Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Defense of the Holy Icons (Part V - Necessity of Veneration)

Previous installment: Part IV (Necessity of Iconography)


Thus far we have established that the the presence and veneration of the Holy Icons in the Christian churches are early Christian traditions inherited from ancient Judaism and also that to attempt to do away with the Christian iconographic tradition poses significant issues with radical implications in Christology. We will now build on the base we have already set in place with these points and move onto the necessity of the veneration of the Holy Icons.


There are some Protestant pseudo-iconoclasts who, backing off from fullblown iconoclasm because its erroneous implications, concede to the production and presence of iconography but to for its veneration. Such a semi-iconoclasm, though, is also filled with pitfalls. As we noted above (section III) veneration is not only the standardized ritual common in the Orthodox Church today, but any feeling of awe or reverence, a feeling which the Holy Icons must naturally bring about in any pious Christian with a love for Christ, His Holy Mother, and the Saints and Angels.


This is not very difficult to illustrate. Imagine that you are away from your wife or husband, your mother or father, or your son or daughter for a long period of time. Naturally, you hang up a picture on your wall or carry a photo of this loved one in your pocket. Each time that you look at this picture, you experience love and joy. You contemplate this picture and think about the times you've had with this person, how much they mean to you, how anxious you are to return to their embrace. You might even pick that picture up and kiss it! Now, one might naturally wonder why it would be acceptable, natural, and normal for you to do all of this for a spouse, parent, or child, but not to do the same for our Lord and Savior who said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”51


To continue with the illustration, if one were to look upon a photograph of his wife whom he has been away from for some time and not feel any love or desire for her, it would be safe to wonder if he really loves his wife and wants to be with her. Similarly, if a Christian looks upon an Icon of his Savior Crucified for his salvation or of his Master depicted as the Good Shepherd and feels no awe, no reverence, even no desire to prostrate himself in worship of his Lord, would it not be safe to wonder if he really loves God and wants to be united to Him, even if he is a Christian at all?


In short, if the icons are present, and, as we have seen, they must be present if we are to have a correct Christology, it is the natural response of honest love for God that the icons must be venerated. To allow for the presence of iconography but disallow its veneration is to separate not only art from utility, a strange enough concept in the context of ancient thought whether Greco-Roman or Judeo-Christian, but, more importantly and more spiritually dangerously, to divorce mind from heart, theology from practice, piety from devotion.


St. Theodore of Studium (759-826), a monk and one of the primary Orthodox opponents of the Byzantine iconoclasts, offered a concise summary of this point: “If merely mental contemplation had been sufficient, it would have been enough for him to come to us in a merely mental way.”52


Next installment: Part VI (Dangers of Idolatry)


Notes

51 Matthew 10:37
52 St. Theodore of Studium, On the Holy Icons.

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