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History of Icons

Discussion in 'St. Justin Martyr's Corner: Debate an Orthodox Chr' started by JM, Jan 14, 2015.

  1. Shieldmaiden4Christ

    Shieldmaiden4Christ Eastward bound

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    I think something JM is missing is an understanding that icons are essentially a pictorial dictionary from a time when the majority of the population was illiterate (they became increasingly popular around the third century A.D.). If you understand the rich symbolic history (not just from the "written" -- drawn/painted -- symbols that accompany Christ, the Theotokos, a Saint or other revered individual, but also of the colors and patterns used), you can glean a great deal of information from the Saint to nascent theology.
     
  2. buzuxi02

    buzuxi02 Veteran

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    In response to JM, he seems to base alot on the scholarship of leslie brubar ( I think that's her name) who primarily views veneration of icons as a reaction towards iconoclast policy. She co-write a book on the subject which is like 1000 pages long. Usually the historical arguments would utilize her research

    My point is even if veneration became more accepted by iconodules ( and by same reason became muted by iconoclast supporters) during and after the controversy, it by no means indicates some new innovation.
     
  3. Tzaousios

    Tzaousios Αυγουστινιανικός Χριστιανός

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    I think you mean Leslie Brubaker? Yes, she works on art in medieval Byzantium and has written about the Iconoclast controversy.
     
  4. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    correct, and initially they worshiped in the Temple and the synagogues before they were run out. and that Temple had images. and after they were run out, they were forced underground due to persecution. there are still graffiti images in the catacombs from when the Church was underground

    yes, but the problem here for you is that sets the council as the standard. why were the NT books chosen at that council? because those were the books that the Church always used. why did the iconodules win out? because icons were always used.
     
  5. buzuxi02

    buzuxi02 Veteran

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    Yes Brubaker. Are you familiar with her works?

    In the OP Calvin knocked St John of Damascus. In one of my posts I alluded that the defense of Icons by John of Damascus should have lit a lightbulb in Calvins head.

    The fact that both St. John and Theodore Abu Qurrah defended veneration of icons yet lived outside the empire amongst muslim control should have been a sign. In fact I believe Abu Qurrah was more of an apologetic against muslim rejection of images.
     
  6. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    "So the faithful do not embrace images for their own sake, but kiss them as we often embrace our children or our parents, to show the affection in our hearts. So also the Jew, when he venerated the tables of the Law, or the two cherubim, hammered from gold, did not honor the stone or gold for its own sake, but for the Lord who ordered them to be made." -St Athanasius the Great, To Antiochus the Prefect.

    by the by, St Athanasius is LOOOOOONG before iconoclasm and he first suggested the canonical list of the NT.
     
  7. JM

    JM Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Due to the restrictions placed upon this forum I recommend taking this to an open forum where I can answer freely.

    For now I'll leave the op which hasn't been refuted as of yet.

    The other day while discussing church history with a friend and fellow believer I was reminded of the Iconoclast Controversy or the Controversy Over Images that took place between 680 and 850ad. For almost 200 years the Greek State church argued over the use of images, specifically Icons and their purpose in the church…if they had any purpose at all. Many Western Christians are not familiar with this debate, at least not in detail, so I hope to give a very brief outline highlighting a few of the more interesting facts. Make no bones about it, I am unable to find any scriptural reason for the use of images, so the best I can try to do is be honest with the particulars as I have come to understand them.

    The debate took place between what modern historians call Iconoclasts and Iconophiles or those who rejected religious images often resulting in their destruction and those who believe religious images have a place in the Christian religion. This debate seemed bound to happen as the revelation of God in scripture came into contact with Greek culture and religion. The former rejects the use of images of the Divine and the latter wholeheartedly encourages images, statues and the like. Some Christians in both the East and West believed it was acceptable to create representations of Christ and the Trinity but there was also a group of Christians that denied any need for them. The Iconophiles believed icons were useful and even essential to worship while the Iconoclasts believed it was against the second commandment to do so. William R. Cannon points out, “A custom which primitive Christianity looked upon as idolatry was common practice in the eight century. Consequently what in ancient times had been an innovation was considered during this period as tradition.” (page 105)

    Diarmaid MacCulloch calls this rub of Hebrew and Greek culture the “fault line” for the old covenant forbids images of God in any sense while Greek paganism encouraged it. A similar debate can be found in the history of the Western church but it has not had the same impact on history as it had in the East. Some historians have suggested the numbering of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) might have contributed to the use of statues by Roman Catholics who, following Augustine of Hippo neatly tuck the First and Second Commandment into one and separated the Tenth into Nine and Ten. Lutherans use Augustine’s numbering of the Decalogue and take no issue with images either. I’m not sure if this really effects the views expressed by each group considering the Eastern Orthodox use the same numbering system as the Judaism and Protestantism but it was mentioned a few times by different authors so I mention it here.

    When you take a closer look at the details of the “controversy” it soon becomes apparent that matters of theology were passed from the Byzantine Emperor to the Patriarch of Constantinople. If the verdict was contrary to the wishes of the Emperor it was likely the Patriarch would be replaced. This happened more than a few times over the course of Byzantine history. From my reading on the subject it seems Leo (III) the Isaurian, Byzantine Emperor (717 – 741), saw a growing devotion and power ascribed to religious images. He believed this was mere superstition and tried to rid the empire of religious iconography with a series of edicts (726 – 729) forbidding the use of images in worship. Leo the III was not immune to superstition. It seems likely that Leo, having fought Islamic armies, believed that removing of images might lead to military victories. Whatever the reason behind the Controversy and it was always a political issue.


    The Iconophiles found a champion in John of Damascus (645/676 – 749) who offered a polemic for the use of images. Cannon describes John as one of the few strong theologians of the 8th century, not in the same class as Augustine of Hippo, but without equal in the West for the time period. Using a philosophical framework of categories and causes borrowed from Aristotle John of Damascus argued the Second Commandment was abrogated by the Incarnation of Christ. “If one accepted this vocabulary and Aristotelian framework, then devotion to visual images in Christianity was safe.” (MacCulloch, page 448) The Greek church essentially changed the language which framed the debate over images from art to theology. Skipping ahead the matter came to close as Irene of Athens, former regent and now Empress after having her sons blinded and imprisoned, assumed the throne. She was in favour of Icons and had a layman who was also in favour of Icons consecrated Patriarch. Patriarch Tarasios, with help from the State, held what was deemed an “Ecumenical Conclave” in 787 or what is often called the Second Council of Nicaea which effectively restored the use of images in worship. Some further political proclamations against Icons were made but Empress Theodora (843) restored again the use of images in worship. This last proclamation of the State church “effectively closed down the possibility of alternative forms of worship in Orthodox tradition.” (McCulloch, page 452)

    It soon becomes apparent the debate was heated and very political. Icons and other images had a cult following that garnered the support of the State. Ultimately it wasn’t the Bible that settled the issue for the church but two Empresses backing the Iconophiles. The idea that you could reach God through images is foreign to scripture. God “calls us back and withdraws us from petty carnal observances, which our stupid minds, crassly conceiving of God, are wont to devise.” (Calvin) Some are quick to point to the Second Council of Nicaea as a historical point of reference but we cannot forget the polemics against the use of images that predate the Reformation such as the works of Claudius of Turin, the Council of Frankfurt and Libri Carolini. With the Reformers cry of “scripture alone” and “all of scripture” the debate was reopened in the West during the Reformation. John Calvin is masterful in the Institutes on this subject and I have quoted pertinent sections below for your further reading. He rightly calls Empress Irene “a wicked Proserpine named Irene” in his French edition.

    Semper Reformanda,

    jm

    Sources:
    A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
    Diarmaid MacCulloch
    Penguin (2009)
    ISBN-13: 978-0141021898

    History of Christianity in the Middle ages; From the Fall of Rome to the Fall of Constantinople
    William R. Cannon
    Abingdon Press (1960)
    ISBN: n/a
     
  8. JM

    JM Well-Known Member Supporter

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    It was defined in the passages you kind of alluded to but didn't exegete.

    Great. I also pointed out the New Testament example, before the use of images were introduced, and we find nothing mentioned.
     
  9. JM

    JM Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I understand what the EO purpose is and still have my own icons as art. But how did they become used for worship? I already outlined that.
     
  10. JM

    JM Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Nah, just the Old and New Testament and, as already outlined in the OP, how they were introduced and made "orthodox" by the State.
     
  11. JM

    JM Well-Known Member Supporter

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    That's part of the problem. I didn't quote Calvin contra John of Damascus in the OP. We should read and understand what is actually written before we form a defense...shouldn't we?
     
  12. Shieldmaiden4Christ

    Shieldmaiden4Christ Eastward bound

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    They became used because they're a pictorial representation of theology and the lives of Saints. I've done papers on icons, so ... yeah.
     
  13. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

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    hence, my St Athanasius quote. he is the guy who suggested the books that became the NT.

    and just because the NT does not mention images, does not mean we can forget the images in the Temple which St Jerome says were venerated (he mentions the Tables of the Law, the Ark, the Cherubim as being venerated by the Jews in his work on the Holy Trinity).

    the problem is you see silence so you assume that they were not there. and your point that it was only during Iconoclasm that this was brought up is completely false.
     
  14. JeremiahsBulldog

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    In response to my posts #85 and #86, you wrote:
    Actually, I was being facetious about the off-topic part (I'm a bugger, I know). In fact, it is on topic. Its in response to your original post, where you wrote:
    Your whole outlook seems to be one of "Sola Scriptura". I was responding to that.
    You also wrote:
    True, this is a bad tactic, whether done by an EO like me, or by a "Sola Scriptura" Protestant. My point was to show that, even the Protestant tactic of "proof-texts" can lead us to acknowledge Tradition.
    Further:
    Don't blame me for tripping over "Sola Scriptura" and getting skewered. All I did was bring the horns.:)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 27, 2015
  15. JeremiahsBulldog

    JeremiahsBulldog Guest

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    Finally:
    OK, that's my fault. I should have been clearer. I did not mean to create an "either/or" between the Bible and Tradition. I only wished to show that the Bible itself forbids "Sola Scriptura", by pointing beyond itself to Tradition.

    Of course, Tradition - Which is encapsulated in the Bible, the Synods, the Fathers, the Prayer books, and the whole liturgical tradition, including icons - always uses the Bible as its foundation. Thus, Scripture and Tradition are one, intertwined whole. Scriptures point to Tradition, which points back to Scriptures, in a constant symbiosis. That's why the phrase, "following the Scriptures and the Fathers", is often used by EO theologians.

    This is not circular reasoning. We are not saying that the Bible creates tradition, which then creates the Bible. Rather, both come from an independant, common source, which produced them in this symbiotic form. That source is, the proper relationship between man and God.

    This relationship begins with the true spiritual path.

    This starts with repentance, which begins with faith. Our free will begins to cooperate with God's will - this is called "synergy".

    Through repentance comes illumination, or enlightenment, which is constant prayer, which St. Paul called "prayer of the heart", and "speaking in the tongues of angels". Prayer becomes "second nature" to us as we go about our daily activities.

    Finally, comes glorification, when we attain the nature of God (His uncreated grace or energy). At this point, one experiences the vision of God's glory (grace, energy).

    Then God justifies us. That is, He declares us righteous.

    This whole path constitutes salvation, and sanctification.

    This is the true core of Holy Tradition. In fact, this IS Holy Tradition. Everything else comes from it.

    People who attained this path became the Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Fathers. They produced the Bible, and all of our traditions. In fact, the Bible is a tradition. If you don't believe this, look up the history of the canonization of the Bible.

    Icons are also a tradition which comes from Holy Tradition. But they are also found in Scriptures. Yes, even in the NT. I'll explain in future posts.

    Stay tuned.:)
     
  16. Ignatius21

    Ignatius21 Can somebody please pass the incense?

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    I'm getting dizzy from watching this thread spin in circles :doh:

    There are a few things that are pretty evident, though.

    First, this thread is not about icons, nor has it ever been. It's really--like almost any Protestant-non Protestant debate--about sola scriptura, and more specifically, the distinctively Reformed-Puritan strand of Protestant tradition that is usually called "The Regulative Principle." It's defined, though not by that name, in the Westminster Confession of Faith in Ch. 21.1

    A more "gentle" phrasing could be taken from "Theopedia" or other online sources as:

    It's worth noting that this is not just a bone of contention between Reformed and Orthodox or Catholics, but between Reformed and Lutherans, Anglicans, many Wesleyans, and others. Notably, among groups that all claim to adhere to sola scriptura.

    When I spoke of layers of tradition, I meant the following:

    1. The canon of Old and New Testaments is assumed. Yes, I said it, assumed. While many will point to church history, etc., in the end, for Protestantism, the canon of scripture cannot be tied to any council or any decision of the church...it must simply be taken as a given. Notice that the Reformed Confessions like the WCF do exactly this. They simply list, as a given, which books are and are not part of the canon of Scripture. Note the progression of the WCF's first chapter, in which it states (1) that God has revealed himself through Scripture (no argument there), (2) which books are in the canon, (3) that the "apocrypha" are not in the canon, (4) that the canon in no way depends upon the church, (5) that the testimony of the church is well and good, but ultimately...AND THIS IS KEY...

    What's that, you say? Ultimately, we either do or don't agree with a particular list of canonical books depending on whether the Holy Spirit is testifying in our hearts. I.e. it's ultimately subjective, despite all the insistence that it's wholly objective.

    2. The way in which Scripture is to be interpreted, is assumed. Note WCF 1.IX,

    Which are the "clear" and which are the "less clear?" That's clearly (forgive the pun) subjective, hence the myriad denominations who all swear that they and they alone are reading the bible "clearly." And "not manifold, but one?" That's likewise an interpretive assumption grounded squarely in the humanism of its day, since the church from its inception clearly (there we go again!) made use of allegorical and spiritual senses of Scripture. This assumption about how Scripture is to be interpreted, is simply a Protestant tradition that developed in reaction against Roman Catholic traditions of how Scripture should be interpreted.

    3. Finally, the regulative principle is assumed. Whatever isn't clearly commanded (who decides what's clear?) isn't to be practiced. Hence, those who would go into palpitations if someone lit a candle in church for any reason other than providing light by which to read Scripture. This is the highest layer of this interpretive tradition, because at this point we are distinguishing Reformed-Puritan from the broad swath of Protestantism. You are presupposing not only Protestant traditions over Orthodox traditions, but Puritan Protestant traditions over other Protestant traditions.

    So your OP can't be meaningfully engaged, because we're standing in two separate rings, swinging over the ropes and never connecting. All the Scriptural, historical, logical arguments in the world will boil down to one thing: how do we respectively interpret and make sense of those facts? Given your assumed traditions, that I've already outlined above, you will always declare that Scripture forbids the use of icons. It can't end any other way.

    To be as objective as I can be? I don't believe the NT actually gives any direct guidance on the subject. Thus the reason we must move higher in our thinking. This is why, politics or otherwise, the 7th Ecumenical Council finally decided the issue as a matter of christology, not just iconography. If Christ is truly man, then he truly can be depicted. The Son of God can be depicted on wood, with paint, etc. The same as any other man. The veneration of icons has a somewhat clouded history, yes...but as Army alluded to earlier (and Tzasious I believe) it goes much further back, and we do find very early allusions to the veneration of relics and holy places (grave sites of martyrs, for instance). Veneration of icons follows suit. And the Christians of that era borrowed from the language of philosophy to explain, as near as possible, how this could be so.

    Much like St. Basil borrowed from the language of philosophy when speaking of hypostases to explain how he believed in ONE God while still insisting upon the full divinity of the THREE Persons. This, by the way, was the context in which he wrote the statement you quoted about "let Scripture decide between us."

    If you want to argue that the 8th Century decree in favor of icons was somehow invalid because it (a) was heavily political, involving emperors and (b) used philosophical language in ways that hadn't been clearly seen before, you may as well throw out the Nicene Creed and the councils that produced it. They were heavily political, involved emperors,and used philosophical language in ways that hadn't been clearly seen before. In fact, it was that very thing--the use of philosophical language not found in Scripture--for which St. Basil was attacked by his opponents, described in the very letter from which you pulled his quote. Keep that in mind when you cite him as support for "sola scriptura."
     
  17. FireDragon76

    FireDragon76 Mystery Worshipper Supporter

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    Ignatius, you have spelled out the issue more capably than I could. Needless to say, I find iconoclasm sub-Christian. I wish there were more images of Christ and the saints venerated everywhere, not less. I believe it creates a certain religious schizophrenia when you have art and photography depicting so many other secular subjects visually. It suggests the most treasured things in our earthly life have no connection to the heavenly things, that there are two separate spheres. This is not Christian. God became incarnate to unite the mundane in the sacred, the invisible in the visible, so that there would ultimately not be this radical sacred/secular dichotomy which had reduced all religion, including Judaism, into idolatry. Calvinism radically reimposes this distinction by saying the sacred is wholely invisible, and the secular alone visible. It's a very radical take on Christianity, and might eventually pan out into Docetism or Nestorianism. Either way, it's not healthy and weakens or denies the Incarnation.

    Calvin was a mixed bag. A brilliant theologian, but also incredibly arrogant- not something a Christian should strive to be. And unlike Luther, his demeanor was not bourn out of ascetic struggle, but youth and scholastic pride. His solution to theological dispute was to simply conclude that you were obviously not predestined to salvation if you didn't agree with the Bible as he understood it. Very convenient. Honestly, I believe Calvin and Zwingli are responsible for the greatest rupture with the Catholic mind during the Reformation, but because of their brilliance and scholasticism, their influence was inordinate.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2015
  18. FireDragon76

    FireDragon76 Mystery Worshipper Supporter

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    Ironically, this is the same approach used by liberal Protestants like John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, and John dominic Crossan. So what makes your conservative, confessional Baptist beliefs correct, and theirs wrong?

    The Bible doesn't support the regulative principle, it just doesn't. It even contradicts it, as pointed out before. There were traditions given from the apostles, and they were to be followed, whether in word or letter. That's the whole purpose of bishops- to retain apostolic authority.

    I believe that's a very unsympathetic view of the Orthodox self-understanding, and reading too much Western clericalism into a situation that doesn't warrant it. Eastern Orthodoxy doesn't view itself as an infallible hierarchy immune from politics, like Roman Catholicism. There is a sensus fidelium and it is among the faithful laity that preserved the Orthodox practice of venerating icons, as the EO see it. It just took a century of struggle for the faithful to be heard above the voices of the ruling class that were opposed to icons.

    The thing about mystical experiences is that they usually defy complete description, there's an ineffability to them that defies objectivity, so that you can always take supposed comparisons with that grain of salt.

    The self-understanding of Buddhist and EO mystical experiences are completely different. Indeed, its not strange at all that there are similarities in the practices, once you understand there is a certain overlap between the two- both Buddhism and Eastern Orthodoxy are inherently ascetic. But the goals and methods are different. The only similarity is an ascetic focusing of the minds energies (what psychologists call absorbtion). But lots of activites involve that, including some activities that evangelical Protestants do. The sociological work "When God Talks Back" by T.M. Luhrman is an excellent overview of evangelical mysticism and its relationship to Christian tradition.
     
  19. Sakuramochi

    Sakuramochi Newbie

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    Hello everyone, new poster here.:)

    I have been observing this debate for a while and I feel like expressing my two cents. Firstly I think that Ommnone got it right by giving the underlying political context regarding Byzantine Iconoclasm. Some scholars have viewed it as a reaction towards the rising tide of Islam at the time which is generally Iconoclastic. JM did not address the context that Ommnone provided.

    Secondly, it is true that there isn't really any actual evidence of Icon veneration amongst the Early Christians. In my point of view, the practice of Venerating Icons rose out of the practice of venerating the relics of the Saints. We know the Early Christians do this given the Martyrdom of Polycarp(Lightfoot translation) which I would quote,

    Polycarp 13:2
    But when the pile was made ready, divesting himself of all his upper garments and loosing his girdle, he endeavored also to take off his shoes, though not in the habit of doing this before, because all the faithful at all times vied eagerly who should soonest touch his flesh. For he had been treated with all honor for his holy life even before his gray hairs came.


    Polycarp 17:1
    But the jealous and envious Evil One, the adversary of the family of the righteous, having seen the greatness of his martyrdom and his blameless life from the beginning, and how he was crowned with the crown of immortality and had won a reward which none could gainsay, managed that not even his poor body should be taken away by us, although many desired to do this and to touch his holy flesh.

    It is from something like this that the practice of venerating Icons came about. I'm not saying that the Early Christians didn't use any form of imagery, they do rather that venerating the Image of the Saint most likely stem from the veneration of relics.

    Thirdly, it should be important to note that the endorsement of Iconoclasm lead to heretical implications. For example it leads to Docetism given how they at the time viewed the Eucharist as the only acceptable Icon of Christ. This is so given that the Bread used in the Eucharist is without Form and is not representative of Christ's humanity. By proposing this, the Iconoclasts basically denied the physicality of the Resurrection given the non acceptance of the Bread used as being representative of the Humanity of Christ, just the work of Christ.

    Also, given that Christ is Fully Human and assumed the properties of a Human body, it makes sense that this person that is Christ is therefore perceivable by the mind which permits His depiction, allowing Images of Christ to be made and venerated. Such is so as a testament to the Incarnation, the fact that He assumed a Real physical body, the one that Rose from the Dead on the third day. Through this, to deny Iconography is to inevitably endorse some kind of Docetism since it is a rejection of this testament.

    Another thing to note is that Byzantine Iconoclasts endorsed some form of Gnosticism given their view of matter which is conveyed in the Seventh Ecumenical Synod in which it declares,

    Given these implications that come with Iconoclasm, it is simply natural for 2nd Nicaea to reject and condemn it. To embrace such is to assume a Gnostic and Docetist outlook on matter and the incarnation.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2015
  20. Ignatius21

    Ignatius21 Can somebody please pass the incense?

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    From all I've read--and I ain't no expert!--I think you've fairly well nailed it. I would agree, it's at least reasonable, to trace the practices of venerating icons, back to the veneration of relics of saints. Evidence is sparse about exactly how images were used in the early years. But it's abundant that they held vigils and liturgies at the graves of martyrs, collected their personal effects, etc. Your quote of Polycarp is illustrative.

    Thanks for chiming in :)
     
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