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Saint Luke, Evangelist

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Statue of St. Luke, National Shrine of the Apostle Paul, Saint Paul, MN. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)

A statue of Saint Luke in the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

(Photo © Scott P. Richert)

Introduction to the Life of Saint Luke:

While two books of the Bible (the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles) are traditionally ascribed to Saint Luke, the third of the four evangelists is mentioned only three times by name in the New Testament. Each mention is in a letter from Saint Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; and Philemon 1:24), and each indicates that Luke is present with Paul at the time of his writing. From this, it has been assumed that Luke was a Greek disciple of Saint Paul and a convert from paganism. That the Acts of the Apostles speaks frequently of the Church in Antioch, a Greek city in Syria, seems to confirm extrabiblical sources that say that Luke was a native of Antioch, and Luke's Gospel is written with the evangelization of the Gentiles in mind.

In Colossians 4:14, Saint Paul refers to Luke as "the most dear physician," from which arises the tradition that Luke was a doctor.

Quick Facts:

  • Feast Day: October 18
  • Type of Feast: Feast
  • Readings: 2 Timothy 4:10-17b; Psalm 145:10-11, 12-13, 17-18; Luke 10:1-9 (full text here)
  • Dates: Unknown (Antioch?)-c. 84 (Boeotia, Greece)
  • Symbol: Winged ox
  • Patron of: Artists, physicians, surgeons, students, bachelors, brewers, butchers, bookbinders, glassworkers, goldsmiths, lacemakers, notaries

The Life of Saint Luke:

While Luke indicates in the opening verses of his gospel that he did not know Christ personally (he refers to the events recorded in his gospel as having been delivered to him by those "who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word"), a tradition claims that Luke was one of the 72 (or 70) disciples sent by Christ in Luke 10:1-20 "into every city and place whither he himself was to come." The tradition may derive from the fact that Luke is the only gospel writer to mention the 72. What is clear, however, is that Luke spent many years as a companion of Saint Paul. In addition to Saint Paul's testimony that Luke accompanied him on certain of his journeys, we have Luke's own testimony in the Acts of the Apostles (assuming that the traditional identification of Luke as the author of Acts is correct), beginning with his use of the word we in Acts 16:10.

When Saint Paul was imprisoned for two years at Caesarea Philippi, Luke either remained there or visited him frequently. Most scholars believe that it was around this time that Luke composed his gospel, and some believe that Luke then assisted Saint Paul in writing the Letter to the Hebrews. When Saint Paul, as a Roman citizen, appealed to Caesar, Luke accompanied him to Rome. He was with Saint Paul throughout much of his first imprisonment in Rome, which may have been when Luke composed the Acts of the Apostles. Saint Paul himself (in 2 Timothy 4:11) testifies that Luke remained with him at the end of his second Roman imprisonment ("Only Luke is with me"), but after Paul's martyrdom, little is known of Luke's further travels.

Traditionally, Saint Luke himself has been regarded as a martyr, but the details of his martyrdom have been lost to history.

The Gospel of Saint Luke:

Luke's gospel shares many details with Saint Mark's, but whether they share a common source, or whether Mark himself (whom Saint Paul mentions each time he mentions Luke) was Luke's source, is a subject of debate. Luke's gospel is the longest (by word count and by verse), and it contains six miracles, including the healing of the ten lepers (Luke 17:12-19) and of the high priest's servant's ear (Luke 22:50-51), and 18 parables, including the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), and the Publican and Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14), that are found in none of the other gospels.

The narrative of the infancy of Christ, found in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Luke's gospel, is the primary source of both our images of Christmas and the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. Luke also provides the most coherent and comprehensive account of Christ's journey toward Jerusalem (beginning in Luke 9:51 and ending in Luke 19:27), culminating in the events of Holy Week (Luke 19:28 through Luke 23:56).

The vividness of Luke's imagery, especially in the infancy narrative, may be the source of the tradition that claims that Luke was an artist. Numerous icons of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, including the famous Black Madonna of Czestochowa, are said to have been painted by Saint Luke. Indeed, tradition holds that the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa was painted by Saint Luke in the presence of the Blessed Virgin on a table owned by the Holy Family.

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