Sign of the Cross, The
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Author: Msgr. Gaumé
The holy Sign of the Cross is the most important prayer and symbol of our Christian faith. It is at once the image of Christ's passion, the sign of the redemption of all mankind, the awesome testament of the destruction of the power of the devil and of his kingdom on earth. The resurrection is the promise and seal and guarantee of eternal life which consummated the work of the Cross.
Christians rejoice and the demons tremble to see the Sign of the Cross emblazoned everywhere as proof of Christ's victory over the world. Christ said "all power is given to me in heaven and on earth" and the Cross is the seat of that power. There is no place on earth where a person who makes the Sign of the Cross is not immediately recognized as a Catholic, and there is no miracle that has not been worked under this sign. It is the "nuclear bomb" of prayers and with it the faithful can clear away all enemies and temptations with the simplest of wordless gestures. Msgr. Gaumé has compiled a magnificent collection of history and commentary from the saints and fathers and doctors, as well as his own meditations and exhortations regarding this most powerful prayer. All Catholics should avail themselves of this information and make it fruitful in their own lives.
Table of Contents
Dedication to the Glorious St. Joseph.....................................................................vi
Preface to the Second Edition................................................................................vii
Preface to the First Edition ...................................................................................xiii
State of the Question — The Present World does not make the Sign of Cross, or makes it
seldom, or makes it badly — The Primitive Christians made it, they made it frequently,
they made it well — We are right, and they were wrong, or we are wrong, and they were
right; which is true? ............................................................................................................ 1
Examination of the Question — Prepossessions in favor of the early Christians — First
prepossession, their lights — Second, their sanctity — Third, the practice of true
Christians in every age — Were the Fathers of the Church great geniuses?.................... 5
Continuation of the third prepossession: The Doctors of the East and West —
Constantine, Theodosius, Charlemagne, St. Louis, Bayard, Don John of Austria,
Sobieski — Fourth prepossession, the conduct of the Church — Fifth prepossession,
those who do not make the Sign of the Cross — Summary.............................................. 9
Answer to one objection: the times are changed — Reasons in favor of the primitive
Christians, drawn from the very nature of the Sign of the Cross — The Sign of the
Cross is five things — A divine sign which ennobles man — Proofs that the Sign of the
Cross is divine................................................................................................................... 15
The Sign of the Cross ennobles us — It is the exclusive sign of the elite of humanity — It
is the escutcheon of Catholicity — What a Catholic is — By ennobling us, the Sign of
the Cross teaches us the respect due to ourselves — Importance of this lesson —
Disgrace of those who do not make this sign — Picture of the contempt they have for
themselves ........................................................................................................................ 19
Continuation of the preceding letter — The Sign of the Cross is a book which instructs us
— Creation, Redemption, Glorification: three words which contain all the science of
God, of man, and of the world — The Sign of the Cross says these three words with
authority, with clearness, with sublimity — It says them to every one, everywhere, and
The place which the Sign of Cross holds in the world — What the human race was before
it knew how to make the Sign of the Cross — What becomes of the world when it
ceases to make it — Another point of view — The Sign of the Cross is a treasure which
enriches us ........................................................................................................................ 28
The Sign of the Cross known and practiced since the beginning of the world —
Contradictions only apparent — Seven ways of making the Sign of the Cross —
Testimonies of the Fathers — David, Solomon, and all the Jewish nation made the Sign
of the Cross, and knew its value — Proofs ...................................................................... 33
The Sign of the Cross among Pagans — New details of an exterior form of the Sign of the
Cross among the first Christians — The Martyrs in the Amphitheatre — Etymology of
the word “adore” — The Pagans adored by making the Sign of the Cross — How they
made it — First manner ................................................................................................... 39
8econd and third way in which the Pagans made the Sign of the Cross — Testimonies —
The Pietas Publica — The Pagans acknowledged a mysterious power in the Sign of the
Cross — Whence came that belief — Great mystery of the moral world — Importance
of the Sign of the Cross in the sight of God — The Sign of the Cross in the physical
world — Words of the Fathers and of Plato — Inconsistency of the ancient and modern
Pagans — Reason of the especial hatred of the demon for the Sign of the Cross .......... 44
The Sign of the Cross is a treasure that enriches us, because it is a prayer: proofs — A
powerful prayer: proofs — A universal prayer: proofs — It supplies all our wants — For
his soul man needs lights — The Sign of the Cross obtains them: proofs — Examples of
the Martyrs ....................................................................................................................... 51
Perpetual necessity of the Sign of the Cross to obtain strength — Its recommendation and
practice by the chiefs of the spiritual combat — The Sign of the Cross in temptations —
The Sign of the Cross at death — Examples of the martyrs — Examples of true
Christians dying a natural death — The dying caused the Sign of the Cross to be made
on them by their brethren ................................................................................................ 59
Effects of the Sign of the Cross in the temporal order — It cures all diseases, and removes
whatever can harm us — It gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the
dumb, the use of their limbs to the lame and paralyzed; cures other maladies, and
restores life to the dead .................................................................................................... 66
The Sign of the Cross a preservative against all that could injure life or health — It
appeases tempests — Extinguishes fire — Protects us against accidents — Opposes a
barrier to floods — Causes the waters to return to their bounds — Keeps ferocious
beasts at a distance — Preserves from poison, from thunderbolts — Makes creatures the
instruments of prodigies ................................................................................................... 74
Answer to a question — The Sign of the Cross is a weapon which repulses the enemy —
Life is a warfare — Against whom? — Necessity of a weapon within the reach of every
one — What is that weapon? — Proofs that the Sign of the Cross is the special weapon,
the most forcible weapon against the evil spirits ............................................................. 82
The Sign of the Cross breaks idols and expels the demons from them: examples — It
expels them from the possessed: examples — Recent anecdote — Other proofs:
exorcisms — It renders vain the direct attacks of the demons: examples — Their
indirect attacks: proofs — All creatures subject to the demons serve as their
instruments to harm us — The Sign of the Cross delivers them, and prevents their
being injurious to our body, or soul — Profound Philosophy of the early Christians —
The use they made of the Sign of the Cross — Tableau by St. Chrysostom .................. 90
Summary — Nature of the Sign of the Cross — How it is valued at the present day —
What the contempt and forgetfulness of the Sign of the Cross announce — Spectacle of
the present world — Satan returns — To remain faithful to the Sign of the Cross —
Principally before and after meals — Reason, honor, and liberty command it — Is
reason for or against those who make the Sign of the Cross over food? — Examples and
arguments ......................................................................................................................... 98
Honor commands us to pray before and after meals — Prayer over food is as ancient as
the world, as wide-spread as the human race — Proofs: Benedicite and Grace of every
people — Not to say them is to liken ourselves to beings which do not belong to the
human species — The blessing at table is a law of humanity ....................................... 104
Reasons for the blessing of the table — It is an act of freedom — Three tyrants; the
world, the flesh, the Devil — Triple victory of the Sign of the Cross and prayer over
food — Victory over the world: proofs — Over the flesh: proofs — Over the demon:
proofs — Remarkable testimony of Porphyrius — Facts cited by St. Gregory —
The Sign of the Cross is a guide that conducts us — Necessity of a guide — State of man
here below — The Sign of the Cross conducts man to his end by remembrance, and by
imitation — Remembrance which it recalls — General remembrance — Particular
remembrance — Particular imitation ............................................................................ 118
General imitation — Imitation of the sanctity of God — What sanctity is — The Sign of
the Cross, the sanctifier of man and of creatures — Imitation of the charity of God —
What charity is in God — What it should be in us — In teaching it to us, the Sign of
the Cross is an eloquent and sure guide — Incontestable proofs ................................. 124
Sentence of the judgment between us and the first Christians — First obligation, to make
the Sign of the Cross boldly, to make it often, and to make it well — Reasons for
making it boldly — Disgrace and danger of not making it — State of the physical and
moral health of the world at the present day................................................................. 129
Reasons of the power and exalted mission of the Sign of the Cross — Fundamental dogma
— What happens in the political order a figure of what takes place in the moral order
— The Reformation, first daughter of Paganism, throws down all the crosses — The
French Revolution, second daughter of Paganism, imitates her sister — Second
obligation, to make the Sign of the Cross frequently — Reasons drawn from our present
state — Third obligation, to make it well, condition — The Sign of the Cross, eternal
sign of victory — Constantine — Praises of the Sign of the Cross ............................... 134
REASONS OF THE POWER AND EXALTED MISSION OF THE SIGN OF THE CROSS — FUNDAMENTAL
DOGMA — WHAT HAPPENS IN THE POLITICAL ORDER A FIGURE OF WHAT TAKES PLACE IN THE
MORAL ORDER — THE REFORMATION, FIRST DAUGHTER OF THE REVIVAL OF PAGANISM,
THROWS DOWN ALL THE CROSSES — THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, SECOND DAUGHTER OF
PAGANISM, IMITATES HER SISTER — SECOND OBLIGATION, TO MAKE THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
FREQUENTLY — REASONS DRAWN FROM OUR PRESENT STATE — THIRD OBLIGATION: TO MAKE
IT WELL, CONDITION — THE SIGN OF THE CROSS, ETERNAL SIGN OF VICTORY — CONSTANTINE
— PRAISES OF THE SIGN OF THE CROSS.
YOU do not forget, my dear Frederic, that we draw practical conclusions
from the judgment rendered between us and our ancestors. The first is, that we
should make the Sign of the Cross courageously.
Although the decision of a tribunal without appeal suffices to determine our
conduct, I have wished, in order to render it more worthy of respect, to show
you the shame, the dangers and misfortunes which would be the consequence
of a revolt, either theoretical or practical. Facts have spoken. You have seen
the Sign of the Beast engraven on those foreheads, hearts, lips and aliments,
unsanctified by the divine sign. Whence does this proceed? I have promised to
The Sign of the Beast is inevitably imprinted on man, and on every thing
unprotected by the Sign of the Cross, the liberator of man and the world: it
cannot be, it never shall be otherwise. As for the world there is but one
lightning-conductor, so for man there is but one preservative against the
Demon, — it is the Sign of the Cross. Where it is not, there Satan is master.
This fact, as we have repeatedly seen, holds to the most profound, and,
altogether, the most incontestable dogma of humanity; the servitude of man
and the world to the Spirit of evil since the original fall. To render more
palpable what I say of the exalted mission of the Sign of the Cross, allow me to
remind you of some historical facts, too seldom noticed.
What happens in the political world is but a reflection of what takes place in
the moral. Now, when a dynasty ascends the throne, its first care is to erect its
standard and engrave its coat-of-arms everywhere. This is the sign of its
sovereignty. Does it happen to be overthrown? The first act of the conqueror is
to destroy the emblems of the vanquished dynasty, and replace them by his
own. Thus is announced to the eyes of the people the inauguration of a new
reign. How many times during the last seventy years have we seen in France
and elsewhere this change of colors and escutcheons! In coming to take
possession of His kingdom, the Incarnate Word found Satan the king and god
of the world. The statues, trophies, coats-of-arms, and insignia of the usurper
were everywhere. He, being vanquished, all those signs of his sovereignty
disappeared. In their place shone the arms of the Victor, the Cross. When, for
its crimes, a soul or a country is again abandoned to Satan, and he takes
possession of it, the first act of the usurper is to cause the Sign of the Cross to
disappear. Then it is, and only then, that having no longer to fear this
formidable sign, he acts therein as master.
Read again one page in the history of your own country. From 1520 to 1530,
what spectacle does Germany present to you? From the Rhine to the Danube,
all those crosses which, from the victory of Christianity over Scandinavian
idolatry, had crowned the hills and mountains, bordered the roads, enameled
the fields, ornamented the tops of houses, shone on the summits of churches,
decorated the apartments of the rich, or consoled the cottages of the poor,
were thrown down, broken into fragments, cast to the winds, or dragged in the
mire, amidst the vociferations of a delirious people. What did that destructive
storm announce? The advent of the victor, the re-establishment of his reign.
Since that time the Spirit of darkness has ruled Germany. There, as in the
ancient world, he reigns by despotism, voluptuousness, cruelty, and robbery, by
the confusion of right and wrong, by intellectual anarchy, under every name
We find the like spectacle in Prussia, Saxony, Holland, Denmark, Sweden,
Norway, England, Switzerland, and every country where the usurper has taken
the place of the rightful King. This fact is the more significant, as it is not
isolated in history. We see it reproduced every time that Satan retakes
possession of a country. It gives the character of the infernal victory, whether
general or particular, slow or rapid, and measures its extent.
In 1830 the crosses thrown down might be counted only by hundreds; 1830
was a weak imitation of 1793. In the latter epoch, the epoch of the complete
triumph of paganism, it was far otherwise. By thousands might be counted the
crosses thrown down and broken on the soil of France. In that time of sad, yet
instructive remembrances, there is one day, inauspicious beyond all others.
The tenth of August, 1792, saw the throne and altar sink in blood, under the
blows of fanatical hordes. The massacres of the Carmes and St. Firmin, the
proclaiming of the Republic, the assassination of Louis XVI, the hecatombs of
the Reign of Terror, the filthiness of the Directory, the apostasies and
sacrileges, the goddesses of Reason, were only the consequences of that
lamentable day. It shall eternally mark the precise hour in which Satan made
his triumphant entry into the most Christian kingdom.
“Now, at that moment,” writes an historian of the period, “a fearful storm,
such as had never been seen, burst over Paris. All day a heavy, dead heat had
stifled respiration. Gloomy clouds, marbled, towards evening, with sinisterlooking
streaks, had appeared to engulf the sun in a suspended ocean. Towards
ten o’clock the electricity discharged itself by thousands of flashes of lightning,
like luminous palpitations of the heavens. The winds, imprisoned behind that
ridge of clouds, burst forth, roaring like the waves, bending the harvests,
breaking the branches of the trees, and carrying away roofs of dwellings. The
rain and hail rang on the ground as if the Earth were being stoned from above.
The houses were closed, the streets and roads deserted in an instant. The
lightning, which, during eight successive hours, did not cease to flash and
strike, killed a great number of those men and women who came during the
night to provision Paris. Some of the sentinels were found struck amidst the
ashes of their sentry boxes. Iron gates, twisted by the wind and the fire of
Heaven, were torn from the walls to which they had been fastened by hinges,
and carried to an incredible distance. Montmartre and Mont Valerien, the two
natural domes which rise above the horizon of the suburbs of Paris, discharged
in greater surface the fluid accumulated in the clouds which enveloped them.
The lightning, attacking by preference all those monuments standing alone or
crowned with iron, threw down all the crosses erected in the country, on the
roads and cross-roads, from the plain of Issy to the woods of St. Germain and
Versailles, even to the cross of the bridge of Charenton. The next day the
limbs of those crosses were everywhere scattered over the ground, as if an
invisible army had, in its passage, overthrown all the repudiated signs of Christian
There is no more chance in the moral order than there are leaps in nature.
The facts I have just related have, then, a signification. Now, the
circumstances which have accompanied and followed them prove evidently the
cause of the existence or nonexistence of the Sign of the Cross in a country.
They also prove to nations, provinces, cities, countries, and men, whoever they
may be, how much it imports them to preserve, multiply, and honor that sign,
the protector of the whole creation.
To make the Sign of the Cross frequently, is the second practical
consequence of the judgment rendered. And why should we not make it? Why
not, each one, as far as he is concerned, return to the practice of our
forefathers? They did not believe themselves secure even for an instant, even
in the most ordinary actions of life, if they were not protected by the salutary
sign. Are we stronger than they? Are our temptations less numerous, less
active? our dangers less pressing? our obligations less serious?
Every time that our fathers went out of their dwellings, their eyes were
offended by the sight of statues, pictures, obscene objects, customs, and feasts,
wherein the Spirit of evil appeared on all sides. What discourses, what
conversations, what songs fell on their chaste ears! Under every form the most
seductive, the sensualism and naturalism of ideas and morals, both public and
private, were a permanent conspiracy against the supernaturalism of their life,
against their spirit of mortification, simplicity, poverty, and detachment.
Moreover, they had to defend their faith against the sarcasms, the contempt,
and the sophisms of nations and of pagan philosophy. They had to answer for it
before judges, and attest it in amphitheatres.
In order to preserve themselves amidst so many perils, what was their secret?
The Sign of the Cross, always the Sign of the Cross. And we Catholics of the
nineteenth century, what is our condition? Has not every thing, or nearly every
thing that surrounds us again become pagan? Where shall we find one word of
the Gospel in the greater number of men and things? Are not the cities of
modern Europe, like those of former times, filled with statues, paintings,
engravings, and objects capable of enkindling in the most frigid souls the
impure fires of concupiscence?
In streets, in parlors, and in daily lectures, what strikes upon our ears? What
does the modern world need to be entirely pagan in the luxury of its table,
furniture, lodging, garments and enjoyments? Slavery and wealth. The instincts
are the same as in the days of the Cæsars! Is not such a spectacle a continual
snare? Woe to him who does not see it! Woe, above all, to him who does not
watch daily over his heart and senses!
If it be difficult to defend our morals, what a war must we sustain in order to
preserve our faith! Do we not live in a time in which false ideas, lies and
sophisms, as numerous as the atoms of the air, are current in society?
Everywhere are the amphitheatres in which we must combat for the Church,
for our belief, our traditions, our customs, for Christian supernaturalism. The
arena is never closed; one combat is no sooner ended than another begins.
Placed in a like condition with us, the early Christians were acquainted with
a weapon, victorious, universal, and familiar to all, of which they made
constant use; it was the Sign of the Cross. Have we a better? Ah, if ever it was
necessary to make the protecting sign upon ourselves and creatures, it is today.
What prevents us from imitating our ancestors? How can it be
incompatible with our occupations to make the Sign of the Cross on the heart,
or, after the ancient manner, on the forehead with the thumb, or on the mouth
with the thumb and the index? If we be vanquished, whose will be the fault?
Perditio tua ex te Israël!
To make the Sign of the Cross well is the third application of the sentence
pronounced. Regularity, respect, attention, confidence, and devotion should
accompany our hand when it forms the adorable sign.
Regularity. It requires that the Sign of the Cross, in its perfect form, be made
according to the traditional law, that is to say, with the right hand and not the
left; by slowly carrying the hand from the forehead to the breast, from the
breast to the left shoulder, and then to the right, while pronouncing the name
of the three persons of the august Trinity.1 Nothing of this is arbitrary. If they
were to come forth from their tombs, it is thus the Christians of the apostolical
times would make the Sign of the Cross. Let us hear an eye-witness.
“We make the Sign of the Cross with the right hand over the catechumens,”
says St. Justin, “because the right hand is accounted more noble than the left,
although it differs from it only in position, and not in its nature; thus we pray
turned toward the east, as being the most noble part of creation. From whom
did the Church receive this manner of prayer? From those who taught her to
pray; from the Apostles.” 2
We have a curious passage from St. Augustine on the dignity of the right
hand. “Do you not reprove,” says he, “him who eats with the left hand? If you
look on the guest who eats with the left hand as offering an insult to your
table, why should it not be an insult to the divine table, to make with the left
hand what should be made with the right, and with the right what should be
made with the left.” 3 St. Gregory adds: “Such is the manner of speaking among
men; we call noble and precious what is at the right, less precious, less noble
what is at the left.” 4
As to the words which accompany the movement of the hand, they, also,
are of apostolic tradition. “Over all that you meet,” says St. Ephrem, “make the
Sign of the Cross, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
And Tertullian: “Faith is signed in the Father, and in the Son, and in the
Holy Ghost.” 6
And St. Alexander, soldier and martyr under Maximian, on being
condemned to death, turned toward the east, made the Sign of the Cross three
times over his body and said: “Glory be to thee, O God of our fathers, Father
and Son and Holy Ghost.” 7
However, the form which I have just described was less in use among the
primitive Christians than it is among us. Their ordinary way was to make the
Sign of the Cross with the thumb on the forehead: Frontem crucis signaculo
terimus. This was because of their fear of betraying themselves, and also on
account of the incessant repetition of the adorable sign. Such is still the form
most frequently employed in Spain and many other countries.8
But why on the forehead rather than on the heart? Herein, my dear
Frederic, as in all that is ancient, there are great mysteries. I count five. The
first, the honor of the Divine Crucified. “It is not without reason,” says St.
Augustine, “that the Incarnate Word has wished that His divine sign should be
marked on our forehead. The forehead is the seat of modesty, and He wishes
the Christian not to blush at the opprobrium of his Master. If, then, you make
it in the presence of men, and are not at it, count on the divine mercy.” 9
The second, the honor of our forehead. “The Sign of the Cross,” says
Tertullian, “is the sign of foreheads, signacu1um frontiurn.” 10 And St.
Augustine: “A forehead without the Sign of the Cross is a head without hair.
The bald head is a subject of shame and derision. It is the same with the
forehead unornamented with the Sign of the Cross. Such a forehead is
impudent. Have you ever heard one man insulting another? He says to him
‘You have no forehead;’ Vous n’avez pas de front. What does this mean? That
he is impudent. May God preserve me from having a naked forehead; may the
cross of my Master ornament and cover it.” 11
The third, the miracle of the Redemption. The Sign of the Cross is a trophy.
Trophies are not placed in obscure corners, but in public places, where
everybody can see them, and in seeing them be reminded of the triumphs of
the conqueror. “Why then,” cries out the great Augustine, “should not the
Divine Word place on the forehead of man, on the most visible and noble of
his members, the sign of victory won by the cross over the infernal powers?” 12
By passing from places of execution to the brow of emperors, it was meet
that the Cross should eternally proclaim the great miracle of the conversion of
The fourth, the divine propriety. Re-entering into possession of man, the
Divine Crucified has marked him with his seal, as the proprietor marks those
things that belong to him.
“As soon as the Redeemer had restored man to his liberty,” says St.
Cæsarius of Arles, “He marked him with His sign. This Sign is the Cross.
Engraved on the doors of palaces, we bear it on our forehead. It is the
Conqueror who places it there, that all may know He has re-entered into
possession of us, and that we are His palaces, His living temples. The Demon
also, jealous and furious, continually prowls around, seeking to rob us of the
sign of our freedom, the charter of our liberty.” 13
The fifth, the dignity of man. The forehead is the noblest part of the body; it
is, as it were, the seat of the soul. Whoever is master of the head is master of
the man. Hence, of all parts of the human body, the forehead is that which the
Demon tries most furiously to deform. The deformation of this organ by
artificial compression has been practiced all over the world; in many countries
it still exists. To disfigure the image of God, to enfeeble the intellectual
faculties, to develop the basest instinct; such are the established results of this
deformation, humanly inexplicable. Our Lord, the Repairer of all things,
wished that the Sign of the Cross should, by preference, be marked on the
forehead, in order to deliver it, and in delivering it, to restore to man, with the
plenitude of his faculties, all the dignity of his being.
Respect is another condition required to make the Sign of the Cross well.
Respect, because it is an act of religion, venerable for four reasons; for its
origin, for its antiquity, for the use which has been made of it by the greatest
and holiest men the world has ever seen, the apostles, martyrs and true
Catholics of the primitive Church and of every age; and for the glory with
which the Sign of the Cross shall shine on the last day, when, announcing the
coming of the Sovereign Judge, it shall appear in the clouds, brilliant with
light, and be placed with dignity, beside the supreme tribunal, for the
consolation of the just, and the eternal confusion of the wicked.
With attention; without this, the redeeming sign is no more than a
mechanical movement, too often useless to ourselves, and perhaps injurious to
Him, whose majesty, love and benefits it recalls.
With confidence; but a confidence filial, lively, strong, founded on the
testimony of ages, on the practice of the Church, and the marvelous effects
produced by this sign, formidable to the Demon, and the liberator of man and
With devotion; which places the heart in union with the lips. In making the
Sign of the Cross, what do I do? I proclaim myself the disciple, the brother, the
friend, the child of a crucified God. Under pain of lying to myself and to God, I
must be all that I say.
Listen to our forefathers. “When you sign yourself, think of all the mysteries
contained in the Cross. It is not enough to form it simply with the finger; it is
necessary first to make it with faith and good-will . . . When you mark your
breast, your eyes, and all your members with the Sign of the Cross, offer
yourself as a victim pleasing to God. . . . If, in marking yourself with the Sign of
the Cross, you proclaim yourself a Christian soldier, yet, at the same time do
not practice, according to your ability, either charity, justice, or chastity, the
Sign of the Cross avails you nothing. The Sign of the Cross is a great thing; it
should be employed to mark only great and precious things. What use would it
be to set a golden seal on hay or mud? What signifies the Sign of the Cross on
the forehead and lips, if the soul be interiorly filled with crimes and stains?” 14
“To make the Sign of the Cross, and yet sin, what is this to do? It is to place
the sign of life on the mouth, and to plunge the poniard into the heart.” 15
Hence the proverb of the primitive Christians: “Brothers, have Jesus Christ
in the heart, and his sign on the forehead: Habete Christurn in cordibus et
signum ejus in frontibus.” 16
Hence, also, the saying of St. Augustine: “God asks not for painters, but for
operators of His mysteries. If you bear on your forehead the sign of the humility
of Jesus Christ, bear in your heart the imitation of the humility of Jesus
We have every reason to act thus. Let no one say: “To make the Sign of the
Cross, either well or ill, is of little importance.” Christian ages have taught
differently, so also has the Catholic Church, the Mistress of truth, so also has
the Truth in person. Admitting even that the Sign of the Cross is of little
importance, has not the Incarnate Word said: “He that is faithful in little
things will be faithful in great; as he who is unfaithful in little things will be
unfaithful in great?”
Is it not this daily fidelity which forms the Christian life and prepares the
eternal recompense? In the affair of salvation, as in all other affairs, that which
suffices is not sufficient. He who wishes to do only what is necessary, will not
do even that for very long.
Ten times a day I make the Sign of the Cross. If it is well made, behold ten
more good works, ten more degrees of glory and happiness for all eternity.
Behold ten more pieces of money to pay my debts, or those of my brethren on
Earth or in Purgatory, ten more instances to obtain the conversion of sinners
and the perseverance of the just; to free the world and creatures from diseases,
dangers and scourges. Compute the sum of merits accumulated at the end of a
week, a year, a life-time of fifty years. And yet you say that this is of little
You now know, dear Frederic, the Sign of the Cross, and the manner of
making it. Let me confide to you an ambitious thought:
Suppose a stranger arrives in Paris, and asks which is the young man, who,
among all in this vast capital, makes the Sign of the Cross best. I wish that you
might be named. At this price, I promise you a life worthy of our ancestors of
the primitive Church, a death precious before God, and, perhaps, the honors of
canonization: In hoc vince: By this sign thou shalt conquer.
This divine saying is ever ancient, yet ever new, for it is the formula of a
law. Constantine, who first deserved to hear it, is the type of man. The great
emperor was advancing by forced marches to attack Maxentius, a dreadful
tyrant who was in possession of the capital of the world. Suddenly, in calm
weather, a little after midday, there appears in the heavens the Sign of the
Cross, brilliant with light, and visible to Constantine and the whole army, with
the inscription: By this sign thou shalt conquer: In hoc vince.
The following night, the Son of God appears to the emperor, holding in His
hand the same sign, and commands him to make one like it, to be carried in all
his battles, and to be to him the pledge of victory.
Constantine obeys. The heavenly sign, resplendent with gold and precious
stones, dazzles the eyes of his legions, and becomes the celebrated Labarum.
Wherever this sacred ensign appears, confidence animates the soldiers of
Constantine, terror seizes those of Maxentius. The Roman eagles fly before the
Cross, paganism, before Christianity; Satan, the ancient tyrant of Rome and
the world, before Jesus Christ, the Savior of Rome and the world. And thus it
Maxentius being defeated and drowned, Constantine enters into Rome. A
statue is erected, representing him holding the Cross in his hand, with the
following inscription dictated by himself: “It is by this salutary sign, the true
emblem of strength, that I have delivered your city from the yoke of tyranny,
and that, giving liberty to the Senate and Roman people, I have re-established
them in their ancient majesty and splendor.” 18
Constantine represents you, me, every baptized soul, the whole Christian
world. Thrown into the arena of life, we march at the head of our senses and
faculties, to attack a tyrant far more dangerous than Maxentius. Our Rome is
Heaven; he tries to prevent our entrance into it. He advances against us at the
head of his infernal legions. The combat is inevitable. God gives us the same
means of conquering that He gave to the son of Constantius; the Sign of the
Cross; In hoc vince. Now, as formerly, this sign is the terror of demons, formido
dæmonum. Let us make it with faith, and the way to the eternal City shall be
opened to us. Conquerors, and conquerors for ever, our gratitude will erect, in
the sight of the angels and the elect, a statue bearing Constantine’s inscription:
“It is by this sign, the true emblem of strength, that I have vanquished the
Demon, delivered my soul and body from his tyranny, and that, by giving to my
senses, faculties, and entire being, their true liberty, I have established them
for all eternity in the splendors of unlimited, unalloyed glory: In hoc vince.”
Hail, then, I will say, borrowing the language of the Fathers and Doctors of
the East and the West — “Hail, Sign of the Cross, Standard of the great King,
immortal trophy of the Lord, sign of life, sign of salvation, sign of benediction,
terror of Satan and the infernal legions, impregnable rampart, impenetrable
buckler, invincible armor, royal sword, honor of the forehead, hope of
Christians, remedy of the sick, resurrection of the dead, guide of the blind,
support of the feeble, consolation of the poor, joy of the good, dread of the
wicked, check to the rich, ruin of the proud, judge of the unjust, liberty of
slaves, glory of martyrs, chastity of virgins, virtue of the saints, foundation of
the Church!” 19
You now have, dear Frederic, my answer to your two questions.
The authority of all ages resolves them in your favor. This triumphant
apology for your noble conduct, will, I hope, arm you forever against mockeries
On one side, you know how important and how solidly established is the
habitual practice of the Sign of the Cross; and, on the other, you have the
means of appreciating, at its just value, the intelligence of those who do not
make it, as also of esteeming, as it merits, the character of those who are
ashamed to make it. In hoc vince.
F I N I S
1 Navarr., Comment. de Orat. et horis canon. c. xix, n. 200. [Note: In certain of the Uniate
Oriental Rites, the Sign of the Cross is made from forehead to breast to right shoulder, then
finally to the left shoulder, to reflect that the faithful sheep to be saved at the Last Judgment
will be placed at the right hand of Christ the Dread Judge, and the goats to be damned at His
left hand.2 Quæst., xviii.
3 In Psal. 138.
4 Moral., lib. xx. c. 18.
5 De panoplia.7
6 De Baptism, c. vi.
7 Apud Sur, May 13.
8 There are two ways of holding the hand in making the Sign of the Cross. The first consists in
extending the first three fingers, and closing the other two. This manner, which distinctly
expresses the mystery of the holy Trinity, was still much used in the thirteenth century. The
second consists in extending the five fingers, which recalls the five wounds of Our Lord. At
present this is alone in use in the Church of the West.
9 In Ps. 30. Enarr. iv. n. 8.
10 Contr. Marcian, lib. v.
11 In Ps. 131.
12 In Joan., Pract. xxxvi.
13 Homil. v. de pascha.14 S. Chrys., Homil. 55, in Matth. S. Ephr., De adorat. vivif. cruc. S. Aug., Serm., 215, de Temp.
— Signum maximum atque sublime. Lact., Div. Instit., lib. iv. c. 26.
15 S. Cæs., Serm. 278., inter Augustin.
16 Bed., t. 111, in collact. flor et parab.
17 S. Aug., Ser. 32.
18 Euseb., Vit Constant., lib. c. 33.
19 Gretzer, lib. iv, c. 64, etc.
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