Today, we have Catholic and Orthodox churches (and a few others) using the crucifix whereas most Protestant denominations make exclusive use of an empty cross. When and why did the Protestant churches reject the crucifix as an icon?

I have read this, but the answer exclusively addresses the empty cross's preferential use in the the very early church. I worry about Manichaeistic influences on that point, but, more importantly, I want to know why the modern Protestant factions do this, not why the very early church did this. If the modern Protestant factions do this for the same reasons as the early church (from what I understand: fear of persecution, discomfort with bodily images of Christ, feeling that images of Christ's humanness lessens his divinity) having those reasons explained from a Protestant perspective nonetheless would be helpful to me.

I am making the assumption that it is the newer churches that have changed. If this is incorrect, please point this out and explain why all of the older churches took up the crucifix after the Reformation.

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    You had me confused for a moment. I was briefly wondering how you had replaced me as the author of the question. :P Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 20:02
  • Are you asking about broad practice within church buildings (which I certainly read into the question), or about personal practice (which an answer has commented on)? Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 18:38
  • @AndrewLeach Both; I was unaware the reasoning would be different. As a Catholic we wear and otherwise employ in personal use both empty crosses and crucifixes. In our churches we always have at least one crucifix, but also almost always have at least one empty cross as well (generally the church itself is built in such a shape). While the theology behind each differs I had assumed the reasoning behind removing the image of Christ was the same. I suppose that may not have been a very good assumption. I would certainly like an answer that addresses the broad practice. Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 22:23
  • @AndrewLeach I also, as I have indicated in the question, am looking for the original reason for the split, not a ret-con reason as is currently provided. I understand the justification might have changed, but I'm looking to understand why and when the split happened, not the official position on why it persists. Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 22:28
  • In that case, this is a duplicate of @El'endiaStarman's question (although that has not been completely answered either). Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 6:48

2 Answers 2


While I cannot tell you when the practice of wearing an empty cross began, I can give you the reason that I was given for doing so.

As a Southern Baptist I was taught that the empty cross symbolizes that Jesus is no longer dead, but that he took up his life again as he said he would.

This is not my interpretation nor is it my feeling, I wear a crucifix since it reminds me that he died for my sins. a lot of people died on a cross, and so to my mind, the empty cross does not conjure up thoughts about Jesus dying for my sins, but the crucifix does. None of my fellow Christians have ever criticized my wearing of the crucifix.

So I suppose it only matters what the cross or crucifix means to you personally.

  • Good answer, I was raised with the same teaching. Empty cross shows that he is no longer dead, he rose again.
    – prospector
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 20:31
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    The use of the empty cross as the "Resurrection Cross" is popular and not invalid, but it's certainly not the historical reason. It's a late C20 explanation of a shift that happened at the Reformation, IMO for fear of idolatry Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 19:00

I was not aware of this fact, having seen many crucifixes complete with the figure of Christ in Anglican churches. But if I may hazard a speculative explanation, it is this. The figure of Christ is removed from the cross because of the strong ideological intolerance felt by certain Protestant denominations for religious icons and images. The early Reformers of the Protestant Reformation, in their zeal to find fault with and distance themselves from the (Catholic) Church of the time, decided that the use of icons, that is figurative representations of holy persons or biblical scenes, in churches was somehow not in accordance with the Old Testament prohibition of the worship of graven images as enunciated in the Ten Commandments. This was in part motivated by a justified disapproval of clerical abuses such as the sale of religious relics to raise revenue for the Church. As a result, rabbles radicalised by the more fanatical Reformers went on destructive rampages attacking iconic works of art in Christian churches and monasteries, which as a result of the Protestant ideological shift they no longer considered pious aids to prayer but worthless symbols of superstition. In England this shameful episode of religious intolerance was dubbed the Dissolution of the Monasteries. There are many instances of religious statues that were decapitated or otherwise vandalised, if not stolen or entirely destroyed. The sheer brutality of these acts of religious vandalism is comparable to that of the Muslims that destroyed the priceless residual collection of manuscripts in the Great Library of Alexandria upon capturing the city, because they deemed them not to be in accordance with the Koran, and therefore worthless (to them); and to that wreaked by the (Christian) Crusaders in the Sack of Constantinople.

There is of course a significant difference between a graven image that is worshipped as if it itself were one of a number of earthly Gods, thereby deflecting attention from the ineffable One God in Heaven, and an icon that is merely a representation of the Son or a saint or prophet of the One God. After all, a verbal description of the same is also a representation made by humans for the benefit of humans. The whole issue of the religious legitimacy of icons had been fiercely contested in the early church, and it was decided at the Second Council of Nicaea that the use of icons as aids to worship was legitimate and not at variance with the Old Testament prohibition of the worship of graven images.

  • This is a very intense answer, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it crosses the line into open hostility. Remember to Be Nice! and Back it Up!, founding principles of the SE model. That doesn't mean you should delete or fundamentally change your answer (the Dissolution of the Monasteries citation should stay) , but, for example, you probably don't need to refer to the early Protestant groups as 'rabble'. Consider editing your answer to be less mean. Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 23:20
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    In this case -- the Dissolution in England -- there really was rabble-rousing and marauding demolition gangs who had been radicalised by fanatics. That's not to say that all Protestants are radical rabbles; but as a description of the English Reformation it's not out of place. Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 0:40

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