Reading History: John of Damascus answers Why the Cross?


As we continue our Easter related posts, we are going to look at John of Damascus’ reflections on the cross in his work Orthodox Faith. An eighth century theologian, John is best known for defending the veneration of icons and imagery when this issue was causing major divisions (link). Though intermixed with a defense of venerating the symbol of the cross (mostly removed from this post), John’s writing shows how central the cross is to orthodox Christianity.

The rest of this post contains excerpts from Book 4 chapter 11 (CCEL).


John_Damascus_(arabic_icon).gifEvery action, therefore, and performance of miracles by Christ are most great and divine and marvellous: but the most marvellous of all is His precious Cross. For no other thing has subdued death, expiated the sin of the first parent, despoiled Hades, bestowed the resurrection, granted the power to us of contemning the present and even death itself, prepared the return to our former blessedness, opened the gates of Paradise, given our nature a seat at the right hand of God, and made us the children and heirs of God, save the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. For by the Cross all things have been made right. So many of us, the apostle says, as were baptized into Christ, were baptized into His death, and as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Further Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Lo! the death of Christ, that is, the Cross, clothed us with the enhypostatic wisdom and power of God. And the power of God is the Word of the Cross, either because God’s might, that is, the victory over death, has been revealed to us by it, or because, just as the four extremities of the Cross are held fast and bound together by the bolt in the middle, so also by God’s power the height and the depth, the length and the breadth, that is, every creature visible and invisible, is maintained.

This is the shield and weapon against, and trophy over, the devil. This is the seal that the destroyer may not touch you, as saith the Scripture. This is the resurrection of those lying in death, the support of the standing, the staff of the weak, the rod of the flock, the safe conduct of the earnest, the perfection of those that press forwards, the salvation of soul and body, the aversion of all things evil, the patron of all things good, the taking away of sin, the plant of resurrection, the tree of eternal life.

…  The tree of life which was planted by God in Paradise pre-figured this precious Cross. For since death was by a tree, it was fitting that life and resurrection should be bestowed by a tree. 

 

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