Though the prophet Isaiah castigated
women who wore charms (3:20); nevertheless, the
cross has developed into the principal symbol of
the Christian religion, recalling the crucifixion
of Jesus Christ and the redeeming benefits of his
passion and death. It is thus both a sign of Christ
himself and the faith of the Christians.
There are four basic types of
iconographic representations of the cross:
1). The crux quadrata, or Greek
cross with four equal arms.
2). The crux immissa or Latin cross whose base stem
is longer than the other three arms.
3). The crux commissa, in the form of the Greek
letter tau, and sometimes called St. Anthony's cross.
4). The crux decussata, named from the Roman decussis
or symbol of the numeral 10, also known as St. Andrews
Tradition favors the crux immissa
as that on which Christ died, but some believe it
was the crux commissa.
The symbol of the cross however
predates Christianity. Two of the earliest forms
are the Swastika from India and the ankh from ancient
The cross was not the symbol
of choice for the early church, for whom the crucifixion
presented a problem. It had to convince unbelievers
of what would have seemed a bizarre claim, that
it's god was a victim of this foul, and then still
very current, form of punishment. Historically,
crucifixion was not a punishment meted out by the
Jewish authorities, whose preferred method of execution
was stoning; it was imported into Palestine by the
Romans, and so was an instrument of imperialism
and subjugation. Secondly, it was used in particular
on slaves found guilty of a crime. Therefore, it
was humiliating for Jesus the Jew to die like a
slave on the Roman cross.
It was only over time that Christians
began to think through the implications and meanings
of the crucifixion, and to glorify the cross. It
seems though that Jesus always understood the cross'
positive significance. He had predicted his death
by such means and compared himself to the bronze
snake that Moses erected during the Exodus ('Just
as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the
Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who
believes in him may have eternal life', John 3:14-15).
The purpose of the snake was to cure people from
poisoning. God had sent a plague of snakes to the
Israelites but he also provided a cure, which was
effected by looking at the bronze snake. Poison
is a Christian symbol for sin, and Jesus' words
suggest a direct analogy between the power of the
bronze snake to cure poisoning and his own potential
to do the same for sin.
The cross is also a cosmic symbol,
with its vertical and horizontal lines spanning
the universe. According to Rutherford: 'The cross
of Christ on which he was extended, points, in the
length of it, to heaven and earth, reconciling them
together; and in the breadth of it, to former and
following ages, as being equally salvation to both.'
A beautiful thing about the cross
is that its center of gravity is not at its exact
center, but upwards where the stake and the crossbeam
meet. In simple terms it symbolizes the tendency
to remove the center of man and his faith from the
earth and to "elevate" it into the spiritual
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