Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Giles Fraser on the cross

I mentioned in a past post that I didn't like crosses/crucifixes much - today I saw an article by Giles Fraser that expressed my feelings better than I was able to. The whole thing is worth a read, but here's just part of it ...

Giles Fraser: The cross is a symbol of cruelty, not a club badge

How did an instrument of Roman torture end up becoming a club badge for pious Christians? The cross was supposed to inspire terror, and those crucified made into a public spectacle of Roman imperial power. Crucifixion sent a message: we, the Romans, are in control. Defy us and die a horrible death .......

A better symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. It is not the murder of Jesus that makes Christianity distinctive, but His rising from the dead, through which God demonstrates the limited power of Roman execution. Love is stronger than death and fear, for which the cross was propaganda. But an empty tomb does not lend itself to a piece of jewellery .......

For some, the cross is a symbol of human salvation and has nothing to do with politics. This is both theologically mistaken and politically naive. It is theologically mistaken because salvation comes about through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those theologies that think all the work of salvation is done on the cross where Jesus pays the price of human sin leave the resurrection stranded with no real work to do. And it is politically naive because the Gospel story makes it clear that Jesus was crucified as a threat to the authority of the empire.

So, no Cardinal O'Brien, I won't be wearing a little gold cross as a nice piece of jewellery or as a pledge of church allegiance. The cross is something dark and terrifying. Only by recognising this do we get to appreciate the measure of the victory that Christians celebrate today.


Blogger Dina said...

This reminds me of two things I heard decades ago but that were strong enough to stick in my memory:

A lecture about the beginning of Christianity being a violent act.

A question from an American pastor friend: If Jesus had been condemned in our day and age, would Christians go around wearing electric chair jewelry?

11:12 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Dina,

Yeah, I'm an Easter person, not a Good Friday person :) I guess to love the cross, you have to love atonement theory - but I think atonement theory is a bunch of hooey.

And it is kind of disturbing how the church and the Roman empire morphed together.

1:15 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

By His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus transformed the meaning of the cross. Yes, the cross was an instrument of torture and terror in the 1st century Roman empire. But since Jesus is fully human and fully divine, the Son of God, He could never have been crucified unless He had willingly consented to die in this way. If He had chosen, Jesus could certainly have stopped the soldiers from crucifying Him, even sending down fire from the sky to vaporize them if He chose. He chose to die out of love for each one of us, knowing that His death would lead to His resurrection.

The cross is not a sign of human salvation. Humans cannot save themselves. The cross is a sign of God's salvation freely given to us when Jesus opened His arms and allowed the Romans to nail Him to the cross.

Love is indeed stronger than death. The cross *without* the resurrection is indeed something dark and terrifying. But Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection are one integral event. Without the cross, there could be no resurrection.

8:34 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the comment.

I can't help thinking that Jesus would have been resurrected no matter how he died. I'm not sure his death by violence death was necessary for our redemption. But I'm just speculating - I don't really know.

9:14 PM  
Blogger Dina said...

I got in trouble with the nuns once when I speculated on the possibility of a "suicide wish" leading to the crucifixion.
It was just a passing thought but led to a loud outburst.

10:49 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I guess most people are very sensitive about these issues? In Catholicism, and maybe in Protestant denominations too, if the faithful wander too far off the beaten path, you might be told you don't belong anymore. I keep trying to figure everything out - probably a bad sign :)

12:44 AM  
Anonymous Craig P. said...


I'm not sure why people have any sort of hang up with the cross (or crucifix) at all. It is a symbol of just how much he loves us. That is the proper context of the cross.

As Christians, we're ALL Easter people, but remember there would be no Easter without Good Friday.

4:56 AM  
Blogger RaeMarie said...

Lord we praise you and we bless you for by your holy cross and resurrection you have redeemed the world.

6:49 AM  

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