November 30th, The Feast of St. Andrew
“We should remember that St. Andrew is the apostle of the cross. To Peter, Jesus had given firmness of faith; to John, warmth of love; the mission of Andrew is to represent the cross of his divine Master. Now it is by these three, faith, love, and the cross, that the Church renders herself worthy of her Spouse. Everything she has or is bears this threefold character. Hence it is that after the two apostles just named, there is none who holds such a prominent place in the universal liturgy as St. Andrew.” (from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Guéranger)
St. Andrew is known as the apostle of the Cross on account of his martyrdom: like his brother Peter, Andrew suffered crucifixion, not in the same manner as Christ, but upon an x-shaped cross where he hung for two days before his death.
It is not merely the manner of his death, however, that makes St. Andrew to be the apostle of the Cross – The Acts of the Martyrdom of St. Andrew tell of how Andrew cried out with joy when he saw the cross upon which he was to be hung.
“Andrew was brought before the tribunal (of the city of Patrae in Achaia), where he began to extol the mystery of the Cross, and rebute the judge for his impiety. Aegeas (the proconsul of the city), no longer able to contain himself on hearing these words, ordered him to be hoisted on a cross, and so to die like Christ. Andrew having been brought to the place of execution, seeing the cross at some distance, began to cry out:
“O good cross, made beautiful by the body of my Lord! So long desired, so anxiously loved, so unceasingly sought after, and now at last ready for my soul to enjoy! Take me from amidst men, and restore me to my Master, that by thee he may receive me, who by thee redeemed me.”
The image of the Cross and the true Cross Itself
What is particularly interesting about St. Andrew’s joyful cry to the cross upon which he would hang is that he speaks to his cross as though it were the very Cross upon which Christ himself had hung. There is no distinction in Andrew’s mind between the true Cross of Christ and this particular cross in Patrae.
The ancient principle of Catholic theology and iconography is at work here: The honor given to an image does not remain with the image but passes to the archetype. Thus, as Andrew’s cross was fashioned by the pagan fiend Aegeas to be an effigy of the Cross – for the proconsul desired Andrew to be humiliated with the same death as was Christ – there is an identity between the cross of Patrae and the Cross of Jerusalem.
Moreover, Andrew speaks to his cross as though it were the Cross of Christ. He gives no hesitation. He does not qualify his statements. He does not offer a lower veneration to his cross than he would to the Cross of Christ. Rather, he knows that the image is so united to the archetype that, when he speaks to his own cross, he truly speaks to the Cross of our Lord.
To the wood of Patrae, image of the true Cross, St. Andrew says, “You have been made beautiful by the body of my Lord! By you Christ has redeemed me.” Such words can only be said to the true Cross, but Andrew knows it is the Cross he addresses as he venerates his own cross.
St. Thomas Aquinas, following the Tradition, affirms that the veneration due an icon is equal to that which is due the archetype. Hence, if an icon is an image of the Cross, we speak to the icon as we would speak to the Cross. If the icon is an image of a saint, we venerate the icon as we would venerate the saint. If the icon is an image of Christ, we worship the icon, as we would worship Christ.
St. Thomas himself develops the tradition regarding the veneration of the Cross. The Common Doctor tells us that, as the Cross is an image of Christ himself (who is the Crucified One), we must worship the relic of the true Cross. This is well attested in the Church’s liturgy – we say, “O Cross of Christ, our only hope!” We look to the Cross as though it were our Savior, for it is the image of Jesus whom it bore. Moreover, we genuflect to a relic of the true Cross, offering the same adoration which we offer to the Eucharistic species. In the traditional usage of the Latin Rite, the servers and other ministers even genuflect to the image of the Cross, the crucifix which is above the altar. It is very clear from the Church’s liturgical tradition: We worship the true Cross as though it were Christ, we worship the effigy of the Cross (a crucifix) as though it were the true Cross and Christ himself.
How well does St. Andrew attest to the fundamental truth which is the foundation of the Church’s veneration of icons! The effigy of the Cross – though it was created by a pagan proconsul to mock our Lord and torture the Apostle – is worshiped by Andrew as though it were the very Cross of which it is an icon.
God alone is good, and Andrew cried out: “O good cross, made beautiful by the body of my Lord!”