Archive for the ‘Iconclastic’ Category

Images of Jesus – A Response to Hank Hanegraaff’s Site

November 30, 2011

A friend recently directed me to a discussion of images of Jesus found at, which I understand to be the website of Hank Hanegraaff (the article itself is anonymous).

The article begins:

In the fourth-century AD Emperor Leo III ordered the abolition of icons (revered images or sculptures) of Jesus, Mary, angels, and saints. This sparked the great Iconoclastic controversy, so called because those who supported the eradication of icons, often on the grounds that they violated the second commandment’s prohibition of “graven images,” were known as iconoclasts or “image breakers.” The controversy sparked in the fourth century persists to this very day. Do images of Jesus really violate the second commandment?

Actually, Leo III (also known as Leo the Isaurian) was born in the 7th century and reigned exclusively in the 8th century.  Leo III did attempt to abolish (legislatively) the use of images, which had crept into use over time.  This met with some theological opposition, chiefly by John of Damascus (c. 645 or 676 – 4 December 749), who is sometimes referred to as the last of the church fathers.

More could be said, and perhaps ought to be said, but the long and short of it is that the use of icons, statues, and other images are corruptions of the apostolic faith, which ultimately lead to the iconoclastic controversy, as a minority attempted to maintain the purity of God’s worship in the 8th century, at the very end of the patristic era.

Hanegraaff’s page continued:

First, if the second commandment condemns images of Jesus, then it condemns making images of anything at all. Therefore, God would have been guilty of contradicting himself because he commanded the Israelites to adorn the ark of the covenant with the images of cherubim (Exodus 25:18–20).

This is a surprisingly common argument.  In fact, though, it merely forbids images of God.  Images of Jesus, the Father, or the Spirit – all are forbidden.  This false dichotomy/straw man is simply mistaken.  Indeed, the images of the cherubim demonstrate that the command is not broadly against all making of images, but only of those that purport to represent God or gods.

Furthermore, in context, the commandment is not an injunction against making “graven images,” but an injunction against worshiping them. As such, God warns, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4–5, emphasis added).

There are actually two commands there.  The second is about worshiping the idols.  The first is about making them.  It is amazing how someone can claim that the commandment is not an injunction against making graven images and then quote something that explicitly says just that.

The commandment is not an injunction against making “graven images,” but an injunction against using these carved images as objects of worship.

That is a false dichotomy.  Both are forbidden.

Finally, if viewing an image necessarily leads to idolatry, then the incarnation of Christ was the greatest temptation of all. Yet, Jesus thought it appropriate for people to look on him and worship him as God (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:52). That worship, however, was to be directed to his person, not his appearance. Indeed, idolatry lies not in the making of images, but in the worship of manmade images in place of the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

a) Jesus wasn’t a graven image.  He was both God and man in two distinct natures and one person.

b) Jesus was the image of the invisible God, but not by virtue of his appearance.  That “image of the invisible God” line is actually a powerful testimony to Jesus’ divinity as my friend, Dr. White, recently pointed out in a debate against Patrick Navas.


The Apology of Claudius of Turin and His Commentary on Galatians

March 18, 2010

I have previously remarked how the icon-favoring council of 787 overthrew the precedent of the similarly sized council of 754, which condemned as idolatry the worshiping of God by images. Some folks have tried to suggest that the iconoclastic controversy was exclusively an Eastern issue. Some have even gone so far as to try to suggest that there was a Muslim and/or Jewish influence at play. Nevertheless, we ought to note that there was at least some Western opposition to the council. Not only was the council of 787 rejected by the regional Council of Frankfurt of 794, but it was also rejected by Claudius of Turin (flourished 810 – 827, bishop of Turin from 817 to his death).

Claudius not only spoke and wrote against such images, he tore them down. He himself states:

It came to pass that, after I was compelled to undertake the burden of the pastoral office I came to the city of Turin in Italy, sent by Louis, that pious prince and son of the Lord’s holy Catholic church. I found all the churches filled with sordid images, which are anathematized and contrary to true teaching. Since everyone was honoring them, I undertook their destruction singlehandedly. Then everyone opened their mouths to curse me and, had the Lord not helped me, they would have swallowed me alive. . .

– Claudius of Turin (flourished 810 – 827), Apology (source of translation)

Here is an alternative translation of the same passage:

For which reason, of course, it came to pass that as soon as I was constrained to assume the burden of pastoral duty and to come to Italy to the city of Turin, sent thither by our pious prince Louis, the son of the Lord’s holy catholic church, I found all the churches filled, in defiance of the precept of Truth, with those sluttish abominations – images. Since everyone was worshiping them, I undertook singlehanded to destroy them. Everyone thereupon opened his mouth to curse me, and had not God come to my aid, they would no doubt have swallowed me alive.

– Claudius of Turin (flourished 810 – 827), Defense and Reply to Abbot Theodemir (Translation by Allen Cabaniss in Early Medieval Theology volume IX of the Library of Christian Classics, p. 242)

On a seemingly unrelated note, it is interesting to read what Claudius has to say about the atonement:

His anger did not blaze carnally for a carnal observance and sustain the penalty set for those who did not keep it, but that believers might be in themselves entirely free from fear of such penalty, to which applies what he now added as follows: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having been made a curse for us, since it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'” A man’s death belongs to the nature of penalty for sin; wherefore it is also called sin. Not that a man sins when he dies, but that it is because of sin that he dies. In other words, the tongue properly so designated is that fleshly part which moves between the teeth and under the palate, yet that also is called a tongue which results because of the tongue, as the Greek tongue or the Latin tongue. Moreover, that member of the body which we use for work is designated the hand, but in Scripture that is called a hand which is brought about by the hand. We say, “His hand is stretched forth … His hand is observed by him … I hold your hand,” all referring to the hand as a part of a human being. Now I do not deem writing a part of a human being, yet it also is called a hand because it is done by the hand. So not only is that great evil which is worthy of punishment, sin itself, called sin, but also death, which comes because of sins. Christ did not commit that sin which renders one liable to death, but for us he underwent that other, namely, death itself which was inflicted upon human nature by sin. That which hung on the tree was cursed by Moses. There death was condemned to reign longer and was cursed to die. Wherefore by such “sin” of Christ our sin was condemned that we might be set free, that we might remain no longer condemned by the rule of sin.

– Claudius of Turin (flourished 810 – 827), Commentary on Galatians, at Galatians 3:16 (Translation by Allen Cabaniss in Early Medieval Theology volume IX of the Library of Christian Classics, p. 229-30)

Notice that Claudius’ comments are more or less specifically affirming a penal substitution view of the atonement. Admittedly, he does not provide a fully developed explanation of the atonement here, but the portion he does provide is explicitly one of penal substitution.

– TurretinFan

Dura Europos and the Early Church

May 23, 2009

I had noted in a comment box (appended to this post) that it would take a real imbecile to think that Dura Europos was typical of the early church.

But many folks who bow down to paintings and statues don’t sweat that history stuff, and consequently end up appealing to a most unique place like Dura Europa where (evidently) even the Jewish synagogue was highly decorated (although in a style borrowed from the Roman pagans). Of course, some of the same people will try to claim that Dura Europos represented a typical Jewish synagogue of the time as well.

But we may leave such issues momentarily aside. One such person (Mr. Bellisario) has tried to counter (between two insults) with the following: “How many other examples do we have of early house churches?”

Such a comment misses the issues in a spectacularly simplistic way. The issue is not how many examples we have of early house churches, but why anyone would think this “example” is a typical example.

For example, we know almost nothing about the “Christians” that lived at Dura Europos at the time. For example, we don’t know whether they were heretics or orthodox, whether they were strict or syncretic in their views. We don’t have any particularly good reason to think that they were orthodox Christians.

We have apparently found some Aramaic texts at the location that appear to be Eucharistic prayers similar to those in the Didache, and (at another location in the garrison town) a tiny fragment of a Greek harmony of the gospels (though not Diatessaron of Tatian). In other words, we have no strong reason for linking this building to any particular branch of “Christianity.”

But, of course, to answer Bellisario’s simplistic question, how on earth would anyone hope to recognize an early house church that wasn’t decorated? If it were not for the murals, we wouldn’t be inclined to call the building they found at Dura Europos a church. We have no way of knowing how many of the myriad undecorated houses we’ve uncovered were house-churches. So, of course, it is a silly question.

But what about the decorations at this building in Dura Europos? They were not icons, they were not statues, they were “murals,” rough sketches marked on the wall. From the images I’ve seen of them, we have to speculate as to how they are intended to relate to the Bible, but there are three main murals, and a couple more that are shown in a fourth image.

1. “Good Shepherd” – The mural shows a shepherd carrying a sheep. Such a depiction is somewhat similar to a “Christ the Good Shepherd” icon but in other ways is more similar to this earlier depiction of a shepherd (link) alleged to be from about the same time period – 3rd century – from Roman catacombs.

2. “Healing of the Paralytic” – The mural shows a man taking his bed on his back, apparently after being cured, which is reminiscent of the healing recorded in John 5. Such a depiction is somewhat similar to a rather modern-looking icon I found (link) but more similar to a fresco/icon from the Dionisian Frescos (1502).

3. “Peter and Jesus Walking on Water – The title is self-explanatory. The closest icon I could find was this one (link).

4. A couple others involving women (link)

As you can see, while there is some resemblance between the icons and the murals, it’s not a real close match. Basically, if you let them be considered matches, then you are basically calling any drawing an icon.

Of course, there were items more like icons at Dura Europos (link), but keep in mind that these are from the local temple of Mithras.

There are plenty of other good reasons (such as the Council of Elvira – about 60 years after the date of the building at Dura Europos, and the writings of Epiphanius of Salamis and Eusebius of Caesarea – leading to sharper battles in the 8th-9th centuries) to think that paintings were starting to enter into Christian churches, but were meeting resistance. As well, as I’ve previously mentioned, much of the writings opposed to novel introduction of icons into worship was destroyed (and/or disparaged) by the icondules.


John of Damascus vs. An Allegedly Ecumenical Council

April 4, 2009

This is a video response (as usual, audio only) to a post by Matthew Bellisario (link). Although Bellisario starts off his post by saying “Once again we see that Turretin Fan is clueless when it come to Biblical exegesis,” he fails to back it up, not identifying any exegetical errors or even providing any of his own exegesis, but simply quoting from a work attributed to John of Damascus.

In addition to what is in the video, let me add this:

According to Bellisario, John of Damascus wrote this:

I worship the image of Christ as the Incarnate God; that of Our Lady (thV qeotokou), 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.

(the Greek transliteration there is for the term “the Theotokos”)

One question for Bellisario, since he quoted these words, does he accept them? Does Bellisario worship “the image of Christ” and the image of “Our Lady” and the images of “the saints”?

Notice that I said “worship” just as Bellisario has quoted John of Damascus. I’ll even give Mr. Bellisario a bit of a break, since John of Damascus seems to suggest that he does not worship the image itself but the the thing the image represents. So, does Mr. Bellisario worship (in addition to Jesus) Mary and the martyrs? Because most Romanists won’t actually admit this – they’ll claim that they only worship God.


>The Importance of Irenaeus

March 17, 2009

>An anonymous reader asked: Why are the witings of St. Irenaeus now so suddenly important[?] I thought that his relics were sacked by the Calvinists becaused he was alleged to be a heretic, ie., he is a proponent of Free Will and that his other writings do not support TULIP.

The importance of Irenaeus is merely historical. In many ways, Irenaeus is notable more for what he did not say, than for what he did say. Of course, we have only a limited amount of what he wrote and said, but what we find in those writings is some amount of evidence as to what was believed and held in his day. The process of preserving his writings has not been unbiased, and has been subject to some serious “selection” concerns. Nevertheless, considered with the appropriate caveats, Irenaeus gives us a picture into the mind of some Christians of the late 2nd century.

It (Irenaeus’ writings) is not infallible, and it is not our rule of faith, but it is interesting – just as the writings of Calvin and Aquinas are interesting but not the rule of faith.

Irenaeus’ alleged remains disappeared when Calvinists destroyed a shrine where they were supposedly held. Whether they were actually there or not, we cannot know with certainty. Why the shrine was destroyed is better assigned to the fact that Calvinists oppose the veneration of the dead, more than any antipathy for the teachings of Ireneaus on any particular point. Unfotunately, as far as I know, the details are sparse as to any stated reason for the shrine’s destruction, and no information regarding what happened to the interred remains has come to light in subsequent years.

One would not be surprised if the Calvinists simply buried Irenaeus’ remains in an unmarked grave to prevent further idolatry, just as the bronze serpent was piously destroyed by Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4) because people had come to venerate it.


Response to Jay Dyer on Calvinism (Part 6 of 13)

February 7, 2009

This is part 6 of the thirteen part series in response to Jay Dyer. The previous part may be found here (link).

Jay Dyer says:

5) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A gnostic iconoclast, because the Logos cannot be imaged.”

I answer:

a) The Calvinist Position (whether right doctrine or error let Scripture decide)

It is improper to make images of God (2nd Commandment), and though Jesus was a real, visible man, a picture of Jesus would only be a picture of his humanity. No image can capture Jesus’ divinity (I John 4:12). Jesus was not a phantom even after the resurrection (Luke 24:42-43). Nevertheless, we are not to make or worship idols (I John 5:21).

Not only was the Bible not an illustrated book, there are few physical descriptions of Jesus to tell us what he looked like. We know he was a Palestinian Jew, and that he “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). The beauty of Christ is in the gospel of repentance and faith that he preached, and it is that message we proclaim, not a painted, carved, or sculpted image:

Romans 10:15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

Thus, when John describes Jesus – he calls him the “Word” – the Logos. Thus, as John explains:

John 1:14-17
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. 15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. 16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

Thus, the Word was made flesh – the Creator put on the creation. And what did the Word bring? He brought grace and truth – the fulfillment and completion of the law given by Moses. Thus, Jesus’ apostles completed the book (the Bible) that Moses began.

Furthermore, Scripture (the Bible) is both formally and materially sufficient (II Timothy 3:15). What Jesus taught has been revealed openly and not kept secret (John 18:20). Thus, the Scriptures contain a sufficient and full statement of revelation for salvation (John 20:31).

b) The Accusation Disputed

There may have been gnostic iconoclasts, but they are not a major issue in church history. Iconoclasts were generally anyone opposed to the worship of God by the use of images. It’s a Scriptural position. Although Calvinists don’t like the pejorative term “iconoclast,” Moses himself was an Iconoclast, destroying the golden calf, grinding it up into powder, and making the people drink it – so being an Iconoclast cannot be all bad.

Gnostics had a variety of odd beliefs. One of the beliefs of many gnostics was the idea that Jesus was a phantom, lacking a true body. Thus, the Gnostics denied that Christ’s body and blood were sacrificed for us. They refused, therefore, to participate in the Eucharist, because it symbolized something they didn’t believe in. Another Gnostic teaching was the idea that Scripture was insufficient, and that consequently tradition (especially oral tradition) was necessary. Calvinists celebrate the Eucharist (we normally call it “the Lord’s Supper” to distinguish it from the practices of Rome) and we affirm the formal and material sufficiency of Scripture, denying the need for any external body of oral tradition.

c) The Accusation Redirected

Rome has a Eucharist, but they deny the formal and/or material sufficiency (depending who in Catholicism you ask) of Scripture. I wouldn’t blame their denial of the sufficiency of Scripture on Gnostic influences, it is simply a similarity. Instead, we tend to see Gnostic (and related) influences in terms of an excessive focus on Mary. The Gnostics were fond of focusing on minor Biblical characters, of which Mary is one. Some of the odd teachings of Gnosticism regarding Mary seem to have found their way into Catholicism’s folklore and legends, if not always into dogmatic teachings (such as the idea that Mary’s birth of Jesus was pain-free: Gnostics, imagining Jesus to be a phantom, wouldn’t expect the birth to be very painful).


Continue to Part 7

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 19

September 23, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 19

Some folks seem to find relying on councils a comfort. For these folks, there are some inconvenient facts that they must face. This post is the nineteenth in the multi-part series.

Seventh Ecumenical Council (783) – Destroyed Patristic Writings Opposed to Icons

In mocking words, the council commanded that all writings opposed to icons be turned over to the Patriarch of Constantinople, whose job it was to prevent these writings from being read. This command was to be enforced by deposing clergy from office and excommunicating laymen and monks:

All boyish whimwhams and mad bacchanalia, the false writings that have been brought forth against the venerable icons, must be turned in to the Bishopric of Constantinople to be put away together with the rest of heretical books. If, on the other hand, anyone should be found hiding these, if he be a Bishop, a Presbyter, or a Deacon, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman or a monk, let him be excommunicated.

You will notice that, in theory, there was a sort of “heretical library” to be possessed by the Patriarch of Constantinople. In effect, however, the removal of iconoclastic books from circulation had the effect of destroying those books, especially since one would not expect the Patriarch to keep each copy of every book.

As almost a footnote, it is interesting to see that this prominent role was held by the Patriarch of Constantinople, not the Patriarch of Rome. There is, of course, a practical reason beyond the fact that the Bishop of Rome was not considered the head of the church in that day: the heart of the resistance to icons would be expected to come from the Eastern church, where just 30 years previously a similarly sized council had condemned icons as contrary to Scripture and Tradition.

Ultimately, though, this council’s decree creates an easy historical explanation for the dearth of writings from the Early Church Fathers against images of Christ: they were rounded up and ultimately destroyed by those who followed the so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council. But for this council, any silence in the Early Church Fathers on this topic would have been harder to explain.


Danny Hyde Promoting Images of Christ!

September 19, 2008

Before the shock wears off, go find out precisely how (link). The post itself is partly a promotion for his forthcoming book, which I haven’t read or seen yet.

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 12

September 13, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 12

Some folks seem to find relying on councils a comfort. For these folks, there are some inconvenient facts that they must face. This post is the twelfth in what has become a multi-part series.

Council of Constantinople (754) – Ecumenically Rejects Icons Prior to the Seventh So-Called Ecumenical Council

The so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council was held in Nicea in 787. According to some reports, 367 bishops were present. The Council of Constantinople of 754, however, was held about 33 years prior to that, although it apparently had only about 338 bishops present.

As noted in a previous section, though, the council of 754 declared itself to be ecumenical and apostolic:

Canon 19:

If anyone does not accept this our Holy and Ecumenical Seventh Synod, let him be anathema from the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and from the seven holy Ecumenical Synods!

And from the closing:

The holy synod cried out: Thus we all believe, we all are of the same mind. We have all with one voice and voluntarily subscribed. This is the faith of the Apostles. Many years to the Emperors! They are the light of orthodoxy! Many years to the orthodox Emperors! God preserve your Empire! You have now more firmly proclaimed the inseparability of the two natures of Christ! You have banished all idolatry! You have destroyed the heresies of Germanus [of Constantinople], George and Mansur [mansour, John Damascene]. Anathema to Germanus, the double-minded, and worshipper of wood! Anathema to George, his associate, to the falsifier of the doctrine of the Fathers! Anathema to Mansur, who has an evil name and Saracen opinions! To the betrayer of Christ and the enemy of the Empire, to the teacher of impiety, the perverter of Scripture, Mansur, anathema! The Trinity has deposed these three!

(note that the parentheticals are not my own)

Of course, today many icondules do in fact reject the council of 754, deny that it was a valid council, and substitute the council of 787 for that of 754. Why they do that presents an interesting study in ecclesiology and epistemology, but the inconvenient truth is that a purportedly ecumenical council rejected the use of icons in worship before a purportedly ecumenical council affirmed the use of icons in worship.


An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 11

September 13, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 11

Some folks seem to find relying on councils a comfort. For these folks, there are some inconvenient facts that they must face. This post is the eleventh in what has become a multi-part series.

Council of Constantinople (754) – Implicitly Denies the to-be-invented Doctrine of Transubstantiation

As one argument against images, the council of Constantinople of 754 (attended by 338 bishops) stated:

The only admissible figure of the humanity of Christ, however, is bread and wine in the holy Supper. This and no other form, this and no other type, has he chosen to represent his incarnation. Bread he ordered to be brought, but not a representation of the human form, so that idolatry might not arise. And as the body of Christ is made divine, so also this figure of the body of Christ, the bread, is made divine by the descent of the Holy Spirit; it becomes the divine body of Christ by the mediation of the priest who, separating the oblation from that which is common, sanctifies it.

And unanimously affirmed it, as it is reported:

The divine Kings Constantine and Leo said: Let the holy and ecumenical synod say, if with the consent of all the most holy bishops the definition just read has been set forth.

The holy synod cried out: Thus we all believe, we all are of the same mind. We have all with one voice and voluntarily subscribed. This is the faith of the Apostles. Many years to the Emperors! They are the light of orthodoxy! Many years to the orthodox Emperors! God preserve your Empire! You have now more firmly proclaimed the inseparability of the two natures of Christ! You have banished all idolatry! You have destroyed the heresies of Germanus [of Constantinople], George and Mansur [mansour, John Damascene]. Anathema to Germanus, the double-minded, and worshipper of wood! Anathema to George, his associate, to the falsifier of the doctrine of the Fathers! Anathema to Mansur, who has an evil name and Saracen opinions! To the betrayer of Christ and the enemy of the Empire, to the teacher of impiety, the perverter of Scripture, Mansur, anathema! The Trinity has deposed these three!

What’s even more inconvenient to those who maintain transubstantiation is that when a later council purported to overturn the decrees of this council, no mention is made of this argument. In other words, the council that tried to overturn this council did not argue that the bread and wine are not figures of Christ’s humanity, but instead focused on the alleged permissibility of other figures – representational figures that they supposed could be justified.


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