An Orthodox Response to John Calvin on Icons: Icons and Idolatry

Are all religious depictions idolatry? This is a question that plagued the Roman Empire near the end of the eighth century, and again in the ninth. And though our patristic forebears no doubt assumed this aversion to iconography was settled once and for all—as celebrated most pointedly on the Sunday of Orthodoxy near the beginning of Great Lent—the aniconic spirit reared its ugly head again in the Protestant Reformation. In my first…

An Orthodox Response to John Calvin on Icons: The Rhetoric of the Reformation

Ever since the Protestant Reformation, there has been varied opposition among Christians to religious or devotional artwork—what Orthodox Christians generally refer to as holy icons. As I have noted before, the Reformers were not all in agreement on this subject, with some allowing religious artwork and a limited veneration of both the Cross and Eucharist, others allowing their presence in church buildings while completely opposing their veneration or religious use, and the…

Christian Iconography and the Art of Rewriting History

Iconoclasm has always been an integral part of revolution. In revolution, a previous paradigm is eliminated, making way for the new. Statues are torn down, buildings and works of art are destroyed, people are slaughtered through riots and the resulting famine, and religious revival—or dissolution—is inevitable. History books reflect the triumph of the victors, while the oppressors of the previous regime are verbally laid to waste. The most lamentable form of iconoclastic revolution is,…

Liturgy and Icon

There is an important connection between our liturgical services and holy icons. In many ways, it’s difficult to imagine how our Liturgy could subsist without icons. They are an irrevocable part of the life of the Church. Ouspensky notes (Theology of the Icon, vol. 1, p. 8): It is absolutely impossible to imagine the smallest liturgical rite in the Orthodox Church without icons. The liturgical and sacramental life of the Church is inseparable from the image. The liturgical and mystical life…

The Beauty of Logos: Towards an Orthodox Aesthetic

What is the purpose of ‘beauty’ in the Eastern Orthodox faith? Are these mere externals, or is there something deeper behind our colors, shapes, and forms? We could start by considering Dostoevsky’s famous line (from The Idiot): Beauty shall save the world. “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60) Struggling with this very task, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn remarks: What does this mean? For a long time it used to seem to me…

St. Theodore the Studite against the Iconoclasts

During the iconoclastic disputes of the ninth century, a priest-monk named Theodore was instrumental in the orthodox defense of icons. Like St. John of Damascus a century earlier, Theodore was a ‘voice in the wilderness,’ fighting against the unorthodox views of the corrupt, Imperial leadership. A leading monk at the Studious monastery in Constantinople, Theodore wrote three different Refutations of iconoclasm (PG 99.328–436). His work was instrumental in the victory of the orthodox decades later. Unfortunately, Theodore…

Iconoclasm: The Heresy of Heresies (Part Two)

In Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine, Fr. John S. Romanides suggests: The schism between Eastern and Western Christianity was not between East and West Romans. In actuality, it was a split between East Romans and the conquerors of the West Romans. By the end of the seventh century, whole areas of the western part of the Roman Empire were now under either Arian or Muslim rule. In Spain, for example, the Visigoths had replaced all of…

Iconoclasm: The Heresy of Heresies (Part One)

It’s not surprising that iconoclasm persists in contemporary Christian culture, and especially in America. Without a proper understanding of both the Incarnation and the deeper purpose of creation—throughout which God is ‘everywhere present and filling all things’—we are left with a worldview that is distorted. With no emperor or royal family to honor, we venerate celebrities, pornographers, amoral politicians, and the farce of ‘reality television.’ As addicted voyeurs, we look not into heaven, but rather into the…