Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Minor, Trivial Biblical Stuff, Part 11: Ancient Writers on the Cross

A Roman citizen of no obscure station, having ordered one of his slaves to be put to death, delivered him to his fellow-slaves to be led away, and in order that his punishment might be witnessed by all, directed them to drag him through the Forum and every other conspicuous part of the city as they whipped him, and that he should go ahead of the procession which the Romans were at that time conducting in honour of the god. The men ordered to lead the slave to his punishment, having stretched out both his arms and fastened them to a piece of wood which extended across his breast and shoulders as far as his wrists, followed him, tearing his naked body with whips.
-Dionysius of Halicarnassus (ca. 60 BC-after 7 BC), Roman Antiquities, VII, 69:1-2

I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with head down to the ground; some impale their private parts; others stretch out their arms on the gibbet (patibulum).
-Seneca the Younger (ca. 1 BC-AD 65), To Marcia on Consolation, 20.3

Such are his verbal offences against man; his offences in deed remain. Men weep, and bewail their lot, and curse Cadmus with many curses for introducing Tau (Τ) into the family of letters; they say it was his body that tyrants took for a model, his shape that they imitated, when they set up the erections on which men are crucified. Σταυρός (stauros) the vile engine is called, and it derives its vile name from him. Now, with all these crimes upon him, does he not deserve death, nay, many deaths? For my part I know none bad enough but that supplied by his own shape--that shape which he gave to the gibbet named σταυρός after him by men.
-Pseudo-Lucian (ca. 125-after 180), Trial in the Court of Vowels

Learn fully then, children of love, concerning all things, for Abraham, who first circumcised, did so looking forward in the spirit to Jesus, and had received the doctrines of three letters. For it says, "And Abraham circumcised from his household eighteen men and three hundred." What then was the knowledge that was given to him? Notice that he first mentions the eighteen, and after a pause the three hundred. The eighteen is Ι (=10) and Η (=8) - you have Jesus (ΙΗϹΟΥϹ) - and because the cross was destined to have grace in the Τ (=300) he says "and three hundred." So he indicates Jesus in the two letters and the cross in the other.


Anchor and Fish, Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome. 3rd c.
Similarly, again, he describes the cross in another Prophet, who says, "And when shall all these things be accomplished? saith the Lord. When the tree shall fall and rise, and when blood shall flow from the tree." Here again you have a reference to the cross, and to him who should he crucified. And he says again to Moses, when Israel was warred upon by strangers, and in order to remind those who were warred upon that they were delivered unto death by reason of their sins - the Spirit speaks to the heart of Moses to make a representation of the cross, and of him who should suffer, because, he says, unless they put their trust in him, they shall suffer war for ever. Moses therefore placed one shield upon another in the midst of the fight, and standing there raised above them all kept stretching out his hands, and so Israel again began to be victorious: then, whenever he let them drop they began to perish. Why? That they may know that they cannot be saved if they do not hope on him. And again he says in another Prophet, "I stretched out my hands the whole day to a disobedient people and one that refuses my righteous way."
-Epistle of Barnabas (late 1st-early 2nd century), 9:7-8; 12:1-4

Since he is a criminal, he will be crucified in his height and in the extension of his hands.
-Artemidorus (2nd century), Oneirocritica 1:76
 I extended my hands and hallowed my Lord,
For the expansion of my hands is His sign.
And my extension is the upright cross.
-Odes of Solomon (1st-3rd century), 27

That lamb which was commanded to be wholly roasted was a symbol of the suffering of the cross which Christ would undergo. For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb.


Crucifixion (Gaza), Paris, jasper. (Late 2nd-early 3rd c.)

"Listen, therefore," say I, "to what follows; for Moses first exhibited this seeming curse of Christ's by the signs which he made."
"Of what [signs] do you speak?" said he.
"When the people," replied I, "waged war with Amalek, and the son of Nave (Nun) by name Jesus (Joshua), led the fight, Moses himself prayed to God, stretching out both hands, and Hur with Aaron supported them during the whole day, so that they might not hang down when he got wearied. For if he gave up any part of this sign, which was an imitation of the cross, the people were beaten, as is recorded in the writings of Moses; but if he remained in this form, Amalek was proportionally defeated, and he who prevailed prevailed by the cross. For it was not because Moses so prayed that the people were stronger, but because, while one who bore the name of Jesus (Joshua) was in the forefront of the battle, he himself made the sign of the cross. For who of you knows not that the prayer of one who accompanies it with lamentation and tears, with the body prostrate, or with bended knees, propitiates God most of all? But in such a manner neither he nor any other one, while sitting on a stone, prayed. Nor even the stone symbolized Christ, as I have shown."
-St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 50; 90:4

Crucifixion, British Museum: carnelian. Mid 4th c.
 The sea is not traversed except that trophy which is called a sail abide safe in the ship … 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 (σταυρός).

But in no instance, not even in any of those called sons of Jupiter, did they imitate the being crucified; for it was not understood by them, all the things said of it having been put symbolically. And this, as the prophet foretold, is the greatest symbol of His power and role; as is also proved by the things which fall under our observation. For consider all the things in the world, whether without this form they could be administered or have any community. 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 “vexilla” [banners] and trophies, with which all your state possessions are made, using these as the insignia of your power and government, even though you do so unwittingly.
-St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 55

But that this point is true, that that number which is called five, which agrees in no respect with their argument, and does not harmonize with their system, nor is suitable for a typical manifestation of the things in the Pleroma, [yet has a wide prevalence,] will be proved as follows from the Scriptures. Soter (Savior) is a name of five letters; Pater (Father), too, contains five letters; Agape (love), too, consists of five letters; and our Lord, after blessing the five loaves, fed with them five thousand men. Five virgins were called wise by the Lord; and, in like manner, five were styled foolish. Again, five men are said to have been with the Lord when He obtained testimony from the Father—namely, Peter, and James, and John, and Moses, and Elias. The Lord also, as the fifth person, entered into the apartment of the dead maiden, and raised her up again; for, says [the Scripture], He suffered no man to go in, save Peter and James, and the father and mother of the maiden. The rich man in hell declared that he had five brothers, to whom he desired that one rising from the dead should go. The pool from which the Lord commanded the paralytic man to go into his house, had five porches. The very form of the cross, too, has five extremities, two in length, two in breadth, and one in the middle, on which [last] the person rests who is fixed by the nails.
-St. Irenaeus of Lugdunum (Lyons) (d. ca. 202), Adversus Haereses 2.24.4

The skins which were put upon his arms are the sins of both peoples, which Christ, when His hands were stretched forth on the cross, fastened to it along with Himself.
-Hippolytus of Rome (ca. 170-ca. 236), as quoted in St. Jerome's Epist. 36, Ad Damasum, 28

Crucifixion, Rome, Nott Collection: gem. 4th c.

Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses gilded and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it. We assuredly see the sign of a cross, naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars; and when the military yoke is lifted up, it is the sign of a cross; and when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched. Thus the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason, or your own religion is formed with respect to it.
-Marcus Minucius Felix (active ca. 150-270), Octavius 29

Ivory casket (ca. AD 420-430) from Rome (British Museum).
As to the actual images, I regard them as simply pieces of matter akin to the vessels and utensils in common use among us, or even undergoing in their consecration a hapless change from these useful articles at the hands of reckless art, which in the transforming process treats them with utter contempt, nay, in the very act commits sacrilege; so that it might be no slight solace to us in all our punishments, suffering as we do because of these same gods, that in their making they suffer as we do themselves. You put Christians on crosses (crucibus) and stakes (stipitibus): what image is not formed from the clay in the first instance, set on cross and stake? The body of your god is first consecrated on the gibbet...
-Tertullian (ca. 160-ca. 220), Apologia 12

Premising, therefore, and likewise subjoining the fact that Christ suffered, He foretold that His just ones should suffer equally with Him— both the apostles and all the faithful in succession; and He signed them with that very seal of which Ezekiel spoke: "The Lord said unto me, 'Go through the gate, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set the mark Tau upon the foreheads of the men.'" Now the Greek letter Tau and our own letter T is the very form of the cross, which He predicted would be the sign on our foreheads in the true Catholic Jerusalem, in which, according to the twenty-first Psalm, the brethren of Christ or children of God would ascribe glory to God the Father, in the person of Christ Himself addressing His Father; "I will declare Your name unto my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise to You." For that which had to come to pass in our day in His name, and by His Spirit, He rightly foretold would be of Him.
-Tertullian, Against Marcion, 3.22

Under the armour of prayer let us guard the standard of our commander, let us in prayer await the angel's trump. All the angels likewise pray, and every creature, beasts of the field and wild beasts pray and bend the knee, and as they leave the stable or the cave, look up to heaven with no vain utterance, stirring their breath after their own manner. Even the birds as they rise in the morning, wing their way up to heaven, and make an outstretched cross with their wings in place of hands, and utter something that seems a prayer. What more, then, is there to say on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord Himself prayed, to whom be honour and power for ever and ever.
-Tertullian, On Prayer, 29

As then in astronomy we have Abraham as an instance, so also in arithmetic we have the same Abraham. "For, hearing that Lot was taken captive, and having numbered his own servants, born in his house, 318 (ΤΙΗ)," he defeats a very great number of the enemy. They say, then, that the character representing 300 (Τ) is, as to shape, the type of the Lord's sign, and that the Iota (Ι) and the Eta (Η) indicate the Saviour's name; that it was indicated, accordingly, that Abraham's domestics were in salvation, who having fled to the Sign and the Name became lords of the captives, and of the very many unbelieving nations that followed them.
-Clement of Alexandria (ca.150-ca. 215), Stromata Book 6, 11


Mark of the Vineyard said...

Patrick, have you seen this: ?

Patrick said...

Thanks for the link Mark! Yes, I've seen that English translation of the Stowe Missal.

Also, I've been planning to post the Stowe Missal's commentary on the Celtic Mass, so stay tuned. :)