stained glass by Olsztynku studio
Today is known as All Saints' Day in some Christian denominations. It's no coincidence that it follows All Hallow's Eve. Celebrating the lives of various saints was a tradition from the early church. Many local celebrations were held on various dates, possibly as early as 270 AD. But in 873, Pope Gregory IV made it an official Roman Catholic holiday. The date was probably chosen on purpose to follow the pagan Samhain, or Festival of the Dead.
This post isn't really meant to be a history of All Saints Day. I'm simply going to use it to kick off a new set of posts on this blog. These will focus on Christian symbolism.
Symbols are a common way to represent a truth. The problem with them, particularly religious symbols, is that when their meaning is forgotten they simply become stereotypes. We use symbols all the time. Think of international road signs, logos, pictures on the buttons of your DVD player, school and team mascots, etc. They mean something to us. But consider how silly some of those same symbols might look a thousand years from now. Similarly, we look at paintings of saints and see them adorned with odd items, wearing halos and perhaps holding up two fingers.
It all looks really strange. It's a bit like the satire of the old adages, "Keep your eye on the ball, your shoulder to the wheel, and your nose to the grindstone. Now try to work in that position!"
So, I'm going to occasionally explain what some of those symbols were supposed to mean. They won't always be associated with a saint... I'm just using All Saints' Day to kick off the series.
One of the symbols of All Saints' Day itself is the hand of God with rays coming from it, known as the "Manus Dei." For the first eight centuries of Christian history the hand of God was almost the only symbol used for God the Father. It comes from the many references in Scripture to the "hand of God." Not surprisingly, it represents the fact that God provides for his creation.
The emanating rays stand for God's power, extending to some particular group or person, in this case the saints. Of course, I Corinthians 1:2 (and other references) indicate that all who are Christians are saints.
So whenever you see the Manus Dei, you can think of how much God provides, and the power he has to work in your life.