Original Artwork by Wes Morgan

Getting to Know St. Luke the Evangelist

Article by Lou McMahon
Design by Meg SattlerAdvent 2021

Our Parish Centennial invites us to know St. Luke and his writing

During our Centennial Year of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, we have the opportunity to better know our patron, St. Luke.  God chose to use St. Luke to transmit some of the most important parts of Holy Scripture.  St. Luke is the vital source of information from the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. St. Luke is the sole source for Jesus’s teaching of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, as well as recording the events on the Road to Emmaus, Pentecost and much more of the early Church.  Tradition provides a vibrant story of his life and influence.

Below is a summary article with links for additional reading.  Just in terms of sacred art, there is a rich bounty to explore the incredible artwork and icons that depict the dramatic Scripture passages in St. Luke’s writing.

The best way to know St. Luke is to read his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  In this Centennial Year, we are blessed that the liturgical cycle is Cycle C featuring St. Luke’s Gospel in the weekly readings.  There are also several useful companion works about St. Luke’s writings to assist in understanding them more deeply.  See, for example, Praying with Saint Luke’s Gospel; Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Saint Luke, Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., Ed., Magnificat Inc., 2012.

Source: Dan Morgan

Life of St. Luke

Scholars debate particulars of St. Luke’s life, and whether all references to “Luke” in the New Testament apply to the Evangelist.  See, for example, this more detailed summary biography in the Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Luke

or the Catholic Encyclopedia biography of St. Luke: https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09420a.htm

In summary, Luke the Evangelist generally is identified with the “Luke” who is referenced in three of St. Paul’s letters.  He is noted as being a physician, a travel companion of St. Paul’s many travels and with St. Paul in Rome when St. Paul was imprisoned before being martyred.  He may have been a Gentile, or a Hellenized Jew.  In any event, he was a very skillful writer of Greek.  Some geographical descriptions of Palestine are not fully accurate, suggesting that he was not intimately familiar with the more southern regions.  A long tradition puts Luke in the Greek city of Antioch in Syria, the place where the disciples were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26), at the time of his conversion.

Source: Dan Morgan

Scripture:  Gospel and Acts of the Apostles

St. Luke’s writings account for more than 25 percent of the entire New Testament.  St. Luke’s Gospel clearly draws from the Gospel of St. Mark, or some common source.  But it also includes new material, leading some to speculate that he knew St. Peter and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Scholars note that St. Luke wrote in very refined Greek to an audience of Gentiles in the Hellenistic world of the first century.  His writing is highly descriptive yet economical and very balanced.

Notice, for example, his description of clothing to set many  scenes, such as the swaddling clothes of the Nativity, or the robe for the Prodigal Son or the dazzling white clothes of the Transfiguration, or the burial clothes in the empty tomb. (For more, see Foreword to Praying with St. Luke’s Gospel.)

Luke makes great use of dramatic comparisons.  For example, see the earthly grandeur of Caesar and all Roman authority  set against the humble Good News of the Savior baby born in a stable, witnessed by angels and lowly shepherds.  The infant Son of God is placed in the feeding box of an ox, the sacrificial animal, and His Body will then become the Bread of Life for our salvation.

Uncommon in his day, and notable in our own, Luke’s writing includes a careful attention to women and gender balance.  From Hogan, Introduction, in Praying with the Gospel of St. Luke:

If the angel Gabriel announces good news to a wealthy priest [Zechariah, father of John the Baptist], he will announce even greater news to a poor girl in chapter 1.  If Simeon, an old man, recognizes the Christ in Mary’s Newborn, then an old woman, Anna, will sing his praises and proclaim to everyone in chapter 2.  If Jesus heals the son of a widow in chapter 7, you will find him healing the daughter of Jarius in chapter 8.  In chapter 13 we find Jesus healing a crippled woman on the sabbath, and in chapter 14 he heals a crippled man on the sabbath also. . .. Lastly, Jesus shocks his society by openly having men and women disciples, a thing unheard of!

St. Luke and his Gospel are depicted with an ox or a calf, the sacrificial animal, because his Gospel opens with Zechariah the priest serving in the temple.

Source: Lou McMahon

St. Luke, Christmas and Mary

Tradition has long held that Luke obtained many details of the early life of Jesus, especially those things of which “Mary pondered them in her heart,” directly from the Blessed Virgin (Luke 2:19).  This list includes

  • the Visitation to Elizabeth
  • the travel to Bethlehem
  • the visit of the shepherds with the babe in swaddling clothes
  • the presentation at the temple
  • the finding of the adolescent Jesus in the temple

Much of our traditional Christmas narrative comes from the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel.  The travel to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the stable, the babe in swaddling clothes, the angels proclaiming to the shepherds and their homage to the Christ, are all in Luke Chapter 2.

Luke’s close identification with Mary is captured in many of the mysteries of the Rosary.  See, e.g., the Joyful Mysteries.

St. Luke the Painter

An ancient tradition holds that Luke was a painter, and the first writer of icons.  Speculation is that Luke spent time in the house of St. John where Mary resided, where he not only received all these treasures verbally from the Blessed Virgin, but actually painted her image.
Source: Dan Morgan
It has long been asserted that Luke captured an image of the Blessed Virgin, and wrote the first icon of the Virgin with the Child Jesus.  For example, this image, on wood, was held to have been painted by St. Luke based his time with Mary and Mary’s description, using  a table top that Jesus had made.
Source: douglawrence.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/icon-of-the-madonna-painted-by-st-luke-accurately-depicts-face-of-blessed-virgin-mary/
For more on St. Luke as a painter, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luke_the_Evangelist

Scripture and Art:  Solely St. Luke

For reflection and further reading, see some of the Scriptural passages highlighted below that come solely from the writing of St. Luke, as well as links to artistic masterpieces that depict those passages.

The Annunciation

Luke 1:26- 38

“Behold will conceive in your womb and bear a son; and you shall name him Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High. . . .

“And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”

By Fra Angelico – carulmare ANGELICO, Fra Annunciation, 1437-46 Taken on 2 February 2008, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5446878

The Visitation

Luke 1:39-56

 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’”

Domenico Ghirlandaio, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Nativity

Luke 2: 1-20

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

By Gerard van Honthorst – Google Art Project, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45542035

The Presentation: Simeon and Anna in the temple

Luke 2:21-39

“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
as you have promised.
I have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

By Rembrandt – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=157844

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10: 25-37

“ ‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’  He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do likewise.’”

By Eugène Delacroix – http://www.artbible.info/art/large/594.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34792998

The Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-32

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

By Rembrandt – 5QFIEhic3owZ-A at Google Arts & Culture, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22353933

The Road to Emmaus

Luke 24: 13-35

“They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.”

By Caravaggio – National Gallery, London web site, Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=270022


Acts 2:1-12

“They saw what seemed like tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”


Titian, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Peter’s Shadow

Acts 5:12-16

“Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. . . .  As a result, people brought the sick into the streets so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.”


By Laurent de La Hyre – www.notredamedeparis.fr/la-cathedrale/linterieur/peintures/les-grands-mays-de-notre-dame-de-paris/saint-pierre-guerissant-des-malades-de-son-ombre/,  Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19211009