Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist

Today is the feast of St. Luke, the Evangelist who wrote the third account of the Gospel of the Lord. The readings in the second nocturn for the Divine Office today is a series of excerpts from St. Jerome's Book on Ecclesiastical Writers. The grumpy saint tells us that the Evangelist wrote in Greek and had some affiliation with St. Paul, the greatest of preachers.

I enjoy finding distinctly fun, human moments in the Holy Scripture, and St. Jerome points us to one in his biography of St. Luke. St. Paul writes towards the end of his epistle to the Colossians:
For I bear him testimony that he hath much labour for you, and for them that are at Laodicea, and them at Hierapolis. Luke, the most dear physician, saluteth you: and Demas. —Colossians 4:13-14
In other words: Hey, Colossians, Luke's here and he says hi! St. Paul again recounts Luke's greetings in his second epistle to St. Timothy (2 Tim 4:11).

These indications of St. Luke's accompaniment of St. Paul indicates that the Evangelist traveled with the latter to Rome, before St. Paul's execution. As a quick aside, I was honored to see the reliquary above the high altar in the cathedral of Rome, the Archbasilica of Our Savior (aka St. John Lateran), which contains St. Paul's head.

This reliquary above the Papal altar of St. John Lateran contains St. Paul's severed head!

St. Luke may have been associated with St. Paul, but St. Jerome assures us that the Evangelist, born in Antioch, did not learn the Gospel from Paul, but from the Apostles. This is quite reasonable, as St. Peter himself went to Antioch at some point in the 40s AD, that city where the "disciples were first named Christians" (Acts of the Apostles 11:26). St. Luke, after writing the Gospel account, penned a history now honored as Scripture called Acts of the Apostles—which could also be called "A Few Chapters about the Twelves, and Then a Lot About Paul." As the Acts covers several years, St. Luke must have written this account well after the events he recounts. This thesis is also quite reasonable, as St. Jerome indicates that St. Luke lived to be 84 years old.

The Gospel according to Luke is unique in that it is the only version to have intimate knowledge of the Virgin's conception and time leading up to the Incarnation of Jesus. His Gospel tells us that Our Lady, after conceiving the Son of God by the Holy Ghost, sings a canticle prayed many times a day throughout Christendom in Her honor, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55):
My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations,
to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant,
being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed for ever.
Luke obviously believed it necessary to relay the importance of the Virgin Mary to God. So close were Mary and St. Luke to the early Christians that a tradition exists that St. Luke painted the first ever icon and that in that icon he depicted the Virgin holding the Christ child! Icons enjoy more popularity in the East, but this tradition is quite respected in the West, too.

An icon of St. Luke painting the icon of the Virgin with Christ by the aid of  an angel, perhaps St. Gabriel. One wonders what Protestants, who have an iconoclastic streak, would think of paintings painting paintings?

A more Western depiction by Guercino

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not recount that St. Luke was a doctor, which should be a sign of encouragement for those who seek to combine helpful, as opposed to purely experimental, medicine with Christ's teaching.

The vespers hymn for the feast, well worth a listen:

1 comment:

  1. What about experimental medicine that eventually leads to helpful medicine? At some point, all procedures were experimental...