When an aggressive Evangelical challenges me for having a crucifix in church, one of my favorite apologetic one liners is to say, “We believe the Bible. Don’t you know 1 Corinthians 1:23, where Paul says, ‘We preach Christ and him crucified?'”

As a convert one of the stunning eye-openers was when I stopped to realize that it is only the Catholic Church (and the Eastern Orthodox) who not only preach, but venerate Christ and him crucified.

We have crucifixes. Crucifixes “R” Us.

That’s why the General Instruction of the Roman Missal stipulates:

Likewise, either on the altar or near it, there is to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, a cross clearly visible to the assembled people. It is desirable that such a cross should remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations, so as to call to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord.

Notice that the other churches and religions do not have crucifixes. Some even deliberately denigrate the cross rather than exalt the cross.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses say the cross is a pagan symbol and teach that Jesus was crucified on a stake.

Mormons don’t have crosses anywhere in their temples. They have an angel instead, and some actually believe the atonement took place in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Protestants have crosses, but not crucifixes. They give weird reasons for this. Some say “Catholics don’t believe in the resurrection” because we have crucifixes. Others teach that the crucifix is a form of idolatry. I’ve never really understood this, as a good old-fashioned Evangelical will sing hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” 

I suspect they do not have crucifixes for two reasons. First, just because it’s Catholic. Second, because there is a strain of Manicheanism within much of Evangelical Protestantism. Manicheanism was a heresy that was dualistic — saying physical and spiritual did not mix, and the spiritual was superior to the physical.

That distrust of the physical comes from their Puritan roots and extends into a distrust of the physical expressions of worship and faith. Their bare empty crosses are part of their functional architecture, denial of the sacraments and denigration of the physical in the faith.

Jews, of course, hate the cross because it for them a stumbling block.

Which brings me to the Muslims: The relics of the cross were discovered by the Empress Helena in the fourth century and the church of the Holy Sepulcher was built by her son Constantine to honor the cross and resurrection. That ancient church was destroyed by the Muslims in the seventh century. It was rebuilt but in the 9th and 10th century by the Crusaders, but the Muslims continued to attack it and burn it. Then in 1009 the church was again leveled by the Muslims before being rebuilt later that century.

Finally, don’t imagine that the denigration of the cross is limited to Protestants, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslims and Jews.

You will have seen crosses featuring the resurrected Lord with arms outstretched. A more traditional form of portraying the glorified Lord is to portray him in robes of prophet, priest and king with arms outstretched on the cross.

While these icons of the Lord may have some devotional uses, they are not crucifixes and they should never be used as a substitute for the main crucifix in a church, which should portray “Christ and him crucified.”

To stress the importance of the crucifix we should remember the context of the verse I quoted above:

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach  to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

This passage reveals how the cross stands in the center of history and in the center of the cosmos as an eternal sign of contradiction. The cross turns upside down all our ambitions and earthly desire. The cross reverses our good ideas and our marvelous plans for there we see that God works his way in the world in a contrary fashion. Our wisdom is his foolishness and his foolishness is everlasting wisdom.

Worldlings hate and despise the cross. Demons howl at the sign of the crucifix. They flee from the crucifix.

This is why the crucifix must be central in every Catholic church, home and school. And this is why, when you see no crucifix or just an empty cross or a cross with something other than the crucified Lord on it, you are right to suspect heresy, schism and a hidden hatred of Jesus Christ and his true gospel.

A crucifix is one of the signs of orthodoxy.

Exalt the crucifix and you will be exalted. Wear it and place it in your homes, schools and churches with true veneration.

Because you are a Catholic and you preach Christ and him crucified.