With the possible exception of the cross, the face and figure of Jesus is the central symbol of Christianity. This, despite the fact that no one knows what Jesus looked like. Indeed, I would argue that it is precisely because artists, writers, theologians and ordinary believers are free to imagine Christ in ways that are consistent with their own experience that the image of Jesus works so well as a focal point in the life of faith. Further, the vast range and variety of such images attests to the diversity of the Christian family and to the vitality of this faith across many different time periods and cultures. I believe that approaching Christianity from the point of view of its symbolism yields a far deeper appreciation of what this faith means than studying the official doctrines or teachings of any church.
Would See Jesus
From the time of Christ forward until this very day,
people of great faith, and even many with none, have harbored an intense curiosity
about Jesus of Nazareth. Many have wondered what we can know about him, even what
he looked like. So what, in fact, can we know about the man many understand to
be the Son of God?
The Most Popular Picture of Jesus
Warner Sallman's "Head of Christ" is the most popular image of Jesus ever made. It is an icon of American culture. It also raises a host of questions about Christianity, the historical Jesus, and the faith of those who identify with this painting.
A Picture of Jesus
Pierre Tielhard de Chardin's mystical vision of the face and figure of Jesus. One of the best descriptions of how contemplation of Jesus can deepen the life of faith.
Other Sources of Symbolism in Christianity
has been an important Christian symbol, not only because of the fact that Jesus
included several fishermen in his close circle, but also because The initial letters
of each word in the Greek phrase "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior"
form the word ICHTHUS, which means "fish."
The Ankh Cross
The Ankh Cross is an ancient Egyptian symbol
for life, combining the feminine circle and masculine staff to form the whole.
It was adapted by early Christians because of its resemblance to the cross.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.