30 April, 2006

The Symbol of the Knowledge of Good and Evil


Surely, this is not an original thought, but I will think it nonetheless.

The Tao is a big deal for most people. In everything good, the seed of evil. In everything evil, the seed of good. This makes great sense! The Tao is really right on. In the most awful of deeds, you can find evidence that the person who committed it knew that their evil was evil. And that knowledge is a seed of future good. It probably won't grow, but it's a seed all the same. In the most altruistic deed is the possibility of future reward or vainglory.

This is it. This is the symbol of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

When a man understands it, he attains as highly as he possibly can on his own. He has mastered godlike-ness as well as ever he will. This is what satan sold to Adam.

So what is the symbol of the Tree of Life? What is the symbol of Christ?

Count to 10 before you answer. :-)

No, I don't believe it is the cross.

Neither did the early church. Berger Pearson reviews Ante Pacem by Graydon Snyder. I have Ante Pacem, and highly recommend it (though I last read it over a decade ago).
Snyder argues that the specific Christian symbolism of the cross did not exist before Constantine. He refers to the “striking lack of crosses in early Christian remains,” and states that the crosses that do appear in Christian—and Jewish—art are “crypto-crosses” and are not symbolic of the crucifixion of Jesus.

The images of the first churches were happy. Jesus is pictured as a happy, happy man, and so many of the things happening in the images were joyous. That's how and why the church went 300 years without using the cross as its symbol. 300 years! 300 years ago, the 13 colonies were still happily paying their tiny little taxes to Great Britain, and George III would still not be born for another 30+ years. 300 years after the death of Christ is a long, Long, LONG time for the church to live happily without using the cross symbolically.

Snyder finds in ancient Christian art, these symbols:
... the lamb, anchor, vase, dove, boat, olive branch, orante (a female figure depicted with outstretched arms and hands upraised in prayer), palm or tree, bread, Good Shepherd, fish, vine and grapes, and the cross.

The fish made the biggest impression on me. Forget the Ixthos fish. That came much later. The original fish is a great picture of Christ and of the church as well. The sea is figurative of death, so a fish alive in the midst of death is a perfect picture of Christ and His church living in this world.

So, what do you think our best symbol is?

13 comments:

DugALug said...

Codepoke,

Great stuff.

I'd add that the original followers were called Christians either, they were members of 'The Way'.

I think this idea of the cross has been weighing heavy on my mind since Easter. There are few who would dispute that Jesus died on a cross. It is merely a matter of Jewish, Roman, and Christian record. I feel like the cross misses the boat, well at least the focus of what Christianity is about. Even the fact that the cross was capitol-T (T) shaped, rather than lower-case-T (t)shaped has bugged me. No biggie, but clearly there is more here that I don't understand.

By contrast, I do like the fish. I don't care if it is ixthos fish. The fish was the symbol that early believer used to get into the catacombs durring Nero's reign. That is kind of cool.

If I had my druthers, I'd like it do be a hand, with a nail hole in the proper place: at the base of the palm. The hand would be reaching out, palm-up, not palm-out. Okay, here my logic:

1) Christ rose, the nail-hole is a testament to that.

2) Christ reaches out to us. His invitation is to all.

3) The hand represents taking one soul at a time. Christianity works best as one-person shares with another person.

4) The hand is our hand. God came, as one of us. We cannot belittle Christ's humanity.

Fun Question CP!

God Bless
Doug

Milly said...

Codepoke,

Some COCs and I know other religions don’t think wearing a cross is an option. My COC has a large cross in our church with a nail. It is an empty cross unlike the Catholic faith, because our Lord isn’t still on that cross.

I think that we are the symbols of Christ. I can spot those who are Christians when they come through my line at work.. I have had several conversations about God with people. I know that this must sound kind of smarmy. I have one cross in my house. I’ve wondered if someone who didn’t know me would they know that I was a Christian? I hope they would by the way that I am.

I like the fish because it reminds me that we are to be the fishers of men.
}-(((*>

Maeghan said...

This reminded me of what I read in The Cross of Christ by John Stott.

On the contrary, Stott seem to conclude that according to records of the Church Fathers, the cross was used as a symbol even before Constantine.

I summarise his points here:
Yes, the cross was not Christianity's earliest symbol. The earliest motifs include a peacock (symbolising immortality), a dove, the athlete's victory palm and a fish. Then in the 2nd century, motifs used include Noah's ark, Abraham killing of the ram instead of Isaac, Daniel in the lions' den, his three friends in the fiery furnace, Jonah being disgorged by the fish, baptism, a shepherd carrying a lamb, the healing of a paralytic and the raising of Lazarus. But from the century onwards, Christians not only drew, painted and engraved the cross as a pictorial symbol of theor faith, but also made the sign of the cross on themselves or others. Witnesses to the practice include Tertullian (c.AD200), Hippolytus (c.AD215) and Cyprian (c.AD250). Then from AD312-313, Constantine added impetus to the use of the cross symbol.

For me a symbol of Christ remains the cross, though the fish would be next in line. Stott gives reference of the usage of the fish symbol to ichthys but commented that it did not remain a Christian sign because the association between Jesus and a fish was purely acronymic and had no visual significance.

The original fish is a great picture of Christ and of the church as well. The sea is figurative of death, so a fish alive in the midst of death is a perfect picture of Christ and His church living in this world.

I think this is a good representation of the fish but was it really used as such in those times, apostolic or post-apostolic.

300 years after the death of Christ is a long, Long, LONG time for the church to live happily without using the cross symbolically.

Yeah ... 300 is a long time, but so is 200 even if Stott is right.

But if your question "what's our best symbol", it must be the cross.

Maeghan

Danny Kaye said...

"I think that we are the symbols of Christ."

Great statement, Millie!
(I also loved that you used my favorite word, "smarmy".);-)

The absolute purity of Jesus has mezmerized me for nearly 20 years, now. Can we have a symbol of Jesus that represents that? I dunno what it would be; maybe a simply white White WHITE plaquard or something.

John said...

It's kind of odd that our symbol is that of a form of execution. Kinda like putting a gallows or an electric chair at the front of the church.

Milly said...

john,
Now I have that stuck in my brain, wonder if they'd have a poster of a rainbow and a dark mist?

codepoke said...

Milly,

Ah!!!!!

}-(((*>

It's a fish! I never did get that before. Very cute.

I think that we are the symbols of Christ. I can spot those who are Christians when they come through my line at work..

I love this idea too. I wonder whether I could spot Christians. I've never felt like I was very good at it.

codepoke said...

Maeghan,

On the contrary, Stott seem to conclude that according to records of the Church Fathers, the cross was used as a symbol even before Constantine.

Graydon Snyder makes his statement after evaluating all the known examples of possible crosses discovered by archeologists. His argument is that there are several things going on.
1) Some of them are pretty vague.
2) Some of them are really just parts of other images, masts on ships and the like.
3) Some of them are dated wrong.
4) Some of them are "crypto-crosses". People see a "T" that's a little larger in a word, and declare that this was a secret attempt to communicate between Christians. It would be hard to prove that this did not happen, but just as hard to prove that it did.

On the other hand, there are gobs of other examples of cymbals, easily identified.

The clincher is that the cross was actually a common symbol amongst all the other religions of the area. It was so common in other religions that it makes its absence in Christianity stand out all the more.

I don't know whether he is right, but I love the direction in which his conclusion leads me.

codepoke said...

John,

It's kind of odd that our symbol is that of a form of execution.

Hear, hear, John.

If Christianity went 300 years without using this symbol, it should mean something to us. Snyder says that the symbol came into prominence because Christianity had won. Now we could afford to have a King who suffered.

I think it's more than that.

codepoke said...

Milly,

wonder if they'd have a poster of a rainbow and a dark mist?

We're never going to escape from these comments!

(John, if you didn't get this inside joke, search for rainbow on this blog.)

codepoke said...

The most popular of all the Christian symbols was the Orante.

The orante is almost always a female in praying position (standing, with eyes and hands raised.) She is inserted into almost every type of scene from scripture, even things like Jonah, Daniel in the lion's den, and the fiery furnace.

She represents the community of believers trusting God.

I still say my favorite symbol of Christ is the Bread and the Wine. I love everything about that picture.

----

Sorry I was so late getting back to everyone. Love what you did while I was gone!

Milly said...

Codepoke,
I was shown contrast today a huffer trying to score gold paint, ended up with 3 cans of black instead. And a Christian with 2 brain tumors. I just knew she was a Christian, I said you know Jesus don't you? She told me she does and that she would see me on the other side if not sooner in the store. I said I'll be here and I'll be looking for you at the table. Christians seem to have something.

At least we’ve dropped the elephant thing. Hey!!! That’s the way out to the rainbow ride an elephant. BTW My elephant shrank. :-}

codepoke said...

Milly,

That's beautiful about the two contrasting people. It's really great that you are able to connect with people that quickly.

Hey!!! That’s the way out to the rainbow ride an elephant.

:-D

BTW My elephant shrank. :-}

Great news! That makes it easier to talk to the people on the other side of the room. Even if you might be stuck in a dark mist from now on.