I am copying here the early seventh century apologetic, written by an Armenian Church Father against an early iconoclastic group. Note how the text references icons inside the churches, including icons of the saints, and of the Holy Mother holding Christ.
This was obtained from our brother Ghazar's website:http://www.geocities.com/derghazar/essays.html
Some accuse the Armenian Church of having been (or being) Iconoclastic. This is far from the truth. The truth is that the Armenian Church battled the Iconoclasts, producing some of the earliest works in defense of the veneration of Icons. The following text is just such an example, which is why I have thought it worthwhile to transcribe.
-Sb. Dn. Ghazaros DerGhazarian
A Seventh Century Apology for Images
by Vartabed Sharsalar Vertanes Kertogh
From Byzantion- Volume XVIII, 1944-1945, Paris
French translation by Sirarpie Der Nersessian
English translation by Father Garabed Kochakian
An Armenian treatise against the early iconoclasts is saved by the name of a monk and ordained cleric also known as Vartabed Sharsalar Vertanes Kertogh (the Grammarian). He played a pivotal role in the ecclesiastical history of Armenia at the end of the 6th and at the beginning of the 7th century. Vertanes had been the aide of Catholicos Moses, named Locum Tenens upon the death of the latter; he directed patriarchal affairs from 604 to 607.
After the election of Catholicos Abraham, he continued to take an active part in the discussions provoked by the schism between the Armenian Church and the Georgian Church. The treatise against iconoclasts was published in 1852, but it passed almost unnoticed. A new publication made in 1927, based on a manuscript from Jerusalem, likewise did not attract the attention of the scholarly community. Therefore, it seems useful to us to render the translation and make it available to all those who are interested in the beginnings of iconoclasm. Because, if indeed this text is attributed to Vertanes, it would be the oldest treatise against the iconoclasts that would have been preserved in any language.
Apology for the Holy Images (7th C.)
All creatures are illuminated by the life-giving light. And illumined by these beams, heaven and earth rejoice, for the light of truth has flooded the entire universe with its brightness. The obscure fog which covered the darkened hearts and hardened them has faded and the world is filled with the teaching which leads to the knowledge of God. But participants in unclear studies (those occupied with obscurities), who wander in vain in dark shadows, tremble from their belief. They deceitfully make the hearts of the innocent err, and they introduce heresies into the church. “It is not proper,” they say, to have pictures and images in churches. They then use, to support their position, words from the Old Testament which were used by the prophets themselves to denounce idolatry. But our images do not resemble those idols, for ours speak of Christ and His elect; and this is not only the truth but it is attested to by the Scriptures. Therefore, let us declare what the historians or the commandments have taught to us.
For Moses by the divine command first made the model of images for the altar: two-winged cherubim, in human form, made of hammered gold and, above it, the Mercy Seat from which the Lord of Lords spoke. The apostle confirms this by testifying as he says: “The cherubim of glory were overshadowing the Mercy Seat,” which is itself the image of the great mystery. In the same way the curtain that the Lord said to make with multi-colored silks and images, and to embellish, in diverse manners, this veil which was of fine purple, red and azure; the turned linen of the veil was colored and were not these cherubim on the veil holy images?
Using this same example from cypress (wood), Solomon made the cherubim of the temple and covered them with gold; and he not only made the cherubim, (but also) palm trees and open flowers. And God did not disapprove of this, rather he called it the Temple of His Name. The inspired prophet Ezekiel, in the vision which he had, unlike the other prophets or oracles, but speaking with the divine revelation, declared, “The Lord placed me on a high mountain as in a city and made me enter it. There I saw an altar and an awesome and marvelous man. Lightning flashed as bronze. He hovered above the door, holding a line of flax in his hand and a measuring reed, and he said to me: ‘Son of man behold and remember all that is here , for I came to show them to you. And I saw the Temple painted with images all around, on the inside and on the outside, with cherubim and palms, from the floor to the ceiling. And not only was the Temple painted with images, but also the halls, the doors and the altar; and there were cherubim in the forms of humans two by two and palms in pairs which is the model of great wonders.’”
Thus, you who are ill in thought, what will you say about this? For I have spoken of the cherubim that Moses and Solomon had made by human hands; what do you consider these things that God showed them? Behold, it is clear that from the beginning, images were made for the honor and veneration of the divine glory. This is what the Old Testament has said.
In the New Testament Paul says to the Athenians, “While passing by and looking at your gods, I found an altar on which was written: to the Unknown God. That which you honor without knowing is that which I proclaim to you.” Was God the altar? But Paul attests that they dedicated it to the name of God. We do not say that the images and painted icons are the true God, but we paint them in the name of and the glory of God... such as appeared, for Isaiah said, He was born and Jeremiah said, He would go among men, and David told of His Passion and Burial, Ezekiel and Hosea spoke of His Resurrection, Daniel and Zechariah foretold the Second Coming and Nahum and Malachi, the Last Judgment.
For they have told us through symbols that which was and that which must come to pass. And the images which we paint are from the Holy Scriptures; and the written text is of pigment and serves as the subject of the images.
The fathers of the church recall (and speak about) images. For example, John, Bishop of Constantinople, in his speech addressed to the enlightened ones (baptized) says: “For example, the bronze statues of the kings are inanimate and have no feelings; those who take refuge near them are as inanimate and without feeling, not because (the image) is bronze but because it is of the king.” And you, O heretics, be so informed on this matter. Again in this discourse, where he says that one must not suppress the titles (teachings) of the Holy Scriptures, he adds, “Have you not seen on the images of the kings that the portrait of the king is placed on top and bears his name, and beneath on the base, are inscribed the acts of the king, his victories and his acts of justice? The same thing appears on parchments: a portrait of the king is traced above, and below are his virtues and all his victories.”
Hence what would you say of the icon of Our Lord that the God-fearing and pious King Abgar had painted and which is now found in the great church of Edessa?
And the bishop, Severian says: “When the king is absent and his portrait occupies the place of the king, the princes prostrate before it and celebrate feasts; and if commoners see it, the also prostrate, not focusing on the wood but on the image of the king; they do not venerate the substance but that which has been imprinted on it by the pen. And if the portrait of a mortal king has such a power, how much more so would the form and image of the immortal king have?” Therefore, listen closely to what I say, for these are the teachings of the doctors of the church, and if you wish to study their works, you will see that they say the same thing. In the same manner, Saint Gregory the Illuminator says in his prayer.
In place of wooden idols, He raised His cross in the middle of the universe and because men are accustomed to prostrating themselves before inanimate images of the dead, He Himself became a dead image. He died and gave up His Spirit on the cross so that they might learn to prostrate themselves before the wood of the cross and the image of the human figure which is on it; in order to make obedient to the image of His divinity those who make, love and venerate images.
Now if you do not believe my words, then you must examine the Scriptures and understand them, but you are as far from the Scriptures as the sky is from the earth. One finds countless other testimonies in the Scriptures, for all is discernible to those who wish to understand, for the ears hear and the spirit understands, and without the eyes of the spirit, the eyes of the body become blind.
But what is surprising is that you accept the commandments and you persecute the Lord; you venerate the cross and insult the crucified. Thus was the perception of the Manicheans and the Marcianists who believed the Lord who had really taken flesh was merely an apparition. And, when they saw images of Him, they became mad, furious and insulting towards them. Having studied and examined the prophets, is it not clear that they spoke out against idolatry because the idols of the pagans were demons? But nowhere is it written that the images of the Christians and in the churches were considered as demons; rather, it was the idols themselves that were condemned. In the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, in the 7th Book and the 17th Chapter [actually the 18th], there is discussion of the great wonders performed by Our Lord in the city of Paneada.
“Seeing that I have mentioned this city,” he says, “it would not be proper to pass over its history, for it has value for those of future generations. Regarding the young woman whose flow of blood was stopped, as we learned in the holy gospel, and was cured of her illness by Our Saviour (she was from this city, and her house can be seen in this city, and the grace of the charity accorded to this woman by our Saviour); this wondrous miracle of God can still be seen to this day. In fact, on a stone raised at the door of her house, there is a bronze image of a kneeling woman, her hands outstretched in the manner of a supplicant. And opposite her there is another bronze image of a man who is standing up draped in a mantle and holding his hand out to the woman. And at his feet, growing higher than this tunic is a plant which, form its appearance, is different from all other plants, which, from its appearance, is different from all other plants, and it reaches the hem of his garment; and this is a medication against all illnesses. This statue, it is said, is the image of Our Lord and Saviour. It has remained down to our days and we have seen it with our own eyes when we were in this city. Nothing greater than this had led pagans to believe in Jesus Christ. Even they painted colored images of Paul, Peter and Christ Himself, which to this day can still be seen.”
Dear friend, have you not read these texts which you say are contrary to the commandments of God? I call you friend, not because of your Orthodox Faith, but because of what we heard from Our Lord; for my friend, He came for your sake. But even though you have read and do not know, nonetheless the word of the apostle is confirmed in you: “to the unbelievers whose hearts the God of this age has blinded, so that they might not be illumined by the glorious gospel of Christ.” But if you have read, you will have to search and study to know the good and the evil, to distinguish what comes from God and what comes form the demon.
Why is it that you don’t know that in the temples of idols, are found the sculpture depicting Ormizd, who is Aramazd, his fornication’s and sorceries? But in the churches of God, we see paintings of the Holy Virgin holding Christ on her knees, who is at the same time her Creator, the Son and the Creator of all. In the temples of idols one sees Anahit, her impurities and her seductions; whereas in the churches of the Christians, and in the places of the martyrs of God, we see painted St. Gregory, his sufferings acceptable to God and his holy virtues; the protomartyr Stephen in the midst of those stoning him; the blessed and glorious Saint Gayane and Saint Hripsime with all their companions and the glorious martyrs; as well as other virtuous and honorable people, of angelic piety, too numerous to name. In the temples one sees Astghik and Aphrodite, whom all the pagans call mother of desires, their numerous drunkenness and debaucheries. IN the churches of God one sees the divine cross, the company of apostles carrying the cross, and the prophets, who rid the world of impiety and spread the adoration of God throughout the universe, confounding Satan and his legions. For in the churches of God, we see painted all the miracles of Christ, such as they are accounted to us in the Scriptures, and which, as we mentioned above, were predicted by the prophets; that is to say His Birth, Baptism, Passion, Crucifixion, Burial, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. All that the Holy Scriptures tell is portrayed in the churches. Are not books written with pigment? The same things are painted with pigment. In church, only the ears hear the Scriptures, but one sees the images with one’s eyes and one hears them with the ears, and one understands them with the heart and believes.
Here it is evident that it is not contrary to the Scriptures to venerate and honor images. And whoever carefully examines the Scriptures discovers the truth, and understands that the heretics who argue and say: “we consider them vile because they (images) are without word or understanding” are in error. Now, I ask you, did the Ark of God speak when it repelled Dagon and Azot and the city of Ascalon by the attacks of strangers to such a point that the inhabitants of Ascalon protested and said: “Why has the Ark of the God of Israel turned against us to forsake our people?” Did the cross of Christ speak when it raised the dead in the holy city and performed miracles until our days, the cross which is the pride of angels, the salvation of men and the dread of the demons? And now the new commandments, united with the old, by the grace of Christ, bring us proof. Fro we see the book of gospels painted with gold and silver, and moreover, bound in ivory and violet parchment and when we prostrate ourselves before the holy gospel, or when we kiss it, we do not bow down to ivory and lacquer, brought in trade from the countries of the barbarians, but before the word of the Saviour written on parchment. IN the same manner when the Lord of Glory, seated on the ass, approached the city, the aged and children went before Him, bearing olive and palm branches; and they exalted, praised and bowed down before Him. They did not bow down before the ass, but before Christ, the Son of God, who was seated on the ass.
Thus, it is not because of colors that one bows down before images but because of Christ, in whose name they were painted. What difference is there between the pagans who have sinned (against) the divine commandments, (the unbelievers) whose improprieties slandered (the church) and introduced heresies that lead them to damnation, and those who listen to them (the pagans)? How will they be atoned from their eternal torments in hell for what they believe? The blessed prophet, Hosea, spoke truly against them: “Their scandal is in their ways, for they have planted folly in the house of God.” Or another prophet, who says: “Woe to him who gives his companions to drink form dim pleasures.” In fact, it is by deception that they lead into sin all who are far away from the Orthodox Faith and who have strayed away from the true Mysteries. But I will continue and will not keep quiet. For example, if someone asks at the library: Give me the apostles, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah; does he mean Jeremiah or the prophet himself, or rather the divine commandments and their words which are therein written? And for us, it is they that we recall in painting their images (badger, Arm.) and He who sent them; and we do not say that it is God Himself, but rather a reminder of God and His servants.
It is written that “Pap introduced images into the churches.” Now everyone knows that you lie. For still to this day not one amongst the Armenians now how to make images, but they were brought from the Greeks (Horomots, Arm.), whence comes also our culture, and they (the images) were not lost. And before Pap there were other kings, and they had images and icons painted in churches in the name of Christ. Again after Pap there were other kings in Armenia, and prelates such as the blessed Saints Sahak, Mesrop, Eznk, Ardzan, Gorium and their companions, through whom God, our Lord, provided literary works to the Armenians. Not one of them did anything against images and icon painted in churches, but only the impious and misled, Thaddaeus and Isaiah and their companions who brought a large number of people into their following, such as yourself (being iconoclasts). Although the position of the heretics may strongly shine for awhile, it will soon fade, for even the first sinners, such as Adam, were born from lies. Know therefore, these words do not come from me, but from the Holy Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments. If you wish to serve Christ God and love His teachings, study the books of those whose names are herein written, and when you find them, they will show you the true road to God. This is enough concerning images, for it is sufficient evidence for everyone who wishes to understand (our teaching).
As for those who say that the pigments of color are vile, they accuse themselves from their own words, for the pigments used for the writing are vitriol, gall and gum, which one cannot eat; whereas the materials used for the images are milk, eggs, arsenic, azure (green or gray), lime and other such materials, some of which serve as food, others as medicine. But we do not call vile that which God gave to adorn the earth, and we do not misjudge them as bad things. You say that an odor comes from the pigments, but if, at this point, you are so pure and pious, (in order to remain pure) then you will be required to open your stomach at the hour of prayer, and wash your intestines with boiling water before you enter church. Oh, evil men, [you who are] endlessly wicked, you find unacceptable the pigment, now become the images and paintings, by saying that they are made by human hands and are thus not worthy of us. However, the churches are also built by human hands and they are nevertheless called the temples of God, as Paul said to Timothy: “So that you might know, he says, how it is necessary to behave in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” What will you say about this since the church is made by human hands? For we know the invisible by that which is visible, and the pigments of color and the icons are reminders of the living God and of His servants.
But due to your devilish pride, you call yourselves holy and pure. He who wrote the Book of Proverbs spoke the truth. He says: “Do not be right to excess, nor wise, so that you might not become perverted” (Ecclesiastes 7:17). And again: “A bad race considers itself good” (Proverbs 30:12). Thus, you are proud and, with your mouth, you utter lies. As for us, we make haste to enter the Church of Christ, day and night; praying early every day, in order to complete the time of our exile and to be worthy of seeing God with a smiling face on the day of Final Judgment. For we aspire to His eternal goodness, for in Him is the glory for all eternity. Amen.