As I understand it, Roman Catholic crosses have Jesus hanging on them, but Protestant crosses do not. I understood that Protestant crosses do not because they want to focus on the Resurrection, not the death of Jesus.

Is that correct? Why the difference?

  • In my local Catholic parish a resurrected Jesus is depicted on the cross with arms open. Like this but prettier.
    – user3961
    Feb 19, 2013 at 10:49

5 Answers 5


There is a pretty clear distinction between Catholics and Protestants in that regard, though there may be Protestant denominations that do use the crucifix rather than the cross.

It seems that the main issue that Protestants today have with the crucifix is that it is specifically an image of Jesus, the Son of God. Such an image is believed to be strictly forbidden in Scripture.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Exodus 20:4 ESV

Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were distinguished from other nations by the fact that they had no idols to represent God. God gives the reason for this commandment in Isaiah, where He indicates that He is righteously jealous for His own glory and will not share it with an idol.

I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Isaiah 42:8 ESV

So, Protestant churches are most often decorated with only an empty Cross that is not an object of worship, but merely a symbol of remembrance. No Protestant I know of ever prays to a cross or cares whether or not there is a cross in front of them when they pray or worship. It is wholly decorative.

In contrast, Catholic churches do often have crucifixes, which have an image of Jesus, the Son of God. Additionally, there is often an image of Mary as well. These may or may not be objects of worship, but for most Protestants, these are unacceptable due to the aforementioned commandments.

Orthodox churches are often quite replete with images of Jesus, Mary, and many of the saints. Again, I'm not sure these are used as objects of worship or not, but Protestants generally reject the use of these as they are viewed as idols--or at least could be confused as such.

As a footnote, the listing of the 10 Commandments is different between Catholic and most Protestant traditions. In the Catholic listing, idolatry is not present, but is considered as part of the first commandment, and have two commandments that mention covetousness. Protestants list the prohibition against idolatry as the second commandment and only list one commandment regarding covetousness.

  • 8
    I think the Catholic Church may put stress on the 3/7 commandments for numerological reasons (3 for God, 7 for man). But placing the commandment against idolatry as part of the first commandment stresses its necessity. Not knocking your answer though, it seems like a pretty good representation of what Protestants think, although I don't understand all the reasoning.
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 17, 2012 at 22:29
  • @PeterTurner Interesting... I've never heard the reasoning for the 3/7 division. Thanks!
    – Narnian
    Jan 17, 2012 at 22:31
  • Your second paragraph. The next verse (5) includes bowing down to them. I think the context is not that having paintings and statues and sorts is bad but actually worshiping before them and praying to them is.
    – user3961
    Feb 19, 2013 at 10:58
  • @fredsbend In the Ten Commandments, God did not say "Don't worship images"--He said, "Don't even make them."
    – Narnian
    Feb 20, 2013 at 14:05
  • 3
    many Protestant churches have images of Jesus in them (eg in windows, etc), but won't put a crucifix on display, preferring instead an empty cross
    – warren
    Aug 5, 2013 at 16:51

According to Wikipedia, the Catholics use the Crucifix because:

Roman Catholic (Eastern and Western Rite Catholics), Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and other Oriental Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran Christians generally use the crucifix in public religious services. They believe the crucifix is in keeping with Scripture, which states that “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). In the West altar crosses and processional crosses began to be crucifixes in the 11th century, which became general around the 14th century, as they became cheaper than before. Since the Roman Missal of Pius V in 1570 use of a crucifix as an altar cross has been mandatory (with some exceptions) for the Catholic mass.

The Online Catholic Encyclopedia says:

The crucifix is the principal ornament of the altar. It is placed on the altar to recall to the mind of the celebrant, and the people, that the Victim offered on the altar is the same as was offered on the Cross. For this reason the crucifix must be placed on the altar as often as Mass is celebrated (Constit., Accepimus of Benedict XIV, 16 July, 1746).

And according to the above page on Wikipedia, the Protestants don't use it because:

Early Protestants generally rejected the use of the crucifix, and indeed the unadorned cross, along with other traditional religious imagery, as idolatrous. Martin Luther did not object to them, and this was among his differences with Andreas Karlstadt as early as 1525. Calvin was violently opposed to both cross and crucifix. In England the Royal Chapels of Elizabeth I were most unusual among English churches in retaining crucifixes, following the Queen's personal conservative preferences. Under James I these disappeared, and their brief re-appearance in the early 1620s when James' heir was seeking a Spanish marriage was the subject of rumour and close observation by both Catholics and Protestants; when the match fell through they disappeared. Opposition to plain crosses has generally softened in Protestantism, but many Protestant groups still oppose the crucifix.

A long time ago, I read up on the Crucifix and why it was allowed and what the reasoning behind allowing it was. But, I can't remember what it was that I had read or where I had read it. If I find a reference to it, I will update this answer but this is all I know for now.

  • 1
    +1. The best answer here, far better than the accepted one - explains both Catholic and Protestant position in a balanced manner, not just one of them.
    – Pavel
    Mar 8, 2014 at 21:09

Narnian has a great explanation of one part of it (no graven images). The other is that Jesus' glory is displayed not only in the cross, or Jesus hanging from it, but also in the empty tomb. While it is incredibly significant that Jesus died for our sins, what makes this sacrifice worthwhile is that in so doing he defeated death, and rose again. In this way, an empty cross from after the resurrection is much more meaningful.

  • 3
    Another way to put it is: a lot of people have died for their beliefs (we call them martyrs) but only one has risen.
    – styfle
    Feb 2, 2012 at 5:55

Nickecarlo touched on the answer: We (Catholics) preach Christ Crucified. Consider our need for Christ: since the fall of Adam and Even, heaven is closed to us. Absolutely nothing we can do as human can make up for the infinite offense of the Original Sin. But God promised a Redeemer. To repair an infinite offense requires an infinitely valuable sacrifice, which is the Sacrifice of Christ. In theory, since every act of Jesus was an act of God, even the slightest suffering -- taking on human nature, being circumcised -- would have sufficed. But would we really understand how much God loves us if He performed only the "minimum" sacrifice on our behalf? Instead, for us unworthy sinners, He not only took on our human nature but was tortured and died in the most cruel and humiliating manner possible. As Catholics we revere the Crucifix because it is the most universally transcendent symbol of love possible: God Himself became man and endured all of the suffering, tortures, insults, etc... for me... so that I might have the opportunity to spend eternity with Him in heaven. With such an overwhelming expression of love, how can we not love Him in return? And knowing that such a love exists, why not have a reminder ever-present?


Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. Am astounded that someone who is spiritual evolved and very learned, such as Bishop Fulton Sheen, would believe that Jesus is STILL hanging on that cross! (Just listened to a presentation on youtube.com where he said this.) If Jesus is still hanging on that cross, then EASTER never happened!!

Jesus is NOT still hanging on that cross, except in artistic depictions, whose purpose is apparently to REMIND US of the enormous sacrifice that Jesus/God made on our behalf. Jesus went to heaven, where He sitteth at the right hand of God the Father, from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

  • 3
    Welcome to C.SE, and we hope you are our guest :) When you get the chance, please check out how we are different than other sites you may have encountered. Specifically, we deal in a lot of heresy around here :) Shouting and ranting, however is far less convincing than a good reasoned argument. I think you are right, and you know you're right, but if your audience can't hear that, what good does it do? It's like a clanging cymbal or sounding brass. Aug 5, 2013 at 11:30

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