The Upside Down Cross: Satanic or Symbolic

Over the years I have had my fair share of encounters with anti-Catholics. Their arguments against the faith are pretty predictable – one of the most popular being that the Pope is the Antichrist. One of the typical “gotcha” proofs of this claim is the Papal symbol of the upside down or inverted cross, which the anti-Catholic confidently asserts as being satanic. Because of this, they reason, the Pope is himself in league with Satan.

The truth of the matter is that the upside down cross is an ancient symbol of St. Peter’s crucifixion. Tradition tells us that when St. Peter was martyred, he insisted that he be crucified upside down as he did not believe himself worth to be crucified in the manner of his Lord.

We see an allusion to this in the Gospel of John, when our Lord speaks of the kind of death that Peter would suffer:

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me” (Jn 21:18-19).

“You will stretch out your hands.” In the ancient world — particularly in the Christian tradition — “to stretch out one’s hands” was a common reference to crucifixion. The words ‘Follow me’ bespeak imitation of Christ’s example of obedience ‘unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil 2:8). The chief shepherd would follow the Good Shepherd even in the manner of his death.  By the time of the writing of John’s Gospel, Peter’s martyrdom had already occurred, the manner of which was arguably well attested to by his readers.

We can trace back the testimony of Peter’s martyrdom to the earliest Christian writers, including Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus, and Tertullian.

In De Præscriptione 36 (c. A.D. 200), Tertullian writes:

If thou art near Italy, thou hast Rome where authority is ever within reach. How fortunate is this Church for which the Apostles have poured out their whole teaching with their blood, where Peter has emulated the Passion of the Lord, where Paul was crowned with the death of John.

In Scorpiace 15 (c. A.D. 204), he again writes of Peter’s crucifixion:

And if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Cæsars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith. Then is Peter girt by another, when he is made fast to the cross. Then does Paul obtain a birth suited to Roman citizenship, when in Rome he springs to life again ennobled by martyrdom.

In his Ecclesiastical History  (c. A.D. 325), Eusebius of Caesarea writes:

Peter appears to have preached in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia to the Jews of the dispersion. And at last, having come to Rome, he was crucified head-downwards; for he had requested that he might suffer in this way…. These facts are related by Origen in the third volume of his Commentary on Genesis (III.1).

Thus publicly announcing himself as the first among God’s chief enemies, [Nero] was led on to the slaughter of the apostles. It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day (II.25.5).

As a result of the manner in which he was crucified, the Church has used the upside down cross (without a corpus, so not a crucifix) to designate Peter, not Christ. The Pope, being the successor of Peter, employs the symbol of the upside down cross as a symbolic reminder of St. Peter’s humility and heroic martyrdom. Unlike an upside down crucifix, which seeks to invert and subvert it’s meaning, there is nothing satanic about an upside down cross.

Painting: Crucifixion of St. Peter by Ventura di Arcangelo Salimbeni

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Catholic Answers.
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  • kelso

    Never heard of this. I have never seen such a “symbol” used by any pope. Can you verify this by some factual data or picture? Any upside down cross I have ever seen in any image, outside of satanism, has Saint Peter on the cross.

  • Erick U

    As a Catholic I always knew the meaning of the upside down cross but its nice to read what the early fathers wrote about it. If protestants would only research what Catholics believe there would be a lot less misconceptions about Catholics. GOD BLESS..

  • Michael J. Lichens

    There’s this image, that got all of the conspiracy sites in a panic, from John Paul II’s trip to the Holy Land.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    Sorry, here it is: http://up.picr.de/984552.jpg

  • John D

    Did you read the article or not?

  • DMF

    Excuse me, but this is all very naïve. We well know the history of the upside down Cross with Saint Peter.
    BUT….that is not the symbolism almost universally adverted to.

    A former Satanist (who had been a “high priest in the church of Satan) who had a momentous conversion gave a presentation at our parish just recently. He said it is universally a part of a satanic rite to invert a cross and break its arms downward. He said this is what is intended to be reflected in the “Peace” symbol and it it clearly an attack on Christ and His redemptive sacrifice.

    Please don’t be so Pollyanna…..
    Do you realize how omnipresent evil is? To attempt explain away all its manifestations in the Church and in the world only serves to anesthetize our vigilance.

  • Philip Sieve

    What do you make of the warped (right-side-up) crucifix of previous Vatican 2 popes, including Pope John Paul 2) that is said to be a cricifix Satanists have used? Is it true about that design? If so, I assume he didn’t know, but maybe one who chose it for him did.

  • CGDoc

    Please explain the papal Tierra worn by many previous pontiff’s as well as being placed on their seals. Three levels with six embedded jewels on each of the three levels = 666.

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