Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume II/Socrates/Book V/Chapter 17
Chapter XVII.—Of the Hieroglyphics found in the Temple of Serapis.
When the Temple of Serapis was torn down and laid bare, there were found in it, engraven on stones, certain characters which they call hieroglyphics, having the forms of crosses.
Both the Christians and pagans on seeing them, appropriated and applied them to their respective religions: for the Christians who affirm that the cross is the sign of Christ’s saving passion, claimed this character as peculiarly theirs; but the pagans alleged that it might appertain to Christ and Serapis in common; ‘for,’ said they, ‘it symbolizes one thing to Christians and another to heathens.’ Whilst this point was controverted amongst them, some of the heathen converts to Christianity, who were conversant with these hieroglyphic characters, interpreted the form of a cross and said that it signifies ‘Life to come.’ This the Christians exultingly laid hold of, as decidedly favorable to their religion. But after other hieroglyphics had been deciphered containing a prediction that ‘When the cross should appear,’—for this was ‘life to come,’—‘the Temple of Serapis would be destroyed,’ a very great number of the pagans embraced Christianity, and confessing their sins, were baptized. Such are the reports I have heard respecting the discovery of this symbol in form of a cross. But I cannot imagine that the Egyptian priests foreknew the things concerning Christ, when they engraved the figure of a cross. For if ‘the advent’ of our Saviour into the world ‘was a mystery hid from ages and from generations,’
as the apostle declares; and if the devil himself, the prince of wickedness, knew nothing of it, his ministers, the Egyptian priests, are likely to have been still more ignorant of the matter; but Providence doubtless purposed that in the enquiry concerning this character, there should something take place analogous to what happened heretofore at the preaching of Paul. For he, made wise by the Divine Spirit, employed a similar method in relation to the Athenians,
and brought over many of them to the faith, when on reading the inscription on one of their altars, he accommodated and applied it to his own discourse. Unless indeed any one should say, that the Word of God wrought in the Egyptian priests, as it did on Balaam
for these men uttered prophecies of good things in spite of themselves.
This will suffice on the subject.
- There are several cruciform signs among the Egyptian hieroglyphics, as e.g. the simple determinative 5, meaning ‘to cross,’ ‘to multiply,’ ‘to mix’ (see Birch, Egyptian Texts, p. 99); or the syllabic *, phonetically equivalent to am (see Birch, ibid. p. 101); or the cross with a ring at the head *; or the still more elaborate * (see Brugsh, Thesaurus Inscript. Egyptiacarum, p. 20; also Champollion, Grammaire Egyptienne, XII. p. 365, 440). To which of these Socrates refers it is impossible to say from their mere form. They occur commonly and we must infer that the discovery described in this passage is not the first bringing into light of the sign mentioned, but its occurrence in the Serapeum. The third of the above signs is usually interpreted as ‘life’ either ‘happy’ or ‘immortal,’ which agrees with the meaning given to the cruciform sign here mentioned.
- 1 Cor. ii. 7, 8; Eph. iii. 5, 6; Col. i. 26.
- Acts xvii. 23.
- Num. xxiv.
- John xi. 51.