January 22, 2014
Once again Christians can’t seem to agree on how to worship God. It started with the 2nd Commandment not to create graven images. At the time people were making little gods to worship and God wanted a stop to that. Did God intend that commandment be applied to God?
The basic question behind icons is how to reach out to God’s holiness or how the Divine relates to the human world. There is a danger to mistake the messenger for the message. Can one get caught up with a charismatic preacher instead of God? Is there a danger to focusing so much on a crucifix that if it is lost or broken it is as if God was lost? Symbols have power, during the Olympics the very act of raising a country’s flag can inspire strength.
Jewish faith is against graven images. They consider God so holy they cannot even say or write the name of God even in English, using G-d. God’s name is so holy they don’t even destroy where it is written such as paper or books. Amusingly this started a debate whether one can delete emails that contain God’s name, since this was before the gigs of gmail this issue was a big deal. Rabbis have ruled that it actually isn’t God’s name written down, but an electronic representation so it’s okay to clean out your email. Once more pragmatism wins out as it usually does.
Iconoclasts who are against icons believe that the clergy is needed to represent us to God such as with a church liturgy or give a benediction. Iconophiles believe that the sacred can be feely encountered by all since creation is by God so is sacred, we don’t need priests to dictate worship of God. Is this just a power play? One winning argument for Iconoclasts was that Islam had that philosophy and they had military victories. In the past Iconophile empires such as Byzantium had no problem using Iconoclast soldiers such as Paulicians who where philosophically against matter, but excellent soliders.
Our souls have a need to worship God. Art is one way we do so. Humans are the only animal we know that actually creates art which requires a grasp for something more than what we can physically see or hear, we use our minds to imagine more than the now. Still we must remember to dazzled by the wondrous creation and worship the creator. A great gospel singer said that he had no problem with fans chanting his name at the beginning of a concert, but if at the end of the concert they weren’t instead shouting Jesus then he had failed.
2. Consider the iconoclast policies of Emperor Leo III and go over their reasons for going against the use of icons in Orthodox worship. Did iconoclast emperors’ policies help or hinder the empire?
Christian worship by the sixth century had developed a clear hierarchy of intercession, which regulated the access of believers to the divine. This hierarchy constituted the Trinity at its pinnacle (with Christ as its most accessible member because of his human experience), followed by the Virgin, referred to as the ‘God-bearer’ or Theotokos in Greek writing, the saints, and finally, the believer. Thus, in order to obtain divine favour, believers would pray to saints or the Theotokos in order that this intercessor might pass on their prayer to Christ. The notion of physical proximity to the holy increasing the power of intercession was also well-established by the sixth century. Believers would, therefore, make pilgrimages to places sanctified by the physical presence of Christ or prominent saints, such as the site of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Proximity could also be gained by access to relics, objects (rather than places) which were a part of the remains, or had come into contact with, Christ, the Virgin or a saint. Relics, a firmly embedded part of veneration by this period, increased the availability of access to the divine but were not infinitely reproducible (an original relic was required), and still usually required believers to undertake pilgrimage or have contact with somebody who had.
The use and abuse of images had greatly increased during this period, and had generated a growing opposition among many in the church, although the progress and extent of these views is now unclear. Images in the form of mosaics and paintings were widely used in churches, homes and other places such as over city gates, and had since the reign of Justinian I been increasingly taking on a spiritual significance of their own, and regarded at least in the popular mind as capable of possessing capacities in their own right, so that “the image acts or behaves as the subject itself is expected to act or behave. It makes known its wishes … It enacts evangelical teachings, … When attacked it bleeds, … [and] In some cases it defends itself against infidels with physical force …”. Key artifacts to blur this boundary emerged in c. 570 in the form of miraculously created acheiropoieta or “images not made by human hands”. These sacred images were a form of contact relic, which additionally were taken to prove divine approval of the use of icons. The two most famous were the Mandylion of Edessa (where it still remained) and the Image of Camuliana from Cappadocia, by then in Constantinople. The latter was already regarded as a palladium that had won battles and saved Constantinople from the Persian–Avar siege of 626, when the Patriarch paraded it around the walls of the city. Both were images of Christ, and at least in some versions of their stories supposedly made when Christ pressed a cloth to his face (compare with the later, western Veil of Veronica and Turin shroud). In other versions of the Mandylion’s story it joined a number of other images that were believed to have been painted from the life in the New Testament period by Saint Luke or other human painters, again demonstrating the support of Christ and the Virgin for icons, and the continuity of their use in Christianity since its start.
The events of the seventh century, which was a period of major crisis for the Byzantine Empire, formed a catalyst for the expansion of the use of images of the holy and caused a dramatic shift in responses to them. Whether the acheiropoieta were a symptom or cause, the late sixth to eighth centuries witnessed the increasing thinning of the boundary between images not made by human hands, and images made by human hands. Images of Christ, the Theotokos and saints increasingly came to be regarded, as relics, contact relics and acheiropoieta already were, as points of access to the divine. By praying to an image of a holy figure, the believer’s prayers were magnified by proximity to the holy. This change in practice seems to have been a major and organic development in Orthodox worship, which responded to the needs of believers to have access to divine support during the insecurities of the seventh century. It was not a change orchestrated or controlled by the Church. The events which have traditionally been labeled ‘Byzantine Iconoclasm’ may be seen as the efforts of the organised Church and the imperial authorities to respond to these changes and to try to reassert some institutional control over popular practice.
The rise of Islam in the seventh century had also caused some consideration of the use of holy images. Early Islamic belief stressed the impropriety of iconic representation. Earlier scholarship tried to link Byzantine Iconoclasm directly to Islam by arguing that Byzantine emperors saw the success of the early Caliphate and decided that Byzantine use of images (as opposed to Islamic aniconism) had angered God. This does not seem entirely plausible however. The use of images had probably been increasing in the years leading up to the outbreak of iconoclasm. One notable change came in 695, when Justinian II put a full-faced image of Christ on the obverse of his gold coins. The effect on iconoclast opinion is unknown, but the change certainly caused Caliph Abd al-Malik to break permanently with his previous adoption of Byzantine coin types to start a purely Islamic coinage with lettering only. This appears more like two opposed camps asserting their positions (pro and anti images) than one empire seeking to imitate the other. More striking is the fact that Islamic iconoclasm rejected any depictions of living people or animals, not only religious images. By contrast, Byzantine iconomachy concerned itself only with the question of the holy presence (or lack thereof) of images. Thus, although the rise of Islam may have created an environment in which images were at the forefront of intellectual question and debate, Islamic iconoclasm does not seem to have had a direct causal role in the development of the Byzantine image debate.
The goal of the iconoclasts was to restore the church to the strict opposition to images in worship that they believed characterized at the least some parts of the early church. Theologically, one aspect of the debate, as with most in Orthodox theology at the time, revolved around the two natures of Jesus. Iconoclasts believed that icons could not represent both the divine and the human natures of the Messiah at the same time, but separately. Because an icon which depicted Jesus as purely physical would be Nestorianism, and one which showed Him as both human and divine would not be able to do so without confusing the two natures into one mixed nature, which was Monophysitism, all icons were thus heretical. Reference was also made to the prohibitions on the worship of graven images in the Mosaic Law but the nature of Biblical law in Christianity has always been in dispute. However, no detailed writings setting out iconoclast arguments have survived; we have only brief quotations and references in the writings of the iconodules.
A thorough understanding of the Iconoclast period in Byzantium is complicated by the fact that most of the surviving sources were written by the ultimate victors in the controversy, the iconodules. It is thus difficult to obtain a complete, objective, balanced, and reliably accurate account of events and various aspects of the controversy. The period was marked by intensely polarized debate amongst at least the clergy, and both sides came to regard the position of the other as heresy, and accordingly made efforts to destroy the writings of the other side when they had the chance. Leo III is said to have ordered the destruction of iconodule texts at the start of the controversy, and the records of the final Second Council of Nicaea record that books with missing pages were reported and produced to the council. Many texts, including works of hagiography and historical writing as well as sermons and theological writings, were undoubtedly “improved”, fabricated or backdated by partisans, and the difficult and highly technical scholarly process of attempting to assess the real authors and dates of many surviving texts remains ongoing. Most iconoclastic texts are simply missing, including a proper record of the council of 754, and the details of iconoclastic arguments have mostly to be reconstructed with difficulty from their vehement rebuttals by iconodules.
The iconodule response to iconoclasm included:
- Assertion that the biblical commandment forbidding images of God had been superseded by the incarnation of Jesus, who, being the second person of the Trinity, is God incarnate in visible matter. Therefore, they were not depicting the invisible God, but God as He appeared in the flesh. They were able to adduce the issue of the incarnation in their favour, whereas the iconoclasts had used the issue of the incarnation against them. They also pointed to other Old testament evidence: God instructed Moses to make two golden statues of cherubim on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant according to Exodus 25:18–22, and God also told Moses to embroider the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle tent with cherubim Exodus 26:31.
- Further, in their view idols depicted persons without substance or reality while icons depicted real persons. Essentially the argument was “all religious images not of our faith are idols; all images of our faith are icons to be venerated.” This was considered comparable to the Old Testament practice of only offering burnt sacrifices to God, and not to any other gods.
- Regarding the written tradition opposing the making and veneration of images, they asserted that icons were part of unrecorded oral tradition (parádosis, sanctioned in Orthodoxy as authoritative in doctrine by reference to Basil the Great, etc.), and pointed to patristic writings approving of icons, such as those of Asterius of Amasia, who was quoted twice in the record of the Second Council of Nicaea. What would have been useful evidence from modern art history as to the use of images in Early Christian art was unavailable to iconodules at the time.
- Much was made of acheiropoieta, icons believed to be of divine origin, and miracles associated with icons. Both Christ and the Theotokos were believed in strong traditions to have sat on different occasions for their portraits to be painted.
- Iconodules further argued that decisions such as whether icons ought to be venerated were properly made by the church assembled in council, not imposed on the church by an emperor. Thus the argument also involved the issue of the proper relationship between church and state. Related to this was the observation that it was foolish to deny to God the same honor that was freely given to the human emperor.
Emperors had always intervened in ecclesiastical matters since the time of Constantine I so it would be difficult to ascertain whether or not their policies helped or hinder the empire. Nevertheless, the intervention of state politics into ecclesiastical matters is common thread throughout history in disputes of theology and doctrine.
Patriarch Photios took charge of the Byzantine Orthodox Church around 856 after a time of weak leadership. The last two predecessors before Photios, Methodios and Ignatios, were both ineffective and deposed of relatively quickly. He came to power at an opportune time for the Byzantine Empire that experienced a succession of capable emperors who restored much of the riches and glories of the empire after two hundred years of struggle. These emperors were to found dynasties which lasted for almost two centuries who came to be known as “Macedonians”, the most notable of which was Basil I. They expanded the empire’s borders to the west and successfully halted Islamic encroachments onto the empire. Photios became one of the most gifted and creative patriarchs of the Orthodox Church in which Orthodoxy owes its present cultural extent to his initiatives. (loc. 8955)
Photios was known for his great intellect and learning. He wrote a summary review of around four hundred works of Christian and pre-Christian writing that he had read in his first three decades of his life, which was quite a remarkable feat in the ancient world. (loc. 8938) His great learning aroused suspicions among monks who considered him a pagan and also frowned upon the fact that he wasn’t originally a monk. All these suspicions also led to a power struggle with the previous Patriarch Ignatios. Ignatios was to have a sympathetic ear from Pope Nicholas I. (Also the fact that Photios couldn’t speak Latin wasn’t too endearing to Rome.) Photios and Nicholas formed a tense relationship with one another that centered around the future Christian alignment of a vast region that bordered along southern central Europe in the Balkans and along the Adriatic coast.
It was widely believed that Photios was the author of the preface to a new law code issued by Emperor Basil I called Epanagge or ‘Proclamation’ that stated that it was the Orthodox patriarch’s duty to win over all unbelievers as well as to promote orthodoxy in belief. This was to propel his passion for going on missions to the east, especially to Armenia. But these missions to Armenia had another ulterior motive as well – to seek support against Pope Nicholas I. Photios scored a major victory for the Orthodox Church when Khan Boris of the Bulgars in 863 accepted Christian baptism by the Byzantine Church rather than the Catholic Church after having converted to Judaism. This was important to the Byzantines because it halted an alliance between the Bulgars and the Frankish western neighbor King Louis the German, that could’ve threatened Byzantine borders. However, Khan Boris continued diplomatic bargaining with Roman bishops over his Bulgarian Church which infuriated Photios. Tensions between Photios and Nicolas were to run so high because of this that in 867, they both personally excommunicated each other over a theological question that arose in the Bulgarian Church concerning the increasing Western use of the Filioque* clause of the Nicene creed. (loc. 8990) These issues were to have an impact on the furthering schism between the East and West.
Patriarch Photios’s time as Patriarch of the Orthodox Church shows how having a seat of power in the church does not solely entail doctrinal or spiritual concerns, but very much so political ones as well. Just like the Pope, the Patriarch wielded tremendous political power. The marriage between politics and the Church (whether Rome or the Byzantine Orthodox or even the evangelical churches today) will always remain for better or worse. It seems as if Photios’ missionary aims coincided well with Byzantine imperial aims of expanding the Empire towards the west. Both the emperor and Patriarch fed off of one another’s goals to maintain the Empire. It seems like the Byzantines used the Orthodox Church as an extension of their political might and power. It brings to question if this is what Christ had envisioned for his Kingdom to be like – is it something that is purely spiritual in nature or did Jesus intend on incorporating his message into political institutions of power? I’m inclined to believe that he wouldn’t have intended or wanted his kingdom to expand through such means as warfare and imperial expansion. But such is the cost of free will.
* The filioque clause, or more appropriately the filioque controversy, has to do with the Latin phrase, translated "and the son" (filioque), which was accepted as an addition to the Nicene Creed by the Western churches and subsequently opposed by the Eastern churches:
The Nicene Creed as confirmed by the First Council of Constantinople in 381:
"We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified." The Nicene Creed with the "filioque" as accepted by the Western churches after the Synod of Toledo in Spain in 589:
"We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified." The theological dispute between the Eastern and Western Church is somewhat subtle, dealing with the persons of the Godhead and the nature of the Trinity. However, it was a continuing source of friction between the east and the west and was eventually elevated to become one of the "official" causes of the Great Schism in 1054 A.D. (Source: www.theopedia.com/Filioque_clause)
“The Patriarch Photius of Constantinople added after the words ‘from the Father’ the word ‘alone’ in his exposition of the Cappadocian theology because, first, John 15:26 refers to the Spirit proceeding only from the Father, and second, the Double Procession tends to fuse the Father and the Son into one arche, giving rebirth to either semi-Sabellianism [i.e. modalism] or ditheism… because the Spirit is thus subordinated to the Son, he has been neglected in the West and the Western Church thereby regards itself too much as an institution of the world.” – Reymond, Dr. Robert L., A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: Second Ed., 1998, Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, Tenn., pp. 336 - 337