Tertullian's reference (in _De baptismo_, I believe, but I don'thave chapter and verse at hand) implies that it is very commonplace because he says we make the sign of the cross everywhere when going out and coming in, when putting on our shoes (or something mundane of that sort). Tertullian himself was a layman; I see no reason why his statements should not be taken as solid evidence that it was widespread among Christian laity. His argument in this passage is against those who say Christians should only do what is explicitly laid out in the Scriptures; he offers the ubiquity of the sign of the cross (a practice not mentioned in Scripture) as evidence that some things that everyone takes for granted and are questioned by no one are in fact not based on explicit Scripture. His argument makes no sense if the sign of the Cross was not by universally practiced by his time and indeed long before, since he claims that this universal practice is of long-standing tradition.
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In "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," the poet tells us in ll. 764 and 765
that "Nade he sayned hymself, segge, bot ■rye / Er he watz war in ■e wod of
a won in a mote" -- "No sooner had Sir Gawain signed himself thrice / Than
he was ware, in the wood, of a wondrous dwelling" (Boroff trans.). *The
Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church*, which is all I have at hand,
states that the sign of the cross is attested as far back as Tertullian but
it seems to imply that it was used by priests and such rather than secular.
Now my question is this: When did the sign of the cross become commonplace
among lay folks?
Clinton Atchley, Ph.D.
Department of English and Foreign Languages
Henderson State University
Arkadelphia, AR 71999
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