THE universal prevalence of the cross as an ornament and symbol during the last eighteen centuries in the Christian church has led to some great, if not grave, mistakes. It has been supposed, and for various obvious reasons very naturally so, to be of exclusively Christian origin, and to represent materially no more than the instrument by which the founder of that religion was put to death; and, spiritually or symbolically, faith in the sacrificial atoning work he then completed. There are not a few people about who, having become imbued with this idea, rush to the hasty conclusion that wherever the cross is found, and upon whatever monuments, it indicates a connection with Christianity, and is therefore of comparatively modern origin. History, in consequence, becomes a strange and unfathomable mystery, especially when it belongs to kingdoms of well-known great antiquity, amongst whose symbols or ornaments the cross is plentiful, and the mind finds itself involved in a confusion from which it cannot readily extricate itself. Never was there a greater blunder perpetrated, or a more ignorant one, than the notion of the figure of the cross owing its origin to the instrument of Christ’s death, and the Christian who finds comfort in pressing it to his lips in the hour of devotion or of trouble must be reminded that the ancient Egyptian did a similar thing.
The fact is, there is great similarity between the cross worship, or veneration if you please, of ancient and modern times. Christians, we know, are apt to repudiate the charge of rendering worship to this symbol, but it is clear from what is printed in some of their books of devotion that some sort of worship is actually rendered, though disguised under other names. As to the veneration thus offered being right or wrong, we here say nothing; the fact only concerns us so far as it relates to the subject we have in hand.
If we open the Tablet (Roman Catholic newspaper) for the 26th of November, 1853, we read:—“Those of our readers who have visited Rome will, doubtless, have remarked, at the foot of the stairs which descend from the square of the Capitol to the square of the Campo Vaccino, under the flight of steps in front of the Church of St. Joseph, and over the door of the Mamertine prison, a very ancient wooden crucifix, before which lamps and wax tapers are constantly burning, and surrounded on all sides with exvotos and testimonies of public thanksgiving. No image of the crucified Saviour is invested with greater veneration.... The worship yielded to the holy crucifix of Campo Vaccino is universal at Rome, and is transmitted from generation to generation. The fathers teach it to the children, and in all the misfortunes and all the trials of life the first idea is almost always to have recourse to the holy crucifix, the object of such general veneration, and the source of so many favours. It is, above all, in sickness that the succour of the holy image is invoked with more confidence and more eagerness.... There are few families in Rome who have not to thank the holy crucifix for some favour and some benefit.... In the interval of the sermons and other public exercises of devotion the holy crucifix, exposed on the high altar in the midst of floods of light, saw incessantly prostrated before it a crowd of adorers and suppliants.... As soon as the holy image of the Saviour had appeared on the Forum, the Holy Father advanced on the exterior flight of steps of the church to receive it, and when the shrine had arrived at the base of the stairs of the Church of San Luca, at some paces from the flight of steps on which the Holy Father stood, in rochet, stole, and pallium of red velvet, he bowed before the holy crucifix and venerated it devoutly.”