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History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325.
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§ 78. Other Christian Symbols.


The following symbols, borrowed from the Scriptures, were frequently represented in the catacombs, and relate to the virtues and duties of the Christian life: The dove, with or without the olive branch, the type of simplicity and innocence;480480    Comp. Matt. 3:16; 10:16; Gen. 8:11; Cant. 6:9.80 the ship, representing sometimes the church, as safely sailing through the flood of corruption, with reference to Noah’s ark, sometimes the individual soul on its voyage to the heavenly home under the conduct of the storm-controlling Saviour; the palm-branch, which the seer of the Apocalypse puts into the hands of the elect, as the sign of victory;481481    Rev. 7:9. The palm had a similar significance with the heathen, Homace writes (Od. I. 1): "Palmaque nobilis Terrarum dominos evehit ad deos."81 the anchor, the figure of hope;482482    Heb. 6:19. Likewise among the heathen.82 the lyre, denoting festal joy and sweet harmony;483483    Comp. Eph. 5:19.83 the cock, an admonition to watchfulness, with reference to Peter’s fall;484484    Matt. 26:34, and parallel passages.84 the hart which pants for the fresh water-brooks;485485    Ps. 42:1.85 and the vine which, with its branches and clusters, illustrates the union of the Christians with Christ according to the parable, and the richness and joyfulness of Christian life.486486    John 15:1-6. The parables of the Good Shepherd, and of the Vine and the Branches, both recorded only by St. John, seem to have been the most prominent in the mind of the primitive Christians, as they are in the catacombs. "What they valued" (says Stanley, Christ. Inst., p. 288), "what they felt, was new moral Influence, a new life stealing through their veins, a new health imparted to their frames, a new courage breathing in their faces, like wine to a weary laborer, like sap in the hundred branches of a spreading tree, like juice in thousand clusters of a spreading vine." But more important than this was the idea of vital union of the believers with Christ and among each other, symbolized by the vine and its branches.86

The phoenix, the symbol of rejuvenation and of the resurrection, is derived from the well-known heathen myth.487487    The fabulous phoenix is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, and is first used by Clement of Rome, Ad Cor. c. 25, and by Tertiillian, De Resur. c. 13. Comp. Pliny Hist. Nat. XIII. 4.87



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