Visual representations and signs - also known as symbols - are very important in the Christian religion. Christians may be called "people of the book" (meaning they are readers of the Bible) and "people of faith" (meaning they believe in unseen things). Still, imagery plays an important role in the Christian life. For instance, symbols incorporating colors, shapes, and numbers, can have significant importance in the right context.
While faith apart from the senses may be of primary importance in Christianity, believers recognize that God is also the creator of the human senses, including sight. Moreover, what is visible and physical can, under the right circumstances, be an aid to faith. For example, when Christians remember the cross of Jesus Christ, in accordance with biblical instruction (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11), they consume bread and wine (or similar elements) at the Lord's Supper.
Faith is thereby supported by a sensory experience.
Various Christian Crosses
The cross is one of the earliest and most widely used Christian symbol. In the most broad sense it symbolizes the religion of Christianity (and so appears at the top and left of this page). More specifically, it represents and memorializes Christ's death. A great variety of crosses has developed, some with specific symbolic meaning and others that have simply become culturally associated with certain groups.
|The simplest and most common Christian cross is the Latin cross. It may not have come into use until the 2nd or 3rd century. The empty cross, usually favored by Protestants, reminds Christians of the resurrection, while the crucifix, with the body of Jesus on it, favored by Catholic and Orthodox churches, is a reminder of Christ's sacrifice.|
|The Greek cross, with arms of equal length, is the most ancient cross.|
|The cross of Calvary or Graded Cross has three steps leading up to it, which can represent the hill of calvary or faith, hope, and love.|
|The Celtic cross is distinguished by the circle around the cross bar and intricate designs throughout.|
|The Russian Orthodox cross consists of three bars, the lowest bar low and slanted. The top bar represents the "INRI" sign placed over Jesus' head. The meaning of the slanted bar is not known for sure, but probably represents St. Andrew's cross (which looks like an X). St. Andrew is believed to have introduced Christianity to Russia. The crosses in the above right picture sit atop the domes of the Kremlin. Note that they have a slightly different lower bar.|
|The papal cross is the official symbol of the papacy, and may be used only by the Pope. The three bars of the cross most likely represent the three realms of the Pope's authority: the church, the world, and heaven.|
|The baptismal cross has eight points, symbolizing regeneration. It is formed by combining the Greek cross with the Greek letter chi (X), the first letter of "Christ" in Greek.|
|The budded cross is a common form of the cross. Its trefoils represent the Trinity.|
|The conqueror's or victor's cross is the Greek cross with the first and last letters of "Jesus" and "Christ" on top, and the Greek word for conqueror, nika, on the bottom. The lines over the top letters indicate that they are abbreviations.|
|The triumphant cross with orb represents Christ reign over the world. It is often shown atop Christ's scepter in Christian art.|
|An inverted cross is the cross of St. Peter, who, according to tradition, was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die the same way as Christ. As Catholics believe the pope to be a successor of St. Peter, the inverted cross is frequently used in connection with the papacy, such as on the papal throne and in papal tombs. It also symbolizes humility because of the story of Peter. The inverted cross has more recently been appropriated by Satanists as a symbol meant to oppose or invert Christianity.|
|1. Christian fish symbol, 2. Christian cross symbol. 3. Colors as symbols
in Christianity,4. Christian anchor symbol, 5. Numbers as symbols
in Christianity, 6. Chi Rho symbol, 7. Eye of God
symbol, 8. Alpha and Omega, 9. 6-point star, 10. 8-point star
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- Color illustrations on this page are the work of Walter E. Gast.
- Carolle E. Whittenmore, ed., Symbols of the Church.
- W.E. Post, Saints, Signs, and Symbols.
- George Wells Ferguson, Signs & Symbols in Christian Art.
- Frederick Rest, Our Christian Symbols.