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published: 3/17/04
updated: 8/14/14

Greek and Latin Symbols

Christian symbols

chi rho

Chi Rho

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.

Greek and Latin imagery in Christianity

Latin and Greek letters, words and abbreviations are often seen in Christian art. Though not exactly symbols, they are intended to convey a particular meaning significant for Christians.

Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, signifying that Jesus is "the beginning and the end," i.e., eternal. (Rev 1:8) (See more, #8 right)

The Chi Rho is a symbol made from the first two letters of "Christ" in Greek. It is said that before an important battle, the Emperor Constantine saw this symbol in the sky and heard the words "By this sign, conquer." (See more, #6 right)

Ecce homo means "Behold the man," which was said by Pilate before Christ's crucifixion.

Ecce agnus Dei is Latin for "Behold the Lamb of God." This phrase is used during Epiphany, which celebrates Christ's manifestation.

INRI is the Latin abbreviation for "Jesus Christ, King of the Jews," the sign placed above Jesus' head on the cross (John 19:19) Though the sign was intended to mock Jesus, Christians view the phrase as a confession of faith.

IXθYΣ or ICHTHUS is the Greek word for "fish" and an acrostic for "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior." (See more, #1 right)

IHC or IHS is the first three letters of the Greek word for "Jesus" (iota, eta, sigma).


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  1. Carolle E. Whittenmore, ed., Symbols of the Church.
  2. W.E. Post, Saints, Signs, and Symbols.
  3. George Wells Ferguson, Signs & Symbols in Christian Art.
  4. Frederick Rest, Our Christian Symbols.

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