in hoc signo vinces -- "In this sign, you will conquer."
In one of our catechism classes, Sister Mary Immaculata asked us to distinguish between a sign and a symbol. Correct answer: A sign IS the thing it symbolizes.
The Christian cross is a sign, not a symbol. It was “a sign of conquering” for the Emperor Constantine, who had a dream before the Battle of the Milivan. The legend of Constantine’s dream comes to us from a very close and reliable source, Lactantius, a poor man patronized by the emperor who wrote the first biography of the conqueror who Christianized Europe. The sign Constantine saw in the sky, Lactantius tells us, was a "staurogram", or a Latin cross with its upper end rounded in a P-like fashion.
The staurogram, shown here on a coin of Constantine, was formed by the superimposition of the first two letters of the name “Christ” in Greek -- "P" on the cross above the standard, and "X" on the cross itself.
Eusebius, who claimed he had his account directly from Constantine, tells us that Constantine looked up towards the sun and saw above it a cross of light accompanied by the Greek words Ἐν Τούτῳ Νίκα – in Latin, in hoc signo vinces, literally "In this sign, you will conquer." The night following the apparition, Christ appeared to Constantine. In Lactantitus’ account, Constantine was commanded the night before the battle to adorn the shields of his soldiers with the staurogram and the message, Ἐν Τούτῳ Νίκα, “in this, you win.”
The Latin Cross or staurogram -- “Chi Rho” in Greek -- is a sign of both the crucifixion and the resurrection.
In the modern world, there are no longer any Constantines, and it is by no means certain that the cross any longer conquers European hearts and heads; both Europe and the “New World” appear to be slithering towards a sort of neo-paganism. In France, from which we recently returned, showing the cross in school is prohibited. Andree wore it brazenly in public, wherever we went, and managed to avoid arrest. The rest of Europe has been effectively de-Christianized without a shot having been fired because, one supposes, the modern world is more comfortable snoozing in the lap of neo-paganism -- which is not at all the same thing as paganism. The pagans believed in their gods and what we might call divine justice. Modern neo-pagans lack the intellect and energy to believe in anything but their own whimsy.In Waterbury, things are different. There, nearly a week before Christmas, Christians in the city lifted high their new cross, a replacement of one that towered above the city, as one newspaper put it, “in the second half of the 20th century, a landmark to passing motorists on I-84 and Route 8.”
The official lighting ceremony is scheduled for this Sunday at 6 p.m. Waterbury will close off part of South Elm Street, where it runs over I-84, so that people may gather to watch the lighting of the 5,000 LED bulbs shining from inside the cross that faith, loyalty and love built. The illumination will follow a 4:30 p.m. celebratory Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, the chosen church of John Baptist Greco, the patriarch of Holy Land, high on a hill overlooking the city that at night sparkles below the cross like strewn diamonds, light chanting with light.
Waterbury has not forgotten the fathers and mothers of her city, which now lives in their prayers under a sign that still conquers minds and hearts.