Bill Long 1/3/05
From Theology to Rocks to Corals to Monasteries
We saw in the previous essay that a theology of the cross, a staurology, emerged from both Paul's and Martin Luther's writings. Yet, the word was never invented. In contrast, by the 17th century, the word staurolatry (worship of the cross) appears in a negative connotation, to attack the Catholic faith. For example, we have from the English Puritan divine John Owen: "They will not hearken to the Angels preaching the everlasting Gospel, that men should worship...the God of heaven...in opposition to all their Iconalatry..Staurolatry, and Masse abominations." Or, from the most famous American Puritan writer Cotton Mather, "Satans design in advancing staurolatry to the destruction of thousands of Souls."
From these two quotations we see that staurolatry probably means the (Catholic) adoration or celebration of the crucified Christ on the cross, which was abhorrent to the Puritans. It may even have been that the dropped their "theology of the cross," or at least muted it, in the wake of this Catholic practice. For example, one of the most famous works of the aformentioned John Owen was "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ," a long tome pointing out the redemptive way in which Christ's death works on behalf of the sinner. Though I didn't read his entire work, what is striking to me in his title and exposition is that the notion of cross has temporarily disappeared from Owen's theology--to be replaced by the more purely ideological word "death." After all, if you focus too much on the cross, there is lots to explain, such as blood and sacrifice and punishment and Romans, while the concept of Christ's death redeeming our life and achieving victory over the forces of death has such a straightforward ring to it that its appeal is powerful.
Whatever can be said for this thesis, of the temporary deemphasis of the cross of Christ (and no English word to describe the concept), by the 18th and 19th centuries, the cross became central in Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals warm embrace in our day of Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ, where the Cross is the most potent symbol of the last days of Jesus, confirms this notion.
Another Religious Reference
Even after we leave the rarified air of Puritan theology and descend towards the earth, we still meet up with a religious usage in the stauropegion. Derived from two Greek words meaning "to set up a cross," a stauropegion is a term from Russian and Greek Orthodox religion. It is a substantive and is used to designate a church or, especially, a monastery which is exempt from the jurisdiction of a local bishop and subject directly to the higher authority (usually the Patriarch). The monastery is so designated because the Patriarch would send a cross which would be set up on the site as a sign of the special relationship with the monastery. For example, the Valaam Monastery, located on an island in the chilly waters of Lake Lagoda in Russia, is a stauropegion. Other web sites talk about stauropegia in the Greek world.
Getting Down to Earth
Now that we have descended from the heavens, let's get to earth and return to mineralogy. Staurolite is a metamorphic material famous for its twinned crystals that form into the shape of a cross. Some mineralogists are only interested in the interesting cases of twinning. Twins form as a result of an "error" during crystallization--instead of the "normal" single crystal, some crystals appear doubled. A twin's formation is never random and follows identified rules called "twin laws." For more information on this unique form of twinning, click here. A stauroscope is an optical instrument, developed by the Munich mineraologist Wolfgange Von Kobell in 1855 to deterimine the position of planes of light-vibration in crystals.
Other Examples of Stauro--
If we began in the heavens of Puritan theology and then descended to the earth, we can go yet deeper and find stauros in the seas both shallow and deep. One of the more arresting uses of the term is to describe a kind of jellyfish. Stauromedusae is the name of the order (phylum Cnidana) and describes little jellyfish, many of which are in the Pacific Northwest and the coasts of Japan, which spend their entire lives attached to their substrates rather than swimming freely in the water like other jellyfish. As one commentator describes them: "Swimming is never an option for these lovers of laid-back sedentary lifestyle." They are so designated because they have eight arms or tentacles that are arranged in pairs, forming a sort of a cross.
Then, if we traveled quickly from botany to paleontology, a stauria favosa is defined as a "Silurian rugosa coral." Blow up photos on the internet show that its interior structure is cruciform, or, in the language of the Century Dictionary, with "four cruciate primitive septa."
I can't leave this essay without mentioning also the Stauropus, or, more technically, the Stauropus fagi-- a moth which is so named because its caterpillar form, called the Lobster caterpillar, has the form of a cross. One needn't be a lepidopterist to enjoy the internet photos of the Stauropus fagi.
I once had a friend who was looking for a bed and said to me, "You never realize how many advertisements there are for mattresses until you need a bed." I would say the same thing about crosses. You never really notice how much the world is build on crosses, and how useful and prevalent the terms crux, crucis and stauro are until you start thinking about the cross. It can be used metaphorically to express our point or state of indecision. But it is also prevalent in describing some of nature's fullness. Some may have found the "cross in the pillars" of the remnants of the World Trade Center bombing a sort of "miracle" from God; I rather see the crosses in a staurolith as more alluring. Learing about stauromedusae is much more attractive to me. The cross is everywhere, now that you think of it. I wonder why Puritan theologians never realized this fact.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long