01 April 2010

Why did Christ die on a wooden cross?

Love the internet!  I was planning on doing something similar to this, but Taylor Marshall did the footwork for us. . .

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Seven Reasons Why Christ Died on a Wooden Cross

First, Augustine observed that crucifixion is not only painful, it is painful and public. The public nature of Christ's death inspires us to face death heroically.

Second, Augustine observed that since Adam brought death through a tree, it was fitting that the New Adam destroy death by hanging on a tree.

Third, John Chrysostom and Theophylact observed that by being lifted up on the cross, Christ sanctified the air.

Fourth, Athanasius observed that by being lifted up on the cross, Christ shows that He has prepared the ascent into Heaven.

Fifth, Gregory of Nyssa observed that the shape of the cross was fitting for because it extends in the four directions and is therefore universal. Also, Athanasius wrote that the one outstretched arm sanctified the those in the past and the other arm as outstretched to the future. So we have both a spacial and temporal universality signified in the crucifixion.

Sixth, Augustine says the parts of the cross signifies the following:

* Breadth – This pertains to Christ’s hands and thus "good works"
* Length – This pertains to the upright nature of a tree and thus "longanimity".
* Height – This pertains to the top and Christ’s head and “the good hope” of the faithful.
* Base – The base is the root and it is hidden, thus it signifies “grace”.

Seventh, Augustine observes that wood is salutary in the Old Covenant. Wood saved Noah in the Flood. Moses divided the sea with a wooden rod; purified water with wood, and brought forth water with his wooden rod. Also, the Ark of the Covenant was made of wood.

I adapted these seven reasons for the wooden cross of Christ from Saint Thomas Aquinas III q. 46, a. 4.

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Literary parallelisms in the bible are highly instructive.  The Church has long taught that the New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.  It stands to reason then that the biblical texts that reveal the covenants would contain numerous parallelisms for us to use in deepening our understanding of God's Self-revelation.  For example, we are familiar with the parallels drawn between the roles of Eve and Mary in our fall and redemption, respectively; between the wood and purpose of Noah's Ark and the wood and purpose of the Cross; between the blood of the sacrifical lamb in the temple and the blood of the sacrificial Lamb of God; and between the cleansing power of the flood and the cleansing power of baptism.  Such parallels were the stock and trade of Patristic preaching and teaching.

Compared to the often overly scientifically and nit-picking historical-critical method of interpreting scripture, the literary method of the Fathers is obviously superior.  This is not to say that the H-C method is worthless. . .just surprisingly sterile when used to produce a homily.

What are your favorite parallelisms in scripture?

NB.  When you visit Taylor's blog, please note the pic he uses at the top of the page:  Dominican friars at table.  Like I always say, "Never trust a skinny Dominican."  ;-)

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  1. Gregg the Obscure3:09 PM

    The gardens of Eden and Gethsemane are a great parallel. Moses ascending the mountain to receive the Law and Jesus ascending a mountain to give the Gospel (even if I still sound kind of Lutheran there). Melchizedek and the Eucharist at Emmaus.

  2. Anonymous4:52 PM

    Eight: because Scripture is CRAMMED with parallels between man and trees/wood. It is no coincidence that Joseph was a carpenter. Nor that in the God-inspired Greek text of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed the word for "was made man" is immediately followed by the word for "crucified", thus driving home the linkage of flesh/wood.


  3. Anonymous4:57 PM

    What are your favorite parallelisms in scripture?

    Another critical and widely-overlooked parallel is the recurring younger brother/older brother figure that prophetically points to the complicated and trying relationship of the peoples of the New and Old Covenants.