Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Feast of St Matthew

These are Thy works, o Christ, who so glorify Thy Saints, that Thou also cause the grace of dignity that will be in them to go forth first in miracles. First Thou marked the wondrous preachers of the Gospel by the marvelous figure of the heavenly animals; for by these glorious signs, Thou deigned to show the heavenly gift given to them; hence let praise, hence glory resound to Thee forever. (The antiphon at the Magnificat for Second Vespers of the feasts of Evangelists, in the Dominican and other uses.)

St Matthew the Evangelist, from a Gospel book from Mainz, made before 1011 A.D., now in the Royal Library of Amsterdam. (public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Tua sunt haec, Christe, opera, qui sanctos tuos ita glorificas, ut etiam dignitatis gratiam in eis futuram praeire miraculis facias; tu insignes Evangelii praedicatores animalium caelestium admirabili figura praesignasti: his namque caeleste munus collatum gloriosis indiciis es dignatus ostendere: hinc laus, hinc gloria tibi resonet in saecula.

St Gregory the Great explains the four animals seen in the vision at the beginning of the book of the Prophet Ezekiel, and later seen by St John in the Apocalypse, as a prefiguration of the Four Evangelists.
The four holy animals, which are forseeen by the spirit of prophecy, are described in a very subtle way, where it says: “Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings.” What is meant by “the face” save likeness whereby we are known? or by “the wings”, save the power to fly? For it is by his face that each man is known, and by their wings that the birds’ bodies are carried up into the air. The face pertaineth to faith, and the wings to contemplation. … Therefore “each one had four faces”, for if you seek to know what Matthew teaches concerning the Incarnation of the Lord, he teaches the very same thing that Mark, Luke, and John teach. If you seek to know what John teaches, it is beyond all that which Matthew, and Mark, and Luke teaches. If you ask what Mark teaches, it is that which Matthew, and John, and Luke teach. If you ask Luke teaches, it is that which Matthew, and Mark, and John teach. Therefore every one hath four faces, for the knowledge of faith, by which they are known to God, is the same in one and in all four. “And each one had four wings.” For they do all with one accord preach the Son of Almighty God, our Lord Jesus Christ: and flying by the wing of contemplation, lift up the eye of the mind to His divinity. In the Evangelists, the face pertains to the Lord’s humanity, and the wings to His divinity: … Because, then, they have all one faith in the Incarnation, and all equally look by contemplation toward the Godhead : it is well written of them, “Every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.”
The Vision of Ezekiel, by Fra Angelico, 1451-51. Museo di San Marco, Florence. On the outside of the wheel is written the beginning of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth etc.”; on the inner circle, the beginning of the St John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, etc.” On the out part are 12 Prophets of the Old Testament, on the inner, the four Evangelists, together with the authors of the Epistles of the New Testament, Ss Paul, Peter, Jude and James. The Prophet Ezekiel is shown at the lower left, and Pope St Gregory the Great at the lower right. - This panel is part of large armoire painted by Fra Angelico with scenes from the Life of Christ and of the Virgin, each one of which has a passage from the Old Testament at the top, and the relevant passage of the Gospel below, the show how the Church understands the Old Testament as a prophecy of the New.

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