A certain Protestant who goes by the username 'Tur8infan' wrote a short post concerning the Catholic, and consequently, Orthodox veneration of Icons. His post is found on here the website managed by Reformed Baptist Dr. James White.
Here, I'd like to give a short response to the errors in Mr. Tur8infan's post. I really don't believe the errors are intentional, since this kind of thing can easily happen to anyone who doesn't fully understand the Catholic or Greek Orthodox theologies. The bulk of Tur8infan's point can be seen here:
Recall what Augustine said:
Why have I said this? Please consider carefully the chief point I’m making. We had started to deal with the apparently better educated pagans — because the less educated are the ones who do the things about which these do not wish to be taken to task — so with the better educated ones, since they say to us, “You people also have your adorers of columns, and sometimes even of pictures.” And would to God that we didn’t have them, and may the Lord grant that we don’t go on having them! But all the same, this is not what the Church teaches you. I mean, which priest of theirs ever climbed into a pulpit and from there commanded the people not to adore idols, in the way that we, in Christ, publicly preach against the adoration of columns or of the stones of buildings in holy places, or even of pictures? On the contrary indeed, it was their very priests who used to turn to the idols and offer them victims for their congregations, and would still like to do so now.
“We,” they say, “don’t adore images, but what is signified by the image.” I ask what images signify, I ask what the image of the sun signifies; nothing else but the sun, surely? For yes, perhaps the explanation of other images convey deeper, more hidden meanings. For the time being let’s leave these, and put them on one side to come back to shortly. The image of the sun, certainly, can only signify the sun, and that of the moon the moon, and that of Tellus the earth. So if they don’t adore what they see in the image, but what the image signifies, why, when they have the things signified by these images so familiarly before their very eyes, do they offer adoration to their images in stead of directly to them?
Augustine, Sermon 198, Sections 16-17
Now the main error seen here to any informative Catholic or Orthodox Christian is Tur8infan's usage of St. Augustine. Indeed, Protestant historian Philip Schaff notes:
"Even Augustine laments that among the rude Christian masses there are many image-worshippers, but counts such in the great number of those nominal Christians, to whom the essence of the Gospel is unknown." (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, 5th ed, 1910, [reprinted by Eerdmans, 1974] p. 573)
However this does not logically prove at all that St. Augustine was in any way against the reverance of Icons, but that he was rightly against the abuse and idolatry which was being practiced by some. Keep in mind the dear Saint also said:
"A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers. But it is done in such a way that our altars are not set up to any one of the martyrs -- although in their memory -- but to God Himself, the God of those martyrs." (Augustine, Against Faustus the Manichaean, c. 400 AD, 20,21, from Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, volume 3, page 59)
As a second Christian witness, I submit also St. Basil the Great:
"....I receive also the holy apostles and prophets and martyrs. Their likenesses I revere and kiss with homage, for they are handed down from the holy apostles, and are not forbidden, but on the contrary painted in all our churches." (Basil, Epist 205, Comp his Oratio in Barlaam, Opp 1, 515 cited in Schaff, ibid, page 567; and similar expressions in Gregory Naz, Orat 19).
In addition, the Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church, which took place at Nicea in 787AD, was convened to address this very issue. It is this Council which the Roman Catholic and East Orthodox Faiths look to for an Infallible Declaration regarding the proper usage of Icons and the improper usage. OrthodoxWiki tells us:
Disputes concerning the Person of Christ did not end with the sixth Council in AD 681, but continued through the eighth and ninth centuries. This time, the controversy focused on icons—pictures of Christ, the Theotokos, the saints, and holy events—and lasted for 120 years, starting in AD 726. Icons were kept and venerated in both churches and private homes. The two groups in the controversy were:
also called "icon-smashers," they were suspicious of any art depicting God or humans; they demanded the destruction of icons because they saw icons as idolatry.
also called "venerators of icons," they defended the place of icons in the Church.
The controversy, however, was more than a struggle over different views of Christian art. Deeper issues were involved, and it is these the Council addressed:
The character of Christ's human nature
The Christian attitude toward matter
The true meaning of Christian redemption and the salvation of the entire material universe
The controversy falls into two periods:
1.From AD 726 when Leo III began his attack on icons until AD 780 when Empress Irene ended the attacks
2.Again from AD 815 through AD 843 when Empress Theodora stamped out the attacks permanently
The iconoclasts had support from both inside and outside the Church. Outside the Church, there may have been influence from Jewish and Muslim ideas, and it is important to note that just prior to the iconoclast outbreak Muslim Caliph Yezid ordered the removal of all icons with his territory. Inside the Church there had always existed a "puritan" outlook which saw all images as latent idolatry.
Largely through the work of St. John of Damascus (AD 759-826), who, ironically, was housed in Muslim-controlled lands and therefore outside the reach of the Empire, the iconodules' position won out. He addressed the charges of the iconoclasts thus:
Concerning the charge of idolatry: Icons are not idols but symbols, therefore when an Orthodox venerates an icon, he is not guilty of idolatry. He is not worshipping the symbol, but merely venerating it. Such veneration is not directed toward wood, or paint or stone, but towards the person depicted. Therefore relative honor is shown to material objects, but worship is due to God alone.
We do not make obeisance to the nature of wood, but we revere and do obeisance to Him who was crucified on the Cross... When the two beams of the Cross are joined together I adore the figure because of Christ who was crucified on the Cross, but if the beams are separated, I throw them away and burn them. —St. John of Damascus
Concerning the teaching of icons
Venerating icons, having them in churches and homes, is what the Church teaches. They are "open books to remind us of God." Those who lack the time or learning to study theology need only to enter a church to see the mysteries of the Christian religion unfolded before them.
Concerning the doctrinal significance of icons
Icons are necessary and essential because they protect the full and proper doctrine of the Incarnation. While God cannot be represented in His eternal nature ("...no man has seen God", John 1:18), He can be depicted simply because He "became human and took flesh." Of Him who took a material body, material images can be made. In so taking a material body, God proved that matter can be redeemed. He deified matter, making it spirit-bearing, and so if flesh can be a medium for the Spirit, so can wood or paint, although in a different fashion.
I do not worship matter, but the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation... —St. John of Damascus
The seventh and last Ecumenical Council upheld the iconodules' postion in AD 787. They proclaimed: Icons... are to be kept in churches and honored with the same relative veneration as is shown to other material symbols, such as the 'precious and life-giving Cross' and the Book of the Gospels. The 'doctrine of icons' is tied to the Orthodox teaching that all of God's creation is to be redeemed and glorified, both spiritual and material.
Now opponents of Icon Veneration may say, "That's very well for the Seventh Council, but Augustine was not part of that era and probably would not have agreed with the Council anyhow."
I say this would be a total mutilation of St. Augustine's thoughts and character. It was he who said, "I would not believe the Gospels unless the Catholic Church had moved me to do so." Just because the veneration of Icons was not well-defined in Augustine's time gives no reason for the observer to conclude St. Augustine did not accept the veneration, just as it gives the observer no reason to conclude St. Ignatius did not believe in the Holy Trinity, since that doctrine was not well-defined until Nicea. In fact, one will find that the early Church made much use of icons, portraits, and relics, which St. Augustine speaks of in various writings.
The great St. Thomas Aquinas also touches up on this subject in his Summa Theologica, in which he says:
Article 2. Whether idolatry is a sin?
Objection 1. It would seem that idolatry is not a sin. Nothing is a sin that the true faith employs in worshipping God. Now the true faith employs images for the divine worship: since both in the Tabernacle were there images of the cherubim, as related in Exodus 25, and in the Church are images set up which the faithful worship. Therefore idolatry, whereby idols are worshipped, is not a sin.
Objection 2. Further, reverence should be paid to every superior. But the angels and the souls of the blessed are our superiors. Therefore it will be no sin to pay them reverence by worship, of sacrifices or the like.
Objection 3. Further, the most high God should be honored with an inward worship, according to John 4:24, "God . . . they must adore . . . in spirit and in truth": and Augustine says (Enchiridion iii), that "God is worshipped by faith, hope and charity." Now a man may happen to worship idols outwardly, and yet not wander from the true faith inwardly. Therefore it seems that we may worship idols outwardly without prejudice to the divine worship.
On the contrary, It is written (Exodus 20:5): "Thou shalt not adore them," i.e. outwardly, "nor serve them," i.e. inwardly, as a gloss explains it: and it is a question of graven things and images. Therefore it is a sin to worship idols whether outwardly or inwardly.
I answer that, There has been a twofold error in this matter. For some [The School of Plato] have thought that to offer sacrifices and other things pertaining to latria, not only to God but also to the others aforesaid, is due and good in itself, since they held that divine honor should be paid to every superior nature, as being nearer to God. But this is unreasonable. For though we ought to revere all superiors, yet the same reverence is not due to them all: and something special is due to the most high God Who excels all in a singular manner: and this is the worship of latria.
Nor can it be said, as some have maintained, that "these visible sacrifices are fitting with regard to other gods, and that to the most high God, as being better than those others, better sacrifices, namely, the service of a pure mind, should be offered" [Augustine, as quoted below]. The reason is that, as Augustine says (De Civ. Dei x, 19), "external sacrifices are signs of internal, just as audible words are signs of things. Wherefore, just as by prayer and praise we utter significant words to Him, and offer to Him in our hearts the things they signify, so too in our sacrifices we ought to realize that we should offer a visible sacrifice to no other than to Him Whose invisible sacrifice we ourselves should be in our hearts."
Others held that the outward worship of latria should be given to idols, not as though it were something good or fitting in itself, but as being in harmony with the general custom. Thus Augustine (De Civ. Dei vi, 10) quotes Seneca as saying: "We shall adore," says he, "in such a way as to remember that our worship is in accordance with custom rather than with the reality": and (De Vera Relig. v) Augustine says that "we must not seek religion from the philosophers, who accepted the same things for sacred, as did the people; and gave utterance in the schools to various and contrary opinions about the nature of their gods, and the sovereign good." This error was embraced also by certain heretics [The Helcesaitae], who affirmed that it is not wrong for one who is seized in time of persecution to worship idols outwardly so long as he keeps the faith in his heart.
But this is evidently false. For since outward worship is a sign of the inward worship, just as it is a wicked lie to affirm the contrary of what one holds inwardly of the true faith so too is it a wicked falsehood to pay outward worship to anything counter to the sentiments of one's heart. Wherefore Augustine condemns Seneca (De Civ. Dei vi, 10) in that "his worship of idols was so much the more infamous forasmuch as the things he did dishonestly were so done by him that the people believed him to act honestly."
Reply to Objection 1. Neither in the Tabernacle or Temple of the Old Law, nor again now in the Church are images set up that the worship of latria may be paid to them, but for the purpose of signification, in order that belief in the excellence of angels and saints may be impressed and confirmed in the mind of man. It is different with the image of Christ, to which latria is due on account of His Divinity, as we shall state in the III, 25, 3.
The Replies to the Second and Third Objections are evident from what has been said above.
Article 3. Whether idolatry is the gravest of sins?
Objection 1. It would seem that idolatry is not the gravest of sins. The worst is opposed to the best (Ethic. viii, 10). But interior worship, which consists of faith, hope and charity, is better than external worship. Therefore unbelief, despair and hatred of God, which are opposed to internal worship, are graver sins than idolatry, which is opposed to external worship.
Objection 2. Further, the more a sin is against God the more grievous it is. Now, seemingly, a man acts more directly against God by blaspheming, or denying the faith, than by giving God's worship to another, which pertains to idolatry. Therefore blasphemy and denial of the faith are more grievous sins than idolatry.
Objection 3. Further, it seems that lesser evils are punished with greater evils. But the sin of idolatry was punished with the sin against nature, as stated in Romans 1:26. Therefore the sin against nature is a graver sin than idolatry.
Objection 4. Further, Augustine says (Contra Faust. xx, 5): "Neither do we say that you," viz. the Manichees, "are pagans, or a sect of pagans, but that you bear a certain likeness to them since you worship many gods: and yet you are much worse than they are, for they worship things that exist, but should not be worshiped as gods, whereas you worship things that exist not at all." Therefore the vice of heretical depravity is more grievous than idolatry.
Objection 5. Further, a gloss of Jerome on Galatians 4:9, "How turn you again to the weak and needy elements?" says: "The observance of the Law, to which they were then addicted, was a sin almost equal to the worship of idols, to which they had been given before their conversion." Therefore idolatry is not the most grievous sin.
On the contrary, A gloss on the saying of Leviticus 15:25, about the uncleanness of a woman suffering from an issue of blood, says: "Every sin is an uncleanness of the soul, but especially idolatry."
I answer that, The gravity of a sin may be considered in two ways. First, on the part of the sin itself, and thus idolatry is the most grievous sin. For just as the most heinous crime in an earthly commonwealth would seem to be for a man to give royal honor to another than the true king, since, so far as he is concerned, he disturbs the whole order of the commonwealth, so, in sins that are committed against God, which indeed are the greater sins, the greatest of all seems to be for a man to give God's honor to a creature, since, so far as he is concerned, he sets up another God in the world, and lessens the divine sovereignty. Secondly, the gravity of a sin may be considered on the part of the sinner. Thus the sin of one that sins knowingly is said to be graver than the sin of one that sins through ignorance: and in this way nothing hinders heretics, if they knowingly corrupt the faith which they have received, from sinning more grievously than idolaters who sin through ignorance. Furthermore other sins may be more grievous on account of greater contempt on the part of the sinner.
Reply to Objection 1. Idolatry presupposes internal unbelief, and to this it adds undue worship. But in a case of external idolatry without internal unbelief, there is an additional sin of falsehood, as stated above (Article 2).
Reply to Objection 2. Idolatry includes a grievous blasphemy, inasmuch as it deprives God of the singleness of His dominion and denies the faith by deeds.
Reply to Objection 3. Since it is essential to punishment that it be against the will, a sin whereby another sin is punished needs to be more manifest, in order that it may make the man more hateful to himself and to others; but it need not be a more grievous sin: and in this way the sin against nature is less grievous than the sin of idolatry. But since it is more manifest, it is assigned as a fitting punishment of the sin of idolatry, in order that, as by idolatry man abuses the order of the divine honor, so by the sin against nature he may suffer confusion from the abuse of his own nature.
Reply to Objection 4. Even as to the genus of the sin, the Manichean heresy is more grievous than the sin of other idolaters, because it is more derogatory to the divine honor, since they set up two gods in opposition to one another, and hold many vain and fabulous fancies about God. It is different with other heretics, who confess their belief in one God and worship Him alone.
Reply to Objection 5. The observance of the Law during the time of grace is not quite equal to idolatry as to the genus of the sin, but almost equal, because both are species of pestiferous superstition.
Article 4. Whether the cause of idolatry was on the part of man?
Objection 1. It would seem that the cause of idolatry was not on the part of man. On man there is nothing but either nature, virtue, or guilt. But the cause of idolatry could not be on the part of man's nature, since rather does man's natural reason dictate that there is one God, and that divine worship should not be paid to the dead or to inanimate beings. Likewise, neither could idolatry have its cause in man on the part of virtue, since "a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit," according to Matthew 7:18: nor again could it be on the part of guilt, because, according to Wisdom 14:27, "the worship of abominable idols is the cause and the beginning and end of all evil." Therefore idolatry has no cause on the part of man.
Objection 2. Further, those things which have a cause in man are found among men at all times. Now idolatry was not always, but is stated [Peter Comestor, Hist. Genes. xxxvii, xl] to have been originated either by Nimrod, who is related to have forced men to worship fire, or by Ninus, who caused the statue of his father Bel to be worshiped. Among the Greeks, as related by Isidore (Etym. viii, 11), Prometheus was the first to set up statues of men: and the Jews say that Ismael was the first to make idols of clay. Moreover, idolatry ceased to a great extent in the sixth age. Therefore idolatry had no cause on the part of man.
Objection 3. Further, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxi, 6): "It was not possible to learn, for the first time, except from their" (i.e. the demons') "teaching, what each of them desired or disliked, and by what name to invite or compel him: so as to give birth to the magic arts and their professors": and the same observation seems to apply to idolatry. Therefore idolatry had no cause on the part of man.
On the contrary, It is written (Wisdom 14:14): "By the vanity of men they," i.e. idols, "came into the world."
I answer that, Idolatry had a twofold cause. One was a dispositive cause; this was on the part of man, and in three ways. First, on account of his inordinate affections, forasmuch as he gave other men divine honor, through either loving or revering them too much. This cause is assigned (Wisdom 14:15): "A father being afflicted with bitter grief, made to himself the image of his son, who was quickly taken away: and him who then had died as a man he began to worship as a god." The same passage goes on to say (Wisdom 14:21) that "men serving either their affection, or their kings, gave the incommunicable name [Vulgate: 'names']," i.e. of the Godhead, "to stones and wood." Secondly, because man takes a natural pleasure in representations, as the Philosopher observes (Poet. iv), wherefore as soon as the uncultured man saw human images skillfully fashioned by the diligence of the craftsman, he gave them divine worship; hence it is written (Wisdom 13:11-17): "If an artist, a carpenter, hath cut down a tree, proper for his use, in the wood . . . and by the skill of his art fashioneth it, and maketh it like the image of a man . . . and then maketh prayer to it, inquiring concerning his substance, and his children, or his marriage." Thirdly, on account of their ignorance of the true God, inasmuch as through failing to consider His excellence men gave divine worship to certain creatures, on account of their beauty or power, wherefore it is written (Wisdom 13:1-2): "All men . . . neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman, but have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and the moon, to be the gods that rule the world."
The other cause of idolatry was completive, and this was on the part of the demons, who offered themselves to be worshipped by men, by giving answers in the idols, and doing things which to men seemed marvelous. Hence it is written (Psalm 95:5): "All the gods of the Gentiles are devils."
Reply to Objection 1. The dispositive cause of idolatry was, on the part of man, a defect of nature, either through ignorance in his intellect, or disorder in his affections, as stated above; and this pertains to guilt. Again, idolatry is stated to be the cause, beginning and end of all sin, because there is no kind of sin that idolatry does not produce at some time, either through leading expressly to that sin by causing it, or through being an occasion thereof, either as a beginning or as an end, in so far as certain sins were employed in the worship of idols; such as homicides, mutilations, and so forth. Nevertheless certain sins may precede idolatry and dispose man thereto.
Reply to Objection 2. There was no idolatry in the first age, owing to the recent remembrance of the creation of the world, so that man still retained in his mind the knowledge of one God. On the sixth age idolatry was banished by the doctrine and power of Christ, who triumphed over the devil.
Reply to Objection 3. This argument considers the consummative cause of idolatry.
We can clearly see the Church's teaching contrasting between veneration of an Icon and full-out worship of an idol. Further, we can see how though the doctrine was not formally defined at a General Council at Augustine's time, this in no possible way leads one to conclude Augustine was against such veneration.
I'd like to point out one other very important point Tur8infan brought up in his post:
'Of course, the Hindu claims must be taken with a very large grain of salt. For example, the same folks are trying to suggest that Hinduism is somehow analogous to monotheistic Trinitarianism:
In Hinduism, Dhoraisingam explained, "The universe manifested from Brahman, is sustained by him and will return to him." She added that Hindus believe in a trinitarian God personified by Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, and Shiva the Transformer.'
Hinduism, like every other false religion, presents itself as the perfect counterfieght of God's true Religion, viz., Christianity. I find it disturbing that Tur8infan uses a Jehovah's Witness-type logic to validate his claim that Hinduism's worship of images is identical to Roman Catholicism's and Greek Orthodox's veneration of Icons.
'Therefore, whether your idolatry is Roman Catholic or Hindu, flee it. Keep yourselves from idols.'
Members of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society often use the Hindu argument to validate their objections to the Holy Trinity, but once scrutinized their arguments fall apart. Likewise, with Hinduism's images - here I will add significantly different from Christendom's Icons - though on surface-level observence it may look the same, but once one digs deeper, one finds there is a monumentous difference in the very reasons behind such devotion.
Evangelical Ralph Woodrow, once a disciple of the dissalusioned Alexander Hislop author of The Two Babylons, tells us:
"Taking a stand against "paganism" should not be carried to a foolish extreme. We do not refrain from using the word janitor, even though it comes from Janus, the Roman god of doors and gates. We do not avoid using the word cereal, even though it comes from Ceres, the goddess of grains. We do not refrain from using the word panic, even though it comes from the god Pan, who went about scaring people. We don’t refuse to visit a museum, even though the word comes from the Muses, the nine daughters of Zeus who presided over learning and arts. According to Browser’s Book of Beginnings, the earliest evidence of a game that featured two opposing teams kicking, tossing, and aggressively advancing a ball in opposite directions was practiced 5,000 years ago in Egypt—as a fertility rite. Imagine a parent sending a note to her child’s school: "My son is not to play football—it’s pagan." It is obvious: Finding a pagan similarity does not, in itself, provide connection. Even if a primitive tribe worshiped a tree, Christians who decorate a Christmas tree do not do the same thing. If they regarded it as a god, would they throw it out to be picked up by trash collectors? Even if pagans worshiped the sun, there is no connection with Christians who attend a sunrise service in honor of Christ’s Resurrection. After all, it was "when the sun had risen" that the women came to the tomb and found it empty (Mark 16:2). If some ancient people worshiped Dagon as a fish-god, this has no connection with Christians who place fish symbols on their cars." (Woodrow, Did the Catholic Church Have Its Origin in Paganism?, This Rock Magazine, Vol. 15, No. 5, May-June 2005)
Superficial similarities easily lead to erroneous conclusions for those who just haven't taken the time to understand the historical context of the Christian Faith: the article I'm addressing is an example of the ending result. Though this result was reached - I believe - in innocence, that does not take away the fact that it is in heresy. It clearly denies and rejects the declaration of the infallible Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church, therefore the author [unintentionally] making himself out to be in heresy.
The primary text which the Orthodox and Catholic Faiths refer to their doctrine on Icons comes from Col. 1:15, in which Christ is called the "Icon of the invisible God." The Greek word usually translated as "image" is εἰκὼν, which transliterated means Icon. This plays major significance in the Catholic-Orthodox understanding of Icons, not just images mind you, but actual Icons. The well-known Greek scholar, William Barclay, in his "The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians" says concerning images, that they...
"...can be two things which merge into each other. It can be a representation; but a representation, if it is perfect enough, can become a manifestation." (p. 116, as quoted from 'Inside Today's Mormonism' by Richard Abanes, p. 145)
Because Our God Jesus Christ is the perfect representation and manifestation of the Father, Icons in early Christianty were regarded in the same light: perfect manifestations of the persons they perfectly represented.
Such theology is not found in modern western Protestantism, but it most certainly was found, taught, and practiced in the Church's early eastern days.
"Much has been written, and truly written, of the superiority of the iconoclastic rulers; but when all has been said that can be, the fact still remains, that they were most of them but sorry Christians, and the justice of the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin's summing up of the matter will not be disputed by any impartial student. He says, "No one will deny that with rarest exceptions, all the religious earnestness, all which constituted the quickening power of a church, was ranged upon the other [i.e. the orthodox] side. Had the Iconoclasts triumphed, when their work showed itself at last in its true colours, it would have proved to be the triumph, not of faith in an invisible God, but of frivolous unbelief in an incarnate Saviour." (Trench. Mediaeval History, Chap. vii.) The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, trans H. R. Percival, in NPNF2, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace, (repr. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955), XIV, p. 575, cf. 547f.
In closing, I'd like to point out to the reader that one cannot prove such and such by comparing it to something else on a surface-level only appearance. With that kind of reasoning, found in atheism and the cults, one may "prove" anything. Such logic is not fitting for the Protestant student, especially if he is desiring to seek out historic Christianity.
I know I said this post would be a short response, but I suppose in refuting error, sometimes the rebuttle must be much longer to correct the previously mentioned mistakes.
Thanks very much for your time. May the peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, Amen.
For further information on Icons from the Orthodox and Catholic theological viewpoints, see:
And in interesting passage of Scripture with some Protestant commentaries on it