A Blog of Geek Eccentricities
I think icons in a church serve no more, or less, purpose than other form of art. One of my theology professors even likened these works to prayer aids in that they helped him to visualize his prayer, if that makes sense.I have no problem with them, but I also grew up in the Catholic Church. I think churches that lack such things appear nekkid.
I know I've seen somewhere (maybe the BOD or BOW?) that Wesley didn't approve of icons, but I think that they can serve as an aid to prayer, much like hymns are an aid to worship...
They started, in the Orthodox tradition and when many were illeriate, as a way of explaining the faith. They would tell the stories of the saints in order to pass down lessons on how to live out one’s faith. I think that is a good idea. We all have people we have looked up to over the years and who have been spiritual and faith guides for us.I think we get in trouble when people pray to those saints instead of to God. I don’t see saints as a prayer advocate to God but only as an example of a faithful life following Christ. Hebrews 12:1 says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who help us run the race with perseverance (my own translation). We communion with saints at the Eucharist and celebrate those who have gone before us on All Saints Day. To deny saints (those who have gone before us only) we deny our traditions and history, our foundation of faithful witnesses.
Any form of art, such as icons, I do believe can be used to evoke some memory or thought as an aid for prayer and devotion. But with that said, if one can pray without one it is better that one does not use one. The usage of icons can come to result in empty rituals where one uses the icon but is half-heartedly into prayer or devotion.It isn't idolatry, at least in its simplest form. So I am all for it if it is an actual aid in worship and prayer.
When it is something like "stations of the cross", which helps tell the story, or a contemplative prayer garden I see no problems. When the Icons become problematic is when mystical powers are atributed to them (or their saint).
Like stained glass windows or hymnals, icons are simply worship aids. Unlike the Old Testament, the New Testament is silent on the use of representative art in worship. One can attach inappropriate unscriptural significance to icons. This would apply to the veneration of icons which is without any scriptural basis. In that regard the use of such statuary in worship is at a minimum problematic. At best the use of icons is a relic of a mostly illiterate era. At worst icons are idols that have no place in the life of the believer.
Is the veneration of icons all that much different than the approach many congregations take toward their sacred cows? For instance, I served a congregation that had an electronic organ which hadn't been used for years and was never played even once in the years I was there. However, they refused to move it out of the sanctuary because it was a memorial. Or what about the practice of having an American flag in the sanctuary? Try moving that and you'll see what veneration means. I know I've tried. We don't condemn these practices as idolatry. How can we condemn those who venerate religious art?
Nice point John B. I think American Protestants have their idols that the forefathers of our faith would cringe at. One of them is the American Flag...but that is a whole other can of worms!
Great comment, John B. We are all idolaters and polytheists.
Well, a whole lot of us are, at least.
I've written somewhat extensively on icons. In this post, I argue that it may be helpful to make room for greater use of representative images than is done in most Protestant churches today, provided that we are careful about it. In a pair of later posts, I argue that the doctrines of the Second Council of Nicea and St. John of Damascus may well be Biblically permissible, but the contemporary doctrine and practice of the Eastern Orthodox Church is not.It is my understanding that the doctrine and practice surrounding icons is much less well-developed in the Roman Catholic Church than in Eastern Orthodoxy, and I know less about it, so it is hard for me to make a judgment about the Catholic doctrine and practice on this point.
One interesting note is that in traditional iconography the artistic style is one of non-realism or borderline caricature. It is done that way intentionally so that the piece is not to be mistaken for something real or for what it re-presents. Now whether that intention is fully realized is another story.
I dunno, Will. I think that that style was typical of Byzantine art, regardless of subject matter.
Post a Comment