The Chrismons… The Chi Rho

13 Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Human One is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. 18  I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it.19  I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20, Common English Bible).

As we continue our look at Chrismons, today we look at the Chi Rho. The Chi Rho is a Christogram, a monogram or combination of letters that makes an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ. The Chi Rho is traditionally used as a religious symbol or Chrismon in the Christian Church.

Though it has been used as a monogram for Christ since the period of Constantine’s reign over the Roman Empire in the early 300s A.D., the Chi Rho is even older than that. In pre-Christian times the Chi Rho was used to mark the margins of important texts. It was also used on coins as early as 246 B.C. It may have been used in the era before Christ as an abbreviation of the Greek word Chrestos meaning, good or useful.

The Cho Rho is one of the earliest forms of a Christogram. It is made by superimposing the first two letters of the Greek word Christos. It is made by placing the verticle axis of the rho where it will intersect the center of the chi. It looks like the letter P with the letter X in the lower portion of the P.

According to the early Christian historian, Eusebius during the reign of Roman emperor Constantine had a vision while praying. Eusebius wrote: [W]hile he was thus praying … a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven … when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.

It is interesting that the vision was not private. It was witnessed by all of Constantine’s army. Later that same night, Jesus appeared to Constantine and instructed him to recreate the sign (chi rho) he had seen in the sky. Constantine quickly sought to follow the instruction. Eusebius wrote: A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones; and within this, the symbol of the Saviour’s name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre: and these letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period … The emperor constantly made use of this sign of salvation as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power, and commanded that others similar to it should be carried at the head of all his armies.

Historians debate the authenticity of the story but regardless, use of the Chi Rho spread throughout the Empire, often used in Christian art. Even today, the Chi Rho is a symbol used by the Christian Church throughout the whole year.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Source: aleteia.org

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