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Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Icons and Heresy

Doug has recently blogged on the subject of icons and their proper veneration. I can echo his sentiments, as one slowly coming into Orthodoxy. I think I loved looking at icons from my first real contact with them, at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, MS, a few years ago. They had a traveling exhibit of some nineteenth and twentieth century Russian icons, over a hundred in total I think. The atmosphere of the gallery felt downright hallowed. I know, the proper place of icons is not in museums, but it was hard to help. I slowly went over the whole exhibit, relishing the whole thing. Later that evening, driving to the coast with my church youth group, the experience was still heavy in my mind and heart. Couldn't get over what I had seen.

Anyway, my reminiscences done, my appreciation and acceptance of icons has increased since then, though I hardly find them terribly accessible, and am still grappling with the whole question of veneration and such. However, I think that the Fathers at Nicea II were perfectly right in defending and emphasising icons (I'm sure they'll be glad I've given my approval. . .). My conviction is only furthered by reading iconoclastic arguments (these flared up particularly after the release of the Passion film). To sum them up, as I saw expressed not long ago by one Reformed iconoclast, the idea is that God's true- and only really- means of revelation is language. Yes, langauge alone. It follows of course that icons are not allowable. It would seem that such things as Baptism and Holy Communion would be in question as well, but this author did not seem to think so.

The errors of such a view would seem obvious, one would think. I John 1:1-4 comes immediately to mind:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

St. John has no Platonist theology of pure spirit in mind! The revelation to which he speaks is not confined to language and word (as understood only as words on a page or in someone's mouth), though it is that, but also embraces the whole of man, because Christ has become man in fullness. The error of iconoclasm is that it must ultimately, if taken to final conclusion, deny the fullness of the Incarnation. St. John must have been in error in supposing to see the word of life- hear it perhaps, but no further. The iconoclast- if he carries his ideas without modification- must find issue with the Incarnation, and the fact of God's revelation through matter, through flesh. He must find object with the Cross being the great material instrument of the world's salvation, through real flesh and blood broken and spilled. He must also address material things like Baptism and Eucharist. The last particularly presents Christ to be touched and eaten, in truth, in pretaste of the ultimate and final reality: a reality in which we shall see Christ our God, see Him with our two eyes and touch Him.

Now, one may reject icons and not fall into Doceitism or Gnosticism or some other ism. However, to do so one would have to either ignore or seriously modify the tenents undergirding iconoclasm. God has not only revealed Himself in language; He has revealed Himself in the flesh, and is working the santification and restoration of all flesh, and all creation. Icons publish the reality of Christ-made-flesh, particularly in showing forth Christ Himself, but also in showing the Saints, transfigured in this Savior become human.


Blogger Doug said...

Thanks for your post, and the link. I really like the point you brought up about God accomplishing His revelation not through language only but through flesh and matter, and the quote from St John is enlightening when read in that light. Thanks.

12:09 PM  

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