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Author Topic: oldest reference to veneration of icons?  (Read 4019 times) Average Rating: 5
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Jason.Wike
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« on: May 04, 2011, 11:17:38 PM »

What are the oldest references to veneration of icons? I know there are lots of ancient icons from very early on, such as those in the Roman catacombs and the Dura-Europos church, but in my reading of the early desert fathers I never come across it.
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« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2011, 11:27:42 PM »

This is an interesting question. As far as early mentions, I have seen quotes in Lactantius and St. Ireneaus about images, but they were not speaking of the Christian usage of icons, but rather condemning an incorrect form of such activities among non-Christians. I'm trying to recall if there was anything in works that give expositions of the faith from the 4th century onwards, but I can't recall anything about icons until... the 7th century maybe? Not saying that there aren't earlier references, I just can't remember any...
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« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2011, 12:12:42 AM »

Could it be that this is one of those things I have heard about, that the Church didn't like to talk to outsiders about until they became Catechumans?
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« Reply #3 on: May 05, 2011, 01:13:27 AM »

Could it be that this is one of those things I have heard about, that the Church didn't like to talk to outsiders about until they became Catechumans?
Why would we not talk to outsiders about the history of icons?

If you're wondering why so few have responded to this thread, it's probably because, like me, no one who has seen the thread knows the answer.
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« Reply #4 on: May 05, 2011, 01:26:48 AM »

In the early 600's, an Armenian vartabed named Vrtanes wrote about and defended the veneration of icons:

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,21473.msg324380.html#msg324380

This was about a century before John of Damascus, and it was in response to some Gnostics who rejected icons because they believed Christ's body was not real.
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« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2011, 01:55:24 AM »

Could it be that this is one of those things I have heard about, that the Church didn't like to talk to outsiders about until they became Catechumans?
Why would we not talk to outsiders about the history of icons?

If you're wondering why so few have responded to this thread, it's probably because, like me, no one who has seen the thread knows the answer.

I don't mean today.  I mean that the Church USED (as in, a very long time ago) not talked to outsiders about certain things.
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« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2011, 02:04:10 AM »

I don't think that physical veneration started happening as much until it was done in response to them being smashed, as a sort of counter-affirmation of their goodness. Before that I think that they were mainly high up as frescoes. So my educated guess is fifth or sixth century, but with icons themselves existing since the first century.

Veneration (kissing) of scripture and relics is from the first century.
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Jason.Wike
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« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2011, 02:18:58 AM »

In the early 600's, an Armenian vartabed named Vrtanes wrote about and defended the veneration of icons:

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,21473.msg324380.html#msg324380

This was about a century before John of Damascus, and it was in response to some Gnostics who rejected icons because they believed Christ's body was not real.

Thanks, I am hoping for something earlier though.

Something I do not get is how not creating icons is assumed to be denying the incarnation of Christ. That is not a logical progression. It also assumes that imagery in the OT was ok as long as it as material, and that the stricture was against creating images of heavenly things, but the law in the OT is just as much against creating images of material or "incarnate" things. Within the context of OT law "[X] was incarnate, therefore we can make images of him" is a complete nonstarter - it never says anything like "things in the flesh ok, things spiritual alone bad." Another difference between say, bulls under the bronze sea or the serpent rod vs. other images would be they were explicitly commanded.

So... this stuff is really not making sense to me any more, and I have had explained to me numerous times. People assume the above explanations "Christ was incarnate, therefore.." or "Cherubim/bronze sea/etc" make perfect sense and are rock solid, and that people who don't agree are just stupid or "don't get it" and need explaining again, but they're not really adding up for me any more and I understand the arguments used just fine.
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« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2011, 02:26:34 AM »

Something I do not get is how not creating icons is assumed to be denying the incarnation of Christ. That is not a logical progression.
It is a logical progression from the arguments used by the 1st millenium Iconoclast Heretics, to whom this counter-argument was addressed.

It also assumes that imagery in the OT was ok as long as it as material, and that the stricture was against creating images of heavenly things, but the law in the OT is just as much against creating images of material or "incarnate" things. Within the context of OT law "[X] was incarnate, therefore we can make images of him" is a complete nonstarter - it never says anything like "things in the flesh ok, things spiritual alone bad."
That is not the assumption. The assumption is that depictions of the unseen God and of idols is forbidden. Why do you think it says "You shall not make to you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth"? Who lives in the waters under the earth? The Mesopotamian god Enki/Ea does, that's for sure. Can't really be anything else, because that place doesn't actually exist. The Earth? Ishtar lives in the "earth beneath". The firmament god Anu lives in the heavens.

Our God went to war with the idols/demons of the pagans. That's what this is really about, IMO.

Another difference between say, bulls under the bronze sea or the serpent rod vs. other images would be they were explicitly commanded.
This is protestant talk. Just because something isn't explicitly mentioned in the OT doesn't mean we can't do it. We can infer that images are not entirely taboo from the extensive use of images in the OT (cherubim, palms, fruit, serpent, etc.) and because Jews also used images into the 3rd Century at least.
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« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2011, 08:56:56 AM »

Here comes my 'good old standard answer', you have to talk about this with the priest who is your mentor as you progress through the  catechumenate. If you can't come to grips with an Orthodox understanding about the veneration of Icons, you will have some difficult decisions to make in the coming months.
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« Reply #10 on: May 05, 2011, 10:11:52 AM »

I think the veneration of images stemmed from the way the Eastern Roman empire showed respect in general.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Philostorgius (who was an Iconoclast long before the eighth century) says that in the fourth century the Christian Roman citizens in the East offered gifts, incense, and even prayers, to the statues of the emperor (Hist. eccl., II, 17). It would be natural that people who bowed to, kissed, incensed the imperial eagles and images of Caesar (with no suspicion of anything like idolatry), who paid elaborate reverence to an empty throne as his symbol, should give the same signs to the cross, the images of Christ, and the altar. So in the first Byzantine centuries there grew up traditions of respect that gradually became fixed, as does all ceremonial. Such practices spread in some measure to Rome and the West, but their home was the Court at Constantinople.
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« Reply #11 on: May 05, 2011, 12:09:34 PM »

The art in the catacombs is early evidence, plus the house church at Dura Europas that was uncovered.
if you look at Ouspensky's booK The Meaning of icons he has quotes from the early church father.
Also the Church historian Eusibius (4th century) mentions icons, icluding icons of St. Peter and St. Paul.
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« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2011, 02:25:23 PM »

"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." - Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 7, 18, 4

However, in a footnote for this passage (Schaff's Post-Nicene Fathers), it says:

"Eusebius himself, as we learn from his letter to the Empress Constantia Augusta, did not approve of the use of images or representations of Christ, on the ground that it tended to idolatry. In consequence of this disapproval he fell into great disrepute in the later image-worshiping Church, his epistle being cited by the iconoclasts at the second Council of Nicæa, in 787, and his orthodoxy being in consequence fiercely attacked by the defenders of image-worship, who dominated the council, and won the day."

A search on Google only brought the letter up on a subscription (Journal) site, but this position being held by Eusebius is mentioned in several other places.
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« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2011, 03:27:03 PM »

Here comes my 'good old standard answer', you have to talk about this with the priest who is your mentor as you progress through the  catechumenate. If you can't come to grips with an Orthodox understanding about the veneration of Icons, you will have some difficult decisions to make in the coming months.

Thanks for this.  I know it wasn't addressed to me, but it applies heavily towards me.  I'm having difficulty as mentioned, and am trying to understand & accept.
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« Reply #14 on: May 05, 2011, 03:45:42 PM »

"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." - Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 7, 18, 4

However, in a footnote for this passage (Schaff's Post-Nicene Fathers), it says:

"Eusebius himself, as we learn from his letter to the Empress Constantia Augusta, did not approve of the use of images or representations of Christ, on the ground that it tended to idolatry. In consequence of this disapproval he fell into great disrepute in the later image-worshiping Church, his epistle being cited by the iconoclasts at the second Council of Nicæa, in 787, and his orthodoxy being in consequence fiercely attacked by the defenders of image-worship, who dominated the council, and won the day."

A search on Google only brought the letter up on a subscription (Journal) site, but this position being held by Eusebius is mentioned in several other places.
Yes, Ouspensky quotes all that.  What is significant to Ouspensky is that Eusebius attested to the exsistence of icons:  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."
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« Reply #15 on: May 05, 2011, 03:54:59 PM »

There's lots of evidence for the existence of icons from very early on. The question is about the veneration of icons, and IMO also about Church Fathers speaking approvingly of that veneration. Do you have any early quotes that mentions veneration of icons in a positive way? Or do I have to do your leg work for you (again), and and dig up the the quotes you're vaguely alluding to?  Wink
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« Reply #16 on: May 05, 2011, 05:43:38 PM »


However, in a footnote for this passage (Schaff's Post-Nicene Fathers), it says:

"Eusebius himself, as we learn from his letter to the Empress Constantia Augusta, did not approve of the use of images or representations of Christ, on the ground that it tended to idolatry. In consequence of this disapproval he fell into great disrepute in the later image-worshiping Church, his epistle being cited by the iconoclasts at the second Council of Nicæa, in 787, and his orthodoxy being in consequence fiercely attacked by the defenders of image-worship, who dominated the council, and won the day."
How peculiar. I've been unable to locate the above mentioned letter anywhere on the internet, though protestants sure love to reference it. One even had a two-line quote. But where, I wonder, is the actual document, so that we may confirm or deny Schaff's assertion?
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« Reply #17 on: May 05, 2011, 05:48:13 PM »

Well, fwiw, besides the Schaff collection, others also mention it; for example, the old Catholic Encyclopedia says...

"Constantia asked Eusebius to send her a certain likeness of Christ of which she had heard; his refusal was couched in terms which centuries afterwards were appealed to by the Iconoclasts."

You might be able to get a look at it (or part of it) here, though you'll have to pay. Short of that, you'll have to look in Migne, who a number of websites claims has at least fragments of it.
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« Reply #18 on: May 05, 2011, 05:57:39 PM »

Well, fwiw, besides the Schaff collection, others also mention it; for example, the old Catholic Encyclopedia says...

"Constantia asked Eusebius to send her a certain likeness of Christ of which she had heard; his refusal was couched in terms which centuries afterwards were appealed to by the Iconoclasts."

You might be able to get a look at it (or part of it) here, though you'll have to pay. Short of that, you'll have to look in Migne, who a number of websites claims has at least fragments of it.
This website: http://www.fourthcentury.com/eusebius-letter-to-the-empress-constantia/

Claims Eusebius authorship has been challenged.
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« Reply #19 on: May 05, 2011, 11:01:44 PM »

Well, remember that some of the references we have from the early period are quotes from the acts of the 7th and other fathers of the period, as the second iconoclastic wave burned pertinant portions of the extant manuscripts they could find, and altered others. 

This is an interesting question. As far as early mentions, I have seen quotes in Lactantius and St. Ireneaus about images, but they were not speaking of the Christian usage of icons, but rather condemning an incorrect form of such activities among non-Christians. I'm trying to recall if there was anything in works that give expositions of the faith from the 4th century onwards, but I can't recall anything about icons until... the 7th century maybe? Not saying that there aren't earlier references, I just can't remember any...
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« Reply #20 on: May 05, 2011, 11:12:50 PM »

St. Methodius (260 AD) testifies in the early Church, because God Himself took dust from the ground and made man the image of God, and also took this material unto Himself in the Incarnation, we should not despise images, for "images of our kings are honored by all.  For men...honor every icon in the world, even if it is 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 icons of God's angels, which are fashioned of gold, the principalities and powers, we make to His honor and glory" (Resurrection Discourse part 2).
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« Reply #21 on: May 05, 2011, 11:17:19 PM »

--That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life--The life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare [Gk. apaggello-to shew (again)] to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us...that which we have seen and heard we declare [Gk. apaggello] to you.  (Holy Scripture:  1 John 1.1 3)
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« Reply #22 on: May 05, 2011, 11:18:40 PM »

--Therefore it was necessary that the representations of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
   For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, representations of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.  (Holy Scripture:  Hebrews 9.23,24)
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« Reply #23 on: May 05, 2011, 11:21:46 PM »

--You shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet stuff; with artistic designs of cherubim you shall weave them. ...
   And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen; in skilled work shall it be made, with cherubim
   and you shall land it upon four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, upon four bases of silver.
    And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the covenant inside, behind this veil which divides the holy place from the holy of holies.  (Holy Scripture:  Exodus 26.1,.31-33)

"With artistic designs..."
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« Reply #24 on: May 05, 2011, 11:24:42 PM »

"Let the seals be of a dove or fish or ship in full sail or of a musical lyre, such as Polycrates used, or of a ship's anchor... or, if anyone be a fisherman, let him make an icon of the Apostles and of the children drawn out of the water.  No representation of an idol may be impressed on the ring, for we are forbidden to possess such an image.  (St. Clement of Alexandria, 2nd c.:  Christ Ed. 3.59)
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« Reply #25 on: May 06, 2011, 01:02:35 AM »

Thank you for the references, Father.  Smiley
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« Reply #26 on: May 06, 2011, 01:22:47 AM »

"Paint a bunch of icons of our Lord and the saints and then kiss them. Also, pray to Mary after she dies in the future."

~ The Epistle of St. Paul to the Antiochians, 46 AD.
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« Reply #27 on: May 06, 2011, 01:41:01 AM »

"Paint a bunch of icons of our Lord and the saints and then kiss them. Also, pray to Mary after she dies in the future."

~ The Epistle of St. Paul to the Antiochians, 46 AD.

 Cheesy Cheesy Cheesy Brilliant!
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« Reply #28 on: May 06, 2011, 01:43:22 AM »

I found this helpful:

http://www.orthodox.cn/catechesis/iconhistory_en.htm

The First Icon

The first icon, the MANDYLION or The Holy Napkin, sometimes called "Made without hands" is said not only to have been an authentic likeness of Christ, but one which Christ Himself willingly produced. It was thus often cited both as proof of the reality of His Incarnation — as it had been in contact with His body — and as justification for the iconophile position that Christ Himself has endorsed the making of His image.



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« Reply #29 on: May 06, 2011, 01:50:13 AM »

Something I do not get is how not creating icons is assumed to be denying the incarnation of Christ.

This article I have found helpful:

"One Protestant student at an Orthodox seminary mentioned, as a local oddity, that when he said he didn't venerate icons, asked him if he believed in the Incarnation. To him the question was a complete non sequitur. But the Orthodox spiritual experience is that the veneration of icons is part of the Incarnation unfolding, and saying that you believe in the Incarnation but not that the Incarnation unfolds into icons, is a bit like saying that you want to be a scholar but don't want to be troubled with reading books."

"The Orthodox understanding is that you are missing the point of the Incarnation if you affirm that the Son of God became fully a man, but then deny the maxim of the ages, "The Divine became human that the human might become divine. The Son of God became a man that men might become the Sons of God. God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man that men might become gods and the Sons of God." To say that the Incarnation happened in Christ but is not to happen in us is worse than saying, "The operation was a success, but the patient died." It is more like, "The grandmaster in chess played brilliantly until he reached an invincible position but then resigned in defeat," or, "The operation was a success, but the physician refused to save the patient's life," or "The medical researcher discovered the perfect cure for cancer and then refused to share his results or let them save lives." Since the earliest centuries the Orthodox Church has believed that the Incarnation did not stop when Mary bore the God-Man in her womb. Christ is meant to be Incarnate in Christians in every age."

http://jonathanscorner.com/incarnation/incarnation3.html
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« Reply #30 on: May 06, 2011, 10:51:34 PM »

It is a logical progression from the arguments used by the 1st millenium Iconoclast Heretics, to whom this counter-argument was addressed.

Ok, but I have seen people state it as if it is a fact in all circumstances, that not creating or venerating icons is actually denying the incarnation of Christ, which is clearly non sequitur.

That is not the assumption.

Part of it is, you even then state the same thing with opposite words: Creating images of the unseen God is forbidden, but the argument is seen God is. I then find dissonance in the fact that the Jews did see God before Christ was incarnated, quite a few times in the Bible, and they still didn't make images of him.

Another difference between say, bulls under the bronze sea or the serpent rod vs. other images would be they were explicitly commanded.
This is protestant talk. Just because something isn't explicitly mentioned in the OT doesn't mean we can't do it. We can infer that images are not entirely taboo from the extensive use of images in the OT (cherubim, palms, fruit, serpent, etc.) and because Jews also used images into the 3rd Century at least.

It is not "Protestant talk." I'm not claiming something has to be explicitly mentioned to be able to do, I am applying the logical conclusion that if God commands something in contradiction to something else he has said it is ok because he is explicitly commanding it, because he is God.

To be clear, I have no innate problem with icons or veneration of them, this is not due to something I have had drilled into my head that I need to "get over" and its not Protestant baggage like people seem to be assuming. The entire source of me becoming uncomfortable with this is reading the Bible and Saints who say things such as "Bow to nothing made by human hands," and finding it dissonant.
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« Reply #31 on: May 06, 2011, 11:00:11 PM »

Part of it is, you even then state the same thing with opposite words: Creating images of the unseen God is forbidden, but the argument is seen God is. I then find dissonance in the fact that the Jews did see God before Christ was incarnated, quite a few times in the Bible, and they still didn't make images of him.

Was He seen? And what do we mean by that? What does it mean that they "saw God"? I also have wondered about this... the essence/energies distinction seems to throw some light on the situation (see reply #13 in the link).
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« Reply #32 on: May 06, 2011, 11:20:39 PM »

Here comes my 'good old standard answer', you have to talk about this with the priest who is your mentor as you progress through the  catechumenate. If you can't come to grips with an Orthodox understanding about the veneration of Icons, you will have some difficult decisions to make in the coming months.

Well, it probably won't take that long. I realised, whether it is right or not to have icons, or venerate them, the fact that it is contingent to venerate icons to be baptised or commune in the church isn't something I can believe... It says to receive Christ, first you have to receive icons, and if you don't receive icons you can't receive Christ. I know, "icons are not necessary for salvation," they are just tools to help us. But by putting it first, no one will be baptised or allowed to commune that does not venerate icons and that is a fact, it is de facto making it a requirement for baptism and communion. I'm not saying this to be offensive and I'm not trying to change anyone's mind, I know I won't, I'm just saying it, and I don't like it myself because I'm definitely never going to join a Protestant church so I have nothing left.
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« Reply #33 on: May 07, 2011, 05:41:49 PM »

God made no exception to His own rule.  In the 10 commandments, the operative word in the septuagint is not eikona (image) but rather eidolon (idol): "You shall not make unto you a graven idol." "Eikona," however, like the cherubim, were not seen as eidolon. So, even in the Old Testament it could not be speaking of all religious imagery or else the cherubim above the ark and in the temple, as well as the cross-staff with the serpant upon it, would have been God commanding them to make something that stood against His commandments.

Regarding "bow to nothing made by human hands," citation please?  Who said this? 
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NicholasMyra
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« Reply #34 on: May 07, 2011, 06:45:54 PM »

The entire source of me becoming uncomfortable with this is reading the Bible and Saints who say things such as "Bow to nothing made by human hands," and finding it dissonant.
When you bow before an icon, you are not bowing before the icon itself.

When you bow before an idol of Enlil, he IS PERCEIVED TO BE the idol, in a consubstantiation sort of way.

I know that sounds confusing.  Cheesy
« Last Edit: May 07, 2011, 06:51:40 PM by NicholasMyra » Logged

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« Reply #35 on: May 07, 2011, 06:48:27 PM »


That is not the assumption.

Part of it is, you even then state the same thing with opposite words: Creating images of the unseen God is forbidden, but the argument is seen God is. I then find dissonance in the fact that the Jews did see God before Christ was incarnated, quite a few times in the Bible, and they still didn't make images of him.
They saw God's appearances, but "for now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face". The final and complete revelation of who God is is not the Burning Bush or the Ancient of Days vision. It is Jesus Christ. You didn't really address my "God at war" argument either, probably because it isn't the main one you encounter. But it seems to me to be stronger than the strawmen arguments you've spoken about earlier.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2011, 06:50:11 PM by NicholasMyra » Logged

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if Christ does and says x. And someone else does and says not x and you are ever in doubt, follow Christ.

"You are philosophical innovators. As for me, I follow the Fathers." -Every heresiarch ever
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« Reply #36 on: May 09, 2011, 11:46:18 PM »

With respect to the bronze bulls and other image paraphernalia of Soloman's Temple that God did not specifically command to be made, I think God's "attitude" towards them, commanded or not, is observable in what happened at the dedication of the Temple. Namely, the glory of God so filled the temple that the priests could not stand to minister.  That being the case, and since there is no mention of unwelcome images being destroyed, or prophets suddenly inspired to denounce them, and the like, it seems reasonable that God richly blessed those images along with the rest of the Temple and its service.
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« Reply #37 on: May 10, 2011, 08:45:15 AM »

What are the oldest references to veneration of icons? I know there are lots of ancient icons from very early on, such as those in the Roman catacombs and the Dura-Europos church, but in my reading of the early desert fathers I never come across it.

Old Testament, veneration of Ark of Covenant.
Old Testament there were icons on Temple walls:

God orders people of Old Law to have cherubim on the temple 1 King 6:23-24 and angels on the ark of covenant. We see God approving the Temple, in 1 King 9:23 , even if the Temple had images on its walls . 

 Apostle Luke was a known painter of icons that are kept even today.

Jesus put his face on a napkin that he sent to the King Abgar of Edessa so he was cured of leprosy. This napkin with image of God is like an icon. Also this image cured leprosy, so this was a miracle working icon and was displayed on a gate for entering the city and people venerated it.So this is Word of God making an image of Word of God God like an icon and people venerating it. http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/LostBooks/lettersJesusAbgarus.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abgar_V_of_Edessa
« Last Edit: May 10, 2011, 08:50:10 AM by pasadi97 » Logged
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« Reply #38 on: April 04, 2013, 11:37:26 AM »

Something I do not get is how not creating icons is assumed to be denying the incarnation of Christ.

This article I have found helpful:

"One Protestant student at an Orthodox seminary mentioned, as a local oddity, that when he said he didn't venerate icons, asked him if he believed in the Incarnation. To him the question was a complete non sequitur. But the Orthodox spiritual experience is that the veneration of icons is part of the Incarnation unfolding, and saying that you believe in the Incarnation but not that the Incarnation unfolds into icons, is a bit like saying that you want to be a scholar but don't want to be troubled with reading books."
Not that that isn't attempted.
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