Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists.1.6-7: Why didn't Jesus write anything?


1.6: 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.

Augustine discusses here the so-called “tetramorph,” a development in early Christian literature and art, in which the four Evangelists are depicted as the four living creatures in Revelation 4:6-7 (cf. Ezekiel 1:10).

Most early interpreters suggested the winged man to represent Matthew, the winged lion to represent Mark, the winged ox to represent Luke, and the eagle to represent John.

Augustine, however, reverses the first two by suggesting that Matthew should be the winged lion, given his royal emphasis on Jesus as king, and Mark, as the winged man, since he specifically describes Christ neither as king or priest.

He also mentions that some associated the man to Matthew, the eagle to Mark, and the lion to John.

He suggests the ox is right for Luke given his emphasis on Jesus as priest, and the eagle for John, since “he soars like an eagle” in his high Christology.

1.7 A statement of Augustine’s reason for undertaking this work on the harmony of the evangelists, and an example of the method in which he meets those who allege that Christ wrote nothing Himself, and that His disciples made an unwarranted affirmation in proclaiming Him to be God.

Augustine begins this chapter by describing the Gospels as “chariots” in which Christ is “borne throughout the earth and brings the peoples under His easy yoke, and his light burden.” Calvin will later borrow this image in his Harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Augustine also notes the calumnious attacks on the Gospels by those who want to keep men from the faith. Thus, he sets out in particular to show that the Gospels “do  not stand in any antagonism to each other.”

He also addresses the criticism raised by some that Jesus himself wrote nothing, but that we learn of his life and teaching only through the writings of his disciples, who exaggerated their master. Such men say Jesus was the wisest of men, but they deny that he is to be worshipped as God.

Augustine responds by pointing out that some of the most admired pagan philosophers left behind no writings, like Pythagoras and Socrates, but were written about by his disciples. If they accept their records of the philosophers, then why not accept the Gospel accounts of Jesus?


In his discussion of the tetramorph, Augustine continues to discuss what makes each Gospel distinctive. He also engaged here in apologetics, defending the harmony of the Gospels and their historical reliability, even though they contain nothing written by Jesus himself.


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