Early Church Fathers on Icons

This post addresses the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic practice of venerating icons. It examines the textual evidence from the first centuries of Christianity to see whether or not the veneration of images was considered a legitimate practice.

The purpose of this post is not polemics but to do apologetics and honest historical inquiry. So my strategy is to bring out all the relevant evidence I’m aware of, leaving no significant piece of evidence missing. When nothing is being swept under the rug, then we can come to legitimate conclusions.

Icons in the Early Church

In this set of posts, I show that, before 313, and probably for some time following, the veneration of images was not a legitimate Christian practice.

As I stated in my overview of this subject, I am not arguing that pre-Constantinian Christians didn’t have any kind of image, or that they were iconoclasts. All that I’m arguing is that, before 313, the veneration of images was not a legitimate Christian practice.

Here are the posts that I’ve written on the subject. For the full treatment of this issue, I suggest starting with the first post and continuing to the rest of them to provide evidence for my contentions.

  1. My first post introduces and summarizes the issues around the veneration of icons. It deals with some high-level objections and brings all the different evidence together.
  2. My second post deals with the archaeological evidence for early Christian art. Because the evidence from art is more ambiguous, I demonstrate only the more modest claim that evidence from archaeology does not suggest that before 313, the veneration of images was a common Christian practice.
  3. My third post discusses Scripture and theology and whether they can be used in support of the veneration of images (as opposed to the worship of idols). I conclude that Scripture seems to be against the practice, though it doesn’t explicitly mention it.
  4. My fourth post digs deeply into the pre-Constantinian evidence—the church fathers before 313. It shows very clearly that the consensus of the pre-Constantinian church is against the veneration of images.
  5. My fifth post discusses some strategies that the Eastern Orthodox and others use in order to maintain their beliefs, and shows why they don’t work.
  6. My sixth post discusses evidence starting from 313 to see how the veneration of images could have arisen. I look into the writings of John Chrysostom and other favorite saints of the Eastern Orthodox, and show that these church fathers did not practice iconodulia. I also sketch out how the veneration of images could have slowly crept into the church, without drawing much comment.
  7. My seventh and final post discusses the possibility that iconodulia could be a legitimate change. I show that iconodulia couldn’t meet the criteria proposed by Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox for doctrines and practices that can change.

A further valuable resource on this subject is David Bercot’s course on Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

The argument

Here is the argument that I’m making in this article series:

The practice of addressing communications (such as bowing, kissing, and prayer) to images with the intent that whatever is addressed to the image passes to the prototype (the subject of the image, such as Christ, saints, or angels) was not considered a legitimate Christian practice by Christian leaders until sometime after Constantine’s influence on the church.

Note that it doesn’t matter what heretics did or even what individual lay Christians did. What matters is what Christian leaders taught. Apostolic Christianity is not a free-for-all religion. What is Christian doctrine depends not on what people practice, but on what Jesus and the apostles taught.

But how does looking at history help us know what the apostles taught? When the early church unanimously agreed on something, it’s very good evidence that the apostles taught that as part of the Christian faith. That’s why, in this article, I’ll be looking at whether there is a consensus of Christian leaders for or against iconodulia, but it won’t matter whether or not lay Christians or Gnostics practiced iconodulia—after all, they might have been disobeying their leaders.

(However, to be fair to the pre-Constantinian lay Christians, very few of them seem to have practiced iconodulia, as we’ll see.)

Here’s the argument I’m making in this article, laid out in syllogistic form:

  1. If for the first few hundred years of the Church, many Christian leaders wrote that something is wrong for Christians to do, and if it was hundreds of years before any Christian leader wrote that it was ever appropriate for Christians to do that thing, we should consider it to be wrong for Christians to do that thing.
  2. For the first few hundred years of the Church, many Christian leaders wrote indicating that the veneration of images was not a legitimate Christian practice, and it was hundreds of years before any wrote that it was ever appropriate for a Christian to venerate images.
  3. Therefore, we should consider it wrong for Christians to venerate images.

Here’s how each point is demonstrated:

  1. This is the principle Vincent of Lerins laid out and which the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, so far as I can tell, hold to. I also hold to it, since I seek to practice the historic faith.
  2. This will be demonstrated by the historical evidence cited in this article.
  3. This conclusion follows logically from the premises.

The method of inference

In the nearly three hundred years before the councils, a lot of church fathers and other writers wrote about religious images. However, they do not mention it as a Christian practice, but as a pagan or heretical practice.

How, then, can we infer what they would have said about Christian veneration of images, had they been asked about it? Simple—the way they argued against pagan veneration of images shows that they did not themselves venerate images. Furthermore, the way they argued shows that they almost certainly would have argued against the Christian veneration of images, had they known of such a practice.

If you have questions as to whether this type of inference is legitimate, in a later section, I’ll show why it works.

How to ensure that the evidence is relevant?

There are several key differences between Eastern Orthodox veneration of images and pagan veneration of images. For example, the Eastern Orthodox don’t worship polytheistic gods by venerating images, while the pagans did. Thus, just any early Christian quotation against pagan iconodulia wouldn’t be evidence against Christian iconodulia. However, note that there is one key similarity between the way both pagans and Eastern Orthodox venerate images: There is veneration addressed to a sacred image that stands in for a deity, another spiritual being, or a dead person who is not physically present.

I have excluded any pieces of evidence where early Christians argue against things that are solely done by pagans. What I have included are pieces of evidence where they argue against things that are done by both Orthodox and pagans, since in those cases their arguments are valid against Christian iconodulia.

If you believe the veneration of images to be a legitimate practice, just ask yourself the following question when you read each quotation that I’ve provided: “How could this writer have made such direct statements against images, if he was practicing iconodulia himself?”

A summary of the evidence

Here are the six points that I will demonstrate from the historical evidence:

  1. Multiple early Christian writers wrote that images cannot stand in for anything sacred.
  2. Multiple early Christian writers saw the veneration of images as a difference between Christians and rival groups like pagans or heretics.
  3. Pagans criticized Christians for not worshiping with sacred images, and Christians defended themselves by arguing against the veneration of images.
  4. Several early fathers and apologists made statements that directly contradict the use of sacred images.
  5. No pre-Constantinian Christian leaders ever condemn Christian veneration of images, only the similar practices of pagans and heretics.
  6. No pre-Constantinian Christians described Christian veneration of images at all.

Images cannot stand in for anything sacred

Iconodulia (the veneration of icons) entails the belief that an image of a person can pass communications to the person himself, and that prayers and adoration to such an image will pass on to the person depicted in the image. In Eastern Orthodox terms, the honor given to the type passes to the prototype.

If you don’t believe that principle, you don’t believe in the veneration of icons. After all, there would be no point in praying to an icon if it weren’t a means of praying to a real person.

However, the early Christians were generally opposed to the idea that honor can pass through material images to what is represented. They believed that if you are venerating an image, all you are venerating is that image.

Multiple early Christian writers wrote that images cannot stand in for anything sacred. Art may be valuable, but these writers believed that it cannot play a semiotic role for a sacred being. This belief, of course, would undercut a theology of iconodulia. Thus, anyone who believed this could not have consistently venerated icons. If they had used sacred icons to represent Christ (the God of the universe) or the holy saints, they couldn’t have used that argument.

Were they right or wrong? It doesn’t matter. The point is that you can’t use that argument against venerating pagan images, if you yourself are venerating Christian images. Such a statement would have undercut one of their practices, and the pagans could have used it to justify their own practices. The Christians would therefore have needed to explain the difference between pagan veneration and Christian veneration, yet they never do. So if someone argues that matter cannot represent anything sacred, that person could not be practicing iconodulia.

Did pagans worship material items?

Sometimes I hear the objection that, while pagans were actually venerating the idol itself, Christians were venerating the person through the image. However, the early Christians were well aware that pagans believed they were worshiping the gods themselves, not idols, as Arnobius and Lactantius show. They knew that worship or veneration of an object was intended for the invisible referent, not for the object. However, as the quotes below demonstrate, they considered that entire concept to be ridiculous. They believed that the pagan adoration went only to the images themselves. Were they right or wrong? It doesn’t matter. The point is that they wouldn’t have considered it ridiculous if they were doing it as well.

Methodius (Saint)

And those artificers who, to the destruction of men, make images in human form, not perceiving and knowing their own Maker, are blamed by the Word, which says, in the Book of Wisdom, a book full of all virtue, “his heart is ashes, his hope is more vile than earth, and his life of less value than clay; forasmuch as he knew not his Maker, and Him that inspired into him an active soul, and breathed in a living spirit;” (Banquet of the Ten Virgins 2.7 ANF)

Though Methodius directly opposes icons, he doesn’t specifically spell out the principle that the other writers do—that honor cannot pass through an image. However, he suggests this implicitly.

Methodius writes that the life of someone who depicts God in human form is “of less value than clay,” forgetting God, who breathed in his spirit. In other words, this human had a spirit but did not live truly to his spiritual nature, making him less valuable than the inanimate dust Adam was made of. Why does Methodius use this analogy? Because pagans make clay images of their gods, thinking that there is a spirit in that image. What, then, does Methodius think of the claim that the one who prays to a clay image is praying to what it represents? That one who does this is forgetting that he is a spirit. This indicates strongly that Methodius believed that praying to clay is no more than praying to clay—the pagans are not praying to gods, but to clay that was mistakenly thought to have a spirit.

This interpretation of Methodius is not a literal interpretation, but it is justified because it is fully consistent with what all the other writers are writing. When understood in context of all the other Christians of his time, Methodius’s statements are a rejection of the Eastern Orthodox principle of veneration.

Clement of Alexandria (Considered a saint by some)

But images, being motionless, inert, and senseless, are bound, nailed, glued,—are melted, filed, sawed, polished, carved. The senseless earth is dishonoured by the makers of images, who change it by their art from its proper nature, and induce men to worship it; and the makers of gods worship not gods and demons, but in my view earth and art, which go to make up images. For, in sooth, the image is only dead matter shaped by the craftsman’s hand. But we have no sensible image of sensible matter, but an image that is perceived by the mind alone,—God, who alone is truly God. (Exhortation to the Heathen 4 ANF)

[W]hat is made is similar and the same to that of which it is made, as that which is made of ivory is ivory, and that which is made of gold golden. Now the images and temples constructed by mechanics are made of inert matter; so that they too are inert, and material, and profane . . . Works of art cannot then be sacred and divine. (Stromata 7.5 ANF)

Moses ages before enacted expressly, that neither a graven, nor molten, nor moulded, nor painted likeness should be made; so that we may not cleave to things of sense, but pass to intellectual objects: for familiarity with the sight disparages the reverence of what is divine; and to worship that which is immaterial by matter, is to dishonour it by sense. (Stromata 5.5 ANF)

Arnobius

Was it for this He sent souls, that, being made unmindful of the truth, and forgetful of what God was, they should make supplication to images which cannot move . . . ? (Against the Heathen 2.39 ANF)

But do not seek to point out to us pictures instead of gods in your temples, and the images which you set up, for you too know, but are unwilling and refuse to admit, that these are formed of most worthless clay, and are childish figures made by mechanics. (Against the Heathen 3.3 ANF)

For if you are assured that the gods exist whom you suppose, and that they live in the highest regions of heaven, what cause, what reason, is there that those images should be fashioned by you, when you have true beings to whom you may pour forth prayers, and from whom you may ask help in trying circumstances? . . . We worship the gods, you say, by means of images. What then? Without these, do the gods not know that they are worshipped, and will they not think that any honour is shown to them by you? . . . And what greater wrong, disgrace, hardship, can be inflicted than to acknowledge one god, and yet make supplication to something else—to hope for help from a deity, and pray to an image without feeling? (Against the Heathen 6.8-6.9 ANF)

Do you not see, finally, that swallows full of filth, flying within the very domes of the temples, toss themselves about, and bedaub now the very faces, now the mouths of the deities, the beard, eyes, noses, and all the other parts on which their excrements fall? Blush, then, even though it is late, and accept true methods and views from dumb creatures, and let these teach you that there is nothing divine in images, into which they do not fear or scruple to cast unclean things in obedience to the laws of their being, and led by their unerring instincts. (Against the Heathen 6.16)

Aristides

But it is a marvel, O King, with regard to the Greeks, who surpass all other peoples in their manner of life and reasoning, how they have gone astray after dead idols and lifeless images. And yet they see their gods in the hands of their artificers being sawn out, and planed and docked, and hacked short, and charred, and ornamented, and being altered by them in every kind of way.  And when they grow old, and are worn away through lapse of time, and when they are molten and crushed to powder, how, I wonder, did they not perceive concerning them, that they are not gods?  And as for those who did not find deliverance for themselves, how can they serve the distress of men? (Apology 13)

Origen

“Insane” would be the more appropriate word for those who hasten to temples and worship images or animals as divinities.  And they too are not less insane who think that images, fashioned by men of worthless and sometimes most wicked character, confer any honour upon genuine divinities. (Against Celsus 3.76)

Lactantius

What madness is it, then, either to form those objects which they themselves may afterwards fear, or to fear the things which they have formed? . . . You fear them doubtless on this account, because you think that they are in heaven; for if they are gods, the case cannot be otherwise. Why, then, do you not raise your eyes to heaven, and, invoking their names, offer sacrifices in the open air? Why do you look to walls, and wood, and stone, rather than to the place where you believe them to be? (The Divine Institutes 2.2 ANF)

[I]t is an inexpiable crime to desert the living in order that you may serve memorials of the dead, who can neither give life nor light to any one, for they are themselves without it: and that there is no other God but one, to whose judgment and power every soul is subject. [T]he sacred images themselves, to which most senseless men do service, are destitute of all perception, since they are earth. But who cannot understand that it is unlawful for an upright animal to bend itself that it may adore the earth? which is placed beneath our feet for this purpose, that it may be trodden upon, and not adored by us, who have been raised from it, and have received an elevated position beyond the other living creatures, that we may not turn ourselves again downward, nor cast this heavenly countenance to the earth, but may direct our eyes [upward] to that quarter to which the condition of their nature has directed, and that we may adore and worship nothing except the single deity of our only Creator and Father, who made man of an erect figure, that we may know that we are called forth to high and heavenly things. . . . But if it appears that these religious rites are vain in so many ways as I have shown, it is manifest that those who either make prayers to the dead, or venerate the earth, or make over their souls to unclean spirits, do not act as becomes men, and that they will suffer punishment for their impiety and guilt, who, rebelling against God, the Father of the human race, have undertaken inexpiable rites, and violated every sacred law. . . . Wherefore it is undoubted that there is no religion wherever there is an image. For if religion consists of divine things, and there is nothing divine except in heavenly things; it follows that images are without religion, because there can be nothing heavenly in that which is made from the earth. (The Divine Institutes 2.18-2.19 ANF)

Veneration of images was seen as a difference between Christians and pagans/heretics

Multiple early Christian writers saw the veneration of images as a difference between Christians and rival groups like pagans or heretics. In their minds, veneration of images was something that pagans did, but Christians didn’t have such a practice.

Since many of these men were well-connected and well-aware of what Christians throughout the world were practicing, if they didn’t know that there were Christians who considered the veneration of icons to be a legitimate practice, it’s highly probable that there weren’t any such Christians.

Note that it doesn’t actually matter what beliefs these men themselves held or whether the people I quote are considered to be bastions of orthodoxy or not. That’s because these writers are writing under the assumption that no Christians venerated images. Read these quotes carefully, and note that the way they are written demonstrates that the writers didn’t think that the veneration of icons was something Christians were practicing. So even if we don’t agree with their own opinion on images, their writings demonstrate that, so far as they knew, veneration of images was not a Christian practice.

Irenaeus (Saint)

[The Carpocratian heretics] also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honouring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.

(Against Heresies 1.25.6 ANF)

Hippolytus (Saint)

And [the Carpocratian heretics] make counterfeit images of Christ, alleging that these were in existence at the time (during which our Lord was on earth, and that they were fashioned) by Pilate. (The Refutation of All Heresies 7.20 ANF)

Irenaeus and Hippolytus mention images belonging to a heretical group. Truglia suggests that these quotes could be read of as consistent with Christian iconodulia. After all, they didn’t specifically say that these images are wrong. Does that constitute a problem for this argument?

No, because these quotes are not being used to argue that the early Christians believed images to be wrong, but to show that they saw the existence of sacred images as being a difference between Christians and pagans and heretics. For example, Irenaeus is describing the definitive beliefs of non-Christian groups so that Christians understand them well enough to refute them. If this were something Christians did as well, he wouldn’t have seen much need to include it. Furthermore, Irenaeus associates the images with philosopher cults and Gentile practice.

But might they only be sidelining syncretistic “counterfeit” image veneration alongside philosophers and leaving room for Christian veneration?1Note: I’m not able to access the text that the translators used for Hippolytus, but this original Greek text doesn’t even seem to have the word “counterfeit” in it, so it seems questionable to use it for such speculations. This interpretation fails to notice that both writers call into question the alleged earliness of these images. Irenaeus says that “they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate” feeling it worthwhile to stress that the images were supposedly “at that time when Jesus lived among them,” suggesting that he didn’t think that images from Jesus’ lifetime existed. Hippolytus also exudes skepticism at that idea. If Christians had ancient images of Jesus as well, why were they skeptical of this?

Truglia argues that Irenaeus doesn’t specifically list crowning of images with the “Gentile” practices. Does this suggest that he was okay with crowning images, in contrast to pagan practices? If so, this undercuts the claims of iconodulia, because the forms of veneration I’m arguing weren’t considered legitimate are bowing to, kissing, and praying to images. Such practices were certainly commonly used by pagans, so they must be ones that Irenaeus means, though perhaps he also means to include burning incense (with the Eastern Orthodox also do). However, there’s good reason to think that during this time period Christians didn’t crown images, since Justin Martyr, speaking for all Christians in his Apology, says that they did not do so.

Furthermore, note that crowning is listed along with setting them up beside philosophers. If we are to take this quotation to mean that Irenaeus is contrasting one of these explicitly mentioned practices against Gentile practices, then he must also be contrasting the other one against Gentile practices. However, it is obviously not the case that Irenaeus approved of venerating Christ alongside philosophers.

If a man is a sculptor or painter, he must be charged not to make idols; if he does not desist he must be rejected. (Apostolic Tradition 16)

Note that Hippolytus’s Apostolic Tradition could have told sculptors and painters to switch to making Christian images for proper veneration, if such had been practiced.

Justin Martyr (Saint)

And this is the sole accusation you bring against us, that we do not reverence the same gods as you do, nor offer to the dead libations and the savour of fat, and crowns for their statues, and sacrifices. (First Apology 24)

Clement of Alexandria

But it is clear to every one that piety, which teaches to worship and honour, is the highest and oldest cause; and the law itself exhibits justice, and teaches wisdom, by abstinence from sensible images (Stromata 2.18 ANF)

Aristides of Athens

But the Christians, O King, while they went about and made search, have found the truth; and as we learned from their writings, they have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. . . . They do not worship idols (made) in the image of man (Apology 15)

Christians defended themselves against the charge of not having sacred images

To pagans, venerating their gods and the dead through means of images was a way of showing their piety. Pagans criticized Christians for not worshiping with sacred images, because they thought this meant that the Christians weren’t serious about worshipping God.

If Christians had actually used sacred images to venerate the Son of God and the saints, they could simply have replied, “No, don’t falsely accuse us; we (or at least some of us) actually venerate images, too. Just not pagan images.” Instead, Christians responded by arguing against the veneration of images.

Furthermore, this shows that pagans were aware that a lack of sacred images was a hallmark of Christianity. If Christians were venerating images, this difference between pagans and Christians wouldn’t have arisen.

Minucius Felix

But do you think that we conceal what we worship, if we have not temples and altars? And yet what image of God shall I make, since . . . man himself is the image of God? (The Octavius 32 ANF)

Arnobius

For you are here in the habit of fastening upon us a very serious charge of impiety because we do not rear temples for the ceremonies of worship, do not set up statues and images of any god, do not build altars, do not offer the blood of creatures slain in sacrifices, incense, nor sacrificial meal, and finally, do not bring wine flowing in libations from sacred bowls; which, indeed, we neglect to build and do, not as though we cherish impious and wicked dispositions, or have conceived any madly desperate feeling of contempt for the gods, but because we think and believe that they—if only they are true gods, and are called by this exalted name—either scorn such honours, if they give way to scorn, or endure them with anger, if they are roused by feelings of rage. (Against the Heathen 6.1 ANF)

Origen

[W]e, on the other hand, deem those to be “uninstructed” who are not ashamed to address (supplications) to inanimate objects, and to call upon those for health that have no strength, and to ask the dead for life, and to entreat the helpless for assistance. And although some may say that these objects are not gods, but only imitations and symbols of real divinities, nevertheless these very individuals, in imagining that the hands of low mechanics can frame imitations of divinity, are “uninstructed, and servile, and ignorant;” for we assert that the lowest among us have been set free from this ignorance and want of knowledge, while the most intelligent can understand and grasp the divine hope. (Against Celsus 6.14 ANF)

“[Celsus says that Christians] cannot tolerate temples, altars, or images. In this they are like the Scythians, the nomadic tribes of Libya, the Seres who worship no god, and some other of the most barbarous and impious nations in the world. . . .” To this our answer is, that if [these groups] cannot bear the sight of temples, altars, and images, it does not follow because we cannot suffer them any more than they, that the grounds on which we object to them are the same as theirs. . . . [These groups] agree in this with the Christians and Jews, but they are actuated by very different principles. For none of these former abhor altars and images on the ground that they are afraid of degrading the worship of God, and reducing it to the worship of material things wrought by the hands of men. . . . [Christians] not only avoid temples, altars, and images, but are ready to suffer death when it is necessary, rather than debase by any such impiety the conception which they have of the Most High God. . . . [I]t is not possible at the same time to know God and to address prayers to images. (Against Celsus 7.62-7.65 ANF)

It is not therefore true that we object to building altars, statues, and temples, because we have agreed to make this the badge of a secret and forbidden society; but we do so, because we have learnt from Jesus Christ the true way of serving God, and we shrink from whatever, under a pretence of piety, leads to utter impiety those who abandon the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ. (Against Celsus 8.20 ANF)

I am aware that some of Origen’s ideas were condemned after his death. However, he was not considered heretical in his day, and there is no reason to assume that what he said was unrepresentative of the early church. Besides, objecting to Origen’s doctrinal credibility would miss the point of these quotations. The point is that the pagans knew that Christians didn’t have icons, and that Origen felt the need to defend this Christian practice, rather than silencing pagans by pointing to Christians who venerated images.

Several pre-Constantinian Christians directly contradicted veneration of images

However, several early fathers and apologists did, in context of pagan or heretical practices, make statements that directly contradict the use of sacred images.

Clement of Alexandria (Considered a saint by some)

Works of art cannot then be sacred and divine. (Stromata 7.5 ANF)

Arnobius

[A]ccept true methods and views from dumb creatures, and let these teach you that there is nothing divine in images (Against the Heathen 6.16)

Since it has been sufficiently shown, as far as there has been opportunity, how vain it is to form images, . . . (Against the Heathen 7.1)

Lactantius

Wherefore it is undoubted that there is no religion wherever there is an image. (The Divine Institutes 2.18-2.19 ANF)

Origen

[I]t is not possible at the same time to know God and to address prayers to images. (Against Celsus 7.62-7.65 ANF)

For these different tribes erected temples and statues to those individuals above enumerated, whereas we have refrained from offering to the Divinity honour by any such means (seeing they are adapted rather to demons, . . . (Against Celsus 3.34)

No pre-Constantinian Christian leaders wrote in favor of veneration of images

The Eastern Orthodox try to base their beliefs on what church fathers wrote. However, I am not aware of any pre-Constantinian Christian leader who wrote in favor of venerating icons.

No pre-Constantinian Christian leaders ever condemn Christian veneration of images, only practices of pagans and heretics

Note that I haven’t listed any evidence that pre-Constantinian Christians condemned Christian veneration of images. This might seem an objection to my view, but, in fact, it’s not! Of course, if my argument is correct, pre-Constantinian Christians wouldn’t condemn Christian iconodulia, because it didn’t yet exist.

Furthermore, the way they wrote about pagan veneration of images makes it very clear that at least some of them would have condemned the Christian veneration of images, had it existed. Instead, everybody knew (pagans and Christians alike) that Christians didn’t venerate images, until the time of Constantine.

Note that my argument is not that we should condemn what the early Christians condemned. My argument is that the pre-313 church differed from the post-787 church. Clearly, it was not a Christian practice in those days.

No pre-Constantinian Christians described Christian veneration of images at all

Given the amount that pre-Constantinian Christians talked about pagan veneration of images, and given the importance the practice has for Eastern Orthodox Christians today, if many Christians venerated images, you would expect a fair number of people to mention that.

On the other hand, if pre-Constantinian Christians didn’t have a practice of iconodulia, as I’ve been arguing, we of course wouldn’t expect them describe it. We would also expect that very few of the people who believed all veneration of images to be wrong would argue specifically against Christian veneration of images. We would expect that any direct statements they made would be in context of pagan or heretical practices rather than in the context of Christian practices—because such Christian practices didn’t exist.

This is in fact the case. No pre-Constantinian Christians can be demonstrated to have mentioned the Christian veneration of images.

Objections to the Case Against Icons

I’ve moved the bulk of the pro-iconodulia arguments to another article that is specifically for objections. They are organized by category.

I wanted to move them there because the quality of many of them was low enough that it distracted from the main points I make and made these articles very tedious reading. This way, if you are looking for responses to specific objections, you know where to get them; if not, you won’t be burdened by lengthy rebuttals to mainly insignificant points. The objections that are more viable or are objections to specific evidences that I use remain inline in these articles.

Assessing the Early Christian Evidence

So far, I’ve shown that many prominent Christians before 313 did not consider the veneration of images to be a legitimate Christian practice. This includes those considered to be saints by the Eastern Orthodox: Athenagorus, Methodius, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Justin Martyr. It also includes other Christian leaders or apologists: Clement of Alexandria, Arnobius, Aristides of Athens, Origen, Lactantius, and Minucius Felix.

The evidence-based argument for iconodulia, on the other hand, cannot name a single Christian leader before 313 who considered the veneration of images to be a legitimate Christian practice. The evidence that is offered is very tenuous, and mostly spurious or anonymous.

I may be missing something, but I have yet to find a single pre-Constantinian church leader who believed iconodulia to be a legitimate Christian practice. However, there is quite good evidence to the contrary—that before 313, Christian leaders did not consider the veneration of images to be a legitimate Christian practice. The reasonable conclusion is that, by making iconodulia an essential aspect of the faith, Eastern Orthodoxy has departed from the apostolic faith.

Icons Are Not “everywhere, always, and by all”

There may be just the slightest room for doubt that, before 313, the veneration of all images was condemned everywhere, always, and by all. However, no impartial student of history, after studying this, can conclude that it was believed everywhere, always, and by all. Thus, the Second Council of Nicaea was wrong in declaring iconodulia to be the ancient Christian practice.

Thus, any Eastern Orthodox person who wants to be consistent must give up the claim that the Orthodox believe what was taught everywhere, always, and by all, or they must give up iconodulia.

The Eastern Orthodox Church must either cease to recognize that council as ecumenical and therefore binding, or it must recognize that councils, even after over a millennium-long consensus of acceptance, can be wrong. Alternatively, they could embrace a theology of development of doctrine like the Roman Catholic Church does (even though development of doctrine is itself counter to the apostolic faith).

Early Church Fathers did Not Venerate Icons

Whose interpretation is more likely? That there was always veneration of images, but for hundreds of years it wasn’t mentioned and similar practices were unilaterally criticized, or that there wasn’t veneration of images, then an era of change happened, and then Christians began to venerate images? Since we have an explanation for how the veneration of images could have developed from nonveneration, and since we have reason to think that similar developments would and did occur, I think the second is more likely.

I conclude that the consensus of the fathers is that iconodulia is not a Christian practice. The Eastern Orthodox Church has changed one of the apostolic traditions.

My next post discusses some arguments that the Eastern Orthodox and others use in order to maintain their beliefs, in spite of the strong evidence presented above.

  • 1
    Note: I’m not able to access the text that the translators used for Hippolytus, but this original Greek text doesn’t even seem to have the word “counterfeit” in it, so it seems questionable to use it for such speculations.

47 thoughts on “Early Church Fathers on Icons”

  1. Christopher Good

    I don’t think iconodulia is an apostolic tradition, and thus I don’t support it for the present. But it’s difficult to nail down an obviously wrong aspect of it. Many of the quotations here refer to the _worship_ of images, which is something pagans do but not something the Orthodox churches do. I’m also curious about what seems to be a Platonic or proto-Gnostic attitude of disregard for materiality in many of these quotes.

    1. Great to see your pushback. In this case, I’m not arguing that iconodulia is wrong; merely that it is foreign to the apostolic faith. If I am correct in that argument, then it would seem that the EOC has changed the faith, if not by allowing iconodulia, at least by requiring iconodulia! If I were to argue that it’s wrong (which I may do someday), I would probably start from the Old Testament theology of images, especially where writers deride idolaters for thinking their idolatry accomplishes anything. The question is whether moving from worship to veneration makes it possible for images to stand in for persons, and I see no reason why that would be the case. Note that the OT theology of images contrasts with the OT theology of instruments, where Temple furniture such as the ark are actually holy to the Lord. Similar is the early Christian theology of communion and baptism, in which the physical does indeed partake in the spiritual. When the correct distinctions are made, I think we’ll find that concerns of possible Gnosticism will be addressed.

      1. Lynn you are an admirable scholar. But not being a Catholic, you wouldn’t know how to recognize early doctrinal development patterns.

        Imagine meeting two adults in their twenties, Tim and Bob. After a few moments you would know who is who whenever you ran into them a second time. Easy. But now imagine that you were shown a picture of each when he was merely an embryo, at the one-cell stage. Do you for a moment believe you could tell which embryo was Tim, and which one Bob? Recognition of doctrine in embryonic stage after thousands of years is difficult, a bit like that.

        You labor bringing forward a roster of early fathers that you would like to say demonstrated the early opposition to image veneration. However, notice how easily you have laid a self-trap. Catholic (or for that matter Orthodox) scholars have never denied that this group of early church fathers consistently raised an alarm against image veneration. What they have said, though, is that this group is a very tiny minority of the early church fathers. The vast majority of early church fathers raise no opposition, nor ALARM to the practice at all.

        Now let the following parable show you what this means for your position. Suppose a friend from your church owned, together with his wife, a wonderful, large, successful dog kennel. They were good Christians and humane people and so at this very large kennel, besides installing air-conditioning, they also installed very large ceiling fans, which were for the purpose of keeping the dogs comfortable even on the hottest of summer days. Now one Sunday after church services, they took you to see the kennel. They opened the door and the first thing you noticed was how comfortable the vast majority of the dogs were, maybe 97%, resting in their cage with adequate water, and under no distress. Nonetheless, 2 to 3 dogs from somewhere in the back of this very large, football-field-size kennel consistently were barking, and it was not immediately apparent just why. You asked your friend about it, and he said that the large ceiling fans emit a high-pitched noise that only dogs can hear. After six weeks of being in the kennel, the dogs stop barking in response to the high-pitched noise because their nervous systems become habituated to the noise. However, dogs in the kennel for less than six weeks time do bark about it, and so do high-strung dogs who continue to bark for an indefinite period of time. You realize that the 2 to 3 dogs you hear barking are doing so because 2 of them are new to the kennel, and the 3rd is simply high strung.

        Your friend tells you that the barking dogs have proved two things: first, that the high-pitched noise from the ceiling fans continues, even though we can’t hear it, and secondly, that the vast majority of the dogs are completely at peace with that noise, though it continues.

        The vast majority of the fathers “heard” the noise (image veneration) that was an ongoing and mainstream practice, as the “barking” of the few “watchdog” bishops proved, but were entirely at peace with it, as it apparently was an orthodox (meaning not heterodox or corrupt) practice. The 2 initial objectors were converts from an idolatrous heathen religion that often fashioned idols to worship, and so initially raised an alarm.

        So your roster of objectors only proves that image veneration must have been mainstream, and just as probably must have been entirely acceptable to the vast majority of the fathers who observed it with the silence that all know proves consent.

        But you missed something else altogether, and it is arguably even more important than what you believe to be the true history of image veneration, especially in the centuries before Constantine. The text of Hebrews 11:21 has Jacob, in more traditional translations, venerating the scepter of his son, Joseph, a scepter that, since Joseph was a type of Jesus, called by Pharaoh “the savior of the world”, and since Joseph fed the people (who looked to him to save them) the Bread of Life, is a scepter that is a type of the later priesthood of Christ. Of course, you will not accept this translation, but you probably don’t realize that of the earliest church fathers, the vast majority approved the traditional translation, certainly, but even more importantly, also the INTERPRETATION that said that Jacob was venerating the object that was his son Joseph’s Septer, as a holy object. In the sense of my argument, the correct translation is less important than what these early fathers THOUGHT THE MEANING OF THE PASSAGE TO BE This was the view and interpretation of the earliest fathers, well before Constantine,
        a thing that WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE if veneration of holy artifacts and images were forbidden or proscribed in the early, or pre-Constantinian, Church. Simply COULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED.

        So there is certainly more to be considered here. If you or anyone would like a cordial and respectful chat;

        Dr. Dom

        1. Hi Dr. Dom,
          You have a gift for using stories to argue your point. I’ll try to respond to the points you raised.
          • I agree that true Christian churches today won’t look exactly like the early church in every particular. However, we must certainly maintain the teachings that were once for all delivered to the saints, and that the apostles and the early church taught in unanimity.
          • I appreciate that you recognize that these early Christians were against iconodulia. It’s actually surprising how many Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have tried to argue otherwise.
          • It’s true that there are many ante-Nicene Christians who don’t mention the issue. But it’s significant that there are none who are pro-iconodulia.
          • Your illustration of the dogs is a very nice one, and I can tell that you’re a good teacher. However, the fact remains that there just is no clear evidence at all of iconodulia in the early church, and there is clear evidence that it did not occur.
          • And bowing toward a scepter held by a visible king is very different from bowing toward an image of someone who is not visibly present in order to honor them.
          God bless,
          Lynn

  2. Hi, can you please elaborate on what you mean by created beings of gold vs artificial images in regards to methodius? as I’m not quite sure what you mean and what the distinction is

  3. I appreciate your thoughtful comments here, especially on Methodius as I think the comments there are substantial and respectable. Bravo!

    I think some of the other polemics here don’t quite hit the mark as that section of this article, however. For one, to claim I must prove universal consensus to meet the standard of historicity is simply incorrect. With history, we make interpretations based upon the proof we actually have irrespective of the theological or doctrinal epistemological demands that the Church requires. The only case I have to make, I repeat, is one of “the preponderance of evidence,” not “probable cause” if you pardon me the legal terminology.

    Your dismissal of acts of john is arbitrary. It’s a Gnostic source against the Christian veneration of art. One cannot dismiss that this historically demonstrates two things 1. art was venerated (my point) and 2. Some gnostics opposed this (inconvenient for Protestant polemics on other sources, particularly Eusebius, a source being negative does not prove a negative, it can prove a positive–which acts of john most defintely does). Additionally, the fact we have so few sources that specifically tell us what the art was used for means we have to pay attention to acts of john. It more directly addresses the question than reading Origen’s oblique rejection of all “altars and images,” altars most definitely existing in his day and before then (Ignatius, Cyprian, Origen’s own comments on the Eucharistic sacrifice).

    In fact, your whole case from “historical context” follows the same erring inference as your treatment of Origen. It is with irony that we ignore explicit sources on the veneration of art in favor of oblique, non-literal categorical condemnations which are in fact critiques of pagan practices.

    Eusebius, whether you like it or not, is obviously describing art that is venerated and reputed to heal. Likewise the Grotto, whose treatment requires you to make a very out of context reading of Bigham. Bigham clearly supposes the third century as the most likely ceiling date wise, especially considering Constantine’s building of a new church being obviously newer than the Grotto, so this puts a date ceiling in the 320s. Bigham expresses no skepticism that Constantine’s building of the church there is apocryphal.

    Lastly, your argument from silence that Rome must have been the cause of iconodulic practices simply is not convincing. Before Roman toleration, Eusebius clearly surmised the practice being from gentile practice in the first century–actually from the times of Christ, precisely.

    I think people overcomplicate this issue and radically contort and decontextualize history in defense of aniconism. It is with irony they accuse me of doing precisely what they are doing with the sources.

    Again, let me express my admiration for your work, despite our disagreement.

    All the best
    Craig

    1. Hi Craig,
      As I’ve said before, I am studying history for apologetic reasons, not engaging in polemics. I’m interested in knowing whether my views are historical, and if not, to change them, and then to defend whatever appears to be the historical consensus of Christianity. If I’ve written anything that is unfair, please let me know, and I will remove or rewrite it.

      I think the points you make here are good ones, but that they don’t quite meet the mark. Let me explain.
      1. I don’t say that you must prove universal consensus to meet the standard of historicity. Instead, I believe that you must show a consensus of Christian leaders to meet the standard of faith. As an Anabaptist of the historic faith strain, I accept the consensus of the fathers before any changes were introduced, as do (I’ve understood) the Eastern Orthodox. Even if it were historically accurate to say that Christians venerated images before Constantine, that would still not demonstrate that the veneration of images was a legitimate Christian practice. It would be valid for Protestants who don’t hold to the consensus patri to point out that you need a consensus to show legitimacy under your own view. It is even more valid for me, who hold to such a consensus, to ask you to meet that standard, which (I thought) the Eastern Orthodox share with me.
      2. My dismissal of the Acts of John is not arbitrary. AJ certainly demonstrates that art was being venerated—by pagans and heretics. And AJ proves that there were Gnostics who opposed the practice. But we also know that there were Gnostics who supported the practice. Why should we care what the Gnostics thought, when they held many different beliefs? I’m interested in the consensus of Christian leaders, not the fickle ideas of Gnostic individuals.
      3. I think your comments on Origen make a lot of sense. However, I did a study of whether Origen used the word “altar” to refer to a literal Christian piece of furniture, and I was not able to find a single reference. So we have no good reason to throw out Origen. I’m still thinking through this one and will address it more fully in my next revision, but it seems rather odd that you would reject everything that all apologists said even if Origen could be rejected on this point.
      4. As I pointed out in the article, I don’t think “explicitness” helps. We are all making inferences from explicit statements. You’re making inferences from explicit pagan/heretical practices to Christian practices. I’m making inferences from explicit Christian beliefs to Christian practices.
      5. I’ll dig more deeply into Eusebius in my next revision.
      6. Fair point that the art would need to pre-date the new church. I wasn’t aware of its dating. My argument is now updated. That’s a good point, but it doesn’t change the other issues surrounding the inscription, probably the biggest one of which that we don’t know who wrote it. Again, I’m looking for the consensus of Christian leaders. And I think the evidence that is actually from the beliefs of Christian leaders is quite clear and has not been adequately responded to.
      7. I didn’t say that Rome was the cause of iconodulic practices. If you want to understand how the relationship with the Roman Empire and Christianity fits into my argument, feel free to check out this article and this one. There were probably multiple factors involved.
      8. And the second article linked above shows that I do indeed recognize that there was a first-century pagan practice of iconodulia in the philosopher cults.
      Thanks for the appreciation. I very much appreciate that you are interested in an evidence-based argument as opposed to a lot of the responses I’ve received—even though I don’t think it succeeds. God bless.

  4. Citing St. Vincent as evidence for the first premise of your argument is somewhat ironic, as he probably would not have agreed with it! And regardless of whether he in particular would have hypothetically agreed with it or not, your premise certainly is not what the Catholic Church holds to, as I’ve mentioned in my comments on your related article. (Actually many Protestants would disagree with your premise as well, as it is easy to think of counterexamples).

    To see why St. Vincent would not have agreed with your first premise, it is necessary to read the entirety of his Commonitorium (at least the extant portion). You will see that “the principle he laid out” is not equivalent to your first premise. Start by noting that his oft-quoted “Vincentian canon” ( “…we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all”) is not literally true in a descriptive sense – restrict the referent of “all” as much as you want, and you’ll still find individuals within that set who deviated in heretical directions on various beliefs (you can decide for yourself what “heretical” means and the statement will still be historically true). St. Vincent of course was aware of this. For example, in the Commonitorium he relates how “the Arian poison had infected not an insignificant portion of the Church but almost the whole world, so that a sort of blindness had fallen upon almost all the bishops of the Latin tongue…”

    If the Vincentian canon is not a literal descriptive statement, how did St. Vincent conceive of identifying that “faith with has been believed everywhere, always, by all”? Like I said above, read his work for the complete answer. St. Vincent has often been unfairly maligned (even among Catholics!) by those who cite the Vincentian canon in isolation and don’t actually read to understand the context in which he made that statement (“a text without a context…” etc.).

    1. Hi Landon,
      It’s quite possible that there are nuances in what Vincent wrote that I’m not getting, since I haven’t studied deeply into the Commonitorium. However, I don’t see the problem with my first premise. If you disagree with it, why?

      1. Here is your first premise: “If for the first few hundred years of the Church, many Christian leaders wrote that something is wrong for Christians to do, and if it was hundreds of years before any Christian leader wrote that it was ever appropriate for Christians to do that thing, we should consider it to be wrong for Christians to do that thing.”

        I disagree with it because it is possible for “many Christian leaders” to just be wrong about something being wrong for Christians to do. For a hypothetical example, what if many Christian leaders in the first few hundred years of the church wrote that it was wrong for Christian men to shave their beards, and it was hundreds of years before any Christian leader wrote that is is ok for Christian men to shave their beards? I don’t see any reason why we today would then be bound to consider it wrong for contemporary Christian men to shave their beards. There needs to be a normative authority in order to make such a belief an actual Christian doctrine, and such normative authority can’t be obtained by a historical survey of “many Christian leaders” (in part because this would make matters of faith probabilistic in nature, and faith is not probabilistic).

        1. Hypothetically, they could be wrong, of course. However, these were the Christians taught most directly by the apostles. If anyone could appeal to tradition, they could. Their consensus is therefore very valuable.

          That’s not to say that my premise couldn’t be made more specific in any way. However, I think that arguing against the consensus of the early church would be ironic in any church that considers itself the apostolic church.

          1. Yes, I think your premise is just too broad. The details of the evidence and arguments matter. For example, you say “If anyone could appeal to tradition, they could.” I presume here you are referencing apostolic tradition. But with respect to the issue at hand, the writers you cite don’t argue in this way. They don’t appeal to the teaching of the apostles. It is like my example of men shaving beards – if there seems to be a consensus on this in the early church, the details of why people hold that belief matter. If everyone who addresses the issue (to which we have contemporary access) appeals to the teaching of the apostles on the matter, then sure, that carries more weight. But even then it doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of something that is part of the faith (a material object of faith). Like I said originally, that requires some sort of normative authority that can’t be obtained by a historical survey (not least because historical surveys can change over time!). (And on the issue at hand, you certainly haven’t established a “consensus of the early church.”)

          2. The writers position themselves as speaking for Christians as a whole, not giving their own general opinion. I think the witness of the original apostolic church as a whole is a good witness as to how the apostolic writings should be understood. So I still don’t see why my premise is too broad.

            And I believe I have established an evidence-based consensus. Perhaps not under the Roman Catholic definition of “consensus,” but certainly under the ordinary definition.

          3. You haven’t established a consensus because, as I’ve argued below (and will continue to elaborate on with the other quotes), the way in which you are attempting to establish this “consensus” relies on an anachronistic conflation of distinct ideas.

          4. A couple follow-ups here. First, do you agree that the writers you cite don’t appeal to apostolic tradition in the quotes you provide? Second, you say that they “position themselves as speaking for Christians as a whole, not giving their own general opinion.” Do you believe that this is generally true for ideas they present in the works of theirs that you have cited, unless they specifically state that they are giving their own opinion? And finally, since you said that they could hypothetically be wrong, are you making a probabilistic argument?

            (None of these issues has to do with the second premise, just the first one.)

  5. For your second premise, you fail to convincingly establish it in the article. First note that you are dealing with a historical hypothetical, so we are already on quite shaky ground – that of attempting to infer what people would have said about a liturgical practice that probably did not yet exist. The first part of your “method of inference” (“the way they argued against pagan veneration of images shows that they did not themselves venerate images”) could be true because the writers you quote did not live at a time when veneration of images was a widespread and developed Christian liturgical practice (this is, I think, the most probable historical conclusion). The second part of your method (“the way they argued shows that they almost certainly would have argued against the Christian veneration of images, had they known of such a practice”) might hold for a few of the writers, but hardly the majority, and even in the few for which it might seem to hold we are again dealing with a probabilistic hypothetical.

    In reference to the general philosophy of art that you are attempting to infer from brief quotes, you write “Were they right or wrong? It doesn’t matter. The point is that you can’t use that argument against venerating pagan images, if you yourself are venerating Christian images.” But it does matter – from my perspective, if you can indeed establish that someone thought this way about art, I can argue that they were just wrong. And like I said above, I don’t think they were actually practicing icon veneration (at least not in the “full” sense of the later liturgical practice – I think that images were always used in some fashion). So whether or not individuals were correct in their arguments about art in general is actually the issue. And you are mashing disparate concepts together when you claim that some quotations from early writers regarding the worship of pagan idols can be transferred to arguments against Christian veneration of icons (we could discuss some examples in detail if you like in order to develop how the ideas involved are quite different).

    If you ask the hypothetical question “what would this writer have thought about the Christian veneration of images (as considered by Nicaea II) if that liturgical development and the reasoning behind it had been explained to them?”, I think that very few of the writers you cite would have definitively rejected it. Out of all the early writers I’m familiar with, Tertullian would be the one most likely to strongly reject Nicaea II, but you didn’t cite him. I thought about doing a case-by-case analysis showing this, but it would be quite lengthy. If you have a particular writer you quoted who you think would reject the conclusion of Nicaea II, perhaps we could discuss the way in which we both approach this hypothetical scenario in detail. Clement of Alexandria might be the closest?

    Also, I’m not sure who you are counting as “fathers” when you say “a lot of church fathers and other writers wrote about religious images” – it depends on what criteria you personally have for assigning that title. The Catholic tradition has specific criteria that most of these writers do not meet. But regardless of whether or not they carry this tradition-specific level of authority, the fact remains that very few if any can be claimed as arguing against the Christian veneration of images. Thus your second premise is not historically established, at least if you take it to mean that the quotations you present are evidence that “veneration of images [could not be] a legitimate Christian practice.” I’m fine with arguing from the quotations that “veneration of images [was not] a Christian practice” at the time they wrote.

    1. I’ll try to reply to the main points here:

      • You say that historical hypotheticals are shaky ground. Some of them, certainly—it all depends on the nature of the evidence provided.
      • You’ve conceded a large part of my argument by recognizing that these Christians did not venerate images, but of course that matters less for a Roman Catholic than it would for an Eastern Orthodox Christian.
      • Your objection to the second part of my method is an objection to the evidence provided, which is good. I’d like to see your objection substantiated.
      • Your objection to “were they right or wrong; it doesn’t matter” doesn’t seem to be a problem unless my first premise is actually false. I’d like to hear more about your objection to my first premise, as I mentioned in my previous comment.
      • I’m using “fathers” in a broad sense.

      So it sounds like, for the second premise, it comes down to the strength of the evidence. Which of my six points in the section titled “A summary of the evidence” would you object to? Then maybe we can look at the evidence offered.

      1. Perhaps we can start with your first summary point: “Multiple early Christian writers wrote that images cannot stand in for anything sacred.” It is not clear to me what you mean here by “stand in” or by “anything sacred.” So I might agree or not depending on your definitions. Could you elaborate on your definitions of those terms?

        1. I have a closely related question that might help clarify something. You wrote that “Art may be valuable, but these [early Christian] writers believed that it cannot play a semiotic role for a sacred being.” The definition of “semiotic” is roughly just “relating to signs and symbols.” If someone makes a picture of a pagan god, for example, just the fact that it is a picture means that it does serve as a sign or symbol of that pagan god – it plays a semiotic role that can be easily recognized, for example, by historians of the period. Saying that it can’t “play a semiotic” role doesn’t seem to make sense. Or did you intend some other meaning for “semiotic”?

          1. Hi Landon, I’m simply defining “stand in for” and “anything sacred” according to their standard English definitions, as far as I can see. My statement is a summary of what the early Christians themselves said, so if I were more specific than they are, my argument wouldn’t have any value.

            Of course, in one sense, idols are “semiotic,” because we can recognize which deities the artist intended to represent. However, the early Christians didn’t seem to believe that images of the gods could really and truly represent those gods.

          2. Your statement is not an accurate summary of what the early Christians you cite said, as least as far as I can tell. You aren’t being more specific – you are overgeneralizing! This is happening in part because you aren’t being clear about your definitions. Even in this response, you say that “the early Christians didn’t seem to believe that images of the gods could really and truly represent those gods.” What does “really and truly represent” mean? The images, at least if they were painted well, did really and truly represent the pagan gods – that is just what an image does. But if by “really and truly represent” you mean something like “the pagan god actually inhabits the image,” then yes, obviously the writers you cite disagree with this.

            If you want to claim that you are accurately summarizing these writers, you have to be explicit about the definitions of your terms, so that someone else can verify whether or not the writers say things that match your definitions.

          3. The meaning seems fairly clear to me, Landon. If the way I’m using words is causing confusion for you, could you let me know the different ways in which you feel my language could be interpreted? I’ll try to clarify which I meant.

          4. I thought I was doing that with my last comment, specifically this part:

            What does “really and truly represent” mean? The images, at least if they were painted well, did really and truly represent the pagan gods – that is just what an image does. But if by “really and truly represent” you mean something like “the pagan god actually inhabits the image,” then yes, obviously the writers you cite disagree with this.

            Those are two distinct ways of interpreting your language. Which of them do you intend?

          5. Ah, I think I see where the confusion may lie. Both of those options would go beyond what the texts of the early Christians say. Perhaps this would help contextualize it: The early Christians believed that, when pagans showed reverence toward a material image, they were not thereby showing reverence to the beings depicted in the image. In other words, they did not believe that images can stand in for something sacred.

          6. But they weren’t saying this because they believed it is not possible to show reverence to something depicted in an image by showing reverence to the image. At least the quotes I’ve examined in detail so far don’t say that, to be precise. Athenagoras, for instance, argued that when pagans showed reverence toward a material image, they were not thereby showing reverence to the beings depicted in the image, because the beings depicted in the image did not exist and demons were inhabiting the image. This is completely different than arguing that in general it is not possible to show reverence to something depicted in an image by showing reverence to the image. Humans in general treat images in this latter way without question.

            And your phrasing of “they did not believe that images can stand in for something sacred” is saying something different! Again using Athenagoras as an example, he doesn’t make this argument! There is a difference between an image “standing in” for something else and an image “actually being” something else. It is a function of images in general to stand in for something else, in the sense of representing that thing or making it present in a certain way. Now, if by “stand in” you mean “replace,” then yes, Athenagoras argues that this can’t happen. There is a lot of ambiguity in the phrase “stand in for” and I think that this ambiguity is letting you equate arguments that are in reality quite different.

  6. This doesn’t make any substantial difference for your article as a whole, but the fragment from which you pulled the Melito of Sardis quote is considered spuriously attributed (the extant manuscript is in Syriac), and the dating is disputed, with some arguing for a date as late as the 6th century. There is an exhaustive treatment of the text in the following: Lightfoot, Jane L. “The Apology of Ps.-Meliton.” SEL 24 (2007): 59-110. (A pdf of the article is freely available on the SEL website if you are interested.)

    1. Thanks for pointing this out! My sources seemed to regard it as genuine, but I read Melito’s actual apology, and they are rather different in tone. I’ll remove that quotation.

      1. Mr. Martin,
        Could you please point me to a reference for the apology of Melito that you read and found different in tone than the pseudo-apology? I was not aware of any available copies, and if you have found the text somewhere I would be quite interested in reading it!

        1. I don’t recall where I found it. It was somewhere online, maybe in the Ante-Nicene Fathers set or on earlychristianwritings.com. Or it’s possible that it was in the text of the article that Landon cited. Sorry I can’t be more specific!

  7. For Athenagoras (going through the quotes you provide for the first summary point), I’ll provide some of the context around your chosen quotation (I’m using William Schoedel’s translation):

    “If we are irreligious because our religiosity has nothing in common with theirs, all cities and all nations are irreligious; for all men do not recognize the same gods.

    But suppose that they all did recognize the same ones. What then? Since the crowd, in its inability to distinguish what is matter, what is god, and what a gulf there is between them, reverently approaches material images, are we on their account also to draw near and worship statues – we who do distinguish and divide the uncreated from the created, being from non-being, the intelligible from the perceptible, and who give each of them its proper name?

    To be sure, if matter and God are the same – two names for one thing – then we are irreligious if we do not regard stones and wood, gold and silver, as gods. But if there is a vast difference between them, as much as there is between the artisan and the materials provided for his craft, why are we accused? As with the potter and the clay, the clay is the matter and the potter the artisan, so God is the artificer and matter is subservient to him for the exercise of his craft. As the clay by itself cannot turn into vessels without a man’s craft, so also matter, which is receptive to all modifications, did not receive articulation, form, and order without God the artificer. Now we do not regard the pottery as worth more honour than its maker nor the cups and gold vessels as worth more honour than the smith; but we praise the craftsman if there is something fine about his craftsmanship, and he is the one who gains a reputation for his vessels. Similarly, in the case of matter and God, not matter but God its artificer justly receives the praise and honour for the arrangement and good order of things.

    Consequently, if we should recognize material forms as gods, it will be seen that we are blind to him who is truly God by equating perishable and corruptible things with that which is eternal.”

    Can Athenagoras be understood to be making an argument that could be applied to the later Christian veneration of icons? That does not seem to be the case from this passage. He is saying that the pagans do not understand the difference between God and matter, so they worship matter. Those are “blind” to God who “recognize material forms as gods.” All of this is in accordance with the later understanding of the veneration of icons. Now, Athenagorus does seem to have too strong of an emphasis on the “gulf” between God and matter – note how he divides “the intelligible from the perceptible.” Or in the translation you used: “that which is apprehended by the understanding and that which is perceived by the senses.” But what of the Incarnation? Then the “intelligible” becomes “perceptible” – the Word becomes flesh! (And you don’t even have to go as far as the Incarnation to recognize that there might be problems with a strict separation between what is intelligible and what is perceptible.)

    So would Athenagoras have disagreed with Nicaea II? This is hypothetical of course, but I’m not sure. I think if he was assured that the veneration of icons does not equate God and matter and is not worship, and was reminded of the “gulf” being bridged by the Incarnation, he might have accepted it. I certainly don’t think that we can with high probability conclude that he would have rejected it. And his statement that “not matter but God its artificer justly receives the praise and honour for the arrangement and good order of things” comes quite close to the later understanding of veneration.

    As a side note, when you say that “Iconodulia (the veneration of icons) entails the belief that an image of a person can pass communications to the person himself,” I think you are misunderstanding things. I have never prayed before an icon of Christ and held the mental picture that the icon itself was some sort of “channel” that was “passing communications” to Christ. I’m not praying to the “matter” (the paint and wood) of the icon, and hoping that my prayers will be somehow “passed on” by the image! I’m praying to Jesus, while “honoring” or “venerating” the icon in the sense of physically kneeling before it (for example). The honor and veneration is not intended for the paint or wood of the icon – it is directed to Christ. The icon is a means of focalizing or directing my attention. I kneel before Christ depicted in the icon in order to honor Christ – this is what it means to say “the honor rendered to the image passes to [diabainei] the original.” Perhaps some people have taken this further or in different directions, but I don’t think that anything further is entailed by the veneration of icons, at least as it is described in the definition of Nicaea II.

    1. Hi Landon, you say that “He is saying that the pagans do not understand the difference between God and matter, so they worship matter” and then point out that Nicaea II veneration doesn’t equate matter and God. Therefore, Arnobius could potentially be okay with Nicaea II veneration.

      However, you’ve misunderstood Arnobius’s main point. Arnobius is not concerned that the pagans believe that matter is God—he knows perfectly well, as his apology states, that they believe these images only stand in for the gods.

      The reason Arnobius mocks the heathen for worshiping matter is not because they believe they are worshiping matter, but because Arnobius believes they are worshiping matter! Which is the whole point. Arnobius didn’t believe that matter could stand in for anything sacred, and he offers multiple arguments for not worshiping material objects.

      The mindset Arnobius was refuting is similar to Nicaea II veneration in one way—both assume that you can reverence an unseen being through a material image of that being. So yes, Arnobius would have objected to Nicaea II veneration.

    2. I’m left wondering if we are reading the same writer!

      Athenagoras (not Arnobius) describes how “the crowd, in its inability to distinguish what is matter, what is god, and what a gulf there is between them, reverently approaches material images.” Later on he writes “…how can Ι call things gods which Ι know were made by men?” And he goes to lengths to argue that the images of the gods are not eternal – they were created in finite history. These are some of the arguments he makes for not worshipping material objects. (All of which are true!)

      Later (section 18), he states

      “Now some say that these are only images but that there are gods for whose sake the images exist. They say that their processions to the images and their sacrifices are offered up to the gods and celebrated for them because there is nο way other than this to approach them (‘dangerous are the gods when they appear visibly’). As evidence that this is so they refer to the activities associated with certain statues. With this in mind let us investigate the power of the divine names.”

      What “mindset” is he critiquing here? Those “more sophisticated” pagans who realize that the images themselves are not actually gods yet say that “their processions to the images and their sacrifices are offered up to the gods and celebrated for them because there is no way other than this to approach them.” Note that this is not the basic idea behind the veneration of icons. This is made clear by the details of how Athenagoras proceeds to argue against these “more sophisticated” pagans.

      He first establishes that the pagan gods themselves are finite and came into being at some point, and are thus “perishable.” He next shows that the pagan gods have bodies and passions. Then he argues that a “fallback” position of the pagans that the gods are just representations of things like fire or water doesn’t work. Finally he responds to the argument that the images “actually effect things” – that the pagan gods move the images. He does so by arguing that the images are actually demon-possessed – the demons both take on the names of the gods and inhabit the images.

      Note that Athenagoras argues that the pagan gods are not actually gods! He doesn’t base the structure of his critique of the “more sophisticated” pagans here on the idea that images cannot represent sacred things – that direction of argument was earlier when he argued against the more “simplistic” pagans equating images and gods and therefore worshiping images. So no, I don’t think that it is historically accurate to claim that Athenagoras would have objected to Nicaea II. It seems to me that you are just skipping over the actual structure of his arguments and his historical context in an attempt to find something that sounds like it could be used against icon veneration.

      1. Oops, my apologies. For some reason I was conflating the two writers in my mind. However, most of my response was written reading the quotations that you provided in your comment, so my response basically all still applies to Athenagoras.

        I don’t understand your objection to my response. Just the fact that Athenagoras uses other arguments as well doesn’t take the teeth out of these arguments. Athenagoras does not believe that those who are honoring material images are honoring those depicted in them. To him, honoring a material image is merely that.

        You said, “It seems to me that you are just skipping over the actual structure of his arguments and his historical context in an attempt to find something that sounds like it could be used against icon veneration.”

        Landon, I derive no enjoyment from conversations in which my interlocutor uses ad hominem. I’ve mentioned this to you before. Please don’t do it again.

        1. Perhaps an anecdote from a different context will help to convey a broader point I’m trying to make about historical methodology and the treatment of sources. A couple years ago I was studying a book by David Bercot. In the book Bercot related an engaging narrative regarding an actor and the leaders of his church that he had found in a letter from Cyprian to Euchratius. Bercot wrote that this actor “realized he had to change his employment” and “considered establishing an acting school” but that “he first submitted his idea to the leaders of his church for their counsel.” He continued: “The leaders told him that if acting was an immoral profession then it would be wrong to train others in it. Nevertheless, since this was a rather novel question, they wrote to Cyprian in nearby Carthage for his thoughts.”

          The story was nice, and Bercot used it in context to challenge contemporary Christians by asking: “How many of us would be so concerned about righteousness that we would submit our employment decisions to our body of elders or board of deacons?”

          So far, so good, but then I went and actually read the letter by Cyprian that Bercot cited. The narrative as Bercot presented it was not present in the text of the letter! I assumed that I was missing something obvious, so I went and read other letters by Cyprian that could potentially have been the intended citation, consulted a different translation of the specific letter in question, and searched what secondary literature I could to see if there was some other evidence for Bercot’s narrative. I found nothing. As far as I can tell, Bercot just made up a narrative that was not present in the actual text of the historical document.

          I’m not accusing Bercot of deliberate dishonesty. Maybe it had just been a while since he read the letter himself and he was writing based off of his mistaken memory of it, or working from some old notes that lacked context, or something similar. It could have been an honest mistake, as the narrative he related didn’t substantially change the course of his overall argument. He could have made a similar point without it. But it was an egregious error nonetheless, and immediately made me distrust any other summary Bercot presented of a historical source unless I could verify for myself that the summary was accurate.

          My broader point is that if you want to summarize a narrative from a text, or claim that a writer believed a certain proposition, or otherwise generally interact with historical textual sources, the text of the sources needs to support what you say. Extrapolations beyond what the text actually says need to be defended by arguments based on the text – its specific structure, the terms used, how the author argues, etc.

          In the specific case of Athenagoras, you are claiming that he believed certain propositions such as “matter can’t stand in for anything sacred,” or “those who are honoring material images are not honoring those depicted in them.” But he doesn’t state either of these propositions, and the details and structure of his arguments don’t give any indication that he believed them. Claiming that he did so without textual support is not good historical methodology. The actual arguments he does make are, briefly stated in relation to images, that “matter is not God, so images should not be worshiped – we should not recognize material forms as gods” and “if you understand that images are not gods, processions to the images and sacrifices to them are still not necessary because the pagan gods are not actually gods.” He develops this latter argument over several sections, and with several sub-arguments as I’ve mentioned.

          You said above that “Just the fact that Athenagoras uses other arguments as well doesn’t take the teeth out of these arguments.” But what arguments are “these arguments”? I previously presented a summary outline of the arguments he uses in the context of the quote you provided, and I didn’t skip over any of them. He doesn’t make any arguments for the two propositions you have claimed he believes. Now, I haven’t read all of Athenagoras’ extant works, so maybe there is good evidence elsewhere that he did hold to these propositions. If there is, I would be interested to see it. But such actual evidence is necessary.

      2. My point is that the actual arguments that Athenagoras is making matter. You say “Athenagoras does not believe that those who are honoring material images are honoring those depicted in them. To him, honoring a material image is merely that.”

        But this is not a valid generalization of what he actually argues. He makes two distinct main arguments. The first is against those pagans who equate matter and God in their worship of images. To these he makes various arguments showing that matter is not God. The second main argument is against those who recognize that the images are only images but believe that processions to the images and offering sacrifices to the gods are the only way to approach the gods. To these he argues that the gods aren’t actually gods! (This part contains at least four sub-arguments, as I briefly outlined above.) He nowhere argues that in general those who honor material images are not honoring those depicted in them. If he had held this belief, he could have easily used it as one of the sub-arguments under his second main argument, but he didn’t. If you think he is making this general argument, could you quote where he does this?

        1. Hi Landon, after another close reading of Athenagoras, I’m inclined to agree that he’s not the best person to cite. What he says several chapters later does throw a different light on his argument in chapter 15, which is enough to make it unclear whether or not he believed that images could stand in for the sacred.

          As I originally read his argument in context of what the other early Christians say, it seemed clear that he was drawing on the principle that they seem to have held in common–that images couldn’t stand in for anything sacred. However, I don’t think he is relying on that principle, though it’s of course possible that an even closer look at the text would find that he was likely assuming it. I’ll have to table this passage and give it another read in future.

          It’s too bad that we can’t seem to have friendly conversations in which each assumes the best intentions on the part of the other, because this would otherwise be the sort of critique of my arguments which is exactly what I’m looking for. I hope, if you do further writing on this subject, that you look over the rest of the quotations in case I missed something else.

  8. Turning to Methodius for a change of pace from discussing the details of Athenagoras, here is the immediate context surrounding your chosen quotation:

    “And perhaps there will be room for some to argue plausibly among those who are wanting in discrimination and judgment, that this fleshly garment of the soul, being planted by men, is shaped spontaneously apart from the sentence of God. If, however, he should teach that the immortal being of the soul also is sown along with the mortal body, he will not be believed; for the Almighty alone breathes into man the undying and undecaying part, as also it is He alone who is Creator of the invisible and indestructible. For, He says, He ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.’ And those artificers who, to the destruction of men, make images in human form, not perceiving and knowing their own Maker, are blamed by the Word, which says, in the Book of Wisdom, a book full of all virtue, ‘his heart is ashes, his hope is more vile than earth, and his life of less value than clay; forasmuch as he knew not his Maker, and Him that inspired into him an active soul, and breathed in a living spirit;’ that is, God, the Maker of all men; therefore, also, according to the apostle, He ‘will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’”

    What is the main point Methodius is trying to convey here? It is that only God creates the immortal soul. Thus those who create images believing that they are somehow thereby creating a spirit or soul are to their own destruction not recognizing that only God can do this. This is the point of using the citation from the Wisdom of Solomon (the context there is speaking of those who make “vain gods” out of clay).

    You say about this passage: “Though Methodius directly opposes icons, he doesn’t specifically spell out the principle that the other writers do—that honor cannot pass through an image. However, he suggests this implicitly.”

    First, Methodius doesn’t directly oppose icons (remember that “icon” is a transliteration from the Greek for “image”). The context from the Wisdom of Solomon makes clear that he is speaking of idols. Even without that context, the translation by Musurillo makes this more clear by using “idols” instead of “images.” The Greek word appears to be ἀγάλματα, which a dictionary I looked at translated as “statuary,” and the Latin translation in Migne gives “statuas.” Textual evidence from Methodius is necessary if you want to support the claim that his opposition to idols entails an opposition to images in general – they are not the same thing.

    Second, your argument that Methodius is implicitly suggesting the general idea that someone who honors an image does not honor the thing imaged is a non sequitur. Methodius is emphasizing that only God can create the immortal soul. So if a human makes an idol and believes that he has thus created something with a soul, that person has forgotten God who made him and created his soul. So, yes, of course Methodius “believed that praying to clay is no more than praying to clay—the pagans are not praying to gods, but to clay that was mistakenly thought to have a spirit.” But this doesn’t have anything to do with the proposition that someone who honors an image does not honor the thing imaged. You seem to be implicitly arguing like this: “Pagan idolators worshipped idols that they believed were ‘ensouled’, but the idols did not actually contain a soul and were just clay, therefore someone who honors an image does not honor the thing imaged.” This just doesn’t follow logically.

    1. Hi Landon,

      My apologies for not sending my final reply before now. I was focusing on other projects and trying to get some distance from this conversation so as to view it more objectively.

      Of course, Methodius was writing in a particular context, and his words were not specifically intended to be against Christian iconodulia or necessarily even similar beliefs. However, that’s not the main argument I’ve been making, though I certainly could have written the Methodius section more clearly, and will do so if I ever revise this post. The question is how likely Methodius would have been to say what he said if the veneration of images was a legitimate practice in his Christian community. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s possible to raise some doubt, I think the simplest explanation of his words is that Christians did not venerate images of humans.

      I’ve appreciated your engagement, and wish you the best. God bless.

    2. Unless I’m mistaken, in your article you have (at least) seven distinct propositions for which you are using the quotation from Methodius as evidence. Some of these you don’t state directly as applying to Methodius, but can be inferred from the general statements you make immediately prior to that quotation regarding “multiple early Christian writers.”

      Methodius believed that images cannot stand in for anything sacred–they cannot play a semiotic role for a sacred being.
      Methodius believed that pagan adoration went only to the images themselves.
      Methodius directly opposes icons.
      Methodius doesn’t specifically spell out the principle that the other writers do—that honor cannot pass through an image. However, he suggests this implicitly.
      Methodius believed that praying to clay is no more than praying to clay—the pagans are not praying to gods, but to clay that was mistakenly thought to have a spirit.
      Methodius’s statements are a rejection of the Eastern Orthodox principle of veneration.
      Methodius did not consider the veneration of images to be a legitimate Christian practice.

      My initial comment on Methodius was specifically addressing propositions 3 and 4 (and briefly 5), and I attempted to make this clear by quoting the specific statement you made that I was addressing. In your response, you ignored my comments regarding that statement (unless you meant “his words were not specifically intended to be against Christian iconodulia or necessarily even similar beliefs” to be a sort of retraction, which I doubt), and instead said that “the argument you’ve been making” is a variation of the seventh proposition.

      I can address the seventh proposition directly if you would like (“Methodius did not consider the veneration of images to be a legitimate Christian practice”). This is an ambiguous proposition that needs clarification. Does it mean that Methodius had a definite opinion that the veneration of images was not a legitimate Christian practice (in other words he had considered what the Christian veneration of icons meant as a concept and rejected it)? Or does it mean that Methodius was just not aware of any Christian practice of the veneration of icons at this point in history (or “in his Christian community” as you say)? If it is the former, the provided quotation from Methodius doesn’t give any evidence for this conclusion. He was clearly referencing pagan idolatry with his “images in human form.” If it is the latter, an argument from silence is necessary (something like “Christians at the time of Methodius (or in his immediate community) did not venerate icons because Methodius is silent on the issue in this passage”). Arguments from silence aren’t always bad (though they aren’t deductive), but they don’t always carry evidential weight. Here there would need to be some strong reason that Methodius would mention the Christian veneration of icons in the specific passage at hand if he was aware of it. His rejection of pagan idolatry isn’t sufficient on its own. Even after the point in history when the Christian veneration of icons became well-attested from our modern point of view, there are still Christian condemnations of idolatry that don’t simultaneously mention the Christian veneration of icons. Similarly, but more directly related to the ante-Nicene period in which you are interested, there are instances of ante-Nicene writers referencing, say, the use of altars as a distinction between Christians and pagans, while staying silent (in that specific passage) regarding the actual Christian use of altars! (Origen is a good example here – in one place he says Christians “avoid temples, altars, and images” while elsewhere he clearly speaks of the use of a physical altar in a Christian liturgical setting!). Counterexamples along these lines make it quite difficult to construct a “load-bearing” argument from silence utilizing the Methodius quotation. (I can back up this line of reasoning with a Bayesian formulation if you’re interested.)

      Note that I’m not making any positive argument that Methodius was aware of the Christian veneration of icons at the time or in his community. I’m just arguing that this quotation in isolation is not good evidence that he wasn’t.

      I apologize if this comment is too long and detailed. As you said elsewhere, “it’s easier to create arguments than it is to do the painstaking work of refuting them”!

  9. Well often the early church fathers argued against iconography in regards to Paganism, which the beliefs behind them were not the same for early Christians. Tertullian was considered a fanatic, he had no part in the early oriental church as far as I know. The ark of covenant itself had religious iconography that is very much described in the 1 chronicles 28 from the Bible as well as other descriptions of Cherubim in Exodus as well. For archaelogical finds The Dura-Europos Church for example had early christiany iconography from between 233 and 256 AD.

  10. Houbert Canitio

    “I am not aware of any pre-Constantinian Christian leader who wrote in favor of venerating icons.”
    “Clearly, it was not a Christian practice in those days.”
    “No pre-Constantinian Christians can be demonstrated to have mentioned the Christian veneration of images”
    “Consensus of the fathers is that iconodulia is not a Christian practice”

    St. Clement of Alexandria (AD 153-217) in Paedogogus 3, 11.

    “And let our seals be either a dove, or a fish, or a ship scudding before the wind, or a musical lyre, which Polycrates used, or a ship’s anchor, which Seleucus got engraved as a device; and if there be one fishing, he will remember the apostle, and the children drawn out of the water.”

    Martyrdom of Polycarp (ca. AD 135), as it reads:

    “…it is neither possible for us ever to forsake Christ…nor to worship any other. For we worship him indeed, as being the Son of God. However, as for the martyrs, as disciples and followers of the Lord, we worthily love them on account of their extraordinary affections towards their own King.”

    Tertullian, theologian (AD 160-240):
    “The brazen serpent and the golden cherubim were not violations of the Second Commandment. Their meaning. [+] Likewise, when forbidding the similitude to be made of all things which are in heaven, and in earth, and in the waters, He declared also the reasons, as being prohibitory of all material exhibition of a latent idolatry. For He adds: ‘Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them.’ The form, however, of the brazen serpent which the Lord afterwards commanded Moses to make, afforded no pretext for idolatry, but was meant for the cure of those who were plagued with the fiery serpents? I say nothing of what was figured by this cure. Thus, too, the golden Cherubim and Seraphim were purely an ornament in the figured fashion of the ark; adapted to ornamentation for reasons totally remote from all condition of idolatry, on account of which the making a likeness is prohibited; and they are evidently not at variance with this law of prohibition, because they are not found in that form of similitude, in reference to which the prohibition is given” (Against Marcion, II.xxii).

    Eusebius Pamphili, bishop of Caesarea (AD 295-340):
    “They say that this statue is an image of [+] Jesus. It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city. Nor is it strange that those of the Gentiles who, of old, were benefited by our Saviour, should have done such things, since we have learned also that the likenesses of his apostles Paul and Peter, and of Christ himself, are preserved in paintings, the ancients being accustomed, as it is likely, according to a habit of the Gentiles, to pay this kind of honor indiscriminately to those regarded by them as deliverers” (Church History, VII).

    St. John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople (AD 347-407):
    “For like a conflagration indeed, or like a thunderbolt hurled from on high, have they lighted upon the roof of the Church, and yet they rouse up no one; but whilst our Father’s house is burning, we are sleeping, as it were, a deep and stupid sleep. And yet who is there whom this fire does not touch? Which of the statues that stand in the Church? for the Church is nothing else than a house built of the souls of us men. Now this house is not of equal honor throughout, but of the stones which contribute to it, some are bright and shining, whilst others are smaller and more dull than they, and yet superior again to others. There we may see many who are in the place of gold also, the gold which adorns the ceiling. Others again we may see, who give the beauty and gracefulness produced by statues. Many we may see, standing like pillars. For he is accustomed to call men also also on account of their beauty, adding as they do, much grace, and having their heads overlaid with gold” (Homilies 10 on Ephesians).

    “Were your Statues thrown down? You have it in your power again to set up others yet more splendid” (Homilies 21 on the Statues §10).

    “For not the bodies only, but the very sepulchres of the saints have been filled with spiritual grace. For if in the case of Elisha this happened, and a corpse when it touched the sepulchre, burst the bands of death and returned to life again, much rather now, when grace is more abundant, when the energy of the spirit is greater, is it possible that one touching a sepulchre, with faith, should win great power; thence on this account God allowed us the remains of the saints, wishing to lead by them us to the same emulation, and to afford us a kind of haven, and a secure consolation for the evils which are ever overtaking us” (Homily on St. Ignatius §5).

    Finally this article should prove the veneration of images in scripture and history https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/veneration-of-images

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