Looking Images in the Eye

May 7th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

While many of our discussions here on Called to Communion have centered around abstract and philosophical thoughts about grace, faith, hope, love and the like, it is an undeniable fact that something else has been lingering in the foreground, as it were. Those thoughts on concepts are important (and of course, we are just getting started), but something more tangible has been staring us in the face, about which we have said little. In leaving the Reformed communities where we were growing in our faith, a proverbial giant elephant in the room has entered into our lives. It is something about which many of our Reformed readers must be wondering. That something is the issue of religious images.


A Reformed congregation is intentionally lacking in images, and this is just as intentional as the plottings of great Renaissance painters who adorned cathedrals with images of the Lord, His mother, angels, saints and sinners alike to the point that at times it seems as though there is not an unpainted corner in some Catholic churches.

This stark contrast came from the Reformers view that in the construction of these churches, Catholics then (and now) were taking part in what is ultimately idolatry. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it:

96. Q. What does God require in the second commandment?

A. We are not to make an image of God in any way,[1] nor to worship Him in any other manner than He has commanded in His Word.[2]

[1] Deut. 4:15-19; Is. 40:18-25; Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:23. [2] Lev. 10:1-7; Deut. 12:30; I Sam. 15:22, 23; Matt. 15:9; John 4:23, 24.

97. Q. May we then not make any image at all?

A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Creatures may be portrayed, but God forbids us to make or have any images of them in order to worship them or to serve God through them.[1]

[1] Ex. 34:13, 14, 17; Num. 33:52; II Kings 18:4, 5; Is. 40:25.

98. Q. But may images not be tolerated in the churches as “books for the laity”?

A. No, for we should not be wiser than God. He wants His people to be taught not by means of dumb images[1] but by the living preaching of His Word.[2]

[1] Jer. 10:8; Hab. 2:18-20. [2] Rom. 10:14, 15, 17; II Tim. 3:16, 17; II Pet. 1:19.1

In these questions, we see that the second commandment (which is the second half of the first commandment in the ordering used by Lutherans, Orthodox, and Catholics–but I digress) is the basis upon which religious images are condemned. We are called not to use images in worship nor are we even to use them as “books for the laity” (i.e., not even for educational purposes).

The Westminster Catechism agrees with the overall scheme presented by the Heidelberg Catechism, as can be seen from question 109 of the Larger Catechism.

Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.2

How does a Reformed person then leave such a view of images and end up embracing images in worship and their daily lives? Do we as Catholics embrace idolatry?

I think the answer to this question comes, in large part, from focusing on what the Scriptures themselves have to say about this issue. When we open up Exodus 20 and consider its words on this commandment, we find the following:

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.3

What is actually being forbidden? There are two “you shall not’s” here. Breaking them down we have:

1) A prohibition against making a likeness of anything.
2) A prohibition against bowing down and serving those likenessess.

I’m not advocating that we actually separate these two prohibitions, but when we consider the view of images presented by the older Reformed documents, we are told that it is unacceptable to make images of God. That would only be an issue if one considered the first clause to be stand-alone. And yet, what of that first clause? If we are to separate it from the second prohibition, how are we to separate the practice of making images of God from making images “of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth?” If anything, the advocate of banning images would have to do so in toto, to the point where family photo albums would reek of idolatry.

If we do not separate the two clauses, as I’m arguing that we should not, we also have the following question to ask: is it inevitable that an image which is specifically religious will lead to idolatry? What of any image at any time? I am not trying to undercut the reality of idolatry, nor do I deny that there are Catholics who have fallen to idolatrous thoughts over images, but the point is that images per se need not produce idolatry automatically. Looking to the Scriptures, we find that it is a heart of covetousness, not one’s imagination, which is at the heart of idolatry (cf. Colossians 3:5).

In addition to these logical considerations, if we consider God’s dealings with His people after Moses’ mountaintop experience, we find examples where God commanded the construction of, you guessed it, images. In one case, people had strayed from God through their complaining about His providence. What was God’s solution? The construction of an image of a serpent (cf. Numbers 21). Furthermore, in the exact context of worship do we find a barren place to worship God? No–instead, we read of God’s command to construct the tabernacle with images of fruits, oxen, and even cherubim (cf. Exodus 36, elsewhere). Regardless of whether this is a distinction between the older dispensation of God’s Covenant and the newer, the fact remains: these commands from God come AFTER the issuance of the 10 commandments.

At this point I also want to make it clear that I understand that these parts of Reformed catechisms are actually the sections where many Reformed believers will state their objections. Believing that only the Scriptures are infallible, the Reformed adherent has no qualms with saying, “Well, this is just one part where our forefathers got it wrong.” Be that as it may, when one considers objections to Catholicism, if they hold any water, one must condemn far more than just the Catholic. They must criticize a Sunday school class where an image of Jesus walking on the water used for pedagogical purposes. As a former Sunday school teacher in a Presbyterian congregation, I can attest that we had visitors who would tell us not to give such handouts to their children. But despite the presence of such consistent people, we must ask whether this consistent holding to the Reformed catechisms is scriptural and logical. If it is not, we must be open to images.

Zooming out from pictures such as those of the Virgin of Guadalupe or the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I would challenge you with this thought as well: do you read the Bible with no mental imagery? Or do you find your heart wanting to be joined with those ancient stories by imagining the scenes? Isn’t that making an image? No paint brushes were used and no sculpting was performed, but nonetheless there was a mental image?

Is it a sin to ever leave the abstract? If so, it seems very odd that our Creator has placed us in a world that is anything but only abstract.

Far too often it is the realm of heaven that is beyond our reach. In making images, as was done in the Old Testament, Catholics are calling on God to help all people come into contact with that world which is unseen.

  1. http://www.wts.edu/resources/heidelberg.html []
  2. http://www.opc.org/lc.html []
  3. Exodus 20:4-6 []

Leave a comment »

  1. Well said, Dr. Deane. I have long wondered how those outside our Holy Mother Church can profess to “love the Lord [THEIR] God with all [THEIR] heart, and with all [THEIR] soul, and with all [THEIR] mind, and with all [THEIR] strength” (Mark 12: 30) while leaving their imaginations rather peculiarly (and arbitrarily, from my Roman Catholic perspective), out of their worship. Perplexing. Especially since “Mind” refers to very specific aspects of intellect and consciousness manifested as combinations of thought, perception, memory, emotion, will and IMAGINATION, including all of the brain’s conscious and unconscious cognitive processes. (Wiki) I do have a theory, however: One might say that when we worship with no imagery (as fruit of our IMAGINATIONS), we are worshiping in darkness. Semantically, that works. And if that were true, whom, some of us might dare to ask ourselves, are we really worshiping in that case? If IMAGINATION is missing, I propose that perhaps something else is missing as well. Something far more important. Perhaps it’s OBEDIENCE. SERVIAM!

  2. But would you still say that images of God aren’t allowed? The main contention is that images of God aren’t allowed, Jesus is God, therefore Jesus may not be depicted. Others talk about how we disgrace Christ by making images of him when we don’t even know what he looked like. Others, still, point to the idea that we can’t make an image of Christ that would show us who He really is because His divine nature can’t be portrayed. What would you say about that?

  3. David,

    In short, we would say, no, images of God are allowed. When God reveals Himself in ways that can be pictured, we can picture God in those ways. We still may not picture God the Father, who remains invisible and purely spirit, but we may picture Christ as He has been revealed to us, which is to say, as a man.

    St. John Damascene famously and persuasively argued that the incarnation of Christ moved us into a new economy of images. What was once unpicturable (if I may coin a phrase) is now picturable. You can (and should) read St. John on the subject here.

    That said, though I believe other forms of Holy Images are lawful and helpful, I believe Icons embody an especially good theology of images because they purpose, in their very nature, to be otherworldly and not quite physically accurate.

    They acknowledge in the very way they are written that we cannot accurately depict Christ and the Saints in Heaven as they are, so they consciously depict them a bit as they are not. The supreme example of this is the icon of St. John the Forerunner holding his own head in a basket while his head is still attached to his body. This is clearly not a realistic depiction, but it carries an important truth.

    As a final point, we find it wholly lawful as Catholics to picture the Holy Spirit as a dove, for He has revealed Himself this way to us. It’s all about working in the frameworks God has provided for us.

  4. David,
    Thanks for your thoughts. Indeed, this idea that making images of Christ was illicit was a focal point of the 7th ecumenical council, which took place in Nicea in 787. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

    Christ’s true body

    476 Since the Word became flesh in assuming a true humanity, Christ’s body was finite.112 Therefore the human face of Jesus can be portrayed; at the seventh ecumenical council (Nicaea II in 787) the Church recognized its representation in holy images to be legitimate.113

    477 At the same time the Church has always acknowledged that in the body of Jesus “we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.”114 The individual characteristics of Christ’s body express the divine person of God’s Son. He has made the features of his human body his own, to the point that they can be venerated when portrayed in a holy image, for the believer “who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted”.115

    Regarding the divine nature being portrayed, the divine nature was portrayed through Christ when He walked this earth. While John 1 states that no man has seen the Father, John 14 also states that if one has seen Christ, one has indeed seen the Father. There is this tension therefore, and it seems to me like it’s lacking if we refuse to continue this mystery of the Incarnation.

    I suppose that if one made an icon or statue and claimed that it was the end all be all of how Christ appeared, one would have issues with limiting him, but the fact remains: the Apostles had memories of Him post-ascension.

    Moving beyond God the Son, what of the portrayal of God the Holy Spirit, as seen in the dove which appeared at Our Lord’s baptism? Was that image limiting the invisible Spirit of God who makes His home in our hearts?

    Ultimately, the commandment does not say to not make an image of God–it’s focused on making any image that is worshipped qua that image. The Catholic Church understands that it is the Person behind the image that is worshipped. Just as we are not in love with a photograph of our wife (at least, we ought not be), but that photograph reminds us of the person behind that photograph who is the object of our affection, we come into contact with Our Lord due to His incarnation which is represented by those images. As the Catechism says in another section:

    * Holy images

    1159 The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the Son of God has ushered in a new “economy” of images:

    Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God . . . and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled.27

    1160 Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words. Image and word illuminate each other:

    We declare that we preserve intact all the written and unwritten traditions of the Church which have been entrusted to us. One of these traditions consists in the production of representational artwork, which accords with the history of the preaching of the Gospel. For it confirms that the incarnation of the Word of God was real and not imaginary, and to our benefit as well, for realities that illustrate each other undoubtedly reflect each other’s meaning.28

    1161 All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. They make manifest the “cloud of witnesses”29 who continue to participate in the salvation of the world and to whom we are united, above all in sacramental celebrations. Through their icons, it is man “in the image of God,” finally transfigured “into his likeness,”30 who is revealed to our faith. So too are the angels, who also are recapitulated in Christ:

    Following the divinely inspired teaching of our holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church (for we know that this tradition comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in her) we rightly define with full certainty and correctness that, like the figure of the precious and life-giving cross, venerable and holy images of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God, and the venerated angels, all the saints and the just, whether painted or made of mosaic or another suitable material, are to be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, in houses and on streets.31

    1162 “The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God.”32 Similarly, the contemplation of sacred icons, united with meditation on the Word of God and the singing of liturgical hymns, enters into the harmony of the signs of celebration so that the mystery celebrated is imprinted in the heart’s memory and is then expressed in the new life of the faithful.


  5. In regards to my comments above regarding the imaging of God the Father, it occurs to me that there are, of course, many images of God the Father in Western art. Personally, I’m a little uncomfortable with that, but I’d be happy to be shown the reasoning for why that’s acceptable.

  6. Good article. In my research and growing convictions, iconoclasm is not a big issue to me to overcome. I like these discussions; they make a lot of sense, and I thank you.

  7. Thanks for this. Statues/Icons are my biggest hangup with the Catholic church. BTW, the rest of Colossians 3 turns out to support your main point pretty well. When St. Paul tells us to fix our minds on the things in heaven, I don’t suppose he has abstract truths in mind. Still, my main problem is with the graven part. Graven images just seems superfluous, and it seems like Catholicism is going one step too far. I would be fine with imagining in one’s mind the person of Jesus given that He was clothed with humanity at the Incarnation, but actually making a painting or whatever and then bowing to it just seems to directly contradict the second commandment. My imagination has seen enough of the divine creation (mankind) to imagine what He might have looked like, but for me to then make a “graven” image for devotional purposes is to do exactly what is forbidden by the second commandment.

    Again, thanks for this article Jonathan, and Matt, thanks for the link to St. John of Damscene.

  8. A quick question that just popped into my mind after finishing the last comment: Does the magisterium make it a practice to warn Catholics about the dangers of idolatry? Is it considered a mortal sin like gross violations of the other commandments are?

    Of course, I understand that classical idolatry is not a particular plague in our American culture like sexual vice, but I have to believe that in some Third World countries the Church has to contend with idolatry of some sort.

    Again, thanks!

  9. John,

    Yes, idolatry would be a grave sin. Violating the commandments are grave sins.

  10. John,

    I think you’d be surprised how much of a non-issue it is. I’ve been to mass in Catholic dominated third-world countries and I haven’t seen anyone worshiping any images (so far as I can tell).

    Also you mentioned bowing before an image of Christ; that’s not exactly what we do. True, we do venerate images of Christ, the Cross, Saints etc… but in the same way that someone would venerate say an American flag. No one is worshiping the flag by saluting it. No one is worshiping a crucifix by kissing it. And I doubt that in the history of the Church there’s been more than a half dozen people confused about what they were worshiping (the image of Christ or Christ Himself).

  11. Also, let me clarify John – my response should not be read as a dismissal of your concern. I understand it. I’ve been there! As a potential convert I thought, “well it’s one thing in Protestant-America to say that the Catholics don’t worship idols.. but how about places like Latin America? I’m sure they’re saturated with idolatry because of the Catholic Church’s teaching.” But having visited some of those places, I’ve found that not to be the case at all.

  12. Someone once explained veneration to me by asking me to imagine my wife holding, carrying around, hugging, or kissing a picture of me (image), or something that reminds her of me (cross, etc.). She’s obviously not in love with the piece of paper that the picture is printed on, or the token that reminds her of me, nor does she think that I am those things.

  13. I will say there is a displaced sense of veneration that we find in popular culture from time to time. EG…people flocking to a overpass that has an oil stain that looks like the Virgin or something. This is not condoned by the Church and I’ve heard it preached against.

  14. Good responses, thanks. I guess then the question becomes what were the reformers reacting against generally? Was it the adornment of cathedrals with imagery? Were they simply stopping with the “You will not make for yourself any graven image” regardless of whether or not people were actually bowing down to said images? Those two pictures in the article are very telling case studies in the two stands on this.

    BTW, I don’t have any formal theological training, so please keep that in mind as it becomes apparent that I am not even THAT familiar with the background of my own reformed tradition on this. : )

    Sean, it’s good to hear that you’ve heard preaching in the Catholic Church against the stranger stuff. I was under the impression that the Catholic Church tends to look the other way on this kind of thing, so I’m glad to hear there is some degree of sensitivity.

  15. As far as I know, the Reformed contention is with the presence of the images themselves, regardless whether they are being used for good devotion or sinful idolatry. This is because, as the article notes, Reformed theology has looked at the first part of the command (Don’t make any images) as separate from the second part (Don’t bow down to them).

  16. Right. Some in the Reformed camp have accused Rome of trying to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes by splitting the commandments up differently than Protestants and Jews do. But there aren’t 10 neatly divided commandments in the ‘decalogue’ there are 13 or 14 imperatives and so if you are to arrive at the number ten, you must split them up somewhere.

    If the second commandment, as Protestants have it, stands alone, then all images of any kind for any reason are immoral (and God would have ordered the Israelites to break this commandment verses later). This is incomprehensible.

  17. Tim is right in saying you have to divide up the words somehow; and Ex 20 and Dt 5 are invoked to support either way of doing it. Since the different traditions have been alluded to several times (incorrectly) here are the Christian camps as put together by your own CCC:
    Catholics/Lutherans (two separate coveting commandments; images subsumed under first commandment) and the Orthodox/Reformed (images separate; one coveting commandment).

    It seems to me that the problem with idols in Scripture (and even in the Decalogue) is that they have no referent. There is no Baal or Chemosh or whomever. Idolatry is false religion because it is devised by man and does not intend to honor the one true God; nor does it refer to any divine being (at least as intended by the human fashioners–Paul says something of demons in 1 Corinthians I think). I’m interested to go back and read Chris Wright’s chapter on idolatry in The Mission of God on this.

    However, I still am uncomfortable with God the Father being portrayed in art. The Orthodox also portray the Father though somewhat obliquely in icons of the Holy Trinity as three men. I guess they could invoke Genesis 18 for support. Hard not to think of the Trinity when reading that passage, even if only one of the men turns out to be the LORD there. (That is, you don’t know that until the two angels split off for Sodom.)

    Good discussion, looking forward to more.

  18. For a little humor, I was watching the series Foyle’s War, which is about a British detective on the home front in WWII. One episode starts off with a Catholic young man confessing to his priest. He starts the confession off very troubled and confesses that “I have broken the sixth commandment. I have committed murder!” ;-)

  19. Idolatry is false religion because it is devised by man and does not intend to honor the one true God

    You mean like The Prosperity Gospel and the fact that it actually worships Mammon, not God.

    You see, one needs not build some tangible idol; some folks already carry it in their wallets and unwittingly worship it nonetheless over the True God.

  20. These are all wonderful comments. Question that occurred to me in reading all this: Since the “images” of the 16th Century Italian Renaissance represented the vast wealth of the Holy Roman Catholic Church in that day, and since no “upstart church” could possibly marshall such vast resources to replicate the works of, say Michelangelo (who, curiously enough, died in the very same year as Calvin himself: 1564), I wonder if this iconoclastic position in truth had a rather more sinister side to it. Not so much the motive of a downy innocent wanting to be scripturally correct, but rather, shall we say, a rather more hard-nosed, pragmatic motive? Just curious.

  21. That’s an interesting idea but I’d be inclined to say no because the Reformers didn’t view themselves as an upstart church. I think, like the average semi-iconoclast of today, they thought what they were doing was simply following the will of God.

  22. Ilow,
    As someone who is still a Reformed Christian yet considering Catholic claims, I’d rather see the discussion focus on argumentation and the truth about icons/images. To claim that Reformed Christians were iconoclasts because they were the pecuniary underdogs does not engage their arguments against what they perceived as Roman idolatry. That so many Protestant Christians have followed in the iconoclastic tradition of the Reformation indicates to me that the case is not trivial and thus needs to be argued, not explained away. Not trying to be a jerk here–just wanting to see fruitful interaction on a topic that concerns me.

  23. …continued –

    Which goes to show the importance of staying within the bosom of the Church and the extreme danger of schism. Iconoclasts (today, then, and in the 7th-8th century) thought they were doing what’s right by tearing down sacred images. In fact, they were destroying the religious treasury of God’s people and establishing a pseudo-worship that implicitly, though unintentionally, down-played the importance and centrality of the Incarnation. I’ve heard some Reformed accuse the Catholic Church of overemphasizing the Incarnation. How does a Christian get to the point where he thinks that the Incarnation can become too central in our theology? I’m not sure exactly how but I suspect it starts by stripping images from your walls.

  24. Barrett – I agree with you. It’s best not to speculate about the motives of others. When I was in the Reformed camp, I believed in Iconoclasm (wouldn’t have used that word) out of a desire to worship God purely. I have no reason to suspect the Reformers thought any differently.

    So if in fact the use of sacred images detracts in any way from a pure worship of God – whether they’re permissible or not, they ought not be used! Now there are things which are permissible but are not helpful (1 Cor 10:23).

    So the questions we need to ask are

    1. Are images lawful ever, for any reason?

    (Yes, God ordered them to be made so there must be at least some approved images)

    2. Are images lawful to make in a religious context?

    (Yes, see the Ark of the Covenant)

    3. Is it lawful to make images of Christ?

    (See arguments of St. John Damascene – Yes)

    4. Is it helpful in worship to use images?

    (It appears to be part of human nature to use images in worship. Grace does not destroy nature; it perfects it.)

    I think, for Protestant concerns, it is more important to answer the first three. Is it lawful? I think the answer must clearly be yes. Is it helpful? There might be some more debate on this one and we might need to philosophize a bit. On an individual level, it is conceivable that images may not be helpful. In that case – I would recommend not using them.

  25. Well, the Jews actually stripped down the images off the Ark of the Covenant, too, since these were in those Old Testament days also considered idolatry.

    No, wait. They didn’t. They were the ones who were actually responsiblie for creating those images on the Ark.

  26. Barrett,

    Thank you for your comment which I take in the spirit of charity in which it was given. Perhaps a point of clarification might help, since we have not yet had the opportunity to meet: you should know that my comments are meant neither as self-righteous Catholic indignations nor as ad hominem attacks, and if my words sometimes belie my purely collegial motives, you have my sincere apology. In fact, in light of St. Francis of Assisi, I am curious, to the point of utter dismay (truly–“dismay”) about the entire Reformation. And being steeped in history, I would argue that motives are interesting to consider. Where I get stuck, what I do not understand, is how “high-minded” (a friend’s expression) people of good will can argue against the unity of our Holy Church (the Body of Christ) with a variety of banal and outdated philosophies that are clearly “centrifugal” in nature, that in themselves, lead away from the worship of our LORD. Now you are all far more educated than I on the subject at hand, so please accept my comments as being from one, who like you, shares your interest in reasoned debate and simply loves our LORD; I am merely a Catholic Christian who considers nothing trivial when it comes to that which, in my view, seriously inhibits my brothers and sisters in Christ from sharing sacramentally the body, blood, soul and divinity of our LORD in His Holy Roman Catholic Church. This is my faith. And for this I do not apologize. Yet, I am reminded of a book by Isaiah Berlin, “The Fox and the Hedgehog.” Perhaps you are familiar with it, but it sums up nicely my thoughts on the stone that toppled the wagon even if it does not precisely address the arguments the children were having in the wagon at the time that it was toppled. The point is, the wagon is overturned (See excerpt below):

    “THERE is a line among the fragments of the Greek
poet Archilochus which says:’ The fox knows many
things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’.1
Scholars have differed about the correct interpetation of these dark words, which may mean no more
than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by
the hedgehog’s one defence. But, taken figuratively,
the words can be made to yield a sense in which they
mark one of the deepest differences which divide
writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in
general. For there exists a great chasm between
those, on one side, who relate everything to a single
central vision, one system less or more coherent or
articulate, in terms of which they understand, think
and feel–a single, universal, organizing principle in
terms of which alone all that they are and say has
significance–and, on the other side, those who pursue
many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory,
connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some
psychological or physiological cause, related by no
moral or aesthetic principle; these last lead lives,
perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal
rather than centripetal, their thought is scattered or
diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the
essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for
what they are in themselves, without, consciously or
unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude
them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times
fanatical, unitary inner vision. The first kind of
intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the
hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without
insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too
much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense,
Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the
second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky,
Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust are, in varying degrees, hedge­
hogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus,
Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce are foxes.” (Berlin, Isaiah: The Fox and the Hedgehog, 1953)

  27. In fact, in light of St. Francis of Assisi, I am curious, to the point of utter dismay (truly–”dismay”) about the entire Reformation.


    If you ever read any biographies (not actual spiritual literature, but the more dry ones) concerning Francis or even Anthony of Padua, their times were replete with Church corruption and notorious sin committed by certain clergy — even worse than those observed during the times of the Reformation.

    Yet, even as worse as those times were, instead of producing a Martin Luther, you got saints that worked within the Church and by their devotion and humility ultimately saved it.

    I wonder what would’ve been if Luther had actually conquered his demons that made him scream the anguished cries of “Non Sum” that ineluctably led to Reformation of a more deformed kind.

  28. Roma & Ilow, just a friendly reminder – let’s try and keep to the topic if possible. These kinds of comments (true or false) don’t tend to lead to appreciation for or understanding of the Catholic faith – they lead to driving people away who otherwise might be interested in it. Thanks for understanding.

  29. Keeping to the topic then, perhaps if I might suggest, with respect to the matter of images & the traditional Protestant view, Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon had once conveyed the thought that, on a seemingly more philosophical point (at least, to me), such images are but poor substitutes for the actual reality (i.e., the divine). This, to him, is the crime which Romanists had committed in his view — purpotedly substituting the reality of the divine with something so inferior.

    Perhaps those more expert might elaborate and provide further clarification on the matter.

  30. Roma,

    Bacon would have a great point, if Catholics treated images as if they were God. But of course we don’t. Of course images are a poor substitute for God, but think of the analogy someone cited above of a picture of a loved one.

    A picture of my wife is of course a poor substitute for my wife if I’m expecting it to do all the things my wife does. But if I’m away on business for a few days, a picture of my has a completely appropriate purpose different from the purpose of my actual wife.

    Indeed, if I expected a picture of my wife to mind the children, cook dinner and look after the house, it would be a poor substitute, but when set to the purpose of reminding me of my wife in her absence, it does just fine.

  31. Here is an excellent article on images from a 1986 audience of Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory.


    I think from reading this lecture by Pope John Paul II, we see that the image that God wanted was man, who was created in the Divine Image of God (c.f. Gen 1:27). THus, man left to his own imagination would fall into heresy or idolatary, thus in the commandments in Exodus 20, for example, God commands us not to make images, which can be interpreted as do not make images outside of God’s parameters as later we see God commanding man to make images as Exodus 25:18-19; Numbers 21: 8-9 [bronze serpent, which in and of itself does not have power, but using typology, is a prefigurement of Christ {c.f. John 3:14}], and 1 Kings 6, we see the construction of the temple, which had images, etc.

    Through the incarnation, the Word was made flesh and Christ took on our human nature, which ties the creation of man in God’s image to the incarnation of Christ, or perhaps a better way of stating it through his incarnation, Christ has revealed the face of God and shown man’s true nature and destiny. St. Paul could say that “He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation” (c.f. Col 1:15). So the image of man back in Genesis is now the image that God uses to reveal himself in the incarnation of Christ.

    Christ, through the Church, as the body of Christ, and the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15) reflecting on the theological signifiance of the incarnation dogmatically rejected iconoclasticism of the 7th century and condemned it at the 7th Council of Nicea (787AD). Thus, Icons, sacred art, images, can be used in Liturgy, etc and venerated. All of these (i.e. Icons, sacred art, rosaries, etc) can loosly fall under “sacramentals”, which while related to a sacrament, or distinct from them, in that they point to God’s Grace, but do not give man Grace as Christ gives us through the Sacraments/Divine Mysteries, etc.

    Anyway, I love the blog and I linked one of your articles [Tim’ Troutmans article on Sola Deo Gloria] on a Protestant blog [Internet Monk, who is very cordial and gracious with Catholics]

    Pax et bonum

  32. Thanks for the link and the kind words.

  33. Welcome Louisiana Catholic!

    I thought I recognized your handle from Imonk’s site. I hope you’ll stick around and keep commenting!

  34. Tim and Matt:

    To Tim, your welcome, it was an excellent article and to Matt, thanks for the welcome.


  35. Thanks to everyone for your comments. I had one other thought on images of God, which you can take or leave.

    All of us are surrounded by images of God, whether we are iconoclasts or not, for we are all made as images of God. In being human we are always in the presence of an image, unless we close our eyes to who we are and who are friends (and enemies) are.

    Those images are the objects of most modern day idolatry, even going beyond reality TV about singers who are idolized in the USA.

    As such, even the simplest Reformed church building is full of images of God. What we do with those images is of utmost importance: will we only be amazed at the beauty or folly of man, or will we see what is transcendent, the invisible God who has made us and sustains us?


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