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The Early Church Fathers on the Sign of the Cross and Holy Water.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428)
    St. John Cassian, (A.D. c.360 - 433)
    Sulpicius Severus, (A.D. c.363-c.425)
    Paulus Orosius, (A.D. c.375-c.418)
    St. Cyril of Alexandria, (A.D. 376-444)
    St. Nilus the Elder, (A.D. c.385 - c.430)
    Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, (A.D. 393-458)
    Philo of Carpasium, (late 4th to early 5th century)
    Sozomen, (Salminius Hermias Sozomenus), (A..D. c.400-c.450)
    Andrew of Cæsarea, (A.D. 563 - 637)
    St. Maximus (the Confessor), (A.D. c.580-662)
St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428), North African; born in Tagaste in A.D. 354, baptized in Milan in A.D. 387, ordained a priest in A.D. 391 and appointed bishop of Hippo in A.D. 395, Augustine is one of our greatest theologians. His numerous works display genius of the highest order, and have ever had great weight in the Christian churches. He is also a Doctor of the Church.

"What is the sign (or seal) of Christ, but the cross of Christ? Which sign, unless it be applied, whether to the foreheads of believers, or to the water itself whereby they are regenerated, or to the oil wherewith they are anointed with chrism, or to the sacrifice by which they are fed, none of these things is rightly performed. How then can it be, that by that which the wicked do no good thing is signified, when by the cross of Christ, which the wicked made, every good thing, is signified to us in the celebration of His sacraments?"

T. iii. Tract, cxviii. in Joan, n. 5, col. 2439.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 434-435

"Not without cause did Christ wish His sign to be impressed upon our foreheads, on the seat as it were of shame, lest the Christian might blush at the indignities offered to Christ."

T. iv. in Ps. xxx. Serm. iii. n. 7, col. 237.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 435

"Whatsoever thou mayest suffer, thou wilt not approach those insults, those scourgings, that disgraceful robe, that thorny crown; thou wilt not, in fine, come to that cross, because now it has been removed as a punishment by the human race. For whereas, under those of old, criminals were crucified, now no one is crucified. It was honored and ceased. It ceased as a punishment, it remains as a glory. From the places of punishments it has passed to the foreheads of emperors."

T. iv. in Ps. xxxvi. Serm. 2, col 380-1.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 435

St. John Cassian, (A.D. c.360 - 433), ordained a deacon by St. John Chrysostom and a priest in Marseilles, a Christian theologian celebrated in both the Western and Eastern Churches for his mystical writings. He is known both as one of the "Scythian monks" and as one of the "Desert Fathers". His opinions on grace being in opposition somewhat to those of St. Augustine and the Church, caused him to be opposed by St. Prosper.

He narrates a miracle performed by a monk:

"by giving a cup of water which he had signed with the sign of the cross."

Collat. xv. Abbat. Nestor, c. iv.p. 191, t. vii. Bib. Max.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 437

Sulpicius Severus, (A.D. c.363-c.425), a Christian writer and native of Aquitania. He is known for his chronicle of sacred history, as well as his biography of Saint Martin of Tours.

"He (St. Martin of Tours) having lifted on high the sign of the cross upon those who were opposite to him, and commanded the crowd not to stir, but to lay down their burdens; then might be seen those miserable men in a wonderful manner grow rigid as stones."

Galland. t. viii. De Vita B. Martini, n. 12, p. 395.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 435

"Against the (visible assaults of the) devil he always protected himself by the sign of the cross and the help of prayer."

lb. n. 22, p. 397.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 435

"Worshipper of God, remember that thou hast, under the hallowed dew of the font and of the laver, been signed with chrism. Let, when sleep summons thee to thy chaste couch, the sign of the cross be imprinted on thy forehead, and on thy heart. The cross drives far away all crime; darkness flees before it; the mind consecrated by that sign cannot fluctuate."

Lib. Hymn, per horas, Hymn. 6, Ante Somnum, v. 125- 136, p. 530.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 435

Paulus Orosius (A.D. c.375-c.418), Spanish; a Christian historian, theologian, student and friend of Augustine of Hippo. He is best known for his "Seven Books of History Against the Pagans". His "History of the World" is valuable, and has been frequently translated.

"Theodosius knowing himself without friends, but that he was surrounded by enemies, with his body prostrate on the earth, but his mind fixed on Heaven, prayed alone to Christ alone, who is able to do all things. Having spent a sleepless night in uninterrupted prayer...he confidently, though alone, seized his weapons, conscious that he was not only to be protected by the sign of the cross, but thereby even to be victorious; fortifying himself with that sign, he gave the signal for battle."

Histor. L vii. c. 55, p. 444, Bib. Max. SS. PP.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 436

St. Cyril of Alexandria, (A.D. 376-444), Egyptian; bishop, theologian and Doctor of the Church. He succeeded Theophilus in the patriarchal see of Alexandria, in A.D. 412, and was the great champion of orthodoxy against Nestorius, against whom the general council of Ephesus was called, in A.D. 431 and in which St. Cyril presided.

Explaining Isaiah 19:19-20:

"He, in this place, calls the sign of the holy cross, with which it is the custom of believers to be fenced round, a pillar. For this we have ever used; overthrowing every assault of the devil, and repelling the attacks of evil spirits. For an impregnable wall is the cross unto us, and our glorying in it is truly salutary. God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ."

T. ii. Comm. in Isa. lib. ii. p. 294.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 436

St. Nilus the Elder, (c. A.D. 385 - c. 430) (also known as Nilus of Sinai, Neilos, Nilus of Ancyra), Syrian, was one of the many disciples and fervent students of St. John Chrysostom; an eyewitness of the martyrdom of Theodotus.

"Certain Christians whilst seeking for the bodies of some who had been martyred, were terrified, and each of them impressed the sign of the cross upon their foreheads, when there appeared to them a brilliant cross which they seemed to see emit a flash of fire from the eastern side; and they immediately bent the knee to pray towards the place where the cross appeared to them."

Martyr. S. Theodot. Ancyr. n. 17, Gotland, t. iv. p. 122.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 425

"When he had said this, Theodotus made the sign of the cross over his whole body, and proceeded, without turning, to the stadium."

Ib. n. 21, p. 123.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 425

"It is useful to pray, for the most part, signed with the cross; for thus are we blessed by God; and thus again do we bless others. Yea, for the divine Moses, when consecrating the tabernacle, and anointing his own brother as a priest, having stretched forth his hands towards Heaven in the form of a cross, blessed him."

L. i. Ep. lxxxvii. pp. 38, 39.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 438

"If thou continually seal, with the sign of the cross of the Lord, both thy forehead and heart, the demons will flee away from thee, for they tremble exceedingly at that blessed seal."

L. ii. Ep. ccciv. p. 270.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 438

"If thou wouldst destroy the evil remembrances which have been left in the ruling part (of the mind), and the multiform snares of the enemy, arm thyself readily by the memory of our Saviour, and by the fervent invocation of the venerable name, both by day and night, frequently sealing both thy brow and breast with the sign of the cross of the Lord. For when the name of the Lord is uttered, and the seal of the Lord's cross is placed upon the brow, and heart, and other members, the power of the enemy is undoubtedly destroyed, and the wicked demons fly trembling away from us."

L. iii. Ep. cclxxxviii. pp. 434-5.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 438

Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, (A.D. 393-458), Greek; an influential author, theologian, and Christian bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria (A.D. 423-457). He played a pivotal role in many early Byzantine church controversies that led to various ecumenical acts and schisms. His friendship for Nestorius embroiled him, for a time, with his great contemporary, St. Cyril of Alexandria.

Having narrated a miracle performed by St. James of Nisibis, he says:

"Such was the miracle performed by this new Moses, effected not by a stroke with a rod, but a power manifested by the sign of the cross."

T. iii. Hist. Relig. c. i. p. 1111.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 437

Philo of Carpasium, (late 4th to early 5th century), known as bishop of Carpasia (or Carpasium, in Cyprus), according to others bishop of Carpathus (an island between Crete and Rhodus), has hitherto enjoyed but slight repute as a Christian writer.

"A garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up (Canticle of Canticles 4:12), by the seal of Christ, which is (used) in the laver of regeneration."

Enar. in Cant. Cantic. p. 748, t.ix. Galland.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 436

Sozomen, (Salminius Hermias Sozomenus), (A..D. c.400-c.450), Palestinian; was a historian of the Christian church. He composed an Ecclesiastical History in nine books, comprising the period between A.D. 324 and 439.

"Show me a token for good," (Psalms 85) For He, having risen from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, we His Apostles and disciples will, together with all believers, have the sign of His cross for good; that our enemies, whether visible or invisible, may see the sign upon our foreheads, and be confounded. For in that same sign you are aided, and in it you are comforted."

Comm in Ps. 85, p. 284, t. viii. Bib. Max.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 43

Applying Psalm 144:1 et seqq. he says:

"He has therefo taught our fingers to fight, that when we feel the encounter of foes, whether visible or invisible, we may with our fingers arm our foreheads with the victorious cross."

In Ps. cxliv. Ib. p 324.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 437-4

Andrew of Cæsarea, (A.D. 563 - 637), Greek; theological writer and bishop of Cæsarea, known for his commentary on the Book of Revelation which is the oldest Greek patristic commentary on that book of the Bible. He succeeded St. Basil.

Commenting on history Ap. vii. 3:

"At the coming of antichrist, the sign of the vivifying cross will distinguish the faithful from the faithless. For the former shall, without fear and without shame, bear the sign of the cross of Christ in the sight of the impious."

Comm. in Apoc. c. xix. lb. p. 601.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 434

St. Maximus (the Confessor), (A.D. c.580-662), Byzantine; a Christian abbot, theologian, scholar and ascetical writer; he gave up this life in the political sphere to enter into the monastic life.

"When we rise in the morning we ought to give thanks to God, and to do every action through out the day in the sign of the Saviour. While thou wast yet a Gentile, was it not thy custom to seek for signs, and to ascertain with great care what signs were favorable to certain things? Now I would not have thee be mistaken in their number; know then that, in the one sign of Christ there lies undoubted success in everything. He who, in this sign, begins to sow, will reap as fruit life everlasting; he who in this sign begins his journey, will reach Heaven ; in this name, therefore, are all our actions to be regulated."

Hom. ii. De Non Timendis Hostibus, p. 44, t. vi. Bib. Max. SS. PP.
Also The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Pages 436



The Use of the Sign of the Cross: This sign is prescribed in our rituals to be frequently used, particularly in the administration of Baptism and in the Sacrifice of the Altar, the Mass; to signify, that all grace is derived from the Passion of Christ. The Cross, furthermore, is marked on various parts of the dress of our ministers, and on the vessels appropriated to the divine service, to denote their destination.


On the altar is raised a cross with the figure of our crucified Saviour placed upon it, to bring to our minds that it was He who died for the sins of the world, and that there is no other name under Heaven whereby we must be saved. Finally, we often sign ourselves with the sign of the cross, pronouncing at the same time the words,

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the [Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit]",

thereby attesting our belief in the blessed Trinity, and in the incarnation and death of our Saviour. Jesus Christ.



The Use of Holy Water in the Church: From the history of the earliest ages of the Church we learn that it was the practice to bless all inanimate things destined for the use of man, and particularly such as were used in the service of religion. Thus, a blessing was pronounced over the water and oil used in the administration of the sacraments. Besides this, water, mixed with salt that had been blessed, was placed at the porch of churches, with which the faithful washed their hands and signed their foreheads as they entered; and with the same water they, and other things, were often sprinkled by the minister.


Salt, mingled with the water, is deemed the emblem of prudence and incorruption; and the water denotes purity and innocence of heart. When the parishioner enters their Catholic parish, and applies Holy Water, with the sign of the cross, to his forehead, he is admonished, by the action, of the cleanliness of heart and hand he should have in the presence of his Maker.




The Church's Scriptures that support the Sign of the Cross and Holy Water.


The importance of the Word of the Cross

18 The word of the cross to them indeed that perish is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God.


1 Corinthians 1:18

The importance of preaching Christ crucified

23 We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling-block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness; 24 but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.


1 Corinthians 1:23-24

The importance of preaching Christ crucified

2 For I judged not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:2

The importance of the Cross of Christ to St. Paul

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.

Galatians 6:14

Paul encourages the Philippians to be obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross

8 He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. 9 For which cause God also hath exalted Him, and hath given Him a name which is above all names; 10 that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth."

Philippians 2:8-10


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