Sign of the Cross: Biblical Roots
Everything you want to know in life is in the Bible. As having my Christian roots in Catholicism, I did not know the Sign of the Cross was referenced in the Bible. Yes, I still bow my head when the name of Jesus is said. I never take Holy Communion in my hand. I am old school. But I never learned the Bible in nine years of Catholic School. Not until I went to a Baptist women Bible Study did I understand what the Bible means. Wow, I am just learning after 6 decades of life.
Pray continually, Paul urged the Thessalonians. The early church fathers took this one step further: continually make the sign of the cross.
“In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross,” wrote Tertullian at the turn of the third century, A.D. In the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom (apparently anticipating an American Express slogan) wrote, “never leave home without making the sign of the cross.”
Andreopoulos and Ghezzi find in the sign of the cross a symbol of baptism, protection, profession of faith, defiance of the Devil, invocation of God’s power, solidarity with the church, and a rebuke of self-indulgence—to name a few.
The origins of the sign are unknown; as Andreopoulos points out: “our information is sparse because this ancient practice emerged naturally, as something that made sense to most Christians.” The earliest descriptions, such as Tertullian’s, indicate that the cross was made with one finger—probably the thumb—on the forehead in the shape of a Hebrew T or a Greek X, letters that stood for names of God and Christ. Presumably, early Christians were taking their cues from passages in Genesis 4:15, Ezekiel 9:4, and Revelation 14:1 and 22:4 that describe a mark on the forehead as a sign of God’s claim on a person.
“The spiritual weight of the sign has always been the same,” Andreopoulos writes. “In texts from Tertullian and Origen to Kosmas and Aitolos, it is a blessing, a prayer, a proclamation of the Christian identity, a living mystery, and an acceptance of the role that God has given us.”
“Whether I sign myself silently or with the invocation [of ‘in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’],” writes Ghezzi, “it helps me to look beyond the mundane things I have to do every day … and focus on God and on the greater part of reality, the part that is spiritual and invisible.”