St. Augustine against using Images in worship

Discussion in 'Faith, Devotion & Formation' started by Stalwart, Jan 10, 2021.

  1. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I'm interested in patristic theology, and wanted to collect here the views found in St. Augustine against the use of images in worship, asking you for reflections. Please let me know of what you find from St. Augustine on this matter. So far, I have found his views to be so clearly stated, and so developed as to pre-empt the arguments of the later-emerging Romanist/Papal and Greek theology (including the dulia/latria distinction!).

    What's more, just like St. Epiphanius, Tertullian, Eusebius and others, he gives witness to the Christian attitude toward using images in worship in the Patristic Era. I covered this in other threads. The overall picture which emerges is pretty amazing stuff.

    First, his "On Faith and the Creed" (De fide et symbolo), delivered to bishops at a council in Hippo in October of 393. As described in an online blog, "Augustine discusses how one ought to conceive of the session of Christ at the Father’s right hand. He urges his hearers not to conceive of it overly physically, as though the Father actually has a “right hand,” but rather to note the figurative language (at the same name, he does note in the previous section that Christ’s (still physical) body is “in heaven”). In so doing, he remarks that it is nefas (a violation of divine law) to place an image of God in a Christian church (christiano in templo), and says that it is even worse (nefarium) to do so in the human heart, which is truly the temple of God (ubi vere est templum Dei)."


    Saint Augustine, "On Faith and the Creed" (393 AD), http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1304.htm

    14. We believe also that He Sits at the Right Hand of the Father. This, however, is not to lead us to suppose that God the Father is, as it were, circumscribed by a human form, so that, when we think of Him, a right side or a left should suggest itself to the mind. Nor, again, when it is thus said in express terms that the Father sits, are we to fancy that this is done with bended knees; lest we should fall into that profanity, in [dealing with] which an apostle execrates those who changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of corruptible man. For it is unlawful for a Christian to set up any such image for God in a temple; much more nefarious is it, [therefore], to set it up in the heart, in which truly is the temple of God, provided it be purged of earthly lust and error. This expression, at the right hand, therefore, we must understand to signify a position in supremest blessedness, where righteousness and peace and joy are; just as the kids are set on the left hand, that is to say, in misery, by reason of unrighteousness, labors, and torments. And in accordance with this, when it is said that God sits, the expression indicates not a posture of the members, but a judicial power, which that Majesty never fails to possess, as He is always awarding deserts as men deserve them (digna dignis tribuendo); although at the last judgment the unquestionable brightness of the only-begotten Son of God, the Judge of the living and the dead, is destined yet to be a thing much more manifest among men.

    ---

    But a much longer exposition of his views he makes in "Sermon upon Psalm 115" , https://archive.org/stream/expositionsonboo15auguuoft#page/282/mode/2up

    Starting with the inspired Words of the Psalm:

    "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
    They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
    They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
    They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk;
    and they do not make a sound in their throat.
    Those who make them become like them;
    so do all who trust in them.
    "


    Our church father writes as follows (all emphases mine):

    What, my most beloved brethren, is more clear, what more evident than this? What child if questioned would not reply, that this was certain, that the idols of the heathen have mouths, and speak not; have eyes, and see not; and the rest, as the inspired text hath described? [...]

    Why then doth the Holy Spirit take such care to insinuate and inculcate these things in many passages as if men were ignorant of them, as if they were not most open and notorious to all men ; except that the figure of the limbs, which they have seen endued with life in living beings, and which we are wont to feel in ourselves, although, as they maintain, constructed for a certain statue and set on a lofty pedestal, when it hath begun to be adored and honoured by the multitude, produceth in each man a most depraved and deceptive feeling, so that, since he findeth not a vital power of motion, he believeth a hidden deity ; and yet doth not think that the image, which is like a living body, is without a living inhabitant, being seduced by its figure, and influenced by the authority of seemingly wise institutions and reverential crowds. Hence such notions of men invite evil spirits to take possession of such idols of the heathen, by the varied deceptions of whom, when presiding over them, deadly errors are sown and multiplied. [...]

    In other passages the inspired writers guard against these things, lest any one should say, when the idols have been ridiculed, “I worship not this visible thing, but the divinity which doth invisibly dwell therein.” Thus in another Psalm the same Scripture thus condemneth these divinities. As for all the Gods of the heathen, they are but idols : but it is the Lord that made the heavens. The Apostle also saith ; Not that the idol is any thing, but that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. [...]


    St. Augustine even condemns the later Romanist and Greek distinction of latria and dulia. It's really amazing stuff:

    But they seem to themselves to have a purer religion, who say, I neither worship an idol, nor a devil ; but in the bodily image I behold an emblem of that which I am bound to worship. They therefore interpret these images, by stating one to represent the earth, whence they constantly call it the temple of Tellus; another the sea, as the image of Neptune; another air, as that of Juno; another fire, as that of Vulcan ; another the morning star, as that of Venus; another the sun, another the moon, to whose images they give the same name, as in that of Tellus ; the various stars too they represent by various figures, and so with other works of creation ; for we cannot enumerate them all. And when they begin to be ridiculed for worshipping bodies, and chiefly the earth, and air, and the sea, and fire, all of which we use in common : (for they are not so much ashamed of their adoration of heavenly bodies, since we cannot touch or reach them with our bodies, save by the light of our eyes : ) they presume to reply, that they worship not the bodies themselves, but the deities which preside over the government of them.

    One sentence of the Apostle, therefore, testifieth to their punishment and condemnation; Who, he saith, have changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, Who is blessed for ever. For in the former part of this sentence he condemned idols; in the latter, the account they give of their idols : for by designating images wrought by an artificer by the names of the works of God’s creation, they change the truth of God into a lie ; while, by considering these works themselves as deities, and worshipping them as such, they serve the creature more than the Creator, Who is blessed for ever. [...]

    But who worshippeth or prayeth with his eyes upon an idol, who is not so affected, as to imagine that he is listened to, as to hope that what he desireth is given him by his idol? Thus men who are bound by such superstitions, usually turn their back to the sun itself, pour forth their prayers to a statue which they call the sun ; and when they are struck by the dashing of the waves behind them, they strike with their groans the statue of Neptune, as if it could perceive, which they worship in place of the sea itself. For this is a sort of necessary effect of this figure endued with limbs, that the mind which liveth in the bodily senses, should be inclined to suppose that that body which it seeth so closely to resemble its own body, is more apt to feel than a circular sun and an expanse of waves, and any thing which it beholdeth not formed with the same features as those which it constantly seeth endowed with life. In opposition to this affection, whereby human and carnal weakness may easily be snared, the holy Scripture setteth forth sentiments universally recognised, whereby it may arouse the minds of men sleeping in the thraldom of their bodies. The idols, it saith, of the heathen are gold and silver. But it is God Who made gold and silver. Their idols, he saith, are the work of men’s hands: for they worship what they have constructed out of gold and silver. [...]

    But, it will be said, we also have very many instruments and vessels made of materials or metal of this description for the purpose of celebrating the Sacraments, which being consecrated by these ministrations are called holy, in honour of Him Who is thus worshipped for our salvation : and what indeed are these very instruments or vessels, but the work of men’s hands? But have they mouth, and yet speak not? have they eyes, and see not? do we pray unto them, because through them we pray unto God ? This is the chief cause of this insane profanity, that the figure resembling the living person, which induces men to worship it, hath more influence in the minds of these miserable persons, than the evident fact that it is not living, so that it ought to be despised by the living. For idols have more power in perverting an unhappy mind because they have a mouth, have eyes, have ears, noses, hands, feet, than in rectifying it, because they speak not, see not, hear not, smell not, touch not, walk not.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2021
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  2. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    Interesting.
    I got on New Advent and found this
    The idea that the Church of the first centuries was in any way prejudiced against pictures and statues is the most impossible fiction. After Constantine (306-37) there was of course an enormous development of every kind. Instead of burrowing catacombs Christians began to build splendid basilicas. They adorned them with costly mosaics, carving, and statues. But there was no new principle. The mosaicsrepresented more artistically and richly the motives that had been painted on the walls of the old caves, the larger statues continue the tradition begun by carved sarcophagi and little lead and glass ornaments. From that time to the Iconoclast Persecution holy images are in possession all over the Christian world. St. Ambrose (d. 397) describes in a letter how St. Paul appeared to him one night, and he recognized him by the likeness to his pictures (Ep. ii, in P.L., XVII, 821). St. Augustine (d. 430) refers several times to pictures of our Lord and the saints in churches (e.g. "De cons. Evang.", x in P.L., XXXIV, 1049; Reply to Faustus XXII.73); he says that some people even adore them ("De mor. eccl. cath.", xxxiv, P.L., XXXII, 1342). St. Jerome (d. 420) also writes of pictures of the Apostles as well-known ornaments of churches (In Ionam, iv). St. Paulinus of Nola (d. 431) paid for mosaics representing Biblical scenes and saints in the churches of his city, and then wrote a poem describing them (P.L., LXI, 884). Gregory of Tours (d. 594) says that a Frankish lady, who built a church of St. Stephen, showed the artists who painted its walls how they should represent the saints out of a book (Hist. Franc., II, 17, P.L., LXXI, 215). In the East St. Basil (d. 379), preaching about St. Barlaam, calls upon painters to do the saint more honour by making pictures of him than he himself can do by words ("Or. in S. Barlaam", in P.G., XXXI). St. Nilus in the fifth century blames a friend for wishing to decorate a church with profane ornaments, and exhorts him to replace these by scenes from Scripture (Epist. IV, 56). St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) was so great a defender of icons that his opponents accused him of idolatry (for all this see Schwarzlose, "Der Bilderstreit" i, 3-15). St. Gregory the Great(d. 604) was always a great defender of holy pictures (see below).
     
  3. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    Not a defense of icons but just shows how common they were
     
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  4. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Great resources. Just a note, that merely having them does not mean they were used in worship. That's a key distinction. We too have them, but they serve no function in our worship.

    And in the few ancient instances that we have evidence of people actually them in worship (that's very rare, from documentary evidence), evidence suggests the practice was seen as dangerous and spiritually unhealthy by the Fathers.

    "St. Augustine (d. 430) refers several times to pictures of our Lord and the saints in churches (e.g. "De cons. Evang.", x in P.L., XXXIV, 1049; Reply to Faustus XXII.73); he says that some people even adore them ("De mor. eccl. cath.", xxxiv, P.L., XXXII, 1342)."

    Right, he mentions it, but as we see in his treatises above, he strongly argues against it.
     
  5. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    I am still trying to learn. I konw that all the most ancient churches, besides ours, use them or at least have them in their churches or did. After a while being under Islam, the Assyrian Church of the East started to drop icons.
     
  6. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    My personal view is that they are an ok aid to devotion and to have in churches and in houses but the EO practice of veneration is a very dangerous line.
     
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  7. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Agreed, but to even state that to a Roman or a Greek, would brand you as a dangerous iconoclast at odds with the eternal ways of the Church. But I am seeing that the ancient fathers who predate both the RC and the EO, seem to be expounding a view that is remarkably close to what was recovered again at the Anglican Reformation, and just as you are describing. So it is good to collect the writings of the Fathers and understand what their real belief was, to understand whose view has the antiquity behind it after all.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2021
  8. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    THat is why I am an Anglican. I have respect for them, think they are a true church, but just in error on this. I see nothign wrong with paying respect to an imagine in the fact that it teaches something important to the faith but not venerate it.
     
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  9. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    We can revisit the thread about the Latin church in the West, where I was showing that even through 8th and 9th centuries the Latins were wary of using images in worship.

    I kinda dropped that thread, just being busy, but we can return and see what the evidence says. I am pretty robustly certain that if you were a Latin christian in the 10th century AD, the clergy would've looked down on anyone trying to use images in worship.

    That's why to this day even the Roman church does not use icons; statues came later, as a way to circumvent the cultural prohibition of icons.
     
  10. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    Sure. I woud love to learn more on it. I am always busy it seems so I drop things all the time like this due to lack of time