Thursday, November 15, 2007

More on icons

I was recently asked by email: I was wondering what you believe concerning "art" that attempts to represent "Christ" and God. Is such art idolatrous?

It depends. Either way, I think the question of icons and art must be parsed carefully.
1) On the one hand we ask whether it's permissible to have icons, even icons in the church but placed outside the sanctuary/room of worship, that do NOT represent Christ or God. Say they represent saints who have gone before. John Chrysostom, Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, Athanasius, etc. Just by themselves, what would be the problem? I can't see one.

2) What if they're IN the room of worship? Again, I personally don't see a problem. Of course, at some point Roman 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 ('the weaker brother') come into play, but I'm assuming there are none such present.

3) The problem comes when religious practices of devotion and piety are conducted towards said icons. I don't care what our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends say about not praying TO the icons. When someone lights a candle in front of an icon, kneels before the icon, prostrates himself before the icon, prays to(wards) the icon, how is it not worshipful devotion?

4) The problem is greatly worsened when the wrongheaded and foolish idea of praying to someone other than God is introduced, virtually always in conjunction with the presence of an icon or statue. This is adding a mediator (in RC theology) between man and Jesus and therefore between God and man in violation of 1 Timothy 2:5. And this is where idolatry really comes into play, for religious practices of devotion and piety are given to persons who are not God. God alone deserves such practices; no person does.

5) And remember, these people are DEAD. There are multiple biblical injunctions against calling up the dead, such as Isaiah 8:19-20, Deut 18:10-12, etc. I don't see a problem thinking that the dead can and maybe do pray for us, but it does not follow that we can or should contact them and ask for that. We're not supposed to talk to the dead. Talk to God.

6) Now, the question of having an icon of Christ...you know, I don't see why not (at least right now, but I'm open to convincing the other way), to be honest. He was incarnate in flesh, after all, so He was tangible, visible, etc. What might be wrong with depicting Him in His incarnation?

7) Whether we should have an icon of the Father, I'd have to say no way. Unfortunately, some EOdox and RC icons do represent the Father, which is a huge mistake.

Now, as regards the history of iconoclasts/iconodules, I don't know a ton. I do know that asking an EO about the iconoclastic Council of Hieria of 754 is always a good starting point - why is it not an Ecumenical Council while the iconodule 2nd Council of Constantinople is? The only answer I have seen is "The Church says the former isn't and the latter is", which is highly instructive in and of itself.
An interesting interaction on the topic recently took place here. See this post (where the question is asked), the one right above where it's answered, and this post, where it's gone over again.

Finally, I'll forestall a couple of possible objections.
3) It's not latria, it's dulia.

Here are some instructive articles on the topic.

The long and short of my response:
-In the OT LXX, the phrase "worship and serve" occurs many times, and is translated from "douleo" and "latreuo" (or sthg like that). They are very often in conjunction with each other.
-Sometimes they are even juxtaposed within the same thought, demonstrating that they are similar ideas.
-Thus it is unbiblical to create an artificial distinction between them, even less to ignore biblical revelation for the sake of human traditions (Mark 7:1-13).
-Scenario: an Israelite has been calling up a dead believing ancestor and has been caught and brought before Moses for judgment.
His defense: I was dulia-ing my ancestor, not latria-ing him.
Is it your position that he would be exonerated? Should he be?

4) Are you saying you never ask anyone to pray for you? Wouldn't that be mediation?

-I fail to see how they're the same. In RC doctrine, these mediators dispense grace and merit. My friends don't; they just pray for me.
-They're also seen in many circles as preferable to ask for spiritual help rather than Jesus. Amazing.

5) "God is the god of the living, not the dead". There is but a thin veil between the living and the dead. You ask your living brethren in Christ to intercede for you; why not your dead ones?

-When I ask someone to pray for me who's alive, I ask him.
-When you ask a dead person to pray for you, you light candles, kneel and prostrate yourself before an icon, kiss the icon, burn incense, and pray at the icon. These are worshipful actions.
-Hopefully, you never pray silently and expect them to hear you, lest you think they are endowed upon death with the powers of telepathy.
-I challenge you: next time you want your church family to pray for you, make an icon of them, put it in the church, then do all the things you normally do when you ask St. Athanasius, for example, to intercede for you. But don't TELL them face to face; since your challenge is that it's the same, let it be the same.
-Scenario: an Israelite has been calling up a dead believing ancestor and has been caught and brought before Moses for judgment.
His defense: God is the god of the living, not the dead.
Is it your position that he would be exonerated? Should he be?


7) But the Father was revealed in Christ.

-But I already said that I don't know of a problem (yet) with an icon of Christ, so have an icon of Christ.
-The Father dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6); there is no way to depict such.

14 comments:

Lucian said...

I'm a long-life Orthodox, but in these last two or three yrs I've dicovered Orthodoxy over the Net. A LOT of converts' sites. Now, ... I've learned two things from them:

1) we don't believe in original sin.
2) we don't depict the Trinity or the Father. --> this last one from a Calvinist site, of all places ...

It's a long story ...

1) It begins with me discovering the first Orthodox site I ever discovered. Then, after exhausting them all and boring myself to death, I re-visited them (yep, I was REALLY bored).
And there was this STUPID little essay there, on this first-discovered site: "The River Of Fire" (Wow! Now, THAT would make for a pretty "intersting" read! : Yeah, right!
... and the subtitle was EVEN MORE STUPID: "Is God Really Good?" -- uh, boy! "Proving" the obvious ... wow! I'm *SOOO* "excited").
Not only that, but there was this STUPID note added by the site-owner: "This essay is a MUST-READ for anyone that wants to form an Orthodox mind-set". (UHHH, BOOOY!)

Now, You see, I was *REALLY* bored, so ... I just read it. :-(

And it just changed my ... mind.

2) And then there was Justin ... I mean: what could be MORE boring and cliched than a 2,000 yrs old conversation between a Christian and a Jew, ... right? Same pold, same old ...

Let's just say that it BLEW my socks OFF! :-< I had no ideea WHAT hit me!

Well, anyway ... :-<

orthodox said...

R: The problem comes when religious practices of devotion and piety

O: What about when Jews do the same things to other objects, kissing the doorposts when they leave, kissing prayer shawls, kissing the scriptures? ok or not?

You realise of course that if you approve kissing everything except just this one thing, you will be the one inconsistent.

R: I don't know a ton. I do know that asking an EO about the iconoclastic Council of Hieria of 754 is always a good starting point - why is it not an Ecumenical Council while the iconodule 2nd Council of Constantinople is? The only answer I have seen is "The Church says the former isn't and the latter is", which is highly instructive in and of itself.

O: So when you read this you considered it "one reason"? I count 14 reasons plus the one you give.

R: -In the OT LXX, the phrase "worship and serve" occurs many times, and is translated from "douleo" and "latreuo" (or sthg like that). They are very often in conjunction with each other.
-Thus it is unbiblical to create an artificial distinction between them

O: This is a non-argument. The implication is that the Orthodox use is equivilent to the biblical use in the passages you cite, as opposed to other passages. e.g. Luke 16:13 where it is used in a non-religious sense. But even if no biblical passages could be cited with a different use, you are using the fallacy that words mean the same thing to different people at different times. Like saying that "let" at 2Th. 2:7 in the KJV must mean allow because that's what it means now.

Presumably if it was called instead of dulia, maybe supercalifragilistic, you wouldn't have a problem. But that's a fallacy. Let the users define their own terms.

R: When I ask someone to pray for me who's alive, I ask him.
-When you ask a dead person to pray for you, you light candles, kneel and prostrate yourself before an icon, kiss the icon, burn incense, and pray at the icon. These are worshipful actions.

O: They may be worshipful actions in your thinking, but we burn incense to the living church, light candles for the living church, and bow to our living spiritual elders as well. Oh, and we sometimes greet one another with a holy kiss (1Cor 13:12). i.e. ALL the things that you claim done with holy objects represent worship. So do you accuse us of worshipping each other while alive? Hey, why not? I'd prefer if you're going to make crazy accusations that you were consistent in it.

John Morales said...

Rhology, I consider your concept of God (Jesus) a mental icon.

Everything you wrote about material icons applies to the one you venerate.

Craciun Lucian said...

My family-name, Craciun, means Christmas in Romanian, so consider this as being "Santa's" little surprise for You :-)

youtube.com/watch?v=l5tHgkgruvM

Hope You'll enjoy it! (Ho-ho-ho!).

Rhology said...

Hi there Orthodox,

Shoulda titled the post "Orthodox baiting" haha. Just kidding.

What about when Jews do the same things to other objects, kissing the doorposts when they leave, kissing prayer shawls, kissing the scriptures? ok or not?

Kissing was only one of the things that I mentioned as objectionable. I'd say the other actions are much sketchier.

So when you read this you considered it "one reason"?

Looks like you said this:
Because the Spirit does not witness to His Church that it is so.

That is directly equivalent - it's the catchphrase for "The Church® told me so."
#1 - fathers of the church are part of The Church for you (whenever they teach what you like; when they don't, what they wrote is somehow NOT Sacred Tradition). Falls under what I said.
#2-7 - falls under what I said.
I thought you gave 14 reasons. So far it's one.
#8 - Patriarchs = representatives of "the Church". I might be willing to grant this as a 2nd point.
#9 - Sounds like The Church was being influenced by ungodly influences. I don't get it - which one is it?
#10 - But quite a few Church clergy also attended...
#11 - "opposing monasticism = heresy" is a tendentious "The Church® says so" statement.
#12 - same as 2-7.
#13 - I didn't realise the OT Judaistic Temple had been moved to Byzantium. Well, you learn sthg new every day.
#14 - same as 2-7 and 12.
OK, so that's maybe 2, maybe 3 points. OK, I guess I was off by a couple, but it's better than being off by 11, 12, or 13 like you are.

you are using the fallacy that words mean the same thing to different people at different times.

I don't see why I am, unless you deny that that defense by differentiating the two has been used by EOC.
But these terms in the OT have a meaning that overlaps the current EO practices in worship towards these images.

Presumably if it was called instead of dulia, maybe supercalifragilistic, you wouldn't have a problem.

the problem is not the name but the equivalency of the practice as condemned in the OT.
And there's a reason why the distinction is seemingly self-consciously made as an apologetic by EOdox - they see the problem.

Let the users define their own terms.

done and done, and they use the OT terms, forcing me into this argument.

but we burn incense to the living church, light candles for the living church, and bow to our living spiritual elders as well.

Hold on. That has some things in common but not even the majority.
When you ask someone in your church to pray for you, do you:
1) have them stand up on a pedestal
2) light a candle and set it at their feet
3) kiss them
4) burn incense to them
5) pray to them INAUDIBLY and expect them to hear you
6) pray to them in a context where one might ordinarily pray to God, asking for divine assistance
7) in the middle of Divine Liturgy?

Are there any scriptural commands not to "call up the living"? Why then are there such commands not to call up the dead?

And you can keep the hyperbole you falsely ascribe to me. have fun with it.

Peace,
Rhology

orthodox said...

R: Kissing was only one of the things that I mentioned as objectionable. I'd say the other actions are much sketchier.

O: So you're giving the Alan big tick to kissing icons? That's a big step forward for you.

R: OK, so that's maybe 2, maybe 3 points. OK, I guess I was off by a couple, but it's better than being off by 11, 12, or 13 like you are.

O: I see. Have you actually given us a better reason than "the church told you", to why you hold to a 66 book canon?

R: O: you are using the fallacy that words mean the same thing to different people at different times.

R: I don't see why I am, unless you deny that that defense by differentiating the two has been used by EOC.

O: How does our differentiating the two excuse you for lexical fallacies? We differentiate the two because we believe they should be differentiated, not because someone fronted up with your analysis of the OT.

R: the problem is not the name but the equivalency of the practice as condemned in the OT.

O: Right, IF there is a problem then MAYBE you would have an argument if you related it to the PRACTICE, not to the words. In other words, keep the lexical analysis out of it. It's a fallacy.

R: Hold on. That has some things in common but not even the majority.
When you ask someone in your church to pray for you, do you:
1) have them stand up on a pedestal

O: I'm not aware that we can force the saints in heaven to stand on a pedestal. Do you know something I don't? What pedestal are we talking about? Actually, it's quite common for the priest or bishop to pray from a small pedestal. Does that count?

R: 2) light a candle and set it at their feet
R: 5) pray to them INAUDIBLY and expect them to hear you

O: I fail to see how the communication method is indicative of worship or not worship. I'm communicating to you inaudibly right now, it doesn't mean I worship you. Now you can doubt if inaudible communication works if you want, but why think it is worshipful? Maybe a lie detector is worshipful because it gives inaudible indications of what you are thinking?

As for candles, they are considered just another form of communication. They represent my prayers to God. Kind of a candle powered SMS text message. Again, doubt its veracity if you want, but why think of it as worship? Lots of ancient cultures communicated by light messages. Light a fire on a mountain top and send morse code.

R: 3) kiss them

O: Didn't we get the big tick on that one already?

R: 4) burn incense to them

O: Well, incense is burnt to the living during the church service while we pray. That counts, right?

R: ) pray to them in a context where one might ordinarily pray to God, asking for divine assistance

O: So what exactly are the situations you would "ordinarily pray to God", but would NOT ask other Christians to pray for you? I haven't heard of these scenarios.

R: 7) in the middle of Divine Liturgy?

O: We do everything "in the middle of Divine Liturgy". We kiss the living, we burn incense to the living, priests stand on pedastals and so on.

R: Are there any scriptural commands not to "call up the living"? Why then are there such commands not to call up the dead?

O: I guess because in OT times they were not yet able to intercede for us.

Do you follow all the OT laws?

R: And you can keep the hyperbole you falsely ascribe to me. have fun with it.

O: I point out your inconsistency. You see one case as hyperbole, and I see both as hyperbole.

David Bryan said...

"When someone lights a candle in front of an icon, kneels before the icon, prostrates himself before the icon, prays to(wards) the icon, how is it not worshipful devotion?"

Because the distinction is made within the heart of the Christian. No Orthodox I've ever met thinks we're worshiping the wood and paint, period. We do these things, basically, because it's a physical, bodily way in which we can honor the one depicted. We do these things to the image because the one depicted is not there as s/he was in this life to receive the honor.

With Christ, this is worship. With all others, it's honor. Same idea as why it's OK to honor the king as king with a bow (1 Sam. 24:8), and even to honor him while simultaneously worshiping God with one single action (1 Chron 29:20). Intention is everything.

"...praying to someone other than God...is adding a mediator...between man and Jesus and therefore between God and man in violation of 1 Timothy 2:5."

Are you aware of any teaching in either the Roman or Eastern Church that states that a saint has, through the union of their human nature with the divine nature, ontologically bridged the gap between the two, formerly-estranged natures? Otherwise, you're comparing apples to oranges by calling them "another mediator." Intercessors via powerful and effective prayer? Yes. Mediators in sense of some other hypostatic union? No.

"And remember, these people are DEAD. There are multiple biblical injunctions against calling up the dead, such as Isaiah 8:19-20, Deut 18:10-12, etc."

They are alive in God (Luke 20:37-38), and we don't "call them up" expecting answers, which was the issue in the Old Testament. This is not the same thing.

"I don't see a problem thinking that the dead can and maybe do pray for us, but it does not follow that we can or should contact them and ask for that. We're not supposed to talk to the dead. Talk to God."

Death cannot rend the body of Christ asunder, since the Head is risen and all those who are united to Him, though departed this life, are seated with their Life in heavenly places. Why should death, then, be a reason why one part of the Body cannot pray for another? In what way can Christ be said to have trampled down death by His death if this is the case?

"Whether we should have an icon of the Father, I'd have to say no way. Unfortunately, some EOdox and RC icons do represent the Father, which is a huge mistake."

You are correct, sir.

"I do know that asking an EO about the iconoclastic Council of Hieria of 754 is always a good starting point - why is it not an Ecumenical Council while the iconodule 2nd Council of Constantinople is? The only answer I have seen is "The Church says the former isn't and the latter is", which is highly instructive in and of itself."

Nicea's decision, due to its controversial nature and extreme lack of support at the time, was not considered ecumenical a priori, either; not until decades later was it declared, retroactively and thereafter consistently, by trinitarian fathers of Orthodoxy to be ecumenical.

It's easy for us to accept it now, after all the wrinkles have been ironed out, but what is self-evident orthodoxy to all now had to "get gone over" afterwards and approved by the Church over time. The Church's hindsight truly has proved 20/20.

"Scenario: an Israelite has been calling up a dead believing ancestor and has been caught and brought before Moses for judgment.
His defense: I was dulia-ing my ancestor, not latria-ing him.
Is it your position that he would be exonerated? Should he be?"


He was not worshiping him; he was consulting him for information. Again: not the same thing. I've never asked the Theotokos for information about the future, other people's plans, prophetic insight, etc. I just ask her, as a member of the Body of Christ, to pray for me to God. Two different worlds.

"In RC doctrine, these mediators dispense grace and merit. My friends don't; they just pray for me.
-They're also seen in many circles as preferable to ask for spiritual help rather than Jesus. Amazing."


That is sad; one of the reasons I'm not RC, btw.

From Fr. Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent:

"Loving Christ, we love all those who are in Him; loving those who are in Him, we love Christ...and how wrong, how hopelessly wrong, are those Western Christians who either reduce prayer for the dead to a juridical doctrine of 'merits' and 'compensations' or simply reject it as useless."

"When you ask a dead person to pray for you, you light candles, kneel and prostrate yourself before an icon, kiss the icon, burn incense, and pray at the icon. These are worshipful actions."

Possibly; did you ask the person if he was doing these things as to a god or to a man?

"Hopefully, you never pray silently and expect them to hear you, lest you think they are endowed upon death with the powers of telepathy."

I'm not saying that the Orthodox teaching is that they definitely do have this "power," but...how would it be "bad" if God granted them this, and...how is that "stealing God's thunder," since the "ability" comes from God?

"I challenge you: next time you want your church family to pray for you, make an icon of them..."

We're all icons already, so I only need to stand in front of them...

"put it in the church..."

...I usually ask folks to pray for me while in church...

"...then do all the things you normally do when you ask St. Athanasius, for example, to intercede for you. But don't TELL them face to face; since your challenge is that it's the same, let it be the same."

When I tell them face to face, I am doing the same thing I do when I ask St. Athanasius to pray for me. You do err because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God. Those departed this life are aware of what goes on down here, for they are not touched by the second death, having gone through the first (Christ's) in holy baptism. In Christ's tale of Lazarus, Abraham knew of Moses, who came after him, and the rich man knew his brothers remained lost on earth. In the Apocalypse, the martyrs under the altar are aware that their blood has not yet been avenged.

When I pray before the icon of St. Athanasius and ask him (the saint depicted in the icon who is present with me because Christ unites us together as members of one another) to pray for me, he hears me because Christ gives him the life with which to do this, in spite of his not being in the body right now.

As for your list of things to do with our brothers and sisters who are called to be saints, oh, that I would do these things, for then I would be obeying St. Paul's injunction in Phil. 2:3. I'd exalt them above myself (your #1); recognize the light of Christ shining in them (which is what your #2 is about); greet w/a kiss even those who, in their passions, hate me (#3); rejoice in the incense that Father burns in their (and all of our) directions (#4); rejoice that the Holy Spirit would reveal to their holy hearts that I had unspoken burdens that are harming my soul and that they would, in response, pray for me (#5--though your insistence that departed saints must thusly be compared to believers in this life is odd, imo); rejoice that God has seen fit, in his mercy, to assign me intercessors who, in addition to my own prayers to God, will lift theirs up to Him with me (#6) as we "commend ourselves, and each other, and all our lives, unto Christ our God"--a line from the Divine Liturgy (#7).

We see our life in Christ as heaven's reality joining with earth's; were this to be fully realized, your comparison of struggling members of the Church's militant section w/those of Her triumphant section would be apt, since the reality that, eschatalogically speaking, "is, yet is not yet" would be fully realized.

Lucian said...

Mediators in sense of some other hypostatic union? No.

The Jewish Cabala believes in the mediatic power of the Great Angel Metatron, who's believed to be "neither created nor uncreated"; we Christians believe in the mediatory power of Christ, Who's both created and uncreated.

Rhology said...

Are you sure that's not supposed to be spelled "Megatron"?
If so, he wouldn't be very amenable to answering anyone's prayers for help.

Lucian said...

No Orthodox I've ever met thinks we're worshiping the wood and paint, period.

did you ask the person if he was doing these things as to a god or to a man?


These "excuses" don't work. (Been there; tried that). He positively disbelieves us.

Lucian said...

David,

just in case You've missed my first comment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5tHgkgruvM

It's Psalm 50, sung by the monks from Putna. I'm pretty sure You're gonna enjoy it. :-)

David Bryan said...

Just to add to a long-dormant thread, submitted for your perusal, an article linked to by Fr. Stephen Freeman:

Icons Will Save the World

Have a blessed Nativity. Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Anonymous said...

My dear Orthodox siblings: Why do you even waste your precious breath on this blog? You think your words will sway the heart of the blog owner? Simply put in our EO terms, the grace and mercy of the Holy Spirit doesn't dwell in this man. Period. Better we divert from the snares of the Adversary, as St Anthony warns, than succumb to the absence of humility. In all, beloved brothers and sisters in the Holy Orthodox Tradition, STFU and leave this one to his own demise.

David Bryan said...

My brother (so I would assume) in Christ and fellow member of His Body, aka "Anonymous" --

Rhology and I have known each other, personally (as in face to face) for half our lives. I can only speak for myself when I say that I know I will not convince him of anything. I will not convince ANYONE of anything, for that matter; that's the Holy Spirit's job. In a recent conversation I had, it was noted that the actual people debating an issue very seldom were convinced of the other side's correctness (in fact, this almost NEVER happens). We, then, are usually debating for the sake of the "lurkers" who might be trying to work out for themselves where they believe God wants them to be.

I posted because I wanted to leave some response for those who might read this post and not have an Orthodox thought to read in response.