Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Defense of the Holy Icons (Part VII - Conclusion)

Previous installment: Part VI (Dangers of Idolatry)

In the course of this essay, we have examined the presence and veneration of the Holy Icons in the light of history, Scripture, and the content of the Christian Faith. It has been shown that,

  • to the contrary of what has often been previously supposed, rather than being a later addition to a weaker, less devout Christianity, the iconographic tradition is instead an inheritance assumed by the very earliest Christians from their ancient Jewish forebears.

  • in spite of how such passages are often treated, the writings of the early Christians against the idols of the pagans must be interpreted not in a vacuum but in the light of the presence of Christian iconography within the temples within which these individuals worshiped.

  • any attempt to eliminate the Holy Icons has necessarily resulted in a de-emphasis of the Incarnation and a resulting step into docetic or semi-docetic Christology.

  • veneration of the Holy Icons is not only the historical practice of the Christian Church but, in addition, the only natural response to the presence of the icons.

  • although the danger of idolatry exists in an iconographic tradition, iconoclasts are equally if not more capable of falling into idolatry, and the Church in its regulations of the Holy Icons has been careful to avoid the errors which could lead to idolatry.

Early Christians probably began painting Images of Christ, of His Mother, and of holy people in their homes and churches largely as a spontaneous expression of their piety and love for their Lord. Honoring God and commemorating the Saints and events of Christ's life through artistic depictions probably seemed quite natural to them; it was common practice, as we have seen, in the Judaism from which Christianity emerged and to which it still held very close ties. These early Christians probably put little if any thought into the deeper implications and meanings of Christian iconography. And not much changed in these respects until over 700 years into the Christian era with the outbreak of the first-ever movement of iconoclasm within Christianity.

As a result of this movement to destroy and ban the Holy Icons, Christians were forced to take a deeper look at what they had been doing all along and to explore its implications and logical conclusions. What they found is that this practice of iconography which had been natural but largely lacking in deeper meaning thus far was in fact an essential aspect of the Christian Faith without which the primary truths of Christianity would be turned on their head. In short, what had been simply “traditional,” something that had always been done, had become a “Holy Tradition,” itself a central principle of Orthodox Christianity.


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