The Icon as Proof of God’s Existence

trinity-rublevGod “adorns himself in magnificence and clothes himself with beauty.” Man stands amazed and contemplates the glory whose light causes a hymn of praise to burst forth from the heart of every creature. The Testamentum Domini gives us the following prayer: “Let them be filled with the Holy Spirit…so they can sing a doxology and give you praise and glory forever.” An icon is the same kind of doxology but in a different form. It radiates joy and sings the glory of God in its own way. True beauty does not need proof. The icon does not prove anything; it simply lets true beauty shine forth. In itself, the icon is shining proof of God’s existence, according to a “kalokagathic” argument.

Paul Evdokimov in The Art of the Icon

“Kalokagathic” – what a wonderful word! It’s is a Greek coinage, combining the word for beautiful(kalos) and the word for good (agathos). To see an icon is so very far removed from viewing an art object. First off, an icon is never an object. Faces in an icon are never in profile, but look at us face to face. To rightly see an icon is to see it in relationship, that is, to see it personally. And the person whom we see is not the wood and paint, but the one whom the image on the wood and paint represents. It is this encounter that makes it possible to speak of an iconographic proof of the existence of God. I know there is a God because I have seen His image.

In the most perfect sense of this understanding, Christ is the proof of the Father’s existence, because He is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Thus Christ is the visible of the invisible. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” (John 14:9).

It is also true that man is created in the image and likeness of God – though only in Christ, the perfect man (and perfect God), is the image and likeness truly realized. But Christ Himself extends the image – gathering into Himself, “the least of these my brethren” (Matthew 25:40). Thus every human being offers the opportunity of an encounter with God – if we have the eyes to see. Every human being is proof, poor though it may be, of the existence of God.

Pavel Florensky in his wonderful book Iconostasis, says that “Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity exists, therefore God exists.” The first time I read the statement I was brought up short. It took time to see what he meant and to see that it was true. A couple of years later one of my daughters was visiting Moscow. She sent a postcard say, “I have seen Rublev’s Trinity. It’s true.” What a marvelous witness!

Comments

  1. John says

    It strikes me as odd to read this article only because I am still trying to mold my mind around Orthodoxy and the Patristic mindset.

    I am a catechumen and have been for only a short time. When speaking of “proofs” an icon is (was) not the first thought to come to my mind. Philosophy, logic and argumentation would be obvious firsts.

    When you say “Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity exists, therefore God exists”, this statement I do not understand though after much prayer in the future I may be able to.

    Thank you, Father, for your recent series on icons, iconography and the world. I may not fully comprehend everything I read but it does make me think (and pray).

  2. Mrs. Mutton says

    John — I have been Orthodox for nearly 19 years, and there is still stuff I’m trying to get my head around. Don’t try to understand everything all at once, before chrismation — you’ll go crazy. 😉

    Father — the icon of the Theotokos, “Softener of Evil Hearts,” visited my parish this past week. For a long time I had a sketchy relationship with the Theotokos, having been brought up Catholic in the days of wild mariolatry, and only in the last few years did I understand that what I had been rejecting all along was that false image of her. But understanding that to have been a false image, and then coming face to face with the *true* image — well, any difficulties I may have had with the Theotokos are firmly in the past now. Your daughter’s comment only confirms my own experience (and I would have had a lot of trouble understanding what you’ve written about without that experience).