We all know heavy metal is the music of the gods. But fans of metal are not necessarily accepting of all deities. In 1982, thrash-metal band Venom released their influential album, Black Metal. The work gave rise to a new kind of metal characterized by an unpolished sound, guttural vocals, and an abundance of anti-Christian themes. The new genre of metal grew in popularity over the next few decades, putting down especially deep roots in Scandinavian countries. Along with Satanic imagery, one of the favorite symbols of black metal enthusiasts was the upside-down cross. The thinking apparently went something like this; if the cross represents Christianity, than an inverted cross must represent ANTI-Christianity. This usage of an upside-down cross as an insult to Christianity is quite new, first appearing in movies with Satanic themes in the 1960s including Rosemary’s Baby and The Masque of the Red Death. Today, other groups use the symbol to represent “free thinking” and individualism but, no one displays it as often or with as much contempt as black metal fans.
Hoest, lead singer of Norwegian black metal band Taake, very angry yet oblivious to the irony of the symbol on his chest:
The use of the inverted cross as an anti-Christian symbol should be quite amusing to anyone familiar with Christian art and history who should recognize the symbol by the name “petrine cross.” That is, the cross of St. Peter. Early tradition tells us that when it was time for the Prince of the Apostles to die for his faith, he asked that he not be killed in the exact same way as Jesus claiming he was unworthy of such an honor. He chose, instead, to be crucified upside down. Since Peter was the first pope, the inverted cross has historically been used as a symbol of the papacy. The petrine cross also represents humility and servitude, qualities exemplified by St. Peter.
Of course, the cross is already an “upside-down” symbol. The Romans used it to represent death and humiliation, a symbol of fear wielded by the Empire against her subjects. But Christ chose the cross to bring life, dignity, and freedom. And now we Christians gladly hold up this symbol everywhere; Christ crucified, Christ triumphant. This inversion of Roman tyranny was no historical accident. Most everything Christ taught was contrary to the world around him. The last will be first, the first will be last. Whoever would save his life must lay it down. Even in his selection of Peter as pope, Christ turned the wisdom of the world on its head. He didn’t choose a king or a scholar but an impoverished, uneducated fisherman.
As pope, Peter “ruled” in the most upside-down manner possible. That is, he didn’t rule at all. He served. He placed himself beneath the whole Church as the servant of the servants, a slave to Christ and his people. His humility was clear in his acceptance of martyrdom and his profession, even to the end, of his unworthiness. And it was from there, upside-down on a cross, that St. Peter fulfilled his servanthood most completely.
This Saturday, we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. We no longer have the literal chair on which Peter sat but we do have his office; the role of “servant of the servants;” today filled by Pope Francis with profound charity and humility. And when someone tries to hold up the petrine cross as a symbol against Christ, we smile. Because we can see St. Peter on his cross still preaching healing through the wounds of Christ and life through his death; the upside-down servant of an upside-down kingdom.
St. Peter, dying the way he lived: