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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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In Scripture language, means the sufferings of Christ, Galatians 6:14 . The sufferings, trials, or persecutions of the people are also called a cross, Matthew 16:24 . Cross signifies also a gibbet, made with two pieces of wood, placed crosswise, whether they cross with right angles at the top like a T, or in the middle of their length like an X. The cross to which our Saviour was fastened, and on which he died, was of the former kind; being thus represented by old monuments, coins, and crosses. the death of the cross was the most dreadful of all others, both for the shame and pain of it; and so scandalous, that it was inflicted as the last mark of detestation upon the vilest of people. It was the punishment of robbers and murderers, provided that they were slaves too; but otherwise, if they were free, and had the privilege of the city of Rome, this was then thought a prostitution of that honour, and too infamous a punishment for such a one, let his crimes be what they would. The form of a cross being such as has been already described, the body of the criminal was fastened to the upright piece by nailing the feet to it, and on the other transverse piece generally by nailing the hands on each side. Now, because these parts of the body, being the instruments of action and motion, are provided by Nature with a much greater quantity of nerves than others have occasion for; and because all sensation is performed by the spirit contained in the nerves; it will follow, as Stanhope observes, that whereever they abound, the sense of pain must needs in proportion be more quick and tender.

The Jews confess, indeed, that they crucified people in their nation, but deny that they inflicted this punishment upon any one alive. They first put them to death, and then fastened them to the cross, either by the hands or neck. But there are indisputable proofs of their crucifying men frequently alive. The worshippers of Baal-peor, and the king of Ai were hung up alive; as were also the descendants of Saul, who were put into the hands of the Gibeonites, 2 Samuel 21:9 . Before crucifixion, the criminal was generally scourged with cords; sometimes little bones, or pieces of bones, were tied to these scourges, so that the condemned person might suffer more severely. It was also a custom, that he who was to be crucified should bear his own cross to the place of execution. After this manner, we find Christ was compelled to bear his cross; and as he sunk under the burden, Simon the Cyrenian was constrained to bear it after him and with him. But whereas it is generally supposed that our Lord bore the whole cross, 1:e. the long and transverse part both, this seems to be a thing impossible; and therefore Lipsius (in his treatise De Supplicio Crucis) has set the matter in a true light, when he tells us that Jesus only carried the transverse beam; because the long beam, or the body of the cross, was either fixed in the ground before, or made ready to be set up as soon as the prisoner came; and from hence he observes, that painters are very much mistaken in the description of our Saviour carrying the whole cross.

There were several ways of crucifying; sometimes the criminal was fastened with cords to a tree, sometimes he was crucified with his head downwards. This way, it is said, Peter chose, out of respect to his master, Jesus Christ, not thinking himself worthy to be crucified like him; though the common way of crucifying was by fastening the criminal with nails, one through each hand, and one through both feet, or one through each of them; for this was not always performed in the same manner; the ancients sometimes represent Jesus Christ crucified with four nails, and sometimes with three. The criminal was fixed to the cross quite naked; and, in all probability, the Saviour of sinners was not used with any greater tenderness than others upon whom this punishment was inflicted. The text of the gospel shows clearly that Jesus Christ was fastened to the cross with nails, and the Psalmist (Psalms 22:16 , ) had foretold long before, that they should pierce his hands and his feet; but there are great disputes concerning the number of these nails. The Greeks represent our Saviour as fastened to the cross with four nails; in which particular Gregory of Tours agrees with them, one on each hand and foot. But several are of opinion that our Saviour's hands and feet were pierced with three nails only, viz. one on each hand, and one through both his feet: and the custom of the Latins is rather for this last opinion; for the generality of the old crucifixes made in the Latin church have only three nails.

Nonnus thinks that our Saviour's arms were besides bound fast to the cross with chains; and St. Hilary speaks of the cords wherewith he was tied to it. Sometimes they who were fastened upon the cross lived a good while in that condition. St. Andrew is believed to have continued three days alive upon it. Eusebius speaks of certain martyrs in Egypt who were kept upon the cross till they were starved to death. Pilate was amazed at Jesus Christ's dying so soon, because naturally he must have lived longer, if it had not been in his power to have laid down his life, and to take it up again. The thighs of the two thieves, who were crucified with our Saviour, were broken, in order to hasten their death, that their bodies might not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, John 19:31 ; John 19:33 ; and to comply with the law of Moses, which forbids the bodies to be left there after sun-set. But, among other nations, they were suffered to remain upon the cross a long time. Sometimes they were devoured alive by birds and beasts of prey. Guards were appointed to observe that none of their friends or relations should take them down and bury them. The Roman soldiers, who had crucified Jesus Christ and the two thieves, continued near the crosses till the bodies were taken down and buried. Invention of the Cross, an ancient feast solemnized on the 3d of May, in memory of St. Helena's (the mother of Constantine) finding the true cross of Christ deep in the ground on Mount Calvary, where she erected a church for the preservation of part of it; the rest being brought to Rome, and deposited in the church of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem.

Exaltation of the Cross, an ancient feast held on the 14th of September, in memory of this, that Heraclitus restored to Mount Calvary the true cross, in 642, which had been carried off fourteen years before by Cosrocs, king of Persia, upon his taking Jerusalem from the emperor Phocas. The Adoration of the Cross seems to have been practised in the ancient church, in as much as the heathens, particularly Julian, reproached the primitive Christians with it; and we do not find that their apologists disclaimed the charge. Mornay, indeed, asserted that this had been done by St. Cyril, but could not support his allegation at the conference of Fontainbleau. St. Helena is said to have reduced the adoration of the cross to its just principle, since she adored Christ in the wood, not the wood itself. With such modifications some Protestants have been induced to admit the adoration of the cross. John Huss allowed of the phrase, provided it were expressly added, that the adoration was relative to the person of Christ. But, however Roman Catholics may seem to triumph by virtue of such distinction and mitigations, it is well known they have no great place in their own practice. Imbert, the prior of Gascony, was severely prosecuted in 1683, for telling the people, that, in the ceremony of adoring the cross, practised in that church on Good Friday, they were not to adore the wood, but Christ, who was crucified on it. the curate of the parish told them the contrary. It was the wood; the wood they were to adore! Imbert replied, it was Christ, not the wood; for which he was cited before the archbishop of Bourdeaux, suspended from his functions, and even threatened with chains and perpetual imprisonment. It little availed him to cite the bishop of Meaux's distinction; it was answered that the church allowed it not.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Cross'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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