Saints of the Day – Luke the Evangelist

painting of Saint Luke the Evangelist; detail of the altarpiece of the Chapel of the Evangelist, Cathedral of Seville, Spain, by Hernando de Esturmio, early 16th century; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

1st century. Saint Luke was a gentile (not mentioned as a Jew by Saint Paul in Colossians 4:10-11), a Greek (according to Saint Jerome), perhaps born in Antioch (per Eusebius), and a medical man by profession – Saint Paul speaks of him as ‘our beloved Luke, the physician’ (Colossians 4:14). He was the author of the Gospel the bears his name and of its continuation – the Acts of the Apostles. The Gospel was definitely written by a Gentile Christian for Gentile Christians. Though Jesus lived and worked almost entirely among Jews, He also reached out to others. Whenever Jesus has dealings with, for example, Syrians, or praises a Roman centurion, Luke tells us about it. He also shows Jesus’ special friendship with the outcasts of society and his love of the poor.

One of the interesting aspects of Luke’s Gospel is his frequent juxtaposition of a story about a man and then another about a woman. For example, the cure of the demoniac (Luke 4:31-37) is followed by the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law (4:38-39); the centurion’s slave is healed (7:1-10), then the widow of Nain’s son is raised (7:11-17); the Gerasene demoniac is healed (8:26-39) followed by the raising of Jairus’s Daughter and healing of the woman with the hemorrhage (8:40-56).

Luke also mentions the women who followed and assisted Jesus in His ministry (e.g., 8:1-3). Thus, in a way that no other evangelist does, Luke depicts a Jesus who cares for the status and salvation of women quite as much as He does for men. Perhaps this is because Luke probably learned much about Jesus from the Blessed Virgin herself. Only he and Matthew record elements about the hidden life of the Lord before his public ministry.

Luke stresses God’s mercy and love of all mankind. He alone records the parables of the lost sheep, the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the Pharisee and the publican, the barren fig tree, Dives and Lazarus. He is also the only one to record Jesus’ forgiveness of Mary Magdalen (?) (Luke 7:47), His promise to the good thief (Luke 23:43), and His prayer for his executioners (Luke 23:34). And he is also the only evangelist to record the Ave Maria the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis, which are all used in the Liturgy of the Hours (Night, Evening, Morning, and Night Prayer respectively). Luke also emphasizes the call to poverty, prayer, and purity of heart, which comprise much of his specific appeal to the Gentiles.

Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, which might more appropriately be known as the Acts of the Holy Spirit. This is a continuation of his Gospel account, though the Acts may have been written first. According to Eusebius and Jerome, Acts was written during Paul’s imprisonment, though Saint Ireneaus says after Paul’s death c.66. Eusebius says that the Gospel was set down before Paul’s death, Jerome says after, and an early tradition records it as being composed shortly before Luke’s death.

Legend has him as one of the 72 disciples, and some scholars identify him with Lucius of Cyrene, a teacher and prophet at Antioch (Acts 13:1) and with Lucius, Paul’s companion at Corinth (Rom. 16:21). We don’t know exactly when he was converted; perhaps in 42 when Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas came to preach at Antioch, or possibly even earlier when the Christians fled from Jerusalem to Antioch after the stoning of Saint Stephen.

Certain passages of Acts, written in the first person plural, are usually held to show that the writer was with Saint Paul on parts of his second and third missionary journeys and on the voyage to Italy, when the ship was wrecked off the coast of Malta (Acts 16:10ff; 20:5ff; 27-28). He was with Paul during both his first and second imprisonments. In his letters, Paul thrice (AD 61-63) refers to Luke’s presence in Rome, writing to Timothy, ‘Luke is my only companion.’

Between the two missionary journeys (AD 51-57), he stayed at Philippi as a leader of the Christian community. Then he rejoined Saint Paul on the third trip, meeting him in Macedonia and accompanying him to Jerusalem. Thereafter, he was Paul’s constant companion. He was with Paul after his arrest in the Temple and during the two years (57-59) of his imprisonment at Caesarea. When Paul appealed to Caesar, Luke went with him and was shipwrecked with Paul on the coast of Malta. Until Saint Paul’s martyrdom in 67, Luke never left his side.

A writer perhaps as early as the late second century declares that, having served the Lord constantly and written his gospel there, According to a less reliable tradition, Luke died, unmarried, in Boeotia, Greece, at the age of 84, ‘full of the Holy Spirit.’ He is said to have been martyred, which is very doubtful, but we have no record of his history after the time he was in Rome with Paul.

Though Luke may never have known Our Lord in the flesh, it is possible that he did know the Mother of God and Saint John. He was in Rome at the same time as Saints Peter and Mark and, while in the company of Paul, must surely have known many of the disciples.

Translations of his relics were claimed by Constantinople and Padua (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Green-Armytage, Walsh, White).

Perhaps one of the best novels about Saint Luke is Taylor Caldwell’s Dear and Glorious Physician, which is especially good in portraying extant pagan heralds to the coming of Christ.

Saint Luke is the patron saint of physicians and surgeons, and also of guilds of artists, art schools, and painters of pictures because later tradition in the Greek Church claims that Luke was also an artist. Reputedly Luke carried a portrait of the Blessed Mother with him and that it was the instrument of many conversions. Indeed, he was a great artist in words, and his narratives have inspired many masterpieces of art; but the existing pictures of the Blessed Virgin, which he is said actually to have painted, are all works of a much later date, including that of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Unfortunately, a rough drawing in the catacombs inscribed as “one of seven painted by Luca” confirmed the Greek legend in the popular mind.

Additionally, he is considered the patron of sculptors, bookbinders, goldsmiths, lacemakers, notaries (because of his account of Christ’s life), and butchers (because of his emblem, the winged ox) (Appleton, Roeder, Tabor).

Saint Irenaeus is credited with having first assigned the mysterious winged ox, described in Ezekiel and by Saint John in Revelation, to Saint Luke. The first known usage of the emblems of the apocalyptic creatures is in the apse mosaic of Saint Pudentiana in Rome dating to the end of the 4th century, although they were not specifically associated with any one of the Evangelists. Nevertheless, since the time of Saints Jerome (died 420) and Augustine (died 430), the winged ox has been assigned to Saint Luke. This may be an allusion to the sacrifice in the Temple at the beginning of his Gospel, and to Saint Luke’s emphasis on the atonement made by Christ’s suffering and death (Appleton).

In art he appears (1) as a bishop or a physician with a book or scroll, often accompanied by a winged ox; (2) painting the Virgin (anonymous, at Saint Isaac of Syria Skete, Boscobel, Wisconsin, USA) (this subject is especially used in 15th and 16th- century Flemish paintings); (3) in a doctor’s cap and gown, holding a book; (4) occasionally present in scenes of the Annunciation or angel’s message to Zacharia; (5) giving his book to Saint Theophilus B; or (6) as an evangelist, writing (14th century French illumination) (Roeder, White). Exceptional painting of Saint Luke include those of Roger van der Weyden in the Pinacoteca, Munich; Jean Grossaert in Prague; and the School of Raphael in the Accademia di San Luca in Rome (Tabor).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 3 August 2020. Web. 27 November 2020. <>