OME saints survive largely because of
their personal history-St. Francis, whether of Assisi or Xavier, for example : others have practically no history, but live in the work they did, like the Evangelists. Thus we know almost nothing of St. Luke-save that he was a Syrian, probably from Antioch, and a doctor.
Quite possibly it was because of his profession that, when he became a Christian, he attached himself to St. Paul, who was so often ill. Paul alludes to him (Col. iv. 11) as " the very dear physician "; and the time was to come when he alone persevered in Paul's company-" only Luke is with me" (I Tim. iv. 11)-the Demas who had been in close connection both with Paul and Luke (Col. iv. 14; Philemon 24) having "loved the things of this world," and gradually given up his allegiance, There is no evidence that he was an artist, or painted any of the pictures of Our Lady that have been ascribed to him. Nor can we precisely "date" his version of the " Good Message." [We must always remember that we read, not" the Gospel of St. Mark, St. John," etc., but " the (one and the same) Good Message (as given by Christ), according to (the version provided by) Mark, John," etc.] Moreover we ought hardly to attempt to do so.
We should not imagine an Evangelist sitting down at his desk and writing a " gospel " all on end, as they say. Luke himself tells us that he enquired in detail about the origin of Christianity; that many had already undertaken to write these things down; but that he had wished to produce what was a strictly scientific and orderly hook, providing the best evidence, in the best way, for the doctrine which the Apostles taught.
Fixing the Dates That takes time. But we can set certain limits. We consider that we are right to regard the end of Paul's first imprisonment at Rome as having taken place towards the beginning of A.D. 63. And further, that Luke wrote the Acts some time before that -certainly before the Great Fire of Rome (July 19-28, A.D. 64) when Nero let loose his great persecution of the Christians, in which St. Peter (we hold) was martyred there. But it is now agreed that the author of the Acts and of the Third Gospel was one and the same, i.e., Luke. But the Acts is a second volume, or treatise : the " gospel" therefore must have been written before A.D. 63-perhaps well before that.
The only " difficulty " surviving is that St. Luke seems undoubtedly to have known St. Mark's " gospel." But Mark, according to St. Irenaeus, published that "gospel" only after the death of Peter, whose doctrine it contained. However, as I expect I mentioned when writing of St. Mark, there is not the slightest difficulty in supposing that St. Mark wrote down Peter's preaching long before Peter's martyrdom, but did not actually publish it till afterwards. In fact, I think there is very good evidence for holding that that is what happened.
Since, then, Mark, Peter, Paul, and Luke will all have been in Rome at the same time, and since Paul was perfectly free to see whom he liked, it is quite possible that Luke should have read Mark's notes, used them in putting together his own " gospel," and still have written that gospel before the Acts, which he finished in A.D 63 at latest. We are then safe in assigning the Third Gospel to about A.D. 60, at latest.
St. Luke's Style
Now here is another point that fascinates
me. St. Luke's " style " is his style, throughout both Acts and Gospel; yet it changes subtly according to circumstances. While he was actually with St. Paul, and writes in the first person, he feels free; he writes at his ease: he says just what he sees. When he was relating only what he had heard of St. Paul, he still writes in his own way, but with a slight touch of stiffness, due to his sense of providing firsthand evidence, indeed, yet not his own eyewitncss.
When he relates (in the Gospel) the Good Message, which he knew he had to do accurately, he still is no mere dictaphone, but what you are conscious of is the tradition as written by him. But there remains that marvellous first part of his " gospel," in which is related all that led up to the Birth of Our Lord, and much more about His childhood.
There is here a certain freshness, naiveness, something exquisitely different from the artificial fairy-tales of " apocryphal gospels " which contained all those " marvel-stories" demanded by popular curiosity which is just what the Good Message never satisfies, nor would condescend to cater for. Twice, in reality, he lets you know (ii. 19; 51) whence he drew his knowledge. It was from Our Lady herself.
Why else should he so insist that Mary continuously retained in her mind all that had happened, or was said; connected it together; brooded over it; understood it (as he implies) better and better-why, from whom else (since St. Joseph disappears early enough from the divine history) should he have learnt that even she did not fathom the mystery of the Loss and the Finding in the Temple, at the time? Our blessed Mother herself was led forward into mystery : she too suffered what we, I make no doubt, may sometimes have to suffer from-the sense that God's designs are inexplicable : we cannot see why He will have things thus or thus . . . we have in our small way our " Dark Night," through which all saints travelled; and which she, greater than any " saint," experienced at its blackest.
Anyhow, the incomparable charm of the first chapters of "St. Luke " is surely due to his direct interrogation of Her who by now was an ageing woman but who had never ceased, never since her girlhood, to say : " Lo-me-God's little servant." (I may be forgiven for mentioning that I have tried to indicate the delicate difference between the two texts mentioned above in a sermon published in the book called Our Blessed Lady (Sheed and Ward). There is a tiny difference; and if we appreciate it, we appreciate better alike Our Lady and St. Luke.) The "Spirit " It is almost criminal to try to indicate in a very short article anything so elusive as the " spirit " of an Evangelist. (I want to recall that in anything 1 try to write about the Gospels, I have helped myself consistently by-this does not imply invariable agreement with-Fr. M. J. Lagrange, 0.P., that most learned, most honourable, most humble, and, I want to add, genuinely holy scholar of Scripture.)
It is almost an indecency in me, who am no scholar, and who have throughout this series helped myself freely by means of the work of others, to say that
" agree" with Fr. Lagrange in what he wrote as to the " spirit " of St. Luke. 1 am only too grateful to find that what I had always felt about St. Luke, and had trusted might be true, was just what he, with his immense learning, was able to prove to be so. I had occasion to write to him, once or twice, especially in troublous times. I shall never forget the courtesy, humility, and accuracy of his answers. I do not disguise my hope that this Dominican Friar may someday be raised to the Altars, as a worthy successor, in our time, of St. Thomas Aqunas; of St. Thomas, who was called every kind of " heretic " because of his philosophy but who is now our guide in the everdeveloping philosophy of the Church, and whose principles, as to practical scientific observation and investigation, would have been those of Fr. Lagrange had the same sort of material been at his disposal.
I must be forgiven this digression: but I wanted to say somewhere, some-when, how much I venerate Fr. Lagrange, both for his erudition (in which any man may make mistakes, as a properly scientific man will often find he has done, because " evidence" continuously increases), but also for his virtue, as to which I am unacquainted with his ever having been disloyal-certainly never in the department of true intellectual submission to the Church.
St. Luke's tenderness is clear. Who else so introduces women into the gospelstory? I have already spoken of Our Lady. It is hardly too much to say that had St. Luke never written his gospel, nobody would have begun to guess (from the earliest written records) the re-establishment of women in their spiritual role-starting from Mary-Virgin, Mother, and Widow.
To Luke we owe those songs that echo everlastingly-the Magnificat supremely. The vivacity of St. Mark; his picturesque details (the cushion under Our Lord's head . . . ): the iron-hard insistence of St. Matthew on the fulfilment of ancient prophecy in the Person of Christ-all this is contained in the narrative of St. Luke; yet, in a way, how more divine-humane than these is he. But this tenderness is but the consequence of God's " loving-kindliness." It is to Luke that we owe not only the parables of the Lost Coin and the Lost Son-the " Prodigal," but the stories of Zacchaeus and of the Penitent Thief; yet this doctrine is no "soft" one; no "gospel" is more austere than Luke's, with his insistence upon poverty, and upon the need of prayer. Possibly I ought to have omitted all this, in order to quote fully the letter in which the pro-consul Paulus Fabius Maximus invited the Asiatic Greeks to begin their year as from the anniversary of the Birth of Caesar Augustus-the day which
gave a new "aspect" to the whole of human life-gave a new joy alike to individual and to society, which never would have existed had Caesar not been born. To which the Greeks replied that not only had the Caesar outpasscd all previous benefactors of humanity, but he left no hope that anyone should supersede him. "The birthday of the god has been, for the whole world, the beginning of the Good News." To this, Luke calmly opposes the birth of the only true Saviour, for it would seem quite impossible but that he should have known both the pro-consul's letter and the reply to it. The significance of the contrast was not fully apparent when Luke wrote. Not yet had the State and its officers begun to impose upon Christians the worship of the god-emperor: but that was soon to come, and its modern version is easy to behold.
May we then pray that that Spirit should be given to us which caused the hearts of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus (a story which, too, we owe wholly to Luke) to burn within them, while their stillunknown Companion walked with them, and explained to them the Scriptures.