Iconoclastic periods in Byzantium history (730-787, 813-843) were
in many ways a manifestation of a centuries-long disagreement among
various Christian groups as to the place of art in worship, especially the
making of images of Christ and, to a lesser extent, of Mary and the other
saints. Not all Christians approved of the making of images, though
artistic objects become common by the 4th century.
controversy is sometimes understood as a result of and response to the
influence of Judaism, and later Islam, with their opposition to images,
though one should keep in mind that the extent of that opposition was
uniform among neither. Jewish and Islamic influences were most pronounced
, areas where the Monophysite and Monoenergist heterodoxies were most
controversy can, therefore, also be understood as the final stage in the
Early Christian theological battles over the nature of the Trinity and the
two natures of Christ. The key disagreements among iconoclasts (those who
oppose images) and iconodules (iconophiles, iconographes--those who
approve and love images) were expressed in the concerns and vocabulary of
earlier debates about the nature of God and about the cosubstantial
relationship of the Son to the Father. Thus, one can look back to earlier
ideas and debates as the sources for the iconoclastic ones.
most important questions that the controversy debates are:
Jesus the God-man still the image of God in human form?
the Incarnation reveal or conceal the Son?"
kind of participation is that of the body of Christ in the Word (the
Christ in either of his two natures be represented in an image?
should Christ be represented in an image?
what extent is the Incarnation an observable reality?
role does the human body of Jesus play in salvation and in the
revelation of the Father's glory?
the resurrection body of Jesus maintain a corporeal, paintable form?
are the limits and potentials of human art?
I. Reflections on the
Trinitarian Shape of Christ as Image
as the image of the Father must possess all the Father's traits. The
Son as image is not a lesser imitation of an original.
Father and the Son share an ontological union. There is no graduation
of being between the divine original and the divine image. They are
Son as the perfect image can reveal the Father without loss.
for Gregory is that which grants individual subsistence to the persons
of the Trinity.
is circumscribed (perographein--"to
sketch," "to delimitate the contours of") by what is
distinctive and specific about the person.
donates what circumscribes a person from a more general, unspecified
essence. (i.e. a particular person as opposed to all persons.)
God is a Trinity of Persons because their specific activities each reveal
the specific being of the Divine Person. These persons are
distinguished by their relation to each other. "What makes them
distinct, also makes them one."
The Son's property is to reveal the Father as his image.
The countenance of the Son does not act as a series of masks, but truly
reveals the Logos. This is because being a manifestation of the Father
is the mode of existence of being the Son.
II. Theological Sources for Iconoclastic Theology
body of Jesus is an adaptation to limited capacities. The perfect
desire to behold God with spiritual eyes only.
physical images of Christ are a distraction from the higher end.
always has shortcomings in relation to the original, but this need not
lead to a rejection of all art and imagery, only a distrust of
portraits of the divine.
doesn't reject all Christian art per se, but he does reject images of
the image of the Father is subordinate in position. The Logos is an
instrument of the Father, therefore, a buffer between the finite and
does not impact the Logos; the goal is to finally move beyond the
bodily. The resurrected body of Christ is swallowed up in his
has only an intermediate dignity, and idolatry is found in attachment
to the sensory.
III. Theological Sources for Iconographic Theology
means a true identity of the Logos with Christ the human. Christ's
flesh is now part of his very identity as Logos.
Incarnation preserves the Logos' likeness. Christ's flesh participates
in the Son's hypostasis. It does not veil
his identity; it reveals
sonship is one, not two; his flesh is essential to the "remedy of
sonship is now an active element in his humanity.
lowliness of the Son in his flesh reveals the glory of the Father.
nature, as the imago dei,
makes the larger Incarnation of the Son possible because human bodily
existence has an orientation toward divine likeness and, therefore,
toward the Son.
humanity cannot be a passive instrument. To do so is to downgrade
bodily existence. The body is fashioned by God to cooperate in the
work of salvation.
union of the Logos, one nature never predominates over the other. As a
result, only a hypostatic union of the two natures can preserve the
infinite distance between the divine and the human without the former
absorbing the later.
freedom of the Trinity is marked by mutual self-giving, so the
Incarnation is marked by freedom.
his two natures; he is not other than them. The human existence of
Christ is not absorbed by the divine, but is ever freely resonating
with it. Christ operates in both his natures.
a union of the two natures compromises their relationship.
free will points to our destiny with God, but the fall has interrupted
Christ, human free will now again conforms to the divine will and,
therefore, frees the human will to be again the imago
dei and thus free for God.
Incarnation is thus an icon of obedience and love, just as love is the
icon of God.
IV. The Iconoclastic Position
20:4, among other Old Testament passages, is a clear injunction
against images. However, decorative art and ornament are allowed.
second-rate. To venerate it in any fashion is to bestow honor on
something lifeless. The
icon is lifeless and, therefore, not worthy of Christ, his Mother, or
consubstantial image of Christ cannot be painted on wood. Only the
Eucharist is a true icon of Christ (Constantine V--see below).
material realm can only offer an inferior copy of the exalted original
(Synod of 754AD). Physical beauty is a distraction from the higher,
spiritual reality. This position is taken by the synod in part to
moderate a perceived monophysite-leaning theology in Constantine V.
cross, as a pure symbol, may be venerated.
hypostasis cannot be separated from his two natures."
divine nature cannot be circumscribed; therefore, it cannot be
depicted in art.
is, therefore, impossible to paint the hypostasis of Christ."
V. The Iconographic
veneration of images is not idolatry. Idolatry only applies to giving
worship to what is not worthy of worship.
Incarnation changes everything. Now that God has a visible likeness,
we can behold that likeness.
The charaktÍr of Christ is iconic. The Eternal Word has a human face.
will be studying John's first and third treatise on this subject closely,
but here are a few key matters:
have a number of different categories; the icon is of a differing
category than that of the consubstanial image of the Son. An icon is
lesser image participates in the greater.
a positive role in our complete salvation.
can be an instrument of grace, even a grace-filled object.
present in a real way in his images.
(worship) and veneration (honor) are not the same thing. Worship is
given only to God, while veneration may be given to saints and holy
Nicea II (787 AD)
"Christ our Lord,
who has bestowed upon us the light of the knowledge of himself, and
has redeemed us from the darkness of idolatrous madness, having espoused to
himself the Holy Catholic
Church without spot or
defect, promised that he would so preserve her: and gave his word to this
effect to his holy
disciples when he said: Lo!
I am with you always, even unto the end of the world, which promise
he made, not only to them, but to us also who should believe in his name through
their word. But some, not considering of this gift, and having become
fickle through the temptation
of the wily enemy, have fallen from the right faith; for,
withdrawing from the traditions of the Catholic Church, they have erred
from the truth
and as the proverb says: The husbandmen have gone
astray in their own husbandry and have gathered in their hands
nothingness, because certain priests,
priests in name only, not
in fact, had dared to speak against the God-approved ornament of the
sacred monuments, of whom God cries aloud through the prophet, Many
pastors have corrupted my vineyard, they have polluted my portion.
. . . .
To make our confession
short, we keep unchanged all the ecclesiastical traditions
handed down to us, whether in writing or verbally, one of which is the
making of pictorial representations, agreeable to the history of the
preaching of the Gospel, a tradition useful
in many respects, but especially in this, that so the incarnation of the Word of God is shown forth
as real and not merely fantastic, for these have mutual indications and
without doubt have also mutual
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 Savior Jesus Christ, of our
spotless Lady, the Mother
of God, of the honorable
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 honorable reverence (ἀσπασμὸν καὶ τιμητικὴν προσκύνησιν),
not indeed that true
worship of faith
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
and lights may be offered according to ancient pious custom. For the honor 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 has received the Gospel, is strengthened.
Thus we follow Paul,
who spoke in Christ,
and the whole divine Apostolic company and the holy Fathers, holding fast
the traditions which we have received. So we sing prophetically the triumphal
of the Church,
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of
; Shout, O daughter of
. Rejoice and be glad with all your heart. The Lord has taken away from
you the oppression of your adversaries; you are redeemed from the hand of
your enemies. The Lord is a King in the midst of you; you shall not see evil any more, and peace be
unto you forever
is not circumscription. In one sense, all created things are
circumscribed since all have finite existence.
is an artificial image. While it imitates nature, it is not the same
as its model. An image is in relation with its original.
is not a category of the fall but an aspect of our created reality.
flesh preserves its humanity even in its fully divinized state.
icon of someone does not depict his nature but his person."
icon portrays what is visibly particular about a person; therefore, it
mediates the knowledge of a person's properties. (A middle position
between John and Nicephorus.)
is truly a human being only if his humanity is a particular humanity.
Christ is one person with two natures; the human nature is not a
separate person, so the human body reveals the human-divine person of
Logos can be circumscribed in the human flesh of Jesus.
original is present in the icon relationally not essentially. An icon
is, therefore, not sacramental in the true sense of the word.
behold Christ will always be a bodily beholding, never a purely
"spiritual" one. It will always be iconic. The Incarnation
is not a stage to be got over, but an aspect of the Logos forever.
like the hearing of scripture, imprint on our souls the nature of
Christ. To reject the icons of Christ is to reject his humility.
material is gathered from:
Schőborn, Christoph. God's
Human Face: The Christ-Icon. Trans. Lothar Krauth. San Farancisco:
Ignatius P, 1994.
Davis, Leo Donald. The
First Seven Ecumenical Councils: Their History and Theology (325-787).
Collegeville: Liturgical P, 1990.