The Latin Cross
also called the Roman, Protestant, Western or Plain Cross
The Latin cross (crux ordinaria) is a stipe (upright post) with a patibulum (horizontal beam) inserted at right-angles. It is a symbol of Christianity even though it was used as a pagan symbol for millennia before the foundation of the Christian Church.
Although an identification mark of their faith, Christians cannot (and generally do not) claim that they have exclusive right to use the symbol. The Latin Cross is not a registered trademark and it is used freely in heraldry, fashion jewelry, by Freemasons, and still today, by Pagans.
As a Pagan symbol...
... it has been found in China and Africa. It appears on Scandinavian Bronze Age stones depicting the destructive hammer of Thor, their god of thunder and war. It is regarded a magical symbol, bringing good luck and diverting evil. Rock carvings of the cross have been interpreted as a solar symbol, or a symbol of earth with its points representing north, south, east, and west.1
To alchemists, the cross was a symbol of the four 'classical elements': air, earth, fire, water. Elsewhere, the cross variously symbolised health, fertility, life, immortality, the union of heaven and earth, spirit and matter, the sun and the stars.
As a representation of the human form:
- upper section - corresponds to the north wind, the most powerful, the all-conquering giant, the head and intelligence
- lower section - the south wind, the seat of fire and passion, and of melting and burning
- right arm - the east wind, the heart and the source of life and love
- left arm - the gentle wind from the spirit land, the dying breath and the subsequent journey into the unknown
(It is worth noting how Christians have the same view of the right arm, and the relationship between the East and the "source of life and love".)
The meteorology concerning wind direction was something of a mystery until the 18th century, when George Hadley proposed the atmospheric mechanism by which the Trade Winds are sustained. Even so, something in the Bible written 2,300 years ago shows a surprising understanding of atmospheric circulation2. Now how about that for a biblical prophecy!
(more about the Pagan use of the cross ...)
As a Christian symbol...
...it is sometimes referred to as the Western Cross to differentiate from cross designs favoured in the east. The Latin Cross is typically used as the basic floor plan of Western churches3. It can be the identification mark on maps and signboards for a church or chapel, hence the alternative names: Chapel Cross or Church Cross4.
As a representation of the Trinity, the three shorter sections represent the Three Persons of the Trinity and the longer, lower portion signifies the One Divinity.
It can also be called a Protestant Cross because it is plain, without any corpus5 attached. It does not deny the suffering on the cross but focuses the mind on Christ's Resurrection and is mostly used in Protestant churches (Baptist churches, for example.)
In north America, the Amish tend to have very few decorations and if they display a cross at all, it is most likely to be plain and simple, bringing maximum focus to the simple message of the cross, rather than be distracted by ornamental frills; albeit far from suggesting that a corpus is merely a fancy decoration.
When the cross includes a corpus, it is usually referred to as a crucifix. It emphasizes Christ's suffering and sacrifice, giving meaning and sense to His resurrection.
For many Catholics, the corpus is sacramental and its removal would be heretical6. Protestantism initially prohibited the corpus as a graven image and idolatrous. Rood screens were pulled down to allow closer access to the altar by lay worshippers and Altar Crosses were removed as illegal 'Ornaments Rubrics'.7 This helped Protestants distance themselves from Roman Catholics and even today, crucifixes are found more in Catholic churches than Protestant churches8.
Generally today however, Protestants no longer protest too much and not averse to using a crucifix, and Catholics are quite happy to use a plain cross. Christ's resurrection is central to Christian doctrine, whatever the sect.
(more about the Christian use of the cross...)
As a civic symbol...
The posh name for this most common of all crosses is Crux Immissa, which simply means a cross with a horizontal beam (patibulum) inserted at right-angles to the upright post. Immissa means 'inserted'. Another name is Crux Capitata, which means 'with a head'.
(more about the immissa...)
The cross is now carried by more people than any other religious talisman and is considered by a few to be sacred to the extent that it becomes icon of adoration in its own right9. However, such idolatry is certainly not the norm in Christendom, particularly Protestant Christianity.
If people worship the cross, they are missing the point.
Why spend even a minute, worshipping and adoring a man-made, material symbol, when they could be worshipping and adoring God? See the meaning of the cross and also read Folly and Power by Rev. David Linde.