|This has caused a
great deal of speculation. The
interpretations have run all over the symbolic map, but generally we see
these four creatures implying something like this:
|• Then as now, the
lion was a symbol of royalty.
|• The ox (OK, so it’s
a cow in the illustration) was a symbol of strength.
|• Man, of course,
represents rational thought.
|• The eagle
|From these (and
other) symbolic identifications, a number of clever interpretations have been
developed -- and by some very famous thinkers:
|• Athanasius and
Augustine thought them representative of the four Gospels (though not the
same identification). Augustine’s
identification is the one most commonly found in stained glass:
|Matthew, the lion
(Christ as king)
|Mark, the man
(Christ the Son of Man)
|Luke, the ox (Christ, the sacrifice)
|John, the eagle (Christ, all-seeing -- omniscient God)
|• Iraneus felt they
represented four covenants -- Adam, Noah, Moses and Christ.
|• Modern thinkers
have used these symbols to represent the four writers of the Gospels,
following Augustine. For this reason,
you will often see these symbols in stained glass windows in liturgical
|However -- it is my
opinion that these identifications are incorrect. It is my opinion that they are the seraphim
(or cherubim, which seem to be similar if not the same).