The Sign of the Cross: A Biblical Iconography

Let us look at three signs: the cross itself, the vertical bar, and the horizontal bar.

1. The Cross: the Sign of Salvation.

The sign of the cross (the letter Thau) marks the persons that will be spared when God destroys the inhabitants of Jerusalem with a sword:

And the glory of the Lord of Israel went up from the cherub, upon which he was, to the threshold of the house: and he called to the man that was clothed with linen, and had a writer’s inkhorn at his loins. 4 And the Lord said to him: Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem: and mark Thau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof. 5 And to the others he said in my hearing: Go ye after him through the city, and strike: let not your eyes spare, nor be ye moved with pity.

Utterly destroy old and young, maidens, children and women: but upon whomsoever you shall see Thau, kill him not, and begin ye at my sanctuary.  (Ez 9:3-6)

According to a footnote in the Douay-Rheims Bible,

“Mark Thau”… Thau, or Tau, is the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and signifies a sign, or a mark; which is the reason why some translators render this place set a mark, or mark a mark without specifying what this mark was. But St. Jerome, and other interpreters, conclude it was the form of the letter Thau, which in the ancient Hebrew character, was the form of a cross.

2.  The Vertical Bar: Immanuel, Eliakim, and Stump of Jesse.

The vertical bar is the sign for up and down:

Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God either unto the depth of hell, or unto the height above. And Achaz said: I will not ask, and I will not tempt the Lord. And he said: Hear ye therefore, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (Immanuel).

Or a peg fixed on a sure spot:

On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open. I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family; On him shall hang all the glory of his family: descendants and offspring, all the little dishes, from bowls to jugs. (Is 22:20-24)

Or the stump of Jesse:

But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. (Is 11:1-5)

3.  The Horizontal Bar: Wood of Holocaust, Yoke of Jeremiah, and East to West

The horizontal bar is the wood of Holocaust brought by Isaac:

And he took the wood for the holocaust, and laid it upon Isaac his son: and he himself carried in his hands fire and a sword. And as they two went on together, 7 Isaac said to his father: My father. And he answered: What wilt thou, son? Behold, saith he, fire and wood: where is the victim for the holocaust? 8 And Abraham said: God will provide himself a victim for an holocaust, my son. So they went on together. 9 And they came to the place which God had shown him, where he built an altar, and laid the wood in order upon it: and when he had bound Isaac his son, he laid him on the altar upon the pile of wood. 10 And he put forth his hand and took the sword, to sacrifice his son. (Gen 22:6-10)

Or the yoke of Jeremiah:

Thereupon the prophet Hananiah took the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, broke it, and said in the presence of all the people: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Even so, within two years I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, from off the neck of all the nations.'” At that, the prophet Jeremiah went away. Some time after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke from off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: Go tell Hananiah this: Thus says the LORD: By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: A yoke of iron I will place on the necks of all these nations serving Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and they shall serve him; even the beasts of the field I give him. (Jer 28:10-14)

Or East to West:

As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us. (Ps 103:12)

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About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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