(Greek μόνος, single, and γράμμα letter), a character composed of two or more letters of the alphabet, often interlaced with other lines, and used as a cipher or abbreviation of a name, is found to be of frequent occurrence in the annals of early ecclesiastical history, and seems to have been introduced into the early Church from the heathen nations.
I. The use of monograms began at a very early date. They are found on Greek coins, medals, and seals, and are particularly numerous on the coins of Macedonia and Sicily. Both on coins and in MSS. it was the practice to represent the names of states and cities by monograms, of which above 500 are known, but some have not been deciphered. Monograms occur on the family coins of Rome, but not on the coins of the earlier Roman emperors. Constantine placed on his coins one of the earliest of Christian monograms, which is to be traced in the recesses of the catacombs, composed of the first and second letters of ΧΡιστός (Christus), a monogram which also appeared on the Labarum, and was continued on the coins of the succeeding emperors of the East down to Alexander Comnenus and Theodore Lascaris. We often find it combined with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet (Re 1:8). Another well-known monogram is that of the name of Jesus, IHS, from the first three letters of Ι᾿ΗΣοῦς. (See below, Monogram of Christ.) Popes, emperors, and kings, during the Middle Ages, were in the practice of using a monogram, frequently replacing by it their signatures. Painters and printers used it; and, unintentionally on the part of its authors, the monogram has frequently served in modern times to determine the age of a MS.; and even of early printed works. See Home, Introduction to Bibliography, volume 2; Brulliot, Dict. des Monogrammes (Munich, 1832-34). SEE ICONOGRAPHY; SEE ILLUMINATION, ART OF.
II. Monogram of Christ. — The sign used to represent the name of Christ. This name is usually given to the combination of the first two letters forming his name in Greek; but there is also a monogram of the name of Jesus, which is of great antiquity, and of both names together. We will examine them successively.
(1) For the name of Christ. The monogram used in the primitive Church is communicated to us by the ancient ecclesiastical writers, and also by the numerous Christian monuments of that period which are still extant. We find it generally formed by one of the two combinations of the letters XP, the P being set inside of the X, which latter is either an erect X or reversed, giving the forms K and P. The first is the form described by Eusebius (Vita Constant. 1:31) and Paulinus of Nola (Poem. 19, de Felic. Nat. 11:5. Orig. Opp. ed. Muret. page 481); the other is described by Lactantius (De mort. persecut. c. 44), for we can hardly make out his expression concerning the transversa X, the point of which is bent, to signify anything else than the +, the upright part of which is made into a P. These two forms give rise to two others, by merely turning the P the other way, thus, m and C. There are also instances of other less usual combinations. For a description of all the various forms, see, besides the special works on the monograms of Christ, Mamachi, Orig. et antiq. Christ. 53, 62 sq.; Miinter, Sinnbilder, part 5, page 3437; Didron, Iconogr. Chret. page 401 sq.; Letronne, Exalm. archeol. de deux quest. sur la croix ansee Egypt. (Meni. de l'Acad. des Inscript. volume 16, part 2, page 284); Twining, Symbols and Emblems, part 1, 3, 4. If we now inquire. into the further significance of these two forms of the monogram, in order to see whether it contain some further meaning of importance, we must first consider whether it is indeed always a distinctive mark of Christian monuments. Here we find that the form is exclusively used by Christians, and is the sign of the name of Christ. Yet it must be observed that it closely resembles the Egyptian hooped cross, da, the symbol of life, which is often represented in the hand of the Egyptian deities, and then, in consequence of little irregularities on both sides, the two monograms happen sometimes to be exactly alike; even the Egyptian Christians sometimes used the Egyptian sign for that of the cross (see Letronne,. Exam. archeol. in Meoires de l'Acad. des Inscript. 16:285 sq.). The other form, i, a combination of XP, is essentially of heathen origin. We find it on Greek money greatly anterior to Christ, namely, on the Attic tetradrachma (Eckhel, Doctr. num. 2:210), as also on the coins of Ptolemeeus, a specimen of which, with the head of Zeus Ammon on the one side, and on the other an eagle holding the monogram ; in his claws, is to be seen in the collection of coins at Berlin (No. 428). It is also found in an inscription on a monument erected to Isis, in Egypt, in the year B.C. 137-8 (see Bockh, Corp. Inscr. Gr. n. 4713, b). At the same time such heathen monuments are very scarce; and where the sign is found on tombs, it may generally be taken for granted that it is there as the Christian emblem. In after-times the signification of this sign was altered, especially among the Greek writers, where we seldom find i used to designate Christ. It most generally stands for Χρυσόστομος, and in the construction Πολὺ Πολυχρόνιος; it is also used as an abbreviation for χρύσεον (see Montfaucon, Paleogr. Gr. page 344). On the other hand, in the Greek calendar, since the 11th century, f πάσχα is used for Χριστιανῶν πάσχα, in opposition to νομικὸν πάσχα (see Piper, Karl's des Grossen Kalendarium u. Ostertafel, page 130 sq.). It has long been a much controverted point to know whether this monogram were introduced only by the emperor Constantine, or whether it were in use anterior to his reign. It seems, however, pretty much established that the monuments which have been referred to in order to prove its greater antiquity are either spurious or doubtful (see Mamachi, Orig. et antiq. Christ. c. 1, page 54, n. 3); and the oldest monument of ascertained date which bears it is a grave-stone at Rome of the year 331, where the monogram i stands between branches of palm, and preceded by the words IN SIGNO, which recall the apparition of Constantine (Piper, Ueber den Christlichen Bilderkreis, pages 4, 65, with a plate, fig. 1). Yet another inscription, lately discovered in the catacombs of Melos, and containing the monogram, is considered as belonging to the 2d century (see Ross, Inscript. Gr. ined. fasc. 3, n. 246, b, page 8). It is further probable that, since in the early part of the 2d century the first two letters of the name of Jesus were already used in that manner, as we shall see hereafter, the same was already done also with the name of Christ; and also that, from the moment Constantine wished to adopt a general sign. he would more likely have adopted one previously in use than invented a new one. After Constantine it became very numerous in private monuments, and especially on the graves, and that in most Christian countries. In Germany we find many such inscriptions, with either the i or the f, at Treves (Hersch, Centralmuseum, part 3, Nos. 56, 61; Le Blant, Inscrip. Chrit. de la Gaule, volume 1, No. 230, 244), and at Cologne (Hersch, page 1, No. 95, 96; Le Blant, volume 1, No. 355, 359). They are also found on things deposited in the graves, as, for instance, on lamps and glass vessels, and, finally, on things used in daily life, as on stones, rings, etc. (D'Agincourt, Scult. pl. 9, fig. 1, 24). Under Constantine the Great the monogram came to be used on public monuments. He caused it to be inscribed on the Labarum (q.v.), doubtless in the form i (Eusebius, Vit. Constant. 1:28, speaks only of the cross; but the cross seen by Constantine was this very monogram), as also on his helmet, and on the shields of his soldiers. His vision is recalled in the Labarum by the monogram in the hand of the emperor, who is crowned by victory, and by the legend HOC SIGNO VICTOR ERIS on the coins of his son Constantius, and of the contemporary Vetranius (350) and Gallus (351-354). Of his own reign there is a celebrated coin with the monogram of the Labarum, placed on and piercing a snake, with the legend APES PUBLICA (Eckhel, Doctr. numm. 8, page 88). Coins show it also on the helmet of Constantine, and on the shield of the emperor Majorianus (457-461). In the coins of the Eastern Roman empire, the monogram in its two principal forms is quite common until the time of Justinian I, with an interruption during the reign of the emperor Julian. Under Justinian (t 565) the sign of the cross took the place of the monogram. Soon after Constantine, in the second half of the 4th century, we find it placed on buildings. The oldest monogram of that kind of which theadate is known is an inscription of the year 377 at Sitten, in Switzerland, probably by the praetor of that place, and relating his restoration by the prsetor Pontius (Mornmiesse, Inscript. Ielvet. Lat. pl. 3, No. 10; Le Blant, Inscript. Chret. pages 496, pl. 38, No. 231; Gelpke, Kirchengesch. d. Schweiz. part 1, page 86 sq.). It was especially used in Church architecture. The oldest, from the time of Constantine, is to be found in the mosaic of S. Connstantia at Rome, where it is on a roll in the hand of Christ. In the Middle Ages it was especially placed on the top of the pulpit, as in the churches of S. Francesca Romana and of S. Maria Maggiore at Rome, both built in the 13th century. In the Lateran it is placed in the gable end, according to the orders given by Clement XII in 1735. This monogram, in funereal inscriptions, where it occurs at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end, may be considered in general as confessing Christ. It is sometimes used in connection with other words, but generally alone, as in an inscription at Vienna Faustina "in i" (Mai, Sanct. vet. nov. coll. 5:432, 433); one in the museum of the Vatican, on Gentianus, ends with the words "quia scimus te in" (Marini. Hist. Allan. page 37). In the images on the graves it is especially used to designate the person of Christ, particularly where there are any representations of him. Thus a lamb standing on a mountain, as represented in Re 14:1, pictured: on a coffin in the Vatican grottoes, bears on its head the a (Bottari, Scult. epitt, sacre, volume 1, tav. 21). It is also used with the bodily representations of Christ, either simply over his head, or in the nimbus around him, or one on each side of his head, as in a lately discovered painting in the cemetery of Praetextatus (Perret, Les Cataconmbes de Rome, t. 1, H.L.). There is a gem of heathen origin representing the heads of Jupiter, Apollo, and Diana, with the inscription Vivas in deo f(eliciter), in which the head of Jupiter is surmounted by the sign i:. 'This was probably added to it in after-times by a Christian owner, either to give it a sort of Christian consecration, or, more probably, to transform the head of Jupiter into a likeness of Christ (Piper, Mythol. u. Symb. d. christl Kunst. 1, 1, pages 115-117). Sometimes the monogram also appears alone in carvings, and is then intended to represent the person of Christ; for instance, on glass vessels, where it is placed between two persons, to signify that Christ is with them. An especially interesting instance of that kind recurs on several coffins, where a cross is represented, with those who watched at the grave at the foot of it, and on the cross the monogram j, in a wreath, borne by a soaring eagle. While the lower part is indicative of the crucifixion and burial, the crowned monogram held aloof is the emblem of the crucifixion and ascension. A drawing and explanation of it are to be found in the Evang. Kalender for 1857, page 37, 45 sq. Finally, we find also the monogram used with a symbolical meaning. On a grave-stone of the year 355 the i is placed by the side of the figure of a person who, with the outstretched right hand, takes hold of the name (Aringhi, Roma subterran. lib. 2, c. 23, t. 2, page 570).
(2) For the name of Jesus Christ we have, first, in Greek, the monogram IC XC. This is the usual abbreviation of the two names found in the oldest MSS. of the N.T., as in the Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th and the Claroonzontanus of the 6th century, and which is retained in the Minuskel MSS. It appears also on monuments, namely, in the inscription I X, found in the catacombs of Naples, in a niche, at the place of an old well (Pellicia, De eccles. Christ. polit. 2:414, ed. Bonn; Bellermann, Ueber d. iltesten christlichen Begrabnissstdtten, page 81), and is still used in the Greek Church, namely, on the bottom of the vases used for communion (Goar, Eucholog. page 99). In sculptures and carvings, we find this monogram accompanying the figure of Christ; as in the Byzantine coin, first under J. Zimisces (969-975), whence it remained in use until the downfall of the Greek empire. There is yet extant a fine gold medal of the last emperor, Constantine XIV Palaeologus, on the reverse of which is the figure of Christ standing, with the inscription IC XC (a specimen of it is to be seen in the imperial collection of coins at Vienna) (see Eckhel, Doctr. numum. 8:273). It is also found on ancient Greek monuments, and on the ancient doors of the church of St. Paul at Rome of the year 1070. Byzantine paintings in which it is represented are to be found in the royal gallery of Berlin (Nos. 1044,1048). The introduction of this monogram into the Latin Church is especially remarkable. The ancient church of St. Peter at Rome contained mosaics of the time of Innocent III, which represented Christ enthroned between the apostles Peter and Paul, with the inscription IC XC (see the Evang. Kalender for 1851, page 50). The same is found in the still extant mosaic of Philip Dusuti of 1300, in the church of S. Maria Maggiore at Rome (Valentini, Basil. Liber. pl. 103). There are also numerous easel pictures of Italian origin of the 14th and 15th centuries, which contain the likeness of Christ, together with this monogram, as, for instance, the crucifixion of Taddeo Gaddi, of 1334, in the royal gallery at Berlin, No. 1080, and an apparition of Christ to Magdalena after his resurrection, by Donatus Bizamanus, in the Christian Museum at the Vatican (D'Agincourt, Peint. pl. 92). Secondly, we have in Latin the monogram IHS XPS. The Latin Church has also a special abbreviation of both names, which we find in the oldest Latin MS. copies of the Bible; for instance, in the Greek and Latil Codex Claromontanus. It is occasionally preserved in the Minuskel MSS., as in the Sacramentarium of Gellone at Paris, in the 8th century, where the Gospel of Matthew begins with the words "Liber generationis ihu xpi" (facsimile in Silvestre, Paleogr. t. 3). This mode of writing gave rise to numerous researches in the French Church in the 9th century. Amalarius, from Metz, author of the book De Offciis Ecclesiasticis, asks, in a letter to Jeremiah, archbishop of Sens, in the year 827, to know why the name of Jesus is written with an aspirate, an H, and expresses the opinion that, according to the Greek, it should be written with IH, and C or S (D'Achery, Spicileg. 3:330); to which the other answers that it is not an aspirate, but a Greek H. He asked also bishop Jonas whether it were more correct to write IIC or IHS, and was answered that the latter form was preferable, the first two letters being taken from the Greek and the last from the Latin, as had been done with the name Christ, XPS. The formula IhS XPS (and IhS XIS) REX REGNANTIVM occurs on Byzantine coins, according to the example of Justinian II, from Basilius Macedo (De Saulcy, Essai de classificat. des suites monet. Byzantine, pl. 19, 1), down to Romanus IV Diogenes (1068-1071); and it is only there that the other monogram, IC XC, remained in use. In the West, we find the monogram IHS XPS in use at a very early period, both in inscriptions, carvings, and paintings, as, for instance, miniatures in the Carolinian MSS., and in pictures of the Middle Ages.
(3) For the name of Jesus alone, we find in Greek the monogram IH. It is the first form of which we have any knowledge, and occurs as early as in the Epistle of Barnabas (q.v.), e.g., where the number 318 of the men circumcised by Abraham (resulting from a comparison between Ge 17:23; Ge 14:14) is found to be a sign of the name of Jesus and of the cross, for 318 is written with Greek letters, ιητ῎. This meaning was generally received, as also by the Latin Church (Coteler). This abbreviation, however. occurs but seldom on the more ancient monuments. In the West, the monogram IHS (q.v.) obtained great popularity in the Middle Ages through the preaching of Bernard of Sienna, who in divers cities, and especially at Viterbo, in 1427, was in the habit of exhibiting a tablet on which that monogram was painted in golden letters, surrounded by a halo of golden rays, and to which he directed their devotions. He was accused of innovation indeed, but succeeded in satisfying pope Martin V (Wadding, Annal. minor. T.V. a. 1427, page 183 sq.). This monogram, to which the cross is sometimes added, remained in use in small Latin letters, and sometimes in Gothic. Thus, in the picture of the adoration of the three kings, by Raphael, in the royal gallery at Berlin, we find at the upper edge of a golden sun, written in golden letters, which, however, must not be understood, as some have made it out, to signify in hoc signo. The Jesuits also appropriated that monogram to their use. On the election of the first general of the order, in 1541, which resulted in the elevation of Ignatius, the latter had headed his vote with the name IHS, and the sign his was engraved on his seal, the same with which the election of the generals since Jacob Laynez has always been sealed (Acta Sanct. d. 31, mens. Jul. t. 7, page 532 a). See. besides the authorities already referred to, Herzog, Real- Encyklopddie, 9:738 sq.; Minter, Sinnbilder u. Kunstvorstellungen d. alten Christen (Altona, 1825); Piper, Mythologie u. Symbolik d. christl. Kunst, volume 1 (1847) and 2 (1851); Withrow, Catacombs of Rome (N.Y. 1874) page 264 sq. SEE CHRIST, MONOGRAM OF.