In many places a commemoration we Lutherans usually call Holy Cross Day is observed on 14 September. Its actual name is Exaltatio Sanctae Crucis, which in Latin means "Exaltation of the Holy Cross". That's the name I grew up with. Thing is, exaltatio in Latin does not mean what exaltation has come to mean by extension in English. It means raising aloft, so the name actually translates as "Raising Aloft of the Holy Cross" which is pretty close to its Greek name "Raising Aloft of the Precious Cross". I ain't getting into the Greek. And I ain't getting into the other "Holy Cross Days" on 13 September, 12 October, 6 March, 3 May and 1 August either!
But I am getting into
making clear that the literal exaltation, the lifting up, of the cross
for which this "feast" was instituted is not a reference to either
Christ or the cross of Calvary as the means of salvation or its triumph,
but the lifting up of a supposed relic.
So What's a Holy Cross Day?
you asked. But before getting down to that, let me be clear about
two things. None of what follows should be construed as knocking the
historic liturgy and things related to it, as I consider it one of the
great treasures of "Lutheranism" that they are retained except where
they contradict, as distinct from are commanded by, Scripture. And,
none of what follows should be construed as knocking an ever growing
awareness of and reverence for what was accomplished for us by Christ
on the cross.
It should be construed as what it is,
knocking the retention of this "feast" as in any way aiding either the
work of zealously guarding and defending the liturgy or of deepening
awareness of and reverence toward what was accomplished for us by
Christ on the cross.
The Origin of Holy Cross Day.
why a Holy Cross Day on 14 September? Because on 14 September 335
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was concluded. The dedication
itself was the day before, then on 14 September the "cross" was brought
outside for veneration by the people. And, the Roman Emperor,
Constantine, made it a feast day. That's why. What in all church
planting Judas does that mean? And what cross? Why, the "true" cross,
discovered by the Emperor's mom Helena on a dig funded by the Imperial
So why ain't it called the Church of
the Holy Cross then? Well guess what, there was already something
standing there, which was another church, well a temple actually, to
the goddess Aphrodite, known to the Romans as Venus, she from whom the
planet, and also Friday, is named. Some say the place was originally
a Christian worship site, for reasons that will presently be clear,
and that the temple was later built by Emperor Hadrian in his
rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Why Jerusalem Had To Be Rebuilt. Again.
why rebuilding? Well, remember, Jerusalem was completely trashed by
the Romans in 70 AD. Whyzat? Well it started in 66, when some
Greeks started offering pagan sacrifices outside a synagogue in
Jerusalem. At first, the Roman soldiers stationed in Jerusalem did
not get involved in this local matter. But next thing you know, the
Jewish priests quit offering token sacrifices to the Emperor -- the
Roman Empire generally left you alone as long as you paid tribute to
the top and didn't rock the boat, which is how its surviving state
church still pretty much operates . And then next thing you know there's
protests against Roman taxes, call it an ancient Tea Party, and
muggings of Romans living there. Finally, when some of the boys
from duty stations in the area go in to intervene they get their butts
kicked by a bunch of Jews (that's the Battle of Beth Horon) which
clean pisses off the Roman Emperor, guy named Nero.
Nero tells General Vespasian -- who had distinguished himself in the
Roman invasion of Mother England (OK Britannia at the time) in 43 as
commander of Legio secunda Augusta (Second Augustan Legion), one of
the four legions deployed -- to go in and open up a major can of
whoop-ass on Judea. Which he commences to do along with the forces of
his son, Titus, also a general, in April 67, with total forces of
about 60,000. By 68 they had pretty well cleaned house in the north,
and in the south the Jews pretty well cleaned house on each other with
infighting, so about all that was left was Jerusalem.
then something else happened back in Rome. Nero was getting too
bizarre for even the Romans, the Senate and the military went against
him, he was declared an enemy of the people, so he bolts and commits
suicide in 68. All hell breaks loose and in 69 Rome goes through four
emperors! First, the new emperor, guy named Galba, gets assassinated
by a guy named Otho who wants to be the new emperor so he bribes the
Emperor's bodyguards, the Praetorian Guard, to kill him, and then a
guy named Vitellius, with the best legions in the Roman army on his
side, defeats Otho and inspires him to commit suicide, but then
Vitellius pisses everybody clean off by having so many feasts and
parades that he about bankrupts the Empire. So in July 69 Vespasian
gets hailed as emperor by his army and other Roman armies -- Roman
armies did that sometimes, it's also how Constantine would get his
start as emperor -- and, thinking maybe that isn't such a bad idea,
Vespasian heads to Rome and his allied armies kick the living crap out
of Vitellius' forces and kill him, and the Senate proclaims Vespasian
emperor 21 December 69. Helluva year.
left crushing the Jewish rebellion to his son Titus, which he bloody
well does, so thoroughly destroying Jerusalem that Jospehus, the Roman
name of the great Jewish contemporary historian Yosef, says you
wouldn't have even thought the place was once inhabited. This includes
the destruction of the Temple, which happened on 29/30 July 70. In
the Hebrew calendar it was Tisha B'Av, or the 9th of Av (a month in the
Hebrew calendar) and guess what, it was on exactly that date that
first Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians, leading to the
Babylonian Captivity (the one of the Jews, not the church) some 656
Why the Destruction of the Second Temple Is a Big Deal.
destruction of the Second Temple has enormous consequences for both
Christianity and Judaism. To have the centre of one's worship and
people's identity destroyed for the second time was catastrophic. And
this time there wasn't even a captivity in which to be carried off.
Worst of all, with the Temple gone, it would now be impossible to fully follow
the Law with the Temple and its sacrifices gone. How does a religion and people based on the Law continue
when observing the Law is no longer fully possible?
only two answers: one, the Law could now pass because it had been
fulfilled, or two, something else would take the place of the
Temple sacrifices until such time as they could be restored. The second
answer was forthcoming from Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai. During the
siege, he was slipped out in a coffin, and knowing the destruction was
coming, and sensing Vespasian would become Emperor, negotiated from
him three things: 1) sparing the city Jamnia, 2) sparing its sages,
who were students of Rabbi Gamaliel, grandson of the great Hillel, and
whom St Peter mentions as having argued against killing the Apostles
for their messianic beliefs about Jesus, and among whose students St
Paul counts himself, 3) a physician to attend an old rabbi (OK, his
name as Tzadok)who had fasted for forty years hoping to ward off any
destruction such as has just happened. It was here that Judaism as we
know it, in the absence of the Temple, began to take shape. Basing
himself on Hosea 6:6, he concluded that our mitzvoth (good works) and
prayer would now take the place of the sacrifices commanded in the Law.
other answer is that the sacrifices had culminated in that to which
they pointed, the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary, who is now both
priest and victim, and the destruction of the Temple is what was
meant when Jesus said some of those living would see the end, meaning
the end of things as they knew it -- which some of them did.
Hadrian Rebuilds Jerusalem.
story goes that, as Hadrian was rebuilding Jerusalem, there was a site
that had been a Christian church reportedly on the site of Jesus'
burial, so Hadrian, who hated Christians, ordered dirt brought in to
cover the site, then had a temple to Venus (Aphrodite to the Greeks)
built on top of the earth on top of the old church site. So Constantine
ordered the temple destroyed and the earth underneath it moved back
Makes for a nice story, but the story is pure
bull. Hadrian located the forum for the new Jerusalem where Roman fora
were always located, which is, at the meeting of the main north-south
road through town and the, or one of the, main east-west roads. In
Jerusalem it was the latter case, and the forum was located in the
space between the two east-west roads and along the north-south road,
and the temple to Venus was part of that. So far from being a special
action against Christians, it was just a following of standard Roman
And, that the site is that of
Jesus' tomb is so unlikely as to be nearly surely false. The Bible
says Jesus' tomb was outside the city walls of Jerusalem, and this site
is within the walls of Jerusalem. Oh well, some say, the walls of
Jerusalem in Jesus' day were different. Two problems with that. If
they were east enough of the current walls to make the site west of
them, Jerusalem would have been quite a narrow city. Also, building a
tomb west of the city is highly unlikely, as wind in Jerusalem
generally blows from west to east, and thus would blow over the tombs
bringing ritual impurity not to mention a possible stench to the city
and in particular to the Temple Mount. So, graves go to the east of
to those unlikely to be true legends, add those about Helena and the
finding of the "true" cross. Helena was the mother of Constantine and
the father was Constantius, however, it is unclear of she was a legal
wife or a concubine, which then meant an extra-legal wife since the
marriage was between social classes (he was noble, she was not) and
prohibited by Roman law. Constantius dumped her in a power deal to
solidify his political position to marry another (Theodora), which he
did in Trier, then called Augusta Treverorum and his new capitol. Son
Constantine the "Great" would later do the same thing for the same
reasons. Once her son became Emperor, Helena returned to public life
and was made Augusta Imperatrix, and was given unlimited access to the
imperial treasury to locate objects of Christian veneration.
story is, after the Temple of Venus was torn down and the land
removed, excavation found three crosses at what was supposed to be the
site of Jesus' burial. So a woman near death was brought, and did not
recover on touching the first two crosses but did on touching the
third, which Helena proclaimed the cross of Christ. Problem is,
contemporary accounts of the excavation (Eusebius) do not mention
Helena being there at all, unlikely for the Augusta Imperatrix to not
be mentioned if she were there, and the legend about authenticating the
true cross appears not only later, but in at least three distinct
versions, the one just related, one where a dead man was touched to
each of the three and came back to life at the right one, and that the
inscription put on the cross was still on it.
Take Your Pick. Or Not. Exaltatio Sanctae Crucis.
a wretched mess, most of it legend of the most spurious kind and the
rest of it fact of the most disgusting kind. A verifiable total
confusion of the Two Kingdoms (left and right hand) surrounded by
unverifiable legends that don't even agree with each other. This
honours the cross of Christ? Such a miserable excuse for piety should
be shovelled out and thrown away just like Constantine shovelled out
what Hadrian shovelled in. The object of our veneration is not the
cross per se, or toothpicks from it, or legends about finding it, or big
fancy churches built at state expense on the supposed site of it, or a
feast day established by a Roman Emperor, but Christ and his action on
it for our salvation, whose body and blood he gives you right in your
own parish in Communion Divine Service.
Raising Aloft of the Holy Cross is not like some empty fiction, for
example the story about Dietrich von Bern, or these miserable True
Cross legends and liftings-up thereof, but as St John says in John 12:32 "And I, when I am
lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." Et ego si
exaltatus fuero a terra omnia traham ad me ipsum. The Alpha and the
Omega, and his Omega Point through whose exaltatio we are drawn from the
one and raised aloft to the other.
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