We do not mean a fringe religious group or behaviour or brainwashing or heterodox community of persons. That is an entirely different definition of cult although both come from the Latin word cultus.
For our purposes, we will consider the cult to be the devotional aspects of something, including feasts, liturgies, meditations, art, poetry, relics, legends, and other spiritual practices. When we discuss the “Cult of the Saints”, for example, we do not mean simply the lives of the Saints or the doctrine of the Communion of Saints that there is a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us and worshipping at the foot of the Sapphire Throne in the Heavens. The Cult of the Saints includes hagiography, prayers about and to saints, relics, art, liturgies, feasts, and so on and so forth.
The Cult of the Cross, especially, does not include what we call “theology.” This is not because theology has nothing to say about the Cross; indeed, a large portion of the reasoned discussion of God’s Revelation to us and action in History is devoted to the Cross. Furthermore, there is a lot interplay between the Theology of the Cross and the Cult of the Cross. When each is operating as it should, they have blessed and beneficial interactions. And the devotional masters, many of whom have contributed to the Cult of the Cross, are not divorced from the theologians’ task. Many of them have been theologians. The great liturgists, pray-ers, preachers, and ascetics of the Patristic world were also its great theologians.*
However, the Theology of the Cross is the application of the human mind with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the salvific action of God the Son on the Cross at Golgotha. Normally, it expressly does not take the actual, True Cross and make it the focus of the discourse. The Cult of the Cross does, the focus always being a symbolic focus, always pointing to the God-Man upon the Cross.
Often the Cult of the Cross actually manifests itself as the Cult of the Crucifixion or the Cult of the Crucified. Here Theology and Cult will more frequently intersect.
If you think I’m way off base in terms of what cult is, let me know.
*This fact should give us pause when we consider modern academic theology.