The Tri-Radiant Halo as the Sign of Deity
Christ the Judge by Fra Angelico (1447 AD)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in
his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
2 Corinthians 5:10
One of the most amazing things about the Canon Wheel
is that it was prophetically anticipated in Christian art
some fourteen hundred years before I discovered it in 1999 (four years after I discovered the
Bible Wheel). The tri-radiant cruciform halo is the oldest, and now most common,
sign of deity found in Christian iconography. It dates back to at least the sixth century AD.
The form of the halo anticipated the structure of the Canon Wheel, which means that this iconographic pattern
simultaneously points to Jesus Christ as the Living Word of God who "became flesh and dwelt amongst us" as a man (John 1:14), and
to the Holy Bible as the Written Word of God
that now is revealed as designed by God in the form of the Wheel.
Traditional Icon of Christ
The cruciform halo probably originated with the
union of the Circle and Cross in figures like the the Celtic Cross.
The two symbols were combined to signify the universal nature (Circle)
of the central fact of the Gospel - Jesus Christ and Him crucified (Cross).
When adapted for use as the halo in icons of Christ, only three arms could be seen because
the fourth was obscured by the head.
This fortuitous "accident" allowed the artist to simultaneously express two additional fundamental and interelated
Christian doctrines in a single figure. The Doctrine of the Trinity is echoed in the three arms, or rays of light as they
often are represented, and the Deity of Christ is explicity expressed in the inscription of the three Greek letters
Ο ωΝ that spell Ho On, the translation of "I AM" found in the Septuagint version of Exodus 3:14. This means that five fundamental
Christian Doctrines are symbolically expressed in this simple iconic pattern:
- The Cross declares how Christ saved us.
- The Circle teaches that he is the saviour of the whole world.
- The Three Arms recall the Doctrine of the Trinity.
- The Three Letters on the Three Arms declare the Deity of Christ, that He is the I AM of Exodus 3:14.
- The Human Face teaches the Doctrine of the Incarnation, that God became man.
These theological truths, taught in symbol and form,
carry over directly to the structure of the Bible as revealed in the Canon Wheel,
which now is recognized as nothing less than
a divine icon of the Christian Faith taught within its own pages!
The degree of precision in this iconographic prophecy is truly astounding because
it explicitly anticipated the tri-radiant pattern of the Canon Wheel, as seen in the
icon of Christ as He lifted His head in prayer to the Father in Gethsemane.
Historically, there has been some ambiguity as to the number of arms because
early Christian art always drew the
figure so that the fourth arm (if it existed)
was hidden by the head and neck.
But given the pressure to actualize the profound theological truths listed above -
the twin doctrines of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ - it seems inevitable that
the iconographers, had they not begun with it, would have been driven to draw an explicitly three-armed crucifom halo.
The oldest example that I have found of this pattern is in a fresco made in the year 1295 AD for
St. Clement's Church in Ochrid, Macedonia. It can be viewed
It seems that the cruciform halo with three (and only three) arms explicitly shown
has become the standard used in Orthodox representations of Christ's
prayer in the garden.
The three-armed cross may have been the original form since the earliest Christian description
of the Cross is that of the three-armed Greek Tau (T) rather than the four-armed Latin Cross.
This is found in the
The Epistle of Barnabus from the late first or early second
century (section 9:7-8):
Learn fully then, children of love, concerning all things, for Abraham,
who first circumcised, did so looking forward in the spirit to Jesus,
and had received the doctrines of three letters.
For it says, "And Abraham circumcised from his household eighteen men and three hundred."
What then was the knowledge that was given to him? Notice that he first mentions the
eighteen, and after a pause the three hundred. The eighteen is I (=ten) and H (=8)
-- you have [the first two letters of] Jesus -- and because the cross was destined
to have grace in the T he says "and three hundred." So he indicates Jesus
in the two letters and the cross in the other.
The "T" spoken of here is identified as the Greek Tau since that letter has the numeric value of n300,
whereas the corresponding Hebrew Tav has the value n400, and the Latin "T" has no numeric value at all.
As an aside, this quote is a good example of how
early Christians used the art and science of gematria as a homiletic tool from the earliest times.
Indeed, it is used explicitly in Scritpure itself
by the Apostle John in Revelation 13:18. The modern aversion to the study of numbers in Scripture is an unfortunate
anomaly that is grossly out of harmony with essentially all historical Christian theology.
It arose when theologians began to capitulate to the radical atheistic naturalism that rode on the coat-tails of
Seventeenth Century scientific enlightment that was actually the child
born of the Christian "Logos-based" world-view.
The use of symmetry, number, geometry, and color to form
artistic repesentations of profound theological truths has been practiced since the earliest times in
It is formalized in the practice of Christian iconography as explained in
this online article from the Columbia Encyclopedia:
A long series of evolutionary stages unfolds in the representation of a
given person or scene from the art of the catacombs to that of the Gothic cathedrals.
Thus the art of the Middle Ages is above all a kind of sacred writing whose system
of characters, i.e., the iconography, had to be learned by every artist.
It was governed also by a kind of sacred mathematics, in which position,
grouping, symmetry, and number were of extraordinary importance and were themselves
an integral part of the iconography.
From earliest times Christian iconography has likewise been a
symbolic code, showing the faithful one thing and inviting them to see in it the
figure of another. Some examples are: the dove, which figures the Holy
Spirit; the fish, symbol of Christ, from the Greek icthus, an
anagram for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior; the monkey or reptile as
symbol of evil; and the bowl or pitcher of water and the vase of lilies
that signify the Virginís purity in the Annunciation scene.
In Christian art, form is thus the vehicle of spiritual meaning; in the
expression and reading of this meaning lies the essence of Christian
The tri-radiant cruciform halo is used only to represent a person of the Trinity. Its most frequently signifies Christ,
but is also used to signify God the Father and God the Holy Spirit:
Given the confluence of theologically profound symbols, simple beauty, sevenfold symmetric perfection,
and extremely low a priori probability that such a pattern could arise by chance,
no conclusion could be drawn but that the ancient Christian iconic form discovered in the Canon Wheel must have been
designed by God Himself and accomplished through men inspired by His Holy Spirit.