The Controversy over Iconoclasm: Medieval & Reformation Theology

A. Preliminary definitions: icons and iconoclasm. An icon is a two-dimensional image, not 3-D (a picture, not a statue) The Second Council of Nicaea refined this definition to allow for bas-relief (Low relief).(2) An iconoclast is one who destroys “icons,” literally or figuratively.

B. The basic issue is the veneration of the images of Christ (or Mary or the saints) And the question is this piety (holiness) or idolatry?

C. The historical course of the controversy is starting in the pre-8th century . The church would often honor the death day (birthday in heaven) of the martyr. These came to be known as the loci of power. There were incidence of healing, wonders and miracles. Thus people including Augustine’s mother would go to these shrines & relicas. Up through the 6th century it was as common for this type of venerating relics as it is to wear a cross on your neck today. In the 8th century conflict (see handout )

D. The issues underlying iconoclasm. Why some wanted to abolish images?

  • It seemed like idolatry. It was generally argued from the other side that all venerated the cross. The logic goes that if you venerate a cross, why not the one or ones who hung on the cross/crosses.
  • Christology and the charge of Nestorianism. Dividing the two natures of Christ. If one could ask that this icon showing Christ as a human person or as a divine person. No icon could show both. Thus, icons show only the human nature of Christ.
  • The Eucharist as the only true “image” If only God transforms the image in something truly divine which would be the Eucharist.
  • The argument from tradition. “Give the people time…destroy them by force.”

E. The issues underlying icon worship.“icon” affection &  “icon less form of worship” (iconophile & iconodule (venerator of icons.)

  • Can the divine power indwell matter? Inevitably everyone must say yes, b/c of their understanding of the Eucharist – Jesus own flesh. Also Acts 19, the apostles handkerchiefs
  • Christology and the charge of Docetism (something like Gnosticism) The icon worshippers dividing the immaterial and material.
  • Refuting the charge of idolatry. The incarnation provides the true image. Here the argument is that the incarnation gives us warrant for the images of Jesus. The icons are not idols, a slight of hand. The argument is that idols are nothing, since there is not a God or a person for an idol. Their empty. Then an icon represents a real person, The Real Savior. Icons also represent people who really lived thus substance of an icon is not an idol
  • Pastoral concern: “Bible’s of the illiterate” Your mind is going to wander during the sermon. The icons are fly paper for a wandering mind during the sermon.) Most of the people were illiterate.
  • The Second Council of Nicea, 787.

F. Lateria-High honor worship which is only given to God. Proskynesis/ Dulia- Adoration of the saints (and also of the cross, which was a nearly universal Catholic Church practice)