What is the difference, or is there a difference, in the way the Catholics depict Jesus on the cross and the way other Christians do? Do churches usually show Jesus on the cross or do some just have a cross? – Judy
Alex discusses the history of how the Catholic church came to be identified with a crucifix and how the Protestant church came to be identified with an empty cross.
The cross is an important image in Christianity because it symbolizes the sacrifice that Jesus endured so that humanity might have a right relationship with God. The cross was an execution machine, much like the gas chambers used by the Nazis during World War II or the electric chair in our society. The cross was a horrible way to die and was used by the Roman government as a means of publicly shaming the person who had been accused of a capital offense.
In Christianity, what makes the cross such an important symbol is that Jesus was an innocent man, and yet, he had to endure that punishment when he was not deserving of it. However, depictions of this symbol were rare. The first representation we know of occurred sometime during the 5th century CE. This all changed around the 12th century when Anselm of Canterbury produced a new atonement theology that focused on Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Thus, from the 12th century onward, depictions of Jesus on the cross became more common.
With the onset of the Protestant Reformation, the people who were breaking away from the Catholic church wanted to define their symbol of Christianity as being different from the Catholics. Hence, in Protestant churches, they emphasize the cross without Jesus, indicating that Protestants focus on Jesus’ triumph over death with his resurrection.
In this video, Alex discusses why neither focus is more correct than the other, but rather, places emphasis on certain aspects of Jesus role as Messiah.