Ya'll know I've been thinking a lot about Christus Victor theology. As Gustaf Aulen describes it:
[Christus Victor's] central theme is the idea of the Atonement as a Divine conflict and victory; Christ--Christus Victor--fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the 'tyrants' under which mankind is in bondage and suffering...The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.Because I've been thinking about this a lot--Christ's defeat of the devil--I've been attuned to anything I come across or read that has Christus Victor themes. A recent find in this regard: the Medal of St. Benedict.
We were home last week visiting my family for Christmas. During our time there I was wanting to purchase The Rule of St. Benedict, one of the founding and guiding documents of monasticism. I dropped by the local Barnes & Noble to see if they had a copy. They didn't. But outside of town there is a Benedictine monastery that I knew had a bookstore. So I called out there, figuring that if anyone had a copy of The Rule of St. Benedict it would be, well, the Benedictines. (Incidentally, this monastery--The Benedictine Sisters of Erie--is the home of author Joan Chittister.)
So Jana and I drove to the monastery and shopped in the bookstore where I picked up a copy of The Rule and a few other books. While we were checking out the sister handed us a few St. Benedict Medals. She said, "Here, you can have some of these. They are Medals of St. Benedict." I took them and thanked her. Then she said, "They give protection from evil."
That caught my attention. Who doesn't want to be protected from evil? But more to the point, "protection from evil" rings with Christus Victor themes. So when I got back home I did a little reading about why the Medal of St. Benedict is associated with this sort of protection.
The medal, as you can see here, has two sides. On the front of the medal is an image of Benedict himself. In his left hand he is holding a copy of The Rule and in his right hand he is holding a cross aloft. Around the edge of the medal are the words Ejus in obitu nostro presentia muniamur. Translated this means, "May we be protected by his presence in the hour of death."
Due to the peace of his own death Benedict is considered to be a patron saint of the dying and the medal is often used in ministering to the sick and dying.
The Christus Victor themes are found on the backside of the medal. The back of the medal is dominated by a cross. On the vertical bar of the cross are the letters C, S, S, M, and L. On the horizontal bar of the cross are the letters N, D, S. M, D. Taken together these letters stand for the the Latin words Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux--Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux. Translated this means, "May the Sacred Cross be my light--Let not the dragon be my guide."
And there is more. Around the border of the medal are the letters V, R, S, N, S, M, V--S, M, Q, L, I, V, B. These letters stand for the Latin words Vade Retro Satana! Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana! Sunt Mala Quae Libas. Ipse Venena Bibas! Translated this means, "Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! Evil is the cup you offer. Drink the poison yourself!"
These are the inscriptions on the medal that relate to its association with protection against Satan, evil, and temptation.
(I haven't discussed all the symbolism on the medal but I can't resist one other comment about the medal. On the front side, to Benedict's lower right, is a broken cup of poison. On his lower left is a raven carrying away a poisoned loaf of bread. Apparently, some enemies of Benedict had tried to poison him on a few occasions and he was miraculously rescued each time. Consequently, Benedict is also the saint you'd pray to if you've been poisoned. So file that tidbit away.)
Because of the explicit command to Satan--"Begone Satan!"--the Medal of St. Benedict has often been used for exorcisms. In fact, the medal is often incorporated into the crucifix for this purpose creating a St. Benedict's Cross (though the more workaday use of the cross is like that of the medal--a general talisman/prayer against evil). The combination of the medal with the crucifix makes the St. Benedict's Cross a powerful weapon in the hands of an exorcist.
Obviously, I was thrilled to discover all this theology from the Catholic tradition. The next day, after reading about all this, I went to a store and purchased a St. Benedict's Cross. It's the must have gift for anyone thinking a lot about Christus Victor theology.
The cross has also proven useful in my marriage. After explaining the cross to her I keep using it to exorcise Jana. She'll be sitting quietly on the couch knitting or reading and I'll come around the corner holding the cross aloft saying, "Begone foul spirit!"
She is not amused.
And really, given my understanding of the Principalities and Powers exorcising my wife doesn't make sense. (Though it is great fun.) I mainly purchased the cross so I can have it with me when I go shopping, to work, to church and watch politics play out in this country and around the world.
"Begone Satan!" indeed.