|LESSON TWENTY-NINE 2010-2011
LAW, GOSPEL & THE MEANS OF GRACE
The purpose of this article and the ones to follow is to encourage care and discipline in our thoughts and practices involved in the use of tangible images of God and the Persons of the Trinity within the worship life of the Church and particularly within that physical space commonly referred to as the Chancel. These articles are not addressing verbal imagery, i.e. "word pictures" formed in the mind through the oral or written proclamation of God's Word.
I intend to move slowly through this examination which may well mean that certain articles in this series may conclude before additional necessary arguments are made or any conclusions are suggested. However, I consider this matter sufficiently important that it requires a careful and slow construction allowing ample time to truly consider each "building block" before proceeding on to the next. Your patience is accordingly humbly requested.
The question that I anticipate running behind and through these reflections is whether or not there is a real danger drawing people away from Word and Sacraments in our use of artistic, tangible images particularly within the sanctuaries, in which the Divine Services of our congregations take place.
Let us first hear the Word of the Lord speaking to us through His prophet Isaiah:
"'Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters: and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.'" (Isaiah 55:1-3, emphasis added; ESV)
As the Lord calls people to repentance that they may be saved, note the manner of delivery of salvation in these verses. They receive the rich food that is good and saves through hearing. He promises to be present Himself in that Word heard through the ears of man and through that Word, to deliver salvation.
What else has God said? Consider these words as well:
"'Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under earth....Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.'" (Deuteronomy 4:15-18, 23,24, emphasis added, ESV)
Consider also the following from within the Ten Commandments:
"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God is a jealous God,...." (Exodus 20:4,5, emphasis added; ESV)
Over the centuries since Christ's Ascension, controversies about images, including bare crosses, crucifixes, statues, and paintings, have been so fierce as to involve physical torture, execution, heated debate, and proclamation of anathemas. In today's world, we could add power point presentations, screens, and the like, to the discussion, but hopefully not to the bloodshed.
Most of the information that will be presented in these articles will be from Part IV of Martin Chemnitz's Examination of the Council of Trent, as translated by Fred Kramer (St. Louis, MO., Concordia Publishing House, ©1986, pp. 51-142) But before we begin that examination, in the next issue I intend to first renew our understanding of the property and attributes of the Holy Scripture. For that, I intend to draw upon Christian Dogmatics,Volume I, by Francis Pieper, D.D., (St. Louis, MO, Concordia Publishing House, ©1950, particularly pp. 307-329)
In the introduction of Chemnitz's writing about images, as he identifies the "Point at Issue" (IV, p. 55), Chemnitz notes first of all that "It is greatly be wondered at that, as we shall show later, such dreadful, hostile, and even bloody fights arose in the church about pictures or statues, that is, about a thing in which the Christian religion and piety are not even partially located." (IV, p. 55)
As we shall examine in more depth later, in the history of the Church, one will find those who vehemently argue that absolutely no images whatsoever are to be in any way tolerated in the life of the Church, whether or not they are present for worship or are present for people's adoration. You will also encounter that this prohibition was not limited to places of worship, but included places where people gathered in the civic sphere and private places, such as within homes. Some adherents zealously demolished any such images, wherever located, seeking either worship places completely devoid of images or an earthly realm without such images or both.
It is important that we note, before we really begin to examine all the facets of the use of images in the Church, that Martin Luther, "...according to the rule of Scripture, placed images that represent true and useful histories among the adiaphora which for the sake of beautification, remembrance, or history may be kept without superstition; and yet, if one does not have them, nothing is taken away from religion or piety. However, he showed that the worship of images is forbidden and condemned by the Word of God. Therefore he taught that superstitious opinions about images are to be removed from the minds of people through the teaching of the divine Word; that if any images are there for the purpose of being worshipped, they are to be removed by public authority; and that if it is to be feared that there is danger of idolatry from the images, they should rather be destroyed." (IV, pp. 55,56). In other words, let us be clear in our understanding that Luther put the use of tangible images among the adiaphora in the life and teachings of the Church.
After Chemnitz discussed and clarified the precise "Point at Issue" in the controversy about images, discussed in Part Four of this series, Chemnitz next looked to the Holy Scriptures seeking to know what things are taught therein about images and noted that the Scriptures "...look most of all to heathen superstitions" and that "...many things from these customs of the heathens later crept also into the church...." (IV, p. 57) He sought to identify and lift up the things taught in the Scriptures "about the origin and use of images among the heathen", id, so as to establish a foundation for a right understanding of this topic.
We note first of all that the Holy Scriptures are quite clear in teaching two particular things about images. First of all, the Scriptures ridicule and condemn without any reservation the idols of the heathen. Second of all, when God's people "...transferred the use of images to the worship of the true God, Scripture reprehends, prohibits, and condemns this." (IV, p. 67).
Let there be no doubt that we do not need to argue from examples, but from the clear Word of God. "God made known His will about images by giving a sure law (Ex. 20:4-5; Deut. 5:8-9; Lev. 26:1)." (IV, p. 74). "God simply numbers such use of images for worship as having to do with strange gods, and thus prohibits it, so that there can be no place for an escape or exception." (IV, p. 74) "...[I]t is dangerous to want to make any image of the Godhead, no matter under what pretext. For it is easy to run up against the law of God...I [Chemnitz] confess that the best, surest, and most useful image of God and of Christ is the one which the understanding of our minds forms and conceives from the Word of God." (IV., p. 80)
When the legitimate histories of the Church of the first three hundred years are examined, no mention of the use of tangible images or statues in their public worship life can be found. Since the worship of false gods involved the adoration or worship of images, "...the Christians simply abhorred images and condemned as heretics those who wanted to worship and adore either the statues of others or also Christ Himself in statues or through images." (IV, p. 83) It was not a small thing that the worship life of these early Christians differed from the heathen worship forms in that the heathen worshipped their idols employing likenesses, tangible images, and statues. These early Christians knew well God's clear Word "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24; ESV)
"And in order to cut off every occasion for idolatry, in order that the Christian religion might have no affinity with paganism, which consisted in the worship of images, and lest the seeds of heathen superstition should through the occasion of images either creep into the church or remain in the minds of converts, the primitive church did not want to receive even the images of Christ and of the saints into the places of worship. And among the points of accusation the heathen threw also this up to the Christians, that they had a religion without images." (IV, p.83)
Early Church fathers strongly defended the Church's lack of tangible images with numerous arguments based upon the fact that God has chosen to reveal Himself in His Word, which is heard, read, considered, and meditated upon in the mind of man. These Church fathers fought with great earnestness those who claimed to desire to now worship the true God through tangible images, who argued that it was not the image itself that they were worshipping but the name of the one to whom it had been consecrated. These Church fathers fought also against the argument that the image was to assist in recalling into present memory those now separated by death or absence. For example, Lactantius, a Christian apologist born circa A.D. 240-260 and died circa A.D. 320-340, who was born of heathen parents and became a Christian perhaps around A.D. 300, (Lutheran Cyclopedia, ed. Erwin L. Lueker, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo., revised Edition, ©1975, Reprint 1984, [a resource everyone should have]) stated "Surely, an image of a God whose spirit and divinity is diffused everywhere and can never be absent is superfluous." (quoted, IV, p. 86) These Church fathers consistently treated the use of images in worship as a teaching proceeding from Satan as Satan sought to turn people away from the worship of the One True God. Lactantius also said "Therefore there is no doubt that there is no religion where there is an image." (quoted, IV, p.87)
"To sum it up, it is certain from sure and approved histories...that until the age of Jerome there were men of approved piety who allowed no image, either painted or sculpted or woven, in the churches, not even an image of Christ. For we read in Eusebius that not even in the time of Constantine, who adorned churches with many costly offerings of gold, silver, and precious stones, were images received into churches." (IV, p. 88) Therefore, for at least three hundred years, there is no evidence from reliable and trustworthy written histories that the primitive Christian Church used tangible images in the worship life of the Church nor that such were allowed in places of public prayer.
"It still remains to be shown that, excluding worship and adoration, not every historical use of images was simply rejected in the primitive church." (IV, p.91)
We do find frequent references in the writings of the early Church fathers to the sign of the cross. During those times, it was not a tangible image of a man with outstretched arms, nailed to the cross, "but at the time of Tertullian [circa A.D. 155/160 - circa A.D. 220/230 (Lutheran Cyclopedia)] and afterward the Christians with their fingers formed a transverse figure like a cross in the air, and in this way identified themselves. It was not, however, a sign put forward for worship and adoration, for it was at that time not something with continued existence, but was only a profession and reminder that they believed in Christ crucified, and that they were placing all their hope and confidence in Him." (IV, p. 94)
It was at the time of the post conversion Constantine that "the sign of the cross began to be represented by two pieces of wood joined crosswise, or painted in this form." (IV, p. 94) This arose from Constantine having purportedly seen the sign of the cross "formed by the splendor of the light" (IV, p. 94) when deciding whether or not the cast off heathen worship and follow Christ, with the addition of "In this sign conquer!" (IV, p. 94) Constantine directed that a military emblem be made as follows: "A long spear, overlaid with gold, with a transverse arm, constructed in the form of a cross. At the top a crown woven about with precious stones and gold, in which the mark of the Savior was inscribed with the first two letters of the name of Christ. On the crosspiece a cloth was suspended shining with precious stones. Downward, below the cloth on the long spear, there was a golden effigy of Constantine and his children, depicted as far as the breast." (IV, p. 95) It is important that we note that this sign was not placed in churches for worship and adoration. It was a military banner or emblem, which was thereafter "preserved privately in the royal palace" (IV, p. 95) and engraved on the weapons of his soldiers. Constantine hoped to use this as part of his confession of faith to his soldiers in the hope that it would help lead them to worship of the true God. This image was not taken into or used within the churches, nor was any other image placed in churches during that time.
In this discussion, we have seen that during the first three hundred years after Christ that tangible images were not employed in the church's worship of the true God and were not allowed into places of prayer. In the next part of this series, we will look at when images began to be received into churches and what the first use of such images was, along with what followed thereafter.
"It is a very useful observation, which teaches us much, that in those very times when the use of historical pictures began to be received and admitted also into the churches of the Christians, many learned and pious bishops at times spoke against it, fearing that worship of the pictures would follow, and preferring to approve the custom of the primitive church, which had and exercised religion without images; indeed all had then simply condemned the cult and adoration of images." (IV, p. 99) This should not be overlooked as we go forward in these reflections upon tangible images.
During the years following the fifth century into the seventh century, tangible images slowly but surely multiplied in the churches, beginning with only pictures but moving on to include statues, as well, but "watchful bishops resisted; however, they approved the historical use of images in such a way that they at the same time forbade and condemned their worship and adoration." (IV, p. 102) The struggle between a rightful historical, teaching use of the tangible images and the great temptation to attach worship and adoration to those images was a constant struggle for orthodox bishops and teachers. Oftentimes, that struggle encountered the superstitions of the common laity who resisted mightily against any taking those superstitions away from them. "Gregory [Gregory the Great Gregory I, ca. A.D. 540-604; called "The Great, father of medieval papacy": Lutheran Cyclopedia, p. 627] describes the historical use of images quite well, except that one must give thought to the fact that it is not to be supposed that the words of Scripture are to be placed before the learned, while to the unlearned, statues are to be presented in place of hearing the divine Word. For the apostles proclaimed the Gospel even to barbarian nations, not by means of statues, but with the living voice of the Gospel. And whatever may be said about teaching and communicating through pictures, in no way is a picture to be compared with the Word of God (written, preached, read, heard, and meditated upon), least of all preferred to it." (IV, p. 103) Chemnitz argues that the argument of those, such as the Jesuits and supporters of the Council of Trent, who "philosophize on the basis of the nature and characteristics of signs, namely that a picture moves the mind more and more strongly to devotion than the divine Word, when heard and meditated upon, is by no means to be admitted. For these things must be judged, not from the physical nature of signs, but from the command and promise of God." (IV, p. 103) I am compelled to wonder if the modern church appears to agree more with Trent than with Chemnitz. Perhaps, as Chemnitz suggests, (IV, p.103), we should consider the Scriptures on this point:
"For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe." (1 Corinthians 1:21; ESV)
"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4; ESV)'
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (Second Timothy 3:14-17; ESV)
"When therefore the historical use of images is admitted, that opinion which either compares or prefers the use of images to the Word of God, preached and heard, must of necessity be censured. " (IV, p. 104) The early church fathers, such as Athanasius and Eusebius, "distinctly rejected and refuted the pretext of the heathen that statues were, so to speak, the writings of the common people". (IV, p. 104)
Historically speaking, it is clear that following the time of Gregory the Great, there was an ever growing increase in the superstitious views on the use of images in the church. There were certainly many who argued that they were not really worshipping and adoring the images themselves but the God represented by or in the images, but maintaining the distinction between a proper historical, teaching use and the adoration of the images themselves became increasingly difficult, as we will examine in the next issue in this series. Also, "it is to be observed that a beginning was first made in the times around A.D. 690 in regard to making a picture of Christ crucified (that is, ...a figure or human form representing His humiliation, passion, and death) and placing it in the church. For until that time only the sign of the cross had been used...." (IV. p. 106) Three hundred years with no cross in the churches. Then, three hundred more years with only bare wooden crosses. It was certainly not due to a lack of artisans.
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