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The cross and the crucifix

20 Sep 2018, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Doctrines

The bare cross is referred to as a cross, while the cross with an image of the crucified Jesus is a crucifix. I once got a beautiful crucifix for a non-Catholic friend, and he appreciated it but later removed the image of Jesus from it. Though I see some theological sense in one of his reasons for doing that, they amused me because they reflected the unnecessary arguments some non-Catholics sometimes engage with Catholics. They question our obedience to the word of God and jump to a hasty conclusion that we worship images. I avoided such arguments on many occasions; however, a little education was imperative to make my friend understand that there was no need for what he did. He insisted that he is no more on the cross, making the bare cross preferable because it reflects the resurrection reality. The crucifix for him keeps the mind fixed on the events of Good Friday, and not the reality of the victory the bare cross reflects. Beautiful! It makes sense, but still laughable. His second reason amused me, even though I’ve heard it over and over again. Having the image of Christ on the cross is idolatry, he says.

Two things are confused by those who claim that Catholics worship images: the making of images and image-worship. Which of these is God against? He is certainly not against the making of images because he himself commands Moses to make images of angels with gold (Ex. 25:18) and of a serpent (Numbers 21:8f). But that he is against the worship of images is incontestable; it is apparent in his reaction to the worship of the golden Calf Aaron made (Exodus 32). Even though God commanded Moses to make the bronze serpent, his anger was aroused when the people began to worship and offered sacrifices to the bronze serpent, which they named Nehushtan. This Divine anger is discernible from the Divine approval king Hezekiah got when he broke into pieces the bronze serpent (2Kings 18:3-4).

Just as the bronze serpent was preserved until the people began to worship and offer sacrifices to it, so also history has it that the original cross of Jesus Christ was discovered by Helen, the mother of the great Emperor Constantine. This cross, like the bronze serpent, may have been preserved for some time; but unlike it, there is no history of it been worshiped at any time by the Church. The veneration of the Cross in the Catholic Church is not worship of the cross. Worship is a thing of the spirit, the mind.  But the hour is coming and is now here when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:23-24.

Do not judge a book by its cover; it may be deeper than what you see. The Church’s veneration of the cross goes beyond the empirical to relate with the reality of the power of Christs’ victory on the cross. The power is not in the wood of the cross nor in the image; it is in Christ Jesus. However, both the cross and the crucifix are sacramentally transformed into a powerful religious article used in our worship. I know we mostly use the crucifix in the Catholic Church, while the non-Catholics use more of the bare cross. None of these reflects idolatry, but great icons of our faith.

  • Dominic mario Reply

    Thank you Fr for the enlightenment.