Thursday, 7 February 2019

Robert Button: The figuration of the cross in the material world: cruciform and thingness in Christian apologetics

Early Christian writers such as Justin Martyr, Minucius Felix, Tertullian and others, observed the presence of the cruciform in the fabric of the natural and cultural world around them, identifying the form of the cross in, for example, ships masts, masons’ tools, farmers’ ploughs, military victory trophies and banners, and in the human form itself and the features of the human face. On one level these associations might be seen as merely artful features of apologetic strategy, but this communication will suggest that they have a broader significance, witnessing to a kind of material cruciform hermeneutic, which re-conceives familiar and everyday forms and things in the light of the cross of Christ. The observation of the form of the cross in the natural and cultural world suggests the possibility of the cruciform as a pure-form and ‘sign’, something thus recognisable in diverse and seemingly unintended examples. But it also emphasises thingness itself, directing attention to the presence of this form in the material realm of things and bodies, encouraging a re-orientation to the familiar. Drawing on the renewed emphasis on form, materiality and embodiment typical of ‘material religion’, this communication will explore how arguments within the apologetic tradition, especially Justin Martyr, involve a figuration of the cross, reflecting a faith which is itself materially constituted and characteristically embodied. Reading apologetic writings on the cross in the light of the concerns of material religion, this communication seeks to encourage fresh appreciation of the sign of the cross in early Christian discourse.

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