For many Christians, this is the symbol of Christianity
The cross is one of the earliest and
most widely used Christian symbols. It represents Christianity in general and
the crucifixion in particular. A great variety of crosses has evolved, with leading
examples illustrated here. With the possible exception of the face and figure of Jesus, the cross is the preeminent symbol of Christianity.
The simplest and most common cross
is the Latin cross, pictured here. It came into use during the
the 2nd or 3rd centuries. The empty cross, favored by Protestants, reminds Christians
of the resurrection, while the crucifix, with the body of Jesus on it is favored
by Catholic and Orthodox Christians and calls to mind the sacrifice of Christ.
Greek cross, with arms of equal length, is perhaps the most ancient
variety. It is also referred to as the cross of St. Andrew, the disciple who was
crucified on a cross of this shape.
The cross of Calvary or Graded
Cross has three steps leading up to it, which can represent the hill of calvary
or faith, hope, and love.
The Russian Orthodox cross
consists of three bars, the lowest bar low is slanted. The top bar represents
the "INRI" sign placed over Jesus' head. The meaning of the slanted bar is not
known for sure, but probably represents St. Andrew's cross (also pictured above).
St. Andrew is believed to have introduced Christianity to Russia.
The papal cross is the official
symbol of the papacy, and may be used only by the Pope. The three bars of the
cross most likely represent the three realms of the Pope's authority: the church,
the world, and heaven.
The baptismal cross has eight
points, symbolizing regeneration. It is formed by combining the Greek cross with
the Greek letter chi (X), the first letter of "Christ" in Greek.
The budded cross is a common
form of the cross. Its trefoils represent the Trinity.
The conqueror's or victor's
cross is the Greek cross with the first and last letters of "Jesus" and
"Christ" on top, and the Greek word for conqueror, nika, on the bottom.
The lines over the top letters indicate that they are abbreviations.
The triumphant cross with orb
represents Christ reign over the world. It is often shown atop Christ's scepter
in Christian art.
An inverted cross is the cross of St. Peter,
who, according to tradition, was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy
to die the same way as Christ. As Catholics believe the pope to be a successor
of St. Peter, the inverted cross is frequently used in connection with the papacy,
such as on the papal throne and in papal tombs. It also symbolizes humility because
of the story of Peter.
Some of the images on this page are the work of Walter E. Gast and are used with permission. For further information about copyright permissions please visit the Christian Symbols Home Page: http://www.planetgast.net/symbols/
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.