I like to study the symbols of the Christian faith. They have been used in ages past to convey meaning to fellow Christians and obscure meaning to outsiders. Such is the case with the Chi Rho. It is probably one of the earliest Christian Symbols and it is rich with meaning.
So today I would like to offer my take on the Chi Rho Symbol. Below is a brief explanation of the parts and the history of the symbol, most of which I shamelessly cobbled together from Wikipedia (click on the toggle button):
”MoreThe Chi Rho is one of the earliest forms of a christogram. It is formed by superimposing the first two (capital) letters chi and rho (ΧΡ) of the Greek word “ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ” =Christ in such a way to produce the monogram. Although not technically a Christian cross, the Chi-Rho invokes the crucifixion of Jesus, as well as symbolizing his status as the Christ.
The Chi Rho symbol was also used by pagan Greek scribes to mark, in the margin, a particularly valuable or relevant passage; the combined letters Chi and Rho standing for chrēston, meaning “good.”
Although modern representations of the Chi-Rho sign represent the two lines crossing at ninety degree angles, the early examples of the Chi-Rho cross at an angle that is more vividly representative of the chi formed by the solar ecliptic path and the celestial equator. This image is most familiar in Plato’s Timaeus, where it is explained that the two bands which form the “world soul” (anima mundi) cross each other like the letter chi. Not only did the two legs of the chi remind early Christians of the Holy Cross, “it reminded them of the mystery of the pre-existent Christ, the Logos Theou, the Word of God, who extended himself through all things in order to establish peace and harmony in the universe,” in Robert Grigg’s words. Hugo Rahner summarized the significance: “The two great circles of the heavens, the celestial equator and the ecliptic, which, by intersecting each other form a sort of recumbent chi and about which the whole dome of the starry heavens swings in a wondrous rhythm, became for the Christian eye a heavenly cross.” Of Plato’s image in Timaeus, Justin Martyr, the Christian apologist writing in the 2nd century, found a prefiguration of the Holy Cross, and an early testimony may be the phrase in Didache, “sign of extension in heaven.”
The use of a wreath around the Chi-Rho symbolizes the victory of the Resurrection over death, and is an early visual representation of the connection between the Crucifixion of Jesus and his triumphal resurrection, as seen in the 4th century sarcophagus of Domitilla in Rome. Here, in the wreathed Chi-Rho the death and resurrection of Christ are shown as inseparable, and the Resurrection is not merely a happy ending tucked at the end of the life of Christ on Earth.
I have added the crown of thorns to the laurel wreath as a reminder that Christ’s victory came through suffering.
Here are the parts and their meaning:
- Chi and Ro together: The first two letters of CHRIST and directly ties the symbol to Christ.
- Chi: is a dual symbol for the cross and the celestial axis mundi. It symbolizes that Christ is the center of all things and by Him all things hold together.
- Rho: It has been suggested that the Rho is similar in shape to the shepherds staff. This is a reminder that Christ is our shepherd and cares for/leads us.
- Crown of Thorns: the sufferings of the cross.
- The Laurel Wreath: the victory of the resurrection.