Even though Constantine introduced Christian images, he still circulated coins that joined his image with pagan symbols like the sun god, especially at the beginning of his reign. This religious syncretism decorated the empire's coins until Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the empire's official religion in the late fourth century. While emperors still graced the coinage, increasingly the cross appeared with the rulers and pagan images disappeared.

By the reign of Theodosius II in the fifth century, coins adopted an "overtly Christian character." Over time, the cross supplanted longstanding pagan themes on the coins. For example, the female Victory image began holding a cross instead of a staff, and eventually she turned into the archangel Michael shouldering a cross and a globus crucige (an orb topped by a cross). The orb-and-cross images represented the emperor's divine authority. A popular seventh-century motif on Byzantine coins displayed the cross at the top of three stairs, commemorating Christ's journey to Golgotha. With the exception of a century of iconoclasm, when Christians debated the use of sacred images, Byzantine rulers imprinted coins with crosses until the fifteenth century. As the golden money changed hands, Roman citizens exchanged these small crosses, the symbols of a higher and lasting authority.

Our Own Uncertain Times

In our own uncertain times, Roman "cross coins" speak to us about the true source of security. Ultimately, we can't depend on coins or paper money or employment or prosperity to provide daily necessities or secure the future. History warns that mighty kingdoms like the Roman Empire eventually fall. The Visigoths destroyed the Western empire when they sacked Rome in 410 and carried away prisoners, including the emperor's sister. After a struggling revival the Eastern empire fell a second and final time in 1453 when Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople.

Ironically, cross-imprinted coins from these governments have survived, directing us to Christ. He urges us to ask for our daily bread; to not think about tomorrow; to not lay up treasures in heaven. Instead, he'll provide for us. I crave the simplicity of the Lord's directives, but it's hard to truly believe and follow them when money dwindles and bills pile up. I keep thinking if I earn more money I'd be secure, not considering that banks fail, stock markets plummet and cash loses its value.

When economies falter, we're led back to Christ's words. His promise of provision transcends the transition of world leaders, the pillage of empires and the collapse of economies. He assures us: in God we can trust.

Taken from The Mystery of the Cross: Bringing Ancient Christian Images to Life by Judith Couchman. Copyright(c) 2009 by Judith Couchman. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.