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Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pastoral Staff (Crosier)
In the live-telecast link of the service at All Saints’ Cathedral last week was a picture of Archbishop of Canterbury carrying his pastoral staff. A few members later asked me the meaning of the pastoral staff as they noticed the staff has the symbols of a serpent and lamb.
The Pastoral Staff is a symbol of authority of a bishop or archbishop being the shepherd of God’s flock following the metaphor of Christ as the Good Shepherd (cf 1 Peter 5:1-4). The types and shapes of the pastoral staffs of bishops vary among churches and denominations e.g. Roman Catholic, Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, etc.
As to the symbols of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s pastoral staff, the symbol of the snake and lamb both points to redemption or salvation. In Numbers 21:4-9, the Israelites were attacked by venomous snakes as a consequence of speaking against God and Moses. After Moses pleaded with God for mercy upon the people, God commanded Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived (Numbers 21:8-9). Since then the symbol of a bronze snake is often associated with healing thus the symbol of medicine. (It must be noted that the snake on the rod symbol is also claimed to have its origin from the Greek mythology rod of Asclepius).
The Lamb at the center of the Archbishop’s pastoral staff is the symbol of Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) which points to our Lord Jesus Christ being the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29, see also Revelation 5:9-14). Thus the serpent and the lamb depicts the words of Jesus in John 3:14-15 - Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Is the symbol demonic or paganistic? The answer is no. We must understand that symbolism and iconography (sculptures, paintings and stained-glass arts) are common in the early and medieval church because most of the believers were illiterate. Therefore, churches often uses these symbols or icons as forms of visual aid or teachings.
Bishop John Yeo