Since I spoke of the Cross in places of worship in my last post, I thought I would get my Bible ready and talk about two of my favourite things 1) The Holy Bible, and the 2) Seventh Ecumenical Council. Many Fundamentalist Protestants would be surprised to find out that we Catholics actually DO have a prohibition against idolatry in our Bibles "You shall not make for yourself a grave image, or any likeness of anything that is in the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing mercy to those who love and keep my commandments". (Exodus 20:4-6). Clearly, this we have. All graven images are AN ABOMINATION UNTO THE LORD. Well, not quite. For instance, few verses later we have a COMMAND, to make graven images (Exodus 25). So what, then is, the prohibition? Given the context, the prohibition seems to be, not so much against making graven images, but to be worshiping images as though they were gods. In Exodus 20:3, God clearly states, "you shall have no other gods before me". We must understand this in context. Remember what happened when the Israelites were waiting for Moses to come back down from the mountain? They melted down their jewelry and fashioned a golden calf for the SPECIFIC purpose of worshiping it (Exodus 32). When Moses came back down, he was indignant, and smashed the tablets. (Exodus 32:19). I actually remember commenting to an Eastern Orthodox priest professor I had, that Moses was the only person in history to break all Ten Commandments at once. Again, the prohibition against idolatry is not a prohibition against images. Solomon, whom did commit a great sin and turned from the Lord (1 Kings 11), was not admonished by anyone for using "graven images" in his construction of the Temple.(1 Kings 7) God seemed to be quite pleased with Solomon's work, though he did offer Solomon a stern warning about turning from him (1 Kings 9). So, as you can clearly see, prohibition against worshiping an image does not necessitate that images be totally forbidden. Now, what about the Seventh Ecumenical Council? Let's start with some background.
There is a movement, that started in the eighth century, called Iconoclasm. Iconoclasts claimed that veneration of images in Holy Places was akin to worship of God.
The persecution of those holding to Christian Orthodoxy began with Emperor Leo III. Leo was suspected of Islamic leanings, but the history on this is unknown. Leo came to the conclusion that the images were the main reason that Muslims and Jews were not becoming Christian. In comes Pope Gregory II. Now, Gregory did not want a council. He simply wanted the Emperor to stop meddling in Christian affairs. Gregory declared himself able to withstand Leo's attacks and claimed that Leo "would not be welcome in Rome". Actually, the back and forth between this a little funny. I side with Gregory, and it is clear that Gregory was not intimidated. Leo's son, Constantine V, increased the persecution of the so-called "image worshipers". Constantine tried to summon an Ecumenical Council, but many of the Bishops, were not having it. They did not not believe Constantine had the right to call a council.
Now, eventually the Empress Irene, who was the regent for her son, Constantine VI, worked to undue the work of the Iconoclasts. The former Patriarch of Constantinople, Paul IV, retired to a monastery as penance of his role in the Iconoclast heresy. In 787, A.D., the last Ecumenical Council that the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Church have in common, this was the ruling
The one who granted us the light of recognizing him, the one who redeemed us from the darkness of idolatrous insanity, Christ our God, when he took for his bride his holy catholic church, having no blemish or wrinkle, promised he would guard her and assured his holy disciples saying, I am with you every day until the consummation of this age. This promise however he made not only to them but also to us, who thanks to them have come to believe in his name. To this gracious offer some people paid no attention, being hoodwinked by the treacherous foe they abandoned the true line of reasoning, and setting themselves against the tradition of the catholic church they faltered in their grasp of the truth. As the proverbial saying puts it, they turned askew the axles of their farm carts and gathered no harvest in their hands. Indeed they had the effrontery to criticise the beauty pleasing to God established in the holy monuments; they were priests in name, but not in reality. They were those of whom God calls out by prophecy, Many pastors have destroyed my vine, they have defiled my portion. For they followed unholy men and trusting to their own frenzies they calumniated the holy church, which Christ our God has espoused to himself, and they failed to distinguish the holy from the profane, asserting that the icons of our Lord and of his saints were no different from the wooden images of satanic idols.
"Therefore the Lord God, not bearing that what was subject to him should be destroyed by such a corruption, has by his good pleasure summoned us together through the divine diligence and decision of Constantine and Irene, our faithful emperor and empress, we who are those responsible for the priesthood everywhere, in order that the divinely inspired tradition of the catholic church should receive confirmation by a public decree. So having made investigation with all accuracy and having taken counsel, setting for our aim the truth, we neither diminish nor augment, but simply guard intact all that pertains to the catholic church."
So why then, may we have images? Well, think about what the Bible said in Deuteronomy 4:15-19. They saw no image of God, so they were prohibited from making an image of God. But when God became man, these prohibitions were no longer necessary. As God BECAME man. (John 1). This is why it is okay to know only have images in the Church, but to have images of the one who is true man, and true God, as we know this is not God himself, but just a representation of Jesus in the flesh, and an artist's idea. We know the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 2:14-18), yet the Bible itself depicts the Spirit as "descending like a dove". If we are forbidden from using visual images, why is this very image used? (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32). While the jury is out on when exactly early Christians started using images in places of worship (for instance, there is evidence that Christians used images in the 2nd century, but if I recall correctly, veneration of relics goes back even further. Remember, this is a time when Christians were persecuted, so to be openly Christian may have meant death)
So what do we make of this? God, and God alone is to be adored. But how do we know how God is to be adored? We know, must fully, through Jesus Christ, who suffered for us. We know through the Saints, many of which died for love of him. Veneration of images is not violation of the First Commandment, but worship of images, is. The Early Christians often died for not worshiping the emperor. I would gladly die to same way. But to deny Holy Images, I feel, is to deny the incarnation.
Sources used (May not be in order)
RSV Catholic Edition Bible 2nd Edition
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Catholic Edition, RSV