Icons | The Orthodox Church Has Changed the Apostolic Faith

In this post, I will contend with one of the main claims of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the claim that they have remained unchanged since the days of the apostles.

In these posts, I’ll show that the Eastern Orthodox Church has not remained entirely faithful to the apostolic deposit of faith. Specifically, I’ll demonstrate that the Christian church before the ecumenical councils and the Christian church after the ecumenical councils differed in significant ways. This post will be about the veneration of icons, a practice that is also called iconodulia.

For basically all the relevant quotes from the pre-Nicene Christians, as well as some analysis of them, see this article.

The Eastern Orthodox View of Icons

Today, the EOC uses religious images called icons in their worship. Icons are intended to represent Jesus Christ or the saints. Worshippers bow to these icons and kiss them as a means of showing reverence for our divine Savior or for dead Christians. They also pray before these icons as a way to bring their prayers before Christ and his saints.

As I’ll show in this post, the veneration of icons was not considered a legitimate Christian practice for the approximately three hundred years before the seven ecumenical councils took place. However, after the seventh council, the veneration of icons was considered mandatory for all Christians. That council, the Second Council of Nicaea (AD 787), decided that all who do not venerate icons are to be anathematized, or excommunicated. To easily read the most relevant parts of their decision, click on this footnote.1Therefore all those who dare to think or teach anything different [about icons], or who follow the accursed heretics in rejecting ecclesiastical traditions . . . or who spurn anything entrusted to the church (whether it be the gospel of the figure of the cross or any example of representational art or any martyr’s holy relic), or who fabricate perverted and evil prejudices against cherishing any of the lawful traditions of the catholic church [which at that time included Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox], or who secularize the sacred objects and saintly monasteries, we order that they be suspended if they are bishops or clerics, and excommunicated if they are monks or lay people. . . . If anyone does not accept representation in art of evangelical scenes, let him be anathema. If anyone does not salute such representations as standing for the Lord and his saints, let him be anathema. . . . [T]he false writings composed against the venerable icons, should be given in at the episcopal building in Constantinople, so that they can be put away along with other heretical books. If someone is discovered to be hiding such books, if he is a bishop, priest or deacon, let him be suspended, and if he is a lay person or a monk, let him be excommunicated. (Norman P. Tanner, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, vol. 1, Nicaea I to Lateran V, 137-146)

In substance, the council concludes that icons are so important that if a Christian doesn’t salute them (e.g., by kissing them or praying to them as to Christ and the saints) they are to be excommunicated. In fact, the council even orders Christians not to own any books that argue against iconodulia.

Note that the council calls iconodulia a tradition of the church. By that, the council means that the practice of venerating icons had originated with the apostles, and that it had always been an accepted practice in the church.

But they were just wrong. Before the seven church councils, the veneration of icons was not considered a legitimate Christian practice.

The Orthodox consider these councils to make infallible pronouncements on the faith. The conciliar decisions are what defines Eastern Orthodoxy. So if I can show that a council’s decision did not align with the practice of the first several hundred years of the church, that means that Eastern Orthodoxy can no longer claim to be the unchanging, original faith.

The Pre-Conciliar View of Icons

No early Christian leaders, even those considered by the Orthodox to be saints, wrote in favor of venerating icons. Many early Christian leaders, including Orthodox saints, wrote that images should not be venerated. In the next section, I will quote from some of them.

They Did Have Art, Not Just Icons

Now, I want to make something very clear. The pre-Nicene Christians did have religious art. There were a few Christians who thought no religious images should be allowed. However, we have plenty of examples of religious art, such as in excavated churches. Clement of Alexandria, one of the bishops who wrote most clearly against the veneration of images, spoke in favor of art.2But it is with a different kind of spell that art deludes you, . . . it leads you to pay religious honour and worship to images and pictures. The picture is like. Well and good! Let art receive its meed of praise, but let it not deceive man by passing itself off for truth. (Exhortation to the Heathen 4 ANF)

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. For we are not to delineate the faces of idols, we who are prohibited to cleave to them (The Instructor 3.11)
Eusebius cited people who honored Christ and his apostles by painting pictures of them.3Since I have mentioned this city I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. . . . 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. (Ecclesiastical History 7.18)

So Christian religious art was in existence in the pre-conciliar era. However, as I’ll show, the church did not consider veneration of art to be appropriate.

Main Contention: Icons Were Not a Pre-Conciliar Christian Practice

I also want to make another point clear, because there’s a lot of confusion about it online. I will not be arguing that the early Christians believed the veneration of Christian icons to beidolatry. That would be a mistake—the early Christians didn’t write about the veneration of Christian icons at all!

Instead, a careful analysis of the early Christian writers shows that veneration of icons was not a Christian practice. Before the councils, church leaders knew of no such Christian practice, as their writings show. We can also tell from their argumentation they would have argued against such a practice, if they had known about it. Since no church leaders before the councils spoke of the iconodulia in a favorable light, it is clear that the veneration of icons was not a legitimate Christian practice until the era of the councils.

Reviewing the Evidence

In the nearly three hundred years before the councils, a lot of church fathers wrote about religious images. However, they all attribute this practice to the pagans, and they write that Christians don’t have such practices. The following is what they believed.

Icons Cannot Stand In for Anything Sacred

Iconodulia (the veneration of icons) entails the belief that an image of a person can stand in for the person himself, and that prayers and adoration to such an image will pass on to the person depicted in the image. If you don’t believe that, 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, as you can see in the quotes below, multiple early Christians argued against pagan idols by saying that matter cannot represent anything sacred. Were they right or wrong? It doesn’t matter.

The point is that you can’t use that argument against idols, if you yourself are venerating icons. If the early Christians had used sacred icons to represent Christ or the saints, they couldn’t have said that matter can’t represent the sacred. 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 icons and idols, yet they never do. So if someone argues that matter cannot represent anything sacred, that person likely did not practice iconodulia.

Athenagorus (Saint)

Because the multitude, who cannot distinguish between matter and God, . . . pray to idols made of matter, are we therefore, who do distinguish and separate the uncreated and the created, . . . are we to come and worship images? (Plea for the Christians 15 ANF)

Melito of Sardis (Saint)

There are, however, persons who say: It is for the honour of God that we make the image: in order, that is, that we may worship the God who is concealed from our view. But they are unaware that God is in every country, and in every place . . . Because the wood has been sculptured, hast thou not the insight to perceive that it is still wood, or that the stone is still stone? (Fragment 1 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/melito.html)

Clement of Alexandria (Considered a saint by some)

[T]he 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)

Arnobius (An early apologist)

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)

Lactantius (An early apologist)

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)

The early Christians were well aware that the pagans believed they were worshiping the gods themselves, not idols, as the quote from Melito shows. They knew that worship or veneration of an object was intended for the invisible referent, not for the object. However, as the quotes above demonstrate, they considered that concept to be ridiculous, believing 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.

Veneration of Icons Was Seen as a Difference Between Christians vs. Pagans or Heretics

The early church fathers attribute the veneration of images of Christ or of humans to the heretics and pagans, never to true Christians. Furthermore, they were constantly defending themselves against pagans who thought they were a cult or even atheistic because they didn’t have sacred images. This, of course, shows that Christians didn’t venerate images. If Christians were venerating images, this difference between pagans and Christians wouldn’t have arisen. And even if it had arisen, Christians could simply have said, “No, don’t falsely accuse us; we actually venerate images, too. Just not pagan images.”

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, . . . They have also other modes of honouring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles. (Against Heresies 1.25.6 ANF)

Hippolytus (Saint)

[The Carpocratian heretics] have themselves been sent forth by Satan, for the purpose of slandering before the Gentiles the divine name of the Church. (And the devil’s object is,) that men hearing, now after one fashion and now after another, the doctrines of those (heretics), and thinking that all of us are people of the same stamp, may turn away their ears from the preaching of the truth, or that they also, looking, (without abjuring,) upon all the tenets of those (heretics), may speak hurtfully of us. . . . And they 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)

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 (Banquet of the Ten Virgins 2.7 ANF)

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)

Origen

[Christians] 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)

I am aware that some of Origen’s ideas were condemned after his death, but, as I said before, that objection would miss the point of this quotation. The point is that pagans knew that Christians didn’t have icons, and Origen felt the need to defend this Christian tradition.

No Such Christian Practice Is Condemned

If the pre-conciliar Christians didn’t have a practice of iconodulia, as I’ve been arguing, we of course wouldn’t expect them to make very many direct statements against the veneration of images. We would also 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. Few fathers argue against iconodulia, and (to my knowledge) no iconoclastic movement arose during the Ante-Nicene period. And when they do argue against the practice, they are condemning non-Christian practices, as the quotes in this article show.

Veneration of Images Is Directly Contradicted

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 (An early apologist)

[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)

Lactantius (An early apologist)

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)

These statements were made against pagan images, you might point out. That’s true. But how can you make such direct statements against images, if you’re practicing iconodulia yourself? So it’s pretty clear that these men believed iconodulia to be wrong.

But remember the last point I made—if that practice had existed among Christians during their time, why don’t we hear any writers specifically arguing against Christian iconodulia?

Note: For the sake of space, I have quoted only a representative sample of the relevant quotes from this era. If you want to see the full quotations and more of them, go to this post.

No One Described Christian Iconodulia

The final piece of evidence is this: After searching through the pre-Nicene writings and searching extensively for quotations used by the Orthodox to support the practice, I have still found no early Christian writer who described iconodulia as a Christian practice. A few quotes are used to argue that they did, but I will address those quotes in this section.

The following is from Methodius. As far as I can tell, this is the only pre-Nicene quote from John of Damascus’s three treatises on icons (which are documents that the Orthodox have used for centuries to defend iconodulia).

For instance, then, the images of our kings here, even though they be not formed of the more precious materials—gold or silver—are honoured by all. For men do not, while they treat with respect those of the far more precious material, slight those of a less valuable, but honour every image in the world, even though it be of chalk or bronze. And one who speaks against either of them, is not acquitted as if he had only spoken against clay, nor condemned for having despised gold, but for having been disrespectful towards the King and Lord Himself. The images of God’s angels, which are fashioned of gold, the principalities and powers, we make to His honour and glory. (Methodius, Discourse on the Resurrection 2 ANF)

At first, this sounds like a pro-icon quote. However, there are a number of serious issues with the use of this quotation as support for iconodulia. Most importantly, John of Damascus seems to have misunderstood the intent, as I’ll show. However, even if he understood it correctly, the quote isn’t clearly about icons specifically, just royal and angelic images. Veneration is not mentioned.4There is also question as to whether this quote comes from a genuine work by Methodius; after all, in another quote (quoted above), Methodius seems to write against icons. In view of these issues, it’s also interesting that John uses this as his final quote in his final treatise, as though it’s either the strongest or weakest quote he could find. Since it clearly isn’t the strongest one that he quotes, this placement suggests that John himself might not have been fully confident about it.

John of Damascus’s quotation from Methodius is the only witness to that particular statement, since that writing has been lost to us. However, a similar fragment from Methodius has been found which sheds light on what the former quote actually means. See below.

For consider that God had images of Himself made as of gold, that is of a purer spiritual substance, as the angels; and others of clay or brass, as ourselves. He united the soul which was made in the image of God to that which was earthy. As, then, we must here honour all the images of a king, on account of the form which is in them, so also it is incredible that we who are the images of God should be altogether destroyed as being without honour. Whence also the Word descended into our world, and was incarnate of our body, in order that, having fashioned it to a more divine image, He might raise it incorrupt, although it had been dissolved by time. (On the History of Jonah 2 ANF)

In this quote, Methodius uses very similar language. In fact, the third sentence could easily be the same sentence as the first sentence quoted by John. Yet this quotation is clearly about the created beings, not about artificial images. The resemblance is sufficient to conclude that the first quotation was also about created beings, and that Methodius therefore did not believe in the veneration of icons.

Another quote used in support of iconodulia comes from Eusebius:

Since I have mentioned this city I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. . . . 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. (Ecclesiastical History 7.18)

Note that these images are not said to be venerated. What is more to the point is that Eusebius takes special notice of these images, as though they were curiosities, not typical Christian practice. He speculates that they were created due to a pre-Christian habit, not that they were created due to beliefs inherent to Christianity. Thus, this quote actually is evidence against the early veneration of images.

Assessing the Evidence

So we have seen that multiple early Christian writers, including Orthodox saints, believed that images cannot stand in for anything sacred. Furthermore, multiple writers, including saints, speak of the veneration of images as a pagan practice, rather than a Christian practice. A few writers even make sweeping statements that are directly against veneration of images.

I think it’s clear that these writers knew nothing of Christian icons, and that their statements show that they would have been opposed to icons, had they known about them.

I may be missing something, but I have yet to find a single pre-Nicene church leader who believed iconodulia to be a legitimate Christian practice. However, there is quite good evidence to the contrary—that, before the councils, iconodulia was not a legitimate Christian practice. The data is all on one side. So the only reasonable conclusion is that, by making iconodulia an essential aspect of the faith, Eastern Orthodoxy has departed from the apostolic faith.

Objections

Even though Christian veneration of icons did not arise for the first three hundred years of Christianity, it is still a very old practice, and it is deeply tied to the faith of the Eastern Orthodox. It’s not surprising, then, that they put forward a lot of responses to arguments like mine. In this section, I’ll address some common objections that I’ve heard from the Eastern Orthodox, and I’ll show why this argument still stands.

But those who argued against iconodulia also argued against all images.

Some say that those who disagreed with iconodulia were radicals who didn’t accept any kind of images or artwork. If it were true that the only case against icons is a case against all images, then Orthodox apologists have an easy job ahead of them. They can demonstrate iconodulia by simply pointing to the existence early Christian artworks, thus proving that the fathers I’ve cited were simply mistaken.

However, it is just not true that the only case against icons is a case against all images. Earlier in the article, I cited Clement of Alexandria, who believed art to be a good thing, but condemned iconodulia.

Furthermore, if Eastern Orthodox apologists want to argue that the only case against icons is a case against all images, they will need to show that a significant number of the writers that I’ve quoted were against all images, and not just against venerating images. That hasn’t been done. Typically, they point to Tertullian as an example of such extreme beliefs, but I haven’t quoted from Tertullian in this post.

So it’s just not true that everyone who was against icons was also against art. But even if that were true, that fact wouldn’t help the Eastern Orthodox case. Whether or not the pre-Nicene church was against all art, that still doesn’t change the fact that they certainly were unilaterally against iconodulia! Thus, the Eastern Orthodox Church is no longer practicing what was taught in the first few centuries of the church.

Just the existence of religious art suggests iconodulia.

A similar argument is that the existence of religious art strongly suggests veneration of that art. Christian art existed during the pre-conciliar era, so isn’t it likely that such art was being used in liturgical settings? Not really. There have been vast amounts of Christian art throughout the centuries that were never used as iconography. A person can have an image of someone whom they venerate, without actually bowing to or kissing that image.

The existence of images is at best an argument for the possibility of iconodulia. However, the direct evidence in quotes I’ve cited are enough to outweigh what little evidence the images might give.

Furthermore, the early images seem to be instructive and decorative, not liturgical. In the Dura-Europos church, for example, there are paintings that seem to be of Adam and Eve, Christ’s miracles, the ten virgins, Christ as the Good Shepherd, and David and Goliath. They are exactly the subjects that we would expect if their purpose was to decorate the church and serve as teaching tools for Bible stories and concepts, but not exactly what we would expect if they were to be venerated.

Why does this handful of quotes matter against the weight of the councils?

It’s true that in the era during the seven church councils, some Christian writers started to argue for iconodulia. Why are the pre-conciliar Christians important? The pre-Nicene writers are the people who directly inherited the apostles’ faith. These are the people who received the apostolic tradition and who transmitted the tradition to later church fathers.

So if there were any apostolic traditions that still hadn’t been written down, the bishops in the era of the councils could only have heard it from the pre-Nicene Christians, who lived between them and the apostles. Yet the pre-Nicene Christians unilaterally refused to allow images in worship. They, being closer to the apostles and being the source of later Christians’ knowledge of tradition, are much more likely to be correct in their understanding of tradition than later Christians were.

But some of these writers can’t be trusted

Some Orthodox might point out that Origen and Tertullian, two writers who wrote directly against icons, aren’t fully accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Furthermore, not all the writers I quoted are considered to be saints by the Orthodox. But this objection misses the point. I cite such writers, not for their theological opinions, but because their writings show what practices were occurring in the church in their day.

My argument is that iconodulia was not a legitimate Christian practice before the councils. If that is true, then it doesn’t matter which writers have the most theological authority—any iconodulia is an alteration to the faith and demonstrates that the Eastern Orthodox Church has changed.

Besides a number of the people I’ve quoted are considered to be saints by the Eastern Orthodox. Furthermore, some of the most revered Orthodox saints, such as John Chrysostom, Athanasius, and Basil the Great, also did not venerate icons.

A Few More Objections

The following are miscellaneous objections that deserve a quick reply.

  • Some Orthodox may say that only some early fathers were against iconodulia. However, I’ve given good evidence that iconodulia was not considered a legitimate Christian practice at all before the councils. If you know of any early fathers who wrote in favor of iconodulia, please let me know in the comments! I’d be glad to interact with them. But until then, we really can’t say that only some early fathers were against iconodulia.
  • Another argument that the Orthodox often put forward is that there were images in the Old Testament temple or in first-century synagogues. They use the cherubim on the mercy seat as an example. But if these images were not venerated (bowed to or kissed), they provide no support for iconodulia. Besides, we are under the New Testament, not the Old. It’s pointless to maintain Old Testament practices (even if iconodulia were such a practice), if we aren’t first maintaining the New Testament practices that were lived and taught for the first three centuries of the church, as I have demonstrated.
  • The early Christians never condemn Christian iconodulia, only pagan idolatry. My argument is not that we should condemn what the early Christians condemned. My argument is that the pre-conciliar church differed in significant ways from the post-conciliar church. As I showed in this article, the reason the early Christians never condemn Christian iconodulia is that they never even mention Christian iconodulia at all. Clearly, it was not a Christian practice in those days.
  • But there aren’t many pre-Nicene fathers. If we don’t have lots and lots of pre-Nicene Christian writings, how can we be sure of what those Christians believed? The writings we have are quite clear! During this era, these writers wrote quite extensive apologetics to defend all the beliefs of the church. Furthermore, some of these writers were writing on behalf of all Christians. Thus, their writings are good evidence of what the church as a whole believed in those days.
  • But Luke painted the first icon. He wouldn’t have, if it was wrong. There’s a very late tradition saying that Luke, the companion of Paul, created several icons. However, this is a legend that arose hundreds of years after Luke’s death, so I don’t see any reason to believe it.
  • Some argue that iconoclasm arose from Islam, not Christianity. This claim doesn’t address my argument, since the pre-Nicene church predates Islam by centuries.

Where Does This Leave Us?

As you can see, none of these objections addresses the argument: that before the seven church councils, the veneration of icons was not considered a legitimate Christian practice.

So I conclude that the consensus of the fathers, all the way up to the first church council, is that iconodulia is foreign to Christianity. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church now considers iconodulia to be a necessary practice. Therefore, the Eastern Orthodox Church has changed. It now teaches something to be essential that was once taught to be foreign to Christianity.

Now, I do believe that the Eastern Orthodox are sincere in their efforts to follow the faith. They aren’t trying to worship images; they only intend to give honor to the people represented. But just because they’re sincere doesn’t mean that they are following the historic faith.

So these objections don’t support the use of icons. As I concluded earlier, iconodulia was not part of the original faith. The consensus of the early fathers is clear, consistent, and against the veneration of images.

Eastern Orthodoxy Is in a Quandary

So this means that Eastern Orthodoxy is in a quandary. It lives with a contradiction inside it. On the one hand, we have to bow to icons, because the infallible decision of the seventh council is that it’s an essential part of the faith. However, we may not bow to icons, because the apostolic traditions teach that icons are entirely foreign to the faith.

We need to choose one or the other—either the apostles or the council. The choice may be hard, but at least it is simple.

The good news is that there are churches who live the faith of the apostles. And there are many faithful Christians all over the world—and in every denomination—who hold to that faith wherever they are. I pray that you are one of them.

My next article offers some bonus evidence for my argument. I’ll show that John Chrysostom and others of Orthodoxy’s favorite saints also did not know about or practice iconodulia.


Note: “ANF” in the footnotes indicates the Ante-Nicene Fathers set, by Schaff, Roberts, Donaldson, and Coxe. From a digital copy scanned from a printing in 2001 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Numbers in references are chapter numbers as found in the ANF set.

  • 1
    Therefore all those who dare to think or teach anything different [about icons], or who follow the accursed heretics in rejecting ecclesiastical traditions . . . or who spurn anything entrusted to the church (whether it be the gospel of the figure of the cross or any example of representational art or any martyr’s holy relic), or who fabricate perverted and evil prejudices against cherishing any of the lawful traditions of the catholic church [which at that time included Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox], or who secularize the sacred objects and saintly monasteries, we order that they be suspended if they are bishops or clerics, and excommunicated if they are monks or lay people. . . . If anyone does not accept representation in art of evangelical scenes, let him be anathema. If anyone does not salute such representations as standing for the Lord and his saints, let him be anathema. . . . [T]he false writings composed against the venerable icons, should be given in at the episcopal building in Constantinople, so that they can be put away along with other heretical books. If someone is discovered to be hiding such books, if he is a bishop, priest or deacon, let him be suspended, and if he is a lay person or a monk, let him be excommunicated. (Norman P. Tanner, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, vol. 1, Nicaea I to Lateran V, 137-146)
  • 2
    But it is with a different kind of spell that art deludes you, . . . it leads you to pay religious honour and worship to images and pictures. The picture is like. Well and good! Let art receive its meed of praise, but let it not deceive man by passing itself off for truth. (Exhortation to the Heathen 4 ANF)

    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. For we are not to delineate the faces of idols, we who are prohibited to cleave to them (The Instructor 3.11)
  • 3
    Since I have mentioned this city I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. . . . 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. (Ecclesiastical History 7.18)
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    There is also question as to whether this quote comes from a genuine work by Methodius; after all, in another quote (quoted above), Methodius seems to write against icons. In view of these issues, it’s also interesting that John uses this as his final quote in his final treatise, as though it’s either the strongest or weakest quote he could find. Since it clearly isn’t the strongest one that he quotes, this placement suggests that John himself might not have been fully confident about it.

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