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§ 77. The Cross and the Crucifix.

"Religion des Kreuzes, nur du verknüpfest in Einem Kranze Der Demuth und Kraft doppelte Palme zugleich."—(Schiller.).468468    "Der deutscheit Muse schönstes Distichon."68

Justus Lipsius (R.C., d. 1606, is Prof. at Louvain): De Cruce libri tres, ad sacram profanamque historiam utiles. Antw., 1595, and later editions.

Jac. Gretser (Jesuit): De Cruce Christi rebusque ad eam pertinentibus. Ingolst., 1598–1605, 3 vols. 4to; 3rd ed. revised, 1608; also in his Opera, Ratisb., 1734, Tom. I.-III.

Wm. Haslam: The Cross and the Serpent: being a brief History of the Triumph of the Cross. Oxford, 1849.

W. R. Alger: History of the Cross. Boston, 1858.

Gabr. De Mortillet: Le, Signe de la Croix avant le Christianisme. Paris, 1866.

A. Ch. A. Zestermann: Die bildliche Darstellung des Kreuzes und der Kreuzigung historisch entwickelt. Leipzig, 1867 and 1868.

J. Stockbauer (R.C.):Kunstgeschichte des Kreuzes. Schaffhausen, 1870.

O. Zöckler (Prof. in Greifswald): Das Kreuz Christi. Religionshistorische und kirchlich archaeologische Untersuchungen. Gütersloh, 1875 (484 pages, with a large list of works, pp. xiii.-xxiv.). English translation by M. G. Evans, Lond., 1878.

Ernst v. Bunsen: Das Symbol des Kreuzes bei alten Nationen und die Entstehung des Kreuzsymbols der christlichen Kirche. Berlin, 1876. (Full of hypotheses.)

Hermann Fulda: Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung, Eine antiquarische Untersuchung. Breslau, 1878. Polemical against the received views since Lipsius,. See a full list of literature in Fulda, pp. 299–328.

E. Dobbert: Zur Enttehungsgeschichte des Kreuzes, Leipzig, 1880.

The oldest and dearest, but also the, most abused, of the primitive Christian symbols is the cross, the sign of redemption, sometimes alone, sometimes with the Alpha and Omega, sometimes with the anchor of hope or the palm of peace. Upon this arose, as early as the second century, the custom of making the sign of the cross469469    Signaculum or signum crucis.69 on rising, bathing, going out, eating, in short, on engaging in any affairs of every-day life; a custom probably attended in many cases even in that age, with superstitious confidence in the magical virtue of this sign; hence Tertullian found it necessary to defend the Christians against the heathen charge of worshipping the cross (staurolatria).470470    Apol. c.16; Ad Nat. I. 12. Julian the Apostate raised the same charge against the Christians of his day.70

Cyprian and the Apostolical Constitutions mention the sign of the cross as a part of the baptismal rite, and Lactantius speaks of it as effective against the demons in the baptismal exorcism. Prudentius recommends it as a preservative against temptations and bad dreams. We find as frequently, particularly upon ornaments and tombs, the monogram of the name of Christ, X P, usually combined in the cruciform character, either alone, or with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, "the first and the last;" in later cases with the addition "In the sign."471471    "in signo,"i.e. "In hoc signo vinces," the motto of Constantine.71 Soon after Constantine’s victory over Maxentius by the aid of the Labarum (312), crosses were seen on helmets, bucklers, standards, crowns, sceptres, coins and seals, in various forms.472472    Archaeologists distinguish seven or more forms of the cross:
   (a) crux decussata (St. Andrew’s cross), X

   (b) crux commissa (the Egyptian cross), T

   (c) crux immima or ordinaria (the upright Latin cross), –|–

   (d) The inverted Latin cross of St. Peter, who considered himself unworthy to suffer in the upright position like his Lord, –|–

   (e) The Greek cross, consisting of four equally long arms, +

   (f) The double cross, –|–



   (g) The triple cross (used by the Pope), –|–





   The chief forms of the monogram are:

   [Six figures are inserted here. Ed.]


   The story of the miraculous invention and raising of the true cross of Christ by Helena, the mother of Constantine, belongs to the Nicene age. The connection of the cross with the α and ω arose from the Apocalyptic designation of Christ (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13), which is thus explained by Prudentius (Cathem. hymn. IX. 10-12):

   "Alpha et Omega cognominatus; ipse fons et clausula,

   Omnia quae sunt, fuerunt, quaeque postfutura sunt."

The cross was despised by the heathen Romans on account of the crucifixion, the disgraceful punishment of slaves and the worst criminals; but the Apologists reminded them of the unconscious recognition of the salutary sign in the form of their standards and triumphal symbols, and of the analogies in nature, as the form of man with the outstretched arm, the flying bird, and the sailing ship.473473    Minut. Felix, Octav. c. 29: "Tropaea vestra victricia non tantum simplicis crucisfaciem, verum etiam adfixi hominis imituntuR. Signum sane crucis naturaliter visimus in navi, cum velis tumentibus vehitur, cum expansis palmulis labitur; et cum ergitur jugum, crucis signum est; et cum homo porrectis manibus Deum pura mente veneratoR. Ita signo crucis aut ratio naturalis innititur, aut vestra religio formatur." Comp. a very similar passage in Tertul., Apol. c.16; and Ad Nat. I. 12; also Justin M., Apol. I. 55.73 Nor was the symbolical use of the cross confined to the Christian church, but is found among the ancient Egyptians, the Buddhists in India, and the Mexicans before the conquest, and other heathen nations, both as a symbol of blessing and a symbol of curse.474474    When the temple of Serapis was destroyed (a.d. 390), signs of the cross were found beneath the hieroglyphics, and heathen and Christians referred it to their religion. Socrates, H. E. V. 17; Sozomenus, VI[. 15; Theodoret, V. 22. On the Buddhist cross see Medhurst, China, p. 217. At the discovery of Mexico the Spaniards found the sign of the cross as an object of worship in the idol temples at Anahuac. Prescott, Conquest of Mexico, III. 338-340. See on the heathen use of the Cross, Haslam, Mortillet, Zöckler (l.c., 7 sqq.), and Brinton, Myths of the New World; also an article on "The pre-Christian Cross," in the "Edinburgh Review," Jan. 1870. Zöckler says (p. 95): "Alter FIuch und Segen, alles Todeselend und alle Lebensherrlichkeit, die durch dir vorchristliche Menschheit ausgebreitet gewesen, erscheinen in dem Kreuze auf Golgatha conrentrirt zum wundervollsten Gebilde, der religiös sittlichen Entwicklung unseres Geschlechtes."74

The cross and the Lord’s Prayer may be called the greatest martyrs in Christendom. Yet both the superstitious abuse and the puritanic protest bear a like testimony to the significance of the great fact of which it reminds us.

The crucifix, that is the sculptured or carved representation of our Saviour attached to the cross, is of much later date, and cannot be clearly traced beyond the middle of the sixth century. It is not mentioned by any writer of the Nicene and Chalcedonian age. One of the oldest known crucifixes, if not the very oldest, is found in a richly illuminated Syrian copy of the Gospels in Florence from the year 586.475475    See Becker, l. c., p. 38, Westwood’s Palaeographia Sacra, and Smith and Cheetbam, I. 515.75 Gregory of Tours (d. 595) describes a crucifix in the church of St. Genesius, in Narbonne, which presented the crucified One almost entirely naked.476476    "Pictura, quae Dominum nostrum quasi praecinctum linteo indicat crucifixum."De Gloria. Martyrum, lib. l.c. 28.76 But this gave offence, and was veiled, by order of the bishop, with a curtain, and only at times exposed to the people. The Venerable Bede relates that a crucifix, bearing on one side the Crucified, on the other the serpent lifted up by Moses, was brought from Rome to the British cloister of Weremouth in 686.477477    Opera, ed. Giles, iv. p. 376. A crucifix is found in an Irish MS. Written about 800. See Westwood, as quoted in Smith and Cheetham, I. 516.77


The first symbol of the crucifixion was the cross alone; then followed the cross and the lamb—either the lamb with the cross on the head or shoulder, or the lamb fastened on the cross; then the figure of Christ in connection with the cross—either Christ holding it in his right hand (on the sarcophagus of Probus, d. 395), or Christ with the cross in the background (in the church of St. Pudentiana, built 398); at last Christ nailed to the cross.

An attempt has been made to trace the crucifixes back to the third or second century, in consequence of the discovery, in 1857, of a mock-crucifix on the wall in the ruins of the imperial palaces on the western declivity of the Palatine hill in Rome, which is preserved in the Museo Kircheriano. It shows the figure of a crucified man with the head of an ass or a horse, and a human figure kneeling before it, with the inscription: "Alexamenos worships his God."478478    Ἀλεξάμενος σέβετ (αι) θεόν. The monument was first published by the Jesuit Garrucci, and is fully discussed by Becker in the essay quoted. A woodcut is also given in Smith and Cheetham, I. 516.78 This figure was no doubt scratched on the wall by some heathen enemy to ridicule a Christian slave or page of the imperial household, or possibly even the emperor Alexander Severus (222–235), who, by his religious syncretism, exposed himself to sarcastic criticism. The date of the caricature is uncertain; but we know that in the second century the Christians, like the Jews before them, were charged with the worship of an ass, and that at that time there were already Christians in the imperial palace.479479    Comp. on the supposed ὀνολατρεία of the Christians, Tertullian, Apol. c.16 ("Nam et somniastis caput asininum esse Deum nostrum" etc.); Ad nationes I. 11, 14; Minut. Felix, Octav. 9. Tertullian traces this absurdity to Cornelius Tacitus, who charges it upon the Jews (Hist. V. 4).79 After the third Century this silly charge disappears. Roman archaeologists (P. Garrucci, P. Mozzoni, and Martigny) infer from this mock-crucifix that crucifixes were in use among Christians already at the close of the second century, since the original precedes the caricature. But this conjecture is not supported by any evidence. The heathen Caecilius in Minucius Felix (ch. 10) expressly testifies the absence of Christian simulacra. As the oldest pictures of Christ, so far as we know, originated not among the orthodox Christians, but among the heretical and half heathenish Gnostics, so also the oldest known representation of the crucifix was a mock-picture from the hand of a heathen—an excellent illustration of the word of Paul that the preaching of Christ crucified is foolishness to the Greeks.

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