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The Cross & the Skull

3MI Newsletter from March 22nd, 2024

When asked why Christ was crucified, the usual answer is sin. Standard depictions of the crucifixion give a singular skull at the base of the cross on the ground.

Skull at the base of the Cross of Jesus Christ

What is this skull? Who, if anyone, did it belong to?

The typical answer: the skull is a mere symbol, a representation of death, which Christ is supposed to have conquered by His sacrifice.

However, is there something more to this skull?

As Dom Guéranger states,

The tree of our salvation, as it falls into the hole prepared for it, strikes against a tomb: it is that of our first parent.  The Blood of the Redeemer flows down the cross and falls upon a skull: it is the skull of Adam, whose sin has called for this great expiation.  In His mercy, the Son of God wills that the instrument wherewith He has gained pardon for the guilty world should rest amidst the very bones of him that first caused its guilt.  Thus is Satan confounded: the creation is not, as he has hitherto thought, turned by his artifice to the shame of its Creator.  The hill on which is raised the standard of our salvation, is called Calvary, which signifies a skull.  Here, according to the tradition of the Jews, was buried our first parent, the first sinner.  Among the holy fathers of the early ages, who have handed down this interesting tradition to us, we may cite St. Basil, St. Ambrose, Saint John Chrysostom, St. Epiphanius, St. Jerome.  Origen, too, who had such opportunities of knowing the Jewish traditions, mentions this among the number.  At a very early period Christian art introduced the custom of placing a human skull at the feet of Jesus’ image on the cross: it was done to commemorate the great fact to which we have been alluding.[1]

The Blood from the Head of the humiliated, thorn-crowned God-Man flows to cleanse the corruption of the once proud skull of the first man. Could these great fathers and doctors of the Church (and others) really take this literally? Well, they have answered this in their writings.

But what may be of more interest to some is that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher has in its depths a chapel named for none other than the first man himself.

The Chapel of Adam.

Chapel of Adam, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

As with any meditation during the Passion of Our Lord, the focus on thorns, nails, spear, etc. can lead to a particular virtue to focus the intellect, which strengthens the will for the battle of the coming day. When the focus is the skull of Adam, meditation on death, though laudable, is not the only option. Many may forget that it was a real man that transferred something to his progeny that continues to this day – original sin.

Forgetfulness of this essential doctrine has led modern man for centuries to look to the enemies of Christ – naturalists, materialists, rationalists, and their modern offspring – for answers in domains that these classes of men are completely incompetent to give. Further, the lack of forthrightness in nearly every interpretation and analysis compels every Catholic to put up guardrails with any book, podcast, or documentary that is given to them by the channelers of these lies – be they secular or Catholic.

As anyone can lie and deceive, be they members of the Church or not, are we to assume these naturalists of today are not infected with the gift of Adam – original sin – and therefore immune from lies, fraud, deception?

Meditate on the skull of poor Adam, and, with a shout of the will, holler at the hissing of the new false liberation offered by these modern deceivers, imitators of the Serpent. “Not now Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, Mr. Hubble, I have to tend this magnificent garden of my duty of state and have no need for your philosophical writings masked as natural science."

In following Pope St. Pius X in his 1904 encyclical Iucunda Sane, we will further glorify God by combating these peddlers of false science:

Pope St. Pius X
"Now since all this springs necessarily both from the nature of the principles of Christian revelation, and from the intrinsic properties which Our Apostolate should have, you see clearly, Venerable Brethren, how mistaken are those who think they are doing service to the Church, and producing fruit for the salvation of souls, when by a kind of prudence of the flesh they show themselves liberal in concessions to science falsely so called, under the fatal illusion that they are thus able more easily to win over those in error, but really with the continual danger of being themselves lost. The truth is one, and it cannot be halved; it lasts for ever, and is not subject to the vicissitudes of the times. 'Jesus Christ, today and yesterday, and the same for ever' (Hebr. xiii. 8)."[2]

[1] Gueranger, Dom Prosper. The Liturgical Year, Volume VI, pp. 504-505

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