Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Statues and Images

Statues and Images [Icons] – The Liturgical Art

A Liturgical Arts such as Sacred Statues and Images portray only religious themes— Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, Saints, Martyrs and Angels, important Biblical events, parables, etc. They are found in all Catholic churches, at wayside shrines, and in homes; they are used for liturgy or private devotion.

Liturgical Art are not just ONLY a decoration, but a visual aid for worship. We might say then that a Liturgical Art is a VISIBLE GOSPEL.

This visual gospel rooted on the divine revelation of Incarnation wherein [the WORD BECAME FLESH and dwelt among us [Jn.1:14] The ‘Word’ or the unseen became visible. [Colossians 1:15]

But, Is it permissible to make or to have Icons? and Is it permissible to venerate them?

The Visible Gospel

(a) Violation of God’s second Commandment?

The point with respect to the second commandment is what does the word translated "graven images" or “any likeness” mean? If it simply means carved images, then the images in the temple [see section (c)] would be in violation of this Commandment. Furthermore, if this applies to all images—then even the picture on your Identification Card or a Family Pictures violates it and we are all guilty of idolatry. Clearly the reference here is to pagan images rather than images in general.
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor shalt thou serve (worship) them..." [Exodus 20:4-5].

As long as we do not Worship and serve the graven image and considered it as gods; we do not violate the second commandment of God.

Bowing? Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor shalt thou serve them..." [Exodus 20:4-5].

Again, if these refer to a simple act of ‘bowing’ then of course all these examples made by people in the Old Testament are violations to God’s commandment:

Gen 27:29; 33:3-7; 37:10; 41:43; 42:6; 43:26; 47:31; 48:12; 49:8;
Ruth 2:10;
1 Sam 20:41; 24:8; 25:23, 41; 28:14;
2 Sam 9:8; 14:22, 33; 18:21; 24:20;
1 Kings 1:15, 23, 31, 47, 53; 2:19;
2 Kings 2:15; 4:37;
1 Chronicle 21:21;
Ester 3:2;
Isaiah 60:14

We see “Bowing” was not exclusive act for worshipping; it is done in greeting, acknowledging authority, in showing respect [saying thank you, gesture of showing sorry e.g. Asian Country like Japan wherein ‘bowing’ is commonly seen ].

The word “bow down thyself to them [idols]” in Exodus 20:4-5 is obviously not an ordinary action but an act of submission of entire spirit to a false “gods” and while the word “serving them” is an application of recognition [recognizing them [idols] as a living gods worthy to serve or like a Master-Slave relationship ]

Context is what really matters. If we look the entire context how the word used, we can see the true meaning of it. The word could mean worship [Exodus 20:4-5], or it could mean a simple sign of respect [1 Sam 20:41].

(b) Violation of Deuteronomy 4:15?

During the time of Old Testament, they had not seen God. But as we mentioned above, IN NEW TESTAMENT GOD REVEALED HIMSELF [the WORD BECAME FLESH and dwelt among us [Jn.1:14] the unseen/INVINSIBLE became visible. [Colossians 1:15] As one of his Apostle said "which we have seen with our eyes" [1 John 1:1]

"Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God's body is God by union, it is immutable. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by, a logical and reasoning soul." [St. John of Damascus]

[Catechism of the Catholic Church] 1159 The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the Son of God has ushered in a new "economy" of images:

Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God . . . and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled.27

So, again when God speaks on [Deut.4:15] Since you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, He simply utter words subject of time when he has not yet reveal his image. [the word "Since" is provisional]

(c) Samples of graven Images in the Scriptures?

The Ark of Covenant [Ex. 25:18]
We see it on the Curtains of the Tabernacle [Ex. 26:1]
On the Veil of the Holy of Holies [Ex. 26:31]
There are Two huge Cherubim in the Sanctuary [1Kings 6:23]
On the Walls of the Temple [1Kings 6:29]
On the Doors [1 Kings 6:32]
And on the furnishings [1Kings 7:29,36]

Everywhere you looked there are lots of images in the temple of God.

(d) Why only Cherubim and we cannot see any images of Men like Saints or Martyrs?   

Let us first bear in mind that the Temple was the image of Heaven:

"the priests who serve in the Temple in Jerusalem serve unto the copy and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount" [Hebrews 8:5]

Now, Before Christ came in the flesh and triumphed over death by His Resurrection, the Saints of the Old Testament were not in the presence of God in Heaven, but were in Sheol (often translated as "the grave", and translated as "hades" in Greek).  

Apostle Paul said "And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us" [Hebrews 11:39-40] Thus under the old covenant, prayers were said only for the departed, because they were not yet in heaven to intercede on our behalves. 

So, in Old Covenant Heaven was not filled with the spirits of just Men. But when Christ body died, His Spirit descended into Sheol and proclaimed liberty to the captives [Ephesians 4:8-10]; [1Peter 3:19, 4:6]; [Matthew 27:52-53]. And these Saints that have triumphed over this world, now reign with Christ in Glory [2Timothy 2:12], and continually offer up prayers for us before the Lord [Revelation 5:8]

Thus, while in the Old Covenant, the Temple imaged heaven with only the attending Cherubim, in the New Covenant, our Temples/Churches image heaven with the great cloud of witnesses that now reside in glory there.

(e) We should learn from the case of the Bronze Serpent [2King 18:4]?

The Bronze Serpent was not destroyed simply because people venerate it, but because they worship and had made it into a serpent god, called "Nehushtan"

(e) Do we pray to these Statues or Images?

Catholics pray in the presence of Statues or Images (just as Israelites prayed in the presence of Ark of Covenant in the Temple), but we do not pray to the Statues [Images]. 

in the presence of and to are different.

(f) Do we worship these Statues or Images?  

We do not worship the Statues and Images. Worship is only for GOD.

We venerate, which is to say, we pay respect because we reverence what the statues or images depict.

“For the honor rendered to the image goes to its prototype, and the person who venerates an Icon venerates the person represented in it.” [Seventh Ecumenical Synod]

In other words, we do not venerate wood and paint, but rather the persons depicted in the Statues or Images just as the Holy Bible for we do not worship the book; we venerate not pieces of papers bounded together but rather the words that the book represents.

[Catechism of the Catholic Church] 1192 Sacred images in our churches and homes are intended to awaken and nourish our faith in the mystery of Christ. Through the icon of Christ and his works of salvation, it is he whom we adore. Through sacred images of the holy Mother of God, of the angels and of the saints, we venerate the persons represented.

(g) Where can we find sample of veneration it?

Venerate means to regard with respect, reverence, or heartfelt deference.     

King David's veneration of the Ark [2 Sam 6:12-15]
Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the
LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel [Joshua 7:6]

The Jews understand the difference between veneration and worship [adoration]. A pious Jew kisses the Torah before he reads it in the Synagogue.  No doubt, Christ did likewise, when reading the Scriptures in the Synagogue. [Matthew 23:3]

Visual Gospel for Young Children and the Illiterate:  Go you therefore, and teach all nations [Matthew 28:19]

"For what writing presents to readers, this a picture presents to the unlearned who behold, since in it even the ignorant see what they ought to follow; in it the illiterate read"  St. Gregory the Dialogist [Epistle to Bishop Serenus of Marseilles]

But one might suggest that it is no longer relevant or necessary since we are now in an advance ages were illiteracy are not common. Wrong. The fact that we cannot ignore even in the most advance nation; we still have a sizable illiterate segment… the YOUNG CHILDREN.

Thru these Statues, Pictures of Christ, The Saints, Martyrs and Angels will help us
lift up our minds from earthly things to the heavenly. 

"we are led by perceptible Icons to the contemplation of the divine and spiritual". [St. John of Damascus] 

And by keeping their memory before us through the images, we are also inspired to imitate the holiness of those therein depicted. Icons of the sacred not only set an atmosphere for prayer, but by contemplating the holiness of the person represented in the icon.

"Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" [1 Cor. 11:1–2]

"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith" [Heb. 13:7]. 


  1. You've got a point there my friend, Catholics are just doing what God commands them. Thanks for the information, I'll use this for teaching my protestant friend who also had difficulties understanding why we Catholics place statues at our Churches, homes, etc. He thinks that we worship them or do some kind of a pagan thing. Thanks by the way, God bless !


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