Luther W. Martin
The Catholic Sunday Digest, published by Chaplain Cornelius P. O’Leary at Kindley Air Force Base, located on the Island of Bermuda in its issue for Sept. 30, 1956, dealt with the subject, Why Catholics Make the Sign of the Cross?
The sign of the cross is that action whereby a Catholic either traces a small cross on his forehead, lips and breast, or touches, with the tips of his fingers, first his forehead, then his breast, then his left shoulder and his right. Many protestants consider this action to be valueless and superstitious, but in reality it is very ancient in origin, very natural in meaning, and very fruitful for those who use it reverently.
Clear records prove that the tracing of a small cross on forehead or breast, and even on objects to be used, was very common in the second century, i.e., less than 100 years after the last apostle died…
Even if there had been no such solid historical background for the sign of the cross, it is hard to see how it could be considered wrong or foolish even if someone invented it in modern times…
The sign of the cross, made with faith and devotion, brings some of the fruits of Christ’s cross into one’s life…
Comments Concerning Chaplain O’Leary’s Assertions
Although the Roman Catholic Church makes a fallacious claim to being apostolic, her very alleged apostolicity is admittedly lacking in the use of the sign of the cross. Since such a practice, according to O’Leary, did not begin with the apostles, but after their deaths, obviously, the Catholic practice is not apostolic.
It is also an item of interest that various Catholic authors ascribe to Tertullian who lived toward the end of the second century, A.D., and into the third century, A.D., the first references to the sign of the cross. Yet, Tertullian did not agree with many of the teachings of the then existing churches. He became a Montanist and was strongly opposed to the trend of secularization and political involvements toward which the congregations were moving. In fact, the out and out Roman Catholic historians who asserts that the Roman Catholic movement was even then in existence, claim that Tertullian was excommunicated…by the bishop of Rome. Although this is merely wishful thinking on the part of die-hard Roman Catholic historians, it places them in a peculiar position. (1) They point to Tertullian’s writings in order to establish the use of the sign of the cross. (2) But if we accept as true the claims of Roman Catholic historians, then the Pope was already then in existence, and excommunicated Tertullian. (3) Therefore, modern Catholicism bases a number of claims of “ancient practices” upon the testimony of men that she allegedly excommunicated. Not a very solid foundation, is it?
What Does the Bible Say?
How I kept back nothing that was profitable to you…”(Acts 20:20).
I have not spared to declare unto you all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
If any seem to be a profit, or spiritual, let him know the things that I write to you, that they are the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37).
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. (Gal. 1:8).
From the foregoing scriptures we can clearly conclude:
(1). If the sign of the cross is spiritually profitable, Paul would have taught it, revealed it…for he kept back nothing profitable.
(2) If the ‘sign of the cross’ were a part of God’s counsel, Paul would have declared it… for he declared all of God’s counsel.
(3) Scripture furnishes the man of God unto every good work, but since scripture fails to mention or teach the “sign of the cross” then it is not a good work.
(4) Paul’s writings…contained in the New Testament, are the commandments of the Lord. However, since Paul did not write anything concerning the sign of the cross, it is not a commandment of the Lord’s.
(5) Since it is not the Lord’s teaching, then it can only come from mere mankind. “In vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:9.)
The Use Of ‘The Sign Of The Cross’ Is, Therefore, Vain Worship. Christians Cannot Engage In Such Vain Worship And Remain Acceptable In God’s Sight!