Christian symbolism

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Christian symbolism is the use of symbols, including archetypes, acts, artwork or events, by Christianity. It invests objects or actions with an inner meaning expressing Christian ideas.

Symbol something that represents an idea, a process, or a physical entity

A symbol is a mark, sign or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different concepts and experiences. All communication is achieved through the use of symbols. Symbols take the form of words, sounds, gestures, ideas or visual images and are used to convey other ideas and beliefs. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a blue line might represent a river. Numerals are symbols for numbers. Alphabetic letters may be symbols for sounds. Personal names are symbols representing individuals. A red rose may symbolize love and compassion. The variable 'x', in a mathematical equation, may symbolize the position of a particle in space.

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers.

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The symbolism of the early Church was characterized by being understood by initiates only, [1] while after the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire during the 4th-century more recognizable symbols entered in use. Christianity has borrowed from the common stock of significant symbols known to most periods and to all regions of the world. [2]

Christianity has not generally practiced Aniconism, or the avoidance or prohibition of types of images, even if the early Jewish Christians sects, as well as some modern denominations, preferred to some extent not to use figures in their symbols, by invoking the Decalogue's prohibition of idolatry.

Aniconism in Christianity

Christianity has not generally practised aniconism, or the avoidance or prohibition of types of images, but has had an active tradition of making and venerating images of God and other religious figures. However, there are periods of aniconism in Christian history, notably during the controversy of the Byzantine iconoclasm of the 8th century, and following the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, when Calvinism in particular rejected all images in churches, and this practice continues today in Reformed (Calvinist) churches, as well as some forms of fundamentalist Christianity. The Catholic Church has always defended the use of sacred images in churches, shrines, and homes, encouraging their veneration but condemning anyone who would worship them as if they were gods themselves.

Jewish Christian Members of the Jewish movement that later became Christianity

Early Christianity had its roots in Hellenistic Judaism and the Jewish messianism of the first century and Jewish Christians were the first Christians. Christianity started with Jewish eschatological expectations, and it developed into the veneration of a deified Jesus after his earthly ministry, his crucifixion, and the post–crucifixion experiences of his followers.

Christian denomination identifiable Christian body with common name, structure, and doctrine

A Christian denomination is a distinct religious body within Christianity, identified by traits such as a name, organization, leadership and doctrine. Individual bodies, however, may use alternative terms to describe themselves, such as church or sometimes fellowship. Divisions between one group and another are defined by authority and doctrine; issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, eschatology, and papal primacy may separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations—often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties—are sometimes known as "branches of Christianity". These branches differ in many ways, especially through differences in practices and belief.

Early Christian symbols

Cross and crucifix Christian cross.svg Greek cross.svg

The Crucifix, a cross with corpus, a symbol used in the Catholic Church, Lutheranism, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Anglicanism, in contrast with some other Protestant denominations, which use only a bare cross. Gerokreuz full 20050903.jpg
The Crucifix, a cross with corpus, a symbol used in the Catholic Church, Lutheranism, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Anglicanism, in contrast with some other Protestant denominations, which use only a bare cross.
Early use of a globus cruciger on a solidus minted by Leontios (r. 695-698); on the obverse, a stepped cross in the shape of a Iota Eta monogram. Solidus-Leontinus-sb1330.jpg
Early use of a globus cruciger on a solidus minted by Leontios (r. 695–698); on the obverse, a stepped cross in the shape of a Iota Eta monogram.

The shape of the cross, as represented by the letter T, came to be used as a "seal" or symbol of Early Christianity by the 2nd century. [3] At the end of the 2nd century, it is mentioned in the Octavius of Minucius Felix, rejecting the claim by detractors that Christians worship the cross. [4] The cross (crucifix, Greek stauros ) in this period was represented by the letter T. Clement of Alexandria in the early 3rd century calls it τὸ κυριακὸν σημεῖον ("the Lord's sign") he repeats the idea, current as early as the Epistle of Barnabas, that the number 318 (in Greek numerals, ΤΙΗ) in Genesis 14:14 was a foreshadowing (a "type") of the cross (T, an upright with crossbar, standing for 300) and of Jesus (ΙΗ, the first two letters of his name ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, standing for 18). [5]

Early Christianity Christianity up to 325 CE

Early Christianity covers the period from its origins until the First Council of Nicaea (325). This period is typically divided into the Apostolic Age and the Ante-Nicene Period.

Octavius is an early writing in defense of Christianity by Marcus Minucius Felix. It is written in the form of a dialogue between the pagan Caecilius Natalis and the Christian Octavius Januarius, a provincial lawyer, the friend and fellow-student of the author.

<i>Stauros</i>

Stauros (σταυρός) is a Greek word which in the oldest forms is found used in the plural number in the sense of an upright stake or pole. In Koine Greek, in use during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, within which the New Testament was written, it was used in the singular number with reference to an instrument of capital punishment; in modern Greek it is used to refer only to a cross, real or metaphorical.

Clement's contemporary Tertullian also rejects the accusation that Christians are crucis religiosi (i.e. "adorers of the gibbet"), and returns the accusation by likening the worship of pagan idols to the worship of poles or stakes. [6] In his book De Corona, written in 204, Tertullian tells how it was already a tradition for Christians to trace repeatedly on their foreheads the sign of the cross. [7]

Tertullian Christian theologian

Tertullian was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. Of Berber origin, he was the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was an early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy, including contemporary Christian Gnosticism. Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity" and "the founder of Western theology."

Sign of the cross ritual blessing

The sign of the cross, or blessing oneself or crossing oneself, is a ritual blessing made by members of some branches of Christianity. This blessing is made by the tracing of an upright cross or + across the body with the right hand, often accompanied by spoken or mental recitation of the trinitarian formula: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

While early Christians used the T-shape to represent the cross in writing and gesture, the use of the Greek cross and Latin cross, i.e. crosses with intersecting beams, appears in Christian art towards the end of Late Antiquity. An early example of the cruciform halo, used to identify Christ in paintings, is found in the Miracles of the Loaves and Fishes mosaic of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna (dated c. 504).

A Latin cross or Crux immissa is a type of cross in which the vertical beam sticks above the crossbeam. This is the main representation of the cross by which Jesus Christ was crucified. The Latin cross began as a Roman Catholic emblem but later became a universal symbol of Christianity. If displayed upside down it is called St. Peter's Cross because he was reputedly executed on this type of cross. When displayed sideways it is called St. Philip's cross for the same reason.

Christian art art genre

Christian art is sacred art which uses themes and imagery from Christianity. Most Christian groups use or have used art to some extent, although some have had strong objections to some forms of religious image, and there have been major periods of iconoclasm within Christianity.

20th-21st century Celtic cross with inscribed symbolism Celtic cross in Autumn.jpg
20th-21st century Celtic cross with inscribed symbolism

Instances of the St Thomas cross, a Greek cross with clover leaf edges, popular in southern India, [8] date to about the 6th century.[ citation needed ]

The Patriarchal cross, a Latin cross with an additional horizontal bar, first appears in the 10th century.

The Celtic cross, now often characterized by the presence of the outline of a circle upon which a cross, stylized in a pre-Medieval Celtic fashion, appears superimposed. The Celtic cross bears strong resemblance to the Christian cross; however, the Celtic cross motif predates Christianity by at least 3,000 years. It appears in the form of heavily sculpted, vertically oriented, ancient monoliths which survive in the present day, in various locations on the island of Ireland. A few of the ancient monuments were evidently relocated to stand in some of Ireland's earliest churchyards, probably between 400 CE and 600 CE, as Christianity was popularized throughout much of the island. The heavily-worn stone sculptures likely owe their continued survival to their sheer size and solid rock construction, which coordinate in scale, and in composition, with Ireland's ancient megalith arrangements.

Unlike the Christian cross iconography associated with the shape of a crucifix (commonly used for torture and execution of criminals and captured enemy prisoners-of-war, by the pre-Christian Roman Empire), the Celtic cross' design origins are not clear. The Celtic cross has nevertheless been repeated in statuary, as a dominant feature of the anthropogenic Irish landscape, for at least 5,000 years. The Celtic cross and the Christian cross are similar enough in shape, that the former was easily adopted by Irish Catholic culture, following the Christianization of Ireland. The Celtic cross is accurately described as an ancient symbol of cultural significance in pre-Christian, Druidic Ireland. It also is used as a symbolic icon of the interpretation of Christianity, unique to Irish culture in that pre-Christian Celtic tradition and Irish Druidic iconography are hybridized with Christian traditions and iconography (much like the Shamrock; a low-growing, daintily foliaged, dense ground cover plant, which is held as a timeless symbol of Ireland itself; and, which is also symbolic on Ireland, of the Christian Holy Trinity, due to the Shamrock's typical trifoliar leaf structure).

Although the cross was used as a symbol by early Christians, the crucifix, i.e. depictions of the crucifixion scene, were rare prior to the 5th century; some engraved gems thought to be 2nd or 3rd century have survived, but the subject does not appear in the art of the Catacombs of Rome. [9] The purported discovery of the True Cross by Constantine's mother, Helena, and the development of Golgotha as a site for pilgrimage led to a change of attitude. It was probably in Palestine that the image developed, and many of the earliest depictions are on the Monza ampullae, small metal flasks for holy oil, that were pilgrim's souvenirs from the Holy Land, as well as 5th century ivory reliefs from Italy. [10]

In the early medieval period, the plain cross became depicted as the crux gemmata, covered with jewels, as many real early medieval processional crosses in goldsmith work were. The first depictions of crucifixion displaying suffering are believed to have arisen in Byzantine art, [11] where the "S"-shaped slumped body type was developed. Early Western examples include the Gero Cross and the reverse of the Cross of Lothair, both from the end of the 10th century.

Marie-Madeleine Davy (1977) described in great detail Romanesque Symbolism as it developed in the Middle Ages in Western Europe. [12]

Ichthys Ichthus.svg

An Ichthys from ancient Ephesus Ephesus IchthysCrop.jpg
An Ichthys from ancient Ephesus

Among the symbols employed by the early Christians, that of the fish seems to have ranked first in importance. Its popularity among Christians was due principally to the famous acrostic consisting of the initial letters of five Greek words forming the word for fish (Ichthus), which words briefly but clearly described the character of Christ and the claim to worship of believers: "ησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ", (Iēsous Christos Theou Huios Sōtēr), meaning, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. [13] This explanation is given among others by Augustine in his Civitate Dei, [14] where he also notes that the generating sentence "Ίησοῦς Χρειστὸς [sic] Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ" has 27 letters, i.e. 3 x 3 x 3, which in that age indicated power.

Alpha and Omega Uppercase Alpha and Omega in Times New Roman.svg

Jesus depicted with the alpha and omega letters in the catacombs of Rome from the 4th century Christ with beard.jpg
Jesus depicted with the alpha and omega letters in the catacombs of Rome from the 4th century

The use since the earliest Christianity of the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha (α or Α) and omega (ω or Ω), derives from the statement said by Jesus (or God) himself "I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Revelation 22:13, also 1:8 and 21:6).

Staurogram Staurogram.svg

A staurogram used as tr-ligature part of the spelling of the word stauron (as c(tr)on) in Luke 14:27 (Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV, 2nd century) P. Bodmer XIV-XV, staurogram.jpg
A staurogram used as τρ-ligature part of the spelling of the word σταυρον (as ϲ(τρ)ον) in Luke 14:27 (Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV, 2nd century)

The Staurogram ⳨ (from the Greek σταυρός, i.e. cross), also Monogrammatic Cross or Tau-Rho symbol, is composed by a tau (Τ) superimposed on a rho (Ρ). The Staurogram was first used to abbreviate the Greek word for cross in very early New Testament manuscripts such as P66, P45 and P75, almost like a nomen sacrum, and may visually have represented Jesus on the cross. [15]

Ephrem the Syrian in the 4th-century explained these two united letters stating that the tau refers to the cross, and the rho refers to the Greek word "help" (Βoήθια [sic]; proper spelling: Βoήθεια) which has the numerological value in Greek of 100 as the letter rho has. In such a way the symbol expresses the idea that the Cross saves. [15] The two letters tau and rho can also be found separately as symbols on early Christian ossuaries. [16]

The Monogrammatic Cross was later seen also as a variation of the Chi Rho symbol, and it spread over Western Europe in the 5th and 6th centuries. [17]

Chi Rho Simple Labarum.svg

The Chi-Rho symbol , Catacombs of San Callisto, Rome Rom, Calixtus-Katakomben, Steintafel mit Christussymbol "Chi Rho".jpg
The Chi-Rho symbol , Catacombs of San Callisto, Rome

The Chi Rho is formed by superimposing the first two (capital) letters chi and rho (ΧΡ) of the Greek word "ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ" =Christ in such a way to produce the monogram. Widespread in ancient Christianity, it was the symbol used by the Roman emperor Constantine I as vexillum (named Labarum).

IH Monogram IH Monogram with iota and eta superimposed.jpg

The first two letters of the name of Jesus in Greek, iota (Ι) and eta (Η), sometime superimposed one on the other, or the numeric value 18 of ΙΗ in Greek, was a well known and very early way to represent Christ. [18] This symbol was already explained in the Epistle of Barnabas and by Clement of Alexandria. For other christograms such as IHS, see Article Christogram.

IX Monogram IX Monogram.png

A IX Monogram from a 4th century Sarcophagus from Constantinople Chrisme Constantinople.jpg
A IX Monogram from a 4th century Sarcophagus from Constantinople

An early form of the monogram of Christ, found in early Christian ossuaries in Palestinia, was formed by superimposing the first (capital) letters of the Greek words for Jesus and Christ, i.e. iota Ι and chi Χ, so that this monogram means "Jesus Christ". [16] :166 Another more complicated explanation of this monogram was given by Irenaeus [19] and Pachomius: because the numeric value of iota is 10 and the chi is the initial of the word "Christ" (Greek: ΧΡΕΙΣΤΟΣ [sic]; proper spelling: ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ) which has 8 letters, these early fathers calculate 888 ((10*8)*10)+((10*8)+8) which was a number already known to represent Jesus, being the sum of the value of the letters of the name "Jesus" (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ) (10+8+200+70+400+200). [16] :169–170

Other Christian symbols

The Good Shepherd

A 3rd-century painting of the Good Shepherd in the Catacomb of Callixtus. Good shepherd 02b close.jpg
A 3rd-century painting of the Good Shepherd in the Catacomb of Callixtus.

The image of the Good Shepherd, often with a sheep on his shoulders, is the most common of the symbolic representations of Christ found in the Catacombs of Rome, and it is related to the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Initially it was also understood as a symbol like others used in Early Christian art. By about the 5th century the figure more often took on the appearance of the conventional depiction of Christ, as it had developed by this time, and was given a halo and rich robes.

Dove

A dove with an olive branch, Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome Rom, Domitilla-Katakomben, Steintafel mit Taube und Olzweig.jpg
A dove with an olive branch, Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome

The dove as a Christian symbol is of very frequent occurrence in ancient ecclesiastical art. [20] According to Matthew 3:16, during the Baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and came to rest on Jesus. For this reason the dove became a symbol of the Holy Spirit and in general it occurs frequently in connection with early representations of baptism. It signifies also the Christian soul, not the human soul as such, but as indwelt by the Holy Spirit; especially, therefore, as freed from the toils of the flesh and entered into rest and glory. [2] The Peristerium or Eucharistic dove was often used in the past, and sometime still used in Eastern Christianity, as Church tabernacle.

However the more ancient explanation of the dove as a Christian symbol refers to it as a symbol of Christ: Irenaeus [21] in the 2nd century explains that the number 801 is both the numerological value of the sum in Greek of the letters of the word "dove" (Greek: περιστερά) and the sum of the values of the letters Alpha and Omega, which refers to Christ. In the Bible story of Noah and the Flood, after the flood a dove returns to Noah bringing an olive branch as a sign that the water had receded, and this scene recalled to the Church Fathers Christ who brings salvation through the cross. This biblical scene led to interpreting the dove also as a symbol of peace.

Peacock

Two peacocks, symbolizing paradise and immortality, on a fragment from an eighth century ciborium from a church in Italy Langobardic - Ciborium Fragment - Walters 27563.jpg
Two peacocks, symbolizing paradise and immortality, on a fragment from an eighth century ciborium from a church in Italy

Ancient Greeks believed that the flesh of peafowl did not decay after death, and so it became a symbol of immortality. This symbolism was adopted by early Christianity, and thus many early Christian paintings and mosaics show the peacock. The peacock is still used in the Easter season especially in the east. [22] The "eyes" in the peacock's tail feathers symbolise the all-seeing God and - in some interpretations - the Church. A peacock drinking from a vase is used as a symbol of a Christian believer drinking from the waters of eternal life. The peacock can also symbolise the cosmos if one interprets its tail with its many "eyes" as the vault of heaven dotted by the sun, moon, and stars. By adoption of old Persian and Babylonian symbolism, in which the peacock was associated with Paradise and the Tree of Life, the bird is again associated with immortality. In Christian iconography the peacock is often depicted next to the Tree of Life.

Pelican

A pelican vulning itself. USA Massachusetts Amherst Pelican.jpg
A pelican vulning itself.

In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood by wounding her own breast when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican became a symbol of the Passion of Jesus and of the Eucharist since about the 12th century. [23]

Anchor Anchor pictogram.svg Mariner's Cross.svg

Christians adopted the anchor as a symbol of hope in future existence because the anchor was regarded in ancient times as a symbol of safety. For Christians, Christ is the unfailing hope of all who believe in him: Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and several of the early Church Fathers speak in this sense. The Epistle to the Hebrews 6:19-20 for the first time connects the idea of hope with the symbol of the anchor. [24]

A fragment of inscription discovered in the catacomb of St. Domitilla contains the anchor, and dates from the end of the 1st century. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries the anchor occurs frequently in the epitaphs of the catacombs. The most common form of anchor found in early Christian images was that in which one extremity terminates in a ring adjoining the cross-bar while the other ends in two curved branches or an arrowhead; There are, however, many deviations from this form. [24] In general the anchor can symbolize hope, steadfastness, calm and composure. [25]

Shamrock Shamrock svg.svg

St. Patrick depicted with shamrock in detail of stained glass window in St. Benin's Church, Wicklow, Ireland Kilbennan St. Benin's Church Window St. Patrick Detail 2010 09 16.jpg
St. Patrick depicted with shamrock in detail of stained glass window in St. Benin's Church, Wicklow, Ireland

Traditionally, the shamrock is said to have been used by Saint Patrick to illustrate the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity when Christianising Ireland in the 5th century.

The low, dense, tangled, growing habit of shamrock plants creates a short, but expansive, mat of soft green stems and leaves. The tangled mats of vegetation are formed as the densely-packed sprouting stems meander, twist, and curve around one another, seeking space where the leaves may unfold and remain exposed to sunlight.

Shamrocks do not demand nutrient-dense soil, and which can withstand temporary, sudden, environmental moisture and temperature extremes. Shamrocks thrive where dappled, indirect, or partially screened sunlight, lasts for many hours of the day; however, shamrocks can survive a broad range of lighting conditions. Shamrocks can tolerate full exposure, to bright, hot Sunlight which would scorch many other temperate climate plants, so long as they are partially shaded for a couple of hours, at some point between dawn and dusk. They may also grow in full shade, such as under trees at woodland edges; though they do not grow in dark, or 'deep,' shade.

The environmental conditions, to which shamrocks are best suited, include a thin veil of cloud cover; sporadic instances, of momentary exposure to bright sunlight, throughout the day; mild daylight warmth; mildly cool nights; and consistent, gentle, light rainfall. Soil richness and pH may vary without much effect on the plant's health.

The temperature-mitigating effects of the Atlantic Ocean are significant along the European continental shelf. Tropical waters, displaced by North-North-Easterly-moving currents above the Doldrums, enter the North Atlantic Current. The NAC pushes the warm waters North, towards the Irish Sea. Consequently, the temperatures on Ireland are not only buffered from extreme ranges by the surrounding ocean; Ireland is warmed, slightly, by displaced Tropical waters, as well as subject to frequent, often gentle, rainfall.

Ireland's temperate climate, features mild summers, and seasonal, extreme, weather events are infrequent during winter. The mild, naturally irrigated, Irish climate is thus conducive to the growth and reproduction of shamrock plants. The common presence of peat bogs on Ireland acidifies stormwater. Runoff is enabled by Ireland's rolling hills, as it's channeled through the crevices of natural topographical rises, and flows, drawn by the force of gravity, down geological dips, into streams and lowland fields. The stormwater runoff near peat bogs causes the soil in the surrounding areas to have low in pH value; though tolerance of acidic soils allows shamrocks to thrive where plants requiring neutral soil cannot grow.

The Burren region of Ireland is a plateau-like area of exposed bedrock (and thus, sparse vegetation) higher above sea-level than many other of the island's regions; and illustrates the close proximity of solid bedrock to the island's soil surfaces. Soil depth is nearly inconsequential for the hardy shamrock, as the growth habit of shamrock plant roots mirrors that of shamrock stems: fine, laterally wandering, tangled roots, reach through mere centimeters of topsoil to meet the low water and nutrient demands of the shamrock stems and leaves.

The shamrock is so commonly seen growing on the island of Ireland, the very hue of the plant's chlorophyll is a symbol of Ireland itself - both in terms of the appearance of physical island; and as a representation the Irish culture, shaped by a long, historical accumulation, and integration, of diverse domestic and foreign influences. The low, dense, tangled, growing habit of shamrock plants creates a short, but expansive, mat of green, which colors the fields, hills, and forest edges of Ireland; hence the nickname, the Emerald Isle.

The Christianization, of the previously Celtic Druidic island culture, began in the 4th century, CE. Christianization continued to dramatically influence, and change, Irish cultural practices and schools of thought, through the 6th century, CE - whereupon the Holy Roman Empire's assimilative dominion over Ireland, beyond the Pale, was essentially total. It is said that St. Patrick, born in Britain, in a Roman Imperial settlement, to parents loyal to the Empire, spread Christianity throughout Ireland.

A common myth is that St. Patrick used the shamrock - a small plant with compound leaves, typically composed of three (3), heart-shaped leaflets; and, a very familiar sight to the Irish - to illustrate the tripartite form of the Christian deity. Unlike many other tripartite mythologies, such as the native Irish Morrigan mythology, Christianity is a monotheistic religion. The common triple-leaflet, compound-leaved shamrock- which exhibits only one compound-triplet leaf per stem- could easily be used to illustrate the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, described as being a single God; comparable to each of the three leaflets, which, together, form one shamrock.

Elemental symbols

Elemental symbols were widely used by the early Church. Water has specific symbolic significance for Christians. Outside of baptism, water may represent cleansing or purity. Fire, especially in the form of a candle flame, represents both the Holy Spirit and light. The sources of these symbols derive from the Bible; for example from the tongues of fire that symbolized the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and from Jesus' description of his followers as the light of the world; or God is a consuming fire found in Hebrews 12. [26]

Lily crucifix

Lily Crucifix at Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk Lily Crucifix at Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford.jpg
Lily Crucifix at Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk
The coat of arms of the Anglican diocese of Trinidad contains several Christian visual symbols Trinidad-Anglican-Episcopal-Coat-of-Arms.svg
The coat of arms of the Anglican diocese of Trinidad contains several Christian visual symbols

A lily crucifix is a rare symbol of Anglican churches in England. It depicts Christ crucified on a lily, or holding such a plant. The symbolism may be from the medieval belief that the Annunciation of Christ and his crucifixion occurred on the same day of the year, March 25. [27]

There are few depictions of a lily crucifix in England. One of the most notable is a painting on a wall above the altar at All Saint's Church, Godshill, Isle of Wight. Other examples include:

Tomb paintings

Christians from the very beginning adorned their catacombs with paintings of Christ, of the saints, of scenes from the Bible and allegorical groups. The catacombs are the cradle of all Christian art. [29] Early Christians accepted the art of their time and used it, as well as a poor and persecuted community could, to express their religious ideas. [29] The use of deep, sometimes labyrinthine, subterranean catacombs for ritual burials are a product of the poverty of early Christian communities: the unusual, multileveled, burial chambers were, at surface-level, small plots of land used as entrances to the tiered catacombs below, by early Christians unable to afford large areas of land, nor the corresponding taxes sometimes levied on real estate, by regional authorities.

From the second half of the 1st century to the time of Constantine the Great they buried their dead and celebrated their rites in these underground chambers. The Christian tombs were ornamented with indifferent or symbolic designs—palms, peacocks, with the chi-rho monogram, with bas-reliefs of Christ as the Good Shepherd, or seated between figures of saints, and sometimes with elaborate scenes from the New Testament. [29]

Other Christian symbols include the dove (symbolic of the Holy Spirit), the sacrificial lamb (symbolic of Christ's sacrifice), the vine (symbolizing the necessary connectedness of the Christian with Christ) and many others. These all derive from the writings found in the New Testament. [26] Other decorations that were common included garlands, ribands, stars landscapes, which had symbolic meanings, as well. [29]

Symbols of Christian Churches

Baptism in early Christian art. Baptism - Marcellinus and Peter.jpg
Baptism in early Christian art.

Sacraments

Some of the oldest symbols within the Christian Church are the sacraments, the number of which vary between denominations. Always included are Eucharist and baptism. The others which may or may not be included are ordination, unction, confirmation, penance and marriage. They are together commonly described as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace or, as in Catholic theology, "outward signs and media of grace." [30]

The rite is seen as a symbol of the spiritual change or event that takes place. In the Eucharist, the bread and wine are symbolic of the body and shed blood of Jesus, and in Catholic theology, become the actual Body of Christ and Blood of Christ through Transubstantiation. [30]

The rite of baptism is symbolic of the cleansing of the sinner by God, and, especially where baptism is by immersion, of the spiritual death and resurrection of the baptized person. Opinion differs as to the symbolic nature of the sacraments, with some Protestant denominations considering them entirely symbolic, and Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, and some Reformed Christians believing that the outward rites truly do, by the power of God, act as media of grace. [30]

Icons

The tomb paintings of the early Christians led to the development of icons. An icon is an image, picture, or representation; it is likeness that has symbolic meaning for an object by signifying or representing it, or by analogy, as in semiotics. The use of icons, however, was never without opposition. It was recorded that, "there is no century between the fourth and the eighth in which there is not some evidence of opposition to images even within the Church. [31] [ page needed ] Nonetheless, popular favor for icons guaranteed their continued existence, while no systematic apologia for or against icons, or doctrinal authorization or condemnation of icons yet existed.

Christ and Saint Menas, 6th-century Coptic icon, Louvre L'abbe Mena et le Christ 01.JPG
Christ and Saint Menas, 6th-century Coptic icon, Louvre

Though significant in the history of religious doctrine, the Byzantine controversy over images is not seen as of primary importance in Byzantine history. "Few historians still hold it to have been the greatest issue of the period..." [32] [ page needed ]

The Byzantine Iconoclasm began when images were banned by Emperor Leo III the Isaurian sometime between 726 and 730. Under his son Constantine V, a council forbidding image veneration was held at Hieria near Constantinople in 754. Image veneration was later reinstated by the Empress Regent Irene, under whom another council was held reversing the decisions of the previous iconoclast council and taking its title as Seventh Ecumenical Council. The council anathematized all who held to iconoclasm, i.e. those who held that veneration of images constitutes idolatry. Then the ban was enforced again by Leo V in 815. And finally icon veneration was decisively restored by Empress Regent Theodora.

Today icons are used particularly among Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian and Eastern Catholic Churches.

See also

Related Research Articles

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A cross is a geometrical figure consisting of two intersecting lines or bars, usually perpendicular to each other. The lines usually run vertically and horizontally. A cross of oblique lines, in the shape of the Latin letter X, is also termed a saltire in heraldic terminology.

Crucifix cross with an image or artwork of Jesus on it

A crucifix is an image of Jesus on the cross, as distinct from a bare cross. The representation of Jesus himself on the cross is referred to in English as the corpus.

Celtic cross form of Christian cross with a ring surrounding the intersection of the vertical and horizontal members

The Celtic cross is a form of Christian cross featuring a nimbus or ring that emerged in Ireland and Britain in the Early Middle Ages. A type of ringed cross, it became widespread through its use in the stone high crosses erected across the islands, especially in regions evangelized by Irish missionaries, from the 9th through the 12th centuries.

Early Christian art and architecture

Early Christian art and architecture or Paleochristian art is the art produced by Christians or under Christian patronage from the earliest period of Christianity to, depending on the definition used, sometime between 260 and 525. In practice, identifiably Christian art only survives from the 2nd century onwards. After 550 at the latest, Christian art is classified as Byzantine, or of some other regional type.

Chi Rho symbol with X and P together, representing Christ

The Chi Rho is one of the earliest forms of christogram, formed by superimposing the first two (capital) letters—chi and rho (ΧΡ)—of the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos) in such a way that the vertical stroke of the rho intersects the center of the chi.

Xmas A common abbreviation of the word Christmas

Xmas is a common abbreviation of the word Christmas. It is sometimes pronounced, but Xmas, and variants such as Xtemass, originated as handwriting abbreviations for the typical pronunciation. The "X" comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Christós (Χριστός), which became Christ in English. The suffix -mas is from the Latin-derived Old English word for Mass.

Ichthys Christan symbol

The ichthys or ichthus, from the Greek ikhthýs is a symbol consisting of two intersecting arcs, the ends of the right side extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish. The symbol was adopted by early Christians as a secret symbol. It is now known colloquially as the "sign of the fish" or the "Jesus fish".

Religious images in Christian theology

Religious images in Christian theology have a role within the liturgical and devotional life of adherents of certain Christian denominations. The use of religious images has often been a contentious issue in Christian history. Concern over idolatry is the driving force behind the various traditions of aniconism in Christianity.

Alpha and Omega Christian symbol

Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and a title of Christ and God in the Book of Revelation. This pair of letters are used as Christian symbols, and are often combined with the Cross, Chi-rho, or other Christian symbols.

Christogram

A Christogram is a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ, traditionally used as a religious symbol within the Christian Church.

<i>Arma Christi</i> instruments used to torture Christ

Arma Christi, or the Instruments of the Passion, are the objects associated with Jesus' Passion in Christian symbolism and art. They are seen as arms in the sense of heraldry, and also as the weapons Christ used to achieve his conquest over Satan. There is a group, at a maximum of about 20 items, which are frequently used in Christian art, especially in the Late Middle Ages. Typically they surround either a cross or a figure of Christ of the Man of Sorrows type, either placed around the composition, or held by angels.

<i>Crux gemmata</i> form of cross typical of Early Christian and Early Medieval art

A crux gemmata is a form of cross typical of Early Christian and Early Medieval art, where the cross, or at least its front side, is principally decorated with jewels. In an actual cross, rather than a painted image of one, the reverse side often has engraved images of the Crucifixion of Jesus or other subjects.

Symbolism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Symbolism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the process whereby objects or actions have been invested with an inner meaning expressing church ideas. The LDS Church and its membership have adopted a number of symbols that differ from those typically used in Christianity.

In Christian art, animal forms have at times occupied a place of importance. With the Renaissance, animals were nearly banished, except as an accessory to the human figure. Modern Christian art only revives symbols and decoration.

The Christian cross, seen as a representation of the instrument of the crucifixion of Jesus, is the best-known symbol of Christianity. It is related to the crucifix and to the more general family of cross symbols, the term cross itself being detached from the original specifically Christian meaning in modern English.

Resurrection of Jesus in Christian art

The Resurrection of Jesus has long been central to Christian faith and Christian art, whether as a single scene or as part of a cycle of the Life of Christ. In the teachings of the traditional Christian churches, the sacraments derive their saving power from the passion and resurrection of Christ, upon which the salvation of the world entirely depends. The redemptive value of the resurrection has been expressed through Christian art, as well as being expressed in theological writings.

Staurogram ligature composed of a superposition of the Greek letters tau (Τ) and rho (Ρ)

The staurogram (), also monogrammatic cross or tau-rho, is a ligature composed of a superposition of the Greek letters tau (Τ) and rho (Ρ).

Christian cross variants

This is a list of Christian cross variants. The Christian cross, with or without a figure of Christ included, is the main religious symbol of Christianity. A cross with a figure of Christ affixed to it is termed a crucifix and the figure is often referred to as the corpus.

Ringed cross

The ringed cross is a class of Christian cross symbols featuring a ring or nimbus. The concept exists in many variants and dates to early in the history of Christianity. One variant, the cruciform halo, is a special type of halo placed behind the head of Jesus in Christian art. Other common variants include the Celtic cross, used in the stone high crosses of Ireland and Britain; some forms of the Coptic cross; and ringed crosses from western France and Galicia.

References

  1. Jenner, Henry (2004) [1910]. Christian Symbolism. Kessinger Publishing. p. xiv.
  2. 1 2 Wikisource-logo.svg Herbert Thurston (1913). "Symbolism"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. "The cross as a Christian symbol or 'seal' came into use at least as early as the second century (see "Apost. Const." iii. 17; Epistle of Barnabas, xi.-xii.; Justin, "Apologia," i. 55-60; "Dial. cum Tryph." 85-97); and the marking of a cross upon the forehead and the chest was regarded as a talisman against the powers of demons (Tertullian, "De Corona," iii.; Cyprian, "Testimonies," xi. 21-22; Lactantius, "Divinæ Institutiones," iv. 27, and elsewhere). The Christian Fathers had to defend themselves, as early as the second century, against the charge of being worshipers of the cross, as may be learned from Tertullian, "Apologia," xii., xvii., and Minucius Felix, "Octavius," xxix. Christians used to swear by the power of the cross. CROSS:, Jewish Encyclopaedia.
  4. "Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for.1815 You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses glided and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it. We assuredly see the sign of a cross,1816 naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars; and when the military yoke is lifted up, it is the sign of a cross; and when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched. Thus the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason, or your own religion is formed with respect to it." Cruces etiam nec colimus, nec optamus. Vos plane qui ligneos deos consecratis, cruces ligneas, ut deorum vestrorum partes, forsitan adoratis. (0332B) Nam et signa ipsa et cantabra et vexilla castrorum, quid aliud quam inauratae cruces sunt et ornatae? Tropaea vestra victricia, non tantum simplicis crucis faciem, verum et affixi hominis imitantur. Signum sane crucis naturaliter visimus in navi, quum velis tumentibus vehitur, quum expansis palmulis labitur; et quum erigitur iugum, crucis signum est, et quum homo, porrectis manibus, Deum pura mente veneratur. Ita signo crucis aut ratio naturalis innititur, aut vestra religio formatur. (Octavius of Minucius Felix, chapter 29)
  5. Stromata, book VI, chapter XI
  6. Apology., chapter xvi. Tertullian uses crux "cross", palus "pole" and stipes "stake" interchangeably for rhetoric effect: "Then, if any of you think we render superstitious adoration to the cross, in that adoration he is sharer with us. If you offer homage to a piece of wood at all, it matters little what it is like when the substance is the same: it is of no consequence the form, if you have the very body of the god. And yet how far does the Athenian Pallas differ from the stock of the cross, or the Pharian Ceres as she is put up uncarved to sale, a mere rough stake and piece of shapeless wood? Every stake fixed in an upright position is a portion of the cross; we render our adoration, if you will have it so, to a god entire and complete. We have shown before that your deities are derived from shapes modelled from the cross." Sed et qui crucis nos religiosos putat, consecraneus noster erit. Cum lignum aliquod propitiatur, viderit habitus, dum materiae qualitas eadem sit; viderit forma, dum id ipsum dei corpus sit. Et tamen quanto distinguitur a crucis stipite Pallas Attica, et Ceres Pharia, quae sine effigie rudi palo et informi ligno prostat? Pars crucis est omne robur, quod erecta statione defigitur; nos, si forte, integrum et totum deum colimus. Diximus originem deorum vestrorum a plastis de cruce induci.
  7. "At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign" (De Corona, chapter 3)
  8. see: "Granite Objects in Kerala Churches", in Glimpses of Nazraney Heritage, George Menachery, SARAS, 2005; and "Thomas Christian Architecture", in George Menachery, ed. The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, Vol. 2, 1973
  9. Schiller, Gertrud, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II, 1972, 89-90, fig. 321.
  10. Schiller, Gertrud, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II, 1972, 89-90, figs. 322-326.
  11. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  12. M.-M. Davy, Initiation à la Symbolique Romane. Nouv. éd. Paris: Flammarion, 1977.
  13. Wikisource-logo.svg Maurice Hassett (1913). "Symbolism of the Fish"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  14. Augustine. The City of God  . XVIII, 23 via Wikisource.
  15. 1 2 Hurtado, Larry (2006). "The Staurogram in Early Christian Manuscripts: the earliest visual reference to the crucified Jesus?". In Kraus, Thomas (ed.). New Testament Manuscripts. Leiden: Brill. pp. 207–26. ISBN   978-90-04-14945-8.
  16. 1 2 3 Bagatti, Bellarmino (1984). The Church from the Circumcision: history and archaeology of the Judaeo-Christians. Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Collectio Minor, n.2. Jerusalem.
  17. Redknap, Mark (1991). The Christian Celts: treasures of late Celtic Wales. Cardiff: National Museum of Wales. p. 61. ISBN   978-0-7200-0354-3.
  18. Hurtado, Larry (2006). The earliest Christian artifacts : manuscripts and Christian origins. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. pp. 114–115. ISBN   978-0-8028-2895-8.
  19. Irenaeus, Adv Haer, 1.15.2
  20. Wikisource-logo.svg Arthur Barnes (1913). "Dove"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  21. Irenaeus, Adv Haer, 1.15.6
  22. "Birds, symbolic." Peter and Linda Murray, Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art (2004).
  23. Jenner, Henry (2004) [1910]. Christian Symbolism. Kessinger Publishing. p. 37.
  24. 1 2 Wikisource-logo.svg Maurice Hassett (1913). "The Anchor (as Symbol)"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  25. Klöpping, Laura (2012). Customs, Habits and Symbols of the Protestant Religion. GRIN Verlag. p. 5. ISBN   978-3-656-13453-4.
  26. 1 2 Dilasser, Maurice. The Symbols of the Church (1999). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, hardcover: ISBN   0-8146-2538-X
  27. The Passion in Art. Richard Harries. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2004
  28. "St John the Baptist, Wellington". Wellington and District Team Ministry. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
  29. 1 2 3 4 Fortescue, Adrian (1912). "Veneration of Images". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 2007-11-26.
  30. 1 2 3 Kennedy, D.J (1912). "Sacraments". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 2007-11-26.
  31. Kitzinger, Ernst (1954), The Cult of Images in the Age before Iconoclasm, Dumbarton Oaks, quoted by Jaroslav, Pelikan (1974), The Spirit of Eastern Christendom 600–1700, University of Chicago Press.
  32. Karlin-Hayter, Patricia (2002), Oxford History of Byzantium, Oxford University Press.