Thursday, January 3, 2013

Crucifixion the Bodily Support – The Acuta Crux in Patristic Writings (9)

This post has been brought to you by the number Five.

(Part 7i of the series: Crucifixion the Bodily Support)

Part 1      Part 2      Part 3      Part 4
Part 5a    Part 5b    Part 5c    Part 5d
Part 5e    Part 5f     Part 5g    Part 6a
Part 6b    Part 6c    Part 6d    Part 6e
Part 7a    Part 7b    Part 7c    Part 7d
Part 7e    Part 7f     Part 7g    Part 7h

Justin Martyr on the Acuta Crux (Part 8) and Irenaeus with His Five Ends and High Points.

Justin Martyr.

Justin Martyr has one last thing to say about the horns of the σταυρός (staurós) or crux.

He harangues the Jewish Trypho about the gear of Jesus' execution, which we have seen is none other in Justin's mind than a Priapus stake, sometimes clearly designed to make the genitals prominent, that is, ἐξέχον (exéchon) "projecting," and equipped with its own virile member which crucified by penetration. He alights on the line in the 22nd Psalm with the words, "they pierced my hands and feet," and calls it a prohecy of the execution pole. He then runs down the whole first half of the Psalm, coming towards the end of his quote with the line about "the horns of the unicorn."
Save me from the lion's mouth, and my humility from the horns of the unicorns.

(Greek LXX: σῶσόν με ἐκ στόματος λέοντος καὶ ἀπὸ κεράτων μονοκερώτων τὴν ταπείνωσίν μου (sôsón me ek stómatos léontos kaí apó kerátôn monokerátôn tên tapeínwsín mou)) (Latin Vulgate: Salva me ex ore leonis, et a cornibus unicornium humilitatem meam.)

Justin Martyr explains that "the lion's mouth" is death, and the "horns of the unicorn" are none other than the endpoints of the σταυρός (staurós):

For the passage, 'Deliver my soul from the sword, and my only-begotten from the hand of the dog; save me from the lion's mouth, and my humility from the horns of the unicorns,' is indicative of the suffering by which He should die, i.e., by crucifixion. For the 'horns of the, unicorns,' I have already explained to you, are the figure of the σταυρός (staurós) only.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 105 2
And we have already seen what Justin Martyr meant by the σταυρός (staurós): the Priapus stake only.


Irenaeus doesn't say much about the nature of the structure of the crux: he says it has five ends and high points, in a long chapter about how some kind of significance of numbers, letters and syllables confutes the arguments of the 'heretics'.

In his theme on the number Five (Against Heresies II.24):

The very form of the crux, too, has five extremities, two in length, two in breadth, and one in the middle, on which [last] the person rests who is fixed by the nails.
Latin: Et ipse habitus crucis, fines et summitates habet quinque, duos in longitudine, et duos in latitudine, et unum in medio, in quo requiescit qui clavis affigitur. 
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II.24.4 3
In the Latin the term for extremities is not, as one would expect, extremitates, but fines et summitates, "ends and high points." High points, plural, as in top ends, heights or highest parts. But he tells the reader where the points are: two in the length of the instrument, two in its breath and one in the middle where, or by which, the person person rests from the Latin requiescit, "rests, finds support, reposes, finds rest, lets rest, stops, stays, arrests, rests, becomes refreshed, etc."

Now one may interpret the gear of execution as a Chresimon symbol (or the Comet of Julius Caesar) made out of framed timbers, similar to a Saint Andrew's Cross, but supported by a pole. But the problem with this one is, though it certainly has five 'high' points, it has six ends!

The kind of gear for executionary suspension that has five ends, of course, is that infamous Priapus stake.

Five* ends and (multiple) high points:
Two vertically, two horizontally, and one in the middle.
On which rests the one who is fastened with nails.

*six counting the back end of the brake beam.
And Irenaeus also notes that Jesus held his back to the instrument when he was allegedly crucified:

But the words whose government is set upon His shoulders means allegorically the Crux, on which He held His back when he was crucified.
Irenaeus, Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, 56 [120]

And that Jesus stretched out his arms when suspended:

...and He also frees us from Amelec by stretching forth his hands...
Irenaeus, Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, 46 [111]
And again, concerning His Crux, Isaiah says as follows: "I have stretched forth my hands all the day to a stubborn and contrary people:" for this is a figure of the Crux.
Irenaeus, Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, 79 [136]
Murillo, Martyrdom of St Andrew
It's a bit difficult to keep one's back against the gear of his execution, particularly if it's an X-type with no central vertical pole rising up past the head, or with the cross members of the 'X' thicker than mere planks. Either the thing might tip over, or the distance behind the back is too large. And there's no resting on a central end-and-high-point at any rate, one just slumps down from the nails, driven through the hands or wrists into the wood of the 'X'.

And as the stretching forth of His hands the whole day long, dealing with an ornery and contrarian people? Irenaeus may have confused stretching out with "stretching forth", but I doubt seriously he'd confuse stretching up with stretching forth.

So it appears Irenaeus is referring to what the Romans typically used in his day.

Next: Tertullian.


1. Catholic numbering per New Most translations number the line as Ps. 22:21 and translate the Hebrew רֵמִ֣ים (re-mim), declension of רְאֵם (reem), as "wild oxen."
2. Cf. with Documenta Catholica Omnia, Justin Martyr, Dialogus cum Tryphone Judaeo 105, PDF p. 126, col. 721 for the Greek and col. 722 for the Latin. Link.
Greek: Tό γάρ, "Pῥῦσαι ἀπό ῥομφαίας τήν ψυχήν μου, καί ἐκ χειρός κυνός τήν μονογενῆ μου. σῶσόν με ἐκ στόματος λέοντος καὶ ἀπὸ κεράτων μονοκερώτων τὴν ταπείνωσίν μου." ὁμοίως μηνύοντος δι᾽ οὗ πάθους ἔμελλεν ἀποθνήσκειν, τουτέστι σταυροῦσθαι. Tό γάρ, "κεράτων μονοκερώτων," ὅτι τό σχῆμα τοῦ σταυροῦ ἐστι μόνου, προεξηγησάμην ὑμίν.
Transliteration: Tó gár: "Rusai apó romfaías tên psuchên mou, kaí ek cheirós kunós tên monogenê mou. sôsón me ek stómatos léontos kaí apó kerátôn monokerátôn tên tapeínwsín mou," omoíôs mêúontos di' ou páthous emellen apoqnêskein, toutésti staurousthai. Tó gár: "kerátôn monokerátôn," oti tó sxêma tou staurou esti mónou, proeksêgêámên umin.
Latin: Illud enim: 'Erue a gladio animam meam, et de manu canis unicam meam. Salva me ex ore leonis et a cornibus unicornium humilitatem meam.' similiter denuntianus est, quo supplicii genere moriturus esset, id est cruce; illud enim, 'a cornibus unicornium,' solius crucis formeam exhibere, vobis antea exposui.
3. Documenta Catholica Omnia, Irenaeus, Contra Haereses II.24, PDF pp. 184-5, col. 794-5, Cf. n. 39 where the unicorn passage from Justin Martyr Dialogus cum Tryphone is quoted. Link.

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