The Non-Christian Cross - An Enquiry Into the Origin and History of the Symbol Eventually Adopted as That of Our Religion
by John Denham Parsons
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THE NON-CHRISTIAN CROSS An Enquiry Into The Origin And History Of The Symbol Eventually Adopted As That Of Our Religion






The history of the symbol of the cross has had an attraction for the author ever since, as an enquiring youth, he found himself unable to obtain satisfactory answers to four questions concerning the same which presented themselves to his mind.

The first of those questions was why John the Baptist, who was beheaded before Jesus was executed, and so far as we are told never had anything to do with a cross, is represented in our religious pictures as holding a cross.

The second question was whether this curious but perhaps in itself easily explained practice had in its inception any connection with the non-Mosaic initiatory rite of baptism; which Jesus accepted as a matter of course at the hands of his cousin John, and in which the sign of the cross has for ages been the all-important feature. And it was the wonder whether there was or was not some association between the facts that the New Testament writers give no explanation whatever of the origin of baptism as an initiatory rite, that this non-Mosaic initiatory rite was in use among Sun-God worshippers long before our era, and that the Fathers admitted that the followers of the Persian conception of the Sun-God marked their initiates upon the forehead like the followers of the Christ, which finally induced the author to start a systematic enquiry into the history of the cross as a symbol.

The third question was why, despite the fact that the instrument of execution to which Jesus was affixed can have had but one shape, almost any kind of cross is accepted as a symbol of our faith.

The last of the four questions was why many varieties of the cross of four equal arms, which certainly was not a representation of an instrument of execution, were accepted by Christians as symbols of the Christ before any cross which could possibly have been a representation of an instrument of execution was given a place among the symbols of Christianity; while even nowadays one variety of the cross of four equal arms is the favourite symbol of the Greek Church, and both it and the other varieties enter into the ornamentation of our sacred properties and dispute the supremacy with the cross which has one of its arms longer than the other three.

Pursuing these matters for himself, the author eventually found that even before our era the cross was venerated by many as the symbol of Life; though our works of reference seldom mention this fact, and never do it justice.

He moreover discovered that no one has ever written a complete history of the symbol, showing the possibility that the stauros or post to which Jesus was affixed was not cross-shaped, and the certainty that, in any case, what eventually became the symbol of our faith owed some of its prestige as a Christian symbol of Victory and Life to the position it occupied in pre-Christian days.

The author has therefore, in the hope of drawing attention to the subject, incorporated the results of his researches in the present essay.





In the thousand and one works supplied for our information upon matters connected with the history of our race, we are told that Alexander the Great, Titus, and various Greek, Roman, and Oriental rulers of ancient days, "crucified" this or that person; or that they "crucified" so many at once, or during their reign. And the instrument of execution is called a "cross."

The natural result is that we imagine that all the people said to have been "crucified" were executed by being nailed or otherwise affixed to a cross-shaped instrument set in the ground, like that to be seen in our fanciful illustrations of the execution of Jesus.

This was, however, by no means necessarily the case.

For instance, the death spoken of, death by the stauros, included transfixion by a pointed stauros or stake, as well as affixion to an unpointed stauros or stake; and the latter punishment was not always that referred to.

It is also probable that in most of the many cases where we have no clue as to which kind of stauros was used, the cause of the condemned one's death was transfixion by a pointed stauros.

Moreover, even if we could prove that this very common mode of capital punishment was in no case that referred to by the historians who lived in bygone ages, and that death was in each instance caused by affixion to, instead of transfixion by, a stauros, we should still have to prove that each stauros had a cross-bar before we could correctly describe the death caused by it as death by crucifixion.

It is also, upon the face of it, somewhat unlikely that the ancients would in every instance in which they despatched a man by affixing him to a post set in the ground, have gone out of their way to provide the artistic but quite unnecessary cross-bar of our imaginations.

As it is, in any case, well known that the Romans very often despatched those condemned to death by affixing them to a stake or post which had no cross-bar, the question arises as to what proof we have that a cross-bar was used in the case of Jesus.

Nor is the question an unimportant one. For, as we shall see in the chapters to come, there was a pre-Christian cross, which was, like ours, a symbol of Life. And it must be obvious to all that if the cross was a symbol of Life before our era, it is possible that it was originally fixed upon as a symbol of the Christ because it was a symbol of Life; the assumption that it became a symbol of Life because it was a symbol of the Christ, being in that case neither more nor less than a very natural instance of putting the cart before the horse.

Now the Greek word which in Latin versions of the New Testament is translated as crux, and in English versions is rendered as cross, i.e., the word stauros, seems to have, at the beginning of our era, no more meant a cross than the English word stick means a crutch.

It is true that a stick may be in the shape of a crutch, and that the stauros to which Jesus was affixed may have been in the shape of a cross. But just as the former is not necessarily a crutch, so the latter was not necessarily a cross.

What the ancients used to signify when they used the word stauros, can easily be seen by referring to either the Iliad or the Odyssey.[1]

It will there be found to clearly signify an ordinary pole or stake without any cross-bar. And it is as thus signifying a single piece of wood that the word in question is used throughout the old Greek classics.[2]

The stauros used as an instrument of execution was (1) a small pointed pole or stake used for thrusting through the body, so as to pin the latter to the earth, or otherwise render death inevitable; (2) a similar pole or stake fixed in the ground point upwards, upon which the condemned one was forced down till incapable of escaping; (3) a much longer and stouter pole or stake fixed point upwards, upon which the victim, with his hands tied behind him, was lodged in such a way that the point should enter his breast and the weight of the body cause every movement to hasten the end; and (4) a stout unpointed pole or stake set upright in the earth, from which the victim was suspended by a rope round his wrists, which were first tied behind him so that the position might become an agonising one; or to which the doomed one was bound, or, as in the case of Jesus, nailed.

That this last named kind of stauros, which was admittedly that to which Jesus was affixed, had in every case a cross-bar attached, is untrue; that it had in most cases, is unlikely; that it had in the case of Jesus, is unproven.

Even as late as the Middle Ages, the word stauros seems to have primarily signified a straight piece of wood without a cross-bar. For the famous Greek lexicographer, Suidas, expressly states, "Stauroi; ortha xula perpegota," and both Eustathius and Hesychius affirm that it meant a straight stake or pole.

The side light thrown upon the question by Lucian is also worth noting. This writer, referring to Jesus, alludes to "That sophist of theirs who was fastened to a skolops;" which word signified a single piece of wood, and not two pieces joined together.

Only a passing notice need be given to the fact that in some of the Epistles of the New Testament, which seem to have been written before the Gospels, though, like the other Epistles, misleadingly placed after the Gospels, Jesus is said to have been hanged upon a tree.[3] For in the first place the Greek word translated "hanged" did not necessarily refer to hanging by the neck, and simply meant suspended in some way or other. And in the second place the word translated "tree," though that always used in referring to what is translated as the "Tree of Life," signified not only "tree" but also "wood."

It should be noted, however, that these five references of the Bible to the execution of Jesus as having been carried out by his suspension upon either a tree or a piece of timber set in the ground, in no wise convey the impression that two pieces of wood nailed together in the form of a cross is what is referred to.

Moreover, there is not, even in the Greek text of the Gospels, a single intimation in the Bible to the effect that the instrument actually used in the case of Jesus was cross-shaped.

Had there been any such intimation in the twenty-seven Greek works referring to Jesus, which our Church selected out of a very large number and called the "New Testament," the Greek letter chi, which was cross-shaped, would in the ordinary course have been referred to; and some such term as Kata chiasmon, "like a chi," made use of.

It should also be borne in mind that though the Christians of the first three centuries certainly made use of a transient sign of the cross in the non-Mosaic initiatory rite of baptism and at other times, it is, as will be shown in the next two chapters, admitted that they did not use or venerate it as a representation of the instrument of execution upon which Jesus died.

Moreover, if in reply to the foregoing it should be argued that as it is well known that cross-shaped figures of wood, and other lasting representations of the sign or figure of the cross, were not venerated by Christians until after the fateful day when Constantine set out at the head of the soldiers of Gaul in his famous march against Rome; and that the Christian crosses of the remainder of the fourth century were representations of the instrument of execution upon which Jesus died; a dozen other objections present themselves if we are honest enough to face the fact that we have to show that they were so from the first. For the Gauls, and therefore the soldiers of Gaul, venerated as symbols of the Sun-God and Giver of Life and Victory the cross of four equal arms, {image "plus.gif"}, or {image "x.gif"}, and the solar wheel, {image "solarwheel1.gif"} or {image "solarwheel2.gif"}; while the so-called cross which Constantine and his troops are said to have seen above the midday sun was admittedly the monogram of Christ, {image "monogram1.gif"} or {image "monogram2.gif"}, which was admittedly an adaptation of the solar wheel, as will be shown further on; and it was as tokens of the conquest of Rome by his Gaulish troops, that Constantine, as their leader, erected one of these symbols in the centre of the Eternal City, and afterwards placed upon his coins the crosses {image "solarwheel1.gif"}, {image "solarwheel2.gif"}, {image "monogram1.gif"}, {image "monogram2.gif"}, {image "asterisk.gif"}, {image "monogram3.gif"}, {image "monogram4.gif"}, the cross of four equal arms {image "x.gif"}, and several variations of that other cross of four equal arms, the right-angled {image "plus.gif"}. And it was not till long after these crosses were accepted as Christian, and Constantine was dead and buried, that the cross with one of its arms longer than the other three (or two), which alone could be a representation of an instrument of execution, was made use of by Christians.

Another point to be remembered is that when Constantine, apparently conceiving ours, as the only non-national religion with ramifications throughout his world-wide dominions, to be the only one that could weld together the many nations which acknowledged his sway, established Christianity as the State Religion of the Roman Empire, the Church to which we belong would naturally have had to accept as its own the symbols which Constantine had caused to be those of the State in question. And it should be added that the cross of later days with one of its arms longer than the others, if not also the assumption that the stauros to which Jesus was affixed had a cross-bar, may have been merely the outcome of a wish to associate with the story of Jesus these Gaulish symbols of victory which had become symbols of the Roman State, and therefore of its State Church.

Anyway, the first kind of cross venerated by Christians was not a representation of an instrument of execution; and the fact that we hold sacred many different kinds of crosses, although even if we could prove that the stauros to which Jesus was affixed had a cross-bar but one kind could be a representation of that instrument of execution, has to be accounted for.

Our only plausible explanation of the fact that we hold sacred almost any species of cross is that, as we do not know what kind of cross Jesus died upon, opinions have always differed as to which was the real cross.

This difference of opinion among Christians as to the shape of the instrument upon which Jesus was executed, has certainly existed for many centuries. But as an explanation of the many different kinds of crosses accepted by us as symbols of the Christ, it only lands us in a greater difficulty. For if we did not know what kind of cross Jesus died upon when we accepted the cross as our symbol, the chances obviously are that we accepted the cross as our symbol for some other reason than that we assert.

As a matter of fact our position regarding the whole matter is illogical and unsatisfactory, and we ought to alter it by honestly facing the facts that we cannot satisfactorily prove that our symbol was adopted as a representation of the instrument of execution to which Jesus was affixed, and that we do not even know for certain that the instrument in question was cross-shaped.

It need only be added that there is not a single sentence in any of the numerous writings forming the New Testament, which, in the original Greek, bears even indirect evidence to the effect that the stauros used in the case of Jesus was other than an ordinary stauros; much less to the effect that it consisted, not of one piece of timber, but of two pieces nailed together in the form of a cross.

Taking the whole of the foregoing facts into consideration, it will be seen that it is not a little misleading upon the part of our teachers to translate the word stauros as "cross" when rendering the Greek documents of the Church into our native tongue, and to support that action by putting "cross" in our lexicons as the meaning of stauros without carefully explaining that that was at any rate not the primary meaning of the word in the days of the Apostles, did not become its primary signification till long afterwards, and became so then, if at all, only because, despite the absence of corroborative evidence, it was for some reason or other assumed that the particular stauros upon which Jesus was executed had that particular shape.

But—the reader may object—how about the Greek word which in our Bibles is translated as "crucify" or "crucified?" Does not that mean "fix to a cross" or "fixed to a cross?" And what is this but the strongest possible corroboration of our assertion as Christians that Jesus was executed upon a cross-shaped instrument?

The answer is that no less than four different Greek words are translated in our Bibles as meaning "crucify" or "crucified," and that not one of the four meant "crucify" or "crucified."

The four words in question are the words prospegnumi, anastauroo, sustauroo, and stauroo.

The word prospegnumi, though translated in our Bibles as "crucify" or "crucified," meant to "fix" to or upon, and meant that only. It had no special reference to the affixing of condemned persons either to a stake, pale, or post, or to a tree, or to a cross; and had no more reference to a cross than the English word "fix" has.

The word anastauroo was never used by the old Greek writers as meaning other than to impale upon or with a single piece of timber.[4]

The word sustauroo does not occur in pre-Christian writings, and only five times in the Bible against the forty-four times of the word next to be dealt with. Being obviously derived in part from the word stauros, which primarily signified a stake or pale which was a single piece of wood and had no cross-bar, sustauroo evidently meant affixion to such a stake or pale. Anyhow there is nothing whatever either in the derivation of the word, or in the context in either of the five instances in which it occurs, to show that what is referred to is affixion to something that was cross-shaped.

The word stauroo occurs, as has been said, forty-four times; and of the four words in question by far the most frequently. The meaning of this word is therefore of special importance. It is consequently most significant to find, as we do upon due investigation, that wherever it occurs in the pre-Christian classics it is used as meaning to impalisade, or stake, or affix to a pale or stake; and has reference, not to crosses, but to single pieces of wood.[5]

It therefore seems tolerably clear (1) that the sacred writings forming the New Testament, to the statements of which—as translated for us—we bow down in reverence, do not tell us that Jesus was affixed to a cross-shaped instrument of execution; (2) that the balance of evidence is against the truth of our statements to the effect that the instrument in question was cross-shaped, and our sacred symbol originally a representation of the same; and (3) that we Christians have in bygone days acted, and, alas! still act, anything but ingenuously in regard to the symbol of the cross.

This is not all, however. For if the unfortunate fact that we have in our zeal almost manufactured evidence in favour of the theory that our cross or crosses had its or their origin in the shape of the instrument of execution to which Jesus was affixed proves anything at all, it proves the need for a work which, like the present one, sets in array the evidence available regarding both the pre-Christian cross and the adoption in later times of a similar symbol as that of the catholic faith.

Nor should it be forgotten that the triumph of Christianity was due to the fact that it was a "catholic" faith, and not, like the other faiths followed by the subjects of Rome, and like what Jesus seems to have intended the results of His mission to have been inasmuch as He solemnly declared that he was sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel and to them alone, the monopoly of a single nation or race.

For if Paul, taking his and other visions of Jesus as the long-needed proofs of a future life, had not disregarded the very plain intimations of Jesus to the effect that His mission was to the descendants of Jacob or Israel, and to them alone; if Paul had not withstood Christ's representative, Peter, to the face, and, with unsurpassed zeal, carried out his grand project of proclaiming a non-national and universal religion founded upon appearances of the spirit-form of Jesus, what we call Christianity would not have come into existence.

The fact that but for Paul there would have been no catholic faith with followers in every land ruled by Constantine when sole emperor, for that astute monarch to establish as the State Religion of his loosely knit empire, because, on account of its catholicity, that best fitted to hold power as the official faith of a government with world-wide dominions, is worthy of a lasting place in our memory.

Nor is the noteworthy fact last mentioned unconnected with the symbol of the cross. For, as will be shown, it is clear that it was because Constantine caused the figure of the cross to become a recognized symbol of his catholic empire, that it became recognized as a symbol of the catholic faith.

Not till after Constantine and his Gaulish warriors planted what Eusebius the Bishop of Caesarea and other Christians of the century in question describe as a cross, within the walls of the Eternal City as the symbol of their victory, did Christians ever set on high a cross-shaped trophy of any description.

Moreover, but for the fact that, as it happened, the triumph of Constantine resulted in that of the Christian Church, we should probably have deemed the cross, if to our minds a representation of the instrument of execution to which Jesus was affixed, as anything but the symbol of Victory we now deem it.

This is evident from the fact that the so-called cross of Jesus admittedly fulfilled the purpose for which it was erected at the request of those who sought the death of Jesus. And even according to our Gospels the darkness of defeat o'ershadowed the scene at Calvary.

To put the matter plainly, the victory of Jesus was not a victory over the cross; for He did not come down from the cross. Nor was it a victory over His enemies; for what they sought was to get rid of a man whom they deemed an agitator, and their wish was gratified, inasmuch as, thanks to the cross, He troubled them no more.

In other words the victory which we ascribe to Jesus did not occur during the gloom which hung like a pall over his native land at the time of His execution, but upon the then approaching Sun-day of the Vernal Equinox, at the coming of the glory of the dawn.

For the victory in question, from whatever point of view we may look at it, was not the avoidance of defeat, but its retrieval. And its story is an illustration of the old-world promise, hoary with antiquity and founded upon the coming, ushered in every year by the Pass-over or cross-over of the equator by the sun at the Vernal Equinox, of the bounteous harvests of summer after the dearth of devastating winter; bidding us ever hope, not indeed for the avoidance of death and therefore of defeat, but for such victory as may happen to lay in survival or resurrection.

It is therefore clear that even if we could prove that the instrument of execution to which Jesus was affixed was cross-shaped, it would not necessarily follow that it was as the representation of the cause of His death which we now deem it, that the figure of the cross became our symbol of Life and Victory.

In any case honesty demands that we should no longer translate as "cross" a word which at the time our Gospels were written did not necessarily signify something cross-shaped. And it is equally incumbent upon us, from a moral point of view, that we should cease to render as "crucify" or "crucified" words which never bore any such meaning.



The Fathers who wrote in Latin, used the word crux as a translation of the Greek word stauros. It is therefore noteworthy that even this Latin word "crux," from which we derive our words "cross" and "crucify," did not in ancient days necessarily mean something cross-shaped, and seems to have had quite another signification as its original meaning.

A reference, for instance, to the writings of Livy, will show that in his time the word crux, whatever else it may have meant, signified a single piece of wood or timber; he using it in that sense.[6]

This however is a curious rather than an important point, for even the assumption that the word crux always and invariably meant something cross-shaped, would not affect the demonstration already made that the word stauros did not.

As our Scriptures were written in Greek and were written in the first century A.C., the vital question is what the word stauros then meant, when used, as in the New Testament, without any qualifying expression or hint that other than an ordinary stauros was signified. What the Fathers chose to consider the meaning of that word to be, or chose to give as its Latin translation, would, even if they had written the same century, in no wise affect that issue. And, as a matter of fact, even the earliest of the Fathers whose undisputed works have come down to us, did not write till the middle of the second century.

Granting, however, as all must, that most if not all of the earlier of the Fathers, and certainly all the later ones, rightly or wrongly interpreted the word stauros as meaning something cross-shaped, let us, remembering that this does not dispose of the question whether they rightly or wrongly so interpreted it, in this and the next two chapters pass in review the references to the cross made by the Fathers who lived before Constantine's march upon Rome at the head of his Gaulish army.

Commencing, on account of its importance, with the evidence of Minucius Felix, we find that this Father wrote

"We assuredly see the sign of a cross 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 arms outstretched. Thus the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason or your own religion is formed with respect to it."[7]

Various other pronouncements to a similar effect are to be found in the writings of other Christian Fathers, and such passages are often quoted as conclusive evidence of the Christian origin of what is now our symbol. In reality, however, it is somewhat doubtful if we can fairly claim them as such; for the question arises whether, if the writers in their hearts believed their cross to be a representation of the instrument of execution to which Jesus was affixed, they would have omitted, as they did in every instance, to mention that as the right and proper and all-sufficient reason for venerating the figure of the cross.

Moreover it is quite clear that while, as will be shown hereafter, the symbol of the cross had for ages been a Pagan symbol of Life, it can, as already stated, scarcely be said to have become a Christian symbol before the days of Constantine. No cross-shaped symbol of wood or of any other material had any part in the Christianity of the second and third centuries; and the only cross which had any part in the Christianity of those days was the immaterial one traced upon the forehead in the non-Mosaic and originally Pagan initiatory rite of Baptism, and at other times also according to some of the Fathers, apparently as a charm against the machinations of evil spirits.

This "sign" or "signal" rather than "symbol" of the cross, referred to as theirs by the Christian writers of the second and third centuries, is said to have had a place before our era in the rites of those who worshipped Mithras, if not also of those who worshipped certain other conceptions of the Sun-God; and it should be noted that the Fathers insist upon it that a similar mark is what the prophet Ezekiel referred to as that to be placed upon the foreheads of certain men as a sign of life and salvation; the original Hebrew reading "Set a tau upon the foreheads of the men" (Ezek. ix. 4), and the tau having been in the days of the prophet in question—as we know from relics of the past—the figure of a cross. Nor should it be forgotten that Tertullian admits that those admitted into the rites of the Sun-God Mithras were so marked, trying to explain this away by stating that this was done in imitation of the then despised Christians![8]

That it was this immaterial sign or signal, rather than any material symbol of the cross, which Minucius Felix considered Christian, is demonstrated by the fact that the passage already quoted is accompanied by the remark that

"Crosses, moreover, we Christians neither venerate nor wish for. You indeed who consecrate gods of wood venerate wooden crosses, perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners, and flags of your camps, what are they but crosses gilded and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it."[9]

This remarkable denunciation of the Cross as a Pagan symbol by a Christian Father who lived as late as the third century after Christ, is worthy of special attention; and can scarcely be said to bear out the orthodox account of the origin of the cross as a Christian symbol. It is at any rate clear that the cross was not our recognised symbol at that date; and that it is more likely to have been gradually adopted by us from Sun-God worshippers, than by the worshippers of Mithras and other pre-Christian conceptions of the Sun-God from us.

As our era was six or seven centuries old before the crucifix was introduced, and the earliest pictorial representation of the execution of Jesus still existing or referred to in any work as having existed was of even later date, much stress has been laid by us upon what we allege to be a caricature of the crucifixion of Jesus and of much earlier date. The drawing in question was discovered in 1856 to be scrawled upon a wall of the Gelotian House under the Palatine at Rome; and as no Christian representations of the alleged execution upon a cross-shaped instrument of even a reasonably early date exist, it would of course be greatly to our interest to be able to quote this alleged caricature, which is said to be as old as the third and perhaps even as old as the second century, as independent evidence of the truth of our story. But can we fairly do so?

The drawing in question is a very roughly executed representation of a figure with human arms, legs, and feet; but with an animal's head. The arms are extended, and two lines, which are said to represent a cross but appear in front of the figure instead of behind it, traverse the arms and trunk. In the foreground is a man looking at this grotesque figure; and an accompanying inscription is to the effect that "Alexamenos adores his God."

Tertullian relates that a certain Jew "carried about in public a caricature of us with this label, An ass of a priest. This figure had an ass's ears, and was dressed in a toga with a book; having a hoof on one of his feet."[10]

It is upon the strength of this passage and the two lines traversing the figure, that we, ignoring the fact that the figure is standing, claim this much-quoted graffito as conclusive evidence of the historical accuracy of our story. But it may be pointed out that even if this was a caricature of the execution of Jesus made at the date mentioned, a caricature, made certainly not less than two hundred years after the event, is not altogether trustworthy evidence as to the details.

And, was it a caricature of the execution of Jesus? It would appear not.

To commence with, the two lines or scratches—for they are little more—which we call a cross, need not necessarily have formed a part of the original graffito; and, even if they did, of themselves prove nothing. There is no reference to a cross in the inscription, nor is there anything to show that an execution of any kind is what is illustrated. Moreover, the hoof upon one foot, mentioned by Tertullian, is not to be seen; a remark which also applies to the toga and the book he mentions. And even what Tertullian referred to was not a caricature of the execution of Jesus.

It should also be noted that the head of the figure in this famous graffito, is more like that of a jackal than that of an ass; and appears to have been a representation of the Egyptian god Anubis, who is so often to be seen upon relics of the past as a figure with a jackal's head, with human arms extended, and with human legs and feet, as in this drawing.

Upon all points, therefore, our claim concerning the graffito is an ill-founded one; and it cannot be considered evidence regarding either cross or crucifixion.

There thus being no opposing evidence of any weight, it is quite clear from the fact that as late as the third century after Christ we find a Christian Father who venerated the sign or figure of the cross denouncing it as a symbol, that no material representations of that sign or figure were recognised as Christian till an even later date. And such a conclusion is borne out by the striking fact that when Clement of Alexandria at the beginning of the third century made out a list of the symbols which Christians were permitted to use, he mentioned the Fish and the Dove but said nothing regarding the Cross.[11]

As to the sign or figure of the cross referred to by the Fathers of the second and third centuries, even so high an authority as the Dean of Canterbury admits, as we shall see in the next chapter, that it was not "mainly" as reminding them of the death of Jesus that the Christians of the second and third centuries venerated it. If, therefore, not in the main, and, it would follow, not originally as a representation of the instrument of execution upon which Jesus died, what more likely than that the early Christians venerated the sign and figure of the cross as the age-old and widely accepted symbol of Life and of the Sun-God we know it to have been?

Anyway Minucius Felix may be said to stand alone in denouncing the symbol of the cross as non-Christian. And as even he expresses veneration for the figure of the cross, and must have approved of the sign of the cross in the initiatory rite of baptism, that denunciation evidently applied only to material representations of the cross.

Moreover the denunciation in question was clearly due to the fear that such objects might degenerate amongst Christians, as they afterwards did, into little better than idols. And if the sign or figure of the cross did not mainly remind the early Christians of the death of Jesus, it must have mainly reminded them of something else.



The works which have come down to us from the Fathers who lived before the days of Constantine make up over ten thousand pages of closely printed matter; and the first point which strikes those who examine that mass of literature with a view to seeing what the Christians of the first three centuries thought and wrote concerning the execution of Jesus and the symbol of the cross, is that the execution of Jesus was hardly so much as mentioned by them, and no such thing as a representation of the instrument of execution once referred to.

Another fact worthy of special note is that, whether the Fathers wrote in Greek and used the word stauros, or wrote in Latin and translated that word as crux, they often seem to have had in their mind's eye a tree; a tree which moreover was closely connected in meaning with the forbidden tree of the Garden of Eden, an allegorical figure of undoubtedly phallic signification which had its counterpart in the Tree of the Hesperides, from which the Sun-God Hercules after killing the Serpent was fabled to have picked the Golden Apples of Love, one of which became the symbol of Venus, the Goddess of Love. Nor was this the only such counterpart, for almost every race seems in days of old to have had an allegorical Tree of Knowledge or Life whose fruit was Love; the ancients perceiving that it was love which produced life, and that but for the sexual passion and its indulgence mankind would cease to be.

Starting upon an examination of the early Christian writings in question, we read in the Gospel of Nicodemus that when the Chief Priests interviewed certain men whom Jesus had raised from the dead, those men made upon their faces "the sign of the stauros."[12] The sign of the cross is presumably meant; and all that need be said is that if the men whom Jesus raised from the dead were acquainted with the sign of the cross, it would appear that it must have been as a pre-Christian sign.

Further on in the same Gospel, Satan is represented as being told that "All that thou hast gained through the Tree of Knowledge, all hast thou lost through the Tree of the Stauros."[13]

Elsewhere we read that "The King of Glory stretched out his right hand, and took hold of our forefather Adam, and raised him: then, turning also to the rest, he said, 'Come with me as many as have died through the Tree which he touched, for behold I again raise you all up through the Tree of the Stauros.'"[14] Some see in this peculiar pronouncement a reference to the doctrine of re-incarnation.

In the Acts and Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle Andrew we are told that those who executed Andrew "lifted him up on the stauros," but "did not sever his joints, having received this order from the pro-consul, for he wished him to be in distress while hanging, and in the nighttime as he was suspended to be eaten by dogs." There is nothing to show that the stauros used was other than an ordinary stauros.

In the Epistle of Barnabas are various references to the stauros; mixed up with various passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, quoted—without any justification—as referring to the initiatory rite of baptism; a rite, be it noted, that was admittedly of Gentile rather than Israelitish origin, and not unconnected with the Sun-God worship of the Persians and other Orientals of non-Hebrew race.

The references in question commence with the enquiry, "Let us further ask whether the Lord took any care to foreshadow the Water and the Stauros?"

Afterwards we have a quotation of Psalm i. 3-6—which likens the good man to a tree planted by the side of a river and yielding his fruit in due season—and the pronouncement, "Mark how he has described at once both the Water and the Stauros. For these words imply, Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the Stauros, have gone down into the Water."

This further reference to the non-Mosaic initiatory rite of baptism is followed by a quotation of Ezekiel xlvii. 12, which speaks of a river by whose side grow trees those who cat the fruit of which grow for ever.

Further on is a declaration that when Moses stretched out his hands (in a direction not specified) that victory might rest with the forces he commanded, he stretched them out in the figure of a stauros, as a prophecy that Jesus "would be the author of life."

A reference is then made to the Brazen Serpent, and to the pole upon which it was placed; and it is stated that this lifeless imitation of a serpent was a type of Jesus.

In the Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians we read that the stauros of the Christ is indeed a stumbling block to those who do not believe. The evidence of Irenaeus, as that of one who was through his acquaintance with the aged Polycarp almost in touch as it were with the apostles, will on account of his importance as a witness be specially dealt with in the next chapter.

Justin Martyr, arguing that the figure of the cross is impressed upon the whole of nature, asks men to

"Consider all things in the world, whether without this form they could be administered or have any certainty. For the sea is not traversed except that trophy which is called a sail abide safe in the ship; and the earth is not ploughed without it: diggers and mechanics do not their work except with tools which have this shape. And the human form differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the hands extended and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called the nose, through which there is respiration for the living creature; and this shows no other form than that of the cross. And so it was said by the prophet The breath before our face is the Lord Christ. And the power of this form is shown by your own symbols on what are called standards and trophies; with which all your processions are made, using these as insignia of your power and government."[15]

Elsewhere Justin Martyr declares that the Christ

"Was symbolised both by the Tree of Life which was said to have been planted in Paradise, and by those events which should happen to all the just. Moses was sent with a rod to effect the redemption of the people; and with this in his hands at the head of the people he divided the sea. By this he saw the water gushing out of the rock; and when he cast a tree into the waters of Marah, which were bitter, he made them sweet. Jacob by putting rods into the water troughs caused the sheep of his uncle to conceive . . . . Aaron's rod which blossomed declared him to be the High Priest. Isaiah prophesied that a rod would come forth from the root of Jesse, and this was the Christ."[16]

Further on in the same work, Justin Martyr, alluding to the statement in the Israelitish Law "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree," states that

"It was not without design that the prophet Moses when Hur and Aaron upheld his hands, remained in this form until evening. For indeed the Lord remained upon the tree almost until evening."[17]

Tertullian writes concerning the Christ "With the last enemy Death did he fight, and through the trophy of the cross he triumphed"[18]; and elsewhere tells us that "Cursed is every one who hangeth on a tree" was a prediction of his death.[19]

There is also in existence a long essay by Tertullian which starts by discussing the efficacy of "the sign" as an antidote. The sign of the cross as traced upon the forehead in the non-Mosaic initiatory rite of baptism seems to be what is referred to; and no representation of an instrument of execution, or cross-shaped symbol of wood or any material, is once mentioned.[20]

In another of Tertullian's works we come across the passage "In all the actions of daily life we trace upon the forehead the sign."[21]

His famous reference to the Sun-God Mithras reads as follows:—

"The devil in the mystic rites of his idols competes even with the essential portions of the sacraments of God. He, like God, baptizes some, that is, his own believing and faithful followers, and promises the putting away of sins by baptism; and if I remember rightly Mithras there signs his soldiers upon their foreheads, celebrates the oblation of bread, introduces a representation of the resurrection, and places the crown beyond the sword."[22]

Elsewhere Tertullian writes:—

"If any of you think we render superstitious adoration to the cross, in that adoration he is sharer with us . . You worship victories, for in your trophies the cross is the heart of the trophy. The camp religion of the Romans is all through a worship of the standards . . . I praise your zeal: you would not worship crosses unclothed and unadorned."[23]

In another of Tertullian's works we read:—

"As for him who affirms that we are the priesthood of a cross, we shall claim him as a co-religionist . . . Every piece of timber which is fixed in the ground in an erect position is part of a cross, and indeed the greater part of its mass. But an entire cross is attributed to us . . . . The truth however is that your religion is all cross . . . You are ashamed, I suppose, to worship unadorned and simple crosses."[24]

In the Instructions of Commodianus we read "The first law was in the tree, and so, too, was the second."[25]

Cyprian contends that "By the sign of the cross, also, Amalek was conquered by Moses."[26]

Elsewhere Cyprian tells us that "In this sign of the cross is salvation for all people who are marked on their foreheads"; quoting as proof of this, from the Apocalypse, "They had his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads," and "Blessed are they that do his commandments that they may have power over the Tree of Life."[27]

Methodius tells us that "He overcame, as has been said, the powers that enslaved us by the figure of the cross; and shadowed forth man, who had been oppressed by corruption as by a tyrant power, to be free with unfettered hands. For the cross, if you wish to define it, is the confirmation of victory."[28]

Passing on to Origen, we find in one of his works the noteworthy passage:—

"It is possible to avoid it if we do what the Apostle saith 'Mortify your members which are upon earth,' and if we always carry about in our bodies the death of Christ. For it is certain that where the death of Christ is carried about, sin cannot reign. For the power of the stauros of Christ is so great that if it be set before a man's eyes and kept faithfully in his mind so that he look with steadfast eyes of the mind upon that same death of Christ, no concupiscence, no sensuality, no natural passion, and no envious desire, is able to overcome him."[29]

Whether however this reference to the "stauros of Christ" is or is not a reference to the figure of the cross, is doubtful.

Such is the evidence regarding the cross, whether considered as immaterial sign or material symbol, obtainable from the writings of the Christians who lived between the days of the Apostles and those of Constantine; other of course than the Octavius of Minucius Felix, which was dealt with in the last chapter, and the writings of Irenaeus, which will be dealt with in the next.

Among the noteworthy features of the evidence in question prominently stands out the smallness of its volume.

This is but a negative point, however; and what should be carefully borne in mind is that the evidence as a whole leads to the conclusion that the Christians of the second and third centuries made use of the sign and venerated the figure of the cross without, as Dean Farrar admits, it "only or even mainly," reminding them of the death of Jesus; and therefore otherwise than as a representation of the instrument of execution upon which Jesus died.[30]



The special importance of the evidence of Irenaeus, is due to the fact that of all the Fathers whose undisputed works have come down to us he is the only one who can be considered to have been anything like in touch with the Apostles. As an acquaintance of the aged Polycarp, who is said to have been in his youth a pupil of the aged Evangelist and Apostle St. John and to have met yet other Apostles, Irenaeus had opportunities for ascertaining facts concerning the life and death of Jesus which the other Fathers upon whose works we rely did not possess.

What, then, does this important witness have to say, which bears upon the points at issue? As a matter of fact, very little.

There are, however, two passages in the works of Irenaeus which it would not be right to altogether ignore.

In the first of these passages Irenaeus mentions that some Christians believed that Simon of Cyrene was executed instead of Jesus, owing to the power of Jesus to metamorphose himself and others having been exercised with that object in view.[31] This power is referred to more than once in our Gospels, for instance in the account of the so-called "Transfiguration" upon the Mount; the Greek word rendered in our Bibles as "transfigured" being the word which in translations of the older Greek classics is rendered "metamorphosed."

Even if we pass by this belief of certain of the early Christians that Jesus was never executed, a question here arises which should at least be stated, and that is the question how, if Jesus was metamorphosed upon the Mount, as the Gospels tell us, he can be said to have died as a man at Calvary? For if upon the Mount of Transfiguration, or at any other time previous to the scene at Calvary, Jesus was metamorphosed, the form which was the result of the process of re-metamorphosis necessary to make him recognisable again cannot be said to have been born of the Virgin Mary, and can have been human only in appearance.

The other passage in the writings of Irenaeus which deserves our notice, is neither more nor less than an emphatic declaration, by Irenaeus himself, that Jesus was not executed when a little over thirty years of age, but lived to be an old man. Explain it away how we will, the fact remains; and it certainly ought not to be ignored.

At first sight this statement of Irenaeus would decidedly seem to support the theory advanced by some, that, as the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate admittedly did not want to carry out the extreme penalty in the case of Jesus, though he reluctantly consented to do so in order to pacify the Jews and allowed Jesus to be fixed to a stauros and suspended in public view, he took care to manage things so that Jesus should only appear to die. The idea of course is that if Pilate wished to preserve the life of Jesus he could easily have had him taken down while in a drugged condition, have had the farce of burial carried out at the earliest possible moment, and then have had him resuscitated and removed to some region where he could dwell in safety.

What Irenaeus says concerning Jesus is that

"He passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants. . . . So likewise he was an old man for old men, that he might be a perfect Master for all, not merely as regards the setting forth of the truth but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same time the aged also and becoming an example to them likewise. Then, at last, he came on to death itself. . . . From the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while he still fulfilled the office of a Teacher; even as the Gospel and all the elders testify, those who were conversant in Asia with John the disciple of the Lord affirming that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan. Some of them moreover saw not only John but the other apostles also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to the statement. Whom, then, should we rather believe? Whether such men as these, or Ptolemaeus, who never saw the apostles and who never even in his dreams attained to the slightest trace of an apostle?"[32]

The reader must decide for himself or herself whether Irenaeus believed that Jesus was never executed; or that he was executed but survived; or that he was born when we suppose, but executed thirty years or so later than we suppose; or that, though executed when we suppose, he was then an old man, and was born, not at the commencement or middle or end of the year A.C. 1, or B.C. 4, or whenever the orthodox date is, but thirty years or more before what we call our era began. Anyhow he mentions neither cross nor execution, and here seems to assume that Jesus died a natural death. And in any case the fact remains that, however mistaken he may have been, Irenaeus stated that Jesus lived to be an old man; and stated so emphatically.

Even granting that Irenaeus must have been mistaken, his evidence none the less affects one of the most important points debated in this work. For it is clear that if even he knew so little about the execution of Jesus, the details of that execution cannot have been particularly well known; and the affirmation that the stauros to which Jesus was affixed had a transverse bar attached may have had no foundation in fact, and may have arisen from a wish to connect Jesus with that well-known and widely-venerated Symbol of Life, the pre-Christian cross.



Having in the foregoing chapters demonstrated that it is possible, if not indeed probable, that the instrument of execution to which Jesus was affixed was otherwise than cross-shaped; and having also shown that it was not mainly, if indeed even partially, that the early Christians signified that instrument by the sign of the cross; it is now desirable that, as a preliminary to an enquiry into the circumstances under which the cross became the symbol of Christianity, we should enquire into the origin of the pre-Christian cross.

That there was a pre-Christian cross, and that it was, like ours, a Symbol of Life, is generally admitted.

The authorities upon such subjects, however, unfortunately differ as to the reason why the Cross came to be selected by the ancients as the Symbol of Life. And not one of their suggestions seems to go to the root of the matter.

Let us therefore in thought go back tens of thousands of years, and conceive the genus Homo as a race gradually awakening to reason but as yet unfettered by inherited traditions and creeds. Let us imagine Man ere he began to make gods in his own image. Let us remember that what would strike him as the greatest of all marvels would of necessity be Life itself, and that far and away the next greatest marvel must have been the glorious Sun; the obvious source of earth life, and Lord of the Hosts of Heaven.

Let us bear in mind, too, that though the Nature Worship of our remote ancestors had other striking features, the facts mentioned would lead to the predominance of the phallic idea, and to its association with Sun-God worship. And as Life, the greatest marvel of all, must have had a symbol allotted to it at a very early date, let us ask ourselves what the untutored mind of Man would be most likely to select as its symbol.

To this question there is, so far as the author can see, but one reasonable answer:—the figure of the cross.

And the author conceives this to be the real solution of the difficulty for this reason:—because the figure of the cross is the simplest possible representation of that union of two bodies or two sexes or two powers or two principles, which alone produces life.

For the ancients cannot fail to have perceived that all life more immediately proceeds from the union of two principles; and the first, readiest, simplest, and most natural symbol of Life, was consequently one straight line superimposed upon another at such an angle that both could be seen; in other words, a cross of some description or other.

It is evidently probable that this was the real reason why the figure of the cross originally came to be adopted as the Symbol of Life. But, of course, whatever the original reason, as time rolled on other reasons for the veneration of the cross were pointed out; nothing being more natural than that primitive Man should, or more certain than that he did, find pleasure in connecting with other objects of his regard than Life itself, that which as the Symbol of Life was pre-eminently a symbol of good omen.

The most notable instance of this is the way in which, or rather the different ways in which, the figure of the cross was connected with the Sun-God.

A good example of the last named fact, is the declaration of the philosophers of ancient Greece that the figure of the cross was the figure of the "Second God" or "Universal Soul," the Ratio as well as the Oratio of the All-Father, which they called the Logos of God; a term badly translated in our versions of the Gospel of St. John as the Word of God, as if it signified the Oratio only.

It was this Logos or "Second God" whom Philo, who was born before the commencement of our era, described as the "Intellectual Sun," and even as God's "First Begotten" and "Beloved" offspring, and the "Light of the World"; terms afterwards made use of by the writers of our Gospels in describing the Christ. And, as will be shown in a chapter upon the subject, the reason the philosophers, among whom was Plato, gave for declaring the cross to be the figure of the Logos, was that the Sun creates this figure by crossing the Equator.

An even better illustration can be seen in the fact that in days of old almost every civilised race held feasts at the time of the Vernal Equinox, in honour of the Passover or Cross-over of the Sun.

The fact that the ancients were thus at special pains to connect the symbol of Life with the Sun-God, and also, as we know, spoke of him as the "Giver of Life" and the only "Saviour," was doubtless due to their perceiving, not only that life is the result of the union of the two principles distinguished by the titles male and female, but also that the salvation of life is due to the action of the sun in preserving the body from cold and in producing and ripening for its use the fruits of the earth.

As the Giver of Life, the Sun-God was of course considered to be bi-sexual. But when the two great lights of heaven, the Sun and the Moon, were associated with each other, as was often and naturally the ease, the Sun was considered to be more especially a personification of the Male Principle, and the waxing and waning moon, as represented by the Crescent, a personification of the Female Principle. Hence the worship of the God associated with the radiate sun, as of that of the Goddess associated with the crescent moon and called the Sun-God's mother or bride, was phallic in character; and their connection is repeatedly symbolised upon the relics which have come down to us from antiquity by the sign of the crescent containing within its horns either a disc or what we should consider a star-like object, which latter was almost as favourite a mode with the ancients of representing the sun as it is with us of representing a star or planet, as will be shown further on.

Returning, however, to the symbol of the cross, as the first and simplest representation of that union of the Male and Female Principles which alone produces what we mortals call life, it is extremely curious that the selection of the figure of the cross in comparatively modern times as the simplest and most natural symbol both of addition and of multiplication, should have led no one to perceive that, being for these very reasons also the simplest and most natural symbol of Life, a probable solution of the mystery surrounding the origin of the pre-Christian cross as a symbol of Life, as it were stared them in the face. As to the contention of not a few authorities, apparently founded upon the mistaken assumption that the Svastika was the earliest form of cross to acquire importance as a symbol, that the pre-Christian cross was originally a representation of the wheel-like motion of the sun or a reference to the wheel of the Sun-God's chariot; it need only be remarked that evidence exists to show that the cross was a symbol of Life from a period so early, that it is doubtful if the Sun-God had then been likened to a charioteer, and not certain that either chariots or wheels had been invented. It is true that the Solar Wheel became a recognized symbol of the Sun-God, and that additional veneration was paid to it because the figure of the symbol of Life was more or less discoverable in the spokes allotted to the Solar Wheel; but it is putting the cart before the horse to suppose that the cross became the symbol of Life because its form was so discoverable.

It only remains to be added that there undoubtedly was a connection, however slight, between the pre-Christian Cross as the Symbol of Life, the Solar Wheel as a symbol of the Sun-God, and the Cross as the symbol of the Christ. And whatever the date at which the cross was first adopted as a Christian symbol, or whatever the reason for that adoption, there is no doubt that, as will be shown further on, our religion was considerably influenced by the facts that the Gaulish soldiers whose victories enabled Constantine to become Sole Emperor venerated the Solar Wheel, {image "solarwheel1.gif"} or {image "solarwheel2.gif"}, and that their leader, who was anxious to obtain the support of the Christians, allowed a loop to be added to the top of the vertical spoke so that the Christians might be able to interpret the victorious symbol as {image "monogram1.gif"} or {image "monogram2.gif"}, {image "monogram3.gif"} or {image "monogram4.gif"}; i.e., XP or XPI, the first two or three letters of the Greek word XPI{sigma}TO{sigma}, Christos, Christ.



As has already been to some extent pointed out, it is evident that our beloved Christendom more or less owes its existence to the fact that Constantine the Great when only ruler of Gaul, himself a Sun-God worshipper at the head of an army of Sun-God worshippers, seeing how greatly the small but enthusiastic bodies of Christians everywhere to be met with could aid him in his designs upon the attainment of supreme power, bid for their support. For to this politic move, its success, and Constantine's perception that only a non-national religion whose followers sought to convert the whole world and make their faith a catholic one, could really weld together different races of men, we owe the fact that when he became Sole Emperor he made Christianity the State Religion of the world-wide Roman Empire.

This act and its far-reaching effects, are not all we owe to Constantine, however. It should be remembered that even our creed was to some extent decided by him. For it was this Sun-God worshipper—who, though he advised others to enter what he wished should become a catholic and all-embracing religion, refused to do so himself till he was dying—who called together our bishops, and, presiding over them in council at Nicaea, demanded that they should determine the controversy in the ranks of the Christians as to whether the Christ was or was not God, by subscribing to a declaration of his Deity. It is even recorded that he forced the unwilling ones to sign under penalty off deprivation and banishment.

From these and other incidents in his career it would appear that, either from policy or conviction, Constantine acted as if he thought the Sun-God and the Christ were one and the same deity.

The probability of this is more or less apparent from what we are told concerning the part he played in connection with what, thanks, as we are about to see, to him, became our recognised symbol.

Our knowledge of the part played by Constantine in connection with the symbol of the cross, except so far as we can gather it from a study of ancient coins and other relics, unfortunately comes to us solely through Christian sources. And the first that famous bishop and ecclesiastical historian Eusebius of Caesarea, to whom we owe so large a proportion of our real or supposed knowledge of the early days of Christianity, tells us about Constantine and the cross, is that in the year A.C. 312—a quarter of a century before his admission into the Christian Church—Constantine and the Gaulish soldiers he was leading saw at noon over the Sun a cross of Light in the heavens, bearing upon it or having attached to it the inscription EN TOYT{omega} NIKA, By this conquer.

The words of the Bishop, who is reporting what he states the Emperor in question to have told him personally, are:—

"He said that at mid-day when the sun was beginning to decline he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the Sun, bearing the inscription EN TOYT{omega} NIKA; he himself, and his whole army also, being struck with amazement at this sight."[33]

Though this marvellous cross, declared by Christian writers of that century to have been the so-called Monogram of Christ {image "monogram1.gif"} or {image "monogram3.gif"} or {image "monogram2.gif"} or {image "monogram4.gif"}, appeared to an army of Sun-God worshippers, Constantine himself—as can be seen from his coins—remaining one for many years afterwards if not till his death, it is put before us as a Christian cross.

It is also noteworthy that no material representation of a cross of any description was ever held aloft by adherents of the Christian Church, until after Constantine is said to have had this more or less solar cross so represented as the standard of his Gaulish army.

Mention should therefore be made of the fact that, upon the coins he struck, the symbol {image "monogram1.gif"} is perhaps the one which occurs the most frequently upon representations of the famous Labarum or Military Standard of Constantine; but that the symbol {image "monogram1.gif"}, the {image "monogram3.gif"} and {image "monogram4.gif"} without the circle, and the {image "solarwheel1.gif"} and {image "asterisk.gif"}, are also to be seen.

Now the Gauls led by Constantine specially venerated the Solar Wheel. This had sometimes six and sometimes four spokes, {image "solarwheel1.gif"} or {image "solarwheel2.gif"}, and the warriors of their native land had long been in the habit of wearing a representation of the same upon their helmets. It is therefore not improbable that even before the date of the alleged vision when marching upon Rome, some such symbol formed the standard of Constantine's army.

Anyhow, that the worthy Bishop Eusebius was, like other enthusiasts, liable to be at times carried by his enthusiasm beyond the limits of veracity, or else was the victim of imperial mendacity, is evident. For Eusebius tells us in the Life of Constantine he wrote after the death of his patron, that the night after this miraculous "cross" and motto were seen in the sky above the Sun, the Christ appeared to Constantine, and, showing the Gaulish general the same sign that had been seen in the sky, directed him to have a similar symbol made, under which his army—an army, be it remembered, of Sun-God worshippers—should march conquering and to conquer![34]

All that is really likely to have happened is that Constantine, wishing to encourage his troops, bade them rally round a standard on which was represented the sacred Solar Wheel venerated by the Gauls; and that as with this as a rallying point Constantine and his Gauls became masters of Rome, the symbol we are discussing became a Roman—and therefore, later on, upon the establishment of our faith as the State Religion of the Roman Empire, also a Christian—symbol. And a loop seems to have been sooner or later added to the top of the vertical spoke of the Gaulish symbol, so that Christians could accept it as a Monogram of Christ; as has already been hinted, and as will be demonstrated further on.

A noteworthy point is that we have two accounts of Constantine's alleged vision of the Christ, and that they do not quite agree. The Bishop of Caesarea's account is, that the night after the Emperor—then only ruler of Gaul—and all his soldiers saw the "cross" and motto above the meridian sun, the Christ appeared to Constantine

"With the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign which he had seen in the heavens, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies."[35]

But the author of De Mortibus Persecutorem, a work said to have been written during the reign of Constantine, and attributed to Lactantius, refers to the alleged vision as follows:—

"Constantine was admonished in his sleep to mark the celestial sign of God on the shields, and thus engage in battle. He did as he was commanded, and marked the name of the Christ on the shields by the letter X drawn across them with the top circumflexed. Armed with this sign his troops—"[36]

and the differences between these two accounts are greater than would at first sight appear.

Let us however return to the story of the Bishop of Caesarea, who tells us that the morning after the Christ appeared to Constantine, the Emperor told this second marvel to his friends, and, sending for the workers in gold and precious stones who are assumed to have accompanied the Gaulish army, directed them to overlay with gold a long spear

"On the top of the whole of which was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones, and within this the symbol of the Saviour's name, two letters indicating the name of the Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected with the letter X in its centre."[37]

Several questions naturally arise at this point of our enquiry, and it is not easy—nay, it is impossible—for us Christians to honestly dispose of all of them and yet retain our cherished opinions upon this matter. Only one such question need be stated, and it is this: Is it likely that the Infinite Ruler of the universe, either at mid-day or at mid-night, went out of his way to induce a Sun-God worshipper who would not enter the Christian Church till a quarter of a century later and ere then was to become a murderer of innocent persons like the boy-Caesar Licinius, to adopt a symbol which he warranted would enable Constantine to lead on the Gauls to victory?

Pursuing the narrative of Eusebius we find that he, alluding to the symbol which he describes as a monogram but calls a cross, states that, setting this "victorious trophy and salutary symbol" in front of his soldiers, Constantine continued his march against Maxentius; and, with his forces thus "divinely aided," overthrew the Emperor just outside the Imperial City, entered Rome in triumph, and thanked God that He had enabled him to defeat and slay its ruler and assume the purple in that ruler's stead.[38]

Eusebius then tells us that Constantine, who did not dispose of all his rivals and become sole emperor till some twelve years later, as victor in the fight with Maxentius and master of Rome though not as yet of the whole empire, at once

"By loud proclamation and monumental inscriptions made known to all men the salutary symbol, setting up this great trophy of victory over his enemies, and expressly causing it to be engraven in indelible characters that the salutary symbol was the safeguard of the Roman Government and entire people. Accordingly he immediately ordered a lofty spear in the figure of a cross to be placed beneath the hand of a statue representing himself in the most frequented part of Rome, and the following inscription engraven on it in the Latin tongue:—'By virtue of this salutary sign which is the true test of valour, I have preserved and liberated your city from the yoke of tyranny, and I have also set at liberty the Roman Senate and People, and have restored to them their ancient distinction and splendour.'"[39]

Now, as we have already seen, what Eusebius referred to as the "cross" observed above the mid-day sun (and accompanied by a miraculous inscription in, presumably, to agree with the monogram, the Greek language; which was, well, "Greek" to the Gaulish soldiers) was the so-called Monogram of Christ {image "monogram1.gif"} or {image "monogram3.gif"} or {image "monogram2.gif"} or {image "monogram4.gif"}. That, too, was what Eusebius tells us the Christ afterwards told the Gaulish leader Constantine to model his military standard after. That, therefore, was the "salutary symbol" and "trophy of victory" referred to in the above passage from the same authority.

It is therefore clear that this "lofty spear in the figure of a cross" which Eusebius tells us was placed under the hand of the statue of Constantine in the central place of honour in Rome, was referred to by Eusebius as a "cross" because it was shaped like or in some way connected with some form or other of the so-called Monogram of Christ. And such a conclusion is borne out by the fact that spears with cross-bars had been in use among both Gauls and Romans for centuries, whereas this one is referred to as something out of the common.

It should also be noted that it was as a victorious military standard, and not as either a monogram of the Christ or a representation of the stauros upon which Jesus was executed, that Constantine caused this {image "solarwheel1.gif"} or {image "asterisk.gif"}, or {image "monogram1.gif"} or {image "monogram3.gif"}, or {image "monogram2.gif"} or {image "monogram4.gif"} (all which variations occur upon the coins of Constantine and his successors), to become a symbol of the Roman Empire.

Further on in his history of the Emperor, Eusebius tells us that whenever Constantine saw his troops hard pressed, he gave orders that the "salutary trophy" should be moved in that direction, and that victory always resulted.

The Bishop of Caesarea then goes on to relate that Constantine selected fifty men of his bodyguard, the most distinguished for piety, valour, and strength, whose sole duty it was to defend this famous standard; and that, of the elect fifty, those who fled were always slain, and those who stood their ground were always miraculously preserved.[40]

One would imagine from all this that there was only one labarum. Many different kinds are, however, represented upon the coins of Constantine; as also almost every variety of ordinary cross, except, perhaps, such as might conceivably have been a representation of an instrument of execution, like that which has since come into vogue among us.

Eusebius also tells us that Constantine caused to be erected in front of his palace a lofty tablet, on which was painted a representation of himself with the "salutary sign" over his head and a dragon or serpent under his feet.[41]

He also informs us that inside the palace and in the principal apartment, on a vast tablet in the ceiling, Constantine caused "the symbol of our Saviour's passion to be fixed, composed of a variety of precious stones inwrought with gold."[42]

Which of all the "salutary" signs that appear upon the coins of Constantine these particular crosses were, we do not know; but it is, at any rate, obviously unlikely that a worshipper of Apollo who refused to enter the Christian Church till he was dying, and on his coins always attributed his victories to the Sun-God, elevated either as a representation of an instrument of execution.

As to the alleged finding at Jerusalem, by Helena the mother of Constantine, of three stakes with transverse bars attached, all of which were ancient instruments of execution and one of which was shown by the occurrence of a miracle to have been a cross to which Jesus was affixed three centuries before, it is clear that this is a fairy tale. The story cannot be traced further back than to St. Cyril of Jerusalem about A.C. 350; and Eusebius, who gives an account of Helena's visit to Jerusalem, does not mention any such occurrence as that in question; a sure sign that it was an invention of later date.

The Christian Church, however, in a weak moment vouched for the truth of this ridiculous story; and while what was suffered to remain in Jerusalem of the true cross became the treasure of that city and a trophy captured by its foes but afterwards secured from them and once more placed in its holiest shrine, what was broken up into relics for the faithful throughout Christendom multiplied into a thousand fragments; one of which forms the centre of the Vatican Cross, and such few others of which as survive would not if examined, 'tis said, even prove to be all of the same kind of wood, or even limited to the two kinds for the presence of which a supposed cross-bar of another kind of timber might be held accountable.

The same Christian Bishop to whom this fairy tale can be traced, in a letter to one of the Emperors that succeeded Constantine declared that on the seventh of May A.C. 351 he and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem saw a brilliant cross in the heavens, stretching from Mount Golgotha to the Mount of Olives, and shining like the Sun for several hours.[43] And this marvellous vision is vouched for by St. Jerome, Socrates, Matins, and the Alexandrine Chronicle, as well as by St. Cyril; and is still kept in memory by the Greek Church, a solemn festival being held upon anniversaries of the day in question. But which particular "salutary sign" thus shone in the sky like the Sun for hours, is uncertain.

These painfully obvious inventions cannot but incline broad-minded Christians to the belief that our Church went to great lengths in order to induce people to believe that the cross was essentially a Christian symbol; which tends to show that there was a danger of their thinking otherwise.

It is also clear from the evidence already quoted concerning the adoption by Christians in the fourth century of a symbol they denounced in the third, that whether Jesus was executed upon a cross-shaped instrument or not, that was not the chief reason why the phallic symbol of Life became recognised as the symbol of the Christ.

The striking fact that though, as will be shown, the cross of four equal arms (a cross which, as we have seen, preceded the Latin cross as a Christian symbol, and one form of which is still the favourite symbol of the Greek Church; while even in the other two great divisions of Christendom its numerous variations, wheel-like and otherwise, as a whole dispute the supremacy with the Latin cross) occurs many times upon the coins of Constantine, yet it was the so-called Monogram of Christ or adapted solar wheel of the Gauls which the Christians of the fourth century were most careful to claim as a Christian symbol, should also be noted. For though the cross of four equal arms was also put by Constantine upon his coins as a solar symbol, yet that, being then, as for ages previously, a symbol of the Sun-God of world-wide acceptation, and one which as we shall see had already appeared as such upon Roman coins, it was not so much a Gaulish symbol as the other; and it was evidently because that other was the symbol followed by the triumphant leader of the Gauls and his victorious army, that the Christians wished to specially identify it with the Christ.

In any case, whether the so-called Monogram of Christ was more or less forced upon Christianity when Constantine made our faith the State Religion of his empire, or whether it was adopted by Christians of their own volition, it was a politic move (than which few possible moves could have done more to secure the triumph of our faith) to accept as the symbol of the Christian Church what was at one and the same time the symbol of Constantine, of the Roman State, and of the universally adored Sun-God.

That the more generally accepted symbol of the Sun-God, the cross of four equal arms, should in time supplant the more local one, was of course only to be expected; as was the adoption of a cross with one arm longer than the others, as being the only kind which could possibly be connected with the story of Jesus as the Christ incarnate.

As to the possible objection that what has been dealt with in this chapter has been rather the origin of the Christian custom of manufacturing and venerating material representations of the sign or figure of the cross than the origin of the Christian cross itself, the answer is obvious. And the answer is that the first cross which can justly be called "Christian," was the one which was the first to be considered, to use Dean Farrar's expressions, "mainly," if not "only," a representation of an instrument of execution; which cross was undoubtedly not a transient sign or gesture but a material representation of the cross with one arm longer than the others and was introduced after such representations of the cross of four equal arms and of the so-called Monogram of Christ had come into vogue among Christians as a consequence of the influence of Constantine.



Having already shown not a little cause for believing that the adoption of the cross as our symbol is due to the fact that we Christians helped to secure the triumph of the ambitious ruler of the Gauls, and after receiving numberless smaller favours from Constantine during the years he was ruler of Rome but not as yet sole emperor eventually obtained from him the establishment of Christianity as the State Religion of the Roman Empire, adapting the victorious trophy of the Gauls and the various crosses venerated by them and other Sun-God worshippers to our faith as best we could, it is desirable that we should pause to trace the career of the man we hail as the first Christian Emperor.

To do this properly we must commence by referring to Constantine's father, Constantius Chlorus; and to the favour shown to Constantius Chlorus by his patron the Emperor Diocletian.

Finding the supreme rule of the almost worldwide Roman Empire too much for one man in ill-health to undertake successfully, Diocletian in the year A.C. 286 made Maximian co-emperor. And in A.C. 292 Diocletian followed this up by conferring the inferior position and title of Caesar upon Galerius and Constantius Chlorus.

In A.C. 305 Diocletian relinquished power altogether, forcing Maximian to abdicate with him; Galerius and Constantius Chlorus thus obtaining the coveted title of Augustus, and sharing the supreme power.

Galerius now ranked first, however; for it was to the ruler of Illyricum and not to that of Gaul that Diocletian gave the power of appointing Caesars to govern Italy and the East.

Constantius Chlorus died in Britain A.C. 306, the year after Diocletian abdicated; and Galerius, who had married a daughter of Diocletian, naturally thought that under the circumstances he ought to become sole emperor.

The legions of Gaul, however, proclaimed the son of Constantius Chlorus as Augustus in his stead; and as Constantine thus became ruler of Gaul and a power to be reckoned with, Galerius thought it best to give way so far as to grant Constantine the inferior title of Caesar.

Soon afterwards Galerius conferred the title of Augustus upon Severus; and a little while after that the Eternal City was lost to Galerius through the revolt of his son-in-law Maxentius, the son of Maximian.

The Senate of Rome then asked Maximian to re-assume the purple, and he and Maxentius shared the power between them, both taking the title of Augustus.

Upon this Severus at the request of Galerius marched upon Rome. He was, however, defeated and slain.

After being more or less expelled by his son Maxentius, Maximian in the year A.C. 308 marched to Gaul and married his daughter Fausta to Constantine; at the same time conferring upon him the title of Augustus. About this time Galerius made his friend Licinius an Augustus in the place of Severus; whereupon Maximin, the Governor of Syria and Egypt, demanded and was granted that title also.

There were thus in the year A.C. 308 some half-a-dozen Roman Emperors instead of one; there being Constantine and Maximian in the west, Maxentius at Rome, and Galerius, Licinius, and Maximin elsewhere; not to mention Diocletian, who was content to remain in retirement.

This decided break-up of the Roman Empire was Constantine's opportunity; and he was favourably placed, for he had a warlike and faithful people under him.

Moreover by reversing so far as lay in his power as ruler of Gaul the traditional policy of Rome towards Christianity, and setting himself forward as a champion of a non-national religion which had been persecuted because it was non-national, Constantine was secure of the enthusiastic backing of all the Christians to be found in the dominions of his various rivals.

In A.C. 310 Constantine either executed his father-in-law the Emperor Maximian, or caused him to commit suicide; and the first of his five rivals was disposed of.

In A.C. 311 the Emperor Galerius died from disease, and Constantine's most formidable competitor, and one who undoubtedly had a better claim than himself to the position of sole emperor, thus opportunely made way for the ruler of Gaul.

In A.C. 312 Constantine marched at the head of the Gauls against the Emperor Maxentius, defeated him near the Milvian Bridge outside Rome, and entered the Eternal City in triumph. Maxentius is said to have been drowned in the Tiber; and the Senate decreed that Constantine should rank as the first of the three remaining Augusti.

In A.C. 313 the Emperor Maximin fought the Emperor Licinius; but his forces were defeated, and he soon afterwards died.

Some ten years or so later Constantine went to war with his only remaining rival, Licinius, defeated him, and became sole emperor, A.C. 324.

That despite his great qualities as a ruler the character of Constantine was not perfect, can be easily seen from the fact that, not content with executing the Emperor Licinius after accepting his submission, he murdered the young Licinius; a boy certainly not over twelve years of age, and according to some authorities two or three years younger than that. He also put his own son Crispus to death, and other relations as well.

We are told that Constantine was so tortured by the memory of these and other crimes that he applied to the priests of the Gods of Rome for absolution, but that they bravely said that there was no absolution for such sins, whereupon this worshipper of the Sun-God turned to his friends the Christians and they gave him what he desired.[44]

This statement seems somewhat improbable, however, as one would imagine that the Pagan priests, when called upon by one who was Pontifex Maximus and therefore their spiritual superior as well as the supreme emperor, would not have scrupled to invent some purifying rite—if they had none such—warranted to blot out the stain of every crime and thoroughly appease offended heaven.

However this may have been, these terrible crimes of Constantine, all committed many years after his alleged conversion to our faith, show how badly advised we are to so needlessly go out of our way to claim as a Christian one who refused to enter the Christian Church till he was dying and possibly no longer master of himself.

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