Thursday, February 4, 2010

Even more on icons, images, and idols

As I am enjoying my cup of Double Black Diamond coffee this morning, I am reading the end of this chapter on idols and images.  I did not think that Calvin would say much new at this point, but I was wrong.

Apparently there were those in Calvin's day who tried to distinguish between serving idols and worshiping them.  That seems as incredible to me as it did to Calvin.  How is serving an idol any better than worshiping it?  He compares that to adultery or murder - changing the name to something better sounding does not change the action or outcome nor does it absolve the violator from guilt.  These people claimed to "worship the images, but without the worship." 

Calvin at this point does claim that art does have functions, but he is very unclear what that may be.  He is clear again that any depiction of God is out of the question.  He also discourages any representation of a historical event.  Also, images still have no value for teaching.

He looks back to the early Christian church.  When the teachings were pure, there were no images in the churches nor was there any need for images.  It was when the teachings started becoming weaker that images were introduced.  The sacraments are the only acceptable images in the church.  Calvin says, " seems to me unworthy of their holiness for them [churches] to take on images other than those living and symbolical ones which the Lord has consecrated by his Word.  I mean Baptism and the Lord's Supper, together with other rites by which our eyes must be too intensely gripped and too sharply affected to seek other images forged by human ingenuity."

The next two sections I found shocking.  There was a second Council of Nicaea in 787.  This was not the famous council in 325.  At this second (seventh overall ecumenical council) council, not only were previously banned icons restored in the church, but also the worship of these icons.  I really cannot imagine that a church council would encourage the worship of images, but that is what Calvin wrote against when he wrote, "For it decreed not only that there were to be images in churches but also that they were to be worshiped."  Many Bible references were used in the defense of icon worship at this council, and all of the ones that Calvin highlighted seem ridiculous.  For instance, in defense of placing an image on an altar, the Scripture passage "No one lights a lantern and puts it under a bushel" (Matt 5:15) was used.  I am not sure how this is applicable.

Finally, there were bishops who declared that Christians were required to worship these images.  At least one bishop declared that if anyone has an image of Christ, he must "offer sacrifice to it rejoice and exult."  Calvin asks, "Where is the distinction between latria and dulia [service and worship], by which they are wont to hoodwink God and men?  For the Council accords, without exception, as much to images as to the living God."

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