Veneration of Images
FREE Catholic Classes
I. IMAGES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The First Commandment would seem absolutely to forbid the making of any kind of representation of men, animals, or even plants:Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them (Exodus 20:3-5 ).
It is of course obvious that the emphasis of this law is in the first and last clauses -- "no strange gods", "thou shalt not adore them". Still any one who reads it might see in the other words too an absolute command. The people are not only told not to adore images nor serve them; they are not even to make any graven thing or the likeness, it would seem, of anything at all. One could understand so far-reaching a command at that time. If they made statues or pictures, they probably would end by adoring them. How likely they were to set up a graven thing as a strange god is shown by the story of the golden calf at the very time that the ten words were promulgated. In distinction to the nations around, Israel was to worship an unseen God, there was to be no danger of the Israelites falling into the kind of religion of Egypt or Babylon. This law obtained certainly as far as images of God are concerned. Any attempt to represent the God of Israel graphically (it seems that the golden calf had this meaning -- Exodus 32:5 ) is always put down as being abominable idolatry.
But, except for one late period, we notice that the commandment was never understood as an absolute and universal prohibition of any kind of image. Throughout the Old Testament there are instances of representations of living things, not in any way worshiped, but used lawfully, even ordered by the law as ornaments of the tabernacle and temple. The many cases of idolatry and various deflexions from the Law which the prophets denounce are not, of course, cases in point. It is the statues made and used with the full approval of the authorities which show that the words, "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image", were not understood absolutely and literally. It may be that the Hebrew translated "graven image" had a technical sense that meant more than a statue, and included the idea of "idol"; though this does not explain the difficulty of the next phrase. In any case it is certain that there were "likenesses of that which is in the sky above and on earth below and in the waters" in the orthodox Jewish cult. Whatever one may understand the mysterious ephod and theraphim to have been, there was the brazen serpent ( Numbers 21:9 ), not destroyed till Ezechias did so ( 2 Kings 18:4 ), there were carved and moulded garlands of fruit and flowers and trees ( Numbers 8:4 ; 1 Kings 6:18 ; 7:36 ); the king's throne rested on carved lions ( 1 Kings 10:19-20 ), Iions and bulls supported the basins in the temple ( 1 Kings 7:25, 29 ). Especially there are the cherubim, great carved figures of beasts ( Ezekiel 1:5 ; 10:20 , where they are called beasts), that stood over the ark of the covenant ( Exodus 25:18-22 ; 1 Kings 6:23-8 ; 8:6-7 , etc.). But, except for the human heads of the cherubim ( Ezekiel 41:19 , Exodus 25:20 , the references to them when combined seem to point irresistibly to some such figures as the Assyrian winged bulls with human heads), we read nothing of statues of men in the lawful cult of the Old Testament. In this point at least the Jew seems to have understood the commandment to forbid the making of such statues, though even this is not clear in the earlier periods. The ephod was certainly once a statue of human form ( Judges 8:27 ; 17:5 ; 1 Samuel 19:13 , etc.), and what were the theraphim ( Judges 17:5 )? Both were used in orthodox worship.
During the Machabean period, however, there was a strong feeling against any kind of representation of living things. Josephus tells the story of Herod the Great : "Certain things were done by Herod against the law for which he was accused by Judas and Matthias. For the king made and set up over the great gate of the temple a sacred and very precious great golden eagle. But it is forbidden in the law to those who wish to live according to its precepts to think of setting up images, or to assist any one to consecrate figures of living things. Therefore those wise men ordered the eagle to be destroyed" ("Antiq. Jud.", 1. XVII, c. vi, 2). So also in "De bello Jud.", 1. l, c. xxxiii (xxi), 2, he says: "It is unlawful to have in the temple images or pictures or any representation of a living thing", and in his "Life": "that I might persuade them to destroy utterly the house built by Herod the tetrarch, because it had images of living things ( soon morphas ) since our laws forbid us to make such things" (Jos. vita, 12). The Jews at the risk of their lives persuaded Pilate to remove the statues of Caesar set up among the standards of the army in Jerusalem ["Ant. Jud.", 1. XVIII, c. iii (iv), 1, De bell. Jud., ix (xiv), 2-3]; they implored Vitellius not even to carry such statues through their land [ibid., c. v (vii), 3]. It is well known how fiercely they resisted various attempts to set up idols of false gods in the temple (see JERUSALEM, II); though this would be an abomination to them even apart from their general horror of images of any kind. So it became the general conviction that Jews abhor any kind of statue or image. Tacitus says: "The Jews worship one God in their minds only. They hold those to be profane who make images of the gods with corruptible materials in the likeness of man, for he is supreme and eternal, neither changeable nor mortal. Therefore they allow no images ( simulacra ) in their cities or temples " (Hist., V, iv).
It is this uncompromising attitude in the late Jewish history, together with the apparently obvious meaning of the First Commandment, that are responsible for the common idea that Jews had no images. We have seen that this idea must be modified for earlier ages. Nor does it by any means obtain as a universal principle in later times. In spite of the iconoclastic ideas of the Jews of Palestine described by Josephus, in spite of their horror of anything of the nature of an idol in their temple, Jews, especially in the Diaspora, made no difficulty about embellishing their monuments with paintings even of the human form. There are a number of Jewish catacombs and cemeteries decorated with paintings representing birds, beasts, fishes, men, and women. At Gamart, North of Carthage, is one whose tombs are adorned with carved ornaments of garlands and human figures; in one of the caves are pictures of a horseman and of another person holding a whip under a tree, another at Rome in the Vigna Randanini by the Appian Way has a painted ceiling of birds, fishes, and little winged human figures around a centerpiece representing a woman, evidently a Victory, crowning a small figure. At Palmyra is a Jewish funeral chamber painted throughout with winged female figures holding up round portraits, above is a picture, quite in the late Roman style, of Achilles and the daughters of Lycomedes (d. 515). Many other examples of carved figures on sarcophagi, wall paintings, and geometrical ornaments, all in the manner of Pompeian decoration and the Christian catacombs, but from Jewish cemeteries, show that, in spite of their exclusive religion, the Jews in the first Christian centuries had submitted to the artistic influence of their Roman neighbours. So that in this matter when Christians began to decorate their catacombs with holy pictures they did not thereby sever themselves from the custom of their Jewish forefathers.
II. CHRISTIAN IMAGES BEFORE THE EIGHTH CENTURY
Two questions that obviously must be kept apart are those of the use of sacred images and of the reverence paid to them. That Christians from the very beginning adorned their catacombs with paintings of Christ, of the saints, of scenes from the Bible and allegorical groups is too obvious and too well known for it to be necessary to insist upon the fact. The catacombs are the cradle of all Christian art. Since their discovery in the sixteenth century -- on 31 May, 1578, an accident revealed part of the catacomb in the Via Salaria -- and the investigation of their contents that has gone on steadily ever since, we are able to reconstruct an exact idea of the paintings that adorned them. That the first Christians had any sort of prejudice against images, pictures, or statues is a myth (defended amongst others by Erasmus ) that has been abundantly dispelled by all students of Christian archaeology. The idea that they must have feared the danger of idolatry among their new converts is disproved in the simplest way by the pictures even statues, that remain from the first centuries. Even the Jewish Christians had no reason to be prejudiced against pictures, as we have seen; still less had the Gentile communities any such feeling. They accepted the art of their time and used it, as well as a poor and persecuted community could, to express their religious ideas. Roman pagan cemeteries and Jewish catacombs already showed the way; Christians followed these examples with natural modifications. From the second half of the first century to the time of Constantine they buried their dead and celebrated their rites in these underground chambers. The old pagan sarcophagi had been carved with figures of gods, garlands of flowers, and symbolic ornament; pagan cemeteries, rooms, and temples had been painted with scenes from mythology. The Christian sarcophagi were ornamented with indifferent or symbolic designs -- palms, peacocks, vines, with the chi-rho monogram (long before Constantine), with bas-reliefs of Christ as the Good Shepherd, or seated between figures of saints, and sometimes, as in the famous one of Julius Bassus with elaborate scenes from the New Testament. And the catacombs were covered with paintings. There are other decorations such as garlands, ribands, stars landscapes, vines-no doubt in many cases having a symbolic meaning.
One sees with some surprise motives from mythology now employed in a Christian sense (Psyche, Eros winged Victories, Orpheus), and evidently used as a type of our Lord. Certain scenes from the Old Testament that have an evident application to His life and Church recur constantly: Daniel in the lions' den, Noah and his ark, Samson carrying away the gates Jonas, Moses striking the rock. Scenes from the New Testament are very common too, the Nativity and arrival of the Wise Men, our Lord's baptism, the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the marriage feast at Cana, Lazarus, and Christ teaching the Apostles. There are also purely typical figures, the woman praying with uplifted hands representing the Church, harts drinking from a fountain that springs from a chi-rho monogram, and sheep. And there are especially pictures of Christ as the Good Shepherd, as lawgiver, as a child in His mother's arms, of His head alone in a circle, of our Lady alone, of St. Peter and St. Paul -- pictures that are not scenes of historic events, but, like the statues in our modern churches, just memorials of Christ and His saints. In the catacombs there is little that can be described as sculpture ; there are few statues for a very simple reason. Statues are much more difficult to make, and cost much more than wall-paintings. But there was no principle against them. Eusebius describes very ancient statues at Caesarea Philippi representing Christ and the woman He healed there ("Hist. eccl.", VII, 18: Matthew 9:20-2 ). The earliest sarcophagi had bas-reliefs. As soon as the Church came out of the catacombs, became richer, had no fear of persecution, the same people who had painted their caves began to make statues of the same subjects. The famous statue of the Good Shepherd in the Lateran Museum was made as early as the beginning of the third century, the statues of Hippolytus and of St. Peter date from the end of the same century. The principle was quite simple. The first Christians were accustomed to see statues of emperors, of pagan gods and heroes, as well as pagan wall-paintings. So they made paintings of their religion, and, as soon as they could afford them, statues of their Lord and of their heroes, without the remotest fear or suspicion of idolatry.
The idea that the Church of the first centuries was in any way prejudiced against pictures and statues is the most impossible fiction. After Constantine (306-37) there was of course an enormous development of every kind. Instead of burrowing catacombs Christians began to build splendid basilicas. They adorned them with costly mosaics, carving, and statues. But there was no new principle. The mosaics represented more artistically and richly the motives that had been painted on the walls of the old caves, the larger statues continue the tradition begun by carved sarcophagi and little lead and glass ornaments. From that time to the Iconoclast Persecution holy images are in possession all over the Christian world. St. Ambrose (d. 397) describes in a letter how St. Paul appeared to him one night, and he recognized him by the likeness to his pictures (Ep. ii, in P. L., XVII, 821). St. Augustine (d. 430) refers several times to pictures of our Lord and the saints in churches (e.g. "De cons. Evang.", x in P. L., XXXIV, 1049; "Contra Faust. Man.", xxii 73, in P. L., XLII, 446); he says that some people even adore them ("De mor. eccl. cath.", xxxiv, P. L., XXXII, 1342). St. Jerome (d. 420) also writes of pictures of the Apostles as well-known ornaments of churches (In Ionam, iv). St. Paulinus of Nola (d. 431) paid for mosaics representing Biblical scenes and saints in the churches of his city, and then wrote a poem describing them (P. L., LXI, 884). Gregory of Tours (d. 594) says that a Frankish lady, who built a church of St. Stephen, showed the artists who painted its walls how they should represent the saints out of a book (Hist. Franc., II, 17, P. L., LXXI, 215). In the East St. Basil (d. 379), preaching about St. Barlaam, calls upon painters to do the saint more honour by making pictures of him than he himself can do by words ("Or. in S. Barlaam", in P. G., XXXI). St. Nilus in the fifth century blames a friend for wishing to decorate a church with profane ornaments, and exhorts him to replace these by scenes from Scripture (Epist. IV, 56). St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) was so great a defender of icons that his opponents accused him of idolatry (for all this see Schwarzlose, "Der Bilderstreit" i, 3-15). St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) was always a great defender of holy pictures (see below).
We notice, however, in the first centuries a certain reluctance to express the pain and humiliation of the Passion of Christ. Whether to spare the susceptibility of new converts, or as a natural reaction from the condition of a persecuted sect, Christ is generally represented as splendid and triumphant. There are pictures of His Passion even in the catacombs (e.g.,the crowning of thorns in the Catacomb of Praetextatus on the Appian way) but the favourite representation is either the Good Shepherd (by far the most frequent) or Christ showing His power, raising Lazarus, working some other miracle, standing among His Apostles, seated in glory. There are no pictures of the Crucifixion except the mock-crucifix scratched by some pagan soldier in the Palatine barracks. In the first basilicas also the type of the triumphant Christ remains the normal one. The curve of the apse ( concha ) over the altar is regularly filled with a mosaic representing the reign of Christ in some symbolic group. Our Lord sits on a throne, dressed in the tunica talaris and pallium, holding a book in His left hand, with the right lifted up. This is the type that is found in countless basilicas in East and West from the fourth century to the seventh. The group around him varies. Sometimes it is saints, apostles or angels (St. Pudentiana, Sts. Cosmas and Damian, St. Paul at Rome, St. Vitalis , St. Michael ); often on either side of Christ are purely symbolic figures, lambs, harts, palms, cities, the symbols of the evangelists (S. Apollinare in Classe; the chapel of Galla Placidia at Ravenna ). A typical example of this tradition was the concha-mosaic of old St. Peter's at Rome (destroyed in the sixteenth century). Here Christ is enthroned in the centre in the usual form, bearded, with a nimbus, in tunic and pallium, holding a book in the left hand, blessing with the right. Under His feet four streams arise (the rivers of Eden, Genesis 2:10 ) from which two stags drink (Ps. xli, 2). On either side of Christ are St. Peter and St. Paul , beyond each a palm tree; the background is sprinkled with stars while above rays of light and a hand issuing from under a small cross suggest God the Father. Below is a frieze in which lambs come out from little cities at either end (marked Hierusalem and Betliem) towards an Agnus Dei on a hill, from which again flow four streams. Behind the Agnus Dei is a throne with a cross, behind the lambs is a row of trees. Figures of a pope ( Innocent III , 1198-1216) and an emperor preceding the processions of lambs were added later; but the essential plan of this mosaic (often restored) dates from the fourth century.
Although representations of the Crucifixion do not occur till later, the cross, as the symbol of Christianity, dates from the very beginning. Justin Martyr (d. 165) describes it in a way that already implies its use as a symbol (Dial. cum Tryph., 91). He says that the cross is providentially represented in every kind of natural object: the sails of a ship, a plough, tools, even the human body (Apol. I, 55). According to Tertullian (d. about 240), Christians were known as "worshippers of the cross" (Apol., xv). Both simple crosses and the chi-rho monogram are common ornaments of catacombs ; combined with palm branches, lambs and other symbols they form an obvious symbol of Christ. After Constantine the cross, made splendid with gold and gems, was set up triumphantly as the standard of the conquering Faith. A late catacomb painting represents a cross richly jewelled and adorned with flowers. Constantine's Labarum at the battle of the Milvian Bridge (312), and the story of the finding of the True Cross by St. Helen, gave a fresh impulse to its worship. It appears (without a figure) above the image of Christ in the apsidal mosaic of St. Pudentiana at Rome, in His nimbus constantly, in some prominent place on an altar or throne (as the symbol of Christ), in nearly all mosaics above the apse or in the chief place of the first basilicas ( St. Paul at Rome, ibid., 183, St. Vitalis at Ravenna ). In Galla Placidia's chapel at Ravenna Christ (as the Good Shepherd with His sheep) holds a great cross in His left hand. The cross had a special place as an object of worship. It was the chief outward sign of the Faith, was treated with more reverence than any picture "worship of the cross" ( staurolatreia ) was a special thing distinct from image-worship, so that we find the milder Iconoclasts in after years making an exception for the cross, still treating it with reverence, while they destroyed pictures. A common argument of the imageworshippers to their opponents was that since the latter too worshiped the cross they were inconsistent in refusing to worship other images (see ICONOCLASM ).
The cross further gained an important place in the consciousness of Christians from its use in ritual functions. To make the sign of the cross with the hand soon became the common form of professing the Faith or invoking a blessing. The Canons of Hippolytus tell the Christian : "Sign thy forehead with the sign of the cross in order to defeat Satan and to glory in thy Faith " (c. xxix; cf. Tertullian, "Adv. Marc.", III, 22). People prayed with extended arms to represent a cross ( Origen, "Hom. in Exod.", iii, 3, Tertullian, "de Orat.", 14). So also to make the sign of the cross over a person or thing became the usual gesture of blessing, consecrating, exorcising (Lactantius, Divine Institutes IV:27 ), actual material crosses adorned the vessels used in the Liturgy, a cross was brought in procession and placed on the altar during Mass. The First Roman Ordo (sixth century) alludes to the cross-bearers (cruces portantes) in a procession. As soon as people began to represent scenes from the Passion they naturally included the chief event, and so we have the earliest pictures and carvings of the Crucifixion. The first mentions of crucifixes are in the sixth century. A traveller in the reign of Justinian notices one he saw in a church at Gaza in the West, Venantius Fortunatus saw a palla embroidered with a picture of the Crucifixion at Tours, and Gregory of Tours refers to a crucifix at Narbonne. For a long time Christ on the cross was always represented alive. The oldest crucifixes known are those on the wooden doors of St. Sabina at Rome and an ivory carving in the British Museum. Both are of the fifth century. A Syriac manuscript of the sixth century contains a mimature representing the scene of the crucifixion. There are other such representations down to the seventh century, after which it becomes the usual custom to add the figure of our Lord to crosses; the crucifix is in possession everywhere.
The conclusion then is that the principle of adorning chapels and churches with pictures dates from the very earliest Christian times: centuries before the Iconoclast troubles they were in use throughout Christendom. So also all the old Christian Churches in East and West use holy pictures constantly. The only difference is that even before Iconoclasm there was in the East a certain prejudice against solid statues. This has been accentuated since the time of the Iconoclast heresy (see below, section 5). But there are traces of it before; it is shared by the old schismatical ( Nestorian and Monophysite Churches that broke away long before Iconoclasm. The principle in the East was not universally accepted. The emperors set up their statues at Constantinople without blame; statues of religious purpose existed in the East before the eighth century (see for instance the marble Good Shepherds from Thrace, Athens, and Sparta, the Madonna and Child from Saloniki, but they are much rarer than in the West. Images in the East were generally flat; paintings, mosaics, bas-reliefs. The most zealous Eastern defenders of the holy icons seem to have felt that, however justifiable such flat representations may be, there is something about a solid statue that makes it suspiciously like an idol.
THE VENERATION OF IMAGES
Distinct from the admission of images is the question of the way they are treated. What signs of reverence, if any, did the first Christians give to the images in their catacombs and churches? For the first period we have no information. There are so few references to images at all in the earliest Christian literature that we should hardly have suspected their ubiquitous presence were they not actually there in the catacombs as the most convincing argument. But these catacomb paintings tell us nothing about how they were treated. We may take it for granted, on the one hand, that the first Christians understood quite well that paintings may not have any share in the adoration due to God alone. Their monotheism, their insistence on the fact that they serve only one almighty unseen God, their horror of the idolatry of their nieghbours, the torture and death that their martyrs suffered rather than lay a grain of incense before the statue of the emperor's numen are enough to convince us that they were not setting up rows of idols of their own. On the other hand, the place of honour they give to their symbols and pictures, the care with which they decorate them argue that they treated representations of their most sacred beliefs with at least decent reverence. It is from this reverence that the whole tradition of venerating holy images gradually and naturally developed. After the time of Constantine it is still mainly by conjecture that we are able to deduce the way these images were treated. The etiquette of the Byzantine court gradually evolved elaborate forms of respect, not only for the person of Ceesar but even for his statues and symbols. Philostorgius (who was an Iconoclast long before the eighth century) says that in the fourth century the Christian Roman citizens in the East offered gifts, incense, and even prayers, to the statues of the emperor (Hist. eccl., II, 17). It would be natural that people who bowed to, kissed, incensed the imperial eagles and images of Caesar (with no suspicion of anything like idolatry ), who paid elaborate reverence to an empty throne as his symbol, should give the same signs to the cross, the images of Christ, and the altar. So in the first Byzantine centuries there grew up traditions of respect that gradually became fixed, as does all ceremonial. Such practices spread in some measure to Rome and the West, but their home was the Court at Constantinople. Long afterwards the Frankish bishops in the eighth century were still unable to understand forms that in the East were natural and obvious, but to Germans seemed degrading and servile (Synod of Frankfort, 794; see ICONOCLASM IV). It IS significant too that, although Rome and Constantinople agree entirely as to the principle of honouring holy images with signs of reverence, the descendants of the subjects of the Eastern emperor still go far beyond us in the use of such signs.
The development was then a question of genera fashion rather than of principle. To the Byzantine Christian of the fifth and sixth centuries prostrations, kisses, incense were the natural ways of showing honour to any one; he was used to such things, even applied to his civil and social superiors; he was accustomed to treat symbols in the same way, giving them relative honour that was obviously meant really for their prototypes. And so he carried his normal habits with him into church. Tradition, the conservative instinct that in ecclesiastical matters always insists or custom, gradually stereotyped such practices till they were written down as rubrics and became part of the ritual. Nor is there any suspicion that the people who were unconsciously evolving this ritual, confused the image with its prototype or forgot that to God only supreme homage is due. The forms they used were as natural to them as saluting a flag is to us.
At the same time one must admit that just before the Iconoclast outbreak things had gone very far in the direction of image-worship. Even then it is inconceivable that any one, except perhaps the most grossly stupid peasant, could have thought that an image could hear prayers, or do anything for us. And yet the way in which some people treated their holy icons argues more than the merely relative honour that Catholics are taught to observe towards them. In the first place images had multiplied to an enormous extent everywhere, the walls of churches were covered inside from floor to roof with icons, scenes from the Bible , allegorical groups. (An example of this is S. Maria Antiqua, built in the seventh century in the Roman Forum, with its systematic arrangement of paintings covering the whole church. Icons, especially in the East, were taken on journeys as a protection, they marched at the head of armies, and presided at the races in the hippodrome; they hung in a place of honour in every room, over every shop; they covered cups, garments, furniture, rings ; wherever a possible space was found, it was filled with a picture of Christ, our Lady, or a saint. It is difficult to understand exactly what those Byzantine Christians of the seventh and eighth centuries thought about them. The icon seems to have been in some sort the channel through which the saint was approached; it has an almost sacramental virtue in arousing sentiments of faith, love and so on, in those who gazed upon it; through and by the icon God worked miracles, the icon even seems to have had a kind of personality of its own, inasmuch as certain pictures were specially efficacious for certain graces. Icons were crowned with garlands, incensed, kissed. Lamps burned before them, hymns were sung in their honour. They were applied to sick persons by contact, set out in the path of a fire or flood to stop it by a sort of magic. In many prayers of this time the natural inference from the words would be that the actual picture is addressed.
If so much reverence was paid to ordinary images "made with hands", how much more was given to the miraculous ones "not made with hands" ( eikones acheiropoietai ). Of these there were many that had descended miraculously from heaven, or -- like the most famous of all at Edessa -- had been produced by our Lord Himself by impressing His face on a cloth. (The story of the Edessa picture is the Eastern form of our Veronica legend). The Emperor Michael II (820-9), in his letter to Louis the Pious, describes the excesses of the imageworshippers:They have removed the holy cross from the churches and replaced it by images before which they burn incense.... They sing psalms before these images, prostrate themselves before them, implore their help. Many dress up images in linen garments and choose them as godparents for their children. Others who become monks, forsaking the old tradition -- according to which the hair that is cut off is received by some distinguished person -- let it fall into the hands of some image. Some priests scrape thepaint off images, mix it with theconsecrated bread and wine and give it to the faithful. Others place the body of the Lord in the hands of images from which it is taken by the communicants. Others again, despising the churches, celebrate Divine Service in private houses, using an image as an altar (Mansi, XIV, 417-22).
These are the words of a bitter Iconoclast, and should, no doubt, be received with caution. Nevertheless most of the practices described by the emperor can be established by other and quite unimpeachable evidence. For instance, St. Theodore of the Studion writes to congratulate an official of the court for having chosen a holy icon as godfather for his son (P.G., XCIX 962-3). Such excesses as these explain in part at least the Iconoclast reaction of the eighth century. And the Iconoclast storm produced at least one good result: the Seventh Ecumenical Synod (Nicaea II, 787), which, while defending the holy images, explained the kind of worship that may lawfully and reasonably be given to them and discountenanced all extravagances. A curious story, that illustrates the length to which the worship of images had gone by the eighth century, is told in the "New Garden" ( Neon Paradeision -- Pratum Spirituo ale ) of a monk of Jerusalem, John Moschus (d. 619). This work was long attributed to Sophronius of Jerusalem. In it the author tells the story of an old monk at Jerusalem who was much tormented by temptations of the flesh. At last the devil promised him peace on condition that he would cease to honour his picture of our Lady He promised, kept his word, and then began to suffer temptations against faith. He consulted his abbot who told him that he had better suffer the former evil (apparently even give way to the temptation ) "rather than cease to worship our Lord and God Jesus Christ with His mother".
On the other hand, in Rome especially, we find the position of holy images explained soberly and reasonably. They are the books of the ignorant. This idea is a favourite one of St. Gregory the Great (d. 604). He writes to an Iconoclast bishop, Serenus of Marseilles, who had destroyed the images in his diocese : "Not without reason has antiquity allowed the stories of saints to be painted in holy places. And we indeed entirely praise thee for not allowing them to be adored, but we blame thee for breaking them. For it is one thing to adore an image, it is quite another thing to learn from the appearance of a picture what we must adore. What books are to those who can read, that is a picture to the ignorant who look at it; in a picture even the unlearned may see what example they should follow; in a picture they who know no letters may vet read. Hence, for barbarians especially a picture takes the place of a book" (Ep. ix, 105, in P. L., LXXVII, 1027). But in the East, too, there were people who shared this more sober Western view. Anastasius, Bishop of Theopolis (d. 609), who was a friend of St. Gregory and translated his "Regula pastoralis" into Greek, expresses himself in almost the same way and makes the distinction between proskynesis and latreia that became so famous in Iconoclast times: "We worship ( proskynoumen ) men and the holy angels ; we do not adore ( latreuomen ) them. Moses says: Thou shalt worship thy God and Him only shalt thou adore. Behold, before the word ' adore' he puts 'only', but not before the word 'worship', because it is lawful to worship [creatures], since worship is only giving special honour ( times emphasis ), but it is not lawful to adore them nor by any means to give them prayers of adoration ( proseuxasthai )" (Schwarzlose, op. cit., 24).
ENEMIES OF IMAGE-WORSHIP BEFORE ICONOCLASM
Long before the outbreak in the eighth century there were isolated cases of persons who feared the ever-growing cult of images and saw in it danger of a return to the old idolatry. We need hardly quote in this connection the invectives of the Apostolic Fathers against idols ( Athenagoras "Legatio Pro Christ.", xv-xvii; Theophilus, "Ad Autolycum" II; Minucius Felix , "Octavius", xxvii; Arnobius, "Disp. adv. Gentes"; Tertullian, "De Idololatria", I; Cyprian, "De idolorum vanitate"), in which they denounce not only the worship but even the manufacture and possession of such images. These texts all regard idols, that is, images made to be adored. But canon xxxvi of the Synod of Elvira is important. This was a general synod of the Church of Spain held, apparently about the year 300, in a city near Granada. It made many severe laws against Christians who relapsed into idolatry, heresy, or sins against the Sixth Commandment. The canon reads: "It is ordained (Placuit) that Pictures are not to be in churches, so that that which is worshiped and adored shall not be painted on walls." The meaning of the canon has been much discussed. Some have thought it was only a precaution against possible profanation by pagans who might go into a church. Others see in it a law against pictures on principle. In any case the canon can have produced but a slight effect even in Spain, where there were holy pictures in the fourth century as in other countries. But it is interesting to see that just at the end of the first period there were some bishops who disapproved of the growing cult of images. Eusebius of Caesarea (d. 340), the Father of Church History, must be counted among the enemies of icons. In several Places in his history he shows his dislike of them. They are a " heathen custom " ( ethnike synetheia Hist. eccl., VII, 18); he wrote many arguments to persuade Constantine's sister Constantia not to keep a statue of our Lord (see Mansi XIII, 169). A contemporary bishop, Asterius of Amasia, also tried to oppose the spreading tendency. In a sermon on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus he says: "Do not Paint pictures of Christ he humbled himself enough by becoming man." (Combefis, "Auctar. nov.", I, "Hom. iv in Div. et Laz."). Epiphanius of Salamis (d. 403) tore down a curtain in a church in Palestine because it had a picture of Christ or a saint. The Arian Philostorgius (fifth century) too was a forerunner of the Iconoclasts (Hist. Eccl., II, 12; VII, 3), as also the Bishop of Marseilles (Serenus), to whom St. Gregory the Great wrote his defence of pictures (see above). Lastly we may mention that in at least one province of the Church (Central Syria ) Christian art developed to great perfection while it systematically rejected all representation of the human figure. These exceptions are few compared with the steadily increasing influence of images and their worship all over Christendom, but they serve to show that the holy icons did not win their place entirely without opposition, and they represent a thin stream of opposition as the antecedent of the virulent Iconoclasm of the eighth century.
IMAGES AFTER ICONOCLASM (Coronation of Images)
After the storm of the eighth and ninth centuries (see ICONOCLASM ), the Church throughout the world settled down again in secure possession of her images. Since their triumphant return on the Feast of Orthodoxy in 842, their position has not again been questioned by any of the old Churches. Only now the situation has become more clearly defined. The Seventh General Council (Nicaea II, 787) had laid down the principles, established the theological basis, restrained the abuses of image-worship. That council was accepted by the great Church of the five patriarchates as equal to the other six. Without accepting its decrees no one could be a member of that church, no one can today be Catholic or Orthodox. Images and their cult had become an integral part of the Faith Iconoclasm was now definitely a heresy condemned by the Church as much as Arianism or Nestorianism. The situation was not changed by the Great Schism of the ninth and eleventh centuries. Both sides still maintain the same principles in this matter; both equally revere as an oecumenical synod the last council in which they met in unison before the final calamity. The Orthodox agree to all that Catholics say (see next Paragraph) as to the principle of venerating images. So do the old. Eastern schismatical Churches. Although they broke away long before Iconoclasm and Nicaea II they took with them then the principles we maintain -- sufficient evidence that those principles were not new in 787. Nestorians, Armenians, Jacobites,
More Volume: V 294
Click/Touch the sub-volume below to view encyclopedia articles within the sub-volume.
Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.