Cross vs. Crucifix – What’s the Difference?

Affiliate Disclosures

The terms cross and crucifix are often used to refer to the same symbol, but there are fundamental differences between these two words. There are many types of crosses, of which crucifixes are one. Let’s break down the differences between these two terms and clear any confusion.

Cross vs crucifix symbols

What’s a Cross?

Traditionally, the cross refers to the instrument of torture upon which Jesus was crucified. In its most recognizable form, the cross is a vertical post with a crossbeam about one-third of the way up. The upper three arms are typically of the same length. Alternatively, the topmost arm can sometimes be shorter than the two horizontal arms.

Having said that, it’s important to note that the word ‘cross’ can refer to several types of crosses, such as the Celtic cross, the Patriarchal cross or the Papal cross. There are also more controversial crosses like the Petrine cross, also known as the upside-down cross. Many crosses are European in origin and have had various uses, such as heraldry or to indicate a designation.

Protestants typically prefer crosses, which don’t have the figure of Jesus depicted on them. This is because they believe that Christ has overcome the suffering on the cross and is now victorious.

What’s a Crucifix?

A crucifix is a type of cross that depicts the figure of Christ on it. The term crucifix means ‘one fixed to a cross’. The figure of Christ, called the corpus, can be a sculpted three-dimensional form or simply painted on two dimensionally. It can be made of the same material as the rest of the cross or of a different material, to make it stand out.

Crucifixes generally include the sign INRI at the top, above Jesus. This stands for Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews). Crucifixes are typically preferred by Roman Catholics, especially for rosaries.

However, not everyone accepts the crucifix. The main objections against crucifixes by Protestants are as follows.

  • They are against crucifixes because it shows Christ still on the cross. They argue that Jesus is already risen and no longer suffering on the cross.
  • They view the crucifix as idolatry. As such, they view it as going against the commandment to make no graven images.
  • Some Protestants object to crucifixes because of its strong connection to Catholicism.

Is One Better Than the Other?

Both the cross and the crucifix are important symbols of Christianity, signifying the importance of Christ and representing that the only way to heaven is through the cross.

It’s a matter of preference whether you choose to wear a cross or a crucifix, as neither is better than the other. Some people don’t like the idea of wearing a figure of Jesus on their cross jewelry and prefer a plain Latin cross.

If you’re trying to buy a cross as a gift for someone, a bare cross may be a safer option to opt for rather than a crucifix. Crosses tend to be more universally accepted, whereas crucifixes may prompt some objections from certain Christian denominations.