MAN'S inhumanity to man has made countless thousands mourn in the ages that have passed and will continue so to do until the time shall come when swords shall be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning blades.
As we are about to consider the crosses, let us trace the origin of some of them. To endeavor to set before you the circumstances which brought out the large variety of crosses that have appeared since our Saviour suffered upon one of them would take too much time. I have, therefore, selected seven primary and six secondary, which I shall place before you, and I hope that the interest that centers around them will prove as increasingly absorbing to you as the study of them has been to me.
Crosses have been used in various forms by all the nations and tribes of the East as a means of punishment for enemies of criminals--excepting by the Jews. The Jewish method of putting malefactors to death was by stoning or burning, according to the Mosaic Law. From numerous writings upon the subject by La Croze, Jabolinski, Zoega, Viscomte and others, we gather that the symbol of the cross appears to have been most various in its signification. Justyn Martyr says the sign of the cross is impressed upon the whole of nature. Man himself forms a cross when his arms are extended from his shoulders. Leigh mentions forty-six different kinds; Sylvanus Morgan, twenty-six; and Upton, thirty.
The cross is believed to have been evolved from that more ancient instrument of execution, the pale, as discovered by Gretser in Crecia Christy, Vol. I, Chap. 50, as follows: For impaling (infixio), a long and sharpened piece of wood was employed, on which the victim was put as on a spit.
Seneca describes this kind of execution. Some drove a stake through the body and set the stake up in the ground; others were suspended on crosses with their heads turned towards the earth. This cruel mode of punishment is still in vogue in some parts of Russia, China, Turkey and some of the more remote countries of the East.
The cross (La Crux) a gibbet formed of two pieces of wood placed crosswise, metaphorically, the punishment of the cross, as well as the pain it inflicts, and in a general sense, any mental pain; suffering or heavy trial--in its simplest form consisting of two pieces of wood, one standing erect, the other placed on top, crossing at right angles. Its use as an instrument of punishment was probably suggested by the shape so often taken by branches of trees. According to Cicero, it was certainly customary to hang criminals on trees (Arbor Infelix). Seneca names the cross, infelix lignum, the accursed tree.
EGYPTIAN CROSS La Crux Ausata
The Egyptian cross, the oldest cross, will first claim our attention. This is the cross often seen held in the hand of the gods of Egypt. It is a pale with a cross-beam on top with a ring over its center. From this ring the culprit was suspended until death ended his sufferings. This cross without the ring appears often among Indian and Egyptian relics. It sometimes appears in the form of two pales crossing each other in the center. These crosses are understood to be symbolical ideas of Divinity or life eternal. A cross was to be seen in the temple of Serapis as the Egyptian emblem of the future life. From Rufinius we get the following: In an obelisk recently discovered in Nineveh there is a representation of a king within an arched frame, having the Assyrian symbols over the head and a cross like that of Malta on the breast.
PASSION CROSS, OR THE CROSS OF CHRIST
In the cross of Christ I glory, Towering o'er the wrecks of time; All the light of sacred story Gathers round its head sublime.
The cross on which our Saviour suffered was, according to Sozomen, discovered by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, in the year of our Lord 326. When seventy-nine years of age she was induced by the warmth of her piety to visit the place which the Saviour had rendered sacred by his presence and suffering. The hatred of the heathens had led them to obliterate as much as possible all traces of the memorable events which the life and death of our Saviour had hallowed and to cover Mount Calvary with earth and stone and raise thereon a temple to the Goddess Venus. A Jew, however, had treasured up what traditions he would gather and was thus enabled to point out to Helena the spot where our Lord had been buried. On excavation, it is said, three crosses were found, and the title which that of Jesus bore was also found lying by itself. That the crosses were wood all declare, but no one states the peculiar kind of wood, nor is there any mention made to substantiate the tradition that the true cross consisted of three kinds, cypress, pine, and cedar, or of four kinds, cedar, cypress, palm, and olive. Lipsius declares that the cross was made of oak, as this wood was the most abundant in Judea. The relics are said to resemble oak. All the Scriptural writers seem to agree that only on the cross of Jesus was placed a title. The wooden title is said to be still preserved in Rome, not entire, for only diminutive fragments remain of the Hebrew letters, so that no one can positively identify the characters. The Greek and Latin, except the letter Zetta, are written after the eastern manner, from right to left Nicetus holds that it is not all the work of one hand; the Roman letters are firmly and distinctly cut, the Greek very badly. The history of the discovery of this title is worthy of notice.
When sent by Constantine to Rome it was deposited in a leaden chest above the vaulted roof of the ancient church in Coma, in a little window, and then bricked into the wall, its position being recorded in a Mosaic inscription without. Time almost destroyed this inscription, making it illegible, and a window, owing to the carelessless of workmen repairing the church. was broken open and the holy relic discovered. This discovery and the genuineness of the title were authenticated by Pope Alexander III.
THE CROSS OF CONSTANTINE
This is the miraculous cross said to have appeared in the heavens and to have been observed by the Emperor about sixteen years before the visit of his mother, the Empress Helena, to Jerusalem. This cross is shaped very much like the one on which our Saviour was supposed to have been crucified.
Constantine Caius Flavius Valerius Aurelius Claudius, surnamed the Great (Roman Emperor A.D. 306 to 337), born A. D. 274 at Naissus, in Upper Moesae; died at Constantinople in 337. It is unnecessary to recite the biography of Constantine at length, but simply state that he seems to have been the first great potentate to embrace the Christian religion and to have given to the cross, that up to this time had been looked upon only as an ignominious instrument of death, the hallowed reverence and the inspiring influence it afterward attained. History speaks of Constantine as a youth of fine physical appearance, endowed with great strength and courage. His first service was under Diocletian, the Emperor, and by his various efforts he rapidly rose to a place of great distinction. His successes in Egypt and Persia gained him the title of Tribune. Upon the death of his father in 306, he was made Emperor of the West, and Emperor of Rome in 310 after a decisive victory over Maxentius, at which time his victorious legions entered the imperial city. There he was greeted as the Emperor of the Roman Empire, Maxentius having been accidentally drowned. It was during this campaign that Constantine, while in camp near Mentz, is said to have seen in the sky a flaming cross, bearing the inscription in Greek "with this you will conquer." From that time the symbol of Christianity appeared on the shields of the soldiers and the banners of the Roman army. The life of Constantine the Great as given by different historians is full of contradictions. That he was cruel in some cases there can be no doubt, but justice governed oftener than a baser sentiment; and that he was one of the greatest princes none can deny. Tried by a standard of morality he might be found lacking. His character scarcely warrants the belief that he was ever troubled by compunctions of conscience or remorse; but as a statesman and politician, Constantine favored and protected Christianity, though he was not baptized until just before his death. It is certainly wonderful the change that came by the advent and acceptance of the Christian religion by Constantine. The Christians had suffered all manner of persecution and torture at the hands of the pagans of Rome. Constantine changed all this by convening and attending the general Council at Nice, in 325 A. D. Constantine openly declared the Christian to be the official church of the Empire. Sunday was set apart for religious services instead of games, and every attempt to restrain the liberty of Christians was severely punished.
THE EXACT CROSS
This cross is composed of five squares, four squares on the sides of a central square, or two pieces crossed in the center forming four right angles. As this figure is exact in every line, it was chosen to represent truth. It first appears as an Egyptian mark on obelisks and objects of art. The cross of St. George was modeled after this cross. Writers differ greatly about the identity of St. George, although the identity of this cross is fully established. Spencer selects St. George as the Red Cross Knight, the hero and champion of truth, who engages in a terrible combat with a great dragon which he conquers and destroys, rescuing Una, the pure and beautiful Goddess of Truth, from his awful folds. On examination of different authors on this subject our belief is the St. George who fought so valiantly under Diocletion is the real St. George, who with many other Christian Knights, after defending himself against seven Saracens and overcoming them, was finally captured by a greater force and suffered martyrdom, dying in defense of the cross. There are two other writers who declare that St. George was none other than the Bishop of Alexandria, and give him the title of the regular Calendar Saint. If this is true, the canonizing of this St. George was very strange, as his personal history reads very much like some things we read about in the public press of today. The story of this St. George is as follows:
George of Capadocia, or St. George, the Patron Saint of England, was born about the beginning of the fourth century at Epiphania in Celicia. His father was a fuller, and the future Saint himself had a long struggle against the disadvantages of a poor and humble birth. According to Gregory of Nacianzene, George distinguished himself in his early career as a parasite of so mean a type that he would sell himself for a cake. He became an army contractor, but it is said that he fulfilled his contracts on bacon so badly that he narrowly escaped death at the hands of the indignant soldiers. After this episode he fled to Alexandria, where he became a devout churchman, engaged in public business and finally became bishop of the city. It is said further that George owed his episcopate to the pliancy of his conscience and the readiness with which he lent himself to further the political views of the court. When George took possession of the See he found a fierce persecution going on against the Trinitarians. Instead of mitigating this evil he favored the persecution to such an extent that he raised a rebellion against himself, and fled for his life; but being soon after reinstated by the court he returned to Alexandria and signalized himself by redoubling his cruelty, as might have been expected. His conduct raised up enemies against him, even among his own followers. His downfall could not be long delayed. A tyrannical act which he perpetrated toward the pagans in his diocese irritated the people so keenly that they rose up en masse, dragged him out of the fortress to which he had retired for safety, paraded him through the streets on the back of a mule, and, after tearing him to pieces, burnt his remains. Papebroche and Heylyn deny altogether that this Bishop of Alexandria is the patron saint of England and give versions of St. George's history which explain the reason why he is held in such high honor. Among the Greeks St. George was held in the highest veneration as a soldier and defendant of the Greek Church, the Christian religion, and the cross; and his cross was adopted by them as a sign of victory. In England his renown through song and story had increased to such an extent that by the time of Edward the Third he had become the Patron Saint of the Kingdom of England. The cross of St. George is a red cross in a field argent. This cross is also known as the Red Cross. It was worn by the nine companions in arms who had charge of the Holy Sepulchre, by permission of King Baldwin. It was placed upon the sleeves of their coats and to distinguish them for their zeal in the defense of the Christian religion, and to remind them that they must shed the last drop of their blood in the noble and glorious purpose for which they were enlisted. The principles to which they subscribed were piety, charity, truth, fidelity to Heaven and the fair.
THE CROSS OF ST. ANDREW
The next form of the cross to which I would call your attention is the form of the cross on which St. Andrew, the first disciple of Jesus Christ and brother of Simon Peter, was crucified.
This form of cross seems to have been built especially to try the faith and fortitude of the martyr, who with arms and legs extended and tied to this form of cross, with no support to the body, was left to linger for days before death relieved his sufferings. This was to give him time to confess or recant. It may be said here, that St. Andrew, pinioned to this cross, living for four days and recanting not, set forth the power of his faith.
The story of St. Andrew is short but pathetic. He was born at Bethsada in Galilee, and was the brother (as has been said before) of Simon Peter, and was the first of the disciples to become acquainted with Jesus, and introduced his brother Simon Peter to Him. On the day they met they continued in His company and went with Him to a wedding in Cana, and then returned to their ordinary occupations.
Some months after, Jesus coming upon them while they were fishing, called them to Him and promised to make them fishers of men. They immediately left their nets to follow and be with Him; and never afterwards separated from Him.
Tradition assigns Scythia, Greece, and Thrace as the scenes of St. Andrew's ministry. His crucifixion took place at Patrae in Achaia.
This cross (crux decussata) was adopted by that celebrated body of Knights known as the Knights of St. Andrew and the Scotch Order of the Thistle. On the banners of the Ancient Scotch kings may be seen this cross. It was ever borne by them as well as by the Knights of St. Andrew in many a sanguinary battle as a reminder of their faith that all followers of this standard must die for it, must never see it lowered; and it is a singular fact that it never has been lowered; for, combined with the Cross of St. George, on an area of red, it becomes the Standard of the Empire of England, and the sun never sets upon it. It is the greatest standard except one other floating under the canopy of Heaven today.
THE CROSS OF THE MILITARY KNIGHTS OF PRUSSIA
This cross is called the Teutonic Cross. As each of these crosses represent some important epoch in the history of church and state, none, perhaps, is of more importance than this which was adopted to be worn upon the standard of the Teutonic Knights. This celebrated order arose out of the misery which reigned among the besiegers at the celebrated siege of St. Jean D'Acre at the close of the twelfth century. The privations and sufferings of the Christian soldiers excited the compassion of certain German merchants who had been informed of their condition, and who went to the place of siege and erected hospitals made of tents and rendered other services of such value to the unhappy warriors that the German princes enrolled these princely merchants in this order of knighthood. Their title was Teutonic Knights of St. Mary of Jerusalem, and it had the special patronage of Pope Celestine III. None could be admitted besides these merchants, who had become ennobled, but those of noble birth. Their equestrian garment was a white mantle with a black cross; and this with bread and water constituted all the reward sought for by men who vowed to remain pure in body and mind, poor in purse, and to give succor to Christians where it was most needed. This vow, however, was strangely construed in later years.
At the beginning of the thirteenth century this Order was powerful and rich, and carried forward a bloody war in defense of the infant church of Prussia. So great was the hatred of the pagan proprietors, who then inhabited Lithuania, that when they captured a Teutonic Knight they immolated him in a most barbaric manner. One of these valiant knights, after making a most desperate stand against the force of these cruel foes, fell bleeding from a score of wounds and was captured. He was placed upon his horse, securely bound, and the knight and the horse burned alive. Thus perished Margarand Van Reschaun and many other followers of the Black Cross of the Teutonic Knights.
THE CROSS OF THE KNIGHTS OF ST. JOHN OF JERUSALEM
The Eight-Pointed Cross
This cross was dedicated to St. John the Almoner, a Greek patriarch of Alexandria. The order bearing the above title was organized in the year of our Lord 1058, and existed for nearly seven hundred years, until extinguished by Napoleon in 1798, when he seized the Island of Malta while on his way to Egypt. They were called Hospitallers on account of their vow, in which they promised to devote their lives to charity, obedience, and poverty.
Their dress was a plain black robe, having an eight-pointed white cross on the left breast.
Of all the orders that have flourished in the past, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem must hold the highest place upon the walls of fame. This order had its beginning in a small chapel and two hospitals, near the Holy Sepulchre.
A number of sojourning pilgrims entered these hospitals and devoted themselves to this service. At the time of the first Crusade, Peter Gerard was rector of the hospital. After the conquest of Palestine the Hospitallers experienced high favor with the Crusaders, many of whom, following that illustrious example of the illustrious Knight Godfrey de Bullion, bestowed landed property in Europe upon them. In 1113 Pope Pascal II sanctioned this order by a bull, conferring special privileges upon it. Gerard, now First Superior, established branch hospitals in different parts of Europe. Upon the death of Gerard, in 1118, Raymond de Puy became his successor. He was a man of strong martial instincts and tastes, and he proposed to his brethren that while they should still maintain their vows previously taken they should add to them that of bearing arms in defense of religion. A proposition so strictly in accordance with the spirit of the age was promptly acceded to, and the order became a military fraternity and was organized as such by De Puy, who became its first Grand Master and impressed his character upon it.
Passing rapidly to fame as a military fraternal body, and to opulence from the gifts of pious persons, the followers of the White Cross struck terror to the hearts of its enemies in the East. Their deeds of conspicuous valor are recorded in history from their earliest formation until the close of the eighteenth century. Their campaign against the Saracens was one of signal brilliancy and one of their most notable achievements on land.
About this time we find a new cross making its appearance: The Union Cross of the Knights of St. John and St. Mary of Jerusalem, Rhodes, and Malta, known as the Maltese Cross.
The history of this cross is so closely interwoven with the other that its origin must be traced as a contingent of the other which has just been described.
It is a compound cross, made by joining four triangles at their apexes. When the fortress of Acre fell into the hands of the Saracens, in 1291, the Hospitallers were established at Limmoesa in Cypress, where they were recruited by drafts on all the commanderies in Europe. In this Insular residence they became sailors and navigators, and this was probably the time that they assumed their naval character, as their vessels were continually in service conveying pilgrims to the Holy Land. This led to sea fights in which the brethren became as distinguished for skill and valor as they had been on land. In 1309, the combined forces of Knights of St. John, St. Mary, and the Templars seized the Island of Rhodes, which had been the home and headquarters of Mohammedan corsairs and pirates, and soon converted that island into so strong a Christian fortress that it gave its name to the fraternity. They held that island for more than two hundred years, though assailed many times by the Mohammedans. They took Smyrna and retained possession of that place until it was taken by Tamerlane. The first siege of Rhodes took place in 1480 and was successfully defended by the knights under the command of Sir Peter de Aubusson, their Grand Master. A second siege took place in 1522, and the knights under the then commanding Grand Master, Philip Villiers de Lislle Adam, after holding the Turks at bay for six months, made an honorable capitulation to the Sultan Solyman, the Magnificent.
The remnants of the order proceeded first to Candia, then to Messina, and then to the mainland of Italy.
Charles the Fifth ceded to them the islands of Malta and Gozzo and the City of Tripoli, March twentyfourth, 1530. Malta was then a barren rock, but the knights made it one of the strongest fortresses in the world; and they carried on the war with the Turks, then the dread of Christendom, with so much energy that their new abode furnished them with a new name, and a new triangle was added to the triple triangle, forming the Cross of St. John, St. Mary, Rhodes, and Malta.
For two and one-half centuries the Knights of Malta wielded a powerful influence in European affairs. Piracy, that dread scourge of the eastern seas, was destroyed by their valor; but in the later years of their existence, forgetting their former vows, it seems that a fitting climax ended their career when that wonderful soldier and man of destiny, Napoleon, the Emperor of the French, closed it in 1798.
The last cross which we shall consider will be the signal cross of the Crusaders, or the rallying cross. Borne by the Crusaders it appeared upon the banners of the military expeditions undertaken by the Christians of Europe for the deliverance of the Holy Land from the domination of Saracens and Turks.
About seventy years after the death of Christ, Jerusalem was taken and destroyed by Titus; but sixty years afterward the city was rebuilt by Hadrian, and the Christians were permitted to return. Their occupancy only existed by precarious tolerance until Constantine embraced the Christian religion and proclaimed it to be the religion of the Empire.
For about two hundred years, until Jerusalem was taken by the Saracens in 637, the Christians held sway in the Holy City; but all toleration ceased when the Turks took the city in 1063. That wild fanatical horde, though superior in force and military power, were immeasurably inferior to the people whom they had expelled; and as they made no scruple to plunder, insult, and kill the Christians, pilgrims to Jerusalem began to bring back serious reports concerning their suffering in the Holy Land.
This state of things continued until Peter the Hermit took up the mission and began to preach the redemption of the City of Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre from the hands of the infidels. The fame of this mighty and pious design now became universally diffused. The greatest prelates, nobles, and princes attended upon the preachings of Peter and became so infused and inspired at one of his discourses that they arose and exclaimed as with one voice: "God willeth it! God willeth it!"
The first Crusade occurred in the year of our Lord 1096. We quote from the Princess Commena, who expressed herself thus:
"The whole of Europe seems shaken from its foundation and ready to precipitate itself in one united body upon Asia."
All orders of men now deemed the Crusade the only road to Heaven and became impatient to open the way with their swords to the Holy City. Nobles sold their castles and belongings at any price. The infirm and aged contributed to the expedition by giving money and valuables, and many of them not satisfied with this attended in person, being determined to reach and behold with their dying eyes, if possible, the city where Jesus Christ had died for the human race.
The hosts of the Crusaders increased so fast that their leaders became apprehensive lest the very size of the great host should prove the cause of the failure of the enterprise. For this reason they permitted an undisciplined multitude, computed at more than three hundred thousand, to go on before them under the command of Peter the Hermit and Walter Gaultier. These took the road through Hungary and Bulgaria towards Constantinople, and so sublime was their faith that they trusted that Heaven would supply their necessities and made no provision for their march. The more disciplined moved under their leaders, and having passed the straits of Constantinople they landed and mustered on the plains of Asia over seven hundred thousand men. Every one of these Crusaders bore the emblem of the Cross. Their great desire was to once more place in the ascendency in the Holy Land that precious symbol of their faith. Even women concealed their sex by encasing themselves in the steel armor of a knight and accompanied this vast host as a part of it, in many cases their sex only becoming known after they had been slain. That they were moved by the same impulse to do and dare for the cross was amply proven by their zeal and valor in many a fierce and personal encounter with the infidels. Barret in verse says:
The second Crusade was preached by St. Bernard of the monastic Order of Bernardines, of which he was the founder, and conducted in 1146. It was headed by the Emperor Conrad III and Louis VII of France, with more than three hundred thousand men.
They were defeated by the Turks near Iconium, and with difficulty escaped to Antioch. Louis' army suffered reverses to such an extent that it was not strong enough to keep the peace in Asia for the Christian principalities, and their destruction soon followed.
It was at this period that the great Soldam of Egypt appeared, and, having crushed both Christian and Turk, entered the Holy City of Jerusalem as a conqueror. He held the city for about forty years.
The third Crusade was undertaken in 1188 by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and Frederick, Duke of Seabia, his second son. Frederick defeated the Soldam of Egypt at Iconium, but his son Frederick having joined forces with Guy of Lussignan, King of Jerusalem, in vain endeavored to reduce St. Jean D'Acre.
At this time Richard Coeur D'Lion took command of the united forces of England and France, laid siege to this important fortress and captured it, defeating the mighty Saladin. His success was productive of nothing but glory, for in the end he was obliged to return to Europe without even a remnant of his army.
The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth Crusades were undertaken between the years 1195 and 1270 under leaderships of Henry the Sixth, Louis the Ninth, and other nobles, princes, and knights, and were alike unsuccessful.
But let us now suppose that the Crusades had succeeded to the fullest extent, what in that case would have been the effect? Egypt, Syria, Greece, and even Turkey would have been under the influence of the Cross and the Christian religion with all its attendant elevating influences, and the dread of a mighty struggle that must come at no distant date between the adherents of the Crescent and the followers of the Cross would not cast its dark shadow over the eastern hemisphere.
This glorious emblem, which we here have considered in its various detailed forms, stands for the mighty uplifting of the human races. Its significance is deep as the sea, broad as the earth, and high as the heavens. And as we look upon it let us not forget that it is the symbol of our religion, which is the religion of Jesus Christ Our Lord.