§ 75. Literature.


Comp. the Lit. on the Catacombs, ch. VII.


FR. Münter: Sinnbilder u. Kunstvorstellungen der alten Christen. Altona, 1825.

Grüneisen: Ueber die Ursachen des Kunsthasses in den drei ersten Jahrhunderten. Stuttg. 1831.

Helmsdörfer: Christl. Kunstsymbolik u. Ikonographie. Frkf. 1839.

F. Piper: Mythologie u. Symbolik der christl. Kunst. 2 vols. Weimar, 1847–51. Ueber den christl. Bilderkreis. Berl. 1852 (p. 3–10). By the same: Einleitung in die monumentale Theologie. Gotha, 1867.

J. B. De Rossi (R.C.): De Christianis monumentis ijcquvn exhibentibus, in the third volume of Pitra’s "Spicilegium Solesmense." Paris, 1855. Also his great work on the Roman Catacombs (Roma Sotteranea, 1864–1867), and his Archaeol. "Bulletin" (Bulletino di Archeologia cristiana, since 1863).

A. Welby Pugin (architect and Prof. of Ecclis. Antiquities at Oscott, a convert to the R.C. Ch., d. 1852): Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume. Lond. 1844, 4

P. Raffaelle Garrucci (Jesuit): Storia delta Arte Cristiana nei primi otto secoli delta chiesa. Prato, 1872–’80, 6 vols. fol., with 500 magnificent plates and illustrations. A most important work, but intensely Romish. By the same: Il crocifisso graffito in casa dei Cesari. Rom. 1857.

Fr. Becker.: Die Darstellung Jesu Christi unter dem Bilde des Fisches auf den Monumenten der Kirche der Katakomben, erläutert. Breslau, 1866. The same: Das Spott-Crucifix der römischen Kaiserpaläste aus dem Anfang des dritten Jahrh. Breslau, 1866 (44 pp.). The same: Die Wand-und Deckengemälde der röm. Katakomben. Gera, 1876.

Abbé Jos. Al. Martigny: Diction. des Antiquités Chrétiennes. Paris, 1865, second ed., 1877. (With valuable illustrations).

F. X. Kraus (R.C.): Die christl. Kunst in ihren frühesten Anfängen. Leipzig, 1873 (219 pages and 53 woodcuts). Also several articles in his "Real-Encyklop. der. christl. Alterthümer," Freiburg i. B. 1880 sqq. (The cuts mostly from Martigny).

H. Achelis: Das Symbol d. Fisches u. d. Fischdemkmäler, Marb., 1888.

C. W. Bennett: Christian Archaeology, N. York, 1888.


 § 76. Origin of Christian Art.


Christianity owed its origin neither to art nor to science, and is altogether independent of both. But it penetrates and pervades them with its heaven-like nature, and inspires them with a higher and nobler aim. Art reaches its real perfection in worship, as an embodiment of devotion in beautiful forms, which afford a pure pleasure, and at the same time excite and promote devotional feeling. Poetry and music, the most free and spiritual arts, which present their ideals in word and tone, and lead immediately from the outward form to the spiritual substance, were an essential element of worship in Judaism, and passed thence, in the singing of psalms, into the Christian church.

Not so with the plastic arts of sculpture and painting, which employ grosser material—stone, wood, color—as the medium of representation, and, with a lower grade of culture, tend almost invariably to abuse when brought in contact with worship. Hence the strict prohibition of these arts by the Monotheistic religions. The Mohammedans follow in this respect the Jews; their mosques are as bare of images of living beings as the synagogues, and they abhor the image worship of Greek and Roman Christians as a species of idolatry.

The ante-Nicene church, inheriting the Mosaic decalogue, and engaged in deadly conflict with heathen idolatry, was at first averse to those arts. Moreover her humble condition, her contempt for all hypocritical show and earthly vanity, her enthusiasm for martyrdom, and her absorbing expectation of the speedy destruction of the world and establishment of the millennial kingdom, made her indifferent to the ornamental part of life. The rigorous Montanists, in this respect the forerunners of the Puritans, were most hostile to art. But even the highly cultivated Clement of Alexandria put the spiritual worship of God in sharp contrast to the pictorial representation of the divine. "The habit of daily view," he says, "lowers the dignity of the divine, which cannot be honored, but is only degraded, by sensible material."

Yet this aversion to art seems not to have extended to mere symbols such as we find even in the Old Testament, as the brazen serpent and the cherubim in the temple. At all events, after the middle or close of the second century we find the rude beginnings of Christian art in the form of significant symbols in the private and social life of the Christians, and afterwards in public worship. This is evident from Tertullian and other writers of the third century, and is abundantly confirmed by the Catacombs, although the age of their earliest pictorial remains is a matter of uncertainty and dispute.

The origin of these symbols must be found in the instinctive desire of the Christians to have visible tokens of religious truth, which might remind them continually of their Redeemer and their holy calling, and which would at the same time furnish them the best substitute for the signs of heathen idolatry. For every day they were surrounded by mythological figures, not only in temples and public places, but in private houses, on the walls, floors, goblets, seal-rings, and grave-stones. Innocent and natural as, this effort was, it could easily lead, in the less intelligent multitude, to confusion of the sign with the thing signified, and to many a superstition. Yet this result was the less apparent in the first three centuries, because in that period artistic works were mostly confined to the province of symbol and allegory.

From the private recesses of Christian homes and catacombs artistic representations of holy things passed into public churches ill the fourth century, but under protest which continued for a long time and gave rise to the violent image controversies which were not settled until the second Council of Nicaea (787), in favor of a limited image worship. The Spanish Council of Elvira (Granada) in 306 first raised such a protest, and prohibited (in the thirty-sixth canon) "pictures in the church (picturas in ecclessia), lest the objects of veneration and worship should be depicted on the walls." This sounds almost iconoclastic and puritanic; but in view of the numerous ancient pictures and sculptures in the catacombs, the prohibition must be probably understood as a temporary measure of expediency in that transition period.467


 § 77. The Cross and the Crucifix.


"Religion des Kreuzes, nur du verknüpfest in Einem Kranze Der Demuth und Kraft doppelte Palme zugleich."—(Schiller.).468


Comp. the works quoted in § 75, and the lists in Zöckler and Fulda.


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 cross469 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).470

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."471  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.472

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.473  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.474

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 586.475  Gregory of Tours (d. 595) describes a crucifix in the church of St. Genesius, in Narbonne, which presented the crucified One almost entirely naked.476  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 686.477




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."478  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.479  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.


 § 78. Other Christian Symbols.


The following symbols, borrowed from the Scriptures, were frequently represented in the catacombs, and relate to the virtues and duties of the Christian life: The dove, with or without the olive branch, the type of simplicity and innocence;480 the ship, representing sometimes the church, as safely sailing through the flood of corruption, with reference to Noah’s ark, sometimes the individual soul on its voyage to the heavenly home under the conduct of the storm-controlling Saviour; the palm-branch, which the seer of the Apocalypse puts into the hands of the elect, as the sign of victory;481 the anchor, the figure of hope;482 the lyre, denoting festal joy and sweet harmony;483 the cock, an admonition to watchfulness, with reference to Peter’s fall;484 the hart which pants for the fresh water-brooks;485 and the vine which, with its branches and clusters, illustrates the union of the Christians with Christ according to the parable, and the richness and joyfulness of Christian life.486

The phoenix, the symbol of rejuvenation and of the resurrection, is derived from the well-known heathen myth.487


 § 79  Historical and Allegorical Pictures


From these emblems there was but one step to iconographic representations. The Bible furnished rich material for historical, typical, and allegorical pictures, which are found in the catacombs and ancient monuments. Many of them (late from the third or even the second century.

The favorite pictures from the Old Testament are Adam and Eve, the rivers of Paradise, the ark of Noah, the sacrifice of Isaac, the passage through the Red Sea, the giving of the law, Moses smiting the rock, the deliverance of Jonah, Jonah naked under the gourd the translation of Elijah, Daniel in the lions’ den, the three children in the fiery furnace. Then we have scenes from the Gospels, and from apostolic and post-apostolic history, such as the adoration of the Magi, their meeting with Herod, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the healing of the paralytic, the changing water into wine, the miraculous feeding of five thousand, the ten virgins, the resurrection of Lazarus, the entry into Jerusalem, the Holy Supper, the portraits of St. Peter and St. Paul.488

The passion and crucifixion were never represented in the early monuments, except by the symbol of the cross.

Occasionally we find also mythological representations, as Psyche with wings, and playing with birds and flowers (an emblem of immortality), Hercules, Theseus, and especially Orpheus, who with his magic song quieted the storm and tamed the wild beasts.

Perhaps Gnosticism had a stimulating effect in art, as it had in theology. At all events the sects of the Carpocratians, the Basilideans, and the Manichaeans cherished art. Nationality also had something to do with this branch of life. The Italians are by nature art artistic people, and shaped their Christianity accordingly. Therefore Rome is preëminently the home of Christian art.

The earliest pictures in the catacombs are artistically the best, and show the influence of classic models in the beauty and grace of form. From the fourth century there is a rapid decline to rudeness and stiffness, and a transition to the Byzantine type.

Some writers489 have represented this primitive Christian art merely as pagan art in its decay, and even the Good Shepherd as a copy of Apollo or Hermes. But while the form is often an imitation, the spirit is altogether different, and the myths are understood as unconscious prophecies and types of Christian verities, as in the Sibylline books. The relation of Christian art to mythological art somewhat resembles the relation of biblical Greek to classical Greek. Christianity could not at once invent a new art any more than a new language, but it emancipated the old from the service of idolatry and immorality, filled it with a deeper meaning, and consecrated it to a higher aim.

The blending of classical reminiscences and Christian ideas is best embodied in the beautiful symbolic pictures of the Good Shepherd and of Orpheus.490

The former was the most favorite figure, not only in the Catacombs, but on articles of daily use, as rings, cups, and lamps. Nearly one hundred and fifty such pictures have come down to us. The Shepherd, an appropriate symbol of Christ, is usually represented as a handsome, beardless, gentle youth, in light costume, with a girdle and sandals, with the flute and pastoral staff, carrying a lamb on his shoulder, standing between two or more sheep that look confidently up to him. Sometimes he feeds a large flock on green pastures. If this was the popular conception of Christ, it stood in contrast with the contemporaneous theological idea of the homely appearance of the Saviour, and anticipated the post-Constantinian conception.

The picture of Orpheus is twice found in the cemetery of Domitilla, and once in that of Callistus. One on the ceiling in Domitilla, apparently from the second century, is especially rich: it represents the mysterious singer, seated in the centre on a piece of rock, playing on the lyre his enchanting melodies to wild and tame animals—the lion, the wolf, the serpent, the horse, the ram—at his feet—and the birds in the trees;491 around the central figure are several biblical scenes, Moses smiting the rock, David aiming the sling at Goliath (?), Daniel among the lions, the raising of Lazarus. The heathen Orpheus, the reputed author of monotheistic hymns (the Orphica), the centre of so many mysteries, the fabulous charmer of all creation, appears here either as a symbol and type of Christ Himself,492 or rather, like the heathen Sibyl, an antitype and unconscious prophet of Christ, announcing and foreshadowing Him as the conqueror of all the forces of nature, as the harmonizer of all discords, and as ruler over life and death.


 § 80. Allegorical Representations of Christ.


Pictures of Christ came into use slowly and gradually, as the conceptions concerning his personal appearance changed. The Evangelists very wisely keep profound silence on the subject, and no ideal which human genius may devise, can do justice to Him who was God manifest in the flesh.

In the ante-Nicene age the strange notion prevailed that our Saviour, in the state of his humiliation, was homely, according to a literal interpretation of the Messianic prophecy: "He hath no form nor comeliness."493  This was the opinion of Justin Martyr,494 Tertullian,495 and even of the spiritualistic Alexandrian divines Clement,496 and Origen.497  A true and healthy feeling leads rather to the opposite view; for Jesus certainly had not the physiognomy of a sinner, and the heavenly purity and harmony of his soul must in some way have shone, through the veil of his flesh, as it certainly did on the Mount of Transfiguration. Physical deformity is incompatible with the Old Testament idea of the priesthood, how much more with the idea of the Messiah.

Those fathers, however, had the state of humiliation alone in their eye. The exalted Redeemer they themselves viewed as clothed with unfading beauty and glory, which was to pass from Him, the Head, to his church also, in her perfect millennial state.498  We have here, therefore, not an essential opposition made between holiness and beauty, but only a temporary separation. Nor did the ante-Nicene fathers mean to deny that Christ, even in the days of his humiliation, had a spiritual beauty which captivated susceptible souls. Thus Clement of Alexandria distinguishes between two kinds of beauty, the outward beauty of the flesh, which soon fades away, and the beauty of the soul, which consists in moral excellence and is permanent. "That the Lord Himself," he says, "was uncomely in aspect, the Spirit testifies by Isaiah: ’And we saw Him, and he had no form nor comeliness; but his form was mean, inferior to men.’ Yet who was more admirable than the Lord?  But it was not the beauty of the flesh visible to the eye, but the true beauty of both soul and body, which He exhibited, which in the former is beneficence; in the latter—that is, the flesh—immortality."499  Chrysostom went further: he understood Isaiah’s description to refer merely to the scenes of the passion, and took his idea of the personal appearance of Jesus from the forty-fifth Psalm, where he is represented as "fairer than the children of men." Jerome and Augustin had the same view, but there was at that time no authentic picture of Christ, and the imagination was left to its own imperfect attempts to set forth that human face divine which reflected the beauty of sinless holiness.

The first representations of Christ were purely allegorical. He appears now as a shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep,500 or carries the lost sheep on his shoulders;501 as a lamb, who bears the sin of the world;502 more rarely as a ram, with reference to the substituted victim in the history of Abraham and Isaac;503 frequently as a fisher.504  Clement of Alexandria, in his hymn, calls Christ the "Fisher of men that are saved, who with his sweet life catches the pure fish out of the hostile flood in the sea of iniquity."

The most favorite symbol seems to have been that of the fish. It was the double symbol of the Redeemer and the redeemed. The corresponding Greek Ichthys is a pregnant anagram, containing the initials of the words: "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour."505  In some pictures the mysterious fish is swimming in the water with a plate of bread and a cup of wine on his back, with evident allusion to the Lord’s Supper. At the same time the fish represented the soul caught in the net of the great Fisher of men and his servants, with reference to Matt. 4:19; comp. 13:47. Tertullian connects the symbol with the water of baptism, saying:506  "We little fishes (pisciculi) are born by our Fish (secundum  jICqUS nostrum), Jesus Christ in water, and can thrive only by continuing in the water;" that is if we are faithful to our baptismal covenant, and preserve the grace there received. The pious fancy made the fish a symbol of the whole mystery of the Christian salvation. The anagrammatic or hieroglyphic use of the Greek Ichthys and the Latin Piscis-Christus belonged to the Disciplina Arcani, and was a testimony of the ancient church to the faith in Christ’s person as the Son of God, and his work as the Saviour of the world. The origin of this symbol must be traced beyond the middle of the second century, perhaps to Alexandria, where there was a strong love for mystic symbolism, both among the orthodox and the Gnostic heretics.507  It is familiarly mentioned by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian, and is found on ancient remains in the Roman catacombs, marked on the grave-stones, rings, lamps, vases, and wall-pictures508

The Ichthys-symbol went out of use before the middle of the fourth century, after which it is only found occasionally as a reminiscence of olden times.

Previous to the time of Constantine, we find no trace of an image of Christ, properly speaking, except among the Gnostic Carpocratians,509 and in the case of the heathen emperor Alexander Severus, who adorned his domestic chapel, as a sort of syncretistic Pantheon, with representatives of all religions.510  The above-mentioned idea of the uncomely personal appearance of Jesus, the entire silence of the Gospels about it, and the Old Testament prohibition of images, restrained the church from making either pictures or statues of Christ, until in the Nicene age a great change took place, though not without energetic and long-continued opposition. Eusebius gives us, from his own observation, the oldest report of a statue of Christ, which was said to have been erected by the woman with the issue of blood, together with her own statue, in memory of her cure, before her dwelling at Caesarea Philippi (Paneas).511  But the same historian, in a letter to the empress Constantia (the sister of Constantine and widow of Licinius), strongly protested against images of Christ, who had laid aside his earthly servant form, and whose heavenly glory transcends the conception and artistic skill of man.512


 § 81. Pictures of the Virgin Mary.


De Rossi: Imagines selectae Deiparae Virginis (Rome, 1863); Marriott: Catacombs (Lond. 1870, pp. 1–63); Martigny: Dict. sub "Vierge;" KRAUS: Die christl. Kunst (Leipz. 1873, p. 105); Northcote and Brownlow: Roma Sotter. (2nd ed. Lond. 1879, Pt. II. p. 133 sqq.); Withrow: Catacombs (N.Y. 1874, p. 30, 5 sqq.); Schultze: Die Marienbilder der altchristl. Kunst, and Die Katacomben (Leipz. 1882, p. 150 sqq.); Von Lehner: Die Marienverehrung in den 3 ersten Jahrh. (Stuttgart, 1881, p. 282 sqq.).


It was formerly supposed that no picture of the Virgin existed before the Council of Ephesus (431), which condemned Nestorius and sanctioned the theotokos, thereby giving solemn sanction and a strong impetus to the cultus of Mary. But several pictures are now traced, with a high degree of probability, to the third, if not the second century. From the first five centuries nearly fifty representations of Mary have so far been brought to the notice of scholars, most of them in connection with the infant Saviour.

The oldest is a fragmentary wall-picture in the cemetery of Priscilla: it presents Mary wearing a tunic and cloak, in sitting posture, and holding at her breast the child, who turns his face round to the beholder. Near her stands a young and beardless man (probably Joseph) clothed in the pallium, holding a book-roll in one hand, pointing to the star above with the other, and looking upon the mother and child with the expression of joy; between and above the figures is the star of Bethlehem; the whole represents the happiness of a family without the supernatural adornments of dogmatic reflection.513  In the same cemetery of Priscilla there are other frescos, representing (according to De Rossi and Garrucci) the annunciation by the angel, the adoration of the Magi, and the finding of the Lord in the temple. The adoration of the Magi (two or four, afterwards three) is a favorite part of the pictures of the holy family. In the oldest picture of that kind in the cemetery of SS. Peter and Marcellinus, Mary sits on a chair, holding the babe in her lap, and receiving the homage of two Magi, one on each side, presenting their gifts on a plate.514  In later pictures the manger, the ox and the ass, and the miraculous star are added to the scene.

The frequent pictures of a lady in praying attitude, with uplifted or outstretched arms (Orans or Orante), especially when found in company with the Good Shepherd, are explained by Roman Catholic archaeologists to mean the church or the blessed Virgin, or both combined, praying for sinners.515  But figures of praying men as well as women are abundant in the catacombs, and often represent the person buried in the adjacent tomb, whose names are sometimes given. No Ora pro nobis, no Ave Maria, no Theotokos or Deipara appears there. The pictures of the Orans are like those of other women, and show no traces of Mariolatry. Nearly all the representations in the catacombs keep within the limits of the gospel history. But after the fourth century, and in the degeneracy of art, Mary was pictured in elaborate mosaics, and on gilded glasses, as the crowned queen of heaven, seated on a throne, in bejewelled purple robes, and with a nimbus of glory, worshipped by angels and saints.

The noblest pictures of Mary, in ancient and modern times, endeavor to set forth that peculiar union of virgin purity and motherly tenderness which distinguish "the Wedded Maid and Virgin Mother" from ordinary women, and exert such a powerful charm upon the imagination and feelings of Christendom. No excesses of Mariolatry, sinful as they are, should blind us to the restraining and elevating effect of contemplating, with devout reverence,


 "The ideal of all womanhood,

 So mild, so merciful, so strong, so good,

 So patient, peaceful, loyal, loving, pure."



* Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and emended (according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons) by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998.

467  See above, p. 180.

468  "Der deutscheit Muse schönstes Distichon."

469  Signaculum or signum crucis.

470  Apol. c.16; Ad Nat. I. 12. Julian the Apostate raised the same charge against the Christians of his day.

471  "in signo,"i.e. "In hoc signo vinces," the motto of Constantine.

472  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 a and w 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."

473  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.

474  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."

475  See Becker, l. c., p. 38, Westwood’s Palaeographia Sacra, and Smith and Cheetbam, I. 515.

476  "Pictura, quae Dominum nostrum quasi praecinctum linteo indicat crucifixum."De Gloria. Martyrum, lib. l.c. 28.

477  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.

478  jAlexavmeno" sevbet[ai]qeovn. 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.

479  Comp. on the supposed ojnolatreiva 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).

480  Comp. Matt. 3:16; 10:16; Gen. 8:11; Cant. 6:9.

481  Rev. 7:9. The palm had a similar significance with the heathen, Homace writes (Od. I. 1): "Palmaque nobilis Terrarum dominos evehit ad deos."

482  Heb. 6:19. Likewise among the heathen.

483  Comp. Eph. 5:19.

484  Matt. 26:34, and parallel passages.

485  Ps. 42:1.

486  John 15:1-6. The parables of the Good Shepherd, and of the Vine and the Branches, both recorded only by St. John, seem to have been the most prominent in the mind of the primitive Christians, as they are in the catacombs. "What they valued" (says Stanley, Christ. Inst., p. 288), "what they felt, was new moral Influence, a new life stealing through their veins, a new health imparted to their frames, a new courage breathing in their faces, like wine to a weary laborer, like sap in the hundred branches of a spreading tree, like juice in thousand clusters of a spreading vine." But more important than this was the idea of vital union of the believers with Christ and among each other, symbolized by the vine and its branches.

487  The fabulous phoenix is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, and is first used by Clement of Rome, Ad Cor. c. 25, and by Tertiillian, De Resur. c. 13. Comp. Pliny Hist. Nat. XIII. 4.

488  For details the reader is referred to the great illustrated works of Perre. De Rossi, Garrucci, Parker, Roller, Northcote and Brownlow, etc.

489  Raoul-Rochette (Mémoires sur les antiquités chrétiennes; and Tableau des Catacombes), and Renan (Marc-Aurele, p. 542 sqq.).

490  See the illustrations at the end of the volume.

491  Comp. Horace, De Arte Poët., 391 sqq.

Silvestres homines sacer interpresque deorum

Caedibus et victufaedo delerruit Orpheus,

Dictus ob hoc lenire tigres rabidosque leones.

492  This is the explanation of nearly all archaeologists since Bosio, except Schultze (Die Katak., p. 105).

493  Isa. 53:2, 3; 52:14; Comp. Ps. 22.

494  Dial. c. Tryphone Judaeo c. 14 (eij" th;n prwvthn parousivan tou' Cristou', ejn h\/ kai; a[timo" kai; ajeidh;" kai; qnhto;" fanhvsesqai kekhrugmevno" ejstivn)c. 49 (paqhto;" kai; a[timo" kai; ajeidhv"); 85, 88, 100, 110, 121.

495  Adv. Jud. c. 14: "ne aspectu quidem honestus," and then he quotes Isa. 53:2 sqq.; 8:14; Ps. 22. De carne Christi, c. 9: "nec humanae honestatis corpus fuit, nedum calestis claritatis."

496  Paedag. III. 1, p. 252; Strom. lib. II. c. 5, p. 440; III. c. 17, p. 559; VI. 17, p. 818 (ed. Potter).

497  Contr. Cels. VI. c. 75, where Origen quotes from Celsus that Christ’s person did not differ from others in grandeur or beauty or strength, but was, as the Christians report, "little, ill favored and ignoble" (To; sw'ma mikro;n kai; duseide;" kai; ajgene;" h\vn). He admits the "ill-favored," but denies the "ignoble," and doubts the "little," of which there is no certain evidence. He then quotes the language of Isaiah 53, but adds the description of Ps. 45:3, 4 (Sept.), which represents the Messiah as a king arrayed in beauty. Celsus used this false tradition of the supposed uncomeliness of Jesus as an argument against his divinity, and an objection to the Christian religion.

498  Comp. Tertullian, Adv. Jud. c. 14 (Opera, ed. Oehler II. 740), where he quotes Dan. 7:13 sq., and Ps. 45:3, 4, for the heavenly beauty and glory of the exalted Saviour, and says: "Primo sordibus indutus est, id est carnis passibilis et mortalis indignitate ... dehinc spoliatus pristina sorde, exornatus podere, et mitra et cidari munda, id est secundi adventus; quoniam gloriam et honorent adeptus demonstrator." Justin Martyr makes the same distinction between the humility of the first and the glory of the second appearance. Dial.c.Tryph. Jud. c. 14 and c. 49, etc. So does Origen in the passage just quoted.

499  Paedag. lib. III.c. 1, which treats of true beauty. Compare also the last chapter in the second book, which is directed against the extravagant fondness of females for dress and jewels ornaments the true beauty of the soul, which "blossoms out in the flesh, exhibiting the amiable comeliness of self-control, whenever the character, like a beam of light, gleams in the form."

500  John 10:11. Comp. above, p. 276

501  Luke 15:3-7; Comp. Isa. 40:11; Ez. 34:11-15; Ps. 23.

502  John 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5:12.

503  Gen. 22:13.

504  Christ calls the apostles "fishers of men," Matt. 4:19.

505  \ICQYS = ’jI-hsou'" C-risto;" Q-eou' U-iJo;" S-wthvr. Comp. Augustin, De Civit. Dei xviii. 23 (Jesus Christus Dei Filius Salvator), The acrostic in the Sibyline Books (lib. viii. vs. 217 sqq.) adds to this word staurov", the Schultza (Katak., p. 129), not satisfied with this explanation, goes back to Matt. 7:10, where fish (ijcquv") and serpent (o[fi") are contrasted, and suggested a contrast between Christ and the devil (comp. Apoc. 12:14, 1. 2 Cor. 11:3) Rather artificial. Merz derives the symbol from o[yon(hence ojyavrionin John 21:9) in the sense of "fish, flesh." In Palestine fish was, next to bread, the principal food, and a savory accompaniment of bread. It figures prominently in the miraculous; feeding of the multitude (John 6:9, 11), and in the meal of the risen Saviour on the shares of the Lake of Tiberias (John 21:9, ojyavrion kai; a[rton). By an allegorical stretch, the fish might thus; become to the mind of the early church a symbol of Christ’s body, as the heavenly food which he gave for the salvation of men (John 6:51).

506  De Baptismo, c. 1.

507  So Pitra, De Pisce symbolico, in "Spicil. Solesm.," III. 524. Comp. Marriott, The Testimony of the Catacombs, p. 120 sqq.

508  The oldest Ichthys-monument known so far was discovered in 1865 in the Cœmeterium Domitillae, a hitherto inaccessible part of the Roman catacombs, and is traced by Cavalier De Rossi to the first century, by Becker to the first half of the second. It is in a wall picture, representing three persons with three loaves of bread and a fish. In other pictures we find fish, bread, and wine, with evident allusion to the miraculous feeding (Matt. 15:17), and the meals of the risen Saviour with his disciples (Luke, ch. 3; John, ch. 21). Paulinus calls Christ "panis ipse verus et aquae vivae piscis." See the interesting illustrators in Garrucci, Martigny, Kraus, and other archaeological works.

509  Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I. 25. The Carpocratians asserted that even Pilate ordered a portrait of Christ to be made. Comp. Hippolytus, Philos, VII.c. 32; Epiphanius, Adv. Haer. XXVI. 6; Augustin, De Haer, c. 7.

510  Apollonius, Orpheus, Abraham, and Christ. See Lampridius, Vita Alex Sev. c. 29.

511  H. E. VII. 18. Comp. Matt. 9:20. Probably that alleged statue of Christ was a monument of Hadrian, or some other emperor to whom the Phoenicians did obeisance, in the form of a kneeling woman. Similar representations are seen on coins, particularly from the age of Hadrian. Julian the Apostate destroyed the two statues, and substituted his own, which was riven by lightning (Sozom. V. 21).

512  A fragment of this letter is preserved in the acts of the iconoclastic Council of 754, and in the sixth act of the Second Council of Nicaea, 787. See Euseb. Opp. ed. Migne, II.col. 1545, and Harduin, Conc. IV. 406.

513  See the picture in De Rossi, Plate iv., Northcote and Brownlow, Plate xx (II. 140), and in Schultze, Katak., p. 151. De Rossi (" Bulletino, " 1865, 23, as quoted by N. and B.) declares it either coëval with the first Christian art, or little removed from it, either of the age of the Flavii or of Trajan and Hadrian, or at the very latest, of the first Antonines. "On the roof of this tomb there was figured in fine stucco the Good Shepherd between two sheep, and some other subject, now nearly defaced." De Rossi supports his view of the high antiquity of this Madonna by the superior, almost classical style of art, and by the fact that the catacomb of Priscilla, the mother of Pudens, is one of the oldest. But J. H. Parker, an experienced antiquary, assigns this picture to a.d. 523. The young man is, according to De Rossi, Isaiah or some other prophet; but Marriott and Schultze refer him to Joseph, which is more probable, although the later tradition of the Greek church derived from the Apocryphal Gospels and strengthened by the idea of the perpetual virginity, represents him as an old man with several children from a previous marriage (the brethren of Jesus, changed into cousins by Jerome and the Latin church). Northcote and Brownlow (II. 141) remark: "St. Joseph certainly appears in some of the sarcophagi; and in the most ancient of them as a young and beardless man, generally clad in a tunic. In the mosaics of St. Mary Major’s, which are of the fifth century, and in which he appears four or five times, he is shown of nature age, if not old; and from that time forward this became the more common mode of representing him."

514  See Plate xx. in N. and B. II 140. Schultze (p. 153) traces this picture to the beginning of the third century.

515  According to the usual Roman Catholic interpretation of the apocalyptic vision of the woman clothed with the sun, and bringing forth a man-child (12:1, 5). Cardinal Newman reasons inconclusively in a letter to Dr. Pusey on his Eirenicon (p. 62): "I do not deny that, under the image of the woman, the church is signified; but ... the holy apostle would not have spoken of the church under this particular image unless there had existed a blessed Virgin Mary, who was exalted on high, and the object of veneration of all the faithful." When accompanied by the Good Shepherd the Orans is supposed by Northcote and Brownlow (II. 137) to represent Mar y a., ; the new Eve, as the Shepherd is the new Adam. It must be admitted that the parallel between Mary and Eve is as old as Irenaeus, and contains the fruitful germ of Mariolatry, but in those pictures no such contrast is presented.