The Non-Christian Cross, Parsons
Chapter VI: ORIGIN OF THE CHRISTIAN CROSS.
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 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 crecd
was to some extent decided by him. For it was this Sun-God
worsbipper-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 Nicea, 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 of deprivation and banish
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 rccognised
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 Euscbius of Cesarea,
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 TOYTO 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 TOYTO
NIKA he himself, and his whole armv also, being struck with
amazement at this sight"
Though this marvellous cross, declared by Christian writers of
that century to have been the so-called Monogram of Christ ....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 is perhaps the one which occurs the most
frequently upon representations of the famous Labarum or
Military Standard of Constantine; but that the symbol ...the and.....
without the circle, and the ... and are also to be seen.
Now the Gauls led by Constantine specially venerated the Solar
Wheel. This had sometimes six and sometimes four spokes, or 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 wvas 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!
All that is really lilkely 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 havens 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."
But the author of D e Mortibus Persecutorem, a
work said to have been written during the reign of Constantine,
and attributed to Lactantius, refers to the alleged vision as
"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-
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."
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
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."
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 languange which was, well,
" Greek " to the Gaulish soldiers) was the so-called
Monogram of Christ or ...or... or.... 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 or... or.... or.... or (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 body-guard, 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.
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 him-self with the " salutary sign "
over his head and a dragon or serpent under his feet. 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."
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 Euscbius, 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. And this marvellous vision
is vouched for by St. Jerome, Socrates, Idatius, 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,
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 rccognised as the symbol of the
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 still
the favourite symbol of the Greek Church; while even in the other
two great divisions of Christendom its numerous variations, wbeel-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
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
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
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
(Use your back buuton to return to Stauros page)