medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Dear Pat,

The context in Irenaeus (Contra haereses, III, xi, 7ss., PG 7,884ss.) is
his criticism of certain 'heretics' who destroy the unity of the
'quadriform' Gospels by rejecting or unduely preferring one of them. His
starting point is Apc 4,7, where he expounds the four animals or beings as
signifying four essential aspects or qualities of Jesus Christ, in the
following way:

  1) animal simile leoni = "efficabile ejus, et principale, et regale
  2) animal simile vitulo = "sacrificalem et sacerdotalem ordinationem
  3) animal habens faciem quasi humanam  = "eum, qui est secundum hominem
adventum ejus
     manifeste describens"
  4) animal simile aquilae volantis = "Spritus in Ecclesiam advolantis
gratiam manifestans"

In a next step, he then demonstrates how these four qualities correspond
with the beginnings of one of the four gospels, basing his demonstration on
the sequence 1) John=leo, 2) Luke=vitulus, 3) Matthew=homo, Mark=aquila.

A different pattern can be found in Victorinus of Pettau (Scholia in
Apocalypsin, IV, PL 5,324s.), where the sequence is (cf. PL 6 and CSEL 49
to check the differences between the extant fragments of the original text
and Jerome's own redaction):

  1) animal simile leoni = Mark = "in quo vox leonis in eremo rugientis
  2) hominis figura = Matthew = "emittitur ... enuntiare nobis genus Mariae,
     unde carnem accepit Christus"
  3) animal simile vitulo = Luke = "Zachariae offerentis hostiam pro populo
... enarrat"
  4) animal simile aquilae = John = "aquilae similis assumptis pennis ad
     festinans de Verbo Dei disputat"

Augustine (De consensu evangelistarum, I, 2ss., CSEL 43, p.3ss.), arguing
for the sequence of the Gospels which makes Matthew and John (disciples
elected ante passionem) "embrace" Marc and Luke (i.e. Mt-Mc-Lc-Io), rejects
the first pattern (Irenaeus) and argues for a third that he adduces as
having already been presented by others before him (I don't know his source
or sources):

  1) leo = Matthew = regia Christi persona
  2) homo = Marc = in eis versatus ostenditur, quae homo Christus operatus est
  3) vitulus = Luke = proper maximam victimam sacerdotis
  4) aquila = John = supra nubila infirmitatis humanae velut aquila volat
     et lucem incommutabilis vertitatis acuttisimis adque firmissimis
     oculis cordis intuetur

Yet it was Jerome who, in his letter "Plures fuisse" which was distributed
as a sort of prologue to his commentary on Matthew (PL 26,15s.), settled
the question at least for the medieval Latin tradition, by adopting the
second pattern (Victorinus) and rearranging it according to the sequence of
the tetramorphs in Ezechiel on the one hand and the now prevalent sequence
of the Gospels Mt-Mc-Lc-Io on the other:

  1) homo = Matthew = qui quasi de homine exorsus est scribere: "Liber
     generationis Jesu Christi, filii David, filii Abraham"
  2) leo = Marc = in quo vox leonis in eremo rugientis auditur: "Vox
     clamantis in deserto"
  3) vitulus = Luke = a Zacharia sacerdote sumpsisse initium
  4) aquila = John = qui assumptis  pennis aquilae, et ad altiora
     festinans, de Verbo Dei disputat

This is all a bit confusing, but I hope I got the basic lines right.

Best regards,


Dr. Otfried Lieberknecht, Product Manager Digital Products
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