Cross (Crucifix)


(From Lutheran Cyclopedia [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899], p. 146.)

Inasmuch as the crucified Christ (Galatians 3:1) is the very heart and centre of the Christian faith, it is not to be wondered that, from the earliest times of the Christian Church, the cross is used as the most significant and eloquent symbol of Christianity. It is found everywhere, as Chrysostom testifies: “Ubicunque sybolum crucis nobis adest.” (Everywhere we have the symbol of the cross with us.) It stands – in the Greek Church it lies – on the altar. It is worn on the vestments of the priests and around the neck of the Christians. The form of the Greek cross, +, represents the foundation line of Byzantine architecture, that of the Latin cross, †, the ground line of the Gothic church building. The crucifix, showing the figure of the Saviour himself, nailed to the cross, is found since the seventh century. In spite of the many abuses to which the cross and the crucifix were subject in the Middle Ages, the Lutheran Church retained those beautiful symbols of the common Christian faith in her churches. Even in unliturgical Wuertemberg, there is no altar found without a crucifix, and the prelates wear a golden cross around their neck as part of their official attire.

Older even than this use of the cross and the crucifix (crux exemplata) is the practice of making the sign of the cross (crux usualis). Tertullian mentions it as an ancient custom. “Ad omnem progressum atque promotum, ad omnem aditum et exitum, ad vestitum et calceatum, ad lavacra, ad mensas, ad lumina, ad cubilia, ad sedilia, quaecunque nos conversatio exercet, frontem crucis signaculo terimus.” (On every step we take, coming in or going out, putting on our dress and shoes, washing, taking our meals, lighting the candles, lying or sitting down, whatever we have to do, we make the sign of the cross on our forehead.) In the service of the Mediaeval Church the most extended and extravagant use was made of the sign of the cross. The Lutheran Church, while condemning any superstitious abuse of this symbolic act, retained it in her service, in baptism, in the consecration of the elements at the Lord’s Supper, and at the benediction. Luther, in his Small Catechism, recommends the ancient use of the sign of the cross, in connection with the morning and evening prayer of the individual believer. As he carried the substance of those simple prayers over from pre-Reformation times, he saw no reason to abolish this feature in the form of their delivery. The German segnen is derived from the Latin signum, the sign of the cross.

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