“Edifying Idolatry: What Would Calvin Say to David Garibaldi?”

Mar 11th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

David Garibaldi is a “performance painter” who creates live art  “to inspire the audience to use their passion to benefit and inspire others.” I have no idea what his religious convictions are. However, an organization called “Thriving Churches” has posted a video of Garibaldi dramatically painting an image of Christ. The performance is surprising and engaging.

Garibaldi's Jesus

I learned of the link when when a Presbyterian acquaintance sent it to me.  I had two initial responses: 1) Wow! That’s good art! and 2) Calvin would call this damnable idolatry.1

My die-hard Reformed friends would probably agree. Garibalidi’s performance, while entertaining, would definitely have been rejected as blasphemous and idolatrous by the historic mainstream of Reformed thought, which objects to images of Christ or the saints. However, “Thriving Churches” and my less die-hard acquaintance celebrate it as something beautiful and edifying.

There is really no middle ground between these two positions. If something is “idolatrous and blasphemous,” we should literally die rather than submit to it. However, if it is edifying, we should encourage it. How to decide between these? Appeal to the Bible alone?

Zwingli, Calvin, and the historic Reformed tradition thought that Scripture was very clear on the creation of religious art. Modern Evangelicals, by implication, must think so too, though they come to a diametrically opposed interpretation of the text. They cannot both be right. However, this is simply one of many issues on which Sola Scriptura provokes mutually exclusive interpretations about matters that cannot be dismissed as secondary or non-essential.

The Catholic Tradition, by contrast, has always enjoyed a principled way of interpreting the deposit of faith and of distinguishing the essential from the non-essential. We believe that Christ established The Church as the final arbiter or Rule of Faith. “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Dei Verbum 10.2.)

With respect to Mr. Garibalid, we can point to the teaching of the Catechism:

 Sacred art is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God – the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love visible in Christ, who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature,” in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God, the angels, and saints. Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2502)

I would ask our Reformed readers, “What do you think of Garibaldi’s painting? What do you think of the historic, Reformed position on religious art? What do you think of Thriving Churches’s promotion of this video? And finally, what do you think about the evolution of Protestant interpretation of Scripture? What does this suggest about the alleged perspicuity of Scripture?

  1. On this topic, see Carlos Eire, War against the Idols: the Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.) See also the Institutes 1.11.1-16. []

46 comments
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  1. I sometimes wonder how Calvin, Beza, Knox, and Farel would react to the Reformation Wall in Geneva.

    It’s an unintentional and fascinating testimony to the fluidity of Reformed thought that the wall even exists.

  2. I’ll briefly respond.

    First, it is not to images of the saints that Reformed theology objects. So the wall in Geneva is not really an example of something the Reformers would have condemned (though my guess is they would probably find it odd that they had themselves on a wall like that).

    Second, my own reflection on the painting is that it is a fascinating work of art though I’m inclined to believe that it is a violation of the 2nd commandment. Though I also have not ruled out in theory the possibility that images of Jesus inherently violate the 2nd Commandment.

    As far as the the perspicuity of Scripture, I’m not really sure that these questions are related. Perhaps the usefulness of Sola Scriptura could be addressed, but Scripture is not inperspicuous on images. There are no images of Jesus recorded in Scripture. The only mention of images is in the 2nd commandment, so they are to be avoided. The question becomes how the second commandments applies to the Christian Church today (and after the incarnation according to John of Damascus).

    I understand that this can shift to a question of perspicuity about how the second commandment is to be interpreted, but is the passage itself unclear? Perhaps the application of it is, but the passage itself remains clear.

    Just my 2 cents

  3. RefProt,

    I appreciate your response. Regarding your first paragraph, you say that it “it is not to images of the saints that Reformed theology objects.” That may be true of “Reformed theology,” but only because of the fluidity to which I referred in my first comment. Calvin himself was opposed to pictorial representations of Saints. In Book I, Chapter 11 of Institutes, he said:

    “Visible representations are of two classes—viz. historical, which give a representation of events, and pictorial, which merely exhibit bodily shapes and figures. The former are of some use for instruction or admonition. The latter, so far as I can see, are only fitted for amusement. And yet it is certain, that the latter are almost the only kind which have hitherto been exhibited in churches. Hence we may infer, that the exhibition was not the result of judicious selection, but of a foolish and inconsiderate longing.”

    He also rejected the idea “that churches should contain representations of any kind, whether of events or human forms,” and called it “mere infatuation to attempt to defend images of God and the saints by the example of the Cherubim.” So while I agree with you that modern Reformed thought is likely more permissive in regards to the creation of images of the Saints, my point had been that this is a curious deviation from Calvin’s own apparent views on the subject.

    I.X.,

    Joe

  4. David,

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read Eire, but as I remember it was all about worship. And as I pull the book from the shelf I see the subtitle of the book would support that contention. The Reformation concern over images of Christ were focused on their use in worship. The Reformers first reform in worship was to bring the people back in contact with the spoken Word and away from image centered communication of who Christ is and what He had done. Hence their war against the idols…

    I don’t think that Calvin and the Protestant Reformers would have had any time for images of Christ to be used outside of the context of worship, but then I doubt they would have been able to conceive of images of Christ abstracted from worship. From their perspective there was no such thing, at least none that I can think of. People in the 16th century did not create images of Christ for purposes not associated with worship. Take a look at Joe’s quote above – the images Calvin is concerned about are those in churches. And even today there are many Reformed folks who won’t accept the artistic portrayal of Christ in any context because of the possibility that such a portrayal could be used for worship (and for other reasons as well that I won’t go into). And maybe they have a good point, or maybe not. But either way, I think the question you pose concerning what we think of this painter’s creation is contingent on what the piece of art will eventually be used for. If, just for example, it was made into an icon and was used as part of a worship service where the icon was venerated, then I would have a problem with that. Obviously that is not what it will be used for, and I don’t suppose you would be comfortable with this use either. But it would be a mistake for us to continue this conversation without regards to the context and use of the images in question.

    My opinion of the picture above is that aesthetically it’s ugly. But then I’m a big fan of classic art and have seen a ton of paintings of Jesus in galleries throughout Europe and elsewhere. But I suppose you are not asking about the aesthetic qualities of the piece.

    Cheers….

  5. Andrew M,

    Is there a distinction, in your mind, between “being *used for* worship” and “being worshipped?” Are both sinful? If this artist understood his painting (verb) as an act of worship, would he be sinning?

  6. Joe,

    I apologize for any ambiguity. Reformed theology of course does not want pictures of the saints to be used in worship. But insofar as I understand Reformed theology and Calvin, it is not sinful to make a picture of a Church Father. This icon should not be used in worship however because that would be idolatrous. That doesn’t disqualify something like a statue of Calvin.

    As I mentioned, Calvin would probably find it odd, but I don’t think he’d find it as idolatrous per se to see a statue of himself in Geneva. If people began gathering at the wall for worship though, then he would have a problem with it.

  7. i’ll will be even briefer with my response :)

    i think his painting is amazing..probably because i am not gifted to create such works of art, so seeing him do it so quickly and seemingly effortlessly amazes me..(that being said, i’m sure he has painted this one A LOT) i would not purchase the painting for my home and would not want it in my church though..i much prefer cranach.. :)

    i’m sure to be found woefully ignorant, but i’m not aware of any teachings in my lutheran church prohibiting religous art..i have found nothing in my studies of the book of concord which prohibit it and i’m not aware of a prohibition in the Bible either..my synod certainly uses religious art, so that’s a new one on me..

    as for the thriving churches organization, i’m not surprised they are pushing the video given their apparent “worship style” and theology..Lord have mercy!..i can only hope the video wasn’t from an actual worship service..but again, sadly, i wouldn’t be surprised if it was..

    and to fr bryan,

    FWIW, i would answer that there is of course a difference between “being *used for* worship” and “being worshipped.” i would posit that the artist doing *anything* from faith would be a good work in God’s eyes..

  8. This icon should not be used in worship however because that would be idolatrous.

    RefProt, if one is NOT worshipping the icon during the worship service, how is that merely having an icon displayed during a worship service an act of idolatry?

    Honestly, I fail to see the connection that you are making here.

    If people began gathering at the wall for worship though, then he would have a problem with it.

    Why? Unless the people gathered at the wall were actually worshiping the statue of Calvin, why, exactly, would Calvin have a problem with where they are worshiping?

  9. RefPro

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say that an icon or statue should not be used in worship. I have been a Catholic for going on 70 years now and have never seen an icon or statue worshipped in the church yet. We worship God alone. We do have icons and statues in the church but only as reminders to us of the saints, and a crucifix to remind us of Jesus’ suffering and death. But the crucifix is not worshipped either. Anyone who would worship any of those symbols would be committing idolatry.

    B|lessings
    NHU

  10. I’ve seen Reformed folks say even drawing or carving of the cross. Anyway, I think the responses by the Reformed posters here demonstrate the problem Dr Anders was getting at, which is that there is no ‘right answer’. It’s not clear whether images is even a “perspicuous” teaching, aside from what are ‘legitimate’ images.

    Interestingly, when Jesus was shown a coin with the *image* of Caesar on it, He didn’t tell them to melt the idol but rather pay it to Caesar as a legitimate object of use. Of course, there was certainly an element of ‘deification’ here, since Caesar was seen as divine and thus some semblance of worship. How much more valid is the Cross and images of Christ?

  11. If we are going to limit the permissibility of sacred art to any occasion except worship, then we may need to define the boundaries of worship. If worship is strictly the acts we perform in a building defined as “church” led by and ordained teaching elder, then that makes it easy. What about private prayer or family devotions? Aren’t these acts of worship as well?

    When I was a student at Covenant College, the discussion of “What is worship?” came up frequently. We were required to attend chapel five days a week. But was chapel worship? The discussion could become a little ridiculous at times–“attending chapel is ‘w’orship while attending church on Sunday morning is ‘W’orship”–and was never really resolved in my time there. I doubt it is now.

  12. Nelson (re:#9),

    I’m a Catholic “revert” of almost two years, after a much longer time as a committed Protestant, so I understand, on both an academic and a visceral level, the Reformed antipathy to the use of images in worship. As Catholics, we know that we do not worship images, statues, and such.

    However, have you ever seen anyone kneel and pray, in a Catholic parish, in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary? I have seen it, and while again, we know that it is not worship of Mary that is going on there (as much we can possibly know, without actually asking the person in question, which would be quite presumptuous and rude!), to a strongly Reformed person, such an act *appears* to be very much *like* worship of Mary and/or a statue of her, if not an actual act of idolatry itself. To us, we understand the context, and the history of such practices in Catholicism, so they don’t unnerve us. When I had just returned to the Church though, I did have to go through a time of adjustment of understanding though (in terms of seeing the statues and people praying before them), due to so much anti-Catholic thinking that I had learned and absorbed in Protestant (and especially Calvinistic) circles.

  13. Is there a distinction, in your mind, between “being *used for* worship” and “being worshipped?” Are both sinful? If this artist understood his painting (verb) as an act of worship, would he be sinning?

    Fr. Bryan (re: #5),

    Your last question first. I would guess that most all Christian painters who depict biblical and religious people and scenes would consider their art as an act of worship at some level. I certainly would not have any issues with such an artist glorifying God by the use of his skill. Quite the contrary. But what the Reformers and their descendants were concerned about at its most fundamental level was substituting images of God for the teaching of the Word in the churches. And this was certainly happening at the time of the Reformation. An image-based teaching had replaced a Word-based teaching. The people knew the images but their knowledge of the Word was sketchy at best. One aspect of the Reformation was that it was a return to the centrality of a Word-based liturgy, and hence the Reformed insistence on ministers reading the Scriptures, teaching, and conducting the liturgy in the vernacular.

    From my standpoint this problem is more pronounced in EO churches where the images (icons) are much more central to worship.

    So now for your first question – I think it’s inherently dangerous for images of Christ to be used for worship. Eventually the images replace the Word which is exactly what happened at the time of the Reformation. Even where there was no bowing down to images of Christ, there was an emphasis on image-based and experience-based modes of worship rather than Word-based worship. The Reformation brought the reading and teaching from the Word in the vernacular back into the centrality of the worship service.

    All this does not mean that one has to strip out every picture from our places of worship. The problem it seems to me is when images become a primary means of communication of spiritual truths in worship.

    Concerning Mr. Garibaldi, I’m not sure if this video is from a worship service. I’m guessing not, but then you never know with so many of these hip and happening congregations.

  14. I am just amazed at the latitude among we Protestants, though there is always the tongue-in-cheek raz between the men folk when one encounters a picture in the home of another. I’ve watched this kind of situation that is sometimes slightly uncomfortable but always laughed off while the wine or beer is opened. We really aren’t sure how to call the shots regarding religious art in the home. I learned that Zwingli and Calvin wouldn’t permit icons, but that Luther didn’t have as much of a problem with images, and distanced himself from the Beeldenstorm.
    Catholics seem to want every bit of the religious trappings and aren’t afraid that they might accidentally *willfully* worship something other than God. How do they manage?

  15. Andrew M. (re:#13),

    Responding to Fr. Bryan, you wrote:

    So now for your first question – I think it’s inherently dangerous for images of Christ to be used for worship. Eventually the images replace the Word which is exactly what happened at the time of the Reformation. Even where there was no bowing down to images of Christ, there was an emphasis on image-based and experience-based modes of worship rather than Word-based worship. The Reformation brought the reading and teaching from the Word in the vernacular back into the centrality of the worship service.

    Andrew, I’m fairly sure (although, of course, I don’t know for certain) that you have heard of the Didache– an early Christian writing, dating from either the late 1st, or early 2nd, century, which has descriptions of Church organization and Church worship services (including rituals) of the time?

    Have you ever read it? It speaks of bishops and the Eucharist… not exactly resembling a Presbyterian (or a “Reformed Baptist”) service. However, the Didache *does* call to mind the Catholic Church and the Mass.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Didache
    For the text of the Didache itself: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/richardson/fathers.viii.i.iii.html

  16. Andrew,

    Thanks for the response. I think it makes a lot of sense. I agree with you that during the liturgy we should rely more heavily on the proclaimed word as opposed to images. I’m not opposed to anything that you say. I like that the scripture is so central to current Catholic worship. I like that it is in the vernacular (though I personally could use a little more latin in the ordinary of the Mass – that is to say, the parts of the mass that do not change week to week). Perhaps it was the reformation that led to some of these positive developments, even if it took a few hundred years. If it was, then that is a part of the reformation I think I can be thankful for.

    The fact is that currently in western Catholic liturgy, the Word of God proclaimed is the primary way of communicating spiritual truth. I’m not sure this can be denied. After all, we have preserved the tradition of reading the Bible in big uninterrupted chunks, often letting the Word speak for itself to the human heart (as opposed to many evangelical church goers who never hear the word proclaimed without their own pastor filtering it for them). Is there anything currently practiced in Roman Catholicism regarding images that you think crosses the line or moves us into dangerous territory? What do you think Calvin would think about our use of images if today he walked into a typical Catholic parish celebrating the Novus ordo Mass?

    I’ll leave the EO and Eastern Catholic commenters to speak of this from their perspective, but the few times I’ve attend the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Rites, scripture certainly had an extremely prominent place.

  17. Christopher

    I think you have hit the nail on the head with your answer when you said it *appears* like they might be worshipping the statue. We know however that it is not the case or at least that the Church teaches that it should *NOT* be the case. It is sites like this that can help to teach the truth though and that’s a good thing. I agree with you that there is room for misunderstanding at times.

    Blessings
    NHU

  18. There is such a wide spectrum of belief when it comes to images that it is hard to nail down when it goes from a ‘tool’ to actual idolatry. Protestants tend to err on the side of caution. However, we have gone to far in some areas and fallen into iconoclasm. I would consider destruction of images sinful (in agreement with the 2nd council of Nicea), though selective removal might be good for the congregants.

    I view images like alcohol. Most can consume in a controlled manner, but some indulge too much. In those cases, it is best to remove the stumbling block.

    I think it would be helpful to define a spectrum to determine where people are comfortable, and so to help focus the discussion.
    Level 0 = iconoclast (no images of any kind)
    Level 1 = non-human 2d imagery (staind glass windows / crosses) OK.
    level 2 = human 2d imagery OK.
    level 3 = kneeling before / lighting incense to 2d imagery OK
    level 4 = 3d imagery OK
    level 5 = kneeling before / lighting incense to 3d imagery OK
    level 6 = Enshrining an image (Our Lady of Fatima / Guadalupe)
    level 7 = Idolatry

    Most protestants are comfortable up to level 2, Orthodox would probably be OK at level 3. Catholics have a pattern of at least level 6.

  19. I feel a little guilty about answer the question posed in this post whilst I still have oodles of comments to respond to in another thread, but I cannot resist the temptation.

    In answer to the title question, Calvin obviously would reject it absolutely.

    In answer to: “What do you think of Garibaldi’s painting?”

    Morally it’s reprehensible, though I have little doubt that Garibaldi’s sin here is in ignorance.

    “What do you think of the historic, Reformed position on religious art?”

    I fully agree.

    “What do you think of Thriving Churches’s promotion of this video?”

    It’s also not good.

    “And finally, what do you think about the evolution of Protestant interpretation of Scripture?”

    Like the evolution in Roman theology, a lot of evolution in “Protestant” theology is just mutation, not advantageous mutation.

    “What does this suggest about the alleged perspicuity of Scripture?”

    Nothing.

    -TurretinFan

  20. Gentlemen,

    Word, sacrament, icon, etc, are a symphony that is the single action called Divine Liturgy. It is an understandable mistake, but being understandable not the less a mistake, to play these external elements off against one another–a little more of this, a little less of that. Look instead to Heaven, if you want to understand the Liturgy. When we stand with the angels and saints in the heavenly Presence, such antitheses (icon versus word, vernacular versus latin/greek/church slavonic) fade away. The throne room is not the class room. The heavenly worship, which is the essence of the communion of saints, consists of the power and presence of God in and among us, and we with him. Heaven and earth meet, the latter assumed by the former, where the Lamb is, standing as though it had been slain, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. When we behold the Lamb of God, mystically in the Eucharist, with the eyes of faith, when we are joined to him, to the glory of the Father, in the unity of the Spirit, with all the saints, in his self-giving communion, there is forgiveness of sins and deification, wisdom and understanding and eternal joy.

    Andrew

  21. Fr. Bryan (re:#16) and Andrew P. (re:#18),

    I agree with both of you in different ways. Fr. Bryan, of course, you are right that Scripture does play a very, very important role in the liturgy. The Mass is packed with Scripture, not even counting the homily! Even the part of the Mass which is *most* central, the Eucharist, is based on taking Jesus, literally, at His word in John 6 (where we believe, along with the early Church, that He *meant* Himself to be taken literally).

    Andrew, you are right, too, that “the throne room is not the class room.” In my time since I have returned to the Catholic Church, I have heard many great homilies which have been, at least in part, examinations, explications, and applications (three times fast! :-)) of Sacred Scripture. This is a very, very good thing. I would argue that more Catholic homilies should be as such. However, you are right that the throne room is not the class room. The Mass is about Heaven touching earth, and vice versa– the gathering of the communion of saints, not fundamentally an exegetical lecture on a passage of Scripture with exhortations following.

  22. When, in 1988, the little Reformed Church I helped to start in our small town in New Zealand purchased an old Baptist Church building, it had a large bare Cross on the outside. Our elders immediately arranged to have it removed. I was rather upset – was not a Catholic at the time, but I thought this really a bit ridiculous, and especially bad as we wanted a presence in the town. No, it was idolatry. Down she comes.

    jj

  23. A few years after that business of the Cross, by the way, I got into a long exchange of letters to the editor of our nation-wide Reformed magazine over the issue of depictions of Jesus and the saints. The opponent in this silly war of words, one of the ministers, firmly maintained that it was a sin to go into an art museum because it would have images of Jesus – and, I think, of His Mother – I mean, I think he said that was also a sin, even to see them willingly.

    jj

  24. The fact is that currently in western Catholic liturgy, the Word of God proclaimed is the primary way of communicating spiritual truth. I’m not sure this can be denied.

    Fr. Bryan,

    The novus ordo mass is definitely a big leap forward from our perspective. Since Vatican II the people are hearing the Scriptures in their own language – definitely a good thing. You ask me about what else is still at issue concerning images in the average RCC parish and I have to say that most of my experience with Catholic churches in terms of buildings and artwork comes from visiting the classic churches and cathedrals in Europe rather than the average local church. From this perspective it would seem that the use of images to convey spiritual concepts is still very much part of Roman Catholicism and still something we have problems with. The religious experience of many Catholics is still mediated through images and visual means. I would add that this is true of lots of Evangelicals as well – they go to church for the visual spectacle. They love the 20 piece band and the cool videos and the whole visual extravaganza of going to church. This is me can be as much of an idol as an image of Mary or the saints.

    Do you agree with me that an image of Jesus or Mary or the saints CAN become an idol even if the image is not worshiped directly? From our standpoint the problem historically with the use of images (both East and West) was that theological concepts were being conveyed through the images outside of the mediation of the Word. This still happens in Catholic as well as Protestant churches IMO.

    David Anders is raising the issue of images of Christ in general. To me the use of pictures of outside of the context of worship is another matter. Of course there are no shortage of Reformed folks who entirely reject such pictures altogether as TFan does above, but I was just pointing out that the classic Reformed critique of images of Christ was made within the context of worship. It’s here where the problem lies from my standpoint rather than with the matter of the painting/sculpting the physical form of Christ outside the context of worship, such as in an art gallery.

  25. I’m glad that we’ve had a lively discussion on this thread about images. I think it should be clear from the post, however, that my major question was more about hermeneutics and authority than it was about images per se. It is not surprising that people disagree on the appropriateness of religious art. What is fascinating to me, however, is that that the disagreements cannot be dismissed as secondary issues. Within the Reformed Tradition, these questions are really of ultimate importance. Is this idolatry or not? Is Scripture able to answer that question?

    Also, I’d like to make one observation about Andrew’s #13 above.
    I think that a great deal of Protestant criticism of late medieval religion is based on the Reformers’ highly propagandistic description of their contemporaries, and not based on historical scholarship.
    I often ask people: what would you think if social historians 500 years from now based their entire picture of southern conservatism on the polemical descriptions of San Francisco Democrats?
    I think this is what happens when modern Protestants reject medieval Catholicism based on the Reformers’ caricatures.

    There has been a very great body of scholarship in recent years that seriously challenges the Reformation picture of medieval worship. I would point in particular to the work of Eamon Duffy and Virginia Reinburg.

    The place of sermon, text, Scripture, image, and sacrament is far more nuanced than Andrew’s comment suggests.

    I would concur that Calvin wanted to give much greater prominence to the reading and teaching of Scripture in the Public liturgy. (During what Catholics would call The Mass.) However, I deny that preaching and Scripture where thereby marginalized in Catholic Tradition. On the contrary, preaching was probably the single most popular religious activity of the late middle ages. It was simply not always conjoined with the mass.

    For that matter, we might ask: how do you know that Scripture reading and the mass are to be conjoined? Where in Scripture is this taught? On Holy Thursday, Jesus said nothing about conjoining Eucharist and Scripture.

    The fact is – we only know that “Liturgy of the Word” and “Liturgy of the Eucharist” are to be held together because we have received this from Tradition.

    -David

  26. Andrew M –

    Thanks for the reply. I appreciate your willingness to have this discussion, and I will give you the final word. I don’t have much free time here on out this week. Obviously, I have a lot of pastoral work on the weekend, but I also have to spend sometime with Ba’al this week. Specifically, NCAA BasketBa’al (Go Zags – though if anyone is interested I’m not optimistic about their chances).

    I guess I would refer to Andrew’s Preslar’s #18. I’m not sure why we have to play these different elements off of each other. I think one way we can look at images is to look at it like a homily or sermon. When I preach I spend significant time praying over the readings, thinking about them in terms of my life as well as different situations in the world, as well as pondering the details of these events that might not be apparent after a quick reading. I don’t think this is different from the way an Artist might look at the scripture.

    I guess what I’m saying is that a good piece of art can be like a homily or sermon. In fact, I’m not sure I really see much of a difference between the two, except that the Artist’s preaching to me through an image will last longer than a preacher’s homily. A good homily doesn’t diminish the Word of God. It enhances it and makes it come alive in the hearts and minds of the believer. A good piece of Art can do the same.

    Furthermore (and I’m sure you’re well aware) the use of images helps people who might not be able to read to have the word preached to them. Of course, when you’re literate its tough to put ourselves in the shoes of somebody who isn’t, but there are many Catholics in the world who don’t read. Small children, of course, would be included. I’ve been to some very poor parts of Mexico and literacy was a huge problem. But, they can walk into their Church and at least have the stories of the life of Christ taught to them through the Artist’s preaching.

    I guess I just don’t see the difference between a good homily and a good piece of Art. If we are going to say one is ok we should say both are ok. If we are going to say one is bad, we should say both are bad.

    You ask:

    Do you agree with me that an image of Jesus or Mary or the saints CAN become an idol even if the image is not worshiped directly?

    I guess, because I think anything can become an idol. But because something can become an idol doesn’t mean its bad. Sex can be an idol, but sex isn’t bad. TV can become an idol, but TV isn’t inherently bad. An image of Mary can become an idol, but that doesn’t mean that the image is bad. All it means is it is being misused.

  27. “Within the Reformed Tradition, these questions are really of ultimate importance. Is this idolatry or not? Is Scripture able to answer that question?”

    It looks like an authority answered the question, but since the early church resembled Judaism mostly, wouldn’t images be something wrongly picked- up from the pagan practices while living under the Roman Empire where they had household gods and home altars? What did the second commandment prohibit exactly? I assume that this prohibition is a universal law as the other laws are binding on all mankind, and not something confined to the household of faith.

    Thanks,
    Alicia

  28. Within the Reformed Tradition, these questions are really of ultimate importance. Is this idolatry or not? Is Scripture able to answer that question?

    Speaking of art used in worship, yes – scripture can and does answer the question of idolatry, and a plain reading of both Exodus and Deuteronomy indicates that the fabrication, the bowing down, and the worship of ‘graven images’ – all 3 acts separately are condemned. Roman Catholics seem to be guilty of 2/3 of the commandment.

    Interestingly enough, God did instruct Moses to create the bronze snake – though the command there was to ‘look’ at it, and it doesn’t seem to be used in the context of worship.

    I do believe that there is room for Tradition to hammer out some of the finer points of dispute – for example, what does ‘graven’ mean, and does it apply only to statues, or also to paintings.

    There is really no middle ground between these two positions. If something is “idolatrous and blasphemous,” we should literally die rather than submit to it. However, if it is edifying, we should encourage it. How to decide between these? Appeal to the Bible alone?

    An act might be edifying to one Christian, but idolatrous to another. This could very easily be a situation where Romans 14 needs to be applied liberally. If you do choose to appeal to tradition, then the 2nd council of Nicaea is a good place to start – and it too condemns ‘sculptures in the round’ (3d). A followup question would be ‘by what authority does the RCC abandon the rulings of Nicaea 2 and continue to use sculptures in worship?”

  29. Bob B (and Alicia),

    Let’s first give these “sculptures” their proper name. They are icons. An icon is a sign or likeness that stands for an object by signifying or representing it either concretely or by analogy.

    Catholics do not worship the physical object itself – which is what pagans do and what the second commandment prohibits. We worship (for example the corpus on the Crucifix), the reality that icon makes present to us by a physical sign. Just as the spoken or written word makes Jesus present to us in the “signs” that words function as, pictorial representations of Jesus help make Him present to us in a different mode than words, but, like words, they function as signs – medium of communication.

    When you read the Bible or hear it read, do you worship the ink of the printed word on the page, or the shapes of the letters of the word, or the sound of the words? No, and neither do we worship the plaster or marble or canvas or pigment of a visual representation of Jesus. We worship Him as made present to us by the marble or canvas. We are embodied souls and all reality is mediated to us by physically embodied things, sometimes two-dimensional, something three-dimensional; sometimes aural, sometimes visual. While it is a topic unto itself, this is how true sacred music works.

    This misunderstanding is a perfect example of how the teachings of the Bible becomes distorted without an authoritative Tradition to interpret it.

    Blessings to you,
    Frank

  30. Frank, I beg to differ with your first statement. Icon, in the historic use of the word, did not include sculptures. I understand your desire to group sculptures and icons together, since that would lend some credibility to the RCC practice – but your definition of the word icon is a post schism innovation. See wikipedia on icon – here is the relevant quote:

    In Eastern Christianity and other icon-painting Christian traditions, the icon is generally a flat panel painting depicting a holy being or object such as Jesus, Mary, saints, angels, or the cross. Icons may also be cast in metal, carved in stone, embroidered on cloth, painted on wood, done in mosaic or fresco work, printed on paper or metal, etc. Creating free-standing, three-dimensional sculptures of holy figures was resisted by Christians for many centuries, out of the belief that daimones inhabited pagan sculptures, and also to make a clear distinction between Christian and pagan art. To this day, in obedience to the commandment not to make “graven images”, Orthodox icons may never be more than three-quarter bas relief. Comparable images from Western Christianity are generally not described as “icons” , although “iconic” may be used to describe a static style of devotional image.

    That brings us back around to the points I made in my last post: The RCC in its use of sculptures breaks 2/3 of the 2nd commandment (both the making of and bowing down to non-icon images / idols), and disobeys the 2nd council of Nicaea which condemns sculptures as sensual. By what authority does the RCC do this?

    I fully understand your intent not to worship idols – I get it. However, if God says “don’t eat peaches – neither their pit, nor thier skin” – we don’t skin and de-pit peaches and eat the meat. We avoid the peaches.

    There is no misunderstanding. This is rather a perfect example of one Bishop can innovate doctrine so that the plain reading of an obvious text is disobeyed, and the opposite is done.

  31. I also have to spend sometime with Ba’al this week. Specifically, NCAA BasketBa’al (Go Zags – though if anyone is interested I’m not optimistic about their chances).

    I suppose I should admonish you about your idol here, but I think in case it’s excusable. My best wishes to Gonzaga for a good showing. My hope for this season is that there is a good underdog to root for.

    I guess I just don’t see the difference between a good homily and a good piece of Art.

    One of my favorite paintings in the Louvre is da Vinci’s The Virgin and Child with St. Anne. It’s a wonderful piece and says so much about not just Jesus but probably more about Mary and Anne. And while I appreciate the work greatly, such works cannot explain who Christ is or who Mary is in the same way that the Scriptures can. One of the problems it would seem to me is that we are all going to have different interpretations of such works. Of course we might have different interpretations of a sermon/homily that we hear, but I think this is less likely. The result of having visual pieces communicating spiritual concepts in the churches when the Scriptures are not being preached in the common language is at the heart of the complaint of the Reformers.

    Cheers for now….

  32. The place of sermon, text, Scripture, image, and sacrament is far more nuanced than Andrew’s comment suggests.

    David,

    Perhaps so. Maybe you could post an article to elaborate and explain what you mean here.

    My contention is that in the Medieval world the typical layperson did not have the Scriptures read to them in their own language and did not hear homilies that were exegetical discourses in their own language. I would be interested to hear you challenge this.

    Cheers for now…

  33. There is no misunderstanding. This is rather a perfect example of one Bishop can innovate doctrine so that the plain reading of an obvious text is disobeyed, and the opposite is done.

    That’s funny. I’m always saying the same thing to Protestant friends about verses like “Whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven,” “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life,” and Jesus’ bestowing the keys of the kingdom on Peter (obviously I change “one bishop” to “one random dude”). Yet they never seem to think it’s quite so simple.

  34. Bob B, (re #30)

    Good for the Orthodox. They also differ from the RCC on the “procession” of the Holy Spirit from the Father and Son. Where do you stand on that one? Do you go counter to Western Christianity in all its (creedal) forms and endorse the Orthodox view on that as well?

    The RCC defines “icon” differently than the Orthodox. Your “historic use of the word” is consistent only among the Orthodox. It is not “historic” for the Catholic Church. Your own Wikipedia citation says:

    Icons may also be cast in metal, carved in stone, embroidered on cloth, painted on wood, done in mosaic or fresco work, printed on paper or metal, etc

    The Orthodox produce beautiful art and use it in worship, but they don’t worship the art. Neither do we, though we have different sensitivities about this from the Orthodox.

    The second commandment (Exodus 20):

    4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

    Verse 4 taken out of the context of verse 5 would seem to prohibit the creation of any art that depicts God’s creation. A child drawing a tree would be committing a grave sin. But it’s not intended to be taken alone. When taken together with verse 5, the Catholic practice is completely orthodox (pardon the pun.) We do not bow down to the image itself, but to who it is that image depicts – Jesus. No Catholic I know bows down before an icon of Mary or any other Saint. We only bow our heads and bend our knees to the Lord Jesus Christ who is the image of the Father.

    Blessings,
    Frank

  35. I am going on the record. I have never worshiped an idol as a Catholic.

  36. Good for the Orthodox. They also differ from the RCC on the “procession” of the Holy Spirit from the Father and Son. Where do you stand on that one? Do you go counter to Western Christianity in all its (creedal) forms and endorse the Orthodox view on that as well?

    Both the Orthodox position and the Western position are correct – though the Orthodox have the stronger point about modifying creeds without an ecumenical council. An analogy would be ‘the water comes from the spigot (father) and the hose (son)’. No, the water is generated (in this magical spigot) from the spigot alone. The hose directs it, and it comes through it, but it doesn’t originate there. Much of the dispute lies in the translation from Greek to Latin. A better translation would be ‘Proceeds from the father through the son – since both the EO and the RCC identify the Father as the sole source of the spirit, and the words ‘and the son’ don’t make adequate distinction. My preference is to drop the filioque out of grace to our EO brethren, and in deference to the 7 ecumenical councils which did not include it.

    The RCC defines “icon” differently than the Orthodox. Your “historic use of the word” is consistent only among the Orthodox. It is not “historic” for the Catholic Church.

    I’m afraid you are incorrect – you forget the 2nd council of Nicaea. This is a part of RCC history, and it condemns (with the whole Church) sculptures in the round. The Pope signed off on that – then went back to Rome and began teaching that statues were OK too.

    I get that tradition isn’t on your side in this matter, but you can’t use tradition against protestants, but the jettison it when it isn’t convenient. Either the 7 ecumenical councils carry authority, or they don’t. I readily accept that the Church needs to provide clarity on the 2nd commandment, and it appears that the Church (in its ecumenical form) ruled against the RCC practice of bowing down to statues.

    On a side note, I assume that the RCC condemns veneration of Buddha – why? Is it because he isn’t a saint? or is there something sinful about that statue or veneration that is different from RCC veneration of saints?

  37. Brent,

    Did you ever as a Protestant?

    Sorry – I could not resist the rejoinder.

  38. An Idol is anything that we worship other than God Himself. It can be in the church or in the secular world. Icons, statues, women, sex, money, anything that we desire more than God. If we place them above God then they become our idols and we become idolaters. It is probably true that there is more idolatry outside of the church than inside. Even if we consider the Holy Bible to the point of forgetting everything else we make the Scriptures our idol. The Scriptures have to be a means to an end, not the end in itself. That may sound like fighting words to a Protestant but they are not meant to be. There are many who almost have a worshipping attitude towards the Scriptures. I know a few like that.

    Blessings
    NHU

  39. Bob B. (re:#30) and Frank (re:#34),

    As at least one of you (Frank) knows from my comments here at CTC, I’m an orthodox (i.e. believing, practicing, submitting) and fairly traditionalist Catholic “revert.” In that light, I think that it’s important that our separated brothers and sisters in Christ have as full a picture as possible of what the Catholic Church officially teaches, and of what they (as non-Catholics) may encounter, if they venture into Catholic local parish culture (whether they actually become Catholics or not).

    Frank, from your personal experience as a Catholic, you write:

    No Catholic I know bows down before an icon of Mary or any other Saint.

    I obviously don’t know anything about the parishes in which you have been involved (other than that you attend the Extraordinary Form Mass). In the parishes that I have been in since I returned to the Church almost two years ago (three parishes, due to three geographical moves in fairly quick succession), I have seen Catholics bow down, get on their knees, and at least appear to pray, before statues of Mary. (In my experience, such practices seem to be more prevalent among Hispanic and Filipino Catholics than among Caucasian Catholics.)

    If Bob B. is reading this right now, he may be thinking, “I knew it! I *knew* that Catholics break the 2nd Commandment and worship Mary!”

    However, at this point, it would be helpful to look again, as you did in your comment, Frank, at the actual Commandment, yet this time, explicitly in the context of Catholic catechetical teaching on superstition and idolatry. From Exodus 20:

    4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

    Now, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on superstition and idolatry:

    III. “YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME”

    2110 The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than the one Lord who has revealed himself to his people. It proscribes superstition and irreligion. Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion; irreligion is the vice contrary by defect to the virtue of religion.

    Superstition

    2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.41

    Idolatry

    2112 The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of “idols, [of] silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.” These empty idols make their worshippers empty: “Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.”42 God, however, is the “living God”43 who gives life and intervenes in history.

    2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”44 Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast”45 refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.46

    2114 Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone integrates man and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who “transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God.”47

    Also from the Catechism, explicitly on the Old Testament’s prohibitions of “graven images”:

    IV. “YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FOR YOURSELF A GRAVEN IMAGE . . .”

    2129 The divine injunction included the prohibition of every representation of God by the hand of man. Deuteronomy explains: “Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure. . . . “66 It is the absolutely transcendent God who revealed himself to Israel. “He is the all,” but at the same time “he is greater than all his works.”67 He is “the author of beauty.”68

    2130 Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim.69

    2131 Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons – of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new “economy” of images.

    2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.”70 The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone:

    Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.71

    The above sections from the Catechism make it clear that the Church does *not* smile upon worship of anyone, or anything, other than God. The Church takes idolatry seriously, as sin and heresy, and she forbids it.

    As Reformed people like to point out (and rightly so!), in understanding and exegeting Biblical passages, context is key. In context, the passages from Exodus and Deuteronomy are prohibiting believers in the one true God from participating rites and practices of pagan worship– rites and practices which were widespread at the time. The Catholic Church still forbids what the passages from Exodus and Deuteronomy forbid. Again, idolatry– worship of anyone or anything other than God– is forbidden by the Church.

    I am not privy to what was occurring in the hearts and thoughts of the Catholic parishioners I witnessed kneeling, and appearing to pray, before the statues of Mary. Quite possibly, they were asking for her *prayerful intercession* for a friend. If so, they were not breaking any commandment from God in doing so, given that Mary is *alive* with God in Heaven, as part of the communion of saints, and she *can* pray to God for us and and our loved ones, just as we ask fellow Christians here on earth to pray to God for us.

    One thing is for certain. If any of the Catholics I saw *were* actually worshiping Mary in their actions, then they were acting contrarily to the *explicit teaching* of the Catholic Church– as should be evident from the Catechism, and from the entire history of the Church in forbidding idolatry of *any* kind.

  40. Bob B (re #36):
    I know the Second Council of Nicaea is said to have condemned “sculpture in the round” as “sensual.” I’ve read the 22 Canons promulgated by that Council and this condemnation is not found among them. Neither is it found among the 4 Anathemas regarding holy images

    Anathemas concerning holy images

    If anyone does not confess that Christ our God can be represented in his humanity, let him be anathema.
    If anyone does not accept representation in art of evangelical scenes, let him be anathema.
    If anyone does not salute such representations as standing for the Lord and his saints, let him be anathema.
    If anyone rejects any written or unwritten tradition of the church, let him be anathema.

    So if you could point me to the document or text that does this I would be most interested to read it. What I gather to be the case is just what I said in #34, that different sensitivities exist(ed) and remain regarding “sculpture in the round”. But there is no doctrine, anathema or canon I can find from the Council that makes it a de fide issue and therefore irreformable. Here’s some further information from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

    But there is a difference not of principle but of practice between East and West, to which we have already alluded. Especially since Iconoclasm, the East dislikes solid statues. Perhaps they are too reminiscent of the old Greek gods. At all events, the Eastern icon (whether Orthodox, Nestorian or Monophysite) is always flat — a painting, mosaic, bas-relief. Some of the Easterns even seem to see a question of principle in this and explain the difference between a holy icon, such as a Christian man should venerate, and a detestable idol, in the simplest and crudest way: “icons are flat, idols are solid.” However, that is a view that has never been suggested by their Church officially, she has never made this a ground of complaint against Latins, but admits it to be (as of course it is) simply a difference of fashion or habit, and she recognizes that we are justified by the Second Council of Nicaea in the honour we pay to our statues just as she is in the far more elaborate reverence she pays to her flat icons.

    More to the point, though, is the matter of tradition that you raise. Tradition, when it pertains to matters of discipline, is reformable. Priests could, in principle, be released from the vow of celibacy since that is a matter of discipline. I doubt (and hope not) that will happen, since it is a wise discipline. So, too, the matter of statues.

    And who is doing the picking and choosing with Tradition here? You want to use the Second Council against Catholic use of statues, but what about the pronouncements on Mary? How about the pronouncements on accepting all ecclesiastical Traditions, “whether written or not” (Anathema #4, above). Do you accept that part of the Second Council? Please do not accuse me of the selective acceptance (or “jettisoning”) of Tradition when it is Protestants who are guilty of that very thing.

    Tradition is not “used against” Protestants. Tradition, like Scripture, is truth, part of the deposit of faith given once for all to the Apostles. Protestants who find themselves at odds with Sacred Tradition have placed themselves in that position by adhering to the novel doctrine of primacy of individual conscience, something found nowhere in Scripture (or Catholic Tradition).

    Blessings,
    Frank

  41. Andrew’s 32 and 15:

    You wrote: “One aspect of the Reformation was that it was a return to the centrality of a Word-based liturgy, and hence the Reformed insistence on ministers reading the Scriptures, teaching, and conducting the liturgy in the vernacular.”

    I don’t dispute this.

    You also wrote:

    “But what the Reformers and their descendants were concerned about at its most fundamental level was substituting images of God for the teaching of the Word in the churches. And this was certainly happening at the time of the Reformation. An image-based teaching had replaced a Word-based teaching. ”

    This is what I dispute. Reinburg, Duffy, Bossy, Delumeau, Crouzet, Ozment, Oberman, Febvre – all those who have done so much work on “popular religion” in the time of the Reformation, I believe, would dispute the characterization that Reformation era worship was “image based.”
    I think a much more accurate characterization would be “ritual based,” rather than “image based.” Think Susan Karant-Nun’s The Reformation of Ritual. And one of the “rituals” so central to medieval religious life was extra-liturgical preaching. As I mentioned above, preaching was not necessarily conjoined to the Eucharistic celebration, but that does not mean it was not a part of Christian worship.

    And, finally, you wrote:

    “My contention is that in the Medieval world the typical layperson did not have the Scriptures read to them in their own language and did not hear homilies that were exegetical discourses in their own language. I would be interested to hear you challenge this.”

    This is a much more specific statement. My initial response was to the general characterization that worship was “image based.” To this more specific charge, I would agree. Protestant-style exegetical discourses were definitely not the center of Catholic worship in the 16th century. However, I don’t think they have ever been the center of Christian worship outside the Reformed Tradition. Granted, the Catholic Bishop Augustine of Hippo preached some pretty exegetical sermons (as does our current Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI), but even these are secondary to the high point of the liturgy:

    “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

  42. Dave,

    No. My original comment was in reponse to the claim that Catholics worship idols precisely because of their Catholicism It in no way implied that anyone else did.

  43. Brent (re:#42) and Dave H. (re:#37),

    I think that Dave was asking (as a “rejoinder” to your earlier comment), did you ever worship any idols as a Protestant?

    In a sense, all of us (or, at the very least least, most of us) can fall into idolatry of *some* sort at times. This is mentioned, in a very convicting way, to me, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”44 Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast”45 refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.46

    2114 Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone integrates man and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who “transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God.”47

    (Source: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c1a1.htm)

  44. I think a much more accurate characterization would be “ritual based,” rather than “image based.

    David,

    I’m using “image based” in a broader sense (think of how Neil Postman use the terms image-based and word-based) , hence why I spoke of many of today’s Evangelical congregations having the same problem as what Medieval worshipers experienced. People go to worship for the spectacle and the experience and their interaction with the word is incidental at best. This is the core of the problem of that the Reformers were addressing. Folks would go to worship and experience the liturgy with all of its attendant sensory impressions but not be challenged by the word.

    There are two things that I am thinking of that the Reformation was trying to bring back. One was the way theology was done and the second is what the people experienced in a worship service. On the first, I think of the quote from George Florovsky (EO scholar) who said that in the early centuries of the Church that biblical exegesis was “the main, and probably the only, theological method and the authority of the Scriptures was sovereign and supreme.” This philosophy towards the Scripture stands in striking contrast to the speculative dogmatic theological method of the Middle Ages.

    And the secondly I was referring to the use of Scripture in the worship service in the Early Church, particularly in preaching. I don’t mean to say that priests never ministered to the people in their own language, but ministering to the people in their own language was not typically part of liturgical practice.

    The question that is often asked on this blog is how we identify the Church that Christ founded. It seems to me that the answer to this question is multi-faceted, and as it touches on the the use of Scriptures, the question then becomes whether 16th/17th century RCC or Protestant congregations were more in line with the practices of the Apostolic Church the Church immediately following the Apostolic age. My contention here is that the 16th/17th century Protestants were correct that they were bringing back practices and methodologies which the Medieval Church had not placed much emphasis on.

    I would also add that in terms of both corporate and private worship the changes brought about by Vatican II are definitely a move in the right direction. But such modernizations were not a glimmer in the eye of the RCC at the time of the Reformation.

  45. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the clarification. I would definitely agree that the Reformers had “liturgical reform” as a major priority – especially Calvin. And I would agree that the place of Scripture in the liturgy was of preeminent importance in their conception of Reform.

    My suggestion was, rather, that the polemical categories of the 16th century do not provide a sufficiently broad perspective from which to evaluate or criticize late medieval spirituality. Granted that The Mass was not characterized by the centrality of an exegetical homily, should we therefore conclude that Catholic Christians were never “challenged by the Word?” And should we, furthermore, reject the medieval mass on that basis? (Where, in Scripture, does it say that the Mass -or the Lord’s Supper, if you will – must be accompanied by an exegetical homily?)

    As I understand Calvin, the identity of “True Church” is tied to proper liturgical use of Scripture and Sacrament. (Though he fudges on this when describing how the Church survived under the medieval papacy. In that context, he seems to think baptism and the creed are sufficient markers.) You seem to be suggesting the same thing by referencing Florovsky. Now, this is a very important question, albeit different from what I responded to above.

    “How do we identify the true church” is a different question from “how did Medieval Catholics encounter Scripture?” Would you like to propose “exegetical-homilies-central-to-Lord’s-Supper” as an essential marker of the true church?

    -David

  46. Brent, (#42)

    What Christopher said in 43.

    My response to you was just my poor attempt at humor.

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