Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Simple Shape of the Cross By Rev. Mourant Brock M.A. 1879

The Simple Shape of the Cross By Rev. Mourant Brock M.A. 1879 (Chaplain to the Bath Penitentiary)

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The Cross was called arbor or lignum infelix, the unhappy tree, and well deserved the name.

So ignominious and hateful to the Romans was the punishment of the Cross, that Cicero says, "Not only let the Cross be absent from the person of Roman citizens, but its very name from their thoughts, eyes, and ears."

Crucifixion, we observed, was a species of impalement, the body being on the stake, in other words, attached to it. This attachment was effected either by cords or by nails.

Further, this instrument of torture would be natural, a tree growing; or artificial, a stake infixed in the earth.

This latter, again, would be simple or complex. Simple, an upright trunk, or pole; complex, with limbs or adjuncts attached.

This brings us to the Cross of our Lord. 

At once, we think of the Latin Cross with which we are all so familiar, the "Crux immissa," and we have no doubt that it was on such a Cross that our blessed Lord was crucified. We seem to make sure of it.

But is not this one of the many things that, received by tradition without inquiring, we take for granted?

Observe, I do not say that our Lord was not crucified on such a Cross; but I venture to suggest that it would be hard to prove that He was. How do we know that our Lord was not nailed to the stauros, the upright stake without arms, fixed into the earth, to which in its simple, stake-like shape so many must have been fastened, and died?

This was the simplest plan, the most easy for the executioners, and therefore most likely the one usually adopted. Our Lord's case might have been an exception; but have we any reason for supposing that it was? Is it for a moment to be supposed that, generally, when executions took place by the thousand, the executioners wore at the trouble of nailing cross-pieces (transoms) to the stauros?

The habit, then, would be the use of the simple stake. Besides, that mode, while giving less trouble, would make less demand on the commissariat for spike nails, or for rope, as the case might be.

It is quite possible that as they gave our Lord a bad pre-eminence, placing him as chief malefactor and king (king of the convicts!) between two executed, so the indignity might have been carried out in the shape of the instrument of torture, the Cross, the two being crucified on stakes with crossbeams (transoms), He on a simple stake, or vice versa.

The illustration [that follows] (not representing Christ) is from the learned work of Professor Lepsius (De Gruce, p. 1159, Louvain, 1605), who adopts the Cross in its traditional form.

It gives what he calls "Crux simplex," the most simple form of the Cross, a pole or stake, the Stauros, with a man nailed to it.

A Cross other than a mere stake he designates genus compactum, or made up. But both he calls Crosses.

There is in fact a difficulty about the term Cross.

The following is from Smith's Dictionary, Article Cross:

"The word Stauros [the term used for Cross in the Greek Testament] properly means merely a stake. In Livy, even Crux means a mere stake. In consequence of this vagueness of meaning impalement is sometimes spoken of loosely as a kind of crucifixion.

"The Hebrews have no word for Cross more definite than 'wood.'"

In reference, further, to the form of the Cross on which our Lord suffered, the writer of the article in question, Dr. Farrar, holds to its traditionary shape, that of the Latin Cross. His assertion is strong, not so his reason. Let the reader judge. "That this was the kind of Cross on which our Lord died [says he] is obvious, among other reasons [he does not give them] from the mention of the 'title' as placed above our Lord's head."

His only reason given for following "the almost unanimous tradition" (I quote his words) appears then to be that were our Lord to have suffered on the ordinary stauros (the stake) there would have been no room for the "title" over His head.

Look, reader, at the above cut, and judge for yourselves of the force of the Canon's "reasons."

As for the tradition he speaks of, is this of much worth, think you?

To prevent the weight of the body tearing the hands from the nails, there was a peg driven into the cross to support the body at the fork. Tertullian, quoted by Adam Clarke, mentions this: "Crux cum illo sedilis excessu"—the Cross with its projecting seat.

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