Symbols 2


I RECENTLY COMPLETED this 16” x 20” Acrylic from a reference photo by Peter Dranitsin.

The Moose is often a Symbol of independence, self-esteem and wisdom.  I thought it a good choice for today’s Thought— ‘Symbols’.



WE’RE SURROUNDED by so many ‘Symbols’ I think we often ‘stop seeing them’ whether or not our brain translates what the Symbol represents: Target, Wall-Mart, Apple, Nike, Aflac.  Advertising firms are paid good money to develop these ‘Symbols’ (logos). Symbols are a mark or character used as a representation of an object, function, or process. Over time Symbols may lose meaning or even take on unintended meanings.

APRIL 4, we celebrated Easter Sunday.  A common Symbol for this celebration (and throughout the year) is the Crucifix.  Ever wonder when we started using this Symbol for Christianity?  Did Jesus teach this? Did New Testament writers?  No, on both counts.  Kenneth Clark in his book and television series Civilization offers an answer:

Kenneth Clark

“WE HAVE GROWN so used to the idea that the Crucifixion is the supreme symbol of Christianity that it is a shock to realize how late in the history of Christian art its power is recognized.  In the first art of Christianity, it hardly appears; and the earliest example, on the doors of Santa Sabina (built A.D. 430) in Rome, its stuck away in a corner almost out of sight. The simple fact is that the early church needed converts, and from this point of view the Crucifixion was not an encouraging subject. So early Christian art is concerned with miracles, healings, and with hopeful aspects of the faith like Ascension and Resurrection.”[1] 

In contrast to Kenneth Clark’s suggestion (why the early church was not keen on the Crucifix as the Christian symbol) listen to Tertullian 200 years earlier as he writes to his provincial governors under the Roman Empire

Tertullian’s Apology

“PROCEEDE IN YOUR career of cruelty, but do not suppose that you will thus accomplish your purpose of extinguishing the hated sect [the Christians].  We are like the grass, which grown the more luxuriantly, the oftener it is mown.  The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity.  Your philosophers taught men to despise pain and death by words; but how few their converts compared with those of the Christians, who teach by example! The very obstinacy for which you upbraid us is the great propagator of our doctrines.  For who can behold it, and not inquire into the nature of the faith which insures such supernatural courage?  Who can inquire into that faith and not embrace it, and not desire himself to undergo the same suffering in order that he may thus secure a participation in the fullness of divine favor?” –Tertullian’s (A.D. 160-230) In the conclusion to his Apology he seems to see the Christian Symbol as the Life example of the early believers.[2]


HAVING GIVEN thought to both Clark and Tertulian’s words, I have an observation:  Kenneth Clark’s suggestion as to why the early church was not keen on the Crucifix for the Christian symbol may be spot on. It seems to assume Jesus’ human death—crucifixion—was the central focus of his ‘good news’ message. It seems to me Jesus’ message was ‘Life’ in his kingdom now and for eternity. Yes, Jesus did die for us and demonstrated the end of death’s control over our living. By following him we experience a new kind of “Eternal Life”.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. [3]With this in mind, it seems best to at least use the empty Cross Symbol. But, is there a better possibility?


ACCORDING TO TERTULLIAN’S comments, the best Symbol of what Christianity is all about is the ‘Life’ of the individual follower of Jesus.  One such Symbol is the Ankh symbol—sometimes referred to as the key of Life or the key of the Nile—representative of eternal life in Ancient Egypt. Created by Africans long ago, the Ankh is said to be the first–or original–Cross. It is sometimes used by Coptic Christians along with the Coptic Cross. Physical inanimate Symbols may be helpful reminders, but whether it is the Crucifix, Cross or Ankh we must remember:

 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; Exodus 20:4

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

Ephesians 5:8

[1] Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard, p.34

[2] Ibid p. 35

[3] John 10:10 The Message

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