Saint Thomas Aquinas

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Splendor and Glory of the Sacred Image Part IV Summary

 The Splendor and Glory of the Sacred Image Part IV Summary

 
Now I want to turn briefly to the theological explanations that came out of this controversy, and then I will proceed in the second part of the lecture to examining the icon itself, and the theology that separates them from other forms of artistic expression. Perhaps the most notable Saint and theologian to arise out of this era was Saint John Damascene. He wrote an infamous apologia for the use of sacred images. I think it is worth reading a small portion of his document to explain the proper understanding of the Old Testament ban on graven images, and how it relates to the Church.

“Now adversaries say: God's commands to Moses the law-giver were, "Thou shalt adore shalt worship him the Lord thy God, and thou alone, and thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath."

They err truly, not knowing the Scriptures, for the letter kills whilst the spirit quickens--not finding in the letter the hidden meaning...

You see the one thing to be aimed at is not to adore a created thing more than the Creator, nor to give the worship of latreia except to Him alone. By worship, consequently, He always understands the worship of latreia. For, again, He says: "Thou shalt not have strange gods other than Me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor any similitude. Thou shalt not adore them, and thou shalt not serve them, for I am the Lord thy God." (Deut. 5.7-9) And again, "Overthrow their altars, and break down their statues; burn their groves with fire, and break their idols in pieces. For thou shalt not adore a strange god." (Deut. 12.3) And a little further on: "Thou shalt not make to thyself gods of metal." (Ex. 34.17)

You see that He forbids image-making on account of idolatry, and that it is impossible to make an image of the immeasurable, uncircumscribed, invisible God....These injunctions were given to the Jews on account of their proneness to idolatry. Now we, on the contrary, are no longer in leading strings. Speaking theologically, it is given to us to avoid superstitious error, to be with God in the knowledge of the truth, to worship God alone, to enjoy the fulness of His knowledge. We have passed the stage of infancy, and reached the perfection of manhood. We receive our habit of mind from God, and know what may be imaged and what may not....

It is clear that when you contemplate God, who is a pure spirit, becoming man for your sake, you will be able to clothe Him with the human form. When the Invisible One becomes visible to flesh, you may then draw a likeness of His [9] form. When He who is a pure spirit, without form or limit, immeasurable in the boundlessness of His own nature, existing as God, takes upon Himself the form of a servant in substance and in stature, and a body of flesh, then you may draw His likeness, and show it to anyone willing to contemplate it. Depict His ineffable condescension, His virginal birth, His baptism in the Jordan, His transfiguration on Thabor, His all-powerful sufferings, His death and miracles, the proofs of His Godhead, the deeds which He worked in the flesh through divine power, His saving Cross, His Sepulchre, and resurrection, and ascent into heaven. Give to it all the endurance of engraving and colour. Have no fear or anxiety; worship is not all of the same kind.

The incarnation is the binding agent that grafts the sacred image into the body of the Church. Here Saint John amply explains the orthodox Christian understanding of these Old Testament texts. You can find his entire apologia on the internet. I think it is also important to briefly cover some of the statements made by the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which formally upheld the traditional teaching of the Church’s use of sacred images.  At the end of the first session of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, John, the most reverend bishop and legate of the Eastern high priests said: “This heresy is the worst of all heresies. Woe to the iconoclasts! It is the worst of heresies, as it subverts the incarnation (οἰκονομίαν) of our Savior.” 

In Session 1 the following anathemas were proclaimed by bishops reconciling themselves to the Church.

Anathema to the calumniators of the Christians, that is to the image breakers.

Anathema to those who apply the words of Holy Scripture which were spoken against idols, to the venerable images.

Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable images.

Anathema to those who say that Christians have recourse to the images as to gods.

Anathema to those who call the sacred images idols.

Anathema to those who knowingly communicate with those who revile and dishonour the venerable images.

Anathema to those who say that another than Christ our Lord hath delivered us from idols.

Anathema to those who spurn the teachings of the holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church, taking as a pretext and making their own the arguments of Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches, and Dioscorus, that unless we were evidently taught by the Old and New Testaments, we should not follow the teachings of the holy Fathers and of the holy Ecumenical Synods, and the tradition of the Catholic Church.

Anathema to those who dare to say that the Catholic Church hath at any time sanctioned idols.

Anathema to those who say that the making of images is a diabolical invention and not a tradition of our holy Fathers.

This is my confession [of faith] and to these propositions I give my assent.  And I pronounce this with my whole heart, and soul, and mind.

Furthermore, the Council proclaimed,

“We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady, the Mother of God, of the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people.  For by so much more frequently as they are seen in artistic representation, by so much more readily are men lifted up to the memory of their prototypes, and to a longing after them; and to these should be given due salutation and honourable reverence (ἀσπασμὸν καὶ τιμητικὴν προσκύνησιν), not indeed that true worship of faith (λατρείαν) which pertains alone to the divine nature; but to these, as to the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross and to the Book of the Gospels and to the other holy objects, incense and lights may be offered according to ancient pious custom.  For the honour which is paid to the image passes on to that which the image represents, and he who reveres the image reveres in it the subject represented.  For thus the teaching of our holy Fathers, that is the tradition of the Catholic Church, which from one end of the earth to the other hath received the Gospel, is strengthened.  Thus we follow Paul, who spake in Christ, and the whole divine Apostolic company and the holy Fathers, holding fast the traditions which we have received.”

I could spend much more time on this most important Ecumenical Council. In many ways this Council is more important to us today than the Second Vatican Council, since we have had more than 50 years of a silent iconoclasm destroying the Church from within, with little to no resistance. I think it would be safe to say that the great Saints of this time period would be astonished at the laxity in which we have allowed the sacred image to be desacralized in our Church today. The sacred image instills in us a love for God and His Saints. There is a much needed devotion for the icon in our sad time of unbelief. In the end it comes down to the faithful, like you and I, who must resurrect the devotion and veneration of the icons in the West, of which these most valiant Saints have passed on to us.

3 comments:

croixmom said...

WOW! Love the new banner!!!
And I love your Sacred Image series, as well!

Thank you so much! Somehow, while preserving the beauty and history and tradition of our awesome faith have always seemed so important, that seems to be elevated lately. At least in my small, simple brain.

Thank you so much, Matthew.

Dee Dee

Matthew Bellisario said...

Thanks! How have you been? I have not seen you around in awhile.

croixmom said...

I have been well. Thank you!

Yeah, I mostly hide in the closet. :)