Apologia of St John Damascene Against Those Who Decry Holy Icons
WITH the ever-present conviction of my own unworthiness, I ought to have kept silence and confessed my shortcomings before God, but all things are good at the right time. I see the Church which God founded on the Apostles and Prophets, its corner-stone being Christ His Son, tossed on an angry sea, beaten by rushing waves, shaken and troubled by the assaults of evil spirits. I see rents in the seamless robe of Christ, which impious men have sought to part asunder, and His body cut into pieces, that is, the word of God and the ancient tradition of the Church. Therefore I have judged it unreasonable to keep silence and to hold my tongue, bearing in mind the Scripture warning:--“If thou withdrawest thyself, my soul shall not delight in thee,” (Heb. 10.38) and “If thou seest the sword coming and dost not warn thy brother, I shall require his blood at thy hand.” (cf. Ez. 33.8) Fear, then, compelled me to speak; the truth was stronger than the majesty of kings. “I bore testimony to Thee before kings,” I heard the royal David saying, “and I was not ashamed.” (Ps. 119.46) No, I was the more incited to speak. The King‘s command is all powerful over his subjects. For few men have hitherto been found who, whilst recognising the power of the earthly king to come from above, have resisted his unlawful demands.
In the first place, grasping as a kind of pillar, or foundation, the teaching of the Church, which is our salvation, I have opened out its meaning, giving, as it were, the reins to a well caparisoned charger. For I look upon it as a great calamity that the Church, adorned with her great privileges and the holiest examples of saints in the past, should go back to the first rudiments, and fear where there is no fear. It is disastrous to suppose that the Church does not know God as He is, that she degenerates into idolatry, for if she declines from perfection in a single iota, it is as an enduring mark on a comely face, destroying by its unsightliness the beauty of the whole. A small thing is not small when it leads to something great, nor indeed is it a thing of no matter to give up the ancient tradition of the Church held by our forefathers, whose conduct we should observe, and whose faith we should imitate.
In the first place, then, before speaking to you, I beseech Almighty God, to whom all things lie open, who knows my small capacity and my genuine intention, to bless the words of my mouth, and to enable me to bridle my mind and direct it to Him, to walk in His presence straightly, not declining to a plausible right hand, nor knowing the left. Then I ask all God‘s people, the chosen ones of His royal priesthood, with the holy shepherd of Christ‘s orthodox flock, who represents in his own person Christ‘s priesthood, to receive my treatise with kindness. They must not dwell on my unworthiness, nor seek for eloquence, for I am only too conscious of my shortcomings. They must consider the thoughts themselves. The kingdom of heaven is not in word but in deed. Conquest is not my object. I raise a hand which is fighting for the truth--a willing hand under the divine guidance. Relying, then, upon substantial truth as my auxiliary, I will enter on my subject matter.
I have taken heed to the words of Truth Himself:- “The Lord thy God is one.” (Deut. 6.4) And “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and shalt serve Him only, and thou shalt not have strange, gods.” (Deut. 6.13) Again, “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath” (Ex. 20.4); and “Let them be all confounded that adore graven things.” (Ps. 97.7) Again, “The gods that have not made heaven and earth, let them perish.” (Jer. 10.11) In this way God spoke of old to the patriarchs through the prophets, and lastly, through His only-begotten Son, on whose account He made the ages. He says, “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou didst send.” (Jn 17.3) I believe in one God, the source of all things, without beginning, uncreated, immortal, everlasting, incomprehensible, bodiless, invisible, uncircumscribed, without form. I believe in one supersubstantial being, one divine Godhead in three entities, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and I adore Him alone with the worship of latreia. I adore one God, one Godhead but three Persons, God the Father, God the Son made flesh, and God the Holy Ghost, one God. I do not adore creation more than the Creator, but I adore the creature created as I am, adopting creation freely and spontaneously that He might elevate our nature and make us partakers of His divine nature. Together with my Lord and King I worship Him clothed in the flesh, not as if it were a garment or He constituted a fourth person of the Trinity--God forbid. That flesh is divine, and endures after its assumption. Human nature was not lost in the Godhead, but just as the Word made flesh remained the Word, so flesh became the Word remaining flesh, becoming, rather, one with the Word through union (kaq upostasin). Therefore I venture to draw an image of the invisible God, not as invisible, but as having become visible for our sakes through flesh and blood. I do not draw an image of the immortal Godhead. I paint the visible flesh of God, for it is impossible to represent a spirit (yuch), how much more God who gives breath to the spirit.
Now adversaries say: God‘s commands to Moses the law-giver were, “Thou shalt adore shalt worship him the Lord thy God, and thou alone, and thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath.”
They err truly, not knowing the Scriptures, for the letter kills whilst the spirit quickens--not finding in the letter the hidden meaning. I could say to these people, with justice, He who taught you this would teach you the following. Listen to the law-giver‘s interpretation in Deuteronomy: “And the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire. You heard the voice of His words, but you saw not any form at all.” (Deut. 4.12) And shortly afterwards: “Keep your souls carefully. You saw not any similitude in the day that the Lord God spoke to you in Horeb from the midst of the fire, lest perhaps being deceived you might make you a graven similitude, or image of male and female, the similitude of any beasts that are upon the earth, or of birds that fly under heaven.” (Deut. 4.15-17) And again, “Lest, perhaps, lifting up thy eyes to heaven, thou see the sun and the moon, and all the stars of heaven, and being deceived by error thou adore and serve them.” (Deut. 4.19)
You see the one thing to be aimed at is not to adore a created thing more than the Creator, nor to give the worship of latreia except to Him alone. By worship, consequently, He always understands the worship of latreia. For, again, He says: “Thou shalt not have strange gods other than Me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor any similitude. Thou shalt not adore them, and thou shalt not serve them, for I am the Lord thy God.” (Deut. 5.7-9) And again, “Overthrow their altars, and break down their statues; burn their groves with fire, and break their idols in pieces. For thou shalt not adore a strange god.” (Deut. 12.3) And a little further on: “Thou shalt not make to thyself gods of metal.” (Ex. 34.17)
You see that He forbids image-making on account of idolatry, and that it is impossible to make an image of the immeasurable, uncircumscribed, invisible God. You have not seen the likeness of Him, the Scripture says, and this was St Paul‘s testimony as he stood in the midst of the Areopagus: “Being, therefore, the offspring of God, we must not suppose the Divinity to be like unto gold, or silver, or stone, the graving of art, and device of man.” (Acts 17.29)
These injunctions were given to the Jews on account of their proneness to idolatry. Now we, on the contrary, are no longer in leading strings. Speaking theologically, it is given to us to avoid superstitious error, to be with God in the knowledge of the truth, to worship God alone, to enjoy the fulness of His knowledge. We have passed the stage of infancy, and reached the perfection of manhood. We receive our habit of mind from God, and know what may be imaged and what may not. The Scripture says, “You have not seen the likeness of Him.” (Ex. 33.20) What wisdom in the law-giver. How depict the invisible? How picture the inconceivable? How give expression to the limitless, the immeasurable, the invisible? How give a form to immensity? How paint immortality? How localise mystery? It is clear that when you contemplate God, who is a pure spirit, becoming man for your sake, you will be able to clothe Him with the human form. When the Invisible One becomes visible to flesh, you may then draw a likeness of His form. When He who is a pure spirit, without form or limit, immeasurable in the boundlessness of His own nature, existing as God, takes upon Himself the form of a servant in substance and in stature, and a body of flesh, then you may draw His likeness, and show it to anyone willing to contemplate it. Depict His ineffable condescension, His virginal birth, His baptism in the Jordan, His transfiguration on Thabor, His all-powerful sufferings, His death and miracles, the proofs of His Godhead, the deeds which He worked in the flesh through divine power, His saving Cross, His Sepulchre, and resurrection, and ascent into heaven. Give to it all the endurance of engraving and colour. Have no fear or anxiety; worship is not all of the same kind. Abraham worshipped the sons of Emmor, impious men in ignorance of God, when he bought the double cave for a tomb. (Gen. 23.7; Acts 7.16) Jacob worshipped his brother Esau and Pharaoh, the Egyptian, but on the point of his staff. (Gen 33.3) He worshipped, he did not adore. Jesus son of Nave [a.k.a. Joshua son of Nun] and Daniel worshipped an angel of God; (Jos. 5.14) they did not adore him. The worship of latreia is one thing, and the worship which is given to merit another. Now, as we are talking of icons and worship, let us analyse the exact meaning of each. An image is a likeness of the original with a certain difference, for it is not an exact reproduction of the original. Thus, the Son is the living, substantial, unchangeable Image of the invisible God (Col. 1.15), bearing in Himself the whole Father, being in all things equal to Him, differing only in being begotten by the Father, who is the Begetter; the Son is begotten. The Father does not proceed from the Son, but the Son from the Father. It is through the Son, though not after Him, that He is what He is, the Father who generates. In God, too, there are representations and icons of His future acts,-that is to say, His counsel from all eternity, which is ever unchangeable. That which is divine is immutable; there is no change in Him, nor shadow of change. (James 1.17) Blessed Dionysios, who has made divine things in God‘s presence his study, says that these representations and icons are marked out beforehand. In His counsels, God has noted and settled all that He would do, the unchanging future events before they came to pass. In the same way, a man who wished to build a house would first make and think out a plan. Again, visible things are icons of invisible and intangible things, on which they throw a faint light. Holy Scripture clothes in figure God and the angels, and the same holy man (Blessed Dionysios) explains why. When sensible things sufficiently render what is beyond sense, and give a form to what is intangible, a medium would be reckoned imperfect according to our standard, if it did not fully represent material vision, or if it required effort of mind. If, therefore, Holy Scripture, providing for our need, ever putting before us what is intangible, clothes it in flesh, does it not make an image of what is thus invested with our nature, and brought to the level of our desires, yet invisible? A certain conception through the senses thus takes place in the brain, which was not there before, and is transmitted to the judicial faculty, and added to the mental store. Gregory, who is so eloquent about God, says that the mind, which is set upon getting beyond corporeal things, is incapable of doing it. For the invisible things of God since the creation of the world are made visible through icons. (Rom. 1.20) We see icons in creation which remind us faintly of God, as when, for instance, we speak of the holy and adorable Trinity, imaged by the sun, or light, or burning rays, or by a running fountain, or a full river, or by the mind, speech, or the spirit within us, or by a rose tree, or a sprouting flower, or a sweet fragrance.
Again, an image is expressive of something in the future, mystically shadowing forth what is to happen. For instance, the ark represents the image of Our Lady, Mother of God, so does the staff and the earthen jar. The serpent brings before us Him who vanquished on the Cross the bite of the original serpent; the sea, water, and the cloud the grace of baptism. (I Cor. 10.1)
Again, things which have taken place are expressed by icons for the remembrance either of a wonder, or an honour, or dishonour, or good or evil, to help those who look upon it in after times that we may avoid evils and imitate goodness. It is of two kinds, the written image in books, as when God had the law inscribed on tablets, and when He enjoined that the lives of holy men should be recorded and sensible memorials be preserved in remembrance; as, for instance, the earthen jar and the staff in the ark. (Ex. 34.28; Heb. 9.4) So now we preserve in writing the icons and the good deeds of the past. Either, therefore, take away icons altogether and be out of harmony with God, who made these regulations, or receive them with the language and in the manner which befits them. In speaking of the manner let us go into the question of worship.
Worship is the symbol of veneration and of honour. Let us understand that there are different degrees of worship. First of all the worship of latreia, which we show to God, who alone by nature is worthy of worship. When, for the sake of God Who is worshipful by nature, we honour His saints and servants, as Jesus of Nave and Daniel worshipped an angel, and David His holy places, when he says, “Let us go to the place where His feet have stood.” (Ps. 132.7) Again, in His tabernacles, as when all the people of Israel adored in the tent, and standing round the temple in Jerusalem, fixing their gaze upon it from all sides, and worshipping from that day to this, or in the rulers established by Him, as Jacob rendered homage to Esau, his elder brother, (Gen. 33.3) and to Pharaoh, the divinely established ruler. (Gen. 47.7) Joseph was worshipped by his brothers. (Gen. 50.18) I am aware that worship was based on honour, as in the case of Abraham and the sons of Emmor. (Gen. 23.7) Either, then, do away with worship, or receive it altogether according to its proper measure.
Answer me this question. Is there only one God? You answer, “Yes, there is only one Law-giver.” Why, then, does He command contrary things? The cherubim are not outside of creation; why, then, does He allow cherubim carved by the hand of man to overshadow the mercy-seat? Is it not evident that as it is impossible to make an image of God, who is uncircumscribed and impassible, or of one like to God, creation should not be worshipped as God. He allows the image of the cherubim who are circumscribed, and prostrate in adoration before the divine throne, to be made, and thus prostrate to overshadow the mercy-seat. It was fitting that the image of the heavenly choirs should overshadow the divine mysteries. Would you say that the ark and staff and mercy-seat were not made? Are they not produced by the hand of man? Are they not due to what you call contemptible matter? What was the tabernacle itself? Was it not an image? Was it not a type and a figure? Hence the holy Apostle‘s words concerning the observances of the law, “Who serve unto the example and shadow, of heavenly things.” As it was answered to Moses, when he was to finish the tabernacle: “See” (He says), “that thou make all things according to the pattern which was shown thee on the Mount.” (Heb. 8.5; Ex. 25.40) But the law was not an image. It shrouded the image. In the words of the same Apostle, “the law contains the shadow of the goods to come, not the image of those things.” (Heb. 10.1) For if the law should forbid icons, and yet be itself a forerunner of icons, what should we say? If the tabernacle was a figure, and the type of a type, why does the law not prohibit image-making? But this is not in the least the case. There is a time for everything. (Eccl. 3.1)
Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, (Bar. 3.38) I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God‘s body is God by union (kaq upostasin), it is immutable. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by a logical and reasoning soul. I honour all matter besides, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? Was not the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Sepulchre, the source of our resurrection: was it not matter? Is not the most holy book of the Gospels matter? Is not the blessed table matter which gives us the Bread of Life? Are not the gold and silver matter, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either do away with the veneration and worship due to all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the worship of icons, honouring God and His friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing is that which God has made. This is the Manichean heresy. That alone is despicable which does not come from God, but is our own invention, the spontaneous choice of will to disregard the natural law,--that is to say, sin. If, therefore, you dishonour and give up icons, because they are produced by matter, consider what the Scripture says: And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold I have called by name Beseleel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Juda. And I have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom and understanding, and knowledge in all manner of work. To devise whatsoever may be artificially made of gold, and silver, and brass, of marble and precious stones, and variety of wood. And I have given him for his companion, Ooliab, the son of Achisamech, of the tribe of Dan. And I have put wisdom in the heart of every skilful man, that they may make all things which I have commanded thee.” (Ex. 31.1-6) And again: “Moses said to all the assembly of the children of Israel: This is the word the Lord hath commanded, saying: Set aside with you first fruits to the Lord. Let every one that is willing and hath a ready heart, offer them to the Lord, gold, and silver, and brass, violet, and purple, and scarlet twice dyed, and fine linen, goat‘s hair, and ram‘s skins died red and violet, coloured skins, selim-wood, and oil to maintain lights and to make ointment, and most sweet incense, onyx stones, and precious stones for the adorning of the ephod and the rational. Whosoever of you is wise, let him come, and make that which the Lord hath commanded.” (Ex. 35.4-10) See you here the glorification of matter which you make inglorious. What is more insignificant than goat‘s hair or colours? Are not scarlet and purple and hyacinth colours? Now, consider the handiwork of man becoming the likeness of the cherubim. How, then, can you make the law a pretence for giving up what it orders? If you invoke it against icons, you should keep the Sabbath, and practise circumcision. It is certain that “if you observe the law, Christ will not profit you. You who are justified in the law, you are fallen from grace.” (Gal. 5.2-4) Israel of old did not see God, but “we see the Lord‘s glory face to face.” (IICor. 3.18)
We proclaim Him also by our senses on all sides, and we sanctify the noblest sense, which is that of sight. The image is a memorial, just what words are to a listening ear. What a book is to the literate, that an image is to the illiterate. The image speaks to the sight as words to the ear; it brings us understanding. Hence God ordered the ark to be made of imperishable wood, and to be gilded outside and in, and the tablets to be put in it, and the staff and the golden urn containing the manna, for a remembrance of the past and a type of the future. Who can say these were not icons and far-sounding heralds? And they did not hang on the walls of the tabernacle; but in sight of all the people who looked towards them, they were brought forward for the worship and adoration of God, who made use of them. It is evident that they were not worshipped for themselves, but that the people were led through them to remember past signs, and to worship the God of wonders. They were icons to serve as recollections, not divine, but leading to divine things by divine power.
And God ordered twelve stones to be taken out of the Jordan, and specified why. For he says: “When your son asks you the meaning of these stones, tell him how the water left the Jordan by the divine command, and how the ark was saved and the whole people.” (Jos. 4.21-22) How, then, shall we not record on image the saving pains and wonders of Christ our Lord, so that when my child asks me, “What is this?” I may say, that God the Word became man, and that for His sake not Israel alone passed through the Jordan, but all the human race gained their original happiness. Through Him human nature rose from the lowest depths of the earth higher than the skies, and in His Person sat down on the throne His Father had prepared for Him.
But the adversary says: “Make an image of Christ or of His mother who bore Him (thV qeotokou) and let that be sufficient.” O what folly this is! On your own showing, you are absolutely against the saints. For if you make an image of Christ and not of the saints, it is evident that you do not disown icons, but the honour of the saints. You make statues indeed of Christ as of one glorified, whilst you reject the saints as unworthy of honour, and call truth a falsehood. “I live,” says the Lord, “and I will glorify those who glorify Me.” (I Sam. 2.30) And the divine Apostle: therefore now he is not a servant, but a son. “And if a son, an heir also through God.” (Gal. 4.7) Again, “If we suffer with Him, that we also may be glorified:” (Rom. 8.17) you are not waging war against icons, but against the saints. St John, who rested on His breast, says, that “we shall be like to Him” (I Jn. 3.2): just as a man by contact with fire becomes fire, not by nature, but by contact and by burning and by participation, so is it, I apprehend, with the flesh of the Crucified Son of God. That flesh, by participation through union (kaq upostasin) with the divine nature, was unchangeably God, not in virtue of grace from God as was the case with each of the prophets, but by the presence of the Fountain Head Himself. God, the Scripture says, stood in the synagogue of the gods, (Ps. 82.1) so that the saints, too, are gods. Holy Gregory takes the words, “God stands in the midst of the gods,” to mean that He discriminates their several merits. The saints in their lifetime were filled with the Holy Spirit, and when they are no more, His grace abides with their spirits and with their bodies in their tombs, and also with their likenesses and holy icons, not by nature, but by grace and divine power.
God charged David to build Him a temple through his son, and to prepare a place of rest. Solomon, in building the temple, made the cherubim, as the book of Kings says. And he encompassed the cherubim with gold, and all the walls in a circle, and he had the cherubim carved, and palms inside and out, in a circle, not from the sides, be it observed. And there were bulls and lions and pomegranates. (I Kgs. 6.28-29) Is it not more seemly to decorate all the walls of the Lord‘s house with holy forms and icons rather than with beasts and plants? Where is the law declaring “thou shalt not make any graven image”? But Solomon receiving the gift of wisdom, imaging heaven, made the cherubim, and the likenesses of bulls and lions, which the law forbade. Now if we make a statue of Christ, and likenesses of the saints, does not their being filled with the Holy Ghost increase the piety of our homage? As then the people and the temple were purified in blood and in burnt offerings, (Heb. 9.13) so now the Blood of Christ giving testimony under Pontius Pilate, (I Tim. 6.13) and being Himself the first fruits of the martyrs, the Church is built up on the blood of the saints. Then the signs and forms of lifeless animals figured forth the human tabernacle, the martyrs themselves whom they were preparing for God‘s abode.
We depict Christ as our King and Lord, and do not deprive Him of His army. The saints constitute the Lord‘s army. Let the earthly king dismiss his army before he gives up his King and Lord. Let him put off the purple before he takes honour away from his most valiant men who have conquered their passions. For if the saints are heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ, (Rom. 8.17) they will be also partakers of the divine glory of sovereignty. If the friends of God have had a part in the sufferings of Christ, how shall they not receive a share of His glory even on earth? “I call you not servants,” our Lord says, “you are my friends.” (Jn. 15.15) Should we then deprive them of the honour given to them by the Church? What audacity! What boldness of mind, to fight God and His commands! You, who refuse to worship icons, would not worship the Son of God, the Living Image of the invisible God, (Col. 1.15) and His unchanging form. I worship the image of Christ as the Incarnate God; that of Our Lady (theotokou), the Mother of us all, as the Mother of God‘s Son; that of the saints as the friends of God. They have withstood sin unto blood, and followed Christ in shedding their blood for Him, who shed His blood for them. I put on record the excellencies and the sufferings of those who have walked in His footsteps, that I may sanctify myself, and be fired with the zeal of imitation. St Basil says, “Honouring the image leads to the prototype.” If you raise churches to the saints of God, raise also their trophies. The temple of old was not built in the name of any man. The death of the just was a cause of tears, not of feasting. A man who touched a corpse was considered unclean, (Num. 19.11) even if the corpse was Moses himself. But now the memories of the saints are kept with rejoicings. The dead body of Jacob was wept over, whilst there is joy over the death of Stephen. Therefore, either give up the solemn commemorations of the saints, which are not according to the old law, or accept icons which are also against it, as you say. But it is impossible not to keep with rejoicing the memories of the saints. The Holy Apostles and Fathers are at one in enjoining them. From the time that God the Word became flesh He is as we are in everything except sin, and of our nature, without confusion. He has deified our flesh for ever, and we are in very deed sanctified through His Godhead and the union of His flesh with it. And from the time that God, the Son of God, impassible by reason of His Godhead, chose to suffer voluntarily He wiped out our debt, also paying for us a most full and noble ransom. We are truly free through the sacred blood of the Son pleading for us with the Father. And we are indeed delivered from corruption since He descended into hell to the souls detained there through centuries (I Pet. 3.19) and gave the captives their freedom, sight to the blind, (Mt. 12.29) and chaining the strong one. He rose in the plenitude of His power, keeping the flesh of immortality which He had taken for us. And since we have been born again of water and the Spirit, we are truly sons and heirs of God. Hence St Paul calls the faithful holy; (I Cor. 1.2) hence we do not grieve but rejoice over the death of the saints. We are then no longer under grace, (Rom. 6.14) being justified through faith, (Rom. 5.1) and knowing the one true God. The just man is not bound by the law. (I. Tim. 1.9) We are not held by the letter of the law, nor do we serve as children, (Gal. 4.1) but grown into the perfect estate of man we are fed on solid food, not on that which conduces to idolatry. The law is good as a light shining in a dark place until the day breaks. Your hearts have already been illuminated, the living water of God‘s knowledge has run over the tempestuous seas of heathendom, and we may all know God. The old creation has passed away, and all things are renovated. The holy Apostle Paul said to St Peter, the chief of the Apostles: “If you, being a Jew, live as a heathen and not a Jew, how will you persuade heathens to do as Jews do?” (Gal. 2.14) And to the Galatians: “I will bear witness to every circumcised man that it is salutary to fulfil the whole law.” (Gal. 5.3)
Of old they who did not know God, worshipped false gods. But now, knowing God, or rather being known by Him, how can we return to bare and naked rudiments? (Gal. 4.8-9) I have looked upon the human form of God, and my soul has been saved. I gaze upon the image of God, as Jacob did, (Gen. 32.30) though in a different way. Jacob sounded the note of the future, seeing with immaterial sight, whilst the image of Him who is visible to flesh is burnt into my soul. The shadow and winding sheet and relics of the apostles cured sickness, and put demons to flight. (Acts 5.15) How, then, shall not the shadow and the statues of the saints be glorified? Either do away with the worship of all matter, or be not an innovator. Do not disturb the boundaries of centuries, put up by your fathers. (Prov. 22.28)
It is not in writing only that they have bequeathed to us the tradition of the Church, but also in certain unwritten examples. In the twenty-seventh book of his work, in thirty chapters addressed to Amphilochios concerning the Holy Spirit, St Basil says, “In the cherished teaching and dogmas of the Church, we hold some things by written documents; others we have received in mystery from the apostolical tradition.” Both are of equal value for the soul‘s growth. No one will dispute this who has considered even a little the discipline of the Church. For if we neglect unwritten customs, as not having much weight we bury in oblivion the most pertinent facts connected with the Gospel. These are the great Basil‘s words. How do we know the Holy place of Calvary, or the Holy Sepulchre? Does it not rest on a tradition handed down from father to son? It is written that our Lord was crucified on Calvary, and buried in a tomb, which Joseph hewed out of the rock; (Mt. 27.60) but it is unwritten tradition which identifies these spots, and does more things of the same kind. Whence come the three immersions at baptism, praying with face turned towards the east, and the tradition of the mysteries? Hence St Paul says, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have learned either by word, or by our epistle.” (II Thess. 2.15) As, then, so much has been handed down in the Church, and is observed down to the present day, why disparage icons?
If you bring forward certain practices, they do not inculpate our worship of icons, but the worship of heathens who make them idols. Because heathens do it foolishly, this is no reason for objecting to our pious practice. If the same magicians and sorcerers use supplication, so does the Church with catechumens; the former invoke devils, but the Church calls upon God against devils. Heathens have raised up icons to demons, whom they call gods. Now we have raised them to the one Incarnate God, to His servants and friends, who are proof against the diabolical hosts.
If, again, you object that the great Epiphanius thoroughly rejected icons, I would say in the first place the work in question is fictitious and unauthentic. It bears the name of some one who did not write it, which used to be commonly done. Secondly, we know that blessed Athanasius objected to the bodies of saints being put into chests, and that he preferred their burial in the ground, wishing to set at nought the strange custom of the Egyptians, who did not bury their dead under ground, but set them upon beds and couches. Thus, supposing that he really wrote this work, the great Epiphanius, wishing to correct something of the same kind, ordered that icons should not be used. The proof that he did not object to icons, is to be found in his own church, which is adorned with icons to this day. Thirdly, the exception is not a law to the Church, neither does one swallow make summer, as it seems to Gregory the theologian, and to the truth. Neither can one expression overturn the tradition of the whole Church which is spread throughout the world.
Accept, therefore, the teaching of Scripture and spiritual writers. If the Scripture does call “the idols of heathens silver and gold, and the works of man‘s hand,” (Ps. 135.15) it does not forbid the adoration of inanimate things, or man‘s handiwork, but the adoration of demons.
We have seen that prophets worshipped angels, and men, and kings, and the impious, and even a staff. David says, “And you adore His footstool.” (Ps. 99.5) Isaias, speaking in God‘s name, says, “The heavens are my throne, and the earth my footstool.” (Is. 66.1) Now, it is evident to everyone that the heavens and the earth are created things. Moses, too, and Aaron with all the people adored the work of hands. St Paul, the golden grasshopper of the Church, says in his Epistle to the Hebrews, “But Christ being come, a high priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hand,” that is “not of this creation.” And, again, “For Jesus is not entered into the Holies made by hands, the patterns of the true; but into heaven itself.” (Heb. 9.11, 24) Thus the former holy things, the tabernacle, and everything within it, were made by hands, and no one denies that they were adored.
AUTHENTIC TESTIMONY OF ANCIENT FATHERS IN FAVOUR OF ICONS.
St Dionysios the Areopagite. From his Letter to Bishop Titus.
Instead of attaching the common conception to icons, we should look upon what they symbolise, and not despise the divine mark and character which they portray, as sensible icons of mysterious and heavenly visions.
Commentary.-Mark that he cautions us not to despise sacred icons.
The Same, “On the Names of God.”
We have taken the same line. On the one side, through the veiled language of Scripture and the help of oral tradition, intellectual things are understood through sensible ones, and the things above nature by the things that are. Forms are given to what is intangible and without shape, and immaterial perfection is clothed and multiplied in a variety of different symbols.
Commentary.-If it be a good work to clothe with shape and form, according to our standard, that which is formless, shapeless, and without consistency, how shall we not make icons to ourselves in the same way of things perceived through form and shape, so that we may bear them in mind, and be moved to imitate what they represent.
The Same, on the “Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.”
“Now, if the substances (ousiai) and orders above us, of which we have already made reverent mention, are without bodies, their hierarchy is intellectual and above sense.
We supply by the variety of sensible symbols the visible order, which is according to our own measure. Those sensible symbols lead us naturally to intellectual conception, to God and His divine attributes. Spiritual minds form their own spiritual conceptions, but we are led to the divine vision by sensible icons.
Commentary.-If, then, it be rational that we are led to the divine vision by sensible icons, and if Divine Providence mercifully clothes in form and image that which is without either for our benefit, what is there unseemly about imaging, according to our capacity, Him who graciously disguised Himself for us in shape and form?
A tradition has come down to us that Abgar, King of Edessa, was drawn vehemently to divine love by hearing of our Lord, and that he sent envoys to ask for His likeness. If this were refused, they were ordered to have a likeness painted. Then He, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, is said to have taken a strip of cloth, and pressing it to His face, to have left His likeness upon the cloth, which it retains to this day.
St Basil‘s Sermon on the Martyr St Barlam, beginning, “In the first place the death of the saints.”
Arise, you renowned painters of brave deeds who set forth by your art a faint image of the General. My praise of the laurel-crowned victor is faint compared to the colours of your brush. I will give up writing on the excellencies of the martyr whom you have crowned. I rejoice at the victory won to-day by your strength. I contemplate the hand put out to the flames, more powerfully dealt with by you. I see the struggle more clearly depicted on your icon. Let demons be enraged even now, overcome by the martyr‘s excellencies which you reveal. Let the powerful hand be again outstretched to victory. May Christ our Lord, the supreme judge of the warfare, appear in picture. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
From the same, from the Thirty Chapters to Amphilochios, on the Holy Ghost. Chap. xviii.
The image of the king is also called the king, and there are not two kings in consequence. Neither is power divided, nor is glory distributed. just as the reigning power over us is one, so is our homage one, not many, and the honour given to the image reaches back to the original. What the image is in the one case as a representation, that the Son is by His humanity, and as in art likeness is according to form, so in the divine and incommensurable nature (asunqetoV) union is effected in the indwelling Godhead.
Commentary.-If the image of the king is the king, the image of Christ is Christ, and the image of a saint the saint, and if power is not divided nor glory distributed, honouring the image becomes honouring the one who is set forth in image. Devils have feared the saints, and have fled from their shadow. The shadow is an image, and I make an image that I may scare demons. If you say that only intellectual worship befits God, take away all corporeal things, light, and fragrance, prayer itself through the physical voice, the very divine mysteries which are offered through matter, bread, and wine, the oil of chrism, the sign of the Cross, for all this is matter. Take away the Cross, and the sponge of the Crucifixion, and the spear which pierced the life-giving side. Either give up honouring these things as impossible, or do not reject the veneration of icons. Matter is endued with a divine power through prayer made to those who are depicted in image. Purple by itself is simple, and so is silk, and the cloak which is made of both. But if the king put it on, the cloak receives honour from the honour due to the wearer. So is it with matter. By itself it is of no account, but if the one presented in image be full of grace, men become partakers of his grace according to their faith. The apostles knew our Lord with their bodily eyes; others knew the apostles, others the martyrs. I, too, desire to see them in the spirit and in the flesh, and to possess a saving remedy as I am a composite being. I see with my eyes, and revere that which represents what I honour, though I do not worship it as God. Now you, perhaps, are superior to me, and are lifted up above bodily things, and being, as it were, not of flesh, you make light of what is visible, but as I am human and clothed with a body, I desire to see and to be corporeally with the saints. Condescend to my humble wish that you may be secure on your heights. God accepts my longing for Him and for His saints. For He rejoices at the praises of His servant, according to the great St Basil in his panegyric of the Forty Martyrs. Listen to the words which he uttered in honour of the martyr St Gordion.
From St Basil‘s Sermon on St Gordion
The mere memory of just deeds is a source of spiritual joy to the whole world; people are moved to imitate the holiness of which they hear. The life of holy men is as a light illuminating the way for those who would see it. And again, when we recount the story of holy lives we glorify in the first place the Lord of those servants, and we give praise to the servants on account of their testimony, which is known to us. We rejoice the world through good report.
Commentary.-The remembrance of the saints is thus, you see, a glory to God, praise of the saints, joy and salvation to the whole world. Why, then, would you destroy it? This remembrance is kept by preaching and by icons, says the same great St Basil.
The same, on the Martyr St Gordion
Just as burning follows naturally on fire, and fragrance on sweet ointment, so must good arise from holy actions. For it is no small thing to represent past events according to life. Is it a dim memory of the man‘s wrestlings which has come down to us, and does not the painter‘s picture tally with our present conflict? Now, as painters draw icons from icons, they frequently depart from the original as much as the image itself does, and as we did not see what they represent, there is no little fear that we may injure the truth.
The same, at the end.
The sun fills us with perpetual wonder, though always before us, so the memory of this man is ever fresh.
Commentary.-It is evident that it is fresh through sermon and image.
Testimony of the same, from his Sermon on the Forty Martyrs.
Can the lover of the martyrs have too much of their memory? For the honour shown to the just, our fellow-men, is a testimony to the goodness of our common Lord.
And again --
Recognise the blessedness of the martyr heartily, that you may be a martyr in will; thus, without persecutor, or fire, or blows, found worthy of the same reward.
Commentary.-How, then, would you dissuade me from honouring the saints, and be envious of my salvation? Listen to what he says a little further on to show that he united the painter‘s art to oratory.
See, then, that setting them before us in representation, we are making them helpful to the living, exhibiting their holiness to us all as if in a picture.
Commentary.-Do you understand that both image and sermon teach one lesson? He says: “Let us show them forth in a sermon as if in a picture.” And again: “Writers and painters point out the struggles of war; the first by the art of style, the second with their brush, and each induce many to be brave. That which a spoken account presents to the hearing, a silent picture portrays for imitation.”
Commentary.-What better proof have we that icons are the books of the illiterate, the ever-speaking heralds of honouring the saints, teaching those who gaze upon them without words, and sanctifying the spectacle. I have not many books nor time for study, and I go into a church, the common refuge of souls, my mind wearied with conflicting thoughts. I see before me a beautiful picture and the sight refreshes me, and induces me to glorify God. I marvel at the martyr‘s endurance, at his reward, and fired with burning zeal, I fall down to adore God through His martyr, and receive a grace of salvation. Have you not heard the same holy father in his homily on the beginning of the Psalms, say that the Holy Spirit, knowing the human race were obstinate and hard to lead, mixed honey with the psalm-singing? What do you say to this? Shall I not perpetuate the martyr‘s testimony both by word and paint brush? Shall I not embrace with my eyes that which is a wonder to the angels and to the whole world, formidable to the devil, a terror to demons, as the same great Father says? Again, towards the end of his homily on the forty martyrs, he exclaims, “O sainted band! O sacred fraternity! O invincible army! protectors of the human race, solace of the troubled, hope of your petitioners, most powerful intercessors, light of the world, bloom both intellectual and material of the Churches! The earth has not hidden you from sight, heaven has received you. May its gates be opened to you. The spectacle is worthy of angels and patriarchs, prophets, and just.”
Commentary.-- How shall I not desire to see what the angels desire? St Basil‘s brother, who is one with him in thought, St Gregory of Nyssa, shares his sentiments.
St Gregory of Nyssa, from the “Structure of Man”
Supplementary.-Just as in human fashion the image makers of the powerful grasp the character of the form and set forth the royal dignity with the insignia of the purple, and their handiwork is called image or king, so is it with human nature. As it was created to rule over other creations, it was made as an animated type or image, partaking of the original in dignity and name.
The same, Fifth Chapter
The divine beauty is not set forth either in form or comeliness of design or colouring, but is contemplated in speechless blessedness, according to its virtue. So do painters transfer human forms to canvas through certain colours, laying on suitable and harmonious tints to the picture, so as to transfer the beauty of the original to the likeness.
Commentary.--You see that the divine beauty is not set forth in form or shape, and on this account it cannot be conveyed by an image (ouk eikonizetai) it is the human form which is transferred to canvas by the artist‘s brush. If, therefore, the Son of God became man, taking the form of a servant, and appearing in man‘s nature, a perfect man, why should His image not be made? If, in common parlance, the king‘s image is called the king, and the honour shown to the image redounds to the original, as holy Basil says, why should the image not be honoured and worshipped, not as God, but as the image of God Incarnate?
The same, from his Sermon at Constantinople on the Godhead of the Son and of the Spirit, and on Abraham.
Then the father proceeds to bind his son. I have often seen paintings of this touching scene, and could not look at it with dry eyes, art setting it forth so vividly. Isaac is lying before the altar, his legs bound, his hands tied behind his back. The father approaching the victim, clasping his hair with the left hand, stoops over the face so piteously turned towards him, and holds in his right hand the sword, ready to strike. Already the point of the sword is on the body when the divine voice is heard, forbidding the consummation.
Leo, Bishop of Neapolis in Cyprus. From his book against the Jews, on the Adoration of the Cross, and the Statues Of the Saints, and on Relics.
If you, O Jew, reproach me saying that I adore the wood of the Cross as God, why do you not reproach Jacob, who worshipped on the point of his staff (epi to akron thV rabdou)? Now it is evident that he was not worshipping wood. So with us; we are worshipping Christ through the Cross, not the wood of the Cross.
Commentary.-If we adore the Cross, made of whatever wood it may be, how shall we not adore the image of the Crucified?
From the same.
Abraham worshipped the impious men who sold him the cave, and bent his knee to the ground, yet did not worship them as gods. Jacob praised Pharao, an impious idolator, yet not as God, and he fell down at the feet of Esau, yet did not worship him as God. And again, How does God order us to worship the earth and mountains? “Exalt the Lord your God and worship Him upon His holy mountain, and adore His footstool,” (Ps. 99.9, 5) that is, the earth. For “heaven is My throne,” He says, “and the earth My footstool.” (Is. 66.1) How was it that Moses worshipped Jothor, an idolator, (Ex. 18.7) and Daniel, Nabuchodonosor? How can you reproach me because I honour those who honour God and show Him service? Tell me, is it not fitting to worship the saints, rather than to throw stones at them as you do? Is it not right to worship them, rather than to attack them, and to fling your benefactors into the mire? If you loved God, you would be ready to honour His servants also. And if the bones of the just are unclean, why were the bones of Jacob and Joseph brought with all honour from Egypt? (Gen. 50.5ff, Ex. 13.19) How was it that a dead man arose again on touching the bones of Eliseus? (II Kgs. 13.21) If God works wonders through bones, it is evident that He can work them through icons, and stones, and many other things, as in the case of Eliseus, who gave his staff to his servant, saying, “With this go and raise from the dead the son of the Sunamitess.” (II Kgs. 4.29) With his staff Moses chastised Pharao, parted the waters, struck the rock, and drew forth the stream. And Solomon said, “Blessed is the wood by which justice cometh.” (Wis. 14.7) Eliseus took iron out of the Jordan with a piece of wood. (II Kgs. 6.4-7) And again, the wood is the wood of life, and the wood of Sabec, that is, of remission. Moses humbled the serpent with wood and saved the people. (Num. 21.9) The blossoming rod in the tabernacle confirmed the priesthood of Aaron. (Num. 17.8) Perhaps, O Jew, you will tell me that God prescribed to Moses beforehand all the things of the testimony in the tabernacle. Now, I say to you that Solomon made a great variety of things in the temple in carvings and sculpture, which God had not ordered him to do. (II Chron. 3.1ff) Nor did the tabernacle of the testimony contain them, nor the temple which God showed to Ezechiel, (Ez. 40.47ff) nor was Solomon to be blamed in this. He had had these sculptured icons made for the glory of God as we do. You, too, had many and varied icons and signs in the Old Testament to serve as a reminder of God, if you had not lost them through ingratitude. For instance, the rod of Moses, the tablets of the law, the burning bush, the rock giving forth water, the ark containing the manna, the altar set on fire from above (purenqeon), the lamina bearing the divine name, the ephod, the tabernacle overshadowed by God. If you had prepared all these things by day and by night, saying, “Glory be to Thee, O Almighty God, who hast done wonders in Israel through all these things”; if through all these ordinances of the law, carried out of old, you had fallen on your knees to adore God, you would see that worship is given to Him by icons.
And further on :-
He who truly loves a friend or the king, and especially his benefactor, if he sees that benefactor‘s son, or his staff, or his chair, or his crown, or his house, or his servant, he holds them fast in his embrace, and if he honours his benefactor, the king, how much more God. Again I repeat it, would that you had made icons according to the law of Moses and the prophets, and that day by day you had worshipped the God of icons. Whenever, then, you see Christians adoring the Cross, know that they are adoring the Crucified Christ, not the mere wood. If, indeed, they honoured wood as wood, they would be bound to worship trees of whatever kind, as you, O Israel, worshipped them of old, saying to the tree and to the stone, “Thou art my God and didst bring me forth.” (Jer. 2.27) We do not speak either to the Cross or to the representations of the saints in this way. They are not our gods, but books which lie open and are venerated in churches in order to remind us of God and to lead us to worship Him. He who honours the martyr honours God, to whom the martyr bore testimony. He who worships the apostle of Christ worships Him who sent the apostle. He who falls at the feet of Christ‘s mother most certainly shows honour to her Son. There is no God but one, He who is known and adored in the Trinity.
Commentary. - Who is the faithful interpreter of blessed Epiphanius--Leontius, whose teaching adorned the island of Cyprus, or those who spoke according to their own conceits? Listen to the testimony of Severianus, Bishop of the Gabali.
Severianus, Bishop of the Gabali, on the Dedication of the Cross.
How was it that the image of the enemy gave life to our progenitors? . . .
How was it that the image of the serpent worked salvation to the people in distress? Would it not have been more reasonable to say, “If any of you be bitten, let him look up to heaven, to God, and he shall be saved, or let him look towards the tabernacle of God”? Passing over this, he set up the image of the Cross alone. Why did Moses do this, who said to the people, “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth”? (Ex. 20.4) However, why do I speak to unworthy people? Tell me, devout servant of God, will you do what is forbidden, and disregard what you are told to do? He who said, “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing,” condemned the golden calf, and you make a brazen serpent, and this not secretly, but most openly, so that it is known to all. Moses answers, I laid down that commandment in order to root out impiety, and to withdraw the people from all apostasy and idolatry; now, I have the serpent cast for a good purpose--as a figure of the truth. And just as I have put up a tabernacle, and everything in it, and cherubim, the likeness of the invisible powers, over the holy of holies, as a sign and figure of the future, so I have set up a serpent for the salvation of the people, to serve as a preliminary to the image of the Cross, and the redemption contained in it. As a confirmation of this, listen to the Lord saying, “As Moses exalted the serpent in the desert, so must you exalt the Son of Man, that every one believing in Him may not be lost, but may have eternal life.” (Jn. 3.14)
Commentary.-Notice that His commandment not to make any graven thing was given to draw the people from idolatry, to which they were prone, and that the brazen serpent was an image of our Lord‘s suffering.
Listen to what I am going to say as a proof that icons are no new invention. It is an ancient practice well known to the best and foremost of the fathers. Elladios, the disciple of blessed Basil and his successor, says in his Life of Basil that the holy man was standing by the image of Our Lady, on which was painted also the likeness of Mercurius, the renowned martyr. He was standing by it asking for the removal of the impious apostate Julian, and he received this revelation from the statue. He saw the martyr vanish for a time, and then reappear, holding a bloody spear.
Taken word for word from the Life of St John Chrysostom.
Blessed John loved the epistles of St Paul exceedingly. . . . He had an image of the apostle in a place where he was wont to retire now and then on account of his physical weakness, for he outdid nature in watchings and vigils. As he read through St Paul‘s epistles, he had the image before him, and spoke to the apostle as if he had been present, praising him, and directing all his thoughts to him. . . .
When Proclus had finished speaking, gazing intently at the image of the apostle, and recognising the likeness to the man he had seen, saluting John, he said, pointing to the image: “Forgive me, father; the man I saw talking to you is very like this statue. In fact, I should say he is the same.”
In the life of St Eupraxia we are told that her Superior showed her the likeness of our Lord.
We read in the life of St Mary of Egypt that she prayed before the statue of Our Lady and besought her intercession, and so obtained leave to enter the Church.
In all the past array of Christian priests and kings, wise and pious, conspicuous by teaching and example, in so many councils of holy and inspired fathers, how is it that no one has pointed out these things? We are not advocating a new faith. “The law shall come out of Sion,” the Holy Ghost said prophetically, “and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Is. 2.3) We do not advocate one thing at one time, and another at another, nor that the faith should become a laughing-stock to those outside. We will not allow the king‘s commands to overturn the tradition handed down from the fathers. It is not for pious kings to overturn ecclesiastical boundaries. These are not patristic ways. Things done by force are impositions, and do not carry persuasion. A proof of this was given in the 2nd Council of Ephesus, when a decree, which has never been recognised as valid, was enforced by the emperor‘s hand, and blessed Flavian was put to death. Councils do not belong to kings, as the Lord says: “Wherever one or two are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Mt. 18.20) Christ did not give to kings the power to bind and to loose, but to the apostles, (Mt. 18.18) and to their successors and pastors and teachers. “If an angel were to teach you a different gospel to what you have received,” (Gal. 1.8) St Paul says--but we will be silent about what follows, in the hope of their conversion. And if we find the warning disregarded, which may God avert, we will then add the rest. Let us hope it will not be needed.
If any one should enter a house and should see on the walls a history in painting of Moses and Aaron, perchance he might ask about the people who are walking across the sea as if it were dry land. “Who are they?” he asks. What would you say? “Are they not the sons of Israel?” “Who is dividing the sea with his rod?” Would you not say “Moses”? So if a man makes an image of Christ crucified, and you are asked who he is, you reply, “It is Christ our Lord, who became incarnate for us.” Yes, O Lord, we adore all that belongs to Thee, and we take to our hearts Thy Godhead, Thy power and goodness, Thy mercy towards us, Thy condescension and Thy Incarnation. And as men fear touching red-hot iron, not because of the iron but because of the heat, so do we worship Thy flesh, not for the nature of flesh, but through the Godhead united to that flesh according to substance. We worship Thy sufferings. Who has ever known death worshipped, or suffering venerated? Yet we truly worship the physical death of our God and His saving sufferings. We adore Thy image and all that is Thine; Thy servants, Thy friends, and most of all Thy Mother, the Mother of God.
We beseech, therefore, the people of God, the faithful flock, to hold fast to the ecclesiastical traditions. The gradual taking away of what has been handed down to us would be undermining the foundation stones, and would in no short time overthrow the whole structure. May we prove steadfast, unflinching, immovable, founded on the solid Rock which is Christ, to whom be praise, glory, and worship, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.
I CRAVE your indulgence, my masters, and ask you to receive the true statement of one who is an unprofitable servant, the least of all, in the Church of God. I have not been moved to speak by motives of vainglory, God is my witness, but by zeal for the truth. In this alone is my hope of salvation, and with it I trust and pray to go out to meet Christ our Lord, asking that it may be an expiation for my sins. The man who received five talents from his lord, brought other five which he had gained, and the man with two, other two. The man who received one, and buried it, gave it back without interest, and being pronounced a wicked servant, was banished into external darkness. (Mt. 25.20ff) Lest I should suffer in the same way, I obey God‘s commands, and with the talent of eloquence, which is His gift, I put before the wise among you a treasure table, so that when the Lord comes He may find me rich in souls, a faithful servant, whom He may take into that ineffable joy of His, which is my desire. Give me listening ears and willing hearts. Receive my treatise, and ponder well the force of the arguments. This is the second part of my work on icons. Certain children of the Church have urged me to do it because the first part was not sufficiently clear to all. Be indulgent with me on this account, for my obedience.
The wicked serpent of old, Beloved, I mean the devil--is wont to wage war in many ways against man, who is made after God‘s image, and to work his destruction through opposition. In the very beginning he inspired man with the hope and desire of becoming a god, and through that desire he dragged man down to share the death of the brute creation. He has enticed man also by shameful and brutal pleasures. What a contrast between becoming a god and feeling brutal lust. And again, he led man into infidelity, as the royal (qeopatwr) David says: “The fool said in his heart there is no God.” (Ps. 14.1) At one time he has brought man to worship too many gods, at another not even the true God, sometimes demons, and again, the heavens and the earth, the sun and moon and stars, and the rest of creation, wild beasts and reptiles. It is as bad to refuse due honour where honour is due, as to give it where it is not due. Again, he has taught some to call the uncreated god evil, and has deceived others by making them recognise God, who is good by nature, as the author of evil. Some he has deceived by the misconception of one nature and one substance of the Godhead; some he has induced to honour three natures and three substances; some one substance in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; some two natures and two substances.
But the truth, taking a middle course, sweeps away these misconceptions and teaches us to acknowledge one God, one nature in three persons (upostasesi) the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Evil is not a being, but an accident, a certain conception, word, or deed against the law of God, taking its origin in this conception, speech, or doing, and ending with it. The truth proclaims also that in Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, there are two natures and one person. Now, the devil, the enemy of the truth and of man‘s salvation, in suggesting that icons of corruptible man and of birds and beasts and reptiles, should be made and worshipped as gods, has often led astray not only heathens but the children of Israel. (Rom. 1.23) In these days he is eager to trouble the peace of Christ‘s Church through false and lying tongues, using divine words in favour of what is evil, and striving to disguise his wicked intent, and drawing the unstable away from true and patristic custom. Some have risen up and said that it was wrong to represent and set forth publicly for adoration the saving wounds of Christ, and the combats of the saints against the devil. Who with a knowledge of divine things and a spiritual sense does not perceive in this a deception of the devil? He is unwilling that his shame should be known and that the glory of God and of His saints should be published.
If we made an image of the invisible God, we should in truth do wrong. For it is impossible to make a statue of one who is without body, invisible, boundless, and formless. Again, if we made statues of men, and held them to be gods, worshipping them as such, we should be most impious. But we do neither. For in making the image of God, who became incarnate and visible on earth, a man amongst men through His unspeakable goodness, taking upon Him shape and form and flesh, we are not misled. We long to see what He was like. As the divine apostle says, “We see now in a glass, darkly.” (I Cor. 13.12) The image, too, is a dark glass, according to the denseness of our bodies. The mind, in much travail, cannot rid itself of bodily things. Shame upon you, wicked devil, for grudging us the sight of our Lord‘s likeness and our sanctification through it. You would not have us gaze at His saving sufferings nor wonder at His condescension, neither contemplate His miracles nor praise His almighty power. You grudge the saints the honour God gives to them. You would not have us see their glory put on record, nor allow us to become imitators of their fortitude and faith. We will not obey your suggestions, wicked and man-hating devil. Listen to me, people of all nations, men, women, and children, all of you who bear the Christian name: If any one preach to you something contrary to what the Catholic Church has received from the holy apostles and fathers and councils, and has kept down to the present day, do not heed him. Do not receive the serpent‘s counsel, as Eve did, to whom it was death. If an angel or an emperor teaches you anything contrary to what you have received, shut your ears. I have refrained so far from saying, as the holy apostle said, “Let him be anathema,” (Gal. 1.8) in the hope of amendment.
But say those who do not enter into the mind of Scripture, God said, through Moses the law-giver: “Thou shalt not make to thyself the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath”; (Ex. 20.4) and through the prophet David: “Let them be all confounded that adore graven things, and that glory in their idols,” (Ps. 97.7) and many similar passages. Whatever they have quoted from Holy Scripture and the fathers is to the same intent.
Now, what shall we say to these things? What, if not that which God spoke to the Jews, “Search the Scriptures.” (Jn. 5.39)
It is good to examine the Scriptures, but let your mind be enlightened from the search. It is impossible, Beloved, that God should not speak truth. (Heb. 6.18) There is one God, one Lawgiver of the old and new dispensation, who “spoke of old in many ways to the patriarchs through the prophets, and in these latter times through His only begotten Son.” (Heb. 1.1) Apply your mind with discernment. It is not I who am speaking. The Holy Ghost declared by the holy apostle St Paul that God spoke of old in many different ways to the patriarchs through the prophets. Note, in many different ways. A skilful doctor does not invariably prescribe for all alike, but for each according to his state, taking into consideration climate and complaint, season and age, giving one remedy to a child, another to a grown man, according to his age; one thing to a weak patient, another to a strong; and to each sufferer the right thing for his state and malady: one thing in the summer, another in the winter, another in the spring or autumn, and in each place according to its requirements. So in the same way the good Physician of souls prescribed for those who were still children and inclined to the sickness of idolatry, holding idols to be gods, and worshipping them as such, neglecting the worship of God, and preferring the creature to His glory. He charged them not to do this.
It is impossible to make an image of God, who is a pure spirit, invisible, boundless, having neither form nor circumscription. How can we make an image of what is invisible? “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” (Jn. 1.18) And again, “No one shall see My face and live, saith the Lord.” (Ex. 33.20)
That they did worship idols there is no doubt from what the Scripture says about the going out of the children of Israel, when Moses went up to Mount Sinai, and persevered in prayer to God. Whilst receiving the law, the ungrateful people rose against Aaron, the priest of God, saying: “Make us gods who may go before us. For as to Moses, we know not what has befallen him.” (Ex. 32.1ff) Then, when they had looked over the trinkets of their wives, and brought them together, they ate and drank, and were inebriated with wine and madness, and began to make merry, saying in their foolishness, “These are thy gods, O Israel.” Do you see that they made gods of idols who were demons, and that they worshipped the creature instead of the Creator? As the holy apostle says: “They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and of creeping things, and served the creature rather than the Creator.” (Rom. 1.23, 25) On this account God forbade them to make any graven image, as Moses says in Deuteronomy: “And the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the voice of His words, but you saw not any form at all.” (Deut. 4.12) And a little further on: “Keep therefore your souls carefully; you saw not any similitude in the day that the Lord God spoke to you in Horeb, from the midst of the fire, lest perhaps being deceived you might make you a graven similitude or image of male or female, the similitude of any beasts that are upon the earth, or of birds that fly under heaven.” (Deut. 4.9, 15-17) And again: “Lest perhaps lifting up thy eyes to heaven, thou see the sun and the moon, and all the stars of heaven, and being deceived by error, thou adore and serve them.” (Deut. 4.19) You see the one object in view is that the creature should not be worshipped instead of the Creator, and that the worship of latreia should be given to God alone. Thus in every case when he speaks of worship he means latreia. Again “Thou shalt not have strange gods in my sight; thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing nor any likeness.” (Deut. 5.7) Again: “Thou shalt not make to thyself gods of metal.” (Ex. 34.17) You see that He forbids image-making on account of idolatry, and that it is impossible to make an image of God, who is a Spirit, invisible, and uncircumscribed. “You have not seen His likeness,” (Deut. 4.15) He says; and St Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, says: “Being therefore the offspring of God, we must not suppose the divinity to be like unto gold, or silver, or stone, the graving of art, a device of man.” (Acts 17.29)
Listen again that it is so. Thou shalt not make to thyself any brazen thing nor any likeness. These things, he says, they made by God‘s commandment a hanging of violet, purple, scarlet, and fine twisted linen in the entrance of the tabernacle, and the cherubim in woven work. (Ex. 26.31) And they made also the propitiatory, that is, the oracle of the purest gold, and the two cherubim. (Ex 37.6-7) What will you say to this, O Moses? You say, thou shalt not make to thyself any graven thing nor any likeness, and you yourself fashion cherubim of woven work, and two cherubim of pure gold. Listen to the answer of God‘s servant Moses: “You blind and foolish people, mark the force of what is said, and keep your souls carefully. I said that you had seen no likeness on the day when the Lord spoke to you on Mount Horeb, in the midst of the fire, lest you should sin against the law and make for yourselves a brazen likeness: thou shalt not make any image or gods of metal. I never said thou shalt not make the image of cherubim in adoration before the propitiatory. What I said was: Thou shalt not make to thyself gods of metal, and thou shalt not make any likeness as of God, nor shalt thou adore the creature instead of the Creator, nor any creature whatsoever as God, nor have I served the creature rather than the Creator.”
Note how the object of Scripture becomes clear to those who really search it. You must know, Beloved, that in every business truth and falsehood are distinguished, and the object of the doer, whether it be good or bad. In the gospel we find all things good and evil. God, the angels, man, the heavens, the earth, water and fire and air, the sun and moon and stars, light and darkness, Satan and the devils, the serpent and scorpions, death and hell, virtues and vices. And because everything told about them is true, and the object in view is the glory of God and the saints whom He has honoured, our salvation, and the shame of the devil, we worship and embrace and love these utterances, and receive them with our whole heart as we do the whole of the old and new dispensation, and all the spoken testimony of the holy fathers. Now, we reject the evil, abominable writings of heathens and Manicheans and all other heretics, as containing foolishness and lies, promoting the advantage of Satan and his demons, and giving them pleasure, although they contain the name of God. So with regard to icons we must manifest the truth, and take into account the intention of those who make them. If it be in very deed for the glory of God and of His saints to promote goodness, to avoid evil, and save souls, we should receive and honour and worship them as icons, and remembrances, likenesses, and the books of the illiterate. We should love and embrace them with hand and heart as reminders of the incarnate God, or His Mother, or of the saints, the participators in the sufferings and the glory of Christ, the conquerors and overthrowers of Satan, and diabolical fraud. If any one should dare to make an image of Almighty God, who is pure Spirit, invisible, uncircumscribed, we reject it as a falsehood. If any one make icons for the honour and worship of the Devil and his angels, we abhor them and deliver them to the flames. Or if any one give divine honours to the statues of men, or birds, or reptiles, or any other created thing, we anathematise him. As our forefathers in the faith pulled down the temples of demons, and erected on the same spot churches dedicated to saints whom we honour, so they overturned the statues of demons, and set up instead the icons of Christ, of His holy Mother, and the saints. Even in the old dispensation, Israel neither raised temples to human beings, nor held sacred the memory of man. At that time Adam‘s race was under a curse, and death was a penalty, therefore a mourning. A corpse was looked upon as unclean, and the man who touched it as contaminated. But since the Godhead has taken to Himself our nature, it has become glorified as a vivifying and efficacious remedy, and has been transformed unto immortality. Thus the death of the saints is a rejoicing, and churches are raised to them, and their icons are set up. Be assured that any one wishing to pull down an image erected out of pure zeal for the glory and enduring memory of Christ, or of His holy Mother, or any of the saints, to put the devil and his satellites to shame,--anyone, I say, refusing to honour and worship this image as sacred--it is not to be worshipped as God--is an enemy of Christ, of His blessed Mother, and of the saints, and is an advocate of the devil and his crew, showing grief by his conduct that the saints are honoured and glorified, and the devil put to shame. The image is a hymn of praise, a manifestation, a lasting token of those who have fought and conquered, and of demons humbled and put to flight.
Kings have no call to make laws in the Church. What does the holy apostle say? “And God, indeed, hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors and shepherds for the training of the Church.” (I Cor. 12.28) He does not say “kings.” And again: “Obey your prelates, and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls.” (Heb. 13.17) Again: “Remember your prelates who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the end of your conversation.” (13.7) Kings have not spoken the word to you, but apostles and prophets, pastors and doctors. When God was speaking to David about building a house for Him, He said: “Thou shalt not build me a house, for thou art a man of blood.” (I Chron. 28.3) “Render, therefore, to all men their dues,” St Paul exclaimed; “tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour.” (Rom. 13.7) The political prosperity is the king‘s business the ecclesiastical organisation belongs to pastors and doctors, and to take it out of their hands is to commit an act of robbery. Saul rent Samuel‘s cloak, and what was the consequence? God took from him his royalty, and gave it to the meek David. (I Sam. 15.27-28) Jezabel pursued Elias, pigs and dogs licked up her blood, (I Kgs. 19.2-3; II Kgs. 9.33ff) and harlots were bathed in it. Herod removed John, and was consumed by worms. (Acts 12.23) And now holy Germanus, shining by word and example, has been punished and become an exile, and many more bishops and fathers, whose names are unknown to us. Is not this a persecution? When the Pharisees and the learned surrounded our Lord, ostensibly to listen to His teaching, and when they asked Him if it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar, He answered them “Bring me a coin.” And when they had brought it, He said: “Whose image is this?” Upon their reply, “Caesar‘s,” He said, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar‘s and to God that which is God‘s.” (Mt. 22.17ff) We are obedient to you, O King, in things concerning our daily life, in tributes, taxes, and payments, which are your due; but in ecclesiastical government we have our pastors, preachers of the word, and exponents of ecclesiastical law. We do not change the boundaries marked out by our fathers (Prov. 22.28): we keep the tradition we have received. If we begin to lay down the law to the Church, even in the smallest thing, the whole edifice will fall to the ground in no short time.
You look down upon matter and call it contemptible. This is what the Manicheans did, but holy Scripture pronounces it to be good for it says, “And God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” (Gen. 2.31) I say matter is God‘s creation and a good thing. Now, if you say it is bad, you say either that it is not from God, or you make Him a cause of evil. Listen to the words of Scripture concerning matter, which you despise: “And Moses said to all the assembly of the children of Israel: This is the word the Lord hath commanded, saying: Set aside with you first fruits to the Lord; let every one that is willing and hath a ready heart, offer them to the Lord: gold, and silver, and brass, violet and purple, and scarlet twice dyed, and fine linen, goat‘s hair, and ram‘s skins dyed red, and violet, and coloured skins, selimwood, and oil to maintain lights, and to make ointment, and most sweet incense, onyx stones and precious stones for the adorning of the ephod and the rational: Whosoever of you is wise let him come and make that which the Lord hath commanded: to wit, the tabernacle,” etc.(Ex. 35.4-10)
Behold, then, matter is honoured, and you dishonour it. What is more insignificant than goat‘s hair, or colours, and are not violet and purple and scarlet colours? And the likeness of the cherubim are the work of man‘s hand, and the tabernacle itself from first to last was an image. “Look,” said God to Moses, “and make it according to the pattern that was shown thee in the Mount,” (Ex. 25.40) and it was adored by the people of Israel in a circle. And, as to the cherubim, were they not in sight of the people? And did not the people look at the ark, and the lamps, and the table, the golden urn and the staff, and adore? It is not matter which I adore; it is the Lord of matter, becoming matter for my sake, taking up His abode in matter and working out my salvation through matter. For “the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt amongst us.” (Jn. 1.14) It is evident to all that flesh is matter, and that it is created. I reverence and honour matter, and worship that which has brought about my salvation. I honour it, not as God, but as a channel of divine strength and grace. Was not the thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? and the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary? Was not the holy sepulchre matter, the life-giving stone the source of our resurrection? Was not the book of the Gospels matter, and the holy table which gives us the bread of life? Are not gold and silver matter, of which crosses, and holy pictures, and chalices are made? And above all, is not the Lord‘s Body and Blood composed of matter? Either reject the honor and worship of all these things, or conform to ecclesiastical tradition, sanctifying the worship of icons in the name of God and of God‘s friends, and so obeying the grace of the Divine Spirit. If you give up icons on account of the law, you should also keep the Sabbath and be circumcised, for these are severely inculcated by it. You should observe all the law, and not celebrate the Lord‘s Passover out of Jerusalem. But you must know that if you observe the law, Christ will profit you nothing. (Gal. 5.2) You are ordered to marry your brother‘s wife, and so carry on his name, (Deut. 25.5ff) and not to sing the song of the Lord in a strange land. (Ps. 137.4) Enough of this! “Those who have been justified by the law have fallen from grace.” (Gal. 5.4)
Let us set forth Christ, our King and Lord, not depriving Him of His army. The saints are His army. Let the earthly king strip himself of his army, and then of his own dignity. Let him put off the purple and the diadem before he take honour away from his most valiant men who have conquered their passions. For if the friends of Christ are heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ, and are to be partakers of the divine glory and kingdom, is not even earthly glory due to them? I call you not servants, our Lord says; you are my friends. Shall we, then, withhold from them the honour which the Church gives them? You are a bold and venturesome man to fight against God and His ordinances. If you do not worship icons, you do not worship the Son of God, who is the living image of the invisible God, and the immutable figure of His substance. The temple which Solomon built was consecrated by the blood of animals, and decorated by icons of lions, oxen, and the palms and pomegranates. Now, the Church is consecrated by the blood of Christ and of His saints, and it is adorned with the image of Christ and of His saints. Either take away the worship of icons altogether, or be not an innovator, and pass not beyond the ancient boundaries which thy fathers have set. (Prov. 22.28) I am not speaking of boundaries prior to the incarnation of Christ our Lord, but since His coming. God spoke to them, depreciating the traditions of the old law, saying, “I also gave them statutes that were not good,” (Ez. 20.25) on account of their hardness of heart. “Consequently on the change of priesthood the law of necessity was also changed.” (Heb. 7.12)
The eye-witnesses and ministers of the word handed down the teaching of the Church, not only by writing, but also by unwritten tradition. Whence comes our knowledge of the sacred spot, Mount Calvary, of the holy sepulchre? Has it not been handed down to us from father to son? It is written that our Lord was crucified on Calvary, and buried in the tomb which Joseph hewed out of the rock, but it is unwritten tradition that teaches us we are adoring the right places, and many other things of the same kind. Why do we believe in three baptisms, that is, in three immersions? Why do we adore the Cross? Is it not through tradition? Therefore the holy apostle says: “Brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.” (II Thess. 2.15) Many things, therefore, being handed down to the Church by unwritten tradition and kept up to the present day, why do you speak slightingly of icons? The Manicheans followed a gospel according to Thomas, and you will follow that of Leo. I do not admit an emperor‘s tyrannical action in domineering over the Church. The emperor has not received the power to bind and loose. I know of the Emperor Valens, a Christian in name, who persecuted the true faith, Zeno and Anastasius, Heraclius and Constantine of Sicily, and Bardaniskus, called Philip (filippikon). I am not to be persuaded that the Church is set in order by imperial edicts, but by patristic traditions, written and unwritten. As the written Gospel has been preached in the whole world, so has it been an unwritten tradition in the whole world to represent in image Christ, the incarnate God, and the saints, to adore the Cross, and to pray towards the east.
The customs which you bring forward do not incriminate our worship of icons, but that of the heathens who make idols of them. The pious practice of the Church is not to be rejected because of heathen abuse. Sorcerers and magicians exorcise; the Church exorcises catechumens. The former invoke demons, the Church calls upon God against demons. Heathens sacrificed to demons; Israel offered to God both holocausts and victims. The Church, too, offers an unbloody sacrifice to God. Heathens set up icons to demons, and Israel made idols of them in the words, “These are thy gods, O Israel, who brought thee out of Egypt.” (Ex. 32.4) Now we have set up icons to the true God incarnate, to His servants and friends, who have put the demon host to flight. If you say to this that blessed Epiphanius clearly rejected our use of icons, you must know that the work in question is spurious and written by some one else in the name of Epiphanius, as often happens. A father does not fight his own children. All have become participators in the one Spirit. The Church is a witness of this in adorning icons, until some men rose up against her and disturbed the peace of Christ‘s fold, putting poisoned food before the people of God.
If I venerate and worship, as the instruments of salvation, the Cross and lance, and reed and sponge, by means of which the Jews (qeoktonoi) scorned and put to death my Lord, shall I not also worship icons that Christians make with a good intention for the glory and remembrance of Christ? If I worship the image of the Cross, made of whatever wood it may be, shall I not worship the image which shows me the Crucified and my salvation through the Cross? Oh, inhumanity of man! It is evident that I do not worship matter, for supposing the Cross, if it be made of wood, should fall to pieces, I should throw them into the fire, and the same with icons.
Receive the united testimony of Scripture and the fathers to show you that icons and their worship are no new invention, but the ancient tradition of the Church. In the holy Gospel of St Matthew our Lord called His disciples blessed, and with them all those who followed their example and walked in their footsteps in these words: “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. For, amen I say to you, many prophets and just men have desired to see the things that you see, and have not seen them, and to bear the things that you hear, and have not heard them.” (Mt. 13.16-17) We also desire to see as much as we may. “We see now in a glass, darkly,” (I Cor. 13.12) and in image, and are blessed. God Himself first made an image, and showed forth icons. For He “made the first man after His own image.” (Gen. 1.27) And Abraham, Moses, and Isaias, and all the prophets saw icons of God, not the substance of God. The burning bush was an image of God‘s Mother, and as Moses was about to approach it, God said: “Put off the shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Ex. 3.5) Now if the spot on which Moses saw an image of Our Lady was holy, how much more the image itself? And not only is it holy, but I venture to say it is the holy of holies (agiwn agia). When the Pharisees asked our Lord why Moses had allowed a bill of divorce, He answered: “On account of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wife, but in the beginning it was not so.” (Mt. 19.8) And I say to you that Moses, through the children of Israel‘s hardness of heart, and knowing their proclivity to idolatry, forbade them to make icons. We are not in the same case. We have taken a firm footing on the rock of faith, being enriched with the light of God‘s friendship.
Listen to our Lord‘s words: “Ye foolish and blind, whosoever shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth in it; and he that sweareth by heaven sweareth by the throne of God, and by Him that sitteth thereon.” (Mt. 23.21-22) And he who swears by an image swears by the one whom it represents. It has been sufficiently proved that the tabernacle, and the veil, the ark and the table, and everything within the tabernacle, were icons and types, and the works of man‘s hand, which were worshipped by all Israel, and also that the cherubim in carving were made by God‘s order. For God said to Moses, “See that thou doest all things according to the pattern shown to thee on the mount.” (Ex. 25.40) Listen, too, to the apostle‘s testimony that Israel worshipped icons and the handiwork of man in obedience to God: If, then, he were on earth he would not be a priest; seeing that there would be others to offer gifts according. to the law, who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as it was answered to Moses, when he was to finish the tabernacle: See (says he) that thou make all things according to the pattern which was shown thee on the mount. But now he hath obtained a better ministry, by how much also he is a mediator of a better testament, which is established on better promises. For if that former had been faultless, there should not indeed a place have been sought for a second. For finding fault with them, he saith: “Behold the day shall come, saith the Lord: and I will perfect unto the house of Israel, and unto the house of Juda, a New Testament: not according to the Testament which I made to their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” (Heb. 8.4-9) And a little further on: “Now in saying a New, he hath made the former Old. And that which decayeth and groweth old, is near its end. For there was a tabernacle made the first, wherein were the candlesticks, and the table, and the setting forth of loaves, which is called the Holy. And after the second veil, the tabernacle, which is called the Holy of Holies; having a golden censer, and the ark of the testament covered about on every part with gold, in which was a golden pot that had manna, and the rod of Aaron that had blossomed, and the tables of the testament. And over it were the cherubims of glory overshadowing the propitiatory.” (Heb. 8.13; 9.2-5) And again: “For Jesus is not entered into the Holies made with hands, the patterns of the true; but into heaven itself.” (Heb. 9.24) And again “For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things.” (Heb. 10.1)
You see that the law and everything it ordained and all our own worship consist in the consecration of what is made by hands, leading us through matter to the invisible God. Now the law and all its ordinances were a foreshadowing of the image in the future, that is, of our worship. And our worship is an image of the eternal reward. As to the thing itself, the heavenly Jerusalem, it is invisible and immaterial, as the same divine apostle says: “We have not here an abiding city, but we seek for the one above, the heavenly Jerusalem, of which God is Lord and Architect.” (Heb. 13.14; 11.10) All ordinances of the law and of our worship have been directed for that heavenly city. To God be praise for ever. Amen.
TESTIMONY OF ANCIENT AND LEARNED FATHERS TO ICONS.
St John Chrysostom. From His “Commentary on the Parable of the Sower.”
If you despise the royal garment, do you not despise the king himself? Do you not see that if you despise the image of the king, you despise the original? Do you not know that if a man shows contempt for an image of wood or a statue of metal, he is not judged as if he had vented himself or lifeless matter, but as showing contempt for the king? Dishonour shown to an image of the king is dishonour shown to the king.
The same, from his Sermon to St Meletius, Bishop of Antioch, and on the zeal of his hearers, beginning, “Casting his eyes everywhere on this holy flock.”
What took place was most edifying, and we ought always to bear this consolation in mind, and to have this saint before our eyes, whose name was invoked against every bad passion and specious argument. This was so much the case that streets, market-place, fields, every nook and corner rang with his name. Not only have you longed to invoke him, but to look upon his bodily form. As with his name so with his image. Many people have put it on their rings and goblets and cups and on their bedroom walls, so as not only to hear his history but to look upon his physical likeness, and to have a double consolation in his loss.
St Maximus, Philosopher and Confessor. From his “Acts” and those of Bishop Theodosius.
And after this all rose with tears of devotion, and kneeling down, prayed. And every one kissed the holy Gospels, and the sacred Cross, and the image of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and of Our Lady, His Immaculate Mother (panagiaV qeotokou), putting their hands to it in confirmation of what had been said.
Blessed Anastasius, Archbishop of Theopolis, on the Sabbath, to Simeon, Bishop of Bostris.
As in the king‘s absence his image is honoured instead of himself, so in his presence it would be unseemly to leave the original for the image. This is not to say that what is passed over in his presence should be dishonoured. . . . As the man who shows disrespect to the king‘s image is punished as if he had shown it to the king in very deed, although the image is composed merely of wood and paint moulded together, so one who shows disrespect to the likeness of a man means it for the original of the likeness.
EVERY one must recognise that a man who attempts to dishonour an image which has been set up for the glory and remembrance of Christ, of His holy Mother, or one of his saints, is an enemy of Christ, of His holy Mother, and the saints. It is also set up to shame the devil and his crew, out of love and zeal for God. The man who refuses to give this image due, though not divine, honour, is an upholder of the devil and his demon host, showing by his act grief that God and the saints are honoured and glorified, and the devil put to shame. The image is a canticle and manifestation and monument to the memory of those who have fought bravely and won the victory to the shame and confusion of the vanquished. I have often seen lovers gazing at the loved one‘s garment, and embracing it with eyes and mouth as if it was himself. We must give his due to every man, St Paul says “Honour to whom honour: to the king as excelling: or to governors as sent by him,” (Rom. 13.7) to each according to the measure of his dignity.
Where do you find in the Old Testament or in the Gospel the Trinity, or consubstantiality, or one Godhead, or three persons, or the one substance of Christ, or His two natures, expressed in so many words? Still, as they are contained in what Scripture does say, and defined by the holy fathers, we receive them and anathematise those who do not. I prove to you that in the old law God commanded icons to be made, first of all the tabernacle and everything in it. Then in the gospel our Lord Himself said to those who asked Him, tempting, whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar, “Bring me a coin,” and they showed Him a penny. And He asked them whose likeness it was, and they said to Him, Caesar‘s; and He said, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar‘s, and to God that which is God‘s.” (Mt. 22.17-21) As the coin bears the likeness of Caesar, it is his, and you should give it to Caesar. So the image bears the likeness of Christ, and you should give it Him, for it is His.
Our Lord called His disciples blessed, saying, “Many kings and prophets have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear and have not heard it. Blessed are your eyes which see and your ears which hear.” (Mt. 13.16-17) The apostles saw Christ with their bodily eyes, and His sufferings and wonders, and they listened to His words. We, too, desire to see, and to hear, and to be blessed. They saw Him face to face, as He was present in the body. Now, since he is not present in the body to us, we hear His words from books and are sanctified in spirit by the hearing, and are blessed, and we adore, honouring the books which tell us of His words. So, through the representation of icons we look upon His bodily form, and upon His miracles and His sufferings, and are sanctified and satiated, gladdened and blessed. Reverently we worship His bodily form, and contemplating it, we form some notion of His divine glory. For, as we are composed of soul and body, and our soul does not stand alone, but is, as it were, shrouded by a veil, it is impossible for us to arrive at intellectual conceptions without corporeal things. just as we listen with our bodily ears to physical words and understand spiritual things, so, through corporeal vision, we come to the spiritual. On this account Christ took a body and a soul, as man has both one and the other. And baptism likewise is double, of water and the spirit. So is communion and prayer and psalmody; everything has a double signification, a corporeal and a spiritual. Thus again, with lights and incense. The devil has tolerated all these things, raising a storm against icons alone. His great jealousy of them may be learnt by what St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, recounts in his “Spiritual Garden.” Abbot Theodore Aeliotes told of a holy hermit on the Mount of Olives, who was much troubled by the demon of fornication. One day when he was sorely tempted, the old man began to complain bitterly. “When will you let me alone?” he said to the devil “be gone from me! you and I have grown old together.” The devil appeared to him, saying, “Swear to me that you will keep what I am about to tell you to yourself, and I will not trouble you any longer.” And the old man swore it. Then the devil said to him, “Do not worship this image, and I will not harass you.” The image in question represented Our Lady, the holy Mother of God, bearing in her arms our Lord Jesus Christ. You see what those who forbid the worship of icons hate in reality, and whose instruments they are. The demon of fornication strove to prevent the worship of Our Lady‘s image rather than to tempt the old man to impurity. He knew that the former evil was greater than fornication.
As we are treating of icons and their worship, let us draw out the meaning more accurately and say in the first place what an image is; (2) Why the image was made; (3) How many kinds of icons there are; (4) What may be expressed by an image, and what may not; (5) Who first made icons. Again, as to worship: (1) What is worship; (2) How many kinds of worship there are; (3) What are the things worshipped in Scripture; (4) That all worship is for God, who is worshipful by nature; (5) That honour shown to the image is given to the original.
1st Point.--What is an Image?
An image is a likeness and representation of some one, containing in itself the person who is imaged. The image is not wont to be an exact reproduction of the original. The image is one thing, the person represented another; a difference is generally perceptible, because the subject of each is the same. For instance, the image of a man may give his bodily form, but not his mental powers. It has no life, nor does it speak or feel or move. A son being the natural image of his father is somewhat different from him, for he is a son, not a father.
2nd Point.-For what purpose the Image is made.Every
image is a revelation and representation of something hidden. For instance, man has not a clear knowledge of what is invisible, the spirit being veiled to the body, nor of future things, nor of things apart and distant, because he is circumscribed by place and time. The image was devised for greater knowledge, and for the manifestation and popularising of secret things, as a pure benefit and help to salvation, so that by showing things and making them known, we may arrive at the hidden ones, desire and emulate what is good, shun and hate what is evil.
3rd Point.-How many kinds of Icons there are.Icons
are of various kinds. First there is the natural image. In everything the natural conception must be the first, then we come to institution according to imitation. The Son is the first natural and unchangeable image of the invisible God, the Father, showing the Father in Himself. “For no man has seen God.” (Jn. 1.18) Again, “Not that any one has seen the Father.” (Jn. 6.46) The apostle says that the Son is the image of the Father: “Who is the image of the invisible God,” (Col. 1.15) and to the Hebrews, “Who being the brightness of His glory, and the figure of His substance.” (Heb. 1.3) In the Gospel of St John we find that He does show the Father in Himself. When Philip said to Him, “Show us the Father and it is enough for us,” our Lord replied, “Have I been so long with you and have you not known Me, Philip? He who sees Me, sees the Father.” (Jn. 14.8-9) For the Son is the natural image of the Father, unchangeable, in everything like to the Father, except that He is begotten, and that He is not the Father. The Father begets, being unbegotten. The Son is begotten, and is not the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the image of the Son. For no one can say the Lord Jesus, except in the Holy Spirit. (I Cor. 12.3) Through the Holy Spirit we know Christ, the Son of God and God, and in the Son we look upon the Father. For in things that are conceived by nature, language is the interpreter, and spirit is the interpreter of language. The Holy Spirit is the perfect and unchangeable image of the Son, differing only in His procession. The Son is begotten, but does not proceed. And the son of any father is his natural image. Thus, the natural is the first kind of image.
The second kind of image is that foreknowledge which is in God‘s mind concerning future events, His eternal and unchanging counsel. God is immutable and His counsel without beginning, and as it has been determined from all eternity, it is carried out at the time preordained by Him. Icons and figures of what He is to do in the future, the distinct determination of each, are called predeterminations by holy Dionysius. In His counsels the things predetermined by Him were characterised and imaged and immutably fixed before they took place.
The third sort of image is that by imitation (kata mimhsin) which God made, that is, man. For how can what is created be of the same nature as what is uncreated, except by imitation? As mind, the Father, the Word, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, so mind and word and spirit are one man, according to God‘s will and sovereign rule.
For God says: “Let us make man according to our own image and likeness,” and He adds, “I and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea and the birds of the air, and the whole earth, and rule over it.” (Gen. 1.26)
The fourth kind of image are the figures and types set forth by Scripture of invisible and immaterial things in bodily form, for a clearer apprehension of God and the angels, through our incapacity of perceiving immaterial things unless clothed in analogical material form, as Dionysius the Areopagite says, a man skilled in divine things. Anyone would say that our incapacity for reaching the contemplation of intellectual things, and our need of familiar and cognate mediums, make it necessary that immaterial things should be clothed in form and shape. If, then, holy Scripture adapts itself to us in seeking to elevate us above sense, does it not make icons of what it clothes in our own medium, and bring within our reach that which we desire but are unable to see? The spiritual writer, Gregory, says that the mind striving to banish corporeal icons reduces itself to incapability. But from the creation of the world the invisible things of God are made clear by the visible creation. We see icons in created things, which remind us faintly of divine tokens. For instance, sun and light and brightness, the running waters of a perennial fountain, our own mind and language and spirit, the sweet fragrance of a flowering rose tree, are icons of the Holy and Eternal Trinity.
The fifth kind of image is that which is typical of the future, as the bush and the fleece, the rod and the urn, foreshadowing the Virginal Mother of God, and the serpent healing through the Cross those bitten by the serpent of old. Thus, again, the sea, and water and the cloud foreshadow the grace of baptism.
The sixth kind of image is for a remembrance of past events, of a miracle or a good deed, for the honour and glory and abiding memory of the most virtuous, or for the shame and terror of the wicked, for the benefit of succeeding generations who contemplate it, so that we may shun evil and do good. This image is of two kinds, either through the written word in books, for the word represents the thing, as when God ordered the law to be written on tablets, (Deut. 5.22) and the lives of God-fearing men to be recorded, (Ex. 17.14) or through a visible object, as when He commanded the urn and rod to be placed in the ark for a lasting memory, (Ex, 16.33-34; Num. 17.10) and the names of the tribes to be engraved on the stones of the humeral. (Ex. 28.11-12) And also He commanded the twelve stones to be taken from the Jordan as a sacred token. (Jos. 4.20ff) Consider the prodigy, the greatest which befell the faithful people, the taking of the ark, and the parting of the waters. So now we set up the icons of valiant men for an example and a remembrance to ourselves. Therefore, either reject all icons, and be in opposition to Him who ordered these things, or receive each and all with becoming greeting and manner.
Fourth Chapter. What an Image is, what it is not; and how each Image is to be set forth.
Bodies as having form and shape and colour, may properly be represented in image. Now if nothing physical or material may be attributed to an angel, a spirit, and a devil, yet they may be depicted and circumscribed after their own nature. Being intellectual beings, they are believed to be present and to energise in places known to us intellectually. They are represented materially as Moses made an image of the cherubim who were looked upon by those worthy of the honour, the material image offering them an immaterial and intellectual sight. Only the divine nature is uncircumscribed and incapable of being represented in form or shape, and incomprehensible.
If Holy Scripture clothes God in figures which are apparently material, and can even be seen, they are still immaterial. They were seen by the prophets and those to whom they were revealed, not with bodily but with intellectual eyes. They were not seen by all. In a word it may be said that we can make icons of all the forms which we see. We apprehend these as if they were seen. If at times we understand types from reasoning, and also from what we see, and arrive at their comprehension in this way, so with every sense, from what we have smelt, or tasted, or touched, we arrive at apprehension by bringing our reason to bear upon our experience.
We know that it is impossible to look upon God, or a spirit, or a demon, as they are. They are seen in a certain form, divine providence clothing in type and figure what is without substance or material being, for our instruction, and more intimate knowledge, lest we should be in too great ignorance of God, and of the spirit world. For God is a pure Spirit by His nature. The angel, and a soul, and a demon, compared to God, who alone is incomparable, are bodies; but compared to material bodies, they are bodiless. God therefore, not wishing that we should be in ignorance of spirits, clothed them in type and figure, and in icons akin to our nature, material forms visible to the mind in mental vision. These we put into form and shape, for how were the cherubim represented and described in image? But Scripture offers forms and icons even of God.
Who first made an Image.
In the beginning God begot His only begotten Son, His word, the living image of Himself, the natural and unchangeable image of His eternity. And He made man after His own image and likeness. (Gen. 1.26) And Adam saw God, and heard the sound of His feet as He walked at even, and he hid in paradise. (Gen. 3.8) And Jacob saw and struggled with God. It is evident that God appeared to him in the form of a man. (Gen. 32.24ff) And Moses saw as it were the back of a man, (Ex. 33.24ff) and Isaias saw Him as a man seated on a throne. (Is. 6.1) And Daniel saw the likeness of a man, and as the Son of Man coming to the ancient of days. (Dan. 7.9, 13) No one saw the nature of God, but the type and image of what, was to be. For the Son and Word of the invisible God, was to become man in truth, that He might be united to our nature, and be seen upon earth. Now all who looked upon the type and image of the future, worshipped it, as St Paul says in his epistle to the Hebrews: “All these died according to faith, not having received the promises, but beholding them afar off, and saluting them.” (Heb. 11.13) Shall I not make an image of Him who took the nature of flesh for me? Shall I not reverence and worship Him, through the honour and worship of His image? Abraham saw not the nature of God, for no man ever saw God, but the image of God, and falling down he adored. (Gen. 18.2) Josue saw the image of an angel, (Jos. 5.14) not as he is, for an angel is not visible to bodily eyes, and falling down he adored, and so did Daniel. Yet an angel is a creature, and servant, and minister of God, not God. And he worshipped the angel not as God, but as God‘s ministering spirit. And shall not I make icons of Christ‘s friends? And shall I not worship them as the icons of God‘s friends, not as gods? Neither Josue nor Daniel worshipped the angels they saw as gods. Neither do I worship the image as God, but through the image of the saints too, show my worship to God, because I honour His friends, and do them reverence. God did not unite Himself to the angelic nature, but to the human. He did not become an angel: He became a man in nature, and in truth. It is indeed Abraham‘s seed which He embraces, not the angel‘s. (Heb. 2.16)
The Son of God in person did not take the nature of the angels: He took the nature of man. The angels did not participate in the divine nature, but in working and in grace. Now, men do participate, and become partakers of the divine nature when they receive the holy Body of Christ and drink His Blood. For He is united in person to the Godhead, and two natures in the Body of Christ shared by us are united indissolubly in person, and we partake of the two natures, of the body bodily, and of the Godhead in spirit, or, rather, of each in both. We are made one, not in person, for first we have a person and then we are united by blending together the body and the blood. How are we not greater than the angels, if through fidelity to the commandments we keep this perfect union? In itself our nature is far removed from the angels, on account of death and the heaviness of the body, but through God‘s goodness and its union with Him it has become higher than the angels. For angels stand by that nature with fear and trembling, as, in the person of Christ, it sits upon a throne of glory, and they will stand by in trembling at the judgment. According to Scripture they are not partakers of the divine glory. For they are all ministering spirits, being sent to minister because of those who are to be heirs of salvation, (Heb. 1.14) not that they shall reign together, nor that they shall be together glorified, nor that they shall sit at the table of the Father. The saints, on the contrary, are the children of God, the children of the kingdom, heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ. (Rom. 8.17) Therefore, I honour the saints, and glorify the servants and friends and co-heirs of Christ servants by nature, friends by their choice friends and co-heirs by divine grace, as our Lord said in speaking to the Father. (Jn. 17)
As we are peaking of icons, let us speak of worship also, and in the first place determine what it is.
On Adoration. What is Adoration?
Adoration is a token of subjection,--that is of submission and humiliation. There are many kinds of adoration.
On the kinds of Adoration.
The first kind is the worship of latreia, which we give to God, who alone is adorable by nature, and this worship is shown in several ways, and first by the worship of servants. All created things worship Him, as servants their master. “All things serve Thee,” (Ps. 119.91) the psalm says. Some serve willingly, others unwillingly; some with full knowledge, willingly, as in the case of the devout, others knowing, but not willing, against their will, as the devil‘s. Others, again, not knowing the true God, worship in spite of themselves Him whom they do not know.
The second kind is the worship of admiration and desire which we give to God on account of His essential glory. He alone is worthy of praise, who receives it from no one, being Himself the cause of all glory and all good, He is light, incomprehensible sweetness, incomparable, immeasurable perfection, an ocean of goodness, boundless wisdom, and power, who alone is worthy of Himself to excite admiration, to be worshipped, glorified, and desired.
The third kind of worship is that of thanksgiving for the goods we have received. We must thank God for all created things, and show Him perpetual worship, as from Him and through Him all creation takes its being and subsists. (Col. 1.16-17) He gives lavishly of His gifts to all, and without being asked. He wishes all to be saved, (I Tim. 2.4) and to partake of His goodness. He is long-suffering with us sinners. He allows His sun to shine upon the just and unjust, and His rain to fall upon the wicked and the good alike. (Mt. 5.45) And being the Son of God, He became one of us for our sakes, and made us partakers of His divine nature, so that “we shall be like unto Him,” (I Jn. 3.2) as St John says in his Catholic epistle.
The fourth kind is suggested by the need and hope of benefits. Recognising that without Him we can neither do nor possess anything good, we worship Him, asking Him to satisfy our needs and desires, that we may be preserved from evil and arrive at good.
The fifth kind is the worship of contrition and confession. As sinners we worship God, and prostrate ourselves before Him, needing His forgiveness, as it becomes servants. This happens in three ways. A man may be sorry out of love, or lest he should lose God‘s benefits, or for fear of chastisement. The first is prompted by goodness and desire for God himself, and the condition of a son: the second is interested, the third is slavish.
What we find worshipped in Scripture, and in how many ways we show worship to creatures
First, those places in which God, who alone is holy, has rested, and His resting-place in the saints, as in the holy Mother of God and in all the saints. These are they who are made like to God as far as possible, of their own free will, and by God‘s indwelling, and by His abiding grace. They are truly called gods, not by nature, but by participation; just as red-hot iron is called fire, not by nature, but by participation in the fire‘s action. He says: “Be ye holy because I am holy.” (Lev. 19.2) The first thing is the free choice of the will. Then, in the case of a good choice, God helps it on and confirms it. “I will take up my abode in them,” (Lev. 26.12) He says. “We are the temples of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in us.” (I Cor. 3.16) Again, “He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of diseases, and all manner of infirmities.” (Mt. 10.1) And again, “That which I do you shall do, and greater things.” (Jn. 14.12) Again: “As I live, God says, whosoever shall glorify Me, him will I glorify.” (I Sam. 2.30) Again: “If we suffer with Him that we may be also glorified with Him. (Rom. 8.17) And “God stood in the synagogue of the gods; in the midst of it He points out the gods.” (Ps. 82.1) As, then, they are truly gods, not by nature, but as partakers of God‘s nature, so they are to be worshipped, not as worshipful on their own account, but as possessing in themselves Him who is worshipful by nature. Just in the same way iron when ignited is not by nature hot and burning to the touch, it is the fire which makes it so. They are worshipped as exalted by God, as through Him inspiring fear to His enemies, and becoming benefactors to the faithful. It is love of God which gives them their free access to Him, not as gods or benefactors by nature, but as servants and ministers of God. We worship them, then, as the king is honoured through the honour given to a loved servant. He is honoured as a minister in attendance upon his master--as a valued friend, not as king. The prayers of those who approach with faith are heard, whether through the servant‘s intercession with the king, or whether through the king‘s acceptance of the honour and faith shown by the servant‘s petitioner, for it was in his name that the petition was made. Thus, those who approached through the apostles obtained their cures. Thus the shadow, and winding-sheets, and girdles of the apostles worked healings. (Acts 5.15) Those who perversely and profanely wish them to be adored as gods are themselves damnable, and deserve eternal fire. And those who in the false pride of their hearts disdain to worship God‘s servants are convicted of impiety towards God. The children who derided and laughed to scorn Elisseus bear witness to this, inasmuch as they were devoured by bears. (II Kgs. 2.23)
Secondly, we worship creatures by honouring those places or persons whom God has associated with the work of our salvation, whether before our Lord‘s coming or since the dispensation of His incarnation. For instance, I venerate Mount Sinai, Nazareth, the stable at Bethlehem, and the cave, the sacred mount of Golgotha, the wood of the Cross, the nails and sponge and reed, the sacred and saving lance, the dress and tunic, the linen cloths, the swathing clothes, the holy tomb, the source of our resurrection, the sepulchre, the holy mountain of Sion and the mountain of Olives, the Pool of Bethsaida and the sacred garden of Gethsemane, and all similar spots. I cherish them and every holy temple of God, and everything connected with God‘s name, not on their own account but because they show forth the divine power, and through them and in them it pleased God to bring about our salvation. I venerate and worship angels and men, and all matter participating in divine power and ministering to our salvation through it. I do not worship the Jews. They are not participators in divine power, nor have they contributed to my salvation. They crucified my God, the King of Glory, moved rather by envy and hatred against God their Benefactor. “Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house,” (Ps. 26.8) says David, “we will adore in the place where his feet stood. And adore at His holy mountain.” (Ps. 132.7; 99.9) The holy Mother of God is the living holy mountain of God. The apostles are the teaching mountains of God. “The mountains skipped like rams, and the hills like the lambs of the flock.” (I Cor. 10.11)
The third kind of worship is directed to objects dedicated to God, as, for instance, the holy Gospels and other sacred books. They were written for our instruction who live in these latter days. Sacred vessels, again, chalices, thuribles, candelabra, and altars (trapezai) belong to this category. It is evident that respect is due to them all. Consider how Baltassar made the people use the sacred vessels, and how God took away his kingdom from him. (Dan. 5.2ff)
The fourth kind of worship is that of icons seen by the prophets. They saw God in sensible vision, and icons of future things, as Aaron‘s rod, the figure of Our Lady‘s virginity, the urn, and the table. And Jacob worshipped on the point (epi to akron) of his rod. (Gen. 47.31) He was a type of our Lord. Icons of past events recall their remembrance. The tabernacle was an image of the whole world. “See,” God said to Moses, “the type which was shown to thee on the mountain, and the golden cherubim, the work of sculpturers, and the cherubim within the veil of woven work.” (Ex. 25.40) Thus we adore the sacred figure of the Cross, the likeness of our God‘s bodily features, the likeness of her who bore Him, and all belonging to Him.
The fifth manner is in the worship of each other as having upon us the mark of God and being made after His image, humbling ourselves mutually, (Eph. 5.21) and so fulfilling the law of charity.
The sixth manner is the worship of those in power who have authority. “Give to all men their dues,” the apostle says; “give honour where it is due.” (Rom. 13.7) This Jacob did in worshipping Esau as his elder brother, and Pharao the ruler established by God.
In the seventh place, the worship of servants towards their masters and benefactors, and of petitioners towards those who grant their favours, as in the case of Abraham when he bought the double cave from the sons of Emmor. (Gen. 23.7, 12)
It is needless to say that fear, desire, and honour are tokens of worship, as also submission and humiliation. No one should be worshipped as God except the one true God. Whatever is due to all the rest is for God‘s sake.
You see what great strength and divine zeal are given to those who venerate the icons of the saints with faith and a pure conscience. Therefore, brethren, let us take our stand on the rock of the faith, and on the tradition of the Church, neither removing the boundaries laid down by our holy fathers of old, (Prov. 22.28) nor listening to those who would introduce innovation and destroy the economy of the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of God. If any man is to have his foolish way, in a short time the whole Organisation of the Church will be reduced to nothing. Brethren and beloved children of the Church do not put your mother to shame, do not rend her to pieces. Receive her teaching through me. Listen to what God says of her: “Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee.” (Cant. 4.7) Let us worship and adore our God and Creator as alone worthy of worship by nature, and let us worship the holy Mother of God, not as God, but as God‘s Mother according to the flesh. Let us worship the saints also, as the chosen friends of God, and as possessing access to Him. If men worship kings subject to corruption, who are often bad and impious, and those ruling or deputed in their name, as the holy apostle says, “Be subject to princes and powers,” (Tit. 3.1) and again, “Give to all their due, to one honour, to another fear,” (Rom. 13.7) and our Lord, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar‘s, and to God that which is God‘s,” (Mt. 22.21) how much more should we worship the King of Kings? He alone is God by nature; and we should worship His servants and friends who reign over their passions and are constituted rulers of the whole earth. “Thou shalt make them princes over all the earth,” (Ps. 45.16) says David. They receive power against demons and against disease, (Lk. 9.1) and with Christ they reign over an incorruptible and unchangeable kingdom. Their shadow alone has put forth disease and demons. (Acts 5.16) Should we not deem a shadow a slighter and weaker thing than an image? Yet it is a true outline of the original. Brethren, the Christian is faith. He who walks by faith gains many things. The doubter, on the contrary, is as a wave of the sea torn and tossed; he profits nothing. (Jam. 1.6) All the saints pleased God by faith. Let us then receive the teaching of the Church in simplicity of heart without questioning. God made man sane and sound. It was man who was over curious. (Eccl. 7.30) Let us not seek to learn a new faith, destructive of ancient tradition, St Paul says, “If a man teach any other Gospel than what he has been taught, let him be anathema.” (Gal. 1.9) Thus, we worship icons, and it is not a worship of matter, but of those whom matter represents. The honour given to the image is referred to the original, as holy Basil rightly says.
And may Christ fill you with the joy of His resurrection, most holy flock of Christ, Christian people, chosen race, body of the Church, and make you worthy to walk in the footsteps of the saints, of the shepherds and teachers of the Church, leading you to enjoy His glory in the brightness of the saints. May you gain His glory for eternity, with the Uncreated Father, to whom be praise for ever. Amen.
Speaking on the distinction between icons and idols, and defining what icons are, it is time to give proofs in question, according to our promise.
TESTIMONY OF ANCIENT AND LEARNED FATHERS CONCERNING ICONS.
St Dionysios, Bishop of Athens, from his letter to St John the Apostle and Evangelist (1st Century A.D.).
Sensible icons do indeed show forth invisible things.
The same, from his Homily on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.
The substances and orders to which we have already alluded with reverence, are spirits, and they are set forth in spiritual and immaterial array. We can see it when brought down to our medium, symbolised in various forms, by which we are led up to the mental contemplation of God and divine goodness. Spirits think of Him as spirits according to their nature, but we are led as far as may be by sensible icons to the divine contemplation.
Commentary.-If, then, we are led by the medium of sensible icons to divine contemplation, what unseemliness is there in making an image of Him Who was seen in the form, and habit, and nature of man for our sakes?
St Basil, from his Homily on the Forty Martyrs. (4th Century A.D.)
The fortunes of war are wont to supply matter both for orators and painters. Orators describe them in glowing language, painters depict them on their canvas, and both have led many on to deeds of fortitude. That which words are to the ear, that the silent picture points out for imitation.
The same, on the Thirty Chapters on the Holy Ghost to Amphilochios, 18th Answer.
The image of the king is also called the king, and there are not two kings. Neither power is broken, nor is glory divided. As we are ruled by one government and authority, so our homage is one, not many. Thus the honour given to the image is referred to the original. That which the image represents by imitation on earth, that the Son is by nature in Heaven.
Commentary.-Just, then, as “he who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent Him,” (Jn. 5.23) as our Lord says, so he who does not honour the image does not honour the original. Still some one says, “We cannot refuse to honour the image of Christ, but we will not have the saints.” What folly! Listen to what our Lord says to His disciples: “He who receives you receives Me,” (Mt. 10.40) so that the man who does not honour the saints does not honour Christ either.
St John Chrysostom, from his “Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews.”(4th Century A.D.)
How can what precedes be an image of what follows, as, for instance, Melchisedech of Christ? just in the same way as a sketch would be an outline of the picture. On this account the old law is called a shadow, and the new-the truth and what is to come-certainties. Thus Melchisedech, who represents the law, is a foreshadowing of the picture. The new dispensation is the truth; the picture fully completed shows forth eternity. We might call the old dispensation a type of a type, and the new a type of the things themselves.
From the Spiritual History of Theodore, Bishop of Cyrus. From the “Life of St Simon Stylites.”(5th Century A.D.)
It is superfluous to speak of Italy. They say that this man became so well known in the great city of Rome, that small statues were erected to him in all the porticos of workshops, as a certain protection to them, and a guarantee of security.
St Basil, from his “Commentary on Isaias.” (4th Century A.D.)
When the devil saw man made after God‘s image and likeness, as he could not fight against God, he vented his wickedness on the image of God. In the same way an angry man might stone the King‘s image, because he cannot stone the King, striking the wood which bears his likeness.
Commentary.-Thus, every man who honours the image must necessarily honour the original.
Just as the man who shows contempt for the royal image is held to show it for the King himself, so is he convicted of sin who shows contempt for man made after an image.
St Athanasius, from the Hundred Chapters addressed to Antiochus, the Prefect, according to Question and Answer.--Chap. xxxviii. (Early 4th Century A.D.)
Answer.-We, who are of the faithful, do not worship icons as gods, as the heathens did, God forbid, but we mark our loving desire alone to see the face of the person represented in image. Hence, when it is obliterated, we are wont to throw the image as so much wood into the fire. Jacob, when he was about to die, worshipped on the point of Joseph‘s staff, not honouring the staff but its owner. just in the same way do we greet icons as we should embrace our children and parents to signify our affection. Thus the Jew, too, worshipped the tablets of the law, and the two golden cherubim in carved work, not because he honoured gold or stone for itself, but the Lord who had ordered them to be made.
St John Chrysostom, on the “Third Psalm, on David, and Absalom.”(4th Century A.D.)
Kings put victorious trophies before their conquering generals; rulers erect proud monuments to their charioteers, and brave men, and with the epitaph as a crown, use matter for their triumph. Others, again, write the praises of conquerors in books, wishing to show that their own gift in praising is greater than those praised. And orators and painters, sculpturers and people, rulers, and cities, and places acclaim the victorious. No one ever made icons of the deserter or the coward.
St Cyril of A1exandria, from his “Address to the Emperor Theodosius.”(Early 5th Century A.D.)
If icons represent the originals, they should call forth the same reverence.
The same, from his “Treasures.”
Icons are ever the likenesses of their originals.
The same, from his Poem, on the “Revelation of Christ being signified through all the Teaching of Moses. On Abraham and Melchisedech.”--Chap. vi.
Icons should be made after their originals.
St Gregory of Nazianzen, from His Sermon on the “Son,” ii. (4th Century A.D.)
An image is essentially a representation of its original.
St Chrysostom, from his Third “Commentary on the Colossians.” (4th Century A.D.)
The image of what is invisible, were it also invisible, would cease to be an image. An image, as far as it is an image, should be kept inviolably by us, owing to the likeness it represents.
The same, from his “Commentary on the Hebrews.”-Chap. xvii.
As in icons the image presents the form of a man, though not his strength, so the original and the likeness have much in common, for the likeness is the man.
Eusebius Pamphilius, from the Fifth Book of his Gospel Proofs, on “God appeared to Abraham by the Oak of Mambre.”(Early 4th Century A.D.)
Hence, even now the inhabitants cherish the place where visions appeared to Abraham, (Gen 18.1) as divinely consecrated. The turpentine tree is still to be seen, and those who received Abraham‘s hospitality are painted in picture, one on each side, and the stranger of greatest dignity in the middle. He would be an image of our Lord and Saviour, whom even rude men reverence, Whose divine words they believe. It was He who, through Abraham, sowed the seeds of piety in men. In the likeness and habit of an ordinary man He presented himself to Abraham, and gave him knowledge of His Father.
John of Antioch, also called Malala, from his Chronography concerning the “Woman with the Issue of Blood, who erected a Monument to Christ.”(Early 6th Century A.D.)
From that time John the Baptist became known to men, and Herod, toparcha of the Trachonitis region beheaded him in the city of Sebaste, on the eighth day of the kalends of June, Flaccus and Ruffinus being consuls. King Herod, Philip‘s son, in grief at this event, left Judea. A rich woman, Berenice by name, who was also living at Paneada, sought him out wishing as she had been cured by Jesus, to erect a monument to Him. Not daring to do it without the king‘s consent, she presented a petition to King Herod, asking to be allowed to erect a golden monument in that city to our Lord. The petition ran thus:--
To the august Herod, toparcha, law-giver of Jews and Greeks, King of Trachonitis, a suppliant petition from Berenice, an inhabitant of Paneada. You are crowned with justice and mercy and all other virtues. Knowing this and in good hope of success, I am writing to you. If you read my beginning you will soon be instructed as to facts. From child hood I suffered with an issue of blood, and spent my time and my substance on doctors, and was not cured. Hearing of the wonderworking Christ, how He raised the dead to life again, put forth devils, and cured the sick by one word, I also went to Him as to God. And approaching the crowd which surrounded Him fearing lest He should turn me away in anger on account of my complaint, and that I should feel it more, I said to myself, “If I could only touch the border of His garment, I should be cured.” I had no sooner touched it than the hemorrhage stopped, and I was cured on the spot. And He, as if He had read my heart‘s desire, said aloud, “Who has touched Me? Power has gone out of Me!” And I pale and trembling, thinking to throw off my sickness the sooner, prostrated myself at His feet, bathing the ground with my tears, and confessed my action. He in His goodness compassionating me, assured me of my cure, saying: “Be of good heart, daughter, thy faith has healed thee. Go in peace!” Do you now, august ruler, grant my righteous petition. King Herod receiving this petition, was struck with wonder and in awe at the cure, replied: “The cure wrought for you, O woman, deserves a splendid monument. Go then and put up any memorial you like to Him, in praise of the Healer.” And immediately Berenice the sick woman of yore, set up in the midst of her own city of Paneada a monument in bronze, adorned with gold and silver. It is still standing in the city of Paneada. Not long ago it was taken from the place where it stood to the middle of the city, and placed in a house of prayer. One, Batho, a converted Jew, found it mentioned in a book which contained an account of all those who had reigned over Judea.
From the “Ecclesiastical History of Socrates,” Book 1. Chap. xviii., on the Emperor Constantine. (Early 5th Century A.D.)
After this the Emperor Constantine, being most zealous for the Christian religion, destroyed heathen observances, and prohibited single combats, whilst he set up his icons in the temples.
Stephen Bostrenus, against the Jews.--Chap. iv.
We have made the icons of the saints for a remembrance of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Elias and Zachary, and of other prophets and holy martyrs, who gave their life for Him. Every one who looks at their icons may thus be reminded of them and glorify Him who glorifies them.
As to icons let us take courage that every work done in God‘s name is good and holy. Now as to idols and statues, beware, they are all bad, both the things and their makers. An image of a holy prophet is one thing, a statue or carved figure of Saturn or Venus, the sun or the moon, quite another. As man was made after God‘s image, he is worshipped; but the serpent as the image of the devil, is unclean and execrable. Tell me, O Jew, if you reject man‘s handiwork, what is left on earth to be worshipped which is not the work of his hand? Was not the ark made by hands, and the altar, the propitiatory and the cherubim, the golden urn containing the manna, the table and the inner tabernacle, and all that God ordered to be put in the holy of Holies? Were not the cherubim the icons of angels made by hands? Do you call them idols? What do you say to Moses who worshipped them and to Israel? Worship is symbolical of honour, and we sinners worship God, and glorify Him by the divine worship of latreia which is due to Him, and we tremble before Him as our Creator. We worship the angels and servants of God for His sake, as creatures and servants of God. An image is a name and likeness of him it represents. Thus both by writing and by engraving we are ever mindful of our Lord‘s sufferings, and of the holy prophets in the old law and in the new.
St Leontius of Naples, in Cyprus, against the Jews-Book v. (early 7th Century A.D.)
Enter then heartily into our apology for the making of sacred icons, so that the mouths of foolish people speaking injustice may be closed. This tradition comes from the old law, not from us. Listen to God‘s command to Moses that he should make two cherubim wrought in metal to overshadow the propitiatory. And again, God showed the temple to Ezechiel, with its carved faces of lions, forms of palms and men from floor to ceiling. The command is truly awe-inspiring. God, who enjoins Israel not to make any graven thing, likeness or image of anything in heaven or on earth, also orders Moses to make carved cherubim. God shows the temple to Ezechiel, full of icons and sculptured likenesses of lions, palms, and men. And Solomon, in conformity to the law, filled the temple with metal figures of oxen, palms, and men, and God did not reproach him for it. Now, if you wish to reproach me concerning icons, you condemn God, who ordered these things to be made that they might remind us of Himself.
The same, from the 3rd Book.
Again, atheists mock at us concerning the Holy Cross and the worship of divine icons, calling us idolators and worshippers of wooden gods. Now, if I am a worshipper of wood, as you say, I am a worshipper of many, and, if so, I should swear by many, and say, “By the gods,” just as you at the sight of one calf said, “These are thy gods, O Israel.” You could not maintain that Christian lips had used the expression, but the adulterous and unbelieving synagogue is wont ever to cast infamy upon the all-wise Church of Christ.
We do not adore as gods the figures and icons of the saints. For if it was the mere wood of the image that we adored as God, we should likewise adore all wood, and not, as often happens, when the form grows faint, throw the image into the fire. And again, as long as the wood remains in the form of a cross, I adore it on account of Christ who was crucified upon it. When it falls to pieces, I throw them into the fire. just as the man who receives the sealed orders of the king and embraces the seal, looks upon the dust and paper and wax as honourable in their reference to the king‘s service, so we Christians, in worshipping the Cross, do not worship the wood for itself, but seeing in it the impress and seal and figure of Christ Himself, crucified through it and on it, we fall down and adore.
On this account I depict Christ and His sufferings in churches, and houses, and public places, and icons, on clothes, and store-houses, and in every available place, so that ever before me, I may bear them in lasting memory, and not be unmindful, as you are, of my Lord God. In worshipping the book of the law, you are not worshipping parchment or colour, but God‘s words contained in it. So do I worship the image of Christ, neither wood nor colouring for themselves. Adoring an inanimate figure of Christ through the Cross, I seem to possess and to adore Christ. Jacob received Joseph‘s cloak of many colours from his brothers who had sold him, (Gen. 37.32ff) and he caressed it with tears as he gazed at it. He did not weep over the cloak, but considered it a way of showing his love for Joseph and of embracing , him. Thus do we Christians embrace with our lips the image of Christ, or the apostles, or the martyrs, whilst in spirit we deem that we are embracing Christ Himself or His martyr. As I have often said, the end in view must always be considered in all greeting and worship. If you upbraid me because I worship the wood of the Cross, why do you not upbraid Jacob for worshipping on the point of Joseph‘s staff? (epi to akron thV rabdou). It is evident that it was not the wood he honoured by his worship, but Joseph, as we adore Christ through the Cross. Abraham worshipped impious men who sold him the cave, and bent his knee to the ground, yet he did not worship them as gods. And again, Jacob magnified impious Pharao and idolatrous Esau seven times, yet not as God. How many salutations and worshippings I have put before you, both natural and scriptural, which are not to be condemned, and you no sooner see any one worshipping the image of Christ or His Immaculate (panagiaV) Mother or a saint than you are angry and blaspheme and call me an idolator. Have you no shame, seeing me as you do day by day pulling down the temples of idols in the whole world and raising churches to martyrs? If I worship idols, why do I honour martyrs, their destroyers? If I glorify wood, as you say, why do I honour the saints who have pulled down the wooden statues of demons? If I glorify stones, how can I glorify the apostles who broke the stone idols? If I honour the icons of false gods, how can I praise and glorify and keep the feast of the three children at Babylon who would not worship the golden statue? How greatly foolish people err, and how blind they are! What shamelessness is yours, 0 -Jew! what impiety! You sin indeed against the truth. Arise, O God, and justify Thy cause. judge and justify us from people, not all people, but from senseless and hostile people who constantly provoke Thee.
If, as I have often said, I worshipped wood and stone as God, I too, should say to each, “Thou hast brought me forth.” (Jer. 2.27) If I worship the icons of the saints, or rather the saints, and worship and reverence the combats of the holy martyrs, how can you call these idols, senseless man? For idols are likenesses of false gods and adulterers, murderers and luxurious men, not of prophets or apostles. Listen whilst I take a telling and most true example of Christian and heathen icons. The Chaldeans in Babylon had all sorts of musical instruments for the worship of idols who were devils, and the children of Israel had brought musical instruments from Jerusalem, which they hung upon the willow trees, and the instruments of both lutes and stringed instruments and flutes gave forth their music, these for the glory of God, the others for the service of devils. So must you look upon icons and idols of heathens and Christians. Heathen idols were for the glory and remembrance of the devil; Christian icons are for the glory of Christ, and of His apostles and martyrs and saints.
When, then, you see a Christian worshipping the Cross, know that his adoration is not given to the wood, but to Christ Crucified. We might as well worship all wood, as Israel worshipped woods and trees, saying, “Thou art my God, and Thou hast brought me forth.” It is not so with us. We keep in churches and in our houses a remembrance and a representation of our Lord‘s sufferings and of those who fought for Him, doing everything for our Lord‘s sake.
Once more. Tell me, O Jew, what law authorised Moses to worship Jethor, his brother-in-law, and an idolator? Or Jacob to worship Pharao, and Abraham the sons of Emmor? They were just men and prophets. Again, Daniel worshipped the impious Nabuchodonosor. For if they so acted on account of life in this world, why do you reproach me for worshipping the holy memories of the saints, whether in books or pictures, their combats and sufferings, which arc a daily source of good to me, and will help me to lasting and eternal life?
Saint Athanasius against the Arians.--Book iii. (Early 4th Century A.D.)
The Son being of the same substance as the Father, He can justly say that He has what the Father has. Hence it was fitting and proper that after the words “I and the Father are one,” (Jn. 10.30) he should add, “that you may know that I am in the Father and the Father in Me.” (Jn. 14.11) He had already said the same thing. “He who sees Me sees the Father.” (Jn. 14.9) There is one and the same mind in these three sayings. To know that the Father and the Son are one is to know that he is in the Father and the Father in the Son. The Godhead of the Son is the Godhead of the Father. The man who receives this understands “that he who sees the Son sees the Father.” For the Godhead of the Father is seen in the Son. This will be easier to understand from the example of the king‘s image which shows forth his form and likeness. The king is the likeness of his image. The likeness of the king is indelibly impressed upon the image, so that any one looking at the image sees the king, and again, any one looking at the king recognises that the image is his likeness. Being an indelible likeness, the image might answer a man, who expressed the wish to see the king after contemplating it, by saying, “The king and I are one. I am in him and he is in me. That which you see in me you see in him, and the man who looks upon him looks at the same in me.” He who worships the image worships the king in it. The image is his form and likeness.
The same, to Antiochus the Ruler.
What do our adversaries say to these things, they who maintain that we should not worship the icons of the saints, which are preserved amongst us for a remembrance of them.
St Ambrose of Milan, to the Emperor Gratian concerning the Incarnation of God the Word. (4th Century A.D.)
God before flesh was made, and God in the flesh. There is a fear lest, abstracting the double principle of action and wisdom from Christ, we should glorify a mutilated Christ. Now, is it possible to divide Christ whilst we adore His Godhead and His flesh? Do we divide Him when we adore at once the image of God and the Cross? God forbid.
St Cyril of Jerusalem, twelfth Instruction. (4th Century A.D.)
If you seek the cause of Christ‘s presence, go back to the first chapter of Scripture. God made the world in six days, but the world was made for man. The most brilliant sun glowing with light was made for man. And all living things were created for our service, trees and flowers for our enjoyment. All created things were beautiful, yet only man was the image of God. The sun arose by command alone: man was moulded by the Divine Hand. “Let us make man to our image and likeness.” The wooden image of an earthly king is honoured, how much more the rational image of God?
St John Chrysostom, on the Machabees. (4th Century A.D.)
The royal effigies are shown forth not only on gold and silver, and the most costly materials, but the royal form itself, even on copper. The difference of matter does not affect the dignity of the character impressed, nor does a viler material diminish the honour of what is great. The royal figure is always a consecration; not lessened by matter, it exalts matter.
The same, against Julian the Apostate.--1st Book.
What does this new Nabuchodonosor want? He has not shown himself kinder to us than Nabuchodonosor of old, whose furnace still pierces us through, although we have escaped from its flames. Do not the shrines of saints in churches, inviting the worship of the faithful, show forth the destruction of the body?
The same, on the Piscina.
Just as when the royal effigy and image is sent or carried into the city, rulers and people go out to meet it with respect and reverence, not honouring the wooden receptacle, or the waxen representation, but the person of the king; so is it with created things.
Severianus of the Gabali, on the Cross. (Late 4th Century - Early 5th Century A.D.)
Fourth Homily.-“Moses struck the rock twice.” Why twice? If he was obeying God‘s commands, what need was there of striking a second time? If without, not two, or ten, or a hundred strikings would have unlocked nature: if it was simply God‘s work without the mystery of the Cross, one striking, or nod, or word would have sufficed. But it is meant to be an image of the Cross. Moses, the Scripture says, struck once and then again, in the sign of the Cross, not for actual necessity, so that inanimate nature might reverence the symbol. If in the king‘s absence his image supplies his place, rulers worship, and festivals are held, and princes go out to meet it, and people prostrate themselves, not looking at the material, but at the figure of the king shown forth in representation not seen in nature, how much more shall the image of the Eternal King break open the heavens and the whole universe, not the rock alone.
Jerome, Priest of Jerusalem, On The Holy Trinity. (4th Century A.D.)
As the Scripture nowhere enjoins you to worship the Cross, what makes you adore it? Tell us, say Jews and heathens, and all inquiring people.
Answer.-On this account, O slow and foolish of heart, God allowed the people, who revered Him, to worship what was on earth, the handiwork of man, so that they should not be able to reproach Christians concerning the Cross and the worship of icons. Now just as the Jew adored the ark of the covenant, and the two carved cherubim of gold, and the two tablets of Moses, although there is nowhere an order from God to worship or revere them, so is it with Christians. We do not revere the Cross as God; we show through it what we truly feel about the Crucified One.
Simeon of Mount Thaumastus on Icons. (7th Century A.D.)
Possibly a contentious unbeliever will maintain that we worshipping icons in our churches are convicted of praying to lifeless idols. Far be it from us to do this. Faith makes Christians, and God, who cannot deceive, works miracles. We do not rest contented with mere colouring. With the material picture before our eyes we see the invisible God through the visible representation, and glorify Him as if present, not as a God without reality, but as God who is the essence of being. Nor are the saints whom we glorify fictitious. They are in being, and are living with God; and their spirits being holy, they help, by the power of God, those who deserve and need their assistance.
Athanasius, Archbishop of Antioch, to Simeon, Bishop of the Bostri, on the Sabbath. (6th Century A.D.)
Just as in the king‘s absence his image is worshipped, so in his presence it is extravagant to leave the original to pay homage to the image. It is disregarded, because the original on whose account it is honoured is present, but that is no reason for dishonouring it. It is much the same, I think, with the shadow or letter of the law. The apostle calls it a figure. In so far as grace anticipated the reign of truth, the saints were types, contemplating the truth as in a glass. When the promises were fulfilled, it was no longer desirable to live according to types, nor to follow them. In the presence of the realisation the type vanishes into insignificance. Still they did not dishonour nor deride types; they honoured them, and judged those who treated them with contumely impious, and deserving of death and severe chastisement.
The same--3rd Homily.
A man worships the king‘s image for the honour due to the king, the image itself being mere wax and paint.
St Athanasius of Mount Sinai on the New Sabbath, and on St Thomas the Apostle.
Those who saw Christ in the flesh looked upon Him as a prophet. We, who have not seen Him, have confessed Him from our childhood to be the great and Almighty God Himself, the Creator of eternity, and splendour of the Father. We listen with faith to His Gospel, as if we saw Christ Himself speaking. And receiving the pure treasure of His body, we believe that Christ Himself is acting in us. And if we see only the icon of His divine form, as if looking down upon us from heaven, we prostrate and adore. Great is now the faith of Christ.
From the Life of the Abbot Daniel, on Eulogius the Quarryman. (Early 5th Century)
Then he went away dejected, and threw himself before an icon of Our Lady, and crying out, he said: “Lord, enable me to pay what I promised this man.”
From the Life of St Mary of Egypt. (mid-4th Century – early 5th Century A.D.)
As I was weeping, I lifted up my eyes and saw the icon of Our Lady, and I said to her :--
“O Virgin, Mother of God (qeotoke despoina), who didst give birth to God the Word, I know that it is neither fitting nor seemly that one so defiled and so covered with guilt as I should look up to thy image, O ever Virgin. It is fitting that I should be hated and shunned by thy purity. Yet as He who was born of thee became man on purpose to call sinners to repentance, help me, for I have no other succour. Let me also find an entrance. Do not refuse me a sight of the wood on which God the Word, thy Son, suffered according to the flesh, who shed His own precious blood for me. Grant, O Queen, that I may be admitted to worship the sacred Cross, and I will promise thee as surety to the God whom thou didst bring forth that I will keep myself ever undefiled, When I see the Cross of thy Son, I will at once renounce the world and the things of the world, and forthwith follow wherever thou shalt lead.”
Saying this, taking faith‘s token as a conviction, encouraged by Our Lady‘s clemency, I left that place where I had made my petition, and returned again to join those who were entering the edifice. No one thrust me aside, and no one prevented me from going into the church. Then I was seized with horror and fear and trembling in all my limbs. Throwing myself on the ground, and worshipping that holy floor, I came out, and went to her who had promised to be my security. When I came to the place in which the agreement had been signed, I knelt down before the blessed Virgin, Mother of God, and addressed her in these words :-
“O loving Queen (filagaqe despoina), thou hast shown me thy goodness; thou didst not despise the petition of my unworthiness. have seen glory which sinners do not see. Praise be to God who receives the repentance of sinners through thee.”
St Methodius, Bishop of the Patari, on the Resurrection. (4th Century)
The icons of earthly kings, even if they are not made of finest gold and silver, command at once honour from all. As men are not honouring matter, they do not choose the most precious from the less precious; they honour the image, whether made of putty or of copper. A derider of either, whether he shows contempt to the image of plaster or of gold, will be held to show contempt to his lord and king. We make golden icons of His angels, principalities, or powers, for His honour and glory.