October 17, 2017

Recommendation and Review: Saving Paradise by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker

A lot more interesting than Brian Mclaren, and guranteed to make you twice as mad.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of my reading time.

Let me explain that one. I read many books, and when I look back at them- or over my shoulder at them- it’s very obvious to me that since I was a boy of 15 up until today, a lot of my reading has been covering the same ground, over and over again. Different writers. Same basic stuff.

I’m a conservative evangelical Baptist. I have reformation leanings. I’m a communicator with and teacher of young people and adults. I’m curious about a lot of things related to religion as it touches on what I believe. When I draw the circle of books that concern all those things, there’s more than I could read in ten lifetimes.

But in my lifetime I’ve spent a great deal of time reading books within that circle that say the same things again and again. And I think thousands of other thinking, reading Christians would say the same thing: a lot of what I read tells me a great deal of what I already know. It’s not at all unusual for me to get fifty pages into a book and say, “What am I gaining by reading this?”

As I hit the second half of life, I’m not bothered that I have a set of beliefs that I am committed to. But I am a bit bothered that I haven’t followed my curiosity more, especially from sources that directly challenge my own beliefs.

I’ve not read as many alternative views of Christianity as I should. I’ve never read a complete book on Eastern Orthodoxy. I’ve read few books by women theologians, and even fewer by those who are out-front in their plan to take me to places that my own “Theology Boys Club” won’t ever take me.

I have made it a point to read the works of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, radical Jesus scholars from the Jesus Seminar and political progressives operating well outside the boundaries of traditional orthodoxy.

When I read their books, I often find assumptions and statements that I deeply disagree with, but I also learn a great deal that is helpful to me. I never fail to be glad I spent the time outside the lines drawn for me by my own community and instincts towards “safe” reading. Because of the different roads they’ve taken in their own journeys, these writers have asked questions, investigated sources and made applications that have simply never occurred to me….or that I’ve always believed were “wrong” to even consider.

So a recent assignment to review Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker’s book, Saving Paradise struck up familiar emotions with me.

After reading the publisher’s material, familiar tapes were playing in my mind: this will be a waste of time. Feminist theologians. Gnostic gospels. Radical reinterpretations of orthodoxy. Rejection of the atonement as abusive. Hundreds of factual claims with questionable documentation hidden in the footnotes. An agenda that is, in the end, post-modern, progressively political, pro-gay and sexually permissive.

Saving Paradise checks in- with extensive endnotes- at just over 500 pages. Brock and Parker undertake nothing short of a radically alternative view and review of key points in Christian history, a view that claims to uncover the evidence of a discarded Christianity that affirmed life in paradise in this life. They ask why the crucifixion of Jesus is absent from centuries of early Christian art. They trace the appearance of “crucifix Christianity” to the arising of Latin Christianity and the embracing of violence as a legitimate expression of Christian obedience.

With the eyes of detectives and historians, the authors take a look at many primary sources and personalities, tracing a story of a Christianity that manifested itself in the themes of life, peace, resurrection and, above all, paradise.

It’s a fascinating and infuriating journey. One moment you are reading an in-depth analysis of church art, the next you are reading a rather naive acceptance of the dating of gnostic gospels. One moment you are in church history, the next in the progressive’s approval of gay marriage. The agenda of the authors is clear, but so is their legitimate research and compelling documentation. Brock and Parker believe placing the cross at the center of Christianity’s message, devotion and worship (in the eucharist) was a disaster, losing a love of life in this world and accepting all kinds of violence as redemptive. It’s a bold and divisive claim, and if you haven’t taken it on in your consideration of postmodern Christian communication, you need to calm down and do so.

Saving Paradise makes dozens and dozens of controversial claims, and some of them are, in my view, completely ridiculous (such as the acceptance of same gender sex in early monasticism and the ordination of women as bishops and priests). But other claims are truly thought provoking and compelling. The artistic, historical and documentary case they build for the role of paradise and the absence of constant evocation of the crucifixion is strong and disturbing. I may not agree with their conclusions, but much of their evidence is not to be tossed aside lightly.

Brock and Parker are, without a doubt, going to strike evangelicals as those often talked about gnostic oriented progressives who want to remove the atonement as the center of Christianity. Their point of view as women theologians well outside the boundaries of traditional orthodoxy is obvious. In another book, Brock states her view openly: “We were convinced Christianity could not promise healing for victims of intimate violence as long as its central image was a divine parent who required the death of his child.” In other words, the atonement, as generally presented, is powerless to help many absued women because it presents an abusive God.

As offensive as such a view is to many evangelicals, it is a view that requires more than a shout-back. Brock and Parker have responded with a volume of historical evidence. Many will not find them worthy of a response, but I’d like to hear it. Ironically, just today I received Mark Driscoll’s book Death by Love: Letters from The Cross. I haven’t read the book, but it appears to be the pastoral application of exactly what Brock and Parker say can’t be done. If Brock and Parker are right, Driscoll is presenting a message very different than what prevailed in the early church, and a message that legitimizes oppression and violence with the blessing of the Christian God.

I do not recommend this book if you can’t read a point of view with which you deeply disagree and be open enough to learn what is of value along the way. If you can pull off that trick, then Saving Paradise will be one of the most interesting and thought provoking books you’ll ever read. Perhaps it will provoke a substantial historical response. Where is the crucifixion in early Christian art? How invest are we as Protestants in the eucharistic theology of presenting the crucified Jesus over and over? Have we lost the resurrection’s influence over all aspects of our community practice and life? Do we consider the pastoral application of the atonement to women, the abused and victims of violence, or are we too male and theologically ivory-towered to think about such things?

Important questions to be considered, pondered and answered. I dare you to get out of the usual safe zone and take on some truly provocative and stimulating reading.

[The author received a copy of this book for review.]

Comments

  1. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    If Death by Love is a summary of teaching done from around 2005 in the atonement series then Driscoll could do what allegedly can’t be done by assimilating more than one explanation of the atonement into his understanding of the Cross. Most preaching or teaching I have heard about atonement becomes idiotic by supposing that this or that atonement theory alone accounts for what happened on the Cross. Advocates of penal substitionary atonement treat christus victor and christus exemplar explanations as signs of theological liberalism rather than as part of a legitimate and needed understanding of what happened at the cross. There is a lot of pointless polarity and false dichotomy introduced into some discussions about the cross and atonement. I’m still busy tackling the Snodgrass book on the parables but I’d be interested in reading what you make of this book and Driscoll’s

  2. There is no salvation without the sacrifice its as simple as that.

    “We preach Christ crusified.” I Corinthians 1:23

  3. You’re right, Giovanni.

    I’ve been told that early Christian art did not feature crosses, because there were crucifixions still happening outside your doors. They were real, nasty and cruel and there for all to see. When did the Roman’s cease the practice?

    Michael: the point about reading the same thing over and over again–someone once taught me, if it’s “new” after 2000 years of theological writing the writer is either a genuis or a heretic.

    “Eucharistic theology” keeps us grounded in the daily cycle of repentance and forgiveness, law and gospel every day, dying and rising, daily.

  4. I appreciate the fact that a lot of people- including me- will want to say that the cross forgives our sins.

    The post probably deals more with these questions:

    1) Should Christians read books by those who are decidedly not orthodox?

    2) Why is there an absence of crucifixes and a undeniable decreased emphasis on the crucified Christ as compared to the resurrected Christ in the first several centuries of Christian art/liturgy?

  5. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    1. Yeah
    2. I think you answered your question, Michael. 🙂 The resurrection is the foundation of the faith. My hunch is that like the Trinity the full significance of the cross took time to understand and formulate, whereas the resurrection has implications and an import that are both more obvious and more necessary to the early development of the faith.

  6. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead it doesn’t really matter if his death was by crucifixion, after all.

  7. Firstly, I couldn’t agree more about learning outside of your comfort zone, even if the book has you huffing and puffing with outrage (as long as you have a good way to calm down afterwards). I hope I never narrow my mindset so far that I won’t even listen to people with whom I disagree. I’m planning to read about holocaust-deniers who I’m fairly sure are anti-Semitic nutcases, but I think it’s good to understand why they’re wrong.

    On the subject of the cross, I’ve heard the Bible doesn’t actually mention a cross and that crucifixes at the time were mostly simple stakes – if anyone can provide the Biblical passage where the shape of the crucifix is described, I’d be interested to see it.

  8. Tigger23505 says:

    iMonk,
    I would say that we absolutely must read material that is outside of our circle. We are going to meet people who are earnestly looking for God, and they will have been exposed to these books, these thoughts, and we need to know what Dominic Crossan is telling them, so that they can get as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the Story.”
    The other important thing that happens when you read material from outside of the circle is that you may have an “aha” moment and reach a deeper understanding of something that you thought you knew before, but by looking at it again critically, you are now seeing the “City on a Hill” from from a new angle and it looks even more beautiful from there. Imagine looking up at the Temple Mount from the Kidron while the sacrifice was still in effect. Surrounded by filth, and offal from the sacrifices, to look up and see Herod’s Temple would have been awe inspiring.
    Lastly, remember that as long as these authors are breathing there is hope that they will see the evidence with new eyes, and change their understanding of the evidence.

  9. Okay – going to quote a huge chunk here from the online “Catholic Encylopaedia” on the topic of Christian art; one good point it mentions is that early Christian art was funerary, and where Christians were buried in public places where pagans could enter, they didn’t want to plaster explicitly Christian symbols around – and a cross would certainly be one of those:

    “The earliest specimens of decorations employed for a Christian purpose are found in the Roman catacombs. In the most ancient examples of all the private chambers used for Christian interment in the first and second centuries, there is decoration indeed, but it is only in a negative sense that it can be called Christian art, for while the abundant frescoes seen in the cemetery of Domitilla and notably in the cubiculum of Ampliatus exclude such pagan elements as would be unseemly, the character of the painting is in every respect the counterpart of the ornamentation of the contemporary private houses buried at Pompeii. There is nothing distinctively Christian.
    Perhaps the frequent recurrence of the vine as a principal element in the scheme of decoration may have been meant to suggest the thought of Christ, the true vine, but even this is doubtful.

    Symbolism occurs early, but it can only be recognized with confidence in the more public cemeteries of the second century, e.g. that of St. Callistus; here, under the influence of the “Discipline of the Secret”, it is hardly wrong to recognize the true beginnings of a distinctively Christian art. No doubt this art in a most marked degree was imitative of the more decent forms of pagan decoration familiar at the period. It seems constantly to be forgotten by those who discuss this subject that it was the deliberate object of the early Christians, during the ages of suspicion and persecution to exclude from their places of sepulture all that would by its conspicuousness or strangeness attract the notice of the casual pagan intruder. No wonder that the theme of the Good Shepherd in introduced again and again in the fresco decorations of the early catacombs. This is no indication as rationalist critics have sometimes pretended, of the survival of an idolatrous mythology, but the very likeness of the beardless Good Shepherd to the type of the pagan Hermes Kriophorus — a likeness, however, which is never so exact as to lead to real confusion — constituted its recommendation to those who wished to hide their distinctive practices from the prying eyes of the people around them. In the same way the Orante, or praying figure, symbolical of the Church or the individual soul, bore a general resemblance to the statues of Pietas, familiar enough to the ordinary Roman citizen, while the dove, which was to the Christian eloquent of the grace of the Holy Spirit, would not have been distinguished by his pagan neighbour from the birds consecrated to Venus. The deeper mysteries of the Eucharist and of the other sacraments were still more artfully veiled in the frescoes of those early centuries. No doubt the fish was an object familiar enough in all kinds of pagan decoration, but that very fact rendered it most suitable for the purpose of the Christian when he wished to symbolize the marvellous workings of Christ (Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter = ICHTHYS, the fish) in the waters of baptism.

    What again was more common in decoration than some form of banqueting scene — a theme also often utilized by the worshippers of Mithra– but these feasts depicted upon the walls of a sepulchral chamber had a far other and deeper significance for the Christian, who by some minute sign, the little cross, it may be, impressed upon the loaves, or the fishes which decked the frugal board, was quick to discern the reference to the life-giving mystery of the Blessed Eucharist. There are also human figures and Biblical scenes, especially those connected with the liturgy for the departed — for example the miraculous restorations of Jonah and Daniel and Lazarus — and in one or two isolated instances we may perhaps recognize a presentment of the Madonna, but the reference is always cryptic and only interpretable by the initiated.

    It was under these circumstances that the instinct of religious symbolism was developed when the art of the Church was yet in its infancy but the tradition thus created has never departed from true religious art throughout the ages. With the triumph of the Church under Constantine the necessity for the sedulous hiding of the mysteries of the Faith in large measure disappeared. From A.D. 313 to the end of the fifth century was a period of transformation and development in Christian art, and it may be conspicuously recognized upon the walls of the Roman catacombs. Biblical scenes abound, and the figure of Christ, no longer so frequently as the beardless Good Shepherd, but crowned with a nimbus and sitting or standing in the attitude of authority, is fearlessly introduced. The nimbus is also extended to others beside Christ, for example to Our Lady and some of the saints. Sculpture again, though in the catacombs the traces it has left are relatively few now for the first time becomes the helpmate of painting in the service of the Church.

    This is the age of the great Christian sarcophagi so wonderfully decorated with the figures of Christ and His Apostles and with biblical scenes still full of symbolic meaning. The old ways of the period of persecution had, it is plain, become not only familiar but dear to the body of the faithful. The allegorical method of representing the mysteries of the Faith did not disappear at once. But though with the triumph of Constantine the outline of the “chrisme” (chi-rho), or the Greek monogram of Christ, was universally held in honour and introduced into all Christian monuments and even into the coinage, the crucifix as a Christian emblem was as yet practically unknown.

    For more than a century the memory of the Sacrifice of Calvary was recalled to the minds of the faithful only by some such device as that of a plain cross impressed with the figure of a lamb. The first representations of the figure of the Saviour nailed upon the Rood, as we see it upon the carved doors of Sta. Sabina in Rome and in the British Museum ivory, belong probably to the fifth century, but for a long period after that this subject is very rarely found, and its occurrence in frescoes or mosaics is hardly recorded anywhere before the time of Justinian (527 – 565).”

    Definitely an interesting question as to the (relatively) late representation of the cross; I think an emphasis on the Resurrection and the promise of salvation and life eternal for the faithful was more in the minds of the people; certainly, for tombs and such, I’m not surprised symbols of the life to come were chosen.

    I don’t think, however, that switching to representations of the crucifixion means that Christianity ‘decided’ to exchange the glories of this world in favour of the next, in some kind of ‘giving up’ on making a compromise with pagan neighbours and snatching at power by controlling access to eternity – which I take it is the thrust of the book’s argument?

  10. Martha,

    Thanks for the quote. Exceeded my normal bounds but was relevant and helpful.

    The authors hit the RCC pretty hard on the placement of the crucifix in the worship space post Charlemagne and with a rather complicated Northern European history. They also hit the RCC hard on turning the meaning of the Eucharist entirely to a representation of a dead, crucified body.

    I have to say I was very interested and somewhat persuaded by both points, though with the second I didn’t have far to go.

    thanks again,

    MS

  11. There’s not a huge amount of Christian art or symbolism out there in the first 4 centuries of the church. The catacombs have some, and there are a few mosaics found on the floors of ancient churches, so what we have is altogether sparse.

    The cross pictured as a religious symbol began to appear in the mid 5th century. Does this mean that the crucifixion was somehow not on the church’s radar? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. For instance Tertullian tells us that Christians were “crossing” themselves in his day. (end of 2nd century) The death and resurrection of Christ has always been the cornerstone of Christian worship- just look at the centrality of the eucharist in christian worship.

    The early Christians were a “word based” people and, initially anyway, did not appreciate visually based mediums. This probably has to do with the antagonism between the early church and Judaism. A lot of things were rejected for being too jewish.

    Its a good thing to be focused on the resurrection of Christ. The death of Christ without the resurrection is meaningless.

  12. I am an Eastern Orthodox priest who just stumbled into your site, and has quite enjoyed this post and the comments. I would tend to make two comments:

    1. I fully agree with you that in reading people with whom one disagrees, one can expand the depth of their understanding of that subject without necessarily compromising their belief or changing their mind on it. I have found that when I have read women theologians with whom I disagree, I have often found a sensitivity to human interactions and interrelationships that is often missing from men theologians. (Maybe I am just a chauvinist.)

    2. The Eastern Orthodox would agree, just a little, with their comment on parents killing their children. For us, the Christus Victor theme is our main understanding of the Cross (though not the only one). Substitutionary penal atonement is way down on our list of ways to understand the Cross. Thus, though we have a crucifix immediately behind our altar, yet our icons picture the saints in resurrected glory.

    You catch a glimpse of this in CS Lewis’, “Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe.” Look at Aslan’s death closely. He dies because of Edmund. He dies instead of Edmund. But there is no thought that he dies in order to pay back the Emperor over the Sea. Rather, he tricks the witch, who is not aware of the deeper magic. The law that a traitor must die has been kept, but there is no thought that it is the Emperor who is insisting on the death, rather the death is built into the moral order of Narnia, and Narnia will cease to exist as a moral universe should the law not be kept. But, there is a deeper secret from outside the Narnia universe, a secret which both the Emperor and Aslan gleefully know. You know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say. CS Lewis’ representation is quite different from the Western one and much more akin to the Eastern Orthodox one.

  13. paulelastic says:

    “We were convinced Christianity could not promise healing for victims of intimate violence as long as its central image was a divine parent who required the death of his child.”

    One of the more interesting views directly opposing this comes from Miroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian. His thesis of Exclusion and Embrace is that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance (and by extension, divine justice). He writes:

    “My thesis will be unpopular with man in the West. But imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. Your point to them–we should not retaliate? Why not? I say–the only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God. Violence thrives today, secretly nourished by the belief that God refuses to take the sword. It takes the quiet of a suburb for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence is a result of a God who refuses to judge. In a scorched land–soaked in the blood of the innocent, the idea will invariably die, like other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.

    if God were NOT angry at injustice and deception and did NOT make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.”

  14. I am reminded by your review of Cynthia Crysdale’s Embracing Travail. This book was transformative for me.

  15. I’m amazed that a Baptist would be suggesting Christians read something other than cheer leading material. Congrats!!

    My only critique is that I find it interesting that you find it ridiculous for female priests and bishops when this has rarely disputed except in the gender repressive denominations.

    Thanks for the great blog.

  16. Greg DeVore says:

    The death of Christ is only one of the themes in play in the eucharist. The eucharist celbrates the presence of Christ with us. (In my tradition we believe we recieve by eating and drinking the physical body and blood of Christ). This has a huge resurrection emphasis. The eucharist has also has an eschatological dimension a present participation in the Churches eternal glorious celebration of Christ’s victory. As far as early Christian art goes you might look at the prevalence of Jonah images in early art. The Jonah story had a lot of significance for the early Christians and seemed to stand for both the death and resurrection of Christ and the believers participation in Christ through baptism. As far as reading the books of those with whom you disagree: iron sharpens iron.

  17. imonk,
    I can see why the authors of this book come out where they do on the issue of Christianity, the Crucifixion and intimate violence. But three things come to mine

    1. Yes, we really should read the writings of those we disagree with for many reasons, but one reason is that doing so helps us own our beliefs and understand why we hold those beliefs.

    2. God has reasons for all that He does. This is a pretty basic and elementary statement, but an important one. He created man in such a way that we can, and do, question why God does things the way that He does them. However, one’s questioning of God’s ways and means does not in any way change the righteousness and goodness of God’s actions and decisions. God sent His Son to die in our place and to take the penalty of our sins upon Himself. Should The Father have said “Well, some people might misconstrue this action on my part as advocating abuse against their spouse, so I guess I won’t send the Son to die for the sins of the world”?

    3. The line of reason that seeks to link God’s action at the Crucifixion to a husband beating his wife, or child is like comparing a surgeon to Freddy Krueger. Both cut people open, but the results are diametrically opposed. The former does “violence” to the patient in order to heal, the latter does violence in order to kill and destroy. One could, and some do, rationalize that since cold-blooded murder is a sin then capital punishment is a sin, because both involve the taking of a life. However, capital punishment was commanded by God in Genesis (I realize that many disagree with my position, but God does say that if one sheds the blood of man, that man’s own blood must be shed).

    The believer must think clearly and rationally about categories, arguments and word usage. I really appreciate how you do this, imonk. Thank you for calling us to think rationally, clearly and Biblically. And thank you for doing it yourself. Keep up the good work.

  18. Paulecstatic, that’s awesome – what a crucial perspective. I’m going to read that guy next.

  19. “the gender repressive denominations.” 🙂

    And obviously I’ve internalised this repression, because I’m happily Catholic and female – oh, noes!

    Anyway, back to the main point, which is that I would tend to disagree with the thrust of the ladies’ argument if they are saying that the symbols of early Christian art represent some kind of emphasis on the world and this life – all those vines and doves and sheep and fish were meant to focus the believers’ thoughts on the next life and eternity, rather than “love of this world”.

    I may have to get this book and have a good read – it sounds both fascinating and aggravating in equal measure.

  20. “the placement of the crucifix in the worship space post Charlemagne”

    Mmmm – post-Charlemagne, so we’re talking about 8th century onwards.

    Except that, for example, the “Dream of the Rood” is dated to about 7th century, and Irish high crosses date from between 7th to 12th centuries, so this element was making its way into popular culture both pre- and post-Charlemagne.

    So we’ve got a division between crosses and then (presumably) later crucifixes, i.e. between those crosses with and without the corpus. The development of representations of the Crucifixion and the Passion is complicated and intriguing, but I again would disagree that ‘simple’ crosses are a distinct type from ‘crucifixes with the body’, in that I don’t think you can say that “putting the crucifix into the worship space” is indicative of a death-cult approach to religion, suddenly swerving away from the ‘paradisal’ imagery beforehand.

  21. Dream of the Rood gets a lot of attention in this book.

  22. “They also hit the RCC hard on turning the meaning of the Eucharist entirely to a representation of a dead, crucified body.”

    I find this very curious for two reasons:

    1. The Eucharist is the body of Christ both from the cruxifiction and from the resurection. His body did not change John 20:27 (KJV)

    “Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”

    Trying to separate one from the other is like separating God the Son from God the Father or some kind of Pseudo-arian view of the Eucharist.

    2. The words from the Lord him self rebuff her argument. Luke 22:19 (NAB)

    Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”

    The body “… my body, which will be given for you…” Christ’s words are rather blunt as to what the Eucharist is.

    I am familiar with many churches that do opt for replacing the Crucifix with as I call it “super-jesus” which is one in which Jesus actualy looks like, well, superman leaping in to the air.

    The first time that I saw it, and thankfuly it has only been once, I was a bit angry. People tend to forget things and as a person that separated him self from the Church as a teen and a young adult I know I forgot much.

    However as I grew older the image of the crucifix never left my mind it is one of the most powerful images that I recolect from my early childhood. Even as a secularist and somewhat agnostic that I was, I knew what the image said.

    I can not tell you the actual reason why the Crucifix was not popular until the beggining of the tenth century but if I was to venture a guess, I would say that in largely illiterate world which was in the middle of the dark ages when there was lots of suffering and little hope. The depiction of the sacrifice on the cross would of been something people could inmediatly understand.

  23. Oh yes, it’s a fascinating poem – but certainly thin ground to back up an assertion that the Cross was not a prominent symbol in Christianity until (take your pick of date). Now, it does certainly represent the heroic Christ triumphing over death, rather than the later styles of crucifix, but that is still a long way from “paradise in this world” (emphasis on “this”). And it still involves Christ having to suffer a disgraceful and painful death on the tree, not just imagery of “When he appears with the cross, he stands in front of it, serene, resurrected.”

    And another quote from the good old “Catholic Encyclopaedia”:

    “It is probable that the custom of placing a crucifix on the altar did not commence long before the sixth century. Benedict XIV (De Sacrificio Missae, P. I, 19) holds that this custom comes down from the time of the Apostles. However, the earliest documentary evidence of placing a cross on the altar is canon III of the Council of Tours, held in 567: “Ut corpus Domini in Altari, non in armario, sed sub crucis titulo componatur”. Mariano Armellini (Lezioni di Archeologia Sacra) tells us that the early Christians were not accustomed to publicly expose the cross for fear of scandalizing the weak, and subjecting it to the insults of the pagans, but in its stead used symbols, e.g. an anchor, a trident, etc. A simple cross, without the figure of Christ, was fixed on the top of the ciboria which covered the altars.”

    So if an altar crucifix was part of the rubrics from the 6th century on, that sort of contradicts “”The pithy opening paragraph of Saving Paradise sets up its startling premise: ‘It took Jesus a thousand years to die. Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century'”, doesn’t it?

  24. Martha:

    Hard to explain in short form. They use it to show that crucifix centered Christianity was imposed on the Northern Europeans, but the older religons (sacred trees etc) persisted.

  25. Dave Dehnke says:

    While doing some sermon prep for Holy Cross Day (Sept. 14) two weeks ago, I did some reading on the history of this particular feast day. It seems that prior to Constantine, Christians rarely used the symbol of the cross because of the need for secrecy and also because of the shame associated with crucifixion.

    The fish (ichthus)seems to have been the more dominant Christian symbol in the first 3 centuries. I suppose it allowed Christians to be a bit more circumspect in the face of persecution.

    If I’m not mistaken, I believe crucifixion was practiced in the Roman empire up until the 4th century, the practice being abolished either by Constantine himself or by one of his successors. I suppose it’s a little easier to embrace the cross as a symbol for one’s faith when one no longer has to worry about winding up on one.

    I also wonder how much the alleged discovery of the cross of Christ during the excavation for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 335 moved Christians of that period to begin to incorporate it in their art. The practice of veneration of relics of the cross seems to have taken root pretty quickly after that.

    While usage of the cross in early Christian art may have been infrequent out of a fear of it being used as incriminating evidence against them, the more ephemeral act of making the sign of the cross on the forehead was already a customary practice in private devotion by the 2nd century. By the 4th century it had come into wider use in the liturgy.

  26. Except that, for example, the “Dream of the Rood” is dated to about 7th century, and Irish high crosses date from between 7th to 12th centuries, so this element was making its way into popular culture both pre- and post-Charlemagne.

    I believe that Brock & Parker’s point is that there are no manned crucifixes in Christian art until Charlemange; that is, crosses with people on them. There are empty crosses, which signify resurrection and victory over death.

    Great post, Michael.

  27. On a much lighter note – – the iMonk homepage posted the introduction to the essay like this:

    It’s not at all unusual for me to get fifty pages into a book and say, “What am I gaining by reading this?” Continue Reading »

  28. Thanks for a review good enough to make me want to get the book, even though I can anticipate many of the points at which the authors and I will part company. I absolutely agree that it is essential for orthodox/evangelical/conservative Christians to read outside their camp in order to understand their own beliefs better and to recognize that even those they disagree with can still have some valid points. I’m thinking of the documentary “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” where they spoof Family Feud by pitting a group of conservatives against a group of liberals and the conservatives get smoked because they know nothing about the liberals’ worldview. A parrot is funny teh first few times you hear him talk, but after that he gets on your nerves.

  29. caucazhin says:

    Thats why they call it cemetary I mean seminary
    “Why do we search for the living among the dead”