The Cross: When and Why It Became the Church's Central Symbol - Robin Jensen

>> [Peter Holland] Well I don't need to tell you the title for today because there it is,

up there.

But I do want to say just a few words about Robin Jensen, who is Patrick O'Brien Professor

of Theology and a concurrent professor of art history.

She came to Notre Dame now three years ago from Vanderbilt where she was Luce Chancellor's

Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship.

I didn't so much read her CV as weigh it, because there are so many items on it.

There are not many among us who can count already seven monographs, three edited books

out, two more in press, two other books in press, an enormous number of chapters in collections

and articles and peer review journals.

She is an immensely distinguished historian of Christian art.

Her most recent monograph, "The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy," came out from Harvard

University Press last year, and it examines the way the central religious symbol appears

in visual art, in legends and poetry, hymns, liturgy, and devotional practices through

time and space.

Other books have titles like "Understanding Early Christian Art," published in the year

2000; "Living Water: Images, Symbols, and Settings of Early Christian Baptism," a book

coauthored on Christianity and Roman Africa.

She was a contributing editor for "Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art," which

came out from Yale University Press.

And she is a co-editor of the "Cambridge History of Late Antique Archaeology," and the recently

published "Routledge Companion to Early Christian Art."

You get a sense of the extent of her concerns.

I had to read recently, because I was on a panel making decisions about it, an application

for an extraordinary project that she is running on baptistries of the early Christian world,

a catalog and database, which is trying to list and identify and record all the baptistries

known from early Christian times across the world.

It is a quite amazing project, and I look forward to seeing the results of that research

in due course.

Today she turns back to the moment at which the cross became the symbol of the Church.

Please welcome Robin Jensen.

[applause] >> [Robin Jensen] Peter, I think you stole

my manuscript! [laughs] Alright.

The cross.

You know, it is so familiar to us from wall crucifixes in all of our classrooms to jewelry,

to steeple toppers, to, well, to this I hope very familiar image from our Basilica, the

Lady Chapel.

Perhaps we tend, I think, to take the cross for granted.

Assuming it's always been there, and not always very conscious of the fact that it depicts

Christ suffering a violent, humiliating, and excruciating death.

That would be an example.

Some Lenten seasons back I remember an advertisement, some kind of television ad that suggested

[audience request to speak louder] Is this better?


Some Lenten seasons back I remember seeing a television advertisement which suggested

that maybe we should be all wearing an electric chair around our necks.

It sort of made the point, I suppose, although it seemed a very strange idea to me at the

time, but it also pointed out to me that this image of graphic suffering may well be something

that many of us feel a little bit too blasé about.

But because it's such a ubiquitous part of our visual world and so central an image in

Christian art throughout the centuries, it might come as a surprise to many of you that

both the cross and the crucifix are missing from early Christian culture, art, and artifacts

until at least the late fourth century, and probably not very common until the sixth to

the eighth.

I myself was a little puzzled by this when I first discovered it many years ago, and

over the last decades I've learned that scholars have tried to explain this lack, this ostensibly

missing image in a variety of ways, some even suggesting that Christ's agonizing death was

not particularly central to Christian theology.

They would have liked the Good Shepherd and nice, happy Jesus.

But now I had at the time studied at least enough Church history and theology to know

that absolutely wasn't true.

The cross and Jesus's death on the cross is profoundly embedded in Christian teaching

from the very beginning, at least from the writings of the apostle Paul.

So this is a manuscript illumination.

It comes from the Middle Ages, but I love this because it actually shows Paul opening

up his bible and it's the opening P from the letter to the Philippians, and out jumps Jesus

from the cross.

But this is a quotation, a set of quotations from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, his

first letter, and you can just quickly scan this and it's all very familiar I'm sure to

you that this is Paul's writing about the cross and it is just one example.

His letters also to the Galatians is even more important for his developing a theology

around the cross, what it meant, and why Jesus was crucified.

And of course he's famous for saying "I will preach nothing except Christ crucified."

So we put to rest the idea that Christians didn't give much value to this story of Christ's

death on the cross.

They did.

But they also found that it was a bit difficult to explain, and they found that they had to

justify it, understand it, probe its mysteries, and that in doing so they ran up against some

opposition from Jews and from Roman polytheists in particular.

And that's another long story.

But what stepping away momentarily from the problem of the missing cross, one might ask

or you might wonder, if we didn't have a cross, what did we have instead?

And often this is what comes up.

Certainly other symbols were extremely prevalent, so we do have Christian symbols before the


We have them back at least to the beginning of the third century, and what's really common

is to see something like this: a fish on an anchor, which could look a lot like a cross,

and sometimes I remind my students, here we are at the school of the Holy Cross and we

find that kind of anchor symbol often in our visual world, obviously.

But there were other sorts of possible common symbols that might have been used, and there

are a number of quotations from early Christian fathers.

This one is sort of helpful.

This is Justin, who was a martyr at the end of the second century, and he says "the cross

is visible in a ship's mast, for the sea is not traversed except that trophy which is

called a sail abides safe in the ship.

The earth is not plowed without it.

Diggers and mechanics do not work except with tools that have this shape.

Even the human form differs from irrational animals in nothing else than that it reveals

the form of the cross."

So standing at prayer with your hands up in the air, in some sense you also become the

form of the cross.

And one can see in early Christian funerary plaques or tombstone plaques, often these

images like this plow or this ship.

And we might suggest that these are actually perhaps crypto- or crosses that are supposed

to be evident to us.

>> Still, saying all that, the cross may be referred to in these images, then we might

want to say well, why not the cross then?

What's wrong?

You know, if you can do a plow or a ship's mast and say that it's a cross, why not the


And I've pondered this question at length, and I have nothing better to say about that

except that perhaps it was so close yet to the imagination and the experience of people

at the time, that the actual cross or even more, a depiction of Christ's death on the

cross, would have been painfully graphic.

And so there was a way of stepping back from it and symbolizing it.

It's also possible that Christians under persecution were fearful about projecting it, although

I tend to sort of step back and I'll say more about that if we want.

But let me instead turn to the time and the reasons why the cross evidently first appeared.

Why did this change then come about?

And what did it look like when it first turned up?

It looked like this.

This, I think, and I know that not everybody will agree with my of my colleagues, but this

I would say is possibly our first surviving image of clearly the cross of Christ.

Not something that's a ship's mast or a scratch mark or a window pane or something else that

might have looked like a cross.

But here we have Jesus holding a cross, and this is about the mid-fourth century, as a

kind of scepter.

This is not a cross that would hold body for execution.

It's his scepter of power, and it has gems as you see running up it and so even more

so it's a kind of triumphant, glorious symbol.

He's standing here, he's actually standing with these two short guys who are his, the

holy apostles Peter and Paul on either side of him, and on the left hand side is Peter

being arrested and carried off, and on the right hand side is Jesus under arrest.

So there's some references here to the passion, but we're not going to see a crucifixion.

We don't see a crucifixion yet.

>> Now this is another example of the same composition, and it also was recently found

in Spain and it's a beautiful green glass paten which is etched with the same images

of Peter and Paul, this time with halos, Christ standing above them and holding this gemmed

cross, and passing a book, in this case not a scroll, to Peter.

This is a drawing of it, you may see it a little better in this image.

Now historians, my friends, historians, have long assumed that the first appearance of

the cross in Christian art was connected to the Emperor Constantine and his vision of

a cross emblazoned on the heavens.

This is a wonderful painting by Raphael, so we could talk about this for some length.

But it sort of gives you the, see up here in the upper register of this painting, here

it is, this is the thing he is supposed to see.

He's got a lovely medieval crown on, of course he wouldn't have anything like this, but it's

this vision of Constantine, the first Christian emperor around 312.

He had a vision of a cross, according to his biographers, emblazoned on the noonday sky

or in a dream.

And so depending on who you read, he was ordered to place a certain symbol on the shields and

the helmets and the standards of his army, of his troops, and take them into battle against

his enemy Maxentius and at Rome's Milvian bridge, a very famous battle, the turning

point for Christian history.

Constantine won this battle and we sort of credit his conversion to Christianity because

of God's patronage in this moment, giving Constantine this great victory over his enemy.

>> Now this is another sort of image of that, a wonderful tapestry coming out of the workshop

of Peter Paul Rubens, and kind of a funny reconstruction of it for some reenactors I

think someplace in France.

But anyway, we get a sense of this, but you know, if you look at this carefully, this

is what we call a Christogram.

It is a monogram for the title Christ, but the two first letters of that word christos,

the chi and the rho in Greek, and so it's actually not a cross, right?

It's another kind of figure.

So when I think about this idea that we can credit Constantine for the first cross, I

think that's a little too simplistic.

Constantine's symbol, or logo if you wanted to call it, is like a cross but it's not a


It's initially an imperial emblem of military conquest.

And it appears most of all on Roman coinage of Constantine and his sons, and it primarily

does show up on soldiers' helmets, on shields, on the standards they carried into battle

as you can see here.

But eventually this Christogram or chi rho does get associated to the cross in an interesting


It begins to appear on funerary objects.

So this is something we call a sarcophagus, you just saw one a few minutes ago.

It's a great marble coffin in which very wealthy Romans would bury their dead family members.

We don't know who occupied this.

What I can tell you is in the middle of the fourth century, whoever did had a pretty good

pile of money to spend on a funerary, on a nice coffin.

Now this is also an interesting object.

It's in the Vatican museum, and it's an interesting object in that it is also the first that I

know of of clear depictions of scenes from the Passion of Christ.

So on the far left you see Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross.

It doesn't look like a very substantial cross, but you know, there we are.

And to the next niche over we have a Roman soldier crowning Jesus, but not with a crown

of thorns but with a crown of oak.

So we're already saying something new about the story.

We're not absolutely literally depicting the story here.

Over on the right hand side you see a soldier presenting Jesus, and I can tell you you always

see Jesus in Roman art without a beard, so you can always know which one is Jesus, actually.

And he often has this long, curly hair.

But he's standing in front here of Pilate, and Pilate is turned away and there's a little

servant holding a jug so that he may wash his hands.

Now that's as far as we get.

What we would expect in the middle, what might seem not natural to us, would be a crucifix.

But instead of a crucifix we now have again this gemmed cross, and if you look carefully

you can see that it's got gems on it, surmounted by a wreath, a wreath of victory like the

one that Jesus is receiving here, and the Constantinian monogram in the center.

Two little birds are pecking at berries in this wreath, and there's a lovely ribbon tied

around it and two soldiers sitting at the base of it, who in ordinary Roman coinage

would actually be captive barbarians or somebody at the base of a Roman trophy.

Instead of that, we've transformed the whole image.

So we take Constantine's image of victory, we put it on a cross, replace two Roman soldiers,

perhaps this is the one who announced that surely this is the son of God, and we put

it in a Passion scene.

This is no longer a reference to the emperor.

It has now become a reference to Christ's victory over death, and this says to everybody

"victory" in the same way that any logo worth its salt is going to be translated past its

own particular meaning.

So let me give you a closeup on that one.

You can maybe see these gems a little better.

They're often, they're obscured here, there's many examples of this, actually.

>> Now let me offer some ideas about when I begin to see a real cross, not necessarily

one like this, starting to appear.

Certainly, some of the credit goes back to the Emperor Constantine, or rather to his

mother, Helena, who is said, and there's some dispute about this I should warn you but I

won't go into that, she is said to have discovered the cross at the site of Golgotha in Jerusalem

around the year 324 or 325.

This is often depicted in wonderful paintings, and this is actually a particularly good combination.

You can see the Emperor's here, the Emperor's mother ordering the digging up, and of course

she's finding three crosses, right?

And so one of the problems that will attend the legend is how is she to know which of

these three crosses is actually Jesus's cross?

You don't want to use the wrong cross, right?

So what we do is we find a person who's dead and we bring them to the site of the digging

and we try out each cross in order, and we find the one that resurrects the dead man!

So that's how we know which one is Jesus's cross.

It's also possible that one of them had the plaque, but unfortunately that got detached.

She found that too.

She also found some nails.

So she was actually given credit for finding this cross, and it's a wonderful story but

we probably don't have time to tell you the whole story.

But keep in mind that before her arrival on this scene, or her son's who actually, he

found the tomb, the place where Jesus was buried, and began to build the big monument

we now know as the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Before this time, before the early fourth century, very few Christian pilgrims ventured

to the Holy Land.

It wasn't a place of pilgrimage or a destination.

This was something that actually happened around this time.

And the combination of Constantine's discovery of the Holy Sepulcher and his mother's finding

the remains of Christ's holy cross prompted the faithful to travel to these places, to

visit where Jesus lived and died and was buried, resurrected, and ascended.

But it also, at the same time, fueled their desire to bring something home with them,

as we all do.

And so people began to clamor to obtain small slivers of the holy wood from the very cross

of crucifixion, so much so that by the 360s or the 380s the Bishop of Jerusalem is already

saying it's everywhere in the world.

And of course you know we have some of it here in our Basilica.

>> If you weren't a really special person, if you weren't a VIP pilgrim, you probably

had to be content with something secondary: a little bit of oil poured over the wood of

the cross and poured into a little ampule like this.

So if you were kind of a middle-class pilgrim you got to bring this home, and we have a

lot of examples of this.

And you can see what's wonderful on these is we actually have depictions of an empty

cross with a bust of Christ, still no crucifix, hovering over it and two thieves, the two

thieves - we do get to see them crucified, so we know that they can do this image.

This is a scene of the women coming to the empty tomb below, and the inscription says

something like "oil from the holy wood of the holy places of the Lord."

This is a different one, and here we have, I want you to keep this in mind, it's a leafy

cross with a bust of Christ overhead.

And these little figures here, here, and here are actually venerating the cross.

This is, we have one of these in the museum in fact, and these are later but these you

can see are openings for carrying away pieces of the cross.

And I want you to attend to how Christ is depicted: as clothed and fairly rigorously

presented, very alive.

And that is the way that we see the first image of crucifixion.

>> In contrast to almost all these familiar images to us, these early depictions of crucifixion

don't stress Jesus's suffering or his physical torment or his mental anguish.

Rather, they show him alive and alert and rather vigorous, often.

So here, let me give you, this is a wonderful ivory box.

It's in the British Museum, it's taken apart but it was a casket, either a reliquary casket

for a relic of the cross, possibly also maybe for the consecrated host.

Not certain what it was used for, but it has at least four existing panels.

This is Christ, again here is Pilate and here's Peter.

There's Peter's rooster, these are wonderful images.

They're really beautifully rendered and they're very small ivory panels, really about the

size of a 4x6 index card.

Here is the crucifixion scene, and you can see Pilate's plaque or legend here, Rex Iudaeus

is here, the Iud.

And Christ is here and he's physically, he's buff, you know?

He's really robust.

And this is actually the spear holder, but the spear is missing, he's putting the spear

into the side, this is Judas.

So you have this wonderful contrast of this robust, living Christ on the cross, his eyes

open, looking rather stoic I admit, and looking straight out at the viewer, with the hanging

Judas and the money is spilling out of his pouch here, and this tree bringing our eyes

right down into the scene.

So we're traveling through this and we are to make that contrast between these two bodies.

This is a beautiful early scene of the empty tomb and it looks a little bit like the tomb

that's actually even in the Holy Sepulcher and that's not accidental.

And down here is the doubting Thomas scene.

But this is a little closeup on that cross.

>> I will tell that - oh, here's another one for you just to consider.

Even into the sixth century we have a little bit of sadness perhaps on this face, but becomes

more and more typical to robe Christ in a purple robe called a collobium with two golden

stripes in contrast to the two thieves who are half naked, and looking alive as he witnesses,

he's aware of the scene.

So it will be not until the eighth or ninth century, quite late, before we start to see

Christ dying on the cross, and his eyes beginning to close.

And this is possibly our earliest example, and even yet it's still very unusual.

And so this is an icon, a panel painting from St. Catherine's monastery in Sinai.

What I love about this one is you actually very clearly see the stream of water and blood

coming from the side wound here.

Here's one of the thieves, they're getting names now.

We have the dice players at the base of the cross and so forth.

So we start to see the full composition of the crucifixion as we're most used to us.

But notice here, even yet Christ is still wearing a purple royal robe and is, even in

his death which is not according to the text of course.

It's also trying to insist that this is the Lord of lords.

>> Gradually, and this is already to the fourteenth century, we can start to see this in the eleventh

a little bit, much more in the thirteenth and fourteenth, we start to see what is so

much more familiar to us.

Christ's arms above his head making this sort of Y-shape, the sagging belly and body, the

turn here of the legs.

This is more familiar to our Western eyes, not so much to Eastern eyes, but yes to our

Western eyes this is what we begin to associate with the crucifix.

And instead of standing stoically by, watching her son die, we start to see Mary beginning

to sink, to swoon, to faint, and needing to be caught by her companions, her female companions.

There are signs of grief.

Sometimes you'll see angels flying above, weeping.

This is beginning to happen, but it doesn't happen until the middle of the Middle Ages,

the thirteenth, the High Middle Ages, the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

And it's associated, I believe, very clearly with the developing devotion to the cross

that begins with the Cistercians but particularly gets developed with St. Francis and his stigmata,

and then the Dominicans and then the others.

But the attention to Christ's suffering is something that we don't see in art and we

don't actually see much in text until the Middle Ages.

And this as I said doesn't happen even all at once, because even in the middle of all

of that, we're still seeing this.

We're still seeing, yes we have a bleeding Christ, he's got blood coming from his wounds,

and we have an eyes-open, very sturdy Christ on the cross, and the cross as you see is

not a wooden rugged cross.

It has stars on it, and it is, you know, this is the legend here, but it's really quite

decorative and beautiful.

And what happens is it also becomes part of the opening of the sacramentary, the first

words, "Igitur," you therefore, and becomes the T of "Te igitur."

This is also in the thirteenth century, so you see it's also still overlapping time in

which we have a beautiful Christ who's crowned quite alive, his eyes are open, he is wearing

a royal crown and a royal loincloth, if you want to call it that.

It's something called a perizoma and it actually has jewels on it.

So this was an altar cloth, possibly also used for processions.

>> So just a little bit more, we're getting close to being done.

I want to share with you something that I find really interesting, and I learned a lot

more about as I worked on my book.

That for the first millennium, what Christians tended to see as much as anything else were

two fascinating types of crosses that I think would give us new ways to consider the image.

The first are these golden gem-studded crosses that show up in mosaics, processional crosses,

and reliquaries as well as paintings and textiles from the fifth century onward.

It may be a reference to a jeweled and gemmed golden cross that was set up at the Holy Sepulcher

by one of the emperors, possibly Theodosius I at the end of the fourth century.

That's not certain.

It's gone, we don't know it.

But it's a very interesting thing that this starts to show up all over in church apses,

in mosaics, and it's absolutely gorgeous.

And I think it's also a reference to the sign of the Messiah at the second coming.

So this cross is emerging out of a starry night sky in, this is an apse of a church,

is also Transfiguration referenced, here are three lamps at the base of it, Peter, James,

and John as little sheep.

And here is Moses and Elijah.

So we have, oh and the hand of God coming out of the sky here.

So we have what is a kind of a sunset sky and yet almost as an oculist opening or a

window in the back of the church comes forward this beautiful gemmed cross with a bust of

Christ in the center, surrounded by pearls.

This is a gift, the Emperor Justin II to the people of Rome, or Pope John III, and you

can see here again it's a processional cross studded with gems.

And in the center is a relic of the holy cross.

So when I show this to my students sometimes they sort of seem aghast, "it's terrible,

they're putting gems on a cross!"

I'm going, what better place would you put your gems?

This is a perfect place for gems, right, if you have an extra gem or two!

Let's put them on the cross!

And this is actually a Coptic textile, so it gives you another way in which these gemmed

crosses were both real with real gems, and depicted in art, in mosaic, in paintings,

in textiles, all over.

>> The second thing that I want to share with you is what I call the Tree of Life type.

And this is a cross that has either blooming plants at its feet, this is an interesting

set of trees here or in fact a palm tree itself.

We see this pretty widely.

It's supposed to represent, I think, the idea that the cross of Christ is the new tree of

life parallel to the one in the garden of Eden.

If Christ is the new Adam, his cross is the new Tree of Life.

And it brings back life, restores life, it's verdant, it's leafy, it's life-giving, it's

not death-dealing.

It becomes filled with possibilities and promise and hope, and this is so evident to me in


Maybe many of you know this beautiful mosaic in Rome, it's at the church of San Clemente

and it's just absolutely gorgeous.

It does have a crucifix in the middle, but this crucifix is emerging up out of a leafy

acanthus plant, and all these beautiful scrolls around it and the hand of God holding down

a crown.

And at the very base of this cross are four rivers, from the rivers of Eden, and two deer

coming to drink at them.

And here's a little bit of a detail of that.

And there's a serpent, because the deer apparently also eat serpents and get them out of our

world, especially poisonous ones.

And the inscription that's around this is, "we will liken the church of Christ to this

vine which the law makes wither, but the cross makes verdant."

And this might be a last sort of text for you.

This is a snippet from Venantius Fortunatus's Pange Lingua, not Thomas Aquinas's, but this

is a little earlier.

And he wrote a long poem, I took two verses from it to show you how this leafy cross theme

is really part of the tradition.

"Cross so faithful, tree of all trees, glorious, having no peer, such a tree no forest brought

forth with such blossom, leaf, and bud.

Sweet the wood with which sweet nails its sweet burden undergoes.

Ah bend your branches, tree so lofty.

Lose your tightknit inner core, let that stiffness grow more supple which your native birth imposed,

that you may stretch for the limbs of heaven's king from gentle trunk."

So I put out to you the idea that we could see these images of the Tree of Life as a

counterpart of the tree of Eden, and see the tree cross as an alternative, maybe, at least

a parallel to or partner with our cross of suffering and death.

>> These types are as much a part of our long tradition, then, as the more familiar medieval


And I think we should regard them as equally important to our visual theology insofar as

they express the full range of meanings that the cross and crucifix can convey to us.

In closing, I want to mention the Feast of the Cross.

The commemoration of Helena's discovery as well, especially in the East, as a celebration

of the relic's return to Jerusalem after having been captured by the Persians at the beginning

of the seventh century.

That feast is pretty soon.

It's September 14.

I'm sure some of you know that.

What you might not know, and some of you in the room probably will, is how the Orthodox

celebrate September 14, the Feast of the Holy Cross, the Exaltation of the Cross.

One of the traditional rituals in this feast in the Orthodox community includes the priest

surrounding the cross with fragrant basil and carrying it in solemn procession throughout

the church.

At the end of the service, the faithful are invited to come forward to venerate the cross,

usually with a kiss, and then they receive a sprig of basil.

According to tradition, basil was found by Helena growing at the site of the cross's


Now I can personally attest, having attended this service once or twice, that it's a lovely

ritual and symbolizes, at least to me, the connection between the cross and the Tree

of Life, a sign of hope and renewal, and I happen to love the scent of basil.

I almost brought you some today, I have a giant mound of it in my garden!

It makes me both happy and hungry!

Thank you.

[applause] >> I've left you lots of time for questions.

>> [questioner] I'm Father Jim [inaudible], a Holy Cross priest, and I can't thank you


I read your book and I have to ask you all to buy the book.

It explains in detail what she has presented so beautifully with the same enthusiasm.

So thank you very much.

[applause] >> [Jensen] And I didn't pay you for that!

Thank you.

Other questions?

I'm happy to take them.


>> [questioner] I'm so moved by what Father just said and the image of that.

I'm broadening it in the sense of I'm thinking, well what you said until what millennium we

didn't see the cross?

>> [Jensen] We didn't see it - well the earliest Christian art we have, that we can recognize,

dates no earlier than about the year 200.

We don't have a cross until about 360.

We don't have a crucifix, and we only have two, from the fifth century, beginning about

405 to 412.

And then we don't have anything again until almost the sixth century.

>> [questioner] Then my question would be, what was the theology of that?

What would they say to Brock and Parker?

>> [Jensen] Ah, yes, it was Brock and Parker that I was referring to kind of obliquely.

>> [questioner] Right.

And then, I mean the subtitle there, "How Christianity traded love for this world from

crucifixion and empire."

I'm broadening it a bit and seeing what you think with all the research you've done, that

on some level, I mean, that speaks to us.

But early on it was speaking of resurrection.

It seems to me it was speaking of a more positive thing, not to take the cross away from us.

They make a whole case of a theology, and I'm wondering whether you think of that.

>> [Jensen] I would say this.

First of all, the theology is filled with the cross.

Whether we like it or not, it is there.

So to say that Christians didn't think much, didn't have much thought for the cross or

the crucifixion is completely belied by everything that we have written in all of the Church

fathers that exist.

Now why is the image not there is a different question.

I think that certainly we're discussing it, we're talking about.

Athanasius has a whole treatise on why Jesus died on the cross, in his De Incarnatione,

a whole section of that treatise.

It's not that we're not talking about it.

One, I think the image is not there, I'm not sure I know exactly why, except I think it

has to do with the difference between text and image.

You can talk about things, but you don't necessarily want to see them before your eyes.

You may even imagine them.

I mean, Martin Luther has a great line which he says at some point, when people are telling

him he can't have crucifixes in the church, and he says "I can't preach this without imagining


So if I can have it in my mind, why can't I have it before my eyes?"

So I think there's an interesting question about what makes image different here.

We have people saying well, the cross is everywhere in the world.

It's in ships' masts, it's in plows, it's in farmers' fields, it's in trees, it's everywhere.

So I think it is there, and I think what Brock and Parker want to say is, and I don't think

it works, is the cross comes in as people become violent or as empire happens.

And so that's why Constantine gets pinned with the cross.

Somehow he thought of it.

But that doesn't make any sense to me, given what I know about what we have and the texts

that we have.

So when I think, the reason it appears when it does has everything to do with the discovery

of the cross and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

I even have a theory, I can't prove it, I could never prove it, there could be no way

to prove it, that the first image of crucifixion might be actually in the apse at the basilica

that Constantine built in Jerusalem.

If it was anywhere, that would be the first place for it.

At the site of Golgotha.

I don't know if that answers your question or just makes it more complicated, but I'm

not content with sort of saying there wasn't any and then there was, but it's all to do

with empire.

>> [questioner] No, thank you.

I wasn't saying that the opposite was a happy Jesus.

That's not it.

>> [Jensen] Oh, well it's a resurrection.

Let me say just one thing.

I mean, I'm sorry.

We don't have any images of resurrection until the sixth century.

>> [questioner] Well this is kind of where I'm going at.

As an undergraduate I remember a teacher saying to me, and I'm not pitting Protestant against

Catholic, he said you Catholics have the corpus and we have the cross.

So there's kind of, I guess people are putting meaning and certainly I'm not suggesting that

it be taken out of meaning, but that meanings are very very different for me.

>> [Jensen] Oh absolutely.

And that common issue, question I get is why do Protestants have the cross and why do Catholics

have the corpus?

And Protestants will say, it's because we don't want him on the cross, we don't want

to leave him there.

But then once he's off the cross, why have the cross, you know?

The cross is still a reference to his death.

There isn't any way around that.

And the reason, and I'm not trying to be defensive, I hope I'm not trying to make an apology,

but I think if you are going to have the cross and what it's going to talk to about, Catholics

have it because they believe that this is the moment in which Jesus overcame death and


It isn't the last moment in his story, but it's the central moment.

But we do.

And this is what, and Protestants will say we took him off the cross, we buried him,

and he was resurrected, and you Catholics got stuck with him on the cross, you never

took him off! [audience laughter] And you know, we can think up all the goods on both

sides of that, right?

We can really think that both of these have a point.

I wouldn't want to say that either one is wrong.

>> [questioner] In the Gospel according to St. Luke in the passage describing the two

disciples on the road to Emmaus, it's often translated in the English translations where

Christ tells them in sequence, at least that's how it's translated, about his necessary suffering

and then he would enter into his glory, which is implicit, and again this is mainly in Protestant

English translations coming from orthodox [inaudible].

The focus is on the sequence in time, but the actual Greek grammar is parallel, they're

happening at the same time.

So in other words he is suffering entering into his glory.

So those very early depictions on the cross are actually of the glorified Christ who is

God who has voluntarily died.

And given his life, and he can resuscitate as well.

>> [Jensen] That's, okay, I'm going to summarize in case that wasn't heard by everybody.

So a very important theological point, that in the Gospel of Luke and especially in the

Gospel of John, when Jesus speaks of entering into his glory, he's not talking about the


He's talking about the crucifixion.

That's what he's turned his face towards, towards Jerusalem.

He's moving to, he says "now the time has come for me to enter into my glory."

It's really hard for us to think of that with our emphasis on the suffering and maybe even

the penitential atonement theories that we live with, or the substitutionary which is

even more, you know, God's angry and has to punish somebody, and that's not the way that

we could read the Gospel of John particularly and the Gospel of Luke.

So these early crucifixes absolutely are emphasizing the triumph, the victory that's on the cross,

not the suffering.

And that follows with early patristic atonement theory or theories of what crucifixion means

in which Jesus either has a combat with Satan and tricks him or beats him, so that he cannot

claim, so Jesus earns forgiveness and reconciliation for the people on the cross.

So it's much more of a victory in battle scene.

We've got to robe him, you know, we've got to put him up there with a crown on his head.

And it's really later that we get these other ways of thinking about it.

But this is the early one.

>> [questioner] The cross is not only a Tree of Life, it is also a stake driven through

Hades and destroys it.

>> [Jensen] Or Adam.

[laughs] You know, one thing that people don't know - this is a little trivia moment - is

that that skull you see at the base of the crucifix?

That's Adam's skull.

People don't often know this.

So if you go to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, maybe some of you've been there, and you go

up that scary little staircase that I worry about anybody with mobility problems trying

to make it, and you go to the site of the cross, Calvary.

But directly under that, if you were to skirt that stairway and go around and make a right

turn, what would you come to?

The chapel of Adam, okay?

So in the tradition, the place of the skull, Golgotha, is the place where Adam was buried.

And in the Middle Ages, and I'm going to give a shout-out to my colleague Gary Anderson

for this, he's done a wonderful translation of this and I used it, in the Middle Ages

there's this beautiful legend about the tree that is the cross, and it actually goes all

the way back to Adam's dying.

And he sends Eve and Seth back to the Garden of Eden.

Nobody knows what's going on.

I mean, other than Abel, nobody's died before, right?

So we don't know what's going on with Adam.

And he says to Eve, can you go get me some of that oil from the Tree of Life?

Maybe I need a little medicine.

So she and Seth set out and they get as far as the gates of Paradise and they're turned


But Gabriel hands a little spring over the wall and says here, take this back to Adam.

And they get there a little bit too late, Adam dies.

They plant this on his grave and of course it grows up to be the tree that becomes the


And lots of other things happen along the way with it, but that's kind of the beginning

and end of the story.

And that's why we have the cross.

I mean the cross is placed at the base of Adam's grave, tying together the story, beginning

and end.

One or two more maybe?

>> [questioner] So one of the interesting, or one of the things I found was fascinating

was the discussion of the Constantinian monogram, I forget the sort of technical name for it

- >> [Jensen] Christogram.

>> [questioner] Christogram, thank you.

And to me it seems very closely tied to sort of political events at the time, its rise

and fall seem sort of intimately connected with the political fortunes of the empire.

Correct me if I'm wrong on that.

But is there sort of other events within these transformations that sort of give historical

context to what the transformations are and sort of what images are used?

Does that make sense as a question?

>> [Jensen] I think so.

So you're asking for other ways that the Christogram was used?

>> [questioner] What I'm wondering is if, so the Christogram arises as connected to

the empire, and it goes away sort of as the empire also goes away.

Are there other historical, is there other historical context that gives light to some

of these other transformations you discussed?

>> [Jensen] You mean like another kind of cross?

>> [questioner] Yeah.


I know that's like a vast expanse - >> [Jensen] Well, there isn't any doubt, l

think I'm going to work around this sideways.

But there isn't any doubt, I think - first of all, we don't have a Christogram before


I mean, some people think there might be one, it seems to be a marginal note, if there is

it's really rare, it doesn't mean much.

So it does really give a lot of credence to the fact that something happened with Constantine,

that there really was something.

And it is a Christian symbol, because it is the two letters of Christos, of Christ.

So it isn't just a military or imperial symbol, it is a Christian symbol.

And he clearly thought that the Christian god was his patron in war.

I mean, this was a guy that helped him win a battle, and he believed.

And his biographer Eusebius says, if you ever put this on the shields of you soldiers, they're

gonna win.

And we should probably think about this with the football team, I mean really.

Right now!

Give them all the Christogram! [laughter] So it's both Christian and it's military and

it's imperial.

And it probably doesn't surprise us that that's the case.

And from that point on, the cross or some kind of Christian symbol usually appears on

the coinage of Roman emperors, Byzantine emperors, Justinian and others.

Usually helped by an angel or something.

Another good example, maybe what you're asking for.

Something completely out of the box and different.

I'm looking at the clock, I'll stop in about one minute, is the Christian angel.

Okay, so a lady with wings and a long white dress.

She's actually the goddess Victory, you understand, not unimportant on a football day.

So what seems to happen is that in Rome there was a big battle over the altar of Victory

in the Senate house, and it went back and forth and back and forth, and it's too tedious

and long a story to tell you, but eventually Theodosius II and Ambrose the Bishop of Milan

went head to head.

And finally I think the compromise agreement was, we will take out the altar but we'll

leave the statue.

And she becomes a Christian angel.

So why are, you know, up until then the angels weren't necessarily all women, they didn't

wear long white dresses and they didn't all have wings.

And that's why we get, so we just have a translation of this image type into something else, and

it's a really good idea.

I sort of like guardian angels who have some sense of victory.


Thank you for your attention.