PEOPLE WHO SAW THE REAL HORROR OF CRUCIFIXION DID NOT MAKE THE CROSS A SYMBOL | 2002-01-05
On the brink of the battle which would make him ruler of the Roman Empire, the Emperor Constantine looked into the sky and saw the Christian symbol. He decided to fight in the name of Christ and won. He then made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire.
People telling this story today routinely say that Constantine saw the cross in the sky, but he did not. At that time the cross was not the Christian symbol. What Constantine saw was letters representing Christ's name. That was one early Christian symbol. Another, also representing letters, was the sign of the fish.
In fact, the cross only became an accepted Christian symbol in the latter part of the fourth century, after the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of Rome.
Maybe this was not a coincidence. One of the first things a newly Christian Roman Empire would do would be to outlaw crucifixion.
If that is true, then the cross was adopted by the first generation that had not actually SEEN a crucifixion.
It may be that seeing a real crucifixion would keep a person from reminding himself that Christ died that way. It was a hideous, ugly death, nothing like the idealized portraits we see.