minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the tag “evangelical symbols”

Reading from John

Here is the reading from John. Was able to find some pictures on the net to reference the Evangelical Symbols. Johns is the eagle. I also chose to start the reading in Latin which will continue on the other readings.


Kells Eagle

Been on hiatus for a bit and hoping to get back into the blogs. I have had time for a new offering of art. Now right off the bat, I need to say that I didn’t draw this. I really did just fill in with color and gold and paint. I kind of took the tattoo approach and applied it to a manuscript. Using gel pens, gold paint for “gilding”, sharpies, and watercolor, I was planning to take a few pics of illuminated manuscripts and touch them over. Sort of a faux facsimile.

The Kells eagle is one of my favorite symbol from historical Christian imagery. It represents the Apostle John and this pic is based on the Book of Kells version of this Evangelical Symbol.


John the Eagle

Eagle Symbol of John

Eagle Symbol of John

The Apostle John has a Feast day on the 27th of Dec. He is understood to have written the last of the Gospels which were included into the canon of scripture, and is also credited with three epistles and the Book of Revelation which concludes the New Testament.

Like the other Gospels, Johns has a focus, an idea that is built into the telling. Matthew wrote the Jews, Mark focused on ministry, Luke to the gentiles and these three writers all tell a very similar story. Johns gospel takes a very different turn, and focuses on theology. Keeping with the other gospels, John uses the framework of Jesus’ life. But John digs in deep,  bringing to the fore front the sacraments like baptism and the eucharist. He uses the events in Jesus life to key in on these strange christian practices, not only to show us they come from Christ but to explain what is really going on spiritually. Baptism is being “born again” or “born from above” (John 3) ; the Eucharist is the real presence, the Body and Blood, of Christ (John 6).

John on Patmos. The Eagle brings him ink.

John on Patmos. The Eagle brings him ink.

It is important to note that there is no Last Supper mentioned in the Gospel of John. Instead the narrative from Chapter 6 takes it’s place, explaining the same concept in a more dramatic way. It seems that even during Johns life, there must have been some confusion or misunderstanding about the Blessed Sacrament and John puts the whole argument out for all to see. He doesn’t dice any words, doesn’t bend left or right, he puts it all out there; Jesus’ claim, the reaction, Jesus’ re-affirming, the reaction again and even to the point where the 12 questioned Him. Jesus remains firm on this, and John makes it known.

John was the youngest Apostle, often pictured without a beard. He is the only original apostle to die a natural death; all the others were martyred. His writings conclude the book of Gospels (Evangelion), the epistles, and the book of the New testament, and the entire canon of Scriptures which the Church acknowledges.

John is often pictured as or with an eagle, which is the Evangelical symbol for the apostle. The eagle soars high above, it was said that the eagle could look into the sun, and such perspective and mysticism fills Johns Gospel. As such it gets a little extra attention. Readings from the Gospel of John are read at mass during the Easter season and in the Tridentine mass the ceremony concluded with a recital of the first chapter of John.


In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum.

The Evangelical Symbols

The Evangelical Symbols, Book of Kells 8th-9th century

Maybe you’ve seen them before; in christian art, on the walls of a church, on the cover of the Evangelion/Lectionary or Gospel book used in the Liturgy. The Man, the Lion, the Ox and the Eagle. Four symbols that have been associated with the writers of the Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Often they will appear in relation to the Evangelists, behind or below though they also appear alone like the example from the Book of Kells above.

From the Gospel of Henry the Lion 12th century.

The history of these symbols in christian symbology dates back to St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c.120-202 AD) when he ties in the four accepted Gospels with the Four Living Creatures found in the Hebrew Scriptures in the first chapter of Ezekiel. Irenaeus wasn’t alone; Jerome, Augustine and Pseudo-Athanasius also used the symbols, but associated the different animals to different Gospels. Jerome’s interpretation is the one that stuck:

  • The Man – St. Matthew – Ties in genealogy with the humanity and incarnation of Christ.
  • The Lion – St. Mark – Shows Christ as King, and ties in the belief that lions slept with open eyes to the resurrection.
  • The Ox – St. Luke – Gospel starts with Zacharias the priest and this ties to Christ Priest and as sacrifice.
  • The Eagle – St. John – Christ is the Logos. Focus is on the divinity of Jesus. The Eagle is a creature of the sky.

These are general ideas about the symbology of the animals and more can be found about them on the web or in a good history book. My first time seeing one of them was on the cover of an album from the group Iona, called The Book of Kells. An excellent album; progressive and spiritual, I found the cover picture of the Eagle fascinating. Later, after finding out about the Evangelical Symbols, I began to notice them in the church buildings I ventured into. Not that they are in every church, but in many of the older church buildings, especially those that have an abundance of art you may see them, on the roof or surrounding the altar.

St. Mark with the Evangelical Symbols surrounding. From the Lindisfarne Gospels. 7th-8th Century.

Ceiling fresco of the Sacresty in St. Miniato al Monte, Florence

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