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The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy
     

The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy

by Robin M. Jensen
 

The cross stirs intense feelings among Christians as well as non-Christians. Robin Jensen takes readers on an intellectual and spiritual journey through the two-thousand-year evolution of the cross as an idea and an artifact, illuminating the controversies—along with the forms of devotion—this central symbol of Christianity inspires.

Jesus’s death

Overview

The cross stirs intense feelings among Christians as well as non-Christians. Robin Jensen takes readers on an intellectual and spiritual journey through the two-thousand-year evolution of the cross as an idea and an artifact, illuminating the controversies—along with the forms of devotion—this central symbol of Christianity inspires.

Jesus’s death on the cross posed a dilemma for Saint Paul and the early Church fathers. Crucifixion was a humiliating form of execution reserved for slaves and criminals. How could their messiah and savior have been subjected to such an ignominious death? Wrestling with this paradox, they reimagined the cross as a triumphant expression of Christ’s sacrificial love and miraculous resurrection. Over time, the symbol’s transformation raised myriad doctrinal questions, particularly about the crucifix—the cross with the figure of Christ—and whether it should emphasize Jesus’s suffering or his glorification. How should Jesus’s body be depicted: alive or dead, naked or dressed? Should it be shown at all?

Jensen’s wide-ranging study focuses on the cross in painting and literature, the quest for the “true cross” in Jerusalem, and the symbol’s role in conflicts from the Crusades to wars of colonial conquest. The Cross also reveals how Jews and Muslims viewed the most sacred of all Christian emblems and explains its role in public life in the West today.

Editorial Reviews

Ingrid D. Rowland
In Robin Jensen’s powerful, wide-ranging presentation, the central image of Christianity turns out to be an image of almost unimaginable complexity: a cosmic abstraction, a grim portrait of cruel suffering, a gem-studded token of triumphant authority, an idol to be smashed, a relic to be kissed, a charm to emboss on a Crusader’s shield, a tree of life, a paradoxical mystery. Jensen has searched out a vast and beautifully chosen variety of crosses, from Golgotha to Ground Zero, along with songs, poems, and long-lost rituals, to bring us a moving study of faith, both Christian and non-Christian, in its infinite variety.
Robert Kiely
An impeccable work on a sign that is both central to Christianity and immediately recognizable, meaningful, and sometimes controversial across the world. Jensen’s historical narrative is learned and lucid.
Library Journal
04/01/2017
Jensen (theology, Univ. of Notre Dame) follows the cross from its ignoble Christian beginnings through its manifestations as a focus of art, poetry, and theater, into its reevaluation during the Protestant Reformation and up to modern perspectives from non-Christian groups. The cross has served as "artifact, religious symbol, miraculous agent, devotional object and mass-produced collectible," resulting in a fascinating metaphor for the changing dynamics of faith and culture. For instance, in the seventh century, as emphasis on Christ's physical agony on the cross grew, iconoclasm clashed with religious iconography of the crucifix, with the unadorned cross emerging as an acceptable image: "an abstract symbol, the simple cross is deemed acceptable for both liturgical as well as decorative purposes." Rich in artistic imagery and well researched in both Western as well as Eastern Christian traditions, Jensen might be faulted for offering only a single chapter covering the New World as well as Islam and the modern era, each of which could have been an entire chapter. VERDICT This erudite history illuminates the social, cultural, as well as theological developments of the cross over time.—SC

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674088801
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
04/17/2017
Pages:
280
Sales rank:
251,786
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Robin M. Jensen is Patrick O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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