The Non Christian Cross, Parsons,Chapter III
THE EVIDENCE OF THE OTHER FATHERS.
"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." - The sign of the cross is presumably meant; and
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."
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."
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 (I 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 night-time 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 referecnces to
the stauros ;mixed up with various passaaes 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 eat 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 be 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
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."
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 be 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 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."
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 bands, remained in this form until evening,
For indeed the Lord remained upon the tree almost until evening."
Tertullian writes concerning the Christ "With the last enemy
Death did he fight, and through the trophy of the cross he
triumphed " ; and elsewhere tells us that "Cursed is
every one who hangeth on a tree " was a prediction of his
There is also in existence a long essay by Tertullian which
starts by discussing the efflcacy 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.
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."
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
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."
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 our religion is all cross..... You are ashamed, I suppose,
to worship unadorned and simple crosses."
In the Instructions of Commodianus we read "The first law
was in the tree, and so, too, was the second."
Cyprian contends that "By the sign of the cross, also,
Amalek was conquered by Moses."
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."
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."
Passing on to Origen, we find in one of his works the noteworthy
"It is possible to avoid it if we do what the Apostle saithi
'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 be 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."
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 recgarding 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 Fclix, 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."