The Synod of Elvira in 4th Century Prohibited Images

Discussion in 'Church History' started by Stalwart, Jul 3, 2019.

  1. Liturgyworks

    Liturgyworks Well-Known Member Anglican

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    By the way @Stalwart, while as I said I would prefer Romanesque and Gothic iconography continue being installed in Anglican churches, and abhorr the sacrilege comitted against Eastern Orthodoxy by the St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church (They doubtless selected the name because St. Gregory is misidentified as a universalist; they were likely unaware that St. Gregory of Nyssa is one of the most high profile Patristic figures to condemn homosexuality with one of the canons he issued for his diocese; I informed them of this fact and received quite a bit of “Episcopalian tolerance and inclusiveness”), I would note there are some talented Anglican icon writers, one of whom painted an icon of Origen, which I appreciated, as I believe St. Justinian erred in anathematizing people like Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia who died in the peace of the church, and Origen would otherwise be venerated as a confessor. Indeed the only reason why I regard Justinian as a saint is he took the Hymn of St. Severus from the Oriental Orthodox liturgy of Antioch (which opens the Syriac Orthodox liturgy) and appended it to the second antiphon of the Byzantine synaxis.

    The respectful presence of Byzantine icons at Westminster Abbey in the altar, on the occasion of the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was a delight to see; it would be better to see Romanesque icons, but some icons are better than no icons.

    @Peteprint and @bwallac3235 might also be interested in the following:

    I believe that both from an Anglican and an Eastern perspective, iconography is soteriologically important, for this reason: We are created in the image of God, but before the Incarnation, had not seen Him; Christ became God incarnate, and through his atoning sacrifice on the cross, made it possible for the sin-tarnished image of God in each of us to be restored, and if we follow the soteriology of Orthodox Theosis, or Wesleyan Entire Sanctification, which are essentially the same thing, our salvation is evinced by our becoming like Christ, and we are called to make our relations with others, in the church, the family, and so on, a living icon of the Holy Trinity. The sole distinction between the Protestant and Orthodox positions herein I suspect would be an Orthodox might be inclined to say effected where I wrote evinced, the Protestant believing that good works are the fruit of salvation by grace through faith, with the Orthodox model being somewhat less specific. But the ideas of entire sanctification and theosis are effectively identical; Wesley, in addition to his inspiration from the Moravians and Martin Luther, was also inspired by the Eastern church, and was even secretly and uncanonically ordained a bishop by the Greek Orthodox bishop Erasmus of Arcadia in 1763, something he later refused to confirm nor deny, because he did not wish to lie and the praemenuire act exposed him to the risk of capital punishment if he acknowledged it. This is not to say Methodist and Orthodox theology are identical; there are some substantial differences, but I did enjoy growing up in the UMC before the liberals took over our diocese district. That said I think it was wrong and contrary to Wesley’s own wishes for the British Methodists to separate from the Church of England, although given how extremely liberal the schismatic British Methodists have become, its probably for the best that they are not in the Church of England, which has too many liberals as it is.

    I did once in exasperation tell Reverend Jeremy Smith, the author of the horrible blog Hacking Christianity, the name of which is all you need to know, that since he had such contempt for UMC positions on sexual morality, the doctrine of the Trinity and so on, he should join the Unitarian Universalists. They are expanding, and he would probably make better money, and he would be free of the oversight of pesky bishops, or district superintendents as the UMC calls them (a UMC bishop presides over a conference, and is akin to a Metropolitan or Archbishop).

    But Wesley for his part was a loyal Anglican who loved the Book of Common Prayer, and it is a pity the Methodist Episcopal Church in the US set aside the abbreviated version of it he prepared for their use. For that matter, it is also a pity the Methodists and American Anglicans such as Bishop Seabury were not aware of or collaborating in each other’s interests, although God moves in mysterious ways, and perhaps he intends the recent rejection of homosexuality by the UMC to start in motion a process by which the mainline churches will be saved from liberal Christianity, particularly the Episcopal Church.

    At any rate, I expect most Christians would agree with St. Athanasius in De Incarnatione when he said that God became man so that man could become god, not becoming a deity or a member of the Holy Trinity, but rather becoming, to use a neologism koined by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, “Godified”, which is to say, every human is created in the image of God, but this image is tarnished, and the effects of salvation are the restoration of this image, some might say just in the eschaton, but I would argue the effects become visible in this life as well.

    One final note, which should go without saying, except there are some trolls who would do this, and thus I feel obliged to clarify, and that is I do not in any way resent or object to @Peteprint joining an Anglican church from the Eastern Orthodox church. I might possibly do the same thing, only for different reasons, that being I am an ecumenist who regards the traditional Anglican churches, along with the Oriental Orthodox, the Assyrians and the Eastern Orthodox, and other liturgical churches, as something extremely important; Anglicanism managed to revive in the West the congregational celebration of the Divine Office through Mattins and Evensong, and this has become critically endangered, and I cannot bear to see the sacrileges committed in beautiful cathedrals such as St. John the Divine in New York City, so if I discern that I could help the Anglicans, I might join them if that is the way to do it, because frankly I cannot find any relevant difference between Anglicanism during the generations of Fr. Percy Dearmer and Dom Gregory Dix, and the faith of the Eastern churches (EO, OO and Assyrian). The only Protestant churches I would have trouble joining are some of the Calvinist churches, the Baptists, Anabaptists, SDAs and other “Radical Reformation” churches, and entirely heretical churches such as the Unitarian Universalists, or the Unitarians of Romania and Hungary.
     
  2. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I, for one, would not say that "God became man so that man could become god." (It sounds much too Mormon to me.) Rather, I would say this: God became man so that man could be restored to the intimate relationship with God and abundant life with God, which God desired and intended for man.
     
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  3. Peteprint

    Peteprint Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Thank you for the comments, Liturgyworks. You are making the standard, classic argument made be St. John of Damascus regarding icons. I was Orthodox for a number of years, but I no longer accept that position. I look more to the early Fathers (Apostolic and Ante-Nicene) rather than to later Fathers such as St. John of Damascus.
     
  4. Liturgyworks

    Liturgyworks Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I was quoting St. Athanasius actually, and not St. John of Damascus; I consider him to be somewhat important for his role in defeating the Arian heresy and for compilimg the final canon of 27 NT books and propagating it in his 39th Paschal Encyclical.

    Now of course there are alternative soteriological models particularly popular in the Western church, and acceptable within Anglicanism, for example, the Calvinist system of election, but I myself incline towards the Wesleyan-Athanasian model of theosis or entire sanctification. I would expect the Reformed Episcopal Church prefers a Calvinist model, and this is fine.

    Regarding icons, my main desire is that the Anglican Communion can agree on non-iconoclasm, that is to say, the complete destruction of iconography in several English churches by the Puritans was unwarranted, not required by article XXII, and a gigantic destruction of cultural heritage. This principle of non-iconoclasm should also extend to avoiding the installation of what one might call “Iconoclastic images”, for example, the crucifix which depicts our Lord as female which was installed in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, basically, images that would shock and offend the conscience of most Christians.
     
  5. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Okay, this whole issue is becoming a little complicated and I don't want to write an essay, so let's try to get through this without getting bogged down in complexities.

    First off, you're using two words which historically had a highly polemicized/politicized meaning: iconography and iconoclasm. I will disagree with how you're using both words.

    Here is the proposition I am making:
    We should not use images in worship.

    Here is the proposition you attribute to me:
    We cannot allow any images to exist, and must destroy them where they are found.

    Since there is no other word on this in the Eastern Orthodox vocabulary than the ancient and highly politicized word iconoclasm, and since the historic iconoclasm was closer to the 2nd proposition, you attribute it to me, but incorrectly. I am not a proponent of iconoclasm. Nor was the council of Elvira, nor were the Church Fathers. We are merely proponents of not using images in worship.

    There are many Anglican depictions of our Saviour, in Bibles and Prayer Books, such as this Anglican painting from the 16th century, incredibly holy, and glorious, and pious, without having to be used in worship:

    T05729_10.jpg

    The other word I want to challenge here is iconography.

    Here is the proposition I want to use:
    Images can exist (and should) exist.

    But here is the proposition you insist I use:
    If images can exist, they may be used in worship.

    When I say 'iconography' I mean the 1st. But because of the highly politicized issues around iconoclasm in your context, you can only understand the 2nd. Let me be fully clear: I know for a fact there were images in the ancient Israel, even images depicting holy things. This wonderful, and special, I fully appreciate the ark, the cherubim, the four images, and everything else you may bring up. And yet, we also know that the Israelites not once offered their worship to them (or if they did, they were utterly punished).

    So I do not like to employ your words 'iconography' and 'iconoclasm' because they're too politicized, and invoke too many emotions from a period in history which does not apply to us. Those words unnecessarily burden the issue. The ancient Israel most certainly did have images. But they were not allowed, and did not offer, their worship to them. There is also no such record of our Lord or an apostle or someone offering worship to images in the New Testament, and there is a clear record against it among the Church Fathers. Seems like a pretty unanimous 2000-year prophetic and apostolic history to me. That does not mean they (or I) are iconoclastic and interested in the prohibition of images, or the destruction thereof.

    So in sum, are Anglicans iconoclastic? Most certainly not. That's what the puritans did (destroying our paintings such as the above). However do we bow and pray to physical things? Most definitely not: it goes against the scriptures, church history, or the teaching of our best divines.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2019
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  6. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Not to mention a clear Commandment against it.
    Exo 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
    Exo 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them...
     
  7. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I agree that we are positionally sanctified (God sees us as cleansed and set-apart by His grace and the blood of Christ), athough in a practical sense we know that we are still imperfect sinners being (hopefully) progressively, practically sanctified as we learn and strive to conform our lives to God's will. I have noticed that the emphasis (perhaps even over-emphasis?) in Anglicanism seems to be on the latter; are you saying that the emphasis in Orthodoxy is on the former, or merely that it is your personal outlook?
     
  8. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I know it's been a while, but I'd like to add a couple of thoughts about images.

    Exo 20:1 And God spake all these words, saying,
    Exo 20:2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
    Exo 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
    Exo 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
    Exo 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
    Exo 20:6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.


    This is generally understood to be one commandment. But some people over the centuries have treated it as if it were two separate commandments, I think. They seem to have looked at the language of verse 4 and thought, "It is sinful to make any image or likeness of anything." Thus they went around destroying all sorts of art works in the name of religion. Is that what God intended?

    I have a reproduction of a Bierstadt painting in my living room:
    [​IMG]
    This is called, "Emigrants Crossing the Plains." We can see people on horseback and in a wagon, along with cattle, trees, mountains, and so on. These are all "likenesses" of things on earth. Could it be sinful to create such an image on canvas or to display a lithographic reproduction of it? Could this be a prime example of what God was prohibiting? I think not.

    The context of verse 4 must be understood in light of the surrounding verses (the original writing did not contain verse number separations, after all), which show us that God was leading up to the real sin: treating such an image as a god. Bowing to it and serving it, or worshipping it, would take glory away from Almighty God. Such acts would be idolatry. Verse 5 gets to the heart of the matter. And this is directly related to 'having no other gods' (v. 3). So we can see a flow of meaning throughout verses 3-5. The making of an image or likeness, in and of itself, was not the point. The point lay in the purpose and usage of that image or likeness. An object lesson regarding this particular sin is provided to us in the following narrative wherein Moses descended the mountain and found that the Israelites had formed a gold statue of a calf and had anthropomorphized it (bowed before it and prayed to it as a god).

    To conclude that my Bierstadt is sinful would be to pronounce as sinful the making of, for example, an image or likeness of the human body, with its contents of internal organs, for medical or educational purposes. We would have to believe it sinful to fashion the likeness of an owl for the garden to scare off crop-raiding pests. We would be forbidden from taking pictures of our loved ones, family, or friends.... perhaps even of birds, animals, trees, or any of God's splendid creation... all because of taking Exodus 20:4 completely literally and devoid of the provided context. This would make no sense in the context of what God said.

    However, what if we make images or likenesses of Jesus, Mary, the apostles, or other Bible figures? What if we put them inside the nave or sanctuary of a church building where we worship? This is where it gets a bit sticky.

    Take my avatar, for instance. That is a photo I took of the stained-glass window behind the altar at an Episcopal church. It depicts our Lord and Savior, Jesus... or at least, how we imagine Him to look. Question: are we bowing to or praying to the image itself? Are we anthropomorphizing the glass window? I don't think so. When we kneel and pray in church, we are doing so in reverence to Almighty God, but we know that the window is not our God; it's artwork which reminds us that our Savior lives and reigns, and that one day soon He will quite suddenly return. The window lies before us, but it is not an object toward which (or to whom) we kneel and pray.

    But there is such a thing as 'the appearance of impropriety,' and sometimes the images in church may approach (or perhaps might even cross) "the line" and become unwise to have. For example, let us say there is a statue of Jesus' stepfather, Joseph, on one side of the nave. Let us say that there is also a bank of prayer candles and a kneeler positioned before that statue and, furthermore, some parishioners occasionally are wont to kneel before the Joseph statue, light a candle, and pray to Joseph. Although those people most likely would tell you that they know the statue is not actually Joseph, their behavior creates an appearance which could rather easily lead an observer to the wrong conclusion. Two scripture verses come to mind:
    Rom 14:13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way;
    and,
    1Co 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.

    Seeing people exhibit this behavior could cause an impressionable child to think that dead saints inhabit their statues, or could cause a person of another denomination to become offended and fall out of fellowship over the practice. Because of these and other potential occasions for misunderstanding, it behooves us to avoid utilizing images in such a manner. Is it outright sinful to have this type of image positioned thusly? Well, it would take a rather wide interpretation of the Commandment to call the image itself a violation of the same, but (as we well know) more sins exist than there are Commandments! I think that continuing use of any image or practice which has a fairly clear potential to spiritually mislead, or harm the faith of, an observer should probably be considered sinful in the broad sense of the word. And even if one were to adjudge it non-sinful, at the least it seems unwise and contrary to best use of discretion to allow (let alone encourage) kneeling directly before such an image in prayer or lighting prayer candles directly in positional relation to the image.

    One last scripture to ponder:
    1Co 10:23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2020

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