st.Luke the Evangelist
(Author of the third gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles)
Patronage: art guilds; art schools; artists; bookbinders; brewers; butchers; butlers; doctors; glass makers; goldsmiths; lacemakers; notaries; painters; physicians; sculptors; stained-glass workers; surgeons
Name meaning: Bringer of light
Also known as: Luca; Lucas; Lucanus; Luke the Apostle
Luke is mentioned often in the Holy Scriptures, and himself authored two of its longest books. He was from Antioch, of Greek descent, perhaps a slave. He was one of the earliest converts to Christianity following Jesus’ death and Resurrection. Although he never met Jesus or heard him preach, he worked closely with St. Paul and would have known other of the apostles. At the time of his conversion, Luke was a physician.
He may have studied medicine at Tarsus, and there met St. Paul and been converted by him. In any event, following Paul’s vision of the Macedonian, Luke was one of those who traveled with him on his second missionary journey to Macedonia. He stayed behind at Philippi to continue the evangelical work there (around A.D. 51–57). When Paul came back to Philippi on his third journey, Luke left with him and returned to Jerusalem. He was with Paul in Jerusalem when Paul was arrested, beaten and imprisoned, though he himself escaped, probably because he did not look Jewish. However, over the next two years (about 57–59), while Paul was in prison in Caesarea, Luke visited him frequently. After Paul was released, Luke again traveled with him, and he was in Rome when Paul was arrested for the second and then for the third and final time. He would have been present when Paul was martyred, about the year 67.
Luke may have written his Gospel between Paul’s first and second imprisonment, although it is possible that he wrote it later, at the end of his life. His writing style is the most literary of any of the Gospels; he has been called “a painter in words.” The Gospel is based largely on Paul’s writings and teachings, together with Luke’s own experiences. It was intended for Gentile Christian converts like himself and emphasizes Jesus’ reaching out to Gentiles. It is the Gospel of the poor and of social justice, and gives special prominence to women, especially the Virgin Mary. Interestingly, Luke frequently juxtaposes accounts of miracles involving a man with another involving a woman.
For example, the demoniac is cured (4:31–37), then Peter’s mother in-law is cured (4:38–39); the centurion’s slave is healed (7:1–10), then the widow of Nain’s son is raised from the dead (7:11–17); the Gerasene demoniac is healed (8:26–39), then Jairus’s daughter is raised and the woman with the hemorrhage is healed (8:40–56). Luke also recounts several of Jesus’ parables not related elsewhere, including those of the lost sheep, the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the Pharisee and the publican, the barren fig tree, and Lazarus. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles is in a way a continuation of his Gospel, although it may have been written before it.
The earliest Christian writers contradict themselves on this point, as they do on when his Gospel was written. Acts is a history of the early Church, based in part on Luke’s own experiences. It might been have better titled as Acts of the Holy Spirit, because of its emphasis on God working through the apostles. Tradition has it that Luke was a painter as well as a physician and a fine writer. Without doubt he was “a painter in words,” and his descriptions of events such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation and the shepherd and lost sheep have inspired countless artists.
He is said to have carried a painting of the Virgin Mary with him wherever he went, and this is said to have been the source of many conversions. However, all the extant paintings attributed to him have been shown to be the work of other, later artists. The legend that he was a painter arose first in Greece, but was confirmed in the popular mind by a rough drawing found in the catacombs and inscribed as “one of seven painted by Luca.” It is not known when and how Luke died. According to tradition, he died in Boeotia (in present-day Greece) at the age of 74 (possibly, 84). Although he is said to have been martyred, this is doubtful, given the place and time.
The churches of Constantinople (now in Turkey) and Padua (now in Italy) claim to have translations of his relics. Luke’s emblem is the winged ox the ox being the Jewish sacrificial animal because his Gospel begins with the sacrifice in the temple by Zachary, the priest, father of St. John the Baptist. It may also allude to Luke’s emphasis on the atonement made by Christ’s suffering and death. In art, he appears as a physician or bishop with a book or scroll; painting the virgin; in a doctor’s cap and gown, holding a book; giving his book to St. Theophilus.