Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"The pretty stuff motivates me to worship": Christian images

The pretty stuff motivates me to worship. I am a very visual person; I must have beauty. That's why my house resembles a shrine.
Right; the church took that natural religion and ran with it. And when we wondered about the First Commandment vs. graven images (a valid question), the church explained at the seventh council: the Incarnation makes using images possible. I have a foot-and-a-half-long crucifix high on the wall over my kitchen alcove, ruling this whole home, because like the Mass it calls to mind, it calls down the power of Christ's sacrifice, his love and grace, on me and my home here and now. I wouldn't say we must use images; that would be taking a cultural preference and making it doctrine, which would be a kind of idolatry. The Orthodox are guilty of that. Not to be confused with requiring images in a rite as a matter of discipline. The Roman Rite has a cross at the altar; the Byzantine icons; the Assyrian/Nestorian can have no images! (It's an interesting sight: what looks like an Orthodox service in an imageless church.) No, all we have to believe is that we have the option of using them, thanks to God becoming man; Catholics who do so are not worshipping idols. (And let's give pagans credit: their images are a kind of icon too; few are so stupid as to literally worship things they've made, as Lawrence James once wrote.) "All can; some should; none must."

I think, thus explained, our close cousins the traditional Lutherans (they kept crucifixes and other images but don't venerate them) and classic Anglicans (who used to be iconoclasts like other Reformed Protestants) can better understand our seventh council (which some Anglicans frankly believe in). It's not superstition like the Protestants thought. Hey, thanks to ecumenism even the anti-Catholic Reformed Episcopal Church doesn't have a problem with my crucifix anymore. But the Protestants believe Christ's saving work is all in the past, so no Mass and most say no to my crucifix; ultimately they lead to not having a church: secular humanism. See, it's all connected.

Interesting: the seven councils and Vincentian canon (what has been believed always, everywhere, and by all). To give the Orthodox credit, with those you do pretty much get Catholicism (doctrinally, Orthodoxy is Catholicism circa 800), which is why Anglo-Catholics, pushing a claim against us, ended up looking just like us.

My roll call of saints' images is modest; not much if anything to alarm a traditional Lutheran or classic Anglican. Nothing for its own sake and not at all superstitious. Besides Mary (big statue, small statue, both holding Jesus, big picture of her with two saints, handing them rosaries, and small metal Greek icon), St. Clement (patron of the Anglo-Papalist parish that helped form me; the decent-sized picture is the same as in their narthex), St. Panteleimon (tiny Russian cloth icon in brass frame), St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena, and Mother Cabrini.

Mass-and-office Catholicism in Anglican English here.


  1. "The Orthodox are guilty of that [a kind of idolatry]." As usual, you paint your image of the Orthodox with too broad a brush. We would say you can't denounce images, but it's entirely possible to pray and even have services (even sacraments!) without them. But why would one forgo them?

    Interesting admission that Orthodoxy is Catholicism circa 800. Check. But the seven councils "pretty much" gives you Catholicism today? Nah.

    1. Some of their apologists online have claimed to me that icons are required by divine law, not just church law, for Christian worship. That's idolatry, of a culture. Schismatic Orthodoxy in a nutshell, even though this isn't part of their doctrine.

      Thought you had me, huh? I wrote that doctrinally Orthodoxy is Catholicism circa 800, because their defined doctrine is only our defined doctrine up to that time.

      Praying for your return to the church.

  2. "the Assyrian/Nestorian can have no images! (It's an interesting sight: what looks like an Orthodox service in an imageless church.)"

    Except for a plain cross, which one can find in most, if not all, of their churches. But this "avoidance of imagery" originated among them only in the 14th Century as a response to increasing Muslim persecution after the Mongol rulers of Persia (who had flirted with embracing Christianity) embraced Islam in 1295 - a persecution which reached its height in the late 14th/early 15th centuries, and which nearly wiped them out, and which was rationalized, in part, by the charge that Christians were "idolaters."


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