- Wrong: The Orthodox. "If you don't use our kind of images, you're outside the church."
- Wrong: Many of the first Protestants. "Christians must ban images. They're idols." Iconoclasm, originally an Eastern heresy, redux.
- Right: Certainly not Anglicans at their founding, the Protestant position, but yes, Anglicans now, and I dare say the church agrees: "All can; some should; none must." But those who don't use them must accept the principle behind those who do. Not only can we use images but venerate them (on which many Protestants are still wrong).
I'm not sure how accurate it is to say that for Catholics iconography/sacred imagery is "optional." I know what you're getting at. Catholics have no obligatory practices (such as metanias, kissing icons, etc.), nor do we have uniform "canonical" ways to depict sacred subjects. But still the word "optional" bothers me a bit.No need to worry. I agree that "images are idols" is forbidden in Catholicism. I've tried to get that across. "Sacred imagery is necessary for Christianity"? Maybe, but everywhere in Christianity? There are different schools of spirituality, different cultures... so an imageless Eastern Christianity, the Nestorian/Assyrian tradition as it became under Mohammedan persecution, coexists with image-laden Greek and Spanish pieties. The low-profile, Georgian Anglican-like Catholicism of English colonists in Tidewater Virginia and an Italian saint's neighborhood festa in New York with people pinning $5 bills on the statue. We're not "either/or" like the Orthodox; we're "both/and" as far as practice goes. But we don't have contradictory theologies, pro and con, about images.
Nicæa II said not only is it possible and not heterodox to have sacred images, but sacred imagery is necessary for Christianity because to secure a proper understanding of the Incarnation, his visible appearance/revelation in the flesh, among men.
I've always wondered about a comment of Joseph Ratzinger in his book Spirit of the Liturgy, to the effect that the Latin West never really came to a full reception of Nicæa II, or a proper realization of the implications of its teaching. I don't take that to mean that we should all Byzantinize ourselves ... perhaps he means something like the West never really developed an idea of the icon as liturgical object. It also explains the waves of iconoclasm that swept the West at the Reformation and post-Vatican II.I've long liked the notion that icons are halfway between Latin statues and a sacramental presence. Turns out to be a recent idea from a Russian, Leonid Ouspensky, but nice all the same. Sure, deepen our appreciation of images so some of our people stop trying to turn us into Protestants.