CHRISTIAN SYMBOLISM is the use of symbols , including archetypes , acts, artwork or events, by Christianity . It invests objects or actions with an inner meaning expressing Christian ideas.
The symbolism of the early Church was characterized by being understood by initiates only, while after the legalization of Christianity in the 4th-century more recognizable symbols entered in use. Christianity has borrowed from the common stock of significant symbols known to most periods and to all regions of the world.
Christianity has not generally practiced Aniconism , or the avoidance or prohibition of types of images, even if the early Jewish Christians sects, as well as some modern denominations , preferred to some extent not to use figures in their symbols, by invoking the Decalogue\'s prohibition of idolatry .
* 1 Early Christian symbols
* 2 Other Christian symbols
* 3 Tomb paintings
* 4 Symbols of Christian Churches
* 4.1 Sacraments * 4.2 Icons
* 5 See also * 6 References * 7 External links
EARLY CHRISTIAN SYMBOLS
CROSS AND CRUCIFIX
The shape of the cross, as represented by the letter T , came to be
used as a "seal" or symbol of Early
Christianity by the 2nd century.
At the end of the 2nd century, it is mentioned in the Octavius of
Minucius Felix , rejecting the claim by detractors that Christians
worship the cross. The cross (crucifix, Greek stauros ) in this
period was represented by the letter T .
Clement of Alexandria in the
early 3rd century calls it τὸ κυριακὸν σημεῖον
("the Lord's sign") he repeats the idea, current as early as the
Epistle of Barnabas , that the number 318 (in
Greek numerals , ΤΙΗ)
in Genesis 14:14 was a foreshadowing (a "type") of the cross (T, an
upright with crossbar, standing for 300) and of
While early Christians used the T-shape to represent the cross in
writing and gesture, the use of the
Although the cross was used as a symbol by early Christians, the
crucifix , i.e. depictions of the crucifixion scene , were rare prior
to the 5th century; some engraved gems thought to be 2nd or 3rd
century have survived, but the subject does not appear in the art of
Catacombs of Rome . The purported discovery of the
True Cross by
Constantine's mother, Helena , and the development of Golgotha as a
site for pilgrimage led to a change of attitude. It was probably in
Palestine that the image developed, and many of the earliest
depictions are on the
In the early medieval period, the plain cross became depicted as the crux gemmata , covered with jewels, as many real early medieval processional crosses in goldsmith work were. The first depictions of crucifixion displaying suffering are believed to have arisen in Byzantine art , where the "S"-shaped slumped body type was developed. Early Western examples include the Gero Cross and the reverse of the Cross of Lothair , both from the end of the 10th century.
Marie-Madeleine Davy (1977) described in great detail Romanesque Symbolism as it developed in the Middle Ages in Western Europe.
Among the symbols employed by the early Christians, that of the fish
seems to have ranked first in importance. Its popularity among
Christians was due principally to the famous acrostic consisting of
the initial letters of five Greek words forming the word for fish
(Ichthus), which words briefly but clearly described the character of
ALPHA AND OMEGA Α Ω
The use since the earliest
Christianity of the first and the last
letters of the
Greek alphabet , alpha (α or Α) and omega (ω or Ω),
derives from the statement said by
The STAUROGRAM ⳨ (from the Greek σταυρός, i.e. cross), also
MONOGRAMMATIC CROSS or Tau-Rho symbol, is composed by a tau (Τ)
superimposed on a rho (Ρ). The
Ephrem the Syrian in the 4th-century explained these two united letters stating that the tau refers to the cross , and the rho refers to the Greek word "help" (Βoήθια ; proper spelling: Βoήθεια) which has the numerological value in Greek of 100 as the letter rho has. In such a way the symbol expresses the idea that the Cross saves. The two letters tau and rho can also be found separately as symbols on early Christian ossuaries .
The Monogrammatic Cross was later seen also as a variation of the Chi
Rho symbol, and it spread over Western
The CHI RHO is formed by superimposing the first two (capital)
letters chi and rho (ΧΡ) of the Greek word "ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ" =Christ
in such a way to produce the monogram . Widespread in ancient
Christianity, it was the symbol used by the Roman emperor Constantine
I as vexillum (named
The first two letters of the name of
An early form of the monogram of Christ, found in early Christian
ossuaries in Palestinia , was formed by superimposing the first
(capital) letters of the Greek words for
OTHER CHRISTIAN SYMBOLS
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
A 3rd-century painting of the Good Shepherd in the Catacomb of Callixtus . Main article: Good Shepherd
The image of the Good Shepherd, often with a sheep on his shoulders,
is the most common of the symbolic representations of
The dove as a Christian symbol is of very frequent occurrence in
ancient ecclesiastical art. According to Matthew 3:16, during the
However the more ancient explanation of the dove as a Christian
symbol refers to it as a symbol of
Two peacocks, symbolizing paradise and immortality, on a fragment from an eighth century ciborium from a church in Italy
Ancient Greeks believed that the flesh of peafowl did not decay after death, and so it became a symbol of immortality. This symbolism was adopted by early Christianity, and thus many early Christian paintings and mosaics show the peacock. The peacock is still used in the Easter season especially in the east. The "eyes" in the peacock's tail feathers symbolise the all-seeing God and - in some interpretations - the Church. A peacock drinking from a vase is used as a symbol of a Christian believer drinking from the waters of eternal life. The peacock can also symbolise the cosmos if one interprets its tail with its many "eyes" as the vault of heaven dotted by the sun, moon, and stars. By adoption of old Persian and Babylonian symbolism, in which the peacock was associated with Paradise and the Tree of Life, the bird is again associated with immortality. In Christian iconography the peacock is often depicted next to the Tree of Life.
A pelican vulning itself. Main article:
Christians adopted the anchor as a symbol of hope in future existence
because the anchor was regarded in ancient times as a symbol of
safety. For Christians,
A fragment of inscription discovered in the catacomb of St. Domitilla contains the anchor, and dates from the end of the 1st century. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries the anchor occurs frequently in the epitaphs of the catacombs. The most common form of anchor found in early Christian images was that in which one extremity terminates in a ring adjoining the cross-bar while the other ends in two curved branches or an arrowhead; There are, however, many deviations from this form. In general the anchor can symbolize hope, steadfastness, calm and composure.
St. Patrick depicted with shamrock in detail of stained glass window in St. Benin's Church, Wicklow, Ireland
Traditionally, the shamrock is said to have been used by Saint Patrick to illustrate the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity when Christianising Ireland in the 5th century.
Elemental symbols were widely used by the early Church . Water has
specific symbolic significance for Christians. Outside of baptism,
water may represent cleansing or purity. Fire, especially in the form
of a candle flame, represents both the
Holy Spirit and light. The
sources of these symbols derive from the
A lily crucifix is a rare symbol of
Anglican churches in England. It
* An alabaster example on a tomb in St Mary\'s Church, Nottingham .
* The Lady Chapel of St Helen 's,
Abingdon, Oxfordshire , has a wall
* Five examples are in glass as at
Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford
* At All Saints,
Great Glemham ,
Christians from the very beginning adorned their catacombs with
paintings of Christ, of the saints, of scenes from the
From the second half of the 1st century to the time of Constantine
the Great they buried their dead and celebrated their rites in these
underground chambers. The Christian tombs were ornamented with
indifferent or symbolic designs—palms, peacocks, with the chi-rho
monogram, with bas-reliefs of
Other Christian symbols include the dove (symbolic of the Holy Spirit), the sacrificial lamb (symbolic of Christ's sacrifice), the vine (symbolizing the necessary connectedness of the Christian with Christ) and many others. These all derive from the writings found in the New Testament. Other decorations that were common included garlands, ribands, stars landscapes, which had symbolic meanings, as well.
SYMBOLS OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
Some of the oldest symbols within the Christian Church are the sacraments , the number of which vary between denominations. Always included are Eucharist and baptism . The others which may or may not be included are ordination , unction , confirmation , penance and marriage . They are together commonly described as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace or, as in the Roman Catholic system, "outward signs and media of grace."
The rite is seen as a symbol of the spiritual change or event that
takes place. In the Eucharist, the bread and wine are symbolic of the
body and shed blood of
The rite of baptism is symbolic of the cleansing of the sinner by God, and, especially where baptism is by immersion, of the spiritual death and resurrection of the baptized person. Opinion differs as to the symbolic nature of the sacraments, with some Protestant denominations considering them entirely symbolic, and Roman Catholics , Orthodox, Lutherans, and some Reformed Christians believing that the outward rites truly do, by the power of God, act as media of grace.
The tomb paintings of the early Christians led to the development of
icons . An icon is an image, picture, or representation; it is
likeness that has symbolic meaning for an object by signifying or
representing it, or by analogy, as in semiotics . The use of icons,
however, was never without opposition. It was recorded that, "there is
no century between the fourth and the eighth in which there is not
some evidence of opposition to images even within the Church.
Nonetheless, popular favor for icons guaranteed their continued
existence, while no systematic apologia for or against icons, or
doctrinal authorization or condemnation of icons yet existed.
Though significant in the history of religious doctrine, the Byzantine controversy over images is not seen as of primary importance in Byzantine history. "Few historians still hold it to have been the greatest issue of the period..."
Byzantine Iconoclasm began when images were banned by Emperor Leo
III the Isaurian sometime between 726 and 730. Under his son
Constantine V , a council forbidding image veneration was held at
Today icons are used particularly among Eastern Orthodox , Oriental Orthodox , Assyrian and Eastern Catholic Churches .
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* ^ Jenner, Henry (2004) . Christian Symbolism. Kessinger
Publishing. p. xiv.
* ^ A B Herbert Thurston (1913). "Symbolism". In Herbermann,
Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
* ^ "The cross as a Christian symbol or 'seal' came into use at
least as early as the second century (see "Apost. Const." iii. 17;
Epistle of Barnabas, xi.-xii.; Justin, "Apologia," i. 55-60; "Dial.
cum Tryph." 85-97); and the marking of a cross upon the forehead and
the chest was regarded as a talisman against the powers of demons
(Tertullian, "De Corona," iii.; Cyprian, "Testimonies," xi. 21-22;
Lactantius, "Divinæ Institutiones," iv. 27, and elsewhere). The
Christian Fathers had to defend themselves, as early as the second
century, against the charge of being worshipers of the cross, as may
be learned from Tertullian, "Apologia," xii., xvii., and Minucius
Felix, "Octavius," xxix. Christians used to swear by the power of the
Jewish Encyclopaedia .
* ^ "Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for.1815 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 glided 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,1816 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." Cruces etiam nec
colimus, nec optamus. Vos plane qui ligneos deos consecratis, cruces
ligneas, ut deorum vestrorum partes, forsitan adoratis. (0332B) Nam et
signa ipsa et cantabra et vexilla castrorum, quid aliud quam inauratae
cruces sunt et ornatae? Tropaea vestra victricia, non tantum simplicis
crucis faciem, verum et affixi hominis imitantur. Signum sane crucis
naturaliter visimus in navi, quum velis tumentibus vehitur, quum
expansis palmulis labitur; et quum erigitur iugum, crucis signum est,
et quum homo, porrectis manibus, Deum pura mente veneratur. Ita signo
crucis aut ratio naturalis innititur, aut vestra religio formatur.
(Octavius of Minucius Felix, chapter 29)
* ^ A B Stromata, book VI, chapter XI
* ^ Apology., chapter xvi.