In my previous post on the subject, we saw that a “cult” of the Cross was a natural development within Christian piety, and that such a cult properly focusses upon our Saviour who died for us upon the Cross. The Cross itself is incidental; it is a symbol or icon of the salvific event of Christ’s atoning death.
Keeping that in mind, although cults of crosses exist that demonstrate abuses and venerations verging on the idolatrous, what the Bible has to tell us about the Cult of the Cross is not the same thing as what it tells us about idolatry; in some circumstances, we are (possibly) to follow the teaching of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians re food sacrificed to idols — if veneration of a cross causes someone to think they are sinning, don’t venerate and don’t persuade to venerate.*
Yet if all we can see when we look at crucifices, such as the Bernini Crucifix in the Art Gallery of Ontario, is the excess of the Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, or some of the oddities abroad in modern Roman Catholicism, then we’re missing the point of what men like Bernini were doing, and we possibly ignore the Biblical witness.
So here is the Biblical witness:
Matthew gives an entire chapter of 66 verses to the Passion of our Lord; depending how you count, the half-chapter before it as well. Mark and Luke are similar. By my previous reckonings, John gives one and a half to two chapters to the Passion of the Lord’s Anointed. The Crucifixion — eternally linked with the Resurrection that followed — is the centrepiece of the Gospel, the most important Event in the History of the Cosmos. The Apostles, the Evangelists, give it much attention.
Quickly the Cross comes to symbolise (at least linguistically if not more) that Event (my translations):
1 Cor. 1:17-18: For Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the Gospel, not in wisdom of words (logos), so that the cross of Christ is not made void. For the teaching (logos) of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Gal. 6:14: May it not be unto me that I should boast unless in the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.
Eph. 2:16: he [Christ] might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross
Phil. 3:18: For many walk about concerning whom I spoke to you often, and I now speak even weeping, the enemeis of the cross of Christ.
Col. 2:14: . . . and he has taken it [the indictment] out of the way, having fastened it to the cross.
According to Strong’s, the epistles have eleven references to the word cross. The idea is simple: The word cross has become shorthand for Christ’s atoning death; it is, thus, a symbol of what Jesus has done for us, an image of that Event which has wrought for us our salvation.
If you find yourself boasting in the Cross today, know that you are not an idolater but, rather, in very good company.
*Could we educate as well, though? To replace “meat sacrificed to idols” to “booze”, isn’t it better to gently bring our legalistic brother to a point where he can accept that drinking is not a sin than to leave him in his weakness and avoid “the drink” in his presence? Also, a priest in a village in Cyprus is known to tell his parishioners to get rid of their icons if they are starting to worship them.