Christus Rex

The representation of the tortured, wounded, body of Christ on the Cross has become a central sign and symbol in many Churches. This crucifix is often centrally displayed as a focus for devotion and prayer. In fact it was only in the twelfth century that this began to happen in Western Christianity, and to this day it is not a central feature of Orthodox Christianity.

Today many differing forms of the cross and crucifix are to be found in places of worship.

An early representation shows a majestic Christ clothed in kingly or priestly robes, often crowned, and reigning from tree. In the crucifix form of this image Christ’s arms are outstretched in an open and welcoming way and the image as a whole appears as one of triumph and glory.

This style of crucifix, the Christus Rex, comes from the earliest years of Christianity and has a long honoured tradition. It is a symbol of victory.

On the Christus Rex cross we see the risen Christ, still bearing his wounds, as the Universal King who has triumphed over death and opens arms for all in loving, serving, embrace.

It is this style of crucifix which we have recently had placed centrally at St Chrysostom’s, behind the altar, as a focus for our faith and worship. The Christus Rex cross suggests perspectives which are central to our outlook in faith at St Chrysostom’s. We are an Easter People encouraged and inspired by the Christ, the Universal King, the Christ of the cosmos, who has come among us as a human being and has suffered and died, and has shown us God’s victory over death in which we share.

We are encouraged to see the liturgies – the worship – of the Great Three Days as one great liturgical act honouring Christ the servant of all (Maundy Thursday), crucified for us (Good Friday) and risen and victorious Lord of the Universe (Easter Day). So these elements are united in the Christus Rex cross.

Canon Vernon Staley (1852-1933) a leading Anglo Catholic apologist put it well when he wrote: “It is not well to regard the Eucharist as commemorative solely of the death and passion of our Lord, and to forget that it is also the memorial of His mighty resurrection and glorious ascension. In thus emphasizing His humiliation at the expense of His exaltation some have been led to associate the crucifix with the altar rather than the cross of glory. In connection with this, it may be pointed out that our Lord in glory is a much more suitable subject. . .over the altar, than our Lord crucified.”

From St John Chrysostom’s Sermon The Thief and the Cross:

Do you not see, then, how the cross symbolizes the kingdom? If you desired further proof, it lies in the fact that the cross did not leave Christ earthbound, but lifted him up and carried him back to heaven.

(The Christus Rex Crucifix at St Chrysostom’s is a gift of Fr Ian to the church in memory of his mother and father, Mary and John Gomersall).

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About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community where people of differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2364267899/
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5 Responses to Christus Rex

  1. anyushka says:

    I’ve often been uncomfortable with the fact that in most churches, Christ crucified is behind the altar – as if that had been the end of the story. I would love more emphasis on Christ risen!

  2. Ed says:

    It makes a lovely focal point for the congregation, and is yet another indication of how the church is improving the building environment.
    Over the past year or two, the water ingress from the guttering has been fixed, the interior repainted, wooden floors sanded & sealed, the speaker system (and hard of hearing loop) improved, kitchen & hospitality area revamped, new tables & chairs for outreach work for victims of human trafficking bought, and the internal lighting upgraded.

  3. Felicity Morgan says:

    This is a lovely gift from Fr Ian, given in memory of his parents. Thank you and I’m sure it will be most treasured at our church.

  4. Veronica says:

    I have argued this way for years and have been told that I simply wanted to avoid the “hard part” of Christianity – the suffering and death. I don’t deny the “hard part”, but believe it was not the end of the story and should not be our predominant focus throughout the church year.

    My previous church had a Resurrection /Ascension cross (Jesus with one arm extended downward; the other raised toward heaven). My present church has the Christus Rex which is exchanged for the suffering Christ during Lent. It was not what our current priest prefers, but our congregation has overridden his choice, except for during Lent. I’m glad we won that concession from him.

  5. Judy Ford says:

    I’m a Methodist Local Preacher. Recently, at one of the churches where I was preaching, I intriduced the congregation to the idea of using icons as a focus for worship. This led on to a lively discussion about the significance of having an empty cross on the communion table, rather than a crucifix. There was a body of opinion (which I don’t share, but which I’d heard articulated before) that the empty cross is better because it signifies Christ’s death and resurrection, rather than focussing on his death only. At that time, I hadn’t come across the idea of the Christus Rex version of the crucifix. I’d like to show one to them next time I go there. Can you suggest where I might find an image that I could legally download? Or can I be cheeky and request a photograph of your crucifix?

    Thank you for sharing this and for explaining about this tradition.

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