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Christian Symbols





A thorough investigation of this subject would require a volume,
therefore, as we can devote but a chapter to it, it must necessarily be
treated somewhat slightingly.

The first of the Christian Symbols which we shall notice is the CROSS.

Overwhelming historical facts show that the cross was used, as a
religious emblem, many centuries before the Christian era, by every
nation in the world. Bishop Colenso, speaking on this subject, says:--

"From the dawn of organized Paganism in the Eastern world, to
the final establishment of Christianity in the West, the cross
was undoubtedly one of the commonest and most sacred of
symbolical monuments. Apart from any distinctions of social or
intellectual superiority, of caste, color, nationality, or
location in either hemisphere, it appears to have been the
aboriginal possession of every people in antiquity.

"Diversified forms of the symbol are delineated more or less
artistically, according to the progress achieved in
civilization at the period, on the ruined walls of temples and
palaces, on natural rocks and sepulchral galleries, on the
hoariest monoliths and the rudest statuary; on coins, medals,
and vases of every description; and in not a few instances,
are preserved in the architectural proportions of subterranean
as well as superterranean structures of tumuli, as well as
fanes.

"Populations of essentially different culture, tastes, and
pursuits--the highly-civilized and the semi-civilized, the
settled and the nomadic--vied with each other in their
superstitious adoration of it, and in their efforts to
extend the knowledge of its exceptional import and virtue
amongst their latest posterities.

"Of the several varieties of the cross still in vogue, as
national and ecclesiastical emblems, and distinguished by the
familiar appellations of St. George, St. Andrew, the Maltese,
the Greek, the Latin, &c., &c., there is not one amongst
them, the existence of which may not be traced to the remotest
antiquity. They were the common property of the Eastern
nations.

"That each known variety has been derived from a common
source, and is emblematical of one and the same truth may be
inferred from the fact of forms identically the same, whether
simple or complex, cropping out in contrary directions, in the
Western as well as the Eastern hemisphere."[339:1]

The cross has been adored in India from time immemorial, and was a
symbol of mysterious significance in Brahmanical iconography. It was the
symbol of the Hindoo god Agni, the "Light of the World."[340:1]

In the Cave of Elephanta, over the head of the figure represented as
destroying the infants, whence the story of Herod and the infants of
Bethlehem (which was unknown to all the Jewish, Roman, and Grecian
historians) took its origin, may be seen the Mitre, the Crosier, and the
Cross.[340:2]

It is placed by Mueller in the hand of Siva, Brahma, Vishnu, Crishna,
Tvashtri and Jama. To it the worshipers of Vishnu attribute as many
virtues as does the devout Catholic to the Christian cross.[340:3] Fra
Paolino tells us it was used by the ancient kings of India as a
sceptre.[340:4]

Two of the principal pagodas of India--Benares and Mathura--were erected
in the forms of vast crosses.[340:5] The pagoda at Mathura was sacred to
the memory of the Virgin-born and crucified Saviour Crishna.[340:6]




The cross has been an object of profound veneration among the Buddhists
from the earliest times. One is the sacred Swastica (Fig. No. 21). It is
seen in the old Buddhist Zodiacs, and is one of the symbols in the Asoka
inscriptions. It is the sectarian mark of the Jains, and the distinctive
badge of the sect of Xaca Japonicus. The Vaishnavas of India have also
the same sacred sign.[340:7] And, according to Arthur Lillie,[340:8]
"the only Christian cross in the catacombs is this Buddhist Swastica."

The cross is adored by the followers of the Lama of Thibet.[340:9] Fig.
No. 22 is a representation of the most familiar form of Buddhist cross.
The close resemblance between the ancient religion of Thibet and that
of the Christians has been noticed by many European travellers and
missionaries, among whom may be mentioned Pere Grebillon, Pere Grueber,
Horace de la Paon, D'Orville, and M. L'Abbe Huc. The Buddhists, and
indeed all the sects of India, marked their followers on the head with
the sign of the cross.[341:1] This was undoubtedly practiced by almost
all heathen nations, as we have seen in the chapter on the Eucharist
that the initiates into the Heathen mysteries were marked in that
manner.

The ancient Egyptians adored the cross with the profoundest
veneration. This sacred symbol is to be found on many of their ancient
monuments, some of which may be seen at the present day in the British
Museum.[341:2] In the museum of the London University, a cross upon a
Calvary is to be seen upon the breast of one of the Egyptian
mummies.[341:3] Many of the Egyptian images hold a cross in their hand.
There is one now extant of the Egyptian Saviour Horus holding a cross in
his hand,[341:4] and he is represented as an infant sitting on his
mother's knee, with a cross on the back of the seat they occupy.[341:5]



The commonest of all the Egyptian crosses, the CRUX ANSATA (Fig. No. 23)
was adopted by the Christians. Thus, beside one of the Christian
inscriptions at Phile (a celebrated island lying in the midst of the
Nile) is seen both a Maltese cross and a crux ansata.[341:6] In a
painting covering the end of a church in the cemetery of El Khargeh, in
the Great Oasis, are three of these crosses round the principal subject,
which seems to have been a figure of a saint.[341:7] In an inscription
in a Christian church to the east of the Nile, in the desert, these
crosses are also to be seen. Beside, or in the hand of, the Egyptian
gods, this symbol is generally to be seen. When the Saviour Osiris is
represented holding out the crux ansata to a mortal, it signifies that
the person to whom he presents it has put off mortality, and entered on
the life to come.[341:8]

The Greek cross, and the cross of St. Anthony, are also found on
Egyptian monuments. A figure of a Shari (Fig. No. 24), from Sir Gardner
Wilkinson's book, has a necklace round his throat, from which depends a
pectoral cross. A third Egyptian cross is that represented in Fig. No.
25, which is apparently intended for a Latin cross rising out of a
heart, like the mediaeval emblem of "Cor in Cruce, Crux in Corde:" it
is the hieroglyph of goodness.[342:1]




It is related by the ecclesiastical historians Socrates and Sozomon,
that when the temple of Serapis, at Alexandria, in Egypt, was demolished
by one of the Christian emperors, beneath the foundation was discovered
a cross. The words of Socrates are as follows:

"In the temple of Serapis, now overthrown and rifled
throughout, there were found engraven in the stones certain
letters . . . resembling the form of the cross. The which when
both Christians and Ethnics beheld, every one applied to his
proper religion. The Christians affirmed that the cross was a
sign or token of the passion of Christ, and the proper
cognizance of their profession. The Ethnics avouched that
therein was contained something in common, belonging as well
to Serapis as to Christ."[342:2]

It should be remembered, in connection with this, that the Emperor
Hadrian saw no difference between the worshipers of Serapis and the
worshipers of Christ Jesus. In a letter to the Consul Servanus he says:

"There are there (in Egypt) Christians who worship
Serapis, and devoted to Serapis are those who call
themselves 'Bishops of Christ.'"[342:3]

The ancient Egyptians were in the habit of putting a cross on their
sacred cakes, just as the Christians of the present day do on Good
Friday.[342:4] The plan of the chamber of some Egyptian sepulchres has
the form of a cross,[342:5] and the cross was worn by Egyptian ladies as