Religious Images: Destructive or Conducive? By Anonymous High School Student

 

The statue at the Monument of Prophet Elijah in Muqraqha, Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. He is depicted here killing the priests of Baal after defeating them in duel testing the power of the God of Israel against Baal.

 

Introduction

 

The purpose of this article is not to argue or promote the use of images. Its main purpose is to clarify and explain misconceptions about the real stand of Catholics through elucidating the Church’s teachings regarding the use of images.

 

First of all, I request the reader to remove all biases and founded misconceptions before proceeding.

 

In my experience, most beliefs about the Catholic faith by non- Catholics and even nominal Catholics are just misconceptions. This is probably the reason why they think the Church is a non-scripture based church even to the extent of being anti-scripture. These misconceptions are due to lack of knowledge and information about the real and official teachings of the Catholic Church. More so, from hearing distorted Catholic beliefs from separated brethrens.

 

I think it would be better if we got problems concerning the Church that we consult the Church itself rather than people outside of her. It is a sad thing that some former Catholics asked people outside the church the time they had queries on her teachings.

 

Another instance is people often believe negative remarks about the church coming from anti-Catholics or from their own misconceptions due to lack of unbiased and sincere study.

 

I earnestly pray for these people that they may be moved by the grace of God to approach the Church with humility concerning the issues that puzzle them. I remember, the Lord once said that we cannot enter His kingdom unless we become like children in humility. The problem is, if we feel we’re already genius enough to judge by ourselves issues not under our discretion. Can we be so proud to say we are better of than catholic bible scholars who devoted their lives in studying the words of God and still remain faithful to the Church founded by Christ?

 

No Graven Image

 

“Catholic worship statues!” What a ridiculous statement from misguided non Catholics. They say that since Catholics have statues in their churches they are statue worshipers and therefore they are violating God’s commandment: “You shall not have other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven 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 the earth: you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Ex. 20: 3-5); “Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold” (Ex. 32:31). It can also be seen in Ex. 20: 23, Ex.34:17, Lev19:4,Lev 26:1, Deut 27:15 etc.

 

Now, according to non-Catholics the Catholic Church eradicated these divine teachings (particularly in the Ten Commandments). That is the reason why they permit the creation of images and support their worship. They claim that it is wrong to make images. Is it true?

 

There is nothing wrong to warn people against idolatry (as the Church does ever since). But calling Catholics statue worshipers or image worshippers because they have images of Christ and the saints is based on misunderstanding and ignorance of what really the Bible says.

 

Hiding the Second Commandment?

 

Some non-Catholics claim that the Church hides the second commandment. They say the second commandment pertains to the prohibition of images and the Catholics removed it to hide their false belief. Is it true?

 

First of all, the Church regards all scriptures as inspired (2 Tim 3:16). The Church never removed verses from the Bible even it pertains to images or not. Refer to all Catholic Bible translations and see if any of those verses was eradicated. I have been a lector for several years and I have proclaimed those verses in public during masses for several times. Does the Church hide something? What the Church did is to regard those verses on their proper context.

 

As regards to the second commandment issue, the Church follows the traditional Jewish practice of summarizing the Decalogue. Take note that if we read fully Exodus 20: 2-17 it contains 14 imperatives with too long statements. In order to come up with ten, Jews, Catholics, and even Lutherans, summarized the Ten Commandments in the form we have now. We find it as ten imperative statements for easy memorization and practicality.

 

For the Jews, Catholics and Lutherans the first commandment is the prohibition against idolatry which says: “You shall not have other gods before me (Yahweh).” Under this imperative, the prohibitions in verses 3-5 which are also about idolatry were already included. And so the second commandment would be: “You shall not use the name of the Lord your God in vain”.

 

Jews, Catholics, and Lutherans have no intention of hiding the second commandment. Instead they believe that the first commandment already includes all forms of idolatry— polytheism, including statue worship. They consider all other verses under this imperative. (Remember, Lutherans don’t even use statues of saints in their churches but they too have angels.)

 

It is also the reason why the third commandment in verses 8-11, though it is too long, was written only as “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.” Again this is for practicality reason, easy memorization. Bear in mind however those imperatives not explicitly mentioned are available if you read it in Catholic Bibles.

No Image?

 

Anti-Catholics say that it is wrong to make images. They refer to the verses I’ve already mentioned. But is it really what those verses mean?

 

One time I had a discussion with my non-Catholic friend. He warned me sternly that it is a sin to make images. I told him if that is so, why keep a picture on his I.D. or on his wallet someone like his girl friend. Why not despise the erection statue of Rizal or Bonifacio? Why preserve pictures of your loved ones? And simply, why take pictures if it is bad to have images according to the Bible?

 

“If we can preserve pictures of our loved ones, of the heroes, can we not also preserve pictures of Jesus, Mary and the Saints who are also dear to us?”

 

My friend replied. “Ahh…what I mean is to use images with religious implications…”

 

I asked him, is that on the bible verses you are referring?… That you can only make images if with no religious implications. Isn’t it just alibiing? Since he realized that he also uses images. Now he tells me that what he meant was images are wrong if it has a religious connotation.

 

Then I asked him if he didn’t ever watch any religious film. He responded with no, saying he watched several of them. He appreciated well the movie “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson.

 

So I asked, “Aren’t those movies or films images? Aren’t they pictures?” The only difference is in a movie the pictures are moving. But still those movies are images. And aren’t those images have religious implications? The movie contains motion pictures of Jesus, Mary, St. Peter, St. John , etc. aren’t they religious figures? I believe many who watched it were touched and also learned a lot. (This is what really the intention of images in the churches, to move our heart and mind to contemplation and provide us visual aids in learning what our faith teaches.)

 

By the way, several times have I noticed that some non-Catholics have images of a dove, bible, cross, etc. Aren’t those images have religious implications?

 

My conversation with my friend still went on till we reached his last bone to pick. He insisted that what he really meant is it is wrong to bow down and worship graven images.

 

This time, I smiled at my back. I told myself, this sounds a tough one. But I knew since the Holy Spirit guides the Church and her members to the whole truth, I can defend the soundness of what we practice, anyway we don’t worship images at all.

 

To my amazement, this friend of mine was really persistent. His first stand was it is wrong to make images. Then he changed saying, what he meant was images with religious implications. Now lastly, he points out that it’s really the bowing and worshipping of images that he refutes.

 

God Said To Make Them

 

Let us now clarify it one by one. Let me first establish the right meaning of the biblical texts in relation to the Israelites context.

 

Those verses does not imply a strictly “thou shall not have images” rule. We have already recognized this fact since all of us now, including Israelis practice taking pictures and keeping them.

The imperative in the commandment was given at the time Israelites were surrounded by pagan nations, idol worshipers. Obviously those people were idolaters. And to protect Israelites from being contaminated by these pagan nations, Yahweh established himself as the only God to be worshiped and beside Him, there is no other. He commanded them not to make other gods out of their hands to worship them. These false gods clearly are enemies of Yahweh (viz. Baal, Astarte, Hermes, and Zeus).

 

On the other hand, we Catholics have a different view on using images (a more comprehensive explanation later). When we use images it doesn’t mean we regard them as gods. A true Catholic recognizes only one true God- Yahweh. Nevertheless, the saints and angels are not enemies of Yahweh, compared to the false gods of pagans. We all know that saints are those people who lived exemplary Christian lives. Angels, on the other hand, are loyal servants of God. Therefore, angels and saints are friends (close friends) of Yahweh. Yahweh must be glorified every time we honor his friends. But take note it is only honor or veneration and not adoration.

 

In the scriptures, we can see that God himself commanded his servant Moses to make an image. In Numbers 21:8, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake out of bronze and place it on top of a pole. Anyone who gets bitten can look at the snake and won’t die’.”

 

Let it be known that this verse is a prototype, a shadow, of Jesus’ crucifixion. We can read from John 3:14-15, “And as the Son of Man must be lifted up, just as that metal snake was lifted up by Moses in the desert. Then everyone who has faith in the Son of Man will have eternal life.” 

 

We then realize that the image God commanded Moses to make has a clear religious and ritualistic use for it is required to cure the people bitten by snakes. Wherewithal, this image from the Old Testament clarified its real meaning in the New Testament in the person of Jesus, the greatest healer. This is also one of the reasons why Catholics have crucifix.

 

As a recall, non-Catholics firmly disagree on the use of images inside worship places. But contrary to their view, the scripture gives us this answer. In Exodus 25:18-20, “And you shall make two cherubim of gold {i.e., two gold statues of angels}; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end: of one piece of the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another, toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be.”

 

More so, the Ark of the Covenant where the presence of Yahweh resides has the carvings of cherubim. Definitely the Jews consider the ark as the most sacred relic since it portrays Yahweh’s presence. When they pray, aren’t they facing the arch of the covenant where images of two cherubim reside? It is also true why Catholics respect and venerate images and relics. We believe that in some degree, the presence of Yahweh can be found through them. They serve as channels of grace.

 

Another fact that most people are kept unaware is that the Jewish temple when it was erected had been carved with so many images. Let us take it from the first book of Kings.

 

“In the sanctuary were two cherubim, each ten cubits high, made of olive wood…The cherubim were placed in the inmost part of the temple…the cherubim, too, were overlaid with gold. The walls on all sides of both the inner and the outer rooms had carved figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers… The two doors were of olive wood, with carve figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers…….. This rested on twelve oxen….on the panels between the frames there were lions, oxen, and cherubim….”

(cf. 1 Kings 6:23, 27-29, 32, 35; 7:25, 29)

 

The scripture speaks well. Images are even present in the temple of Yahweh, a place of worship. If it is wrong to make them, why will Yahweh command his people to do so? Why will he even allow it to be written in the Bible? Will Yahweh contradict himself?

 

Why Catholics Have Images?

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church’s statement concerning images:

 

“Sec. 2131 Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons – of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new “economy” of images. 

 

Sec. 2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.”70 The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone:

Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.71”

 

We Catholics have images in order for us to be reminded of the friends of God, humans like us, who lived a life in accordance to God’s will and these people are now united with God in heaven, so must we in time to come. So the first purpose is the remembrance, just as we have pictures of our loved ones or our heroes.

 

Another reason is that images aid us in religious contemplation. Images arouse our sense of religiosity. Though it is true that we can pray without these images, it is also true that using images are beneficial to meditative practice.

 

For example, we can sing without accompaniment, as in a cappella.  But it is still better if we have accompaniment as we sing. It makes the music livelier. Another analogy is a teacher who uses audio-visual aids could be more efficient than those who teach without it. Like visual aids, images are used to teaching and catechizing especially the illiterate who are incapable of reading the Bible.

 

God wants us to worship him in the manner which allows us to feel him greater. It is the reason why even Jesus used images to depict inner realities he wanted to convey. He used reality based parables as images of human life. In his miracles he used certain images like bread, fish, water (which even became wine), a spit on the ground (which formed clay for healing the blind man), etc. He can make these miracles without such but still he preferred to use them since he knew that man is a sensational being. Man uses his senses to perceive. These senses are gifts from God. They are to be used, even in worshiping their giver.

 

People sometimes use their sense of sight for promiscuity. When they indulge to looking on these lascivious objects aren’t they aroused and even probably burning with the lust of the flesh? To me, instead of removing religious images what we must campaign to remove are those pornographic and impure images.

 

As when some people are aroused when staring on lustful images, we Catholics on the other hand are spiritually aroused when we look on religious images. I heard of conversion stories of people who changed their lives moved when they casted a glance on the crucifix, the image of agonizing Jesus on the cross.

 

When we use images with the right intention, God can be greatly glorified. It is better to pray with religious images in front of you rather than conserving images of promiscuity inside your room. And it’s even better to contemplate with religious images in front of you rather than a mere blank wall, or a tree, or a table.

 

If we sing and dance for the Almighty God with beautiful and artistic music can we not also enliven our worship with the use of heart moving religious images?

 

God is a Spirit! Therefore, No Image of God!

 

Another argument they are saying is since God is a spirit therefore he has no image.

 

God is indeed a spirit. However it does not follow that God has no image. The scripture is vivid: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that crepe upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Gen 1:26-27)

 

Catholics have images of saints. Isn’t their life of holiness a proof of their genuineness as created after God’s image?

 

But how can we claim that there is a real image of God? We have God’s image because God Himself took the human form in Christ Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” (John 1:1, 14) “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men…” (Philippians 2:5-7)

 

Since God took the visible human form in the person of Jesus, we have the opportunity to make holy images and representations of God. St. John Damascene said: “Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God…and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled.” 

 

To recapitulate, Catholics don’t consider Saints and Angels as gods. They aren’t and will never be! Rather they are close friends of God. They should not steal what is due to God, adoration. Nevertheless, when we honor them, God is also glorified. Like what is due to parents when we honor the good character of their children.

 

No Bowing! No Worshiping!

 

Catholics are accused of idolatry since they bow and kneel in front of holy images. This accusation however is due to misunderstanding the actions of Catholics.

 

God prohibits bowing in the context of worship if it means adoration. But not all bowing means adoration.

 

For instance, Japanese, Koreans and Chinese bow to one another as a sign of respect. Martial artists bow to their sensei (teacher). But this doesn’t mean they worship one another. In olden times, people bow and kneel to their king or master as a sign of respect. Again this doesn’t mean worship. Observing the Jews, they bow in front of the Walling wall several times. The question is, are they wall worshipers? Muslims kneel in front of the Mecca . No Muslim will say that they that they kneel to worship Mecca. Christians also kneels if they pray. If it happens that you kneel beside your bed, are you a bed worshiper? It doesn’t follow that what’s in front of you when you kneel is the object of your worship. If that’s what it mean, many Christians would also be book (Bible) worshipers.

 

Catholics don’t worship holy images. Catholics recognize that a wood is wood, a stone is stone, an image is an image, and God is God. We never worship (adore) the images nor the Saints.

 

So what are Catholics doing when they bow and kneel in front of the holy images? Catholics venerate them (the person the holy images represent). Adoration is different from veneration. Adoration (Latria) is due to God alone. But veneration can be given to the saints. Catholics are not at all ignorant. We don’t worship images. We should venerate because they represent images of Jesus, Mary and the Saints who are friends of God.

 

Meanwhile, it is definitely wrong if a person would adore a saint or a holy image. The Church has always condemned this practice as idolatry. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

Superstition

 

2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.41

Idolatry

 

2112 The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of “idols, [of] silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.” These empty idols make their worshippers empty: “Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.”42 God, however, is the “living God”43 who gives life and intervenes in history. 

 

2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”44 Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast”45 refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.46

 

2114 Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone integrates man and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who “transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God.”47

 

The Council of Trent Sess. 25 said:

 

“Moreover, that the images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God, and of the other saints are to be placed and retained especially in the churches, and that due honor and veneration is to be given them; not, however, that any divinity or virtue is believed to be in them by reason of which they are to be venerated, or that something is to be asked of them, or that trust is to be placed in images, as was done of old by the Gentiles who placed their hope in idols;[9] but because the honor which is shown them is referred to the prototypes which they represent, so that by means of the images which we kiss and before which we uncover the head and prostrate ourselves, we adore Christ and venerate the saints whose likeness they bear. That is what was defined by the decrees of the councils, especially of the Second Council of Nicaea,[10] against the opponents of images.Moreover, let the bishops diligently teach that by means of the stories of the mysteries of our redemption portrayed in paintings and other representations the people are instructed and confirmed in the articles of faith, which ought to be borne in mind and constantly reflected upon; also that great profit is derived from all holy images, not only because the people are thereby reminded of the benefits and gifts bestowed on them by Christ, but also because through the saints the miracles of God and salutary examples are set before the eyes of the faithful, so that they may give God thanks for those things, may fashion their own life and conduct in imitation of the saints and be moved to adore and love God and cultivate piety. But if anyone should teach or maintain anything contrary to these decrees, let him be anathema. If any abuses shall have found their way into these holy and salutary observances, the holy council desires earnestly that they be completely removed, so that no representation of false doctrines and such as might be the occasion of grave error to the uneducated be exhibited.” 

 

Bowing, kneeling, kissing, and wiping don’t always mean adoration. If some devotees do these acts of piety who are we to judge their faith? Even God used little objects for great miracles. As Christians, we should know that. Reading the bible we knew that miracles happened through seemingly petty objects like hankies, water, spit, bread, Jesus’ garment, ect.

 

If actions of respect always mean worship we are all bound to idolatry since we salute the flag, just a piece of cloth, with all due respect. On a flag ceremony, we stare our glance on it, standing straightly, feeling every note of the national anthem, and singing whole heartedly. But you will never agree that it is worship.

 

Catholics bow, kneel, kiss the sacred images as a sign of veneration to the person they represent and not to the object itself. Again, we Catholics don’t worship, we just venerate!

 

InBrief

 

As a generalization, God is not against images, even its use in religious or liturgical purposes. He himself nevertheless made his own image, man. He even commanded his people in the Old Testament to make images. God found his perfect image (icon in Greek) in His Son, Jesus Christ, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Col 1: 15).

 

Saints are friends of God and not demigods. We don’t worship the saints neither their images. What we do is veneration and respect. This is not against the scriptures instead it parallels what the scriptures says.

 

I would like to end this essay through the words from the 2nd Council of Nicea in the year 787 AD. “The one who redeemed us from darkness of idolatrous insanity, Christ our God, when he took for his bride his holy Catholic Church…promised he would guard her and assured his holy disciples saying, ‘I am with you always until the consummation of this age’…To this gracious offer, some people paid no attention, being hoodwinked by the treacherous foe, they abandoned the true line of reasoning…and they failed to distinguish the holy form the profane, asserting that the icons of our Lord and of his saints were no different from the wooden image of satanic idols.”

SOURCE:  www. splendorofthechurch.blogspot.com

POSTED BY: ADMINISTRATOR

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