Is There Really a Patristic Critique of Icons? (Part 5 of 5)

Editor’s Note: Following is the final entry in a 5-part series addressing the claim by Presbyterian pastor Steven Wedgeworth that there is significant patristic testimony against iconography. The response is necessarily more in-depth than the original post it responds to, because numerous quick claims are made there without much in the way of examination of their context or historic character.

A Summary of the Critiques

Part of what often makes the icon debate frustrating is that iconoclasts are almost never consistent in their critiques. Pr Wedgeworth begins by saying that “The liturgical use of icons is one of the disputed points which has a mixed foundation in the early church,” and further “Not as many people, however, know the opposing patristic voices. To help counter-balance this, I will give just a few.” Not only were we not given any exacting Patristic evidence to the contrary (that is, being opposed to the 7th Ecumenical Council and the practice of the Orthodox-Catholic Church), but this post is also not clear in what “critique” it’s attempting to substantiate.

It was claimed that the liturgical use of icons is both disputed and indebted to a mixed foundation. This would imply an argument against the liturgical use of icons. By this, I can only assume it means their veneration (honor): carrying them about, kissing them, censing them, and so forth.

His first quote from Tertullian (not an orthodox Church Father, and so not exactly a “Patristic” critique) shows that there are some images allowed for liturgical use; namely, the brazen serpent and the images of the tabernacle/temple. However, Tertullian also equated all images with idols, refusing artists to the catechumenate as a result. He was a fanatic — an extremist — and, as a result, an eventual Montanist, attacking the Church on a number of issues. This is not an insult, but rather an historical assessment of the facts. He laments (as a Montanist, not as a Christian) that the Church accepts painters and sculptors into clerical office: “Idol-artifacers are chosen even into the ecclesiastical order. Oh wickedness!” (On Idolatry, 7). This demonstrates that such artisans were officially sanctioned among the orders of clergy. There is no Patristic evidence against their liturgical use here, as Tertullian was on the outside looking in.

With regards to the 36th canon of the local synod of Elvira, the finer points of canonical law were disregarded, and we were presented with a poor translation of this obscure, disciplinary canon. Given the fact that this canon was ignored (if indeed it means that images should not be in churches), it can reasonably be concluded that this canon bears no Patristic weight, and that it does not mean what iconoclasts imply it means. We know for sure that it is not a theological canon, that it says nothing related to the kind of images on church walls, and that it was never obeyed or repeated in future canons in the way that iconoclasts assert. This is another “miss” when it comes to demonstrating a cohesive, tangible, Patristic critique of the liturgical use of icons, as sacred images were on both the walls of Spanish churches and the sarcophagi of the Spaniard Christians at this very point in history. The tangible evidence outweighs the speculative or inadmissible.

In the quote from St Gregory the Great, it is concluded that since St Gregory condemns the abusive worship of images, he was also against their veneration. It is claimed that St Gregory only approves of them for “reading,” as an aid to the ignorant or unlearned. However, it has been demonstrated that St Gregory was also an advocate of their veneration, himself carrying an icon of the Mother of God (painted by the apostle Luke) through the streets of Rome in solemn procession. Additionally, his testimony related to sacred images was relied upon during the deliberations of the 7th Ecumenical Council. He was neither a Muslim nor an iconoclast, but was fully orthodox with regards to icons. There is no Patristic critique of icons here — only a prudent and orthodox condemnation of their abuse.

By way of taking inventory up to this point, we have been presented with quotes that both deny the placement of images in churches (Elvira and Tertullian), while also affirming their usage in churches (St Gregory, although the conclusions about Gregory’s beliefs are inaccurate). Again, I would truly appreciate it if critiques of iconodulism by iconoclasts would be consistent: either consistently argue against their existence altogether, or consistently allow for their existence, while arguing against their veneration. Mixing and matching quotes that are all across the spectrum only muddies the waters. And asserting that the Orthodox worship icons as idols or false gods is both absurd and irrelevant.

We were finally presented with a quote attributed to St Epiphanius. In this example, a perspective more akin to Tertullian’s is alleged; that is, all images should be destroyed. This disagrees with the idea that images are acceptable, so long as they are used for “reading”; that is, for the illiterate/unlearned to receive the Gospel message without words. Regardless, I think there is an abundance of evidence — both ancient and modern — for rejecting this postscript as a forgery. It does not make its first appearance until the debates of the 8th and 9th centuries, and the Fathers of that day condemned it as a scandalous invention. Those who actually knew Epiphanius all point to his orthodoxy with regards to icons. He was even buried in a church (the Cathedral of Agios Epifanios in Cyprus) that was filled with sacred images, where his wonder-working relics were venerated. According to his disciples, that is what he would’ve wanted. Is this a solid Patristic critique of icons? It makes for an interesting debate, but the “real world” evidence and the testimony of those who knew him calls into question the legitimacy of the postscript.

In summary, then, we have been given two pieces of evidence against the very existence of icons (one from a Montanist and one from a forgery), one mistranslated piece of evidence that does not ban icons altogether, but — for reasons we can’t possibly know — has suggested that the churches of Spain in the fourth century not paint images (of which type we can’t be certain) upon their walls, and one piece of evidence from a Saint who venerated icons that says icons should not be worshipped (with which the Orthodox fully agree).

Pr Wedgeworth’s conclusion is that “these quotes show … the controversy around icons was an intra-Christian one,” and:

The Reformers were not, by their rejection of the veneration of icons, necessarily anti-patristic. Indeed, it was because they knew the complexity of the antique record that they could confidently interact with it, claim parts of it, and ultimately move beyond it to the earlier Biblical testimony (Exodus 20:4–6, Acts 17:29).

There are many things that can be said in response to this conclusion.

As pointed out above, the preceding quotes do not show much in the way of a substantial “controversy” around icons, but they are — for the most part — intra-Christian discussions. However, the only incontrovertible piece of Patristic evidence related to images that has been presented (that of St Gregory) is from a Saint who venerated icons. The fact that he does not mention it in this particular writing does not betray the reality of his own personal practice, not to mention the practice of the Church. If there was a substantial Patristic critique of icons, where was the mob of iconoclasts as he paraded a first century icon of the Mother of God through the streets of Rome? There was no mob, because there was no substantial subset of iconoclasts within the Church at that time.

The Reformation Witness

It has been implied that the Reformers were against the veneration of icons, and that this position can be deemed “Patristic.” But which Reformers? As with many others, the Reformers (both Magisterial and Radical) employed a wide array of beliefs on the present subject.

There were many who were in agreement with men such as Tertullian, in that no images of any kind (not just religious) are permissible — e.g. John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1:11:1-16). However, Calvin seems completely unaware of the writings of the Fathers on this matter, such as St John of Damascus or St Theodore the Studite. Not once does he interact with their writings. Calvin also utilizes several mis-translations of both the Vulgate and the 7th Ecumenical Council (apparently the same mis-translation that the Franks relied upon) in order to further his assertions. Perhaps if Calvin had access to more of the Greek Fathers, to a better manuscript of the Scriptures, and to a proper translation of the 7th Ecumenical Council, he would’ve had a different opinion? As it is, his entire argument is a straw-man against the worship of idols as false gods. Nevertheless, this is certainly one evident perspective among the Reformation churches.

There were also men such as Martin Chemnitz who allowed for images (even in churches), but rejected their explicit veneration:

Thus we are only arguing about the use of historical images which are used either for a memento of things which have been done or for the sake of decoration. These uses are in no way prohibited in Scripture, and it can be a perfectly legitimate use for them.

Loci Theologici, p. 376

And thirdly, there were men such as Martin Luther, who allowed not only for the presence of images in their churches, but also considered them praiseworthy and honorable. He believed that the 2nd commandment clearly forbade the worship of images (especially of non-religious images), but he did not forbid the use of either crucifixes or holy icons in a liturgical setting:

According to the law of Moses no other images are forbidden than an image of God which one worships. A crucifix, on the other hand, or any other holy image is not forbidden. Heigh now! you breakers of images, I defy you to prove the opposite!

Complete Works, Vol. 40, p. 86

As is evident from this quote (and the context of his letters on this issue), Luther was opposed to iconoclasm and the breaking of images. While a number of the images being destroyed were not religious, many of them were. Luther is ambivalent about the first category, saying that they are now (in the new covenant) “nothing,” as with circumcision, but that breaking them is clearly wrong. He argues that not only is it (iconoclasm) unloving, but that it implies one’s zeal for destroying images can somehow justify them, being contrary to his novel doctrine of justification by faith alone (ibid., p. 85):

Their idea that they can please God with works becomes a real idol and a false assurance in the heart. Such legalism results in putting away outward images while filling the heart with idols.

Further, Luther’s exegesis of the 2nd commandment argues that sacred images are not idols, because they are not being treated as such. They are not meant to replace God, as with pagan idols, but are rather meant to point our hearts and our minds to Christ (ibid., p. 87):

No conclusion can be drawn from the words, “You shall have no other gods,” other than that which refers to idolatry. Where however images or statues are made without idolatry, then such making of them is not forbidden, for the central saying, “You shall have no other gods,” remains intact.

Beyond this, Luther claims that sacred images and the Cross are both praiseworthy and honorable (ibid., p. 92):

But images for memorial and witness, such as crucifixes and images of saints, are to be tolerated. This is shown above to be the case even in the Mosaic law. And they are not only to be tolerated, but for the sake of the memorial and the witness they are praiseworthy and honorable, as the witness stones of Joshua [Josh. 24:26] and of Samuel [I Sam. 7:12].

For Luther, sacred images are not only a “witness,” but also a “memorial” (ἀνάμνησις); a symbol that re-presents the prototype being signified. They lift up our hearts to Christ and to the imitation of those being presented, who in turn had devoted their lives to his imitation. This is why some people have deemed icons “windows to heaven.” This does not mean that one can literally see into heaven with an icon, but that they serve as a true memorial of the Lord’s presence, by virtue of the people (or events) that they signify. There is nothing sacred about the wood, gold, or paint; it is the people, who are created in the image of God and show us true and venerable images of Christ, which makes icons to be what they are. This is why we cense individual people and greet them with a holy kiss in the Orthodox churches to this day. This is not idolatry; it is a personal love and affection for one another in the Body of Christ.

This theology of icon/symbol/representation, and of the honor passing to the prototype, was not only extensively argued among the Fathers (such as St Basil the Great, St John of Damascus, and the Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council), but was also taught by Christ:

He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. (Matt. 10:40)

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. (Matt. 25:40)

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me. (John 13:20)

There are a number of implications with this theology, many of which reach far beyond the confines of the icon debate. For example, the Orthodox care for the sick and the suffering, along with our concern for all of creation, is rooted in a theology that believes all of creation serves as an image and reflection of God, and that the mouths of the homeless are the mouths of Christ himself.

I am already being long-winded, but Luther’s conclusion on this topic is worth reading:

I have myself seen and heard the iconoclasts read out of my German Bible. I know that they have it and read out of it, as one can easily determine from the words they use. Now there are a great many pictures in those books, both of God, the angels, men and animals, especially in the Revelation of John and in Moses and Joshua. So now we would kindly beg them to permit us to do what they themselves do. Pictures contained in these books we would paint on walls for the sake of remembrance and better understanding, since they do no more harm on walls than in books. It is to be sure better to paint pictures on walls of how God created the world, how Noah built the ark, and whatever other good stories there may be, than to paint shameless worldly things. Yes, would to God that I could persuade the rich and the mighty that they would permit the whole Bible to be painted on houses, on the inside and outside, so that all can see it. That would be a Christian work. …

Of this I am certain, that God desires to have his works heard and read, especially the passion of our Lord. But it is impossible for me to hear and bear it in mind without forming mental images of it in my heart. For whether I will or not, when I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart, just as the reflection of my face naturally appears in the water when I look into it. If it is not a sin but good to have the image of Christ in my heart, why should it be a sin to have it in my eyes? …

However, I must cease lest I hereby give occasion to the image-breakers never to read the Bible, or to burn it, and after that to tear the heart out of the body, because they are so opposed to images.

Complete Works, Vol. 40, p. 100

Luther sees the decoration of churches with sacred images to be “a Christian work” — something that should even be done in households. Were it up to him, sacred images would be everywhere one looks. And, according to Luther, these images are both praiseworthy and honorable. This is a far cry from Calvin, and even closer to the Orthodox position than those like Chemnitz. While I respect Pr Wedgeworth’s position on this issue as being a part of various Reformation views on icons, it is not the only one.

The practice of prostrating before the Cross on Holy Thursday in many Lutheran traditions today is an example of a position more aligned with Luther than other more radical Reformers, such as Chemnitz, Melanchthon, Zwingli, and Calvin. The Anglo-Catholic or “Oxford” movement of the 19th century also served as a helpful corrective to some of the more extreme developments in the Reformation churches. Rather than reverting back to an alleged “Biblical witness,” many Protestants and Anglicans have attempted to revert back to the Patristic, orthodox practices of the Church.

A Biblical Witness

With regards to the Biblical witness, the concluding remarks highlight again the frustrating incongruity when it comes to icon debates of the post-Reformation era. I must also remind the reader that a number of Scriptural references were given in my earlier posts, supporting not only the existence of sacred images (and relics; e.g. 2 Kings 13:20-21; Acts 5:15-16, 19:11-12), but also their proper veneration.

While it seems that many iconoclasts would affirm the existence of icons as a Gospel message for the young or unlearned, Pr Wedgeworth equates holy images with pagan idols by citing Exodus 20:4-6 and Acts 17:29. If one believes that the 2nd commandment speaks to the Christian use of icons, one is either asserting that all images are idols (which denies the Incarnation, and implies that God contradicts himself in the Old Testament), or that holy icons are worshiped as idols (which is not true). Either way, this neither agrees with other statements regarding “reading” icons, nor does it contribute coherency to the debate. All images are not idols, and they are not — and should not be — worshiped, making the 2nd commandment as well as Acts 17:29 irrelevant to the topic at hand. The Second Council of Nicaea ruled decisively against the idolatrous worship of any image, arguing in favor of their proper veneration or honor alone. Showing the most balance of all the Reformers, Martin Luther apparently argues the same.

Every Scriptural reference that is presented as a condemnation of icons and their proper veneration is a reference that condemns idolatry and the worship of false gods. In other words, there aren’t any Scriptural references that condemn icons and their proper veneration. The images of the tabernacle/temple were highly symbolic or of angelic beings alone, and the images of the New Covenant (in light of Christ’s Incarnation; cf. 1 John 1:1-3) are of people — of images of the incarnate and resurrected God-Man, and of those created (and redeemed) after his likeness. Since there is no Scriptural condemnation of sacred images, what we are really arguing about is tradition. And as mentioned in an earlier post, what was once a pious custom has now become an essential witness of the Gospel. In response to those who would do away with images for the wrong reasons — undercutting the very essence of who Jesus Christ is and was for our redemption — sacred images are now an indispensable part of Christian tradition.


What we have seen is that iconoclasts are incoherent when it comes to responding to the Orthodox-Catholic use of sacred images (along with relics, the Cross, and the Eucharist). The assertions come from a number of contradictory starting points, and rarely make sense in the end. I believe that I have demonstrated that we have not been presented with a Patristic critique of icons — supposedly undermining both their placement in the life of the Church and their veneration — but rather a series of quotes that are either irrelevant, out of context, or part of a larger, heterodox perspective that goes far beyond either the validity or invalidity of images.

Certainly, no one denies that there was great controversy around images among the elites of the Empire in the 8th and 9th centuries (the popular opinion never changed), but such a late date for controversy hardly calls into question either the origin or use of icons as both the Patristic consensus and the ordinary practice of the Church for centuries.

What the post shows is that the Church Fathers, the Scriptures, and other early Christian writings are being used as little more than a compendium of historical and scholarly data from which one can assemble a variety of doctrinal perspectives. Pr Wedgeworth himself has stated that the Church Fathers are “academic and historical tools rather than a strict interpretative grid or paradigm.” And they are certainly being treated as such. However, when an Orthodox Christian makes an appeal to apostolic tradition, they are not making an entirely epistemological claim as much as they are making an ontological one. It’s not that this is what some people long ago believed, and Orthodox Christians are retroactively citing them as proofs — like a person could also proof-text the Scriptures to “prove” a number of imaginative things. Rather, we are saying “We are a part of the Church — a living community of faithful Christians that have preserved the apostolic faith. The same faith of the apostles and the Fathers before us. The same faith that we live, breathe, eat, and drink today.” The appeal is to the ontology of the Church as the Body of Christ — “without spot or blemish” (Eph. 5:27) — and not to a set of arguments or abstract ideas, removed from their historical or incarnational context.

Along the same lines, one could point to how the Mercersburg theology is being co-opted by some today. Practically none of the present-day Mercersburg theorists are members of the United Church of Christ — arguably the actual, ecclesial heirs of the Mercersburg theology and of the German Reformed Church here in the US. Instead, the long-since-deceased Mercersburg theologians (Nevin and Schaff) are being retroactively appealed to as proofs for belief systems today — belief systems that are unnaturally being grafted onto communions that have no actual, incarnational connection with the Mercersburg theologians or their churches. It is a nostalgic theology of ideas with a bodiless ecclesiology. All conservative Protestants disown their “liberal,” mainline churches, but are these churches not the living, breathing outcome of their formative, foundational doctrines?

The same issue can arise when it comes to citing the Holy Scriptures. Since the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and Theosis is “acquisition of the Holy Spirit” (St Seraphim of Sarov), one’s experience of Theosis directly correlates to one’s ability to properly understand or interpret the Scriptures. And no amount of intellect, quotes from the Church Fathers, or historical studies can ever fully supplant this. I would say that to imply otherwise is an insult to both the value and purpose of the Scriptures, not to mention their Divine quality. And thus, one must largely rely upon the Saints and Martyrs that came before us, and upon the Church for whom they both lived and died. Fortunately for Christians, our Lord promised that he would never abandon the Church, and that it could never fail. These promises are more than sentimental assurance; they are light and life.

It must be mentioned, as well, that these posts are not really for Pr Wedgeworth. Steven is an admirable husband, father, and lover of Christ, and I know that quite likely none of this will change his mind. While we obviously disagree, this is not a personal quarrel with him. Instead, this is about the ideas and perspectives being both assumed and presented. And ultimately, these sorts of dialogues are for those in the surrounding space; that mystical realm of both inquiry and conversion that is seemingly indefinable. I have personally come home to the Orthodox Church partly as a result of examining poor arguments against matters such as icons, and I pray that others might do the same. The purpose of all of this is to show that context is king, that shifting sand is not an appropriate footing for theological doctrine, that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to presumptuous quotations from the Church Fathers, early Christian writings, and the Holy Scriptures, and that ideas without a Body are as weightless as one might imagine.

There are actually other, more compelling quotes from the Fathers and other early Christian writings on this issue. If anyone is interested in a response to essentially everything out there, I would strongly encourage them to read Theology of the Icon, Vols. 1-2 by Leonid Ouspensky, as well as Early Christian Attitudes Towards Images by Fr Steven Bigham. There are others, but these two modern works have been extremely helpful for me personally. The deeper issue, of course, is not alleged, Patristic critiques of icons, but rather the underlying approach. In any case, I hope that it has been made clear that the Orthodox Church has a plain answer for these sorts of allegations, and that we pray as we believe, and believe as we pray. We are not ignorant of history or of other, dissenting voices; the history is ours, and we all share in it as the Body of Christ; as the unworthy made worthy, with the fear of God and faith and love.

My primary hope is that even one person would stumble upon these posts and begin to reconsider their own perspective when it comes to the Christian veneration of icons (as well as relics, the Cross, etc.). We are not worshiping idols; we are not seeking to dishonor the Lord. We are simply following the royal pathway of our Fathers before us — not presuming to create a Church in our own image, but rather to receive the Body of Christ as it has faithfully been handed on to us. After all, that’s what it means to believe in “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” The Church is the πλήρωμα (pleroma) of the Trinity; the Body of Christ; the temple of the living God; and the pillar and foundation of truth. It is whole, complete, and lacking nothing (i.e. “catholic”).

By receiving this living, breathing, assembly of witnesses as one’s context for faith and belief, one can more perfectly understand what it means to live and pray as a Christian. This is a far cry from treating the Fathers as “academic and historical tools,” and I hope that these posts have made that apparent.

Also Available: Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4


  1. It would be great if this series was combined into one post. A PDF would be great too. You successfully refuted the most common (redundant) objections to icons that iconophobic Protestants use. May God illumine and transfigure their eyes with holy images! Great work brother!

  2. I am preparing to re-post this entire series, which I just came upon. Very good work, and I thank you! I am one of two Orthodox priests in Clinton, MS, though I don’t know the pastor who wrote the post that prompted this series.

  3. Great series. My only concern is that some of the statements in this last post may verge somewhat toward nominalism in its treatment of symbols. (Of course, this may not be the case and I may be reading too much into it.) For Maximus the Confessor, symbolization was not an external reference to something, but also the actual participation in it. The article below from the Orthodox Arts Journal summarizes this nicely.

  4. This series of articles try to answer the question: “Is There Really a Patristic Critique of Icons?” What is the answer? It appears the answer is YES, although you believe this patristic critique was influenced by origenism. To be influenced by origenism is one thing. To be inexistent is another. I believe we can find a patristic critique of images in Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Clement of Rome, Lactantius, Augustine and others (including the Frankish Church, which based their opposition to images in the augustinian priority of word over paintings). The letter of Eusebius of Caesarea to Constantia, where he condemns their desire to obtain an icon of Christ, “since the body of the Lord was transformed, at present, into an unutterable glory… only in spirit could one contemplate the glory in which Christ finds Himself after his Ascension” seems to be reminiscent of this declaration of the Apostle Paul:

    “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).

    But I do not think that images should be completely banned. I only object to the RC and EO pratice of “venerating” them, or using them to worship God. Where is it COMMANDED by God? As I said before, Lactantius criticize pagans because “they worship the images of the gods, they supplicate them with bended knee, they adore them, they sit or stand beside them through the whole day, they offer to them contributions”. If there was a pratice like yours in his time, I think he would mention something like: “oh, yeah, we also honor, crown, kiss and bow down to images of saints and Christ, but this is different”. But he never mentions something like that, nor Irenaeus, or Augustine, etc (your interpretation of Irenaeus on this point is completely artificial). It is a later development. The church fathers even accuse pagans of “worshipping images”, and not only of “worshipping false gods”. They never made such distinctions.

    Athenagoras understands this distinction between worshipping and venerating, and when critiquing the Pagan version of image worship, he does not only critique the idea that images can’t be worshiped, but also that they can be used as objects to worship their representations. He condemns the following idea:

    “[I]t is affirmed by some that, although these are only images, yet there exist gods in honour of whom they are made; and that the images are to be referred to the gods, and are in fact made to the gods; and that there is not any other way of coming to them.” (A Plea for the Christians XVIII)

    Why do you have this NEED to do things that does not appear clearly in the Bible? Worship or venerating of images is nowhere commanded by God. The Church is perfectly instructed by what can be seen clearly in the Scriptures. “For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning , but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures” (Cyril of Jerusalem).

    1. Two things:

      1. Just because something is found in the writings of some writers in the early Church opposing the use and/or veneration of images (though most of what has been offered is actually incorrectly interpreted as such) does not make it “patristic.” “Patristic” is not equal to “anything remotely connected with the early Church.” “Patristic” is that which is the faith of the Church Fathers, not some tendentious errors made by a handful of writers.

      2. “Why do you have this NEED to do things that does not appear clearly in the Bible?” Why do you even have a Bible? Having one certainly isn’t clearly commanded in the Bible, to say nothing of having one with the particular list of texts in your own canon. That nothing should be said without the Scriptures does not mean that nothing should be said but the Scriptures. Certainly you yourself have said plenty of things here that are not merely quotations from or direct explications of the Scriptures. (And of course explication requires using hermeneutics that are not from the Scriptures.)

      That said, the necessity of the presence and veneration of images is made by the Incarnation, something expounded upon quite well by both St. John of Damascus and the Seventh Ecumenical Council. And it also happens to occur in the Scriptures (“worship at the footstool of His feet,” for instance), as has been explained in a number of places already here. One might ask why anyone has a need for gravestones. Why are they venerated with flowers, with a reverent attitude, with ritual burial, with candles, etc.? Is it because those doing so have a “need” to “worship” the stone?

      One might just as well as why you have a “need” to cover up the Incarnation, to show no love and respect to Christ and His saints. Why is that? What is wrong with matter, if the God Who created matter would become matter in order to save us and constantly communicate His grace through matter? Should that matter then be treated as though it were nothing special? It seems to me that the most unnatural attitude is to maintain a dour distance from the matter that God has used for our salvation.

      1. Eusebius’ “Letter to Constantia”, beloved and quoted by all contemporary iconophobes, where it is stated that images were “banished and excluded from all churches” was first quoted by the iconoclasts at Hieria in 754. This letter first surfaces upon the scene 400 years after it was supposedly written and in the polemics against the iconodules. Eusebius’ supposed comments there contradicts his own testimony elsewhere and the archeological record. This also demonstrates the danger in relying on lists of quotes without being in the Church and without reading the entire work by any given author.

        Proof of the Gospel

        And so it remains for us to own that it is the Word of God who in the preceding passage is regarded as divine: whence the place is even today honored by those who live in the neighborhood as a sacred place in honor of those who appeared to Abraham, and the terebinth can still be seen there. For they who were entertained by Abraham, as represented in the picture, sit one on each side, and He in the midst surpasses them in honor. This would be our Lord and Savior, Who though men knew Him not the worshipped, confirming the Holy Scriptures. (Bk. 5.9)

        Life of Constantine

        And besides this, he caused to be painted on a lofty tablet, and set up in the front of the portico of his palace, so as to be visible to all, a representation of the salutary sign placed above his head, and below it that hateful and savage adversary of mankind, who by means of the tyranny of the ungodly had wasted the Church of God, falling headlong, under the form of a dragon, to the abyss of destruction. For the sacred oracles in the books of God’s prophets have described him as a dragon and a crooked serpent; and for this reason the emperor thus publicly displayed a painted resemblance of the dragon beneath his own and his children’s feet, stricken through with a dart, and cast headlong into the depths of the sea.

        In this manner he intended to represent the secret adversary of the human race, and to indicate that he was consigned to the gulf of perdition by virtue of the salutary trophy placed above his head. This allegory, then, was thus conveyed by means of the colors of a picture: and I am filled with wonder at the intellectual greatness of the emperor, who as if by divine inspiration thus expressed what the prophets had foretold concerning this monster, saying that “God would bring his great and strong and terrible sword against the dragon, the flying serpent; and would destroy the dragon that was in the sea.” This it was of which the emperor gave a true and faithful representation in the picture above described. (Bk. III.3)

  5. “A sound mind, and one which does not expose its possessor to danger, and is devoted to piety and the love of truth, will eagerly meditate upon those things which God has placed within the power of mankind, and has subjected to our knowledge, and will make advancement in [acquaintance with] them, rendering the knowledge of them easy to him by means of daily study. These things are such as fall [plainly] under our observation, and ARE CLEARLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY IN EXPRESS TERMS SET FORTH IN THE SACED SCRIPTURES”; “…Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels, CAN BE CLEARLY UNAMBIGUOUSLY, AND HARMONIOUSLY UNDERSTOOD BY ALL, although all do not believe them…”; “And in every Epistle the apostle PLAINLY TESTIFIES, that through the flesh of our Lord, and through His blood, we have been saved” (Irenaeus of Lyon).

    1. If you think St. Irenaeus believed in sola scriptura, you will have a lot of explaining to do with regard to his strong teaching about apostolic succession and indeed the necessity that Christian teaching be in accordance with the Eucharist.

    2. By the way, in most of your responses, you’ve just repeated the same quotations and not really responded to the comments that have addressed your arguments. Unless you’re willing to begin real engagement and not just repetition, further comments will not be published.


    3. St. Irenaeus:

      Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. Rev. 22:17 For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?

      To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God… AH 3.4.1-2

  6. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick,

    I do not “cover” the incarnation by refusing to venerate images and participate in worship not commanded by God in the Scriptures. Have you seen how Jesus treated the “simple” pharisaic custom of washing of hands (Mark 7)? “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. Is it too much to ask for a scriptural proof for each part of the Christian worship? I don’t think we need icons to show respect for the incarnation, for the Apostles preached the incarnation more than anyone and nowhere Scripture commands us to bow down to images, light candles, kiss, carry in procession, etc. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the Sacred Writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (1 Timothy 3). The honor given to the Ark in the Old Testament is something very special. How can you extend it to every icon made in your Church, without a command from God? Isn’t it the same thing Roman Catholics do, adding new articles of faith (papal infallibility, immaculate conception, indulgences) without a clear testimony of Scripture?

    1. Is it too much to ask for a scriptural proof for each part of the Christian worship?

      Actually, yes. I have no idea what sort of religion you belong to, but I daresay you would not be able to provide “scriptural proof” for every part of what you do.

      Orthodox Christians just do not believe in sola scriptura. It’s untenable for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that it violates its own principle—it’s not in the Bible. So you can keep insisting that we ought to behave as though we believe in sola scriptura, but it won’t really get you anywhere.

      For us, our faith and practice come from what was done by the Apostles. Not all of it was written down in the Bible. None of it contradicts what’s in the Bible.

      The honor given to the Ark in the Old Testament is something very special. How can you extend it to every icon made in your Church, without a command from God?

      How can you limit it only to the Ark, when we see people honoring various other images in Scripture, e.g., the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness, the Temple itself, and even other human beings? Can you really claim that every single thing you do in your own worship is explicitly commanded by God? Or might you claim that it is consistent with all the commands of God? Orthodox claim nothing less than that.

      The real question I would have is why, in the face of so much scriptural, patristic and archaeological evidence in favor of not only the making of Jewish and Christian images but their veneration, along with detailed explanations of how our actual experience of worship is different from our actual experience of veneration, you nevertheless continue to insist that God is actually not present in His creation in such a way that we ought to pay it honor because of His presence? What is so wrong with matter? Is it really devoid of God’s presence?

      What is more reasonable: That the Church which wrote, compiled and canonized the Scriptures, all the while making and venerating images for the sake of Christ, would put together a Bible that is consistent with that practice? Or that that Church put together something that was utter inimical to something they did every day in every place, and the text’s true meaning was only discovered by iconoclasts centuries later?

  7. Thank you very much for this article. As an investigator of Orthodoxy, I particularly found your inclusion of Luther’s statements very enlightening.

    I suppose if I had any question, it is this: Why are all the icons of the apostles in the Orthodox church made to look like non-proportionate stick figures–so skinny and unreal? It’s hard for me to relate to them as real people because of that. In my own mind, I have guessed that maybe they are purposely portrayed that way in order to illustrate that they bodily suffered for the gospel’s sake. Is this right or wrong?

    1. Thank you. My interpretation of what you said in your reply, is that the art work of the icons are representative of the reality of how Saints now appear in heaven–skinny and emaciated-looking. Right? (Somehow that can’t be right.) Nevertheless, I’ll check out Ouspensky.

      1. Since all the names on the icons at the church are in Greek, I wouldn’t know which one to tell you is an example. I also feel that perhaps I may have offended you or others in asking the question to begin with, so I think I will drop the question for now. Thanks so much for responding.

  8. Fr Damick, I think that you hit the nail on the head with regard to Ricardo’s questions. To treat Orthodoxy as believing in sola scriptura when it clearly doesn’t is clearly problematic. Also, the Orthodox critique of the Protestant doctrine is equally devastating.

    Regarding Patristics, though, it seems to me that the only time the Orthodox can quote someone as a father is if the quote agrees with the current church doctrine/practice. Is there ever a time when church doctrine/practice can be critiqued by a church father? Does the evidence even truly matter? I think it comes down to what we make of tradition.

    1. It’s not so much a matter of what some individual Father might have said but rather of what the consensus of the Fathers is. So thought of in those terms, yes, earlier tradition can indeed critique current practice. A good example is infrequent communion, which has been common in a number of places for centuries, yet is clearly not the Orthodox tradition, as evidenced even from paying attention to the text of the Divine Liturgy itself. The true tradition of frequent communion has been restored in a good many places precisely because of a call to return.

  9. During the Reformation, many Churches were emptied of their iconography, vessels and vestments which were burned in the street. Iconography did not cease to exist in those countries during the Reformation. German and Swiss museums, and some private collections, have cookie molds that date to as early as the sixteenth century. These sixteenth and seventeenth century cookie molds are icons of Pentecost, The Annuciation, The Incarnation, The Resurrection, and other master stories of Christianity. Other cookie molds from that period that include images of three cherries, a bird or flower were understood as representations of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, as well as other religious themes. The later cookie molds are dated, the fewer iconographic elements are included in the icons. Despite iconoclasm of sixteenth century Europe, the teaching images of Christianity continued to be an aspect of festal celebrations as molded cookie images made in homes, bakeries, and monestaries unitl the seventeenth century. At that time, the themes of cookie molds departed from the master stories of Christianity to contemporary styles of dress or romantic themes. Some German cookie molds with Christian themes have been continuously produced and sold, and recently, some of the festal iconographic molds preserved in museums have been reproduced for sale.

  10. Would Mr. Wedgeworth be against having a image of the cross in his church then? I find it hard to believe that there is not one image of a cross or dove at his church. Why are these symbols acceptable? Would I be right to assume that there are no pictures of loved ones in his house? Are photographs less offensive then painted pictures? Why? As a former Presbyterian, I became Orthodox because I had to wrestle with the hypocrisy of being against icons while having a Bible with a cross on it that I would not burn, having a church bulletin with a dove on the front cover, or a picture of my deceased Great Grandmother in my living room. All of these images were not worshiped, yet were items that I did not burn because of my love for my family (family pictures), and the Son (the cross), and the Holy Spirit (the dove).

  11. Please consider the critique of Irina Gorbunova-Lomax on Uspenski, and also works of George Kordis and Todor Motrivich who teach byzantine iconography. Uspenski and Kondoglu are not dogmatic sources, and their painting is what they actually claim…

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