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The Worship Of The Church by Jacob A. Regester

Symbolic Ornaments of the Church

The use of symbols for conveying and enforcing truth goes back to earliest ages. God said to Noah, |I do set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth.|

The ritual and appointments of the Tabernacle and its worship were an elaborate system of symbolism.

So, also, we find the use of symbolism in Christianity. The need of appealing to the eye as well as to the ear, by visible signs for sacred truths, led the early Christians to employ a number of such symbols as an effective means of imparting instruction. But their use was not wholly a matter of choice. Anxious to seek and to support one another {52} under persecution, they were compelled to find some common signs of recognition which might be known only to themselves, and under which their new Faith might be safely concealed.

The Cross. -- The Cross comes first in order. It is the especial emblem of Christianity. |It glitters on the crown of the monarch. It forms the ensign of nations. It crowns alike the loftiest spires of Christendom and the lowliest parish churches. It marks the resting-place of the departed who have died with faith in its efficacy, as it was the sign in Baptism of their admission to the kingdom of the Crucified.| It is the symbol of Christ's atonement and of the salvation of men, and represents the Christian Faith, its demands and its triumphs. As might be expected, many fantastic stories were woven about this symbol in the middle ages. Yet back of their extravagance was often a true feeling. We see this even in the absurd legend of the tree from which our Saviour's cross was made.

This legend was as follows: |for four hundred and thirty-two years after his expulsion from Paradise, Adam had tilled the ground in the valley of Hebron, when he felt his end approaching, and determined to send his son Seth to the gates of Paradise to demand from their keeper, 'the angel called {53} Cherubim,' the oil of mercy which had been promised to Adam when he was driven from the garden. Seth accordingly set forth, finding his way by the footprints of Adam and Eve, upon which no grass had grown since they passed from Paradise to Hebron.

|The angel, after hearing the message, ordered Seth to look beyond the gate into the garden and to tell him what he saw. He beheld a place of inexpressible delight and beauty, with the four great rivers proceeding from a fountain in the center; and, rising from the edge of the fountain, an enormous tree, with wide-spreading branches, but without either bark or leaves. He was ordered to look a second time, when he saw a serpent twisted round the tree; and a third time, when the tree had raised itself to heaven, and bore on its summit a Child wrapped in glittering vestments.

|It was this Child, said the angel, who would give to Adam the oil of mercy when the due time should come. Meanwhile the angel gave Seth three seeds from the fruit of the tree of which Adam had eaten. These were to be placed in the mouth of Adam before his burial, and three trees would spring from them -- a cedar, a cypress, and a pine. The trees were symbolical of the Holy Trinity.|


|It happened as the angel foretold. The trees were hardly a foot above the ground in the days of Abraham. Moses, to whom their true nature was revealed, took them up carefully, carried them with him during the years of wandering in the desert, and then replanted them in a mysterious valley named Comprafort (Comfort?). From Comprafort David was directed to bring them to Jerusalem. He planted them close to a fountain, and within thirty years they had grown together so as to form a single tree of wonderful beauty, under the shade of which David composed his psalms and wept for his sins. In spite of its beauty, Solomon cut it down in order to complete his temple, for which a single beam was wanted, of a size such as no other tree could furnish. But in fitting the beam to its place, it was found, after repeated trials, either too long or too short, and this was accepted as a sign that it was not to be so employed.|

It was then, says one version of the story, reverently preserved in the temple. According to another version, when it was found too short or too long |it was flung aside into a certain marsh, where it served as a bridge. But when the Queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and was about to cross the marsh, she {55} saw in a vision how the Saviour of the world was to be suspended on that tree, and so would not walk over it. It was buried in the earth on the spot where the Pool of Bethesda was afterward made, so that it was not only the descent of the angel, but the virtues of the buried wood, which gave to the water its healing qualities. At the time of the passion the wood rose and floated on the surface. The Jews took it to make the cross of our Lord.|

More attractive is the legend of how the cross was found, deeply buried in the ground at Jerusalem, by St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, the first Christian emperor. All three crosses were found, according to the story, and that of our Lord was recognized by certain miracles which it wrought on those who touched it.

In representations of the cross we trace two principal forms, the Latin and the Greek cross, from which a great variety, with various significations, have been produced.

[Illustration: Latin cross]

The Latin or Passion Cross has the lower limb considerably longer than the other three. |It is doubtless most nearly the shape of the very instrument on which Christ suffered, {56} and is therefore most suitable to symbolize the Atonement and to express suffering.| When it is placed on steps it is called a |Calvary cross.| The steps are generally three in number, and are said to typify faith, hope, and charity, the great Christian virtues.

[Illustration: Calvary cross]

When all four arms are of equal length it is a Greek Cross, the cross in most frequent use among Eastern Christians. |The Latin cross suggests the actual form, while the Greek cross is idealized, the Greeks being essentially an artistic and poetic race.| |The Greek cross is a symbol of the spread of the Gospel and of its triumphs in the four quarters of the world. It is the usual form wherever it is intended to express victory or is used as an ornament.|

[Illustration: Greek cross]

Another interesting form of the cross is the Tau-cross, so called because shaped like the Greek letter tau (T). The figure found in the tau-cross was the symbol of eternal life with the ancient Egyptians. The early Christians of Egypt adopted it and at first used it instead of other forms of the cross. It is yet seen in the early Christian sepulchers of that country. |It has been urged, with {57} at least great probability, that this symbol of life was the form made by the children of Israel in blood upon their door-posts when the angel of death passed through the land of Egypt to smite the first-born, and it was perhaps the form of the cross on which the brazen serpent in the wilderness was lifted up.|

[Illustration: Tau-cross]

It is known, from these associations, as the cross of the Old Testament and as the |anticipatory cross|; also as the |cross of St. Anthony,| the great hermit of Egypt and the father of monasticism.

It is sometimes called the |cross potent| from its shape, |potent| being an old English word for a crutch. It is then said to signify the Cross as the sure support of all who trust in it.

Four tau-crosses joined foot to foot form a |Jerusalem cross.| Such a cross was part of the armorial bearing of the first Christian king of Jerusalem. The four conjoined tau-crosses, forming a Greek cross, are said to be symbolical of the displacement of the Old Testament by the New, the Law by the Gospel.

[Illustration: Jerusalem cross]


Many forms of the cross originated in the wars of the Cross, the crusaders in their eastward wanderings engrafting many variations upon the original Greek cross. Many of these heraldic crosses tell some story of religious feeling. In their varied and fanciful forms the simple faith and holy purpose out of which they sprang may yet be traced.

The |cross moline| is so named from resemblance to the moline, or crossed iron, in the center of the upper millstone. Its ends are divided and curved backward. As they are turned in all directions, they are said to express the universal diffusion of the blessings of the Cross; or, as they decline both to the right and the left, they express willingness to do exact justice and give to all their due.

[Illustration: Cross Moline. Cross Recercele.]

The |cross recercele| resembles the cross moline, but with its floriations more expanded.


The |cross bottone| (budded) or |trefle| (like trefoil), the |cross patonce| (like the paw of the ounce, or panther), and the |cross flory| (like the fleur-de-lis), all with limbs ending in threefold figures, have evident reference to the Holy Trinity.

[Illustration: Cross Bottone, or trefle. Cross Patonce. Cross flory.]

The |cross pommee| has ends terminating in circles suggestive of apples, as the name shows. It is said to express the fruitful reward of devotion to the Cross.

[Illustration: Cross pommee. Cross crosslet. Cross fitche.]


The |cross crosslet| is formed of four Latin or Passion crosses placed foot to foot.

It is said that the |cross fitche| (sharpened and so fixable in the ground) was carried in pilgrimages so that it might be readily set up while performing devotions.

The |cross patte| (broad-footed) is much like the |Maltese cross,| the cross of Knights Templars and Hospitalers, which differs from it simply in having its extremities indented or notched. The eight points thus formed are said to symbolize the eight Beatitudes of our Lord.

[Illustration: Cross patte]

The |floriated cross,| which is developed in many ornamental forms, as the cross bursting into bloom or adorned with garlands, alludes to the triumph of Christ and to our future triumph and glory through Him. It symbolizes also our holy religion growing with perpetual vitality.

[Illustration: Maltese cross]

One of the most singular, as well as most ancient, of the many forms and modifications of the cross is the |fylfot.| It is found, probably as a disguised form of the cross, on the tombs in the catacombs. {61} Its use illustrates the adoption by the early Christians, as in the case of the tau-cross, of prechristian symbols. By its employment they simply |diverted to their own purpose a symbol centuries older than the Christian era, a symbol of early Aryan origin, found in Indian and Chinese art, and spreading westward, long before the dawn of Christianity, to Greece and Asia. It was on the terra-cotta objects dug up by Dr. Schliemann at Troy, and conjectured to date from 1000 to 1500 B.C.| It is thought to represent in heathen use a revolving wheel, the symbol of the great sun-god, or to stand for the lightning wielded by the omnipotent deity, Manu, Thor, or Zeus. The Christians saw in it a cross concealed from the eyes of their heathen enemies. The fylfot is frequently found in the Greek Church on the vestments of the clergy. The Greek fret or key pattern, with which all are familiar, is a decorative development of the fylfot.

[Illustration: Fylfot]

Another interesting form of the cross is that known as the |cross of Iona| or |Irish cross.| It is said to be the earliest form known in {62} Great Britain and Ireland. The antique wayside crosses are of this shape. |Because this style of cross partakes more of Greek character than of Latin, it has been contended that it argues an Eastern rather than Western origin for the introduction of Christianity into Great Britain.| The circle is the emblem of eternity, as having neither beginning nor end, and when combined with the cross, as in this form, it speaks of the perpetuity of the Christian faith and the eternity of its hope.

[Illustration: Irish cross]

The |St. Andrew's cross,| in form like the letter X, conveys the idea of humility as well as that of suffering. When St. Andrew was condemned to be crucified, he begged that his cross might be unlike that on which his Lord had died, not deeming himself worthy to die on a cross of the same form as that on which He had suffered.

[Illustration: St. Andrew's cross]

There is a cross peculiar in form, and known as the |Canterbury cross.| It is in the shape of the letter Y, and is usually seen only upon the vestments of the clergy. The ornamentation of the chasuble is commonly of this form. It is embroidered on the chasuble of St. Thomas of Canterbury, which is still preserved in the Cathedral {63} of Sens, in France. Its shape brings to mind the inclination of our Saviour's arms -- the lifting up of His hands -- as He offered Himself in sacrifice on Calvary.

Symbols of the Holy Trinity. -- The equilateral Triangle is perhaps the most familiar emblem of the Holy Trinity. The equality of the three divine Persons in the Godhead is represented by the equal sides or the equal angles of the triangle.

[Illustration: Triangle]

The Trefoil is also an emblem of the Trinity. It is a representation of the common clover, or shamrock, as the Irish call it. The legend of the conversion of Ireland says that St. Patrick was preaching on the hillside, and wishing to illustrate from nature the sublime doctrine of the Trinity to his pagan hearers, he bent down and plucked a piece of shamrock at his feet, and held it up to show how what was three, in one sense, might be one in another.

[Illustration: Trefoil]

The unity of the Persons in the one Godhead is sometimes represented by intersected triangles, or by the trefoil placed under a triangle.

The truth of the Trinity is also suggested by any {64} threefold arrangement in the various forms of the ornamentation.

The figure known as the triquetra, made by the interlacing of three portions of circles, is also symbolical of the Holy Trinity. This is a very ancient emblem, and is found with frequency upon the stone crosses erected in the early days of Christianity in Great Britain. It is sometimes used in ornamentation of the dress of our Lord or of the Evangelists.

[Illustration: Intersected triangles. Trefoil placed under a triangle. Trequetra.]

From the thirteenth century we have the symbol of the equal and interlacing Circles. |The three equal circles symbolize the equality of the three Persons in the Trinity, the binding together in one figure the essential unity, while the circular form signifies a never-beginning, never-ending eternity.| The word trinitas, used in this symbol, may itself {65} be divided into three syllables. One of these syllables is placed in each circle; but they have no perfect meaning, and will not form any word, unless united. In the space left vacant by the intersection of the circles the word unitas is placed.

[Illustration: Interlacing circles]

From the sixteenth century we have another device setting forth the doctrine of the Trinity. This is a triangle terminating at the corners in three circles, and in the center another circle with lines connecting it with the circles at the corners. A legend is combined with the figure, which serves to explain it. The English equivalent of the Latin words is as follows: Deus, God; Pater, the Father; {66} Filius, the Son; Sanctus Spiritus, the Holy Ghost; est, is; non est, is not.

[Illustration: Triangle and circles]

Symbols of the father Almighty. -- For the first four centuries the only symbol employed to represent God the Father Almighty was a hand issuing from clouds, or reaching down in benediction from heaven.

A symbol of much later origin is a triangle with the word |Jehovah,| in Hebrew letters, inscribed within it and placed in the center of a radiating circle, or halo, symbolic of eternity.

Symbols of our Lord. -- While the cross was in {67} constant use by the early Christians, no effort was made at direct representation of our Saviour's sufferings. The crucifix was not introduced until five centuries had passed. Resort was had instead to the use of symbols.

[Illustration: The hand of God]

[Illustration: The name and the triangle]


Several of these were derived from Holy Scripture. The most common was the figure of the Good Shepherd, a picture drawn from our Lord's own description of His loving care and self-sacrifice. Another was derived from the words of St. John the Baptist, |Behold, the Lamb of God!| By this symbol, known as the Agnus Dei, our Lord is represented by the figure of a lamb -- often with a nimbus, or glory, about the head -- bearing a cross, the symbol of His sacrifice, or a banner, the sign of His triumph.

[Illustration: Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God]


The Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, are used as the emblem of the eternity of our Lord: |I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.|

[Illustration: Alpha and Omega]

The Star is a symbol of Christ. It owes its origin to His own words, |I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.| It was by the leading of a star that God manifested His only begotten Son to the Gentiles. The five-pointed star commonly represents the star of Bethlehem. It is a Christmas and Epiphany emblem.

[Illustration: Star of Bethlehem]

This star is sometimes called the |pentalpha,| as the crossing of its lines suggests five A's. It was used in ancient times as a magic talisman against the powers of witchcraft. The Greek Christians at one time placed it, instead of the cross, at the beginning of inscriptions.

The six-pointed star is said to symbolize the Creator, as, according to the old alchemists, the double triangle of which it is composed represents the elements of fire and water.


The seven-pointed star has reference, it is said, to St. John's words in the Revelation: |I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.|

A star of nine points has allusion to St. Paul's enumeration of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: |The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.|

An interesting symbol of our Saviour is that of the Pelican, which, the old naturalists said, was accustomed to tear open its breast in order to feed its young with its own blood. So the blood shed on Calvary gives life to the Church.

[Illustration: The pelican]

The fish was also a very early symbol of our Lord. It was observed that the five letters of the Greek word for a fish were, taken separately, the initials in Greek of the words |Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.| In this way the fish became a symbol of our Saviour.

The pointed oval, or vesica, is the conventionalized form of the fish. Ecclesiastical seals are commonly made in this form. It represents {71} in rude outline a fish before the fins and tail are added.

[Illustration: Vesica]

It is thought by some that the Gothic or pointed arch is derived from this symbol, being simply the upper half of a vesica.

Other symbols of our Lord are formed from monograms of the sacred name, Jesus, and of His official title, Christ. These are used separately and also together. The earliest form of monogram of the sacred name, that often found on tombs of early Christians, is the symbol which is said to have appeared in a vision to the Emperor Constantine.

The story is related by Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea, who asserts that it was communicated to him by Constantine himself, who confirmed it with an oath. The story is this: Constantine, whose mind was wavering between Christianity and paganism, was on the eve of a great battle. Knowing that Maxentius, his enemy, was seeking the aid of magic and supernatural rites, and remembering also that his father, who had been well disposed to the Christians, had always prospered, while their persecutors failed, he determined to pray to Christ. While engaged with such thoughts he saw at mid-day a luminous figure in the heavens, with the words, |By this conquer.| Both he and the whole army were struck with awe at the sight. At night {72} Christ appeared to him in a dream, holding in His hand the same symbol, which He admonished him to place upon his standard, and assuring him of victory. This symbol Constantine substituted the next day for the old Roman eagle upon the standards and shields of his legions.

What the emperor saw, or fancied he saw, for it cannot be doubted that Constantine believed what he stated, was a symbol already in use among the Christians, and whose meaning he doubtless already knew. It is formed of the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, CHRISTOS (Christos); the X (Chi) being equivalent to our Ch, and the P (Rho) the same as our R.

[Illustration: Christos monogram]

Sometimes the monogram is contracted and its lines economized, the X becoming a true cross, and its vertical shaft -- the curved part of the letter being added -- becoming P.

[Illustration: Contracted Christos monogram]

This monogram, with the Latin N, standing for the word noster (our), added to it, means Christos noster (our Christ).

[Illustration: Christos noster monogram]

Another monogram for our Lord's title, Christ, is composed of the first two and the last capital {73} letters of the Greek word CHRISTOS. The horizontal mark over the top is the sign that some letters have been omitted.

[Illustration: Lord's title monogram]

The more familiar monogram IHS (IHS) is the abbreviated form of the Greek word for our Saviour's human name, Jesus, IESOUS. The first two and the last letters are those used. Sometimes this is written |IHC.| The two forms are synonymous, the C being simply another form of the Greek S. Sometimes the letters are intertwined, the I being lengthened and formed into a cross by a bar at the top.

[Illustration: IHS monogram]

These three letters are often read as signifying the Latin words, Jesus hominum Salvator, that is, |Jesus the Saviour of men|; but appropriate and beautiful as this reading is, it is not the original meaning, but an afterthought, and is said to have been first suggested about the year 1380.

Another monogram contains the initial letters, IX, of our Lord's full name, Jesus Christ, in Greek. The X (Chi) is combined with the I (Iota). Sometimes a horizontal bar is placed through the middle {74} of the figure, thus giving the initials of our Lord's full name, united with the cross.

[Illustration: Full name monograms]

Another form of monogram for our Lord's full name, Jesus Christ, is made by taking the first and the last letters of each of the Greek words. The lines above are the signs of contraction.

[Illustration: Contracted monogram]

I. N. R. I. These letters stand for the Latin form of the title placed on our Saviour's cross, Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Symbols of the Holy Ghost. -- The seven-branched Candlestick of the tabernacle, and the Seven Burning Lamps which St. John saw before {75} the throne of God, and which he declares to be the seven Spirits of God, that is, the Holy Spirit in His sevenfold manifestations of grace, are often used as symbols of the Holy Spirit, the source of all true illumination for men.

[Illustration: Seven-branched candlestick]

The most familiar emblem, however, is the Dove, which from the early centuries to the present day has constantly symbolized the third Person of the Holy Trinity. Its warrant and justification are based on the account in the Gospel of our Lord's baptism and the descent upon Him of the Spirit |in bodily shape like a dove.|

[Illustration: Dove]

The picture of the holy dove in the decorations of the church tells of the coming of the same Spirit as the fruit of the intercession of our ascended Lord and according to His most true promise, |I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may {76} abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth.| It reminds of that abiding presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church, making it the |habitation of God through the Spirit,| and giving living power to its sacraments as channels of saving and sanctifying grace.

Other symbols in frequent use are the following:

The Crown of Thorns and the Nails of crucifixion are symbols of our Saviour's passion.

[Illustration: Crown of thorns and nails]

The three Interlaced fishes and the Escallop Shell, the badge of a pilgrim, are both emblems of Holy Baptism: the one, as Baptism is in the Name {77} of the Holy Trinity; the other, as we therein confess that we are pilgrims and strangers on earth, who seek |a better country, that is, an heavenly.|

[Illustration: Interlaced fishes. Escallop.]

The phoenix is the symbol of immortality and the resurrection. The phoenix was a fabulous bird of the ancients. It was believed that, |after living a thousand years or so, it committed itself to the flames that burst, at the fanning of its wings, from the funeral pyre of costly spices which it had itself constructed, and that from its ashes a new phoenix arose to life.|

[Illustration: Phoenix]

The Anchor is the symbol of steadfastness and hope. |A strong consolation,... which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.|

[Illustration: Anchor]

The Crown is the symbol of victory and sovereignty.

The Wreath, commonly of laurel, is another symbol of victory. As an expression of triumph won, it is one of the commonest of symbols in the catacombs -- the underground and secret burying-places of the early Christians in times of persecution.


In this connection we may note the symbolism attached to certain plants and flowers. In the ornamentation of God's house we reproduce, as far as the art of man can, the forms and colors with which the love of God has arrayed the earth with so much beauty. We also use the natural plant and flower to beautify the church on the great Christian days of gladness and rejoicing. They mark such days as festival days. In a special way they tell at Easter, by their fresh, pure life out of the death of winter, the story of the resurrection.

[Illustration: Crown]

But, besides this, an emblematic meaning is also attached to particular flowers and plants. The use by the early Christians of plants and flowers in an emblematic way was simply a matter of reverent memory and the carrying over of past associations. Their remembrance of the words of the Lord Jesus would make the Vine, His own similitude of Himself in relation to them, -- |I am the vine, ye are the branches,| -- a symbol of frequent use to represent the Saviour.

The Wheat and the Grapes would not only be {79} the emblems of abundance and rejoicing, but would be enriched with suggestions of the Holy Eucharist.

The Olive-branch, borne by the dove, recalling the story of the flood, would stand for the thought of security and peace.

[Illustration: Olive-branch]

The Almond, with name derived from a word meaning haste, in allusion to its hasty growth and early maturity, was the symbol of hopefulness even in the days of Jeremiah. |The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond-tree. Then said the Lord unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten My word to perform it.|

The Palm is the emblem of victory. This symbolism attached to it not only from the familiar associations of its pagan use as such, but from a very early period, as seen on ancient mosaics, a reference to the palm was recognized in St. John's description of the Tree of Life, |which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month.| |Thus the palm-branch of Christian martyrs was not only the emblem of victory adopted from the well-known heathen use of it, but typified still more {80} strikingly their connection with the tree of divine life, 'whose leaves were for the healing of the nations.'|

The palm, however, was not the only instance of such adoption into Christian symbolism from pagan use. The influence of Christianity was felt in many like cases. Trees and plants held sacred to heathen gods became associated with holier names and ideas.

Thus the Laurel, |the meed of mighty conquerors and poets sage,| became for the humble Christian who had |fought a good fight, and finished his course,| the emblem of triumph and glory.

The Pomegranate, with mystic association from remote antiquity with the idea of life, became the symbol of a hopeful future, the emblem of immortality.

The Oak is the representative of supernatural strength and power. In pagan antiquity it was especially dedicated in the West to Thor, the thunder-god. The familiar story of St. Boniface, the apostle of Germany, relates how he found in the country of the Hessians an enormous tree, called the Oak of Thor, greatly revered by the people and held inviolably sacred. St. Boniface cut it down in token of the triumph of Christ. When it fell with a mighty crash, and Thor gave no sign, the {81} heathen folk, who stood about in awe, accepted the token and were converted. The stroke of St. Boniface's ax overthrew Thor, but could not altogether destroy the associations of the ancient belief. The reverence for the oak long survived; and the veneration for it, Christianized in meaning, led to its reproduction, with symbolic reference to the power of the God of gods, in many beautiful forms of leaf and spray and clustered acorn, in church decoration.

In like manner, we find flowers held sacred to heathen goddesses lifted out of that association and invested with higher and purer emblematic meaning.

The Lily, the flower of Juno, became the flower of the holy Virgin, and its snowy whiteness the symbol of Christian purity. It is often seen in the conventional form of the fleur-de-lis.

The Rose before the coming of Christianity was a mystic flower among Northern races. Among the Greeks and Romans it was the flower of Venus and the symbol of earthly love. Its symbolism felt also the redeeming touch of Christian sentiment. The love of which it is the emblem became not an earthly, but a heavenly love. As the lily tells of her purity, so the rose tells of the love that was in the heart of the Blessed Virgin. But this was but the reflection {82} of a higher and a divine love, of which the rose was also the symbol.

How that thought of the love of heaven coming down to earth was expressed emblematically by the rose, we may see in the story of its origin which the Christian fancy of the middle ages invented. It was said that a holy maiden of Bethlehem, |blamed with wrong and slandered, was doomed to the death; and as the fire began to burn about her she made her prayers to our Lord that, as she was not guilty of that sin, He would help her and make it to be known to all men, of His merciful grace. And when she had thus said, anon was the fire quenched and out, and the brands that were burning became red roseries, and the brands that were not kindled became white roseries, full of roses. And these were the first roseries and roses, both white and red, that ever any man saw.|

So the rose became the flower of martyrs, the presage of the beauty and joy of Paradise. With the same thought, the early Christians decorated with roses the graves of martyrs and confessors on the anniversary of their death. It has been conjectured that it is from this connection of the rose with Paradise, and with the thought of the love which accomplished our salvation, that the rite of {83} the |golden rose| has been derived -- the rite in which the Pope, on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, blesses a golden rose adorned with jewels, which he afterward bestows upon some person he desires especially to honor. In the prayers which are used in this rite, our Lord is alluded to as the |eternal Rose that has gladdened the heart of the world.|

The interesting plant known as the Passion-flower, although of comparatively modern origin, is now freely used to symbolize the passion of our Lord. The ten faithful apostles, -- omitting St. Peter who denied and Judas who betrayed our Lord, -- the hammer and the nails, the cross, the five sacred wounds, the crown of thorns, the cords which bound Him, are all, by an exaggerated symbolism and straining after analogy, supposed to be represented by its various parts. It was discovered by early Spanish settlers in America, and was welcomed by them as useful in teaching Christianity to the Indians. It is the one contribution of the new continent to the ecclesiastical symbolism of flowers.

Symbols of the Evangelists and Apostles. -- The Evangelists are often represented by four scrolls, four open books, or four streams of water issuing from Christ the Rock; but most commonly the Evangelistic symbols are the Man, the Lion, the {84} Ox, and the Eagle. These figures refer to the mysterious creatures described by the prophet Ezekiel, and afterward by St. John, as adoring ceaselessly before the throne of God. |They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.| The man is assigned to St. Matthew and his Gospel, because of the manner in which the manhood of our Lord is set forth, the lion to St. Mark, because he shows {85} His royal dignity and power; the ox to St. Luke, because his is the sacrificial Gospel and dwells on the Atonement; and the eagle to St. John, because his Gospel rises to the contemplation of the sublimest mysteries of the Christian faith.

[Illustration: Man, Lion, Ox, Eagle symbols]

All these symbols are winged, as showing that the message of the Gospels is to go to all the earth as the concern of all men everywhere.

All four symbols are sometimes combined into one, called a Tetramorph.

Each Apostle has also his own appropriate symbol.

St. James the Greater has the escallop shell and staff of the pilgrim. His shrine in Spain was one of the great centers to which pilgrims came from all lands.

[Illustration: Apostle symbols -- S. Peter, S. Andrew, S. James ye more, S. Johan, S. Thomas, S. James ye less.]

St. John, as an Apostle, has a cup with a winged serpent rising from it, in reference to the tradition {86} that St. John once drank with impunity from a poisoned chalice after having made the sign of the Cross over it.

St. Thomas bears the spear with which he was slain, or the carpenter's rule, from a legend that he was sent to the king of the Indies to build him a palace. St. Thomas gave to the poor the money intrusted to him by the king. He was cast into prison, but the king had a vision of a marvelous palace in Paradise built for him by the money given in charity. St. Thomas was released, and the king became a Christian.

St. Peter has the keys, in reference to our Lord's words to him, and to his opening of the door of the Church to Jews and to Gentiles.

St. Matthew, as an Apostle, has sometimes a purse, in allusion to his having been a publican, or tax-gatherer, and sometimes the hatchet with which he was killed.

The other Apostles have, for symbols, the traditional instruments of their martyrdom: St. Andrew bears the cross peculiar to him; St. Bartholomew the knife with which he was flayed alive; St. James the Less has the fuller's club with which he was beaten to death; St. Philip has the cross on which he was crucified, St. Matthias bears a battle-ax: {87} St. Jade a halberd, or a knotted club, sometimes fashioned like a cross, with which he was slain; St. Simon the saw with which he was cut asunder.

[Illustration: Apostle symbols -- S. Phylyppa, S. Barthylimew, S. Matthew, S. Jude, S. Symon, S. Mathyas.]

The symbol of St. Paul is the sword with which he was beheaded, and a closed book, in reference to his Epistles. St. Stephen, the first martyr, bears the stones with which he was killed while he prayed for those who hurled them.

Of Angelic figures. -- It is not surprising, in view of the references of Holy Scripture, that representations of angels should have place in the decoration of Christian churches. |The religion of heaven is Christianity.| |I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts, and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and {88} thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.|

Angels are included in the Communion of Saints. |Ye are come ... unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven.|

It is the constant tradition of the Church that the holy angels attend at Christian worship. It is one of the highest privileges of that worship that we have such communion with them as to be able to say, |Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name; evermore praising Thee, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory: Glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High. Amen.|

The Symbolism of Colors. -- In the ornamentation of vestments and of the hangings of the Altar, as also in the general decoration of churches, all colors are employed as good taste may dictate. They are thus properly used |for the glory of God, who created the many hues of nature and gave to man the power of deriving pleasure from them.| {89} Certain colors, however, are known as |liturgical| or |ecclesiastical| colors, and are, in accordance with ancient practice, employed for symbolical purposes about the Altar and chancel of our churches, or the dress of Ministers, during the different seasons of the Church Year. They serve to impress upon our minds, through the outward senses, certain great truths of the Gospel, and give honor and dignity to the celebration of its sacred mysteries.

The colors most commonly used are white, red, violet, black, and green.

White, signifying purity and joy, is used on the Feasts of the great mysteries of our Faith and at all seasons relating to our Lord, on days relating to the Blessed Virgin and to those saints who were not also martyrs, and on festival occasions, such as Confirmations, Ordinations, Dedications, Weddings, etc.

Red, the emblem of blood and fire, is used on the Feasts of martyrs, typifying the blood which was shed for Christ, and at Whitsuntide, when it tells of the tongues of fire which came upon the Apostles.

Violet, the emblem of penitence, is used in Advent, in the season from Septuagesima to Lent, in Lent, and also on Ember and Rogation days.


Black signifies mourning, and is used on Good Friday and at Burials.

Green, the ordinary color of nature, is used on all days which are not Feasts or Fasts and when no special truth or doctrine is to be emphasized.

The Symbolism of Lights. -- The symbolic use of lights in divine worship seems to have been handed on from the Jewish Temple to the Christian Church. The candles upon the Altar, as in use in many churches, whether the two Eucharistic lights or the vesper lights, not only give beauty and festival character to the service, but are an expressive sign of spiritual gladness and joy, and a symbol, suggested by His own words, of Christ as the true |light of the world.| They remind us of the gladness and spiritual illumination which the Gospel brings.

The Symbolism of Incense. -- Where incense is employed as an adjunct of worship, its symbolism is the same as that which it had in the worship of the Temple. It is the symbol of prayer, of the intercession of our great High Priest, and of the prayers of the saints. So the Psalmist prays, |Let my prayer be set forth in Thy sight as the incense|; and so again, St. John, describing the ceremonial of the worship of heaven as seen in his vision, says, {91} |Another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.|

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