Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Signs and Mysteries: Christ is a ... Dolphin?

I must admit that one of the pleasures of this book is finding out completely new and surprising symbolism that never would have occurred to me otherwise. Jesus as a dolphin. Hmmmmmm. But when it is explained, of course, it makes perfect sense and I will never look at a dolphin without remembering this.
Christian sailors likened Jesus Christ to the dolphin. Pastoral images of the lamb were remote from their experience. But they knew countless stories of dolphins as rescuers, guides, and friends. As the dolphins appeared in the ancient legends, so Jesus served in life: rescuer, guide, and friend.

Dolphins appear frequently on the walls of the catacombs. As symbols of Christ, they bear the souls of the saints to glory. Sometimes they appear crushing the head of a sea monster or an octopus, representing Satan. Often, they are shown twisted around a trident or an anchor, suggesting Christ on the Cross. In underground Rome there is even an image of a dolphin with an exposed heart.

The dolphin usually symbolizes Jesus Christ. In some instances, however, the dolphin seems to represent not Christ, but Christians. Thus the dolphin, like the lamb, holds an ambiguous position for the ancients: the lamb can represent Christ as “Lamb of God” — or the Christian as member of the Good Shepherd’s “little flock.” These dolphin-Christians appear sometimes in pairs, both swimming toward a monogram or other symbol of Christ.

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