Evangelicals and Idols: a Reformed Response

Over at the mixed-religion blog Evangel, Matthew Milliner (a doctoral candidate in art history at Princeton University, and apparently a member of the PCUSA) has attempted to argue that the rejection of icons of Christ is a defect in Christology. When faced with the argument that icons inherently involve an implicit Nestorianism (or perhaps Monophysitism), one of Mr. Milliner’s responses was:

This argument, furthermore, was itself deemed heretical by the universal church, which (unless Protestantism sprung from the sixteenth century ex nihilo) includes Protestantism.


In the comment box there, Steve Hays has already demonstrated one of the holes in this argument (namely that icon-rejecting Protestants are themselves at least a part of the universal church), but there are several other holes in the argument:

1) The Iconoclastic Council of 754 with 338 bishops in attendance unanimously condemned the use of images of Christ.

2) The later council of 787 to which Mr. Milliner was appealing was convened to try to overthrow the earlier council. Like the council of 754 it called itself an ecumenical council, but it wasn’t universally received.

3) In fact it was initially rejected in the west by, for example, the council of Frankfurt (called by Charlemagne) of 794. Naturally, as with all these sorts of disputed topics, folks have tried to argue that Frankfurt actually rejected a bad translation of the council of 787.

4) It was also rejected by various bishops in the East including, most famously, Patriarch John Grammatikos (also known as John VII of Constantinople or John the Grammarian) (patriarchate from 837-43).

5) We might also add that the entire argument that something was “deemed heretical by the universal church” is the sort of polemic claim that has been popular since the 4th century, but which always begs the question of the definition of the bounds of the church. When the church is defined to include only iconophiles, then one gets one result, when the church is defined to include only iconoclasts, a second result, and when both are included, a third result.

– TurretinFan

5 Responses to “Evangelicals and Idols: a Reformed Response”

  1. Viisaus Says:

    Again, the best and most thorough Protestant description of the 8th and 9th century Iconoclast controversy that I myself have yet come across can be read online here:http://www.archive.org/details/seventhgeneralc00mendgoogThis is not an intellectually dishonest work in the sense that it would try to make Byzantine and Carolingian anti-iconists look like modern Protestants, but it does clearly prove that they were very far from the position of modern RCs or EOs as well.Also, reading through the un-expurgated acts of 2nd Nicene council leave you in a state of moral shock over what an intellectually dishonest Stalinist show-trial this event (hailed by both RCs and EOs as an "ecumenical council") really was.To give you a sample, Mendham's book cites a Frankish work "Libri Carolini" that was commissioned by Charlemagne. The author polemically addresses iconodulic Greeks:p. 55After adding much more in praise of Scripture, the author concludes thus: — "None of these things which we have here touched upon, nor the like to these which for brevity's sake we have omitted, canst thou — worshipper of images, worshipper of things insensate — find in thy images, which are utterly destitute of every kind of advantage. Must we not yet more lament over thee than be astonished at thee, that thou shouldest venture to equalize such things with the books of Scripture, in which so many good things are to be found? Do ye, therefore, affirm that by images ye preserve the purity of your faith, take care to stand as suppliant before them with incense — we with careful enquiry will search out the precepts of the Lord in the books of the divine law. Do you attend on your pictures with tapers — we will be busied with the sacred Scripture. Be ye the venerators of dies and colours — let us be venerators and recipients of their hidden meaning. Sooth yourselves with your painted tablets – we will seek our consolation from the word of God. Be ye occupied with your figures of things, which have neither sight, nor hearing, taste, smell, or touch — we will be occupied with the divine law, which is without fault, wherein are found the testimonies of the Lord, the precepts of His justice, the fear of His judgments — all which things are beautifully as well as perfectly summed up in Psalm xix. 7-9 "[of which we have a detailed exposition reaching nearly to the end of the chapter]: after which, it is continued thus: — “Now, if thou, O lover or worshipper of images, vexed with inward spite, art pleased to murmur, where is the use of such long digressions? Please to understand that these things are more lovely to us than any of your pictures and images, and, therefore, we delight in digressions about them. And, further: be assured that there is a refreshment and a sweetness which we and other lovers of the Scripture find both in the Scripture themselves, and in our comments upon them, which you and your companions can never find in those pictures or images by which you pretend that you preserve your purity of heart"

  2. Viisaus Says:

    And ominously, it was the 8th century "iconodules" who first explicitly propagated the idea that "THE BIBLE IS NOT ENOUGH" – the notion that the Scriptures are insufficient in matters of binding dogma and saving faith:http://www.archive.org/details/seventhgeneralc00mendgoogp. 13"*8. Anathema to those who reject the doctrine of the holy Fathers and the Traditions of the Catholic Church, taking up the pretext and the language of Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches, and Dioscorus; and affirming that, further than we are taught from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, we are bound to follow neither the doctrine of the holy Fathers, nor Oecumenic Councils, nor the Traditions of the Catholic Church.*"

  3. natamllc Says:

    Well, having been to all seven continents and hung around with those dirty guys in their respective market places and those clean guys in the high places, I can realize quite quickly that what we need these days is for some earnest prayers going up to God asking for God to send a bunch more laborers into His present harvest fields.Maybe more earthquakes are in order?For some, having this knowledge is useful, but for the masses, I know this knowledge is just not what they want to hear!Hopefully that wasn't as polemic as much as honing in on the word "Evangelical"?Besides, God already has told us the end! :)

  4. Lucian Says:

    Two simple questions: 1) doesn't the direct commandment of God to adorn the Holy Place with sacred images of golden Cherubim mean anything to your religion?2) where was the Church between 1,000 AD and 1,500 AD , since Iconoclasm has already died out by then?

  5. Turretinfan Says:

    "1) doesn't the direct commandment of God to adorn the Holy Place with sacred images of golden Cherubim mean anything to your religion?"The ark was hidden from the view of all, except the high priest once a year. That once a year he was to be focused on worshiping the unseen God who dwelt between the Cherubim."2) where was the Church between 1,000 AD and 1,500 AD , since Iconoclasm has already died out by then? "We're willing to trust to God that there were 7,000 that did not bow the knee to Baal, whether or not we can identify them. We do see various groups that existed through those years, some more and others less opposed to the worship of images.- TurretinFan

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