REFLECTIONS UPON THE USE OF TANGIBLE IMAGES IN THE WORSHIP LIFE OF THE CHURCH - PART FIVE
By: Larry D. Harvey
Again, we continue our consideration of 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 we know as the Chancel. In this issue, we will look at Martin Chemnitz's discussion "Concerning the Use of Images Among the Heathen" in Section II of the Second Topic - Concerning Images, From the 25th Session of the Council of Trent, from Chemnitz's Examination of the Council of Trent, Part IV, pp 57-66, with form of citation as previously noted.
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.
Chemnitz's first considered passages are from the apocryphal Book of Wisdom. Before we actually consider those passages, it may be worthwhile to examine what we mean when we say that a particular book is from the Apocrypha. To do so, we must first briefly discuss the Septuagint. The Septuagint (from the Latin septuaginta, meaning 'seventy', and frequently referred to by the roman numerals LXX) is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The name derives from the tradition that it was made by seventy (or seventy-two) Jewish scholars at Alexandria, Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.)....Although it is not completely understood either when or why the translation was originally done, it is clear that in large measure reflects the common language of the period and became the 'Bible' of Greek-speaking Jews and then later of the Christians." The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, by Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton, originally published by Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd., London, 1851, Fourth Printing August 1992, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, Preface. The Septuagint included several books which were not found in the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament, and it is these additional books that are known as the Apocrypha. "Although rejected by Protestants as non-canonical, the Apocryphal writings have enduring value as a literary and historical record of the intertestamental period.", id. When you read our early Lutheran church fathers, such as Martin Luther and Martin Chemnitz, you will frequently encounter the use of passages from the apocryphal books. You will also find such use in the early Church fathers' writings, but it should be noted, that Jerome declared that the Apocrypha are appropriate "for example of life and instruction of manners", but not to establish any doctrine of the Church. , id. at the The Apocrypha, page i. Sir Brenton describes the Book of Wisdom as "...one of the most beautiful and important in the Apocrypha. Its first portion (i. - xi. 4) is distinguished for the singular beauty of its style, its noble teaching on immortality, and its panegyric on Wisdom. The second portion of the book is very inferior to the first, from a literary point of view. It contains a pictorial commentary on the story of Exodus. The book was, without doubt , written in Greek by an Alexandrian Jew, probably a short while before the Christian era.", id at ii.
Chemnitz quotes from the Book of Wisdom, also sometimes cited as the Wisdom of Solomon, in the Examination, Part IV as follows: "For in 14:12 ff. it is written thus: 'The beginning of fornication (namely spiritual fornication) is thinking of images, and the invention of them is a corruption of life, for they were not there from the beginning, neither shall they remain forever. For they were brought into the world through kenodoxia, that is, the vain glory or ambition of men, and therefore a speedy end is destined for them. For a father, grieving with bitter grief over a son who was prematurely taken from him, made an image, and now began to worship as a god him who had before been a dead person, and taught the members of his household a religion-rites, ceremonies, or sacrifices. Then, with the passing of time, the wicked custom growing stronger, it was observed as a law. And, on account of the commands of tyrants, carved images were worshiped with religious ceremonies. And those whom they were unable to honor before their eyes, or in their presence (because they lived far away), they imagined from a distance, and made a representation of the king whom they wanted to honor, in order that they might zealously worship through adulation the absent one as though he were present. But the outstanding diligence of the artist moved the more ignorant to more zealous worship, for he, wishing to please a powerful person, elaborated his likeness through art to the highest beauty. The common people, carried away by the beauty of the workmanship, presently thought that he whom they had before honored as a man should be worshipped as a deity. And this proved to be a seduction to human life, because men, brought to servitude, imposed the incommunicable name on wood and stone....For the worship of the abominable images is the origin, cause, and end of every evil....For trusting in lifeless images, evildoers do not fear punishment. Therefore they will be punished for both reasons: because, being given to images, they thought wrongly of God, and because, having spurned holiness, they act unjustly.' And in 13:10 ff. it says: "An artist shapes either the likeness of a man or of an animal, figures of wood, gold, silver, or stone, the work of a venerable hand,...and places it in a wall, in a worthy place constructed for it, and fastens it with iron, lest it fall, since it cannot help itself. Making prayers to it in behalf of his possessions, his marriage, his children, he is not ashamed to speak to the lifeless thing; for health he invokes a weak thing; for life he entreats a dead thing; for aid he beseeches a helpless thing.' etc. And in 15:4-5 he gives thanks to God that 'the invention of the evil art has not misled us into error, the sketch of a picture, an unfruitful labor, a likeness through various colors or sculpted, the sight of which arouses lust in the foolish, and they form the love of a dead image,' etc."
Chemnitz then looks to other histories concerning the use of images by the heathen of antiquity. He divides the heathens' use of images into two categories. The first category of the cause and use of images by the heathen "...was political, for the sake of history and of pleasing memory." (Part IV, p. 58) Chemnitz discusses numerous circumstances where military victors, noted political leaders, men of unsurpassed bravery and similar noteworthy historical figures along with martyrs to a particular cause, and noted philosophers, orators, and poets, were honored by either pictures placed around and before the home of the recently dead noble men, and the erection of statues, while noting that when the deceased fell out of favor, the deceased's memory was simply erased by destruction of the statue or paintings.
The second category of the use of images among the heathen, according to Chemnitz, arose because from the political use among the heathen came "superstitious and idolatrous worship. For the writers tell us that also some political images were placed in the temples themselves, and set upon the cushioned seats of the gods. The adulation of the common people also, besides laying flowers and wreaths, venerated the statues with incense and wax candles....Indeed, the images of the gods or to speak more correctly, of idols, finally filled all shrines among the heathen and snatched all divine worship to themselves. Yet many heathen in ancient times worshiped God without images." (Part IV, p 60.) Chemnitz notes that the Persians, the Spartans, the ancient Chinese, the ancient Romans for more than one hundred seventy years, and, in early times, the Germans found the use of images of their gods to be ridiculous and often forbade such use.
However, the heathen later "...tied all religion and the whole cult of the gods to images and statues. For they invented many and varied kinds of gods, among whom they declared one to be the great and first God, who gives all things. The others they called little gods, sprung from the great one." (Part IV, p. 61). These images became objects of fear, veneration, adoration, sacrifice, worship and prayer.
When various heathen leaders looked upon the superstition of the heathen commoners, they could not help but note that the common people had in fact attached to the statues that which belonged only to their gods. Some simply found it useful that the common people remain deceived in the matter, while others hid their ridicule of such superstition while not eliminating such. Others employed "skillful interpretations", (Part IV, p. 65), attempting to justify the continued practice by teaching that although the statues themselves, consisting of gold or similar material, are not gods, "...but because the presence of the gods, who are otherwise invisible, can be shown through the images, and because either gods or divine virtues dwell in them, or because through them the invisible gods are honored and worshiped, because the images are dedicated to them." or "...the statues are not to be considered gods, but likenesses of the gods, that the gods might, under these images, answer and reveal themselves, seeing that they are otherwise invisible and cannot be known in any other way." (Part IV, p. 65). All this was so that the people could "learn" and be brought to the right knowledge of the particular invisible god in question.
All of these various interpretations of "... the wise among the heathen embroidered the superstitions of the common people...." (Part IV, p. 66).
It is important to our consideration that we consider the kind of thinking and teaching required of the heathen wise leaders to justify the continued use of the statues and paintings when they knew that the common worshipper was giving the statue or painting his veneration, adoration, worship and prayer and not to the particular invisible god in question. This was particularly important to Chemnitz because the supporters of the Council of Trent employed similar arguments in support of the Council's Decree Concerning Images. We will encounter the argument about the image being used only as an instrument for "teaching" throughout our discussion.
In the next issue we will look further at passages of the Holy Scriptures that specifically address images, pictures, or statues.
Copyright © 2011 Crossties Lutheran Ministry Resources, Inc
All Rights Reserved