The next phrase in the Creed is “Was Crucified.” Crucifixion was a method of execution that everyone agreed was so awful it was reserved for those situations when the Roman State needed to make an example of the criminal. No Roman citizen could be executed by crucifixion; it was just for the rebellious foreigners and slaves. And so they chose crucifixion for these particular cases.
That means that in the Roman – and crucifixion actually seems to be something that the Romans learned from the Persians centuries earlier – so not only in the Roman mind but in the general Pagan mind crucifixion is a special agony reserved for special cases. When there was a rebellion against the Roman state, the crosses would come out. The one thing that the Roman State would not tolerate was rebellion. In many ways it was a very tolerant empire, provided you acknowledged its authority. If you did rebell, then you needed to be canceled, and crucifixion was the most extreme version of cancellation.
But for the Christians, the cross becomes a sign of victory rather than a sign of defeat. It is through the Cross that victory over death has been won for us. The Cross involves suffering – great suffering – but through that suffering even unto death on a Cross, Jesus won for us eternal life. And the sign of the cross, the shape of it, invites so much hope for us. People talk about a circle as being endless, but if you think about it is completely limited: all you can do is go around on the same circle over and over again. But the cross points out with its arms to Infinity, and you may remember how Father Neil frequently says that the cross represents “I crossed out” as a reminder that we must die to self if we wish to gain heaven. And the figure of a cross is so simple, so easy to make the sign of the cross, which means Christians can make a very powerful prayer quickly and without even using words.
So the fact that he was crucified opens us to many of the Mysteries the faith.