The Triumph of the Cross

Christ on CrossIn the earliest days of Christianity, believers did not display the cross as a sign of their faith. The cross was the Roman implement for executing its worst criminals. The earliest Christians were well aware that the cross was a symbol in tension: humiliation of the manner of Jesus’ death and the triumph over sin which Jesus’ dying accomplished. In addition there was, what seemed to non-believers, the contradiction that a crucified man could also be God. And so, the earliest generations of Christians generally avoided depicting the body of Christ on the cross. Ironically, the oldest representation of the crucified Christ has been identified as a graffiti found on a wall in Rome in the second century C.E. In this blasphemous caricature, a pagan artist carved an outline of a man with a donkey’s head hanging on a cross. Another figure is paying homage and the caption reads, “Alexamenos worships his God.” Along with some other factors, divisions within Christianity over the nature of Jesus, the symbol of the cross was rarely seen in public until the fourth century. Continue reading