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Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Barren Cross or the Crucifix?


Fellow blogger, Rev. Paul McCain, has posted an exceptional piece answering whether Lutherans prefer crucifixes or bare crosses. Go here for that. It is a frequent misconception that Lutherans, lumped in with Reformed churches, oppose the use of a crucifix (that is a cross with the statue of Jesus on it). Nothing could be further from the truth. Crucifixes universally adorned Lutheran altars until about 50 years ago.

I did hear a Lutheran pastor one time say that we shouldn't use the crucifix because, y'know, Jesus isn't still on the cross. This is to suggest that a bare cross somehow reflects the bodily resurrection of Jesus. But I have NEVER understood this reasoning. Rev. McCain rightly points out that the cross would have been empty whether Jesus rose from the tomb or not. I have also often noted that Christians who object to the crucifix on the grounds that Jesus is not still on the cross seem to have no trouble with nativity scenes. Is Jesus still in the manger?

I think the real problem is a malady that I have termed Romo-phobia. (This is the new favorite word of fellow Pgh blogger Ales Rarus.) Frankly, I think we should leave the matter up to Christian liberty. But my personal vote is for the crucifix as a superior means of illustrating the basis of our salvation.

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11 comments:

Anonymous said...

A professor of historical theology at one of our seminaries answered this question in Logia. I can't find it. The upshot of his answer was that Christian freedom allowed the use of either. However, the more free one is in Christ, the more he will prefer a crucifix.

-Pr. Fickel

Stan said...

Pr. McCain had a wonderfully written piece and I greatly appreciated it. I will say this though...

What you identify as "Romo-phobia" is nothing but the product of Pastors forsaking their people and not catechizing them about the beautiful imagery of our tradition. The scriptures themselves testify to the use of a crucifix along with antiquity. Our fathers as well as their fathers knew the imagery, the imagery is time test and proved and bears faithful witness. But without the "why's" this imagery doesn't serve anyone any good. As one who comes from a parish that left the processional cross bear until lenten I can testify to the fact that the people in my congregation were just ignorant. So, while you conclude it to be "Romo-phobia" I would rather just call it a negligent pastor.

As I was rereading my post I realized that this could be deduced as being directed toward either Pr. Fickel or Pr. Stiegemeyer, and I want to clarify that is not my intention nor my purpose. I am merely making a generalization, which is the way of the law and by no means helpful - but such seems to be the way with sinners like myself.

Funky Dung said...

Back in my (ELCA) Lutheran days, I always thought that the decision to trade the crucifix for the empty cross was related to the commandment against idols. Now I think it's more like the difference between the Eastern and Western sign of the cross (i.e. right to left vs left to right): It's a convenient outward sign of lack of communion.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Funky,
The preference for a bare cross is a VERY new phenomena in Lutheran churches. Historically, it was not so. The Lutherans had absolutely no objection to sacred art in the churches, even the 3-dimensional variety. Tying it to the command against idols is a Calvinist concern, not a Lutheran one. In fact, at one point, Luther came out of hiding, risking his life, when - in his absence - some of his more enthusiastic followers began to smash statues in churches (as well as taking other radical steps). This is actually easy to trace historically. Second generation American Lutherans in the late 19th/early 20th centuries had too few clergy and very few theological or liturgical resources available to them in English. This lead to using and borrowing from Methodists and other english-speaking protestants. Combined with frontier conditions and the advent of revivalism, many American Lutherans began to look more and more like the sectarians.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

I never really considered it before because, to be honest, I do not keep crosses in my house nor do I wear them. I prefer to not keep any images of Jesus around me, though I do spend an awful lot of time in the Rennaisance room at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I do not want to be influenced by images of Christ. This is the same reason I never saw Passion of the Christ, I do not want to be influenced by "images" of Christ and how another sees christ and what happened on the Cross/ressurection.

Why can't this thing have spell check?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Hi Cubicle,
I do think whether one has a bare cross, a crucifix, or neither remains a matter for Christian liberty. We are neither commanded nor forbidden to have one or none of the above. So, we are free in this regard. And there may be disagreements among pious and thoughtful Christians regarding artistic representations of our Lord.

I would say this, however. My thoughts on depicting Jesus in art generally. I think it is wise to portray our Lord, if one does so, as a Jewish man of his place and time would have looked. None of these blonde norwegian-looking Jesuses, thank you. I think I can understand why a person might not want to be influenced by particular portraits of our Lord. At the same time, we remember that our God did become incarnate. I know no one here is denying that at all. But I do see a platonizing trend in some of contemporary christianity. While I don't know the exact features of Jesus' face, he does have a human face. In not wanting to get pinned down to one particular artistic image, we also want to avoid overly-spiritualizing Jesus. Does that make any sense?

Darrell said...

Pastor Scott wrote: I have also often noted that Christians who object to the crucifix on the grounds that Jesus is not still on the cross seem to have no trouble with nativity scenes. Is Jesus still in the manger?

I never thought of that, but it is an excellent point.

Part of what drew me to convert to Catholicism is that I find the visual and tangible elements of Catholic practice, including the image of Christ on the cross, to be compelling. It helps me find the reverent frame of mind and the focus that I need in order to feel that I'm fully participating in mass.

I will say, though, that I prefer some types of crucifixes to others, depending on the context. I've seen some crucifixes that depict Christ as "transcending," rather than suffering. He's not nailed to the cross, but rather in front of it, in a pose that implies his assent into heaven. Rather than a true crucifix, it might simply be best described as a "duel image," the victorious Christ and the empty cross. I think that kind of crucifix is the kind I'd like to have in my home. However, a crucifix that depicts Christ's suffering has it's place, too. Both are aspects of the sacrifice, the redemption of man, that are equally important, I think.

I was raised Southern Baptist, and I was taught the Calvinist notion as a child that we didn't have Christ on the cross because of the danger that it would be a "graven image," or "false idol." Your argument about the image of Christ in the nativity negates that argument, as well.

A nondenominational preacher I know once said that he thought that, rather than the cross or crucifix, the central image of Christianity should be the empty tomb. I like that idea, but it sure would be hard to fashion "empty tomb" necklaces and wall-hangings! :)

My wife was raised Lutheran, and she had a crucifix as a child because she preferred it and asked her parents to get one for her. She thinks there may have been a representation of the crucifix in her Lutheran church growing up, but she isn't sure that she remembers it correctly.

This is a good topic, thanks for bringing it up. I also appreciate the tone and content of the discussion in the comments section.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Hi Darrell,
I'm also familiar with the suggestiong that the empty tomb should be the central image of the Christian faith. That is certainly an appealing recommendation, but, as you point out, difficult to depict. The ancient Christians chose the shame of the cross to be the central image of their faith. St. Paul said, I preach Christ crucified. This is not to diminish the importance of the bodily resurrection of our Lord. But we, in the here and now, are living under the shadow of the cross; the victory of resurrection is ours now, but not yet. Like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration ("it's good, Lord, to be here"), we want to settle into the glory now. But Jesus took them down from that mountain into Jerusalem for his suffering. Our life under the cross of Jesus is one of repentance, sacrifice and sorrow. Our joy is in the anticipation of the glory that is ours now, but not yet.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

Thanks pastor, I appreciate the clarification. Perhaps it is a legalistic side to me that keeps me from having any sort of religious iconagraphy in my presence. The funny thing is, I consider the creation of art whether overtly christian or not to be an act of devotion

4HisChurch said...

Pastor,
As a Catholic, I have a preference for sacred art of all kinds and have no problems with crucifixes. I tend to be a visual/sensory person, and sacred art, music and even incense really help me to focus my prayer.

I so agree with you about the Norweigean Jesus' though! I shudder when I see Jesus depicted as blond and blue eyed.

Anonymous said...

That same Romo-phobia has banished Mary, Mother of Jesus, from our devotions, except during Advent and Christmas when we permit her to leave her room. My understanding of Luther and Lutheran history suggests that it should perhaps be otherwise. If I remember correctly, Luther maintained his own Marian devotion.

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