscript produced more than a thousand years ago in Ireland and considered one of the finest examples of illuminated art.
The lion of Mark
Related Symbols:

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tribe.net: symboldictionary.net
March 31, 2010 at 10:13 pm

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Sharon Pelprhey November 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Hi,

I’m interested in using a tiny B/W image of each if the four individual evangelists, Book of Kells, to punctuate the chapter titles in a forthcoming book. I’m wondering what the copyright restrictions from your site may be.

Thanks,
Sharon Pelphrey
Shreveport

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michaelbartonn November 26, 2010 at 11:35 pm

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