Sacred Images


Greetings! I started a new blog called The Ever Blessed this past Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Check out its latest post. I will no longer be blogging @ Shmuelson. Godspeed and Ave Maria!

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Venerate my sanctuary, says the Lord our God (Leviticus 19:30). Why should we? Well, first off, because He says so. It is His will. And it is our duty as His people, to follow His will. Yet, for those of us that need to understand why we need to obey Him before we obey Him (Lord, have mercy), in venerating God’s sanctuary, we worship Him. Honor given to a type passes to the prototype.

As tactile beings with senses, we need to have this sort of dynamic in worshipping the invisible God. In the Mosaic covenant, the people of God fulfilled this commandment by building and adorning the tabernacle and temple, by carrying before them in a worshipful procession the ark of the covenant (which was also richly adorned), and by praying towards Jerusalem—each of these forms of veneration being appropriate to worshipping God’s particular presence in the Holy of Holies. In the new and everlasting covenant, the people of God fulfill this commandment in ways that are appropriate to God’s particular presence in His Incarnate and  Eternal Word, Jesus Christ. We venerate His virgin mother whose womb became His tabernacle; whose flesh became His flesh—the means by which He dwelt among us and accomplished our salvation. We venerate His saints in Heaven, who attained salvation through the infused dwelling of the Holy Spirit within each of them (being therefore temples of that same Holy Spirit). And, we venerate His tabernacles in the Churches and Cathedrals where He now dwells among us “to the end of the age” in the Most Holy Eucharist. We venerate His sanctuary, and therefore offer Him worship that is pleasing to Him

We will go into his tabernacle: we will adore in the place where his feet stood. Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified. Let your priests be clothed with justice: and let your saints rejoice.

Psalm 132

Today, on the Liturgical calendar for the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, we celebrate the memory of Saint Bernardine of Sienna. Saint Bernardine was an Italian Franciscan missionary priest during the early 1400’s. He was best known for his ministry in spreading devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus throughout most of Italy. I have just recently stumbled upon this saint, and I am very excited about his patronage….being that I am an asthmatic graphic designer.

So, how does one become the Patron Saint of breathing problems and advertising? This takes many forms. In brief, Saints are chosen to be patrons when an interest, talent, or event in their lives overlaps with a special area. For a Catholic, a saint’s patronage is about three things, or rather three devotional qualifiers: example, empathy, and intercession. Let’s consider for instance today’s Saint and look at each of the three qualifiers to patronage.

As stated above, Saint Bernardine is the patron saint of breathing problems and advertising. How he became the patron of breathing problems was through a personal miracle. Unfortunately, Bernardine was born with a pulmonary defect in his lungs which prevented his voice from being heard by large groups. Since Bernardine was a preacher by nature, this was cause for some personal conflict. After a considerable amount of prayer for the Blessed Virgin’s intercession, Bernardine was healed of his defect and his voice grew more powerful with every sermon. For an asthmatic like myself, St. Bernardine’s patronage is important to me. I make his patronage practical in my spiritual life by looking to him for an example of trust in God’s healing power over breathing ailments that ultimately have no power in controlling me or what God has planned for me. I then trust in his intercessions because of his empathy. He’s walked in my shoes too, so to speak. He knows my pain. And he can only know my pain because ultimately Christ knows my pain. St. Bernardine’s life testimony ministers to me an example of how I too can ” overcome the world” (John 16:33). So, I am excited to imitate his example and seek his prayers. For more about why Catholics pray to saints read my post here. And to read a sermon quote by St. Augustine that further elaborates saintly patronage and veneration click here.

Saint Bernardine is the patron of advertising because of his main preaching ministry, which was to spread devotion to the Holy Name. St. Bernardine manufactured and distributed beautifully designed sacred images with the name of Jesus in the ancient monogram “I.H.S.”. What the monogram actually stands for has been lost in translation but most think it displays the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek (Latinized: Iota Eta Sigma). It is used as a symbol through which we can venerate Jesus’s name. Simply, what St. Bernardine did was create a “sacred advertising campaign”. Through it, he was able to successfully encourage greater devotion to Christ. As a Graphic Designer, I am reminded by Bernardine’s example that the ultimate goal and gain of my Advertising talents is to encourage devotion to the good news of Jesus – whose very name is good news enough (Matthew 1:21). So, I make an effort, in a variety ways, to include God in my design processes and to keep myself open to the possibility of facilitating the Church’s ministry through them. And, when my work stresses me out and makes me reach for my inhaler, I call on my brother for help…

Saint Bernardine of Siena of the Holy Name of Jesus, pray for us!

Heroes of the Catholic Faith

Heroes of the Catholic Faith

I always find it interesting when Protestants quote Church fathers or Catholic Saints. It seems that there is a bit of a disconnect there. I always find myself wanting to ask in those instances, “do you know what that person would say about you?” I don’t mean any disrespect to my Protestant brothers and sisters. I just want to make an observation here. And that observation is, when Protestant scholars, ministers, and laymen quote Church fathers or Catholic Saints, they either neglect or are ignorant of the belief structures at play in the person(s) they are quoting.  What I am trying to say here is the quote doesn’t make the “quote-tee”, the quote-tee makes the quote.  Consider for instance, three of the most quoted saints by Protestants: St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Francis of Assisi, and Blessed Mother Teresa:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

-Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessiones, I. 7, 3rd century

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

-Saint Francis of Assisi

“We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”

-Blessed Mother Teresa

Now, these are all beautiful quotes. Who wouldn’t want to quote them? I don’t know about you, but each one of these quotes speaks to my soul in a stirring way. It makes me take a step back and ask, what immense Faith is at play here? What has gone into such people that makes them speak these truths – truths that seem like they could’ve come out of the Master’s mouth itself? Speaking of the Master, let’s take a look at one of His quotes,

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good: and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth that which is evil. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

The Gospel According to St. Luke 6:45

So, what treasure went into the hearts of saints like Augustine, Francis, and Mother Teresa to make their mouths brim with good teaching? The Catholic Faith – and nothing but. All three of these Saints, beloved as they are by most of Protestantism, believed in the Catholic Church. For instance, here are some St. Augustine and Blessed Mother Teresa quotes on the Papacy:

“If all men throughout the world were such as you most vainly accuse them of having been, what has the chair of the Roman church done to you, in which Peter sat, and in which Anastasius sits today?”

-St. Augustine of Hippo (“Against the Letters of Petilani” c. 402 A.D.)

“Among these [apostles] Peter alone almost everywhere deserved to represent the whole Church. Because of that representation of the Church, which only he bore, he deserved to hear ‘I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven.'”

-St. Augustine of Hippo (“Sermon 295,” c. 411 A.D.)

“He [Pope John Paul II] has been the greatest gift of God, a sunray of God’s love shining in the darkness of the world.

-Blessed Mother Teresa

Here are all three on Marian devotion:

A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?”

-St. Augustine of Hippo (“Sermon 186,” c. 411 A.D.)

“Holy Virgin Mary, among all women on earth there is none like thee; thou art the Daughter and Handmaid of the Most High King and Father of Heaven; thou art the Mother of Our Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ; thou art the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Pray for us, with St. Michael the Archangel and all the Powers of Heaven and all the Saints, to Thy Most Holy and Beloved Son, our Lord and Master.”

-St. Francis of Assisi, The Antiphon: Holy Virgin Mary

“Immaculate Heart of Mary, cause of our joy, pray for us.”

-Blessed Mother Teresa, Nazareth Prayer for the Family

And, here they are again on the Eucharist:

“That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend His Body and Blood, which He poured out to us unto the forgiveness of sins.”

-St. Augustine, Sermons, 227

“…the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests who live according to the rite of the holy Roman Church because of their orders that, were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them…..And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing physically of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others. I want to have these most holy mysteries honored and venerated above all things and I want to reserve them in precious places.”

-St. Francis of Assisi

“If we have our Lord in the midst of us, with daily Mass and Holy Communion, I fear nothing for the Sisters nor myself; He will look after us. But without Him I cannot be – I am helpless”

-Blessed Mother Teresa

Don’t expect me to go through every Catholic doctrine and proof-quote here. I just wanted to show what St. Augustine, St. Francis, and Mother Teresa had to say about what mattered most to them, that is, the main things that distinguish Catholicism from other forms of Christianity. So, if you are one of those Protestants that quotes Saints like these, are you not able to connect the dots? Catholic Saints are CATHOLIC Saints. They stood and died for doctrines that most of Protestantism so easily throws away. So, the next time you quote a Catholic Saint, consider what you are doing. Don’t do it out of novelty, so as to diminish their memories. And don’t forget why these holy ones are so quotable… it’s because they are Catholic.



Below are some photos from my wedding (2/27/2010), courtesy of the wonderful Dana Grant. They’re not all inclusive as far as the Rites of the Sacrament go…. but you can get an idea of it and a further glimpse of how beautiful my wife is 😉

Holy Angels Catholic Church, Arcadia, CA
Holy Angels Catholic Church, Arcadia, CA
Introductory Rites to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

Introductory Rites to our Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

Our Blessed Lady

Our Blessed Lady

The Consecration

The Consecration

Praying How our Lord Taught Us To

Praying how our Lord taught us to

"Extend your hands in blessing..."

"Extend your hands in blessing..."

Peace be with you...

Peace be with you...

The Body of Christ... AMEN!

The Body of Christ... AMEN!

Husband and Wife

Husband and Wife

Fin!

Fin!

Relieved, silly, and handling legalities in the Sacristy...

Relieved, silly, and handling legalities in the Sacristy...

Dudes having fun

Dudes having fun

Chicks having fun

Chicks having fun

Dudes being cool

Dudes being cool

Chicks being pretty

Chicks being pretty

Brittany Ann and I, on the terrace at our reception venue

Brittany Ann and I, on the terrace at our reception venue

Random crew of dudes...

Random crew of dudes...

My Love...

My Love...

Christ Pantocrator, Mt. Sinai, 5th-6th Century A.D.

In modern day ecumenical efforts made by most unity-driven Christians, the following topic either goes half-defined or altogether overlooked. Yet, sadly, it is one of the most misunderstood and most off-putting parts of Catholicism to most Protestants. The topic of Icons and Sacred Images is something very near and dear to my heart. It was actually the last thing I had to reconcile before becoming Catholic­ – thinking before that it was wrong and completely idolatrous. Now, however, I see it as one of the most relevant elements to an authentic Christianity… one that finds its roots, as all parts of Catholicism do, in God Incarnate.

Introduction to Sacred Images

Utilizing images to facilitate Christian worship is part of an ancient formula. Among the broader Protestant realms of Christianity, this formula has been revoked. By employing the motif of the Incarnation, I intend to demonstrate the relevancy of Sacred Image usage for those parts of Christendom that now consider it archaic and useless. I will explore the influential studies of St. Athanasius and St. John of Damascus, as well as more contemporary academic works, to shed both historical and philosophical light on the ancient practice, its theological framework, and the misconceptions associated with its observance.

In most cases, discussions like these necessitate a clear and distinct audience to be directed towards. Yet, to do so would prove impossible. Given the nature of most Protestant traditions, which often describe the Church as an invisible and spiritual communion of believers from every denomination, one cannot seek out a tangible party to have this dialogue with and avoid excluding another. The only thing that consistently and visibly unifies Protestant traditions, in my humble opinion, is that they are not Roman Catholic. All one can do then is broaden those traditions opposite of one’s own into a single category of Christian faith, or in this case: those who have no faith in the Roman Catholic Church. So, the audience this thesis calls forward is a mixture of both my Catholic brethren, who need an internalized knowledge on these matters, and those of my Protestant brethren, who object to Sacred Images used in worship.

In Salvation history, the Incarnation of God was integral to the grounds through which we as the people of God attain Salvation. The Incarnation, as most well know and profess, was wrought for the sake of man to the glory of God and was realized by the Word of God becoming flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Consider the sheer complexity and effectually profound nature of this most Sacred of mysteries. Let us not only grow in intellectual discipleship, but let us also stand in awe of the power of God and His self-giving act of Incarnate Love.

God, by His nature, is eternal and infinite. He has no beginning. He has no end. He dictates the transcendent and the sensorial. He created us. He dictates the makeup of our reality. What is most real to us? How can we as finite and limited and inherently flawed beings realize what is real? As implied in the word “sensorial,” what is most real to us naturally as a component of our humanity is realized in our senses; in this case, our sense of sight.

In Catholic and Eastern Orthodox sanctuaries you cannot go far before seeing iconic triptychs, statues, crucifixes, and other visual depictions of Christ and the Saints. Since the earliest recorded periods of Christian history, Sacred Images have decorated places of worship and Christian households to make worship an experience of the senses and the mind, in perpetuated understanding of the Sacred Image: Jesus Christ. This often-challenged reality has been a consistently implemented one, which has proven itself an essential element to Catholic and all Orthodox Christian traditions throughout the centuries.

The Virgin of Guadalupe

Upon looking back to when I first became aware of Christian Orthodoxy visually, that is, as seen in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, I remember being viscerally offended. While finishing homework after school one day, I caught the tail end of a News special that showed a group of elderly women crowding around a particular depiction of the Virgin Mary known as The Virgin of Guadalupe. As the footage progressed, one after one each woman kissed the image and appeared to be praying to it. To my young Evangelical Christian slash Jewish perspective this was heretical. What these women were doing was idolatrous and completely unbiblical. Yet, as I was informed soon after, these women were practicing a Christian tradition that historically outlasted my own. This surprised me. I wondered how these women and other Catholics could be so blind to this obvious sin, and for so long. This simple after school moment became integral to the trajectory my life has taken. It, in more ways than one, led me to the Faith tradition that I am a part of now. It was this chance moment that proved causal to my desire for knowledge of Church History–which ultimately led me to the Catholic Church.

Iconoclasm

The Iconoclasm

The year was AD 726. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church was in full and corporate communion between the geographic regions of the East and the West. Six ecumenical Church councils had been previously conducted, each one with the purpose of defining fundamental and unifying doctrine and of combating and protecting against heresy (Catholic Encyclopedia). It was in this year that the Byzantine Emperor, Leo III, ordered images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints destroyed throughout the Byzantine Empire (John of Damascus, 7). This event, which formally lasted about a century long, became known as the Iconoclasm. Though history is unclear as to what finally spurred Leo into political action, we do know that he justified his edicts by declaring that the usage of images was: idolatrous, in contravention of the second commandment and a stumbling block to the conversion of Jews and Muslims (Louth, 7). Now, it should be said here that the historical context of the Byzantine Empire at this period was a bit complicated. Leo’s imperial reigns on the Church were starting to loosen and he was aware of the “drain of manpower” at hand (Anderson, 27). Scholars agree that at this time the political climate of the Iconoclasm, “involved more issues than an attack on the…practices connected with images” (Anderson, 27). These issues, incidentally, were the burden of the Christian Monks.

The most faithful proponents and defenders of Sacred Image usage at this time were the monastic religious, who began to really take visual and corporal shape in the Latin and Byzantine parts of the Church during the 8th century. The Eastern monks were often targeted by Byzantine Imperial rule because, by Church and Imperial law, they were immune to taxation and were therefore an economic burden and threat (Anderson, 27). Because of Leo’s attacks, the monks frequently opposed the imperial will. This was the case especially when the Iconoclast edicts claimed to be “an attempt to purify a religion which had become sullied by superstitions and magical practices” (Anderson, 27). So, we may be safe to say here that perhaps it was the monastic religious community of the Byzantine Empire that was sought out by Leo for reasons unrelated to the Iconoclasm and then put on trial in an attempt to redeem Leo’s power over the Church in his empire.

The Objections

Now let us consider the Protestant objections to Sacred Images; those of which do not differ much in substance from that of the Iconoclasm’s. These objections are relevantly coupled as: (a) Sacred Images are a direct violation of the Second of the Ten Commandments and (b) are therefore causally idolatrous. The Second Commandment reads, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6, NASB). As anyone can see here, there is more than just one commandment in these verses. In fact, throughout the Decalogue, there are more than just Ten Commandments. Yet, traditionally Judaism and Christianity have grouped what looks like more than ten ordinances into ten categorical commandments of moral law. For instance, in the second commandment we see 4 ordinances:

1) You shall not make for yourself an idol

2) or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth

3) You shall not worship them

4) or serve them

These ordinances are interrelated and interdependent within the categorical context of idol worship, which is why the Church Fathers saw it fit to group them as one of the Ten Commandments (St. John of Damascus). The first ordinance is the root of the rest. It sets up the context in a strict sense. The sense is so strict that it is what makes each of the ordinances in the Second Commandment compatible in the one category they have been traditionally grouped in. Usually, when this verse is held up against Sacred Images, it is divided up rather than maintained in its categorical context. As was the practice of Leo in the 8th century, and currently in many Protestant Christian circles, the Second Commandment is often limited to its first two ordinances when utilized in this discussion,

1) You shall not make for yourself an idol

2) or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

So, it would seem that the Most High banned any kind of image or likeness from being made, not just idols. Yet, as we see in scripture He did just the opposite. The God that gave this commandment also commanded graven images of Cherubim onto the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18 NASB), images of pomegranates and cattle to decorate the Temple (1 Kings 7 NASB), and a bronze serpent on a pole to be looked upon for healing in the desert (Numbers 21:5-9 NASB, John 3:14-15 NASB). So, at this point we must ask ourselves: is God a God of contradiction? No, He is not. God is a God of context.

Dividing up the Second Commandment causes obvious contextual problems for the first part of the Protestant objection. Again, for the Israelites, the context of each ordinance of the second commandment was and is idolatry (worshipping that which is not God as God). So, for this objection to be legitimate, we Catholics/Orthodox would have to be “worshipping and serving” the images we make as if they were God or gods. Yet, as St. John of Damascus explains, we do not.

St. John of Damascus

St. John of Damascus

St. John of Damascus, the Doctor of Sacred Art, as is formally the title given to him by the Catholic Church (Catholic Encyclopedia), was at the Church’s vanguard against the Iconoclasm and wrote three treatises on what he calls, “the divine images” (St. John of Damascus). In sum, he roots his arguments in the Incarnation of the Word of God made flesh: “Who first made images? God himself first begat his Only-begotten Son and Word, his living and natural image, the exact imprint of his eternity; he then made human kind in accordance with the same image and likeness” (St. John of Damascus, 103).

The orthodox practice of utilizing Sacred Images in worship does not, as result, causally implicate the sin of idolatry. There is a form of worship that comes about when engaging images religiously, and this form is seemingly directed towards the image. Yet, this is not idolatry or a form of meditative polytheism. It is a form of honor, directed at whom and what the image ultimately depicts.

The honor given to Sacred Images is a form of veneration. “Veneration (bowing down) is a symbol of submission and honor” (St. John of Damascus, 27). Scripturally and linguistically there are two forms of veneration. The first form, as St. John describes it, “is a form of worship, which we offer to God, alone by nature worthy of veneration” (St. John of Damascus, 27). This is the veneration that contextualizes the Second Commandment. This is not, however, the form of veneration that contextualizes Sacred Images.

The second form of veneration, which is the form offered to Sacred Images and to the Saints in Heaven, “is the veneration offered on account of God who is naturally venerated, to his friends and servants, as…Daniel venerated the angel; or to the places of God, as David said, ‘Let us venerate in the place, where his feet stood’” (St. John of Damascus, 28). We can see this form of veneration in verses like Proverbs 31:30 where King Solomon says, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised” (NASB). The word “praised” here does not mean to worship a woman akin to this description as God or a god, but to celebrate her as one who fears God, and therefore as one who directs others in her fear towards God by her example. Furthermore, the two forms of veneration can be narrowed down to even simpler degrees. When we worship God, we directly venerate Him according to His nature. When we honor the Saints and Sacred Images, we indirectly venerate God on “account of” His nature–which creates and renews Man in the Divine Image of His Son.

St. John applies this structure to the practice of image veneration by saying “should I not therefore, make an image of the one who appeared for my sake in the nature of flesh, and venerate and honor him with the honor and veneration offered to his image?” and in the same manner, “should I not make images of the friends of Christ, and should I not venerate them, not as gods, but as images of God’s friends? For neither Jacob nor Daniel venerated the angels who appeared to them as gods, neither do I venerate the image as God, but through the images of his saints I offer venerations and honor to God, for whose sake I reverence his friends also, and this I do out of respect [for them]” (St. John of Damascus, 102).

Introduction Incarnate

Taking a step back even further in Christian history, we find the ultimate precursor to Sacred Image usage in worship: the Incarnation. Aside from the New Testament authors and their studies on the nature of the Incarnation, the Church Fathers really grasped this facet of Christology in a significant way.

In the 4th century A.D., there was a Greek-Alexandrian Patriarch named Athanasius who composed a doctrinal epistle called On the Incarnation of the Word. The reason for his written work was to confront and uproot the heresy of Athanasius’ age: Arianism. Arianism presupposed that there was a time when the Son of God, “once was not” (St. Athanasius, 19). The originator of this teaching, an Alexandrian presbyter named Arius, based his related homilies off of the assumption that Christ had one nature, not two in a hypostatic union as later defined by the first Nicene council. According to Arius, God the Son was not “eternally begotten of the Father” and had actually entered His original existence on the day of His Virgin birth (Athanasius, 2).  This presented a dilemma that was obviously incongruous with scripture and the traditional teaching of the Church. So, St. Athanasius took it upon himself to write his succinct yet powerful epistle, On the Incarnation of the Word, as a point of putting face to the intent of God in the Incarnation and why the nature in which it occurred was necessary.

St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius

In terms of necessity, Athanasius had two main arguments for the Incarnation. Both of his arguments pertained to “the divine dilemma,” that being the fall of man, and “the divine solution” that being the Incarnation of Almighty God. The essence of the first argument involved the corruptibility of humanity fallen. Since the original sin of Adam, humankind was stripped of its divinely intended incorruption and was given over to the powers of death and sin. Being that our originally created nature was rooted in God’s Image, that which is incorruptible and good, the self-giving love of God was put into play for the reconciling of our now corrupted image. Athanasius resolves this argument by saying, “for this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered the world” so that mankind would have the opportunity to return to their intended state of incorruption (St. Athanasius, 33).

St. Athanasius’ second argument engages the loss of understanding of the nature of God amongst men, which was also an effect of Adam’s sin in the fall. This type of argument is often misconstrued as a semi-Gnostic one because it involves the overarching theme of the need for understanding. However, contrary to Gnosticism, this argument points to our understanding as being only a road map back to God and not an end in and of itself… which is exactly what Sacred Images do in effect. They are not “ends” but modes of worship, which perform as roadmaps pointing towards the only One deserving of our worship. If this is idolatry and therefore evil, then by nature all modes of worship are evil since they all point our focus towards God in an indirect way. In the words of St. John of Damascus, as he says repeatedly throughout his treatises on images, “Either therefore reject all veneration or accept all of these forms with their proper reason and manner” (St. John of Damascus, 28). Athanasius proposes, “What then was God to do? What else could he possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ?” (St. Athanasius, 41).

The Crucifixion

The Crucified Christ

So, according to St. Athanasius, God needed to renew His image in mankind that we might regain our native state of incorruption and come to know Him once more. This, God accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus of Nazareth. When it comes to the death of Jesus, no image is more familiar to the Christian’s visual pallet than the Crucifixion. Consider the aesthetic of this image. Consider the aesthetic of God in the flesh being crucified. Nothing is more of a conceptually driven image of God’s love than this. Think of how we would perceive, from a Sacred Image, God’s love in the sacrifice of Christ if He were sentenced to another kind of death. Say, death by poison or death by the sword. There is an inherent depth to this very visual, very purposeful, part of God’s plan. The arms of God: stretched, welcoming. His hands: opened with the same loving intent, to catch and cast out our sin. His Body: hanging upright and securely fastened to His Passover, just as secure as His resolve to ransom us from our corruption. Consider the Cross itself. As G.K. Chesterton notes in his book Orthodoxy, the vertical and horizontal lines of its shape are met with a perpendicular contradiction in the structural middle–a “paradox” (Chesterton, 13). When we gaze upon where the beams meet and cross we are reminded that Faith is a paradox. It is a mystery that ultimately transcends us. It is a mystery that causes our complete reliance on God’s providential plans for each of us even though we could never fully comprehend their full scope. This Sacred Image is so crucial to our Faith now as it was to those who witnessed it first-hand. Additionally, since we today were not there to witness the Crucifixion let alone the Incarnation first hand, a Sacred Image like this one includes us in that moment. It gives us glimpses into how it must have felt to see “the exact imprint of God’s image” carry out the Divine Solution. Of course, it could never be to the same extent as the actual historic occurrence, however all Sacred Images function in a surrogated extension which does not replace the actual, but furthers its sensorial reality.

Throughout this post, I have included images. It seems to me that this thesis would prove irrelevant if I did not do so, and that it would ultimately fail. Visual association is what the Church, really God, has deemed as crucially important to His saving work and our understanding of it. Why would it not be crucially important to an argument that seeks to renew the rational and spiritual understanding for why Christianity had Sacred Images in the first place? If I had not included images, in my humble opinion, it would be tantamount to the Iconoclasm’s discrediting of such images. Once again, I would be stripping these “Divine Images” of their usefulness and ultimate purpose. Which was and is to redirect us back to God via our senses.

A Familiar Face

In addition to the arguments addressed previously, I would like to propose another in the same tone, yet requiring a farther stretching reach of Faith. One of the oldest Icons of Christ is the Christ Pantokrator. This image is depicted at the beginning of this post, dated between the late 5th to 6th century A.D., and shows the living Christ clutching the written Gospel and raising his right hand in blessing (The Sacred Image, 229). This Sacred Image of Christ is mostly used to decorate the inner domes of Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, as if He were looking down upon us in perpetual blessing and reminder of the Gospel’s written and spoken message. What I would like to address here is the actual likeness of Christ; His hair, His beard, the bone structure of His face, His eyes, and even His expression. The whole visual likeness of Christ in this Sacred Image, and in other ones associated with Him, has a look of similarity across the board. Is this coincidence? I propose that it is not. I propose that Sacred Images of Christ and the Saints have another purpose altogether making their usage really worthwhile; and that is that these images retain a percentage of how the historic persons depicted actually looked. This could be argued either way and I do not present this empirically. Still, one must admit that the odds are there, since Sacred Images are so ancient. Who knows? Perhaps alongside the oral traditions meticulously preserved by the Apostles and their successors, there existed a maintained visual tradition of how Christ looked. And, inherently, maybe the Church kept this practice throughout the ages with the Saints as well. So, why avoid the possibility of seeing the face of Christ and His friends, our Mothers and Fathers in Faith, as they were when they paved the way before us?

Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, the orthodox sects of the Church have never allowed the worship of images of Christ and the saints, but the veneration or honoring of them. It was because of the teachings of St. Athanasius and St. John of Damascus that led the Church to her ongoing understanding of the nature of God and the nature of His incarnate Word. Which, epistemologically developed by the facilitation of Sacred Images—both Incarnate and hand-graven—in worship. In closing this post, I would like to leave a bit of wisdom from St. John of Damascus’ On the Divine Images. Found near the end of the first treatise, St. John says, and I will end with this,

“Of old, God the incorporeal and formless was never depicted, but now that God has been seen in the flesh and has associated with human kind, I depict what I have seen of God. I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, and I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked. I do not reverence it as God—far from it; how can that which has come to be from nothing be God?—if the body of God has become God unchangeably through the hypostatic union, what gives anointing remains, and what was by nature flesh animated with a rational and intellectual soul is formed, it is not uncreated.” (St. John of Damascus, 29)

Bibliography

Anderson, Jeffrey C. “Byzantine Panel Portrait.” The Sacred Image East and West. Vol. IV. Chicago: University of Illinois, 1995. 1-302. Print.

Athanasius, St. On the Incarnation (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 1975. Print.

Catholic Encyclopedia. Catholic Church, 2000. Web. 2009. <http://www.newadvent.org/&gt;.

Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent, 2004. Print.

Church., Catholic. Catechism of the Catholic Church with modifications from the editio typica. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Print.

John of Damascus, St. Three Treatises on the Divine Images (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press Popular Patristics Series). New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2003. Print.

The Sacred Image East and West. Vol. IV. Chicago: University of Illinois, 1995. 1-302. Print.