The eight points of the Maltese Cross and their meaning.

© The Reverend Dr. Michael Foster SSC. MIWO. Cert Theol Oxon.

The Maltese Cross – it is universally agreed that the four arms of the Cross stand for the four Cardinal Virtues – namely; prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude. For the eight points and the meanings given is not so straight forward. Various authorities give differing meanings to the eight points.

The original version will be the Beatitudes as given by the Lord Jesus Christ, in the fifth Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew;

The Maltese Cross

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are those who mourn; for they shall be comforted.
3. Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be satisfied.
5. Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.
6. Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.
8. Blessed are those who suffer persecution for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

However, two other lists have been found during the research for this paper which are variations of the beatitudes;

In one document the eight obligations of the Knights are given as:

To live in truth.   To have faith.      To be sincere.   To give proof of humility.  To love justice.  To be merciful.   To endure persecution.  To repent of sin.

A similar list with slightly differing wording has also been found;

Spiritual Joy;  to live without malice;  to weep over your sins;  to humble yourself to those who injure you;  to love justice;  to be merciful;  to be sincere and pure of heart;  and to suffer persecution.

An additional list of Eight Knightly Virtues.

In the Priory of Dacia, in the tradition of the Russian Grand Priory, a list of Knightly Virtues is used not to replace the Beatitudes but to be used in addition;

Loyalty.  Care for the Church.  Helpfulness to the Sick and the Poor.  Contempt for Death.  Honour and Glory. Courage.  Generosity.  Piety.

A non-Christian alternative replacement list.

What the above lists have in common, is that they are Christian in origin and understanding. The British Royal Order has a secular version, with no reference to the Christian Faith and understanding. – the Official Government record for Canada, provides this statement of a switch to a non-Christian set of Virtues for the Most Venerable Order of St John in the British Realm;

“The universal motto of St. John, quite rightly, is: "For the Service of Mankind." The official emblem of St. John Ambulance, and the St. John people around the world, is a white cross. The emblem is significant in that the eight points that span off into the four arms were to put the wearers in mind of always bearing in their hearts the cross of Jesus, adorned with the eight virtues that attend it. Prior to the council of the order in England, the meaning of each point was basically religious. But since then, the meanings have been changed. They are: observation, tact, resource, dexterity, explicitness, discrimination, perseverance and sympathy.”

The four Cardinal Virtues stay the same (prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude), due to the fact that they can be read in a non-theological way!

Cross Formée

The origin of the Eight-fold interpretation.
The origin of giving meaning to the eight-pointed cross of the Order, will have developed in Rhodes, and not before.
The earliest Cross used in the Order was the simple uniform, straight arm Greek Cross, which gave way to the Cross Formée, both of which lack the eight pointed formation.

There is no mention of an eight-pointed cross in the earliest of the Order's literature. When the Order moved to Rhodes, it was afforded a long and settled existence in which to develop its art and traditions, and from this developed a definite eight pointed cross - a branched version of the Cross Formée. The design of the eight-pointed cross was developed further during the time on Malta to become the Maltese Cross with its definite straight lines of four arrow heads meeting in the middle.

The Rhodian Cross

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