What Figures Are On This Celtic Cross?

A reader writes,

Hi there my name is Mindy and I am trying to figure out the meaning of a particular Celtic Catholic cross that was my father-in-laws throughout his whole life. When he passed away it was handed down to my husband.

I now want my mom to do a portrait of this cross and my husbands father. But I cannot tell what the symbols are on the tips of the cross. I know there is an eagle on the north point and an angel on the south point, but on the west and east parts I cannot tell what they are. My husbands faith is a huge part of not only his life but his whole family’s lives and I feel I need to make sure we depict this cross as it is.

I know this is an odd request but if you can help me discover what these are I would be very thankful.

Sincerely, Mindy

Mindy? You came to the right place! The figures on that particular Celtic Cross are the likenesses of the four cherubim in St. John’s vision from the book of Revelation. Traditionally, they stand for the four authors of the Gospels. The Evangelists are depicted as follows: Matthew (a man), Mark (a lion), Luke (an ox), and John(an eagle).

Here is what John’s vision (Rev 4: 5-7) describes,

From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder. Seven flaming torches burned in front of the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. In front of the throne was something that resembled a sea of glass like crystal. In the center and around the throne, there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back.

The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like that of a human being, and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight. The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, were covered with eyes inside and out. Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

And now, here is a great account from a fantastic book (available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, of course!) entitled Sacred and Legendary Art by Anna Jameson. This is the kind of Church history that I love to share with folks. Prepare to be amazed.

III. THE FOUR EVANGELISTS

“Matthew wrote for the Hebrews ; Mark, for the Italians; Luke, for the Greeks ; for all, the great herald John.” — Gregory Nazianzen.

Since on the Four Evangelists, as the witnesses and interpreters of a revealed religion, the whole Christian Church may be said to rest as upon four majestic pillars, we cannot be surprised that representations of them should abound, and that their effigies should have been introduced into Christian places of worship from very early times. Generally, we find them represented together, grouped, or in a series ; sometimes in their collective character, as the Four Witnesses; sometimes in their individual character, each as an inspired teacher, or beneficent patron.

As no authentic resemblances of these sacred personages have ever been known or even supposed to exist, such representations have always been either symbolical or ideal. In the symbol, the aim was to embody, under some emblematical image, the spiritual mission; in the ideal portrait, the artist, left to his own conception, borrowed from Scripture some leading trait (when Scripture afforded any authority for such), and adding, with what success his skill could attain, all that his imagination could conceive, as expressive of dignity and persuasive eloquence, — the look “commercing with the skies,” the commanding form, the reverend face, the ample draperies, — he put the book or the pen into his hand, and thus the writer and the teacher of the truth was placed before us.

The earliest type under which the Four Evangelists are figured is an emblem of the simplest kind: four scrolls placed in the four angles of a Greek cross, or four books (the Gospels), representing allegorically those who wrote or promulgated them. The second type chosen was more poetical — the four rivers which had their source in Paradise: representations of this kind, in which the Savior, figured as a lamb holding the cross, or in His human form, with a lamb near Him, stands on an eminence, from which gush four rivers or fountains, are to be met with in the catacombs, on ancient sarcophagi preserved among the Christian relics in the Vatican, and in several old churches constructed between the second and the fifth century.

At what period the four mysterious creatures in the vision of Ezekiel (ch. i. 5) were first adopted as significant symbols of the Four Evangelists does not seem clear. The Jewish doctors interpreted them as figuring the four Archangels, — Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel ; and afterwards applied them as emblems of the Four Great Prophets, — Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. By the early Oriental Christians, who typified the whole of the Old Testament, the transfer of the emblem to the Four Evangelists seems obvious and easy; we find it alluded to as early as the second century.

The four “Beasts” of corresponding form in the Revelation (chap. iv. 7), which stood round the throne of the Lamb, were likewise thus interpreted; but it was not till the fifth century that we find these symbols assuming a visible form, and introduced into works of Art. In the seventh century they had become almost universal as distinctive attributes.

St. Matthew (Man)

The general application of the Four Creatures to the Four Evangelists is of much earlier date than the separate and individual application of each symbol, which has varied at different times; that propounded by St. Jerome, in his commentary on Ezekiel, has since his time prevailed universally. Thus, then, 1. To St. Matthew was given the Cherub, or human semblance, because he begins his Gospel with the human generation of Christ; or, according to others, because in his Gospel the human nature of the Savior is more insisted on than the divine. In the most ancient mosaics, the type is human, not angelic, for the head is that of a man with a beard.

St. Mark (Lion)

2. St. Mark has the Lion, because he has set forth the royal dignity of Christ; or, according to others, because he begins with the mission of the Baptist, — “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”—which is figured by the lion; or, according to a third interpretation, the lion was allotted to St. Mark because there was, in the middle ages, a popular belief that the young of the lion was born dead, and after three days was awakened to vitality by the breath of its sire; some authors, however, represent the lion as vivifying his young not by his breath, but by his roar. In either case the application is the same; the revival of the young lion was considered as symbolical of the resurrection, and Mark was commonly called the “Historian of the Resurrection.”

St. Luke (Ox)

Another commentator observes that Mark begins his Gospel with “roaring ” — ” the voice of one crying in the wilderness;” and ends it fearfully with a curse — “He that believeth not shall be damned;” and that, therefore, his appropriate attribute is the most terrible of beasts, the lion.

3. Luke has the Ox, because he has dwelt on the priesthood of Christ, the ox being the emblem of sacrifice. 4. John has the Eagle, which is the symbol of the highest inspiration, because he soared upwards to the contemplation of the divine nature of the Savior.

St. John (Eagle)

But the order in which, in theological Art, these symbols are placed, is not the same as the order of the Gospels according to the canon. Rupertus considers the Four Beasts as typical of the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension; an idea previously dwelt upon by Durandus, who adds that the man and the lion are placed on the right, because the incarnation and the resurrection are the joy of the whole earth; whilst the ox is on the left, because Christ’s sacrifice was a trouble to the apostles; and the eagle is above the ox, as suggestive of our Lord’s upward flight into heaven.

According to others, the proper order in the ascending scale is thus: at the lowest point on the left, the ox; to the right, the lion; above the ox, the eagle; and above all, the angel. So in Raphael’s Vision of Ezekiel [Pitti, Florence], the angel gazes into the face of the Holy One, the others form His throne.

I have dwelt on these fanciful interpretations and disquisitions, because the symbols of the Evangelists meet us at every turn; in the mosaics of the old Italian churches, in the decorative sculpture of our old cathedrals, in the Gothic stained glass, in the ancient pictures and miniatures, on the carved and chased covers of old books; everywhere, in short, where enters the idea of their divine mission — and where is it not? The profound thought, as well as the vivid imagination, exercised in some of these early works of Art, is beginning to be appreciated; and we should lose the half of what is poetical and significant and venerable in these apparently arbitrary and fanciful symbols, if we merely seized the general intention, and not the relative and appropriate meaning of each.

Peaked your interest? There is more in depth discussion of the symbolic representation of the Four Evangelists in the book. Go see! 

Photo Credit: Hawk Eyes (All sizes of these photographs are available for download under a Creative Commons license)

A Convert’s Lament To Mary (A Few Words for Wednesday)


Our Eastern brethren have been observing the Dormition Fast since the first of August. It continues until August 15th this year and concludes on the Feast of the Dormition, which Western Catholics celebrate as the Feast of the Assumption. In honor of this tradition, I will be sharing some of our Marian posts. This one is from October of last year…

Edward Caswall was another Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism in the mid 1800′s. He also joined the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, like his friends Blessed John Henry Newman and Frederick William Farber.  And, like them again, he was a prolific poet and hymnist.

Below is one of Caswall’s fine poems included in his book of verse entitled The Masque of Mary. This particular  poem really resonates with me.

As a convert to Catholicism, I pretty much ignored Our Lady my whole life. Lately, I’ve been making it a point to pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and pray the Rosary regularly with my family. Although I’m not always 100% successful in this effort, I can truthfully say that I’ve been coming around to recognizing the significance of The Blessed Virgin as both the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven.

Much like Caswall, though, I wish I would have come around sooner (but better late than never).

A Convert’s Lament to Mary

Among the thoughts that in my heart
Awaken grief sincere,
Causing with sudden pang to start
The unexpected tear,
Is this, that in the days gone by,
Star of the wintry sea!
Blinded by darkest heresy,
I thought so light of thee.

O Mother of my Lord and God,
Whom none invoke in vain;
O Path of life, which all have trod,
Who now in glory reign!

Had I but learnt in earlier years
To seek thine aid above,
To offer thee my infant tears,
Thy loving glance to love,—

How many deeds of sin and shame
Which now my heart appal,
Scar’d at the sound of thy pure name,
Had not been done at all!

How many a desolated space
Of vainly wasted hours,
Had bloom’d beneath thy smile of grace,
With paradisal flowers!

Mother! receive thine erring child;
Look tenderly on me;
From thy dear bosom long beguil’d,
I now return to thee.

More of Edward Caswell’s poems are here in The Masque of Mary, along with other of Caswell’s works on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

For Thoughts Amid the Storm (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Vision of St. Don Bosco 

Generally posts shared with the addendum in the title above have been reserved for lines of verse. Not so today. Instead, I’ll share a few epigrams from the disparate bookends of the Desert Fathers and Mothers to the United States Marine Corps, with a few wise words of friends and saints in between.

Remember my recent post on being a pilgrim people? First up, from the deserts of Egypt near Skete, a thought about pilgrimage.

One of us asked Abba Sisoes, “What is pilgrimage, Abba?” He answered, “Keep silent; and wherever you go, say, ‘I am at peace with all men.’ That is pilgrimage.”

Sigh. I’m a gonna need some help then. More epigrams, por favor! Like this one from an Amma,

Amma Theodora said, “Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Speaking of storms, my buddy Blaise Pascal reminds us,

There is a pleasure in being in a ship beaten about by a storm, when we are sure that it will not founder. The persecutions which harass the Church are of this nature.

St. Paul on endurance,

For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:6-7

And from the Marine Corps version of the Communion of Saints, General Victor H. “Brute” Krulak. He stood 5′ 4″ tall, and maybe weighed 145 lbs when wet. Not a Catholic, but an Episcopalian, he fathered three boys. One of them would become the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the other two became Epsicopal priests and served as chaplains (one retired from the Navy, the other served in the Army). Here is his promised bookend thought,

Being ready is not what matters. What matters is winning after you get there.

Ain’t that the truth.

For Anti-Democratic, Dictatorship Loving, Theocratic Fascist Thoughts…Not!

Check out my cool sword! Can’t wait to use it…

 

There I was, writing about pluralism. So my friend Mark Shea has been catching some heat lately for commenting on a video where self-proclaimed Catholic role-model, and all around knowledgeable guy, Michael Voris, blasts the hymn Amazing Grace for leading all Catholics into perdition’s flames. There’s a host of similar conspiracies that have been hatched on us too, and MV dutifully warns us of them all.

Here is what Mark wrote, and is now being pilloried for.

Maybe I can help divide the forces attacking the Dark Lord of the Pacific Northwest! Mark Shea is a big boy. He can handle stuff like this without any assistance from Joe Six-Pack, USMC. I mean, he’s taken him on for trying to act like a bishop before. But what the heck, Sun Tzu would approve of me working to divide the forces of an aggressor on an ally, so here goes.

Sure, anyone with their head on straight can simply ignore this guy easily, seeing as his venue of choice is YouTube. I’d rather watch Otis Rush play blues guitar over there than listen to another uncharitable rant by Michael Voris.

Back in April, I suggested reading the saints makes more sense. Now, thanks to a tip from a friend of a friend, and the interwebs, I have the video that I hope will make even the most sanguine, and die-hard fan of the Vortex scratch their head and say, What the hell?! It’s from way back in October of last year, but somehow, I missed it then. This is painful to watch…

Micheal Voris on the Proper Form of Government

YouTube Preview Image

Heh. And you thought I just grabbed the title for this post out of thin air. Thankfully, and I reckon Michael doesn’t grasp this, the United States Government isn’t a direct democracy. It is a republican form of government and a representative democracy. Perhaps he hasn’t read the Constitution, and frankly I wonder if he ever read the Federalist Papers? No. 51 in particular. Importantly, the Church seems pretty pleased with the advent of representative democracy and the freedoms they have given human beings, but what does she know?

Uh-oh, it looks like some pesky stuff from Vatican II. Yep, from Guadium et spes, aka the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World. Remember my post on that document? Here’s a couple of relevant nuggets,

#73. The present keener sense of human dignity has given rise in many parts of the world to attempts to bring about a politico-juridical order which will give better protection to the rights of the person in public life. These include the right freely to meet and form associations, the right to express one’s own opinion and to profess one’s religion both publicly and privately. The protection of the rights of a person is indeed a necessary condition so that citizens, individually or collectively, can take an active part in the life and government of the state.

#75. It is in full accord with human nature that juridical-political structures should, with ever better success and without any discrimination, afford all their citizens the chance to participate freely and actively in establishing the constitutional bases of a political community, governing the state, determining the scope and purpose of various institutions, and choosing leaders.

Hmmm. I knew I liked the Council for a number of reasons. Go read that whole section on The Life of the Political Community.

Like Mark said in his post on Amazing Grace, I’m not sure why folks listen to Mr.Voris at all. He is my Christian brother too, but this is way over the line. Joe Six-Pack, USMC spent a good part of his life defending his country, and by extension, the Constitution. All those serving in the Armed Forces have taken an oath to uphold and defend it as well. I’ve even had friends who have been killed while under oath to it.

Nope, if this is “Real Catholic TV,” then I’ll eat my copy of the Catechism. “Real Crazy TV” seems like a better title to me.

Hey, I’ve got a better idea! I’ll keep my copy of the Catechism (and Gaudium et spes) in good shape and instead, I’ll just take my family out to see the final Harry Potter movie.

UPDATE

Creative Minority Report posts, Voris & Shea: Can’t We All Just Get Along? How about beers in a rose garden somewhere! —Publius :)

UPDATE II: A then, a few days later…

U.S. Military Color Guard with the Colors
and the Papal Flag

Thoughts on Obedience and Reading Maps without Guidance

Today, while making the rounds around the blogger neighborhood, I saw a great quote on a subject that is not near and dear to the heart of modern mankind: obedience. Deacon Greg Kandra shared the thoughts of a modern saint on the subject,

Your obedience is not worthy of the name unless you are ready to abandon your most flourishing work whenever someone with authority so commands…Oh, the power of obedience! The Lake of Genesareth had denied its fishes to Peter’s nets. A whole night in vain. Then, obedient, he lowered his net again into the water and they caught ‘a great number of fishes.’ Believe me, this miracle is repeated every day. –St. Josemaria Escriva [Read more...]

Christian Thoughts On Private Property: What Ayn Rand Missed

It’s been a couple of weeks since publishing my last post on Ayn Rand.Things have settled down a bit here and now I can turn my attention to what she missed regarding a concept that is near and dear to all of her devotees: the concept of private property.

Given how much ink Rand spilled on this subject, you would think she came up with the idea of private property in the first place. Alas (for her fans), no. [Read more...]

Because Jesus Is The Unjust Steward

This first ran back in September, 2010 during the Feast of Our Lady of La Salette. I think it deserves another look…

Today I heard the best explanation of the parable of the “Unjust Steward” that I have ever heard. Or maybe it is the parable of the “Shrewd Manager.” Either way, thanks to the homily of my pastor today,  I think I may finally understand this parable.

The title of this post gives it away. Jesus, Our Lord and Savior is the unjust steward, the shrewd manager. How else to find favor in the hearts of us all than to write off or write down our debts completely? How else could this steward’s master find favor with him, unless Our Lord is the steward and God is the rich man? Let’s look at the passage from today’s gospel reading.

Luke 16: 1-13

Jesus said to his disciples,

“A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said,’What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship,because you can no longer be my steward.’

So far, so good.  The conventional wisdom appears to be holding sway. Prepare yourself for a contrarian twist.

The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that,when I am removed from the stewardship,they may welcome me into their homes.’

He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said,’How much do you owe my master?’

Now. Start thinking this is Our Lord speaking of himself.  You know the popular “What Would Jesus Do” question? WWJD? This is it. Back to the debtor (insert character of yourself here).

He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’

He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’

Note the lack of any complaint or push-back on the part of the debtor. This guy knows a good deal when he hears it. A little while later,

Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’

He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’

The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’

Another bargain, and another taker. Right about now, the conventional wisdom lover in you is getting angry, right? This son-of-a-mule is undermining his masters wealth and business. Bad manager! Only one problem. The bad manager gets commended for it.

And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

Read that sentence one more time. Go ahead, I’ll wait. He says the worldly are more prudent in their dealings with others than are the special ones, these “children of light.” Is this cutting you to the quick a little? It did me.

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Remember how the Scribes and Pharisees were always chiding Our Lord about him hanging out with unsavory types, you know, those nasty sinners, publicans, and tax collectors? Ahem, yes, the saavy ones instead of the “righteous” ones. Be clever like the former and not disdainful like the latter.

The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?

Do these two sentences have your head swimming? What a paradox, right? Sentence A = conventional wisdom, and we nod our heads in agreement. Then, Sentence B turns sentence A on its head and we shake our heads and yell “no!” We’re all left scratching our heads so He says,

If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Because we individually don’t own anything, see, but we are all, instead, in debt up to our eyeballs. We are indebted to God, because everything we have is a gift. A gift which we must be stewards of. Good stewards, who pat ourselves on the back for our good work? Or unjust stewards, like the model we see here?

Quick, lean your head back so you can breath (!) or else you will drown in debt. And then give thanks to God that He sent His Son, the unjust steward, to write down all of our debts to zero.  In that way, through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, can our lives be truly restored. For He also said,

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners. (Matthew 9:13)

If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. (Matthew 12:7)

He taught us to pray “forgive us our debts” which he does for us so easily, and as the unjust steward did, so readily, so cleverly. But he also asks us to pray these words: “as we have also forgiven our debtors.”

Now this is agape in action.

Speaking only for myself, I know I need to work on being more forgiving. How about you?

To Join the Ayn Rand Busters? To Be A Hero? I’m In!

Hey, look at the calendar. The election cycle is coming around again! Time to check our brains at the door and just go with our gut feelings. Embrace fuzzy math concepts like 1 + 1 = 3.18275. Stuff like that.

Forget the real substantive issues we can actually do something about, like fixing Social Security’s looming bankruptcy, and instead focus on bankrupting ourselves by bombing Yemen. Sweet! [Read more...]

Because Blogging For Christ Is Like Being St. Philip

Above is a snapshot of the last 500 visitors to this space. If a picture is worth 1000 words, then this one is worth 1500. As such, I’ll be brief. After baptizing the Ethopian eunuch, the Holy Spirit whisked Philip away to evangelize somewhere else. That is what it is like to be a Catholic working in the apostolate of St. Blogs.

the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away suddenly and the eunuch saw no more of him, but went on his way rejoicing.—Acts 8:39

I could kid myself that no one reads the stuff that is shared here, or on the other hand, that I “know” many of the readers who stop by. But the humbling truth is, I don’t know you. I didn’t e-mail you to please stop in. Something, or more accurately, someone, prompted you to stop in here today. You may have had no intention to do so, and yet you wound up here.

From the looks of it, you come from all over, from “every clime and place.” You are all welcome, all brothers and sisters of mine. And you are all God’s children. And you are not alone…

Thanks for stopping by. I pray your visit was a profitable one. Come back again soon.

Update: The Holy Father on Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age

For Abusive Ad Hominem Attacks…Not!

I’ve mentioned in passing that for my day job, I work in an archive. What Fr. Barron relates below about the documents, and hard to read handwriting, etc., reflects a wonderful experience that I have daily at my workplace. Sharing documents with folks as they do family and historical research is an intangible benefit of working in an archive as well.

Did I mention that I also get heaping helpings of silence and solitude at work too? It is a long way from the noise I endured on the flight line and the gun line when I was a Marine. And it’s a long way from the controlled chaos of a trucking fleet’s dispatchers office when I was a logistics manager too.

But none of that is the reason why I am sharing this video of Father Barron’s that I saw posted over at Aggie Catholic (thanks Marcel!). The most important part of the video that helps explain Why I Am Catholic kicks in towards the end of the clip below.

I mentioned in a post recently that I have become increasingly fond of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Full credit for pointing me in this direction goes to Jacques Maritian’s The Peasant of the Garonne, which I picked up in a used book sale recently.

There is another reason to share this clip now though, and it has to do with some of the comments Allison’s post on the movie Bridesmaids generated, most of which were never published. Why? Because they were exactly the shallow stuff that Fr. Barron describes starting at the 4:00 minute mark below. Have a look,

Ad hominem attacks…emotional responses driven by anger…Aquinas read everybody, heretics, Islamic scholars, Jewish rabbi’s, etc. It’s like I said in the Bridesmaids post commbox (forgive me for quoting myself),

to ignore the secular culture, and turn away from it, and in the process calumniate it, is not what Christ did. To do so would be to ignore the huge field of souls whom Our Lord came to save. To attempt to save them is hard work. Work in which we need to roll our sleeves up in order to do properly.

St. Thomas rolled up his sleeves, for sure. So must we.

P.S. For those of you who are new to our blog, or just stopping by for the first time, you’ll find helpful hints for acceptable commbox etiquette in the righthand sidebar, courtesy of St. Paul.


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