"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Cross Before Constantine

You sometimes hear it put about, especially by those wishing to accuse Christians of being inconsistent on the question of the legitimacy of images, that early Christianity was largely iconoclastic before smuggling in various images and then trying to justify them. But a newly published revisionist history is forcing a re-think of some of these and related allegations: Bruce Longenecker, The Cross Before Constantine: The Early Life of a Christian Symbol (Fortress, 2015), 244pp.

About this book we are told:
This book brings together, for the first time, the relevant material evidence demonstrating Christian use of the cross prior to Constantine. Bruce W. Longenecker upends a longstanding consensus that the cross was not a Christian symbol until Constantine appropriated it to consolidate his power in the fourth century. Longenecker presents a wide variety of artifacts from across the Mediterranean basin that testify to the use of the cross as a visual symbol by some pre-Constantinian Christians. Those artifacts interlock with literary witnesses from the same period to provide a consistent and robust portrait of the cross as a pre-Constantinian symbol of Christian devotion. The material record of the pre-Constantinian period illustrates that Constantine did not invent the cross as a symbol of Christian faith; for an impressive number of Christians before Constantine's reign, the cross served as a visual symbol of commitment to a living deity in a dangerous world.

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