(stauros, "a cross," "the crucifixion"; skolops, "a stake," "a pole"):
The name is not found in the Old Testament. It is derived from the Latin word crux. In the Greek language it is stauros, but sometimes we find the word skolops used as its Greek equivalent. The historical writers, who transferred the events of Roman history into the Greek language, make use of these two words. No word in human language has become more universally known than this word, and that because all of the history of the world since the death of Christ has been measured by the distance which separates events from it. The symbol and principal content of the Christian religion and of Christian civilization is found in this one word.
1. Forms of the Cross:
The cross occurs in at least four different forms:
(1) the form usually seen in pictures, the crux immissa, in which the upright beam projected above the shorter crosspiece; this is most likely the type of cross on which the Saviour died, as may be inferred from the inscription which was nailed above His head;
(2) the crux commissa, or Anthony's cross, which has the shape of the letter T;
(3) the Greek cross of later date, in which the pieces are equally long;
(4) the crux decussata, or Andrew's cross, which has the shape of the letter X.
2. Discovery of the True Cross:
The early church historians Socrates (1, 17), Sozomen (2, 1), Rufinus (1, 7) and Theodoret (1, 18) all make mention of this tradition. The most significant thing is that Eusebius (Vit. Const., iii.26-28), who carries more weight than they all together, wholly omits it.
According to it, Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, in 325 AD, when she was 79 years old, discovered the true cross of Jesus by an excavation she caused to be made on the traditional spot of His grave. With the cross of the Saviour were found the two crosses of the malefactors who were crucified with Him. A miracle of healing, wrought by touching the true cross, revealed its identity. Whenfound it was intact, even the holy nails of the crucifixion being discovered. The main part of the cross was deposited by Helena in a church erected over the spot. Of the remainder, a portion was inserted into the head of the statue of Constantine, and the balance was placed in a new church, specially erected for it at Rome and named after it Santa Croce. Small fragments of the wood of the true cross were sold, encrusted with gold and jewels, and since many among the wealthy believers were desirous of possessing such priceless relics, the miracle of the "multiplication of the cross" was devised, so that the relic suffered no diminution "et quasi intacta maneret" (Paulinus epistle 11 ad Sev). Fragments of the true cross are thus to be found in many Roman Catholic churches of many countries, all over Christendom. It is said that the East celebrated the staurosimos hemera (Crucifixion Day) on September 14, since the 4th century. The evidence for this fact is late and untrustworthy. It is certain that the West celebrated the Invention of the Cross, on May 3, since the time of Gregory the Great in the 6th century. The finding and publication of the apocryphal "Doctrina Addaei" has made it evident that the entire legend of the discovery of the cross by Helena is but a version of the old Edessa legend, which tells of an identical discovery of the cross, under the very same circumstances, by the wife of the emperor Claudius, who had been converted to Christianity by the preaching of Peter.
3. Symbolical Uses of the Cross:
The sign of the cross was well known in the symbolics of various ancient nations. Among the Egyptians it is said to have been the symbol of divinity and eternal life, and to have been found in the temple of Serapis. It is known either in the form of the Greek cross or in the form of the letter "T". The Spaniards found it to be well known, as a symbol, by the Mexicans and Peruvians, perhaps signifying the four elements, or the four seasons, or the four points of the compass.
The suffering implied in crucifixion naturally made the cross a symbol of pain, distress and burden-bearing. Thus Jesus used it Himself (Matthew 10:38; 16:24). In Paulinic literature the cross stands for the preaching of the doctrine of the Atonement (1 Corinthians 1:18; Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:18; Colossians 1:20). It expresses the bond of unity between the Jew and the Gentile (Ephesians 2:16), and between the believer and Christ, and also symbolizes sanctification (Galatians 5:24). The cross is the center and circumference of the preaching of the apostles and of the life of the New Testament church.
As an instrument of death the cross was detested by the Jews. "Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree" (Galatians 3:13; compare Deuteronomy 21:23), hence, it became a stumbling-block to them, for how could one accursed of God be their Messiah? Nor was the cross differently considered by the Romans. "Let the very name of the cross be far away not only from the body of a Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears" (Cicero Pro Rabirio 5). The earliest mode of crucifixion seems to have been by impalation, the transfixion of the body lengthwise and crosswise by sharpened stakes, a mode of death-punishment still well known among the Mongol race. The usual mode of crucifixion was familiar to the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, Persians and Babylonians (Thuc. 1, 110; Herod. iii.125, 159). Alexander the Great executed two thousand Tyrian captives in this way, after the fall of the city. The Jews received this form of punishment from the Syrians and Romans (Ant., XII, v, 4; XX, vi, 2; BJ, I, iv, 6). The Roman citizen was exempt from this form of death, it being considered the death of a slave (Cicero In Verrem i. 5, 66; Quint. viii.4). The punishment was meted out for such crimes as treason, desertion in the face of the enemy, robbery, piracy, assassination, sedition, etc. It continued in vogue in the Roman empire till the day of Constantine, when it was abolished as an insult to Christianity. Among the Romans crucifixion was preceded by scourging, undoubtedly to hasten impending death. The victim then bore his own cross, or at least the upright beam, to the place of execution. This in itself proves that the structure was less ponderous than is commonly supposed. When he was tied to the cross nothing further was done and he was left to die from starvation. If he was nailed to the cross, at least in Judea, a stupefying drink was given him to deaden the agony. The number of nails used seems to have been indeterminate. A tablet, on which the feet rested or on which the body was partly supported, seems to have been a part of the cross to keep the wounds from tearing through the transfixed members (Iren., Adv. haer., ii.42). The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, especially in hot climates. Severe local inflammation, coupled with an insignificant bleeding of the jagged wounds, produced traumatic fever, which was aggravated the exposure to the heat of the sun, the strained of the body and insufferable thirst. The swelled about the rough nails and the torn lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. Tetanus not rarely supervened and the rigors of the attending convulsions would tear at the wounds and add to the burden of pain, till at last the bodily forces were exhausted and the victim sank to unconsciousness and death. The sufferings were so frightful that "even among the raging passions of war pity was sometimes excited" (BJ, V, xi, 1). The length of this agony was wholly determined by the constitution of the victim, but death rarely ensued before thirty-six hours had elapsed. Instances are on record of victims of the cross who survived their terrible injuries when taken down from the cross after many hours of suspension (Josephus, Vita, 75). Death was sometimes hastened by breaking the legs of the victims and by a hard blow delivered under the armpit before crucifixion. Crura fracta was a well-known Roman term (Cicero Phil. xiii.12). The sudden death of Christ evidently was a matter of astonishment (Mark 15:44). The peculiar symptoms mentioned by John (19:34) would seem to point to a rupture of the heart, of which the Saviour died, independent of the cross itself, or perhaps hastened by its agony.
See BLOOD AND WATER.
Henry E. Dosker
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