Christian Cyclopedia

About the Cyclopedia

Symbolism, Christian.

1. A cross* or crucifix* has been used from early NT times as a symbol (see Symbol, 2) of Christ's crucifixion or of Christianity.

2. Figures of Christ and the evangelists came to be used, often with identifying objects (e.g., the instrument of death: Christ with cross in hand; the evangelists, each with a copy of his gospel, and Matthew with a battle-ax, Mark with a club, Luke with a short-handled ax). The evangelist John is sometimes pictured with his gospel and with a chalice out of which a serpent is rising (in reference to the tradition that a priest of Diana gave him poisoned wine to drink, but John made the sign of the cross over the cup and the poison left in the form of a serpent).

Matthew is sometimes shown as a winged man (because he stressed the incarnation of Christ), or with a lion* (symbol of royalty), or with 3 purses or a money chest (in reference to his original calling; cf. Mt 10:3; Lk 5:27); Mark is sometimes assoc. with the winged man, sometimes with a lion (“the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” Mk 1:3), sometimes with an eagle (symbol of grace); Luke is sometimes assoc. with the lion or with a calf or ox (because he gives a full account of the sacrificial death of Christ); John is sometimes assoc. with a lion (because he speaks of the divine nature and kingly office of Christ) or eagle (because his gospel soars, as it were, on eagles' wings to the throne of heaven). Cf. Rv 4:7.

3. The 12 apostles are often similarly assoc. with identifying objects (e.g., Peter with 2 keys [for binding and loosing], Mt 16:19; Andrew with an X-shaped cross [on which he is said to have died], or with fish, or a boathook, or a fisherman's net [cf. Mk 1:16]; James with shells, or a pilgrim's staff, wallet, or hat [symbols of pilgrimage and missionary journeying], or a sword [cf. Acts 12:2]). Paul is sometimes assoc., e.g., with an open Bible bearing the Lat. words Spiritus gladius (“Sword of the Spirit”) and a cross-hilted sword behind the Bible, or with a shield (cf. Eph 6:16), or with a serpent and fire (cf. Acts 28:3–6), or a scourge (cf. Acts 16:23, 37; 2 Co 11:24).

4. Stephen is pictured with several stones lying at his feet (cf. Acts 7:59–60). Columba (see Celtic Church, 7) is pictured with a coracle (small boat with wicker frame covered by leather or hide; used by ancient Britons). Boniface* is pictured with a fallen oak at his feet (it is said that, when he was told at Geismar, Ger., that to touch the ancient oak sacred to Thor [god of thunder] meant instant death, he felled it with an ax) or with a Bible transfixed by a sword (it is said that at his martryrdom he held a Bible which was struck by the swords of those who killed him). Agnes* was called agna sanctissima (“most holy lamb”) and is pictured with a lamb. Lawrence* is pictured with a gridiron, said to have been the instrument of his death.

5. IHC uses the 1st 3 letters of the Gk. word for “Jesus” as an abbreviation (I = J; H = Gk. for E [capital eta]; C = Gk. for S [capital sigma]). IHS is not a proper reproduction of the Gk. but a mixture of Gk. and Eng.. Also not valid is the suggestion that the H is not an E and that the letters stand for the Ger. Jesus, Heiland, Seligmacher (“Jesus, Redeemer, Savior”), or for the Lat. In Hoc Signo (see Constantine I), or (as suggested by Bernardino* of Siena) for the Lat. Iesus, Hominum Salvator (“Jesus, Mankind's Savior”). In this symbol the “I” should, of course, not be changed to “J”; the Gk. had no “J.”

The Chi-Rho symbol uses the 1st 2 letters of the Gk. word for “Christ” as an abbreviation (X is the capital Gk. letter for Eng. “Ch” and is called Chi; P is the capital Gk. letter for Eng. “R,” is called Rho, and is sometimes pictured in the form of a shepherd's crook. The 2 letters are sometimes superimposed one on the other.

See also Alpha and Omega; Fish.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.

Content Reproduced with Permission

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