Author Topic: Icons and the Early Church Fathers  (Read 8194 times)

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Offline Michael36

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Icons and the Early Church Fathers
« on: December 09, 2011, 09:18:37 PM »
Greetings in XC everyone,

I have been a catechumen in the Orthodox Church for close to a year and will be Chrismated this Nativity. I deeply love the Orthodox Church and have felt blessed among the Orthodox faithful. Most of the old Roman Catholic and Protestant hangups have been done away with, but one still remains: I still worry about iconography being idolatry. I have read St. John of Damascus' treatise on the veneration of icons and it totally makes sense, I truly get where the Orthodox are coming from in their defense. I also recognize that you cannot accidentally worship anything, therefor if a Roman Catholic with a very high Mariology tells you that despite the excessive devotion, they are not worshiping her, then they aren't. I also realize that there were loads of images in the Hebrew Tabernacle and Solomon's temple. What's funny about my reservations towards icons due mostly to Protestant condemnations, is that if I relied on Sola Scriptura to support Iconodulia I wouldn't lose a moment of sleep over it. What gets me in Protestant condemnations is their appeal to Tradition of all things. I cannot find a single ante-Nicene Church Father who supports iconography. Even as far forward as Jerome he is explicitly describing himself destroying an Icon of Christ sewn into a curtain in a Church.

If the apostles used iconography as popular piety says they did (I really don't think st. Luke ever made icons, that is a very late tradition) why don't the Early Church Fathers mention it? I am also well aware of Dura Europos, which is certainly compelling, but it bothers me that apologists for icons rely exclusively on one very old Church that may have been apostate or Orthodox (and we have no way of knowing).

Here's a link against iconography: It's full of purposeful omissions and clearly doesn't understand the Orthodox use of icons, and the COG is clearly a cult, but I find the use of Church Fathers disturbing.

Then there's a fairer link: The official position of the website is that Icons are not idols and that middle eastern expressions of honor are just mushy and offensive to western sensibilities (kissing the priest's hand), however there is a Protestant who is adding to the article and has some very compelling collection of quotes from Church Fathers to back up his position.

I would really appreciate it if someone could look at these claims to assuage my doubts.

p.s. I am praying about this. I asked the Lord to reveal His truth in the situation, even if that means He smashes my icons like the Golden Calf and sends me into the desert for 40 years to repent. I just want to serve Him the right way  :(

Offline LBK

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Re: Icons and the Early Church Fathers
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2011, 02:56:59 AM »
Look again at St John of Damascus' treatise, including the footnotes. He quotes extensively from early Fathers. And there is the enduring testimony of the catacombs of Rome, which are full of pre-Nicene Christian imagery, proto-icons if you wish.
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Offline jnorm888

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Re: Icons and the Early Church Fathers
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2011, 05:41:29 AM »
Buy these books: (Early Christian Attitudes toward Images) (Epiphanius of Salamis, Doctor of Iconoclasm? Deconstruction of a Myth)

They may not answer everything, but they should get you started in the right direction.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2011, 05:43:48 AM by jnorm888 »
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Offline loser

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Re: Icons and the Early Church Fathers
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2011, 09:21:32 AM »
Hi Michael,

I read most of the links. I wanted to point out that some of the things they were saying are inaccurate. For example, they said that the disciples wanted Polycarps body to be buried so that it would not be worshipped. But if you look at this early church document about the martyrdom of Polycarp:

It says that it was actually the Jews and a "jealous and envious evil one"  who prevented the Christians from obtaining the body. They had the body burned. They are the ones who claimed that the Christians would worship the body.

Moreover, twice in this document it mentions that the Christians were in the habit of touching Polycarp's flesh.

The document also mentions that after the body was burned the Christians gathered the bones and put them in a special place where they (the Christians) could gather for the anniversary of his martyrdom.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2011, 09:23:37 AM by loser »

Offline biro

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Re: Icons and the Early Church Fathers
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2011, 04:37:51 PM »
Tradition has it that the Mandylion is the Face of Christ on a cloth. Also, the first painted icon is said to have been written by St. Luke. He's pretty early in terms of Church Fathers.   ;)  :angel: (the Mandylion)

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Offline leap of faith

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Re: Icons and the Early Church Fathers
« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2011, 01:15:08 PM »
From my experience in speaking with other inquirers and converts, a struggle to understand and embrace praying with icons is not unusual, so don't beat yourself up over it.  I struggled with it, as well.  At the end of the day, praying with icons does require a proper mindset, which can be found only with time and only from within the Orthodox Church.  Father Hopko's CD, "Praying With Icons" had a strong impact on my understanding and developing the desire to begin to include icons in my prayer life.  Prior to embracing the Orthodox Church, researching for answers to my questions was the beginning and ending to finding understanding and often resulted in double-mindedness.  Now, researching for answers is only a part of seeking understanding.  The journey for more understanding and the process of God's opening my eyes and ears now begins and ends in my experiences from within the Church.  As I have observed praying with and venerating icons from within Orthodoxy, I see another facet for the fullness of worshiping God in the company of the Saints which was missing from my life prior.  Authors of articles who are commenting on the topic without experiencing it, IMO, have nothing worthwhile to say any more than if I were to write an article on my views of the proper strategies for water polo when I've never personally experienced the sport.  I do, however, greatly value the commentary given here to those articles!  Thank you!  If there are people who fall into the trap of worshipping icons, the fault lies only within their self.  It is not the fault of the practice of praying in the presence icons.  To discard icons because of an improper mindset of a few would be similar to discarding the Eucharist because some have partaken of it to their own condemnation.  May God forbid!  Instead of doing away with it because a few *may* have abused it, a repetition of the proper use of and the experience of proper adherence from within the Church is all which is necessary.  Please excuse my rather choppy response.  I'm chasing after a toddler today...

Offline Gypsy

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Re: Icons and the Early Church Fathers
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2011, 01:29:29 PM »
Interesting that your hang up is the complete opposite of my experience, although I totally understand that this area is a tough one for many.  I had an encounter with an icon of Jesus while touring around Salisbury cathedral in October 2010.... It was sooooo beautiful, almost the last place you'd expect to see an icon.  My sister who is an English Baptist chaplain and who I was staying with ....when I told her about it said...oh I am reading a book right now called 'Praying with Icons' can look at it when I'm not reading it.  We fought over that book for the rest of my holiday!  She was reading it just to get an understanding in case she encountered any EO in her position as a Chaplain.  I was fascinated not just by the Icons, but also by the writing of an Icon, which is done very prayerfully.  I bought the book when I got home!

That was the first step in my journey into Orthodoxy.  I highly recommend reading it, the author is Jim Forest.

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Offline jah777

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Re: Icons and the Early Church Fathers
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2011, 01:52:04 PM »
On this subject, here is a very nice story from a Calvinist whose encounter with an icon of Christ led him to eventually enter the Orthodox Church.  The author describes how he initially thought iconography was biggest "problem" with Orthodox Christianity, yet when he began to study the Orthodox position on iconography for a paper he was writing while attending a Protestant seminary, the historical and theological position of the Orthodox Church on the subject blew his Protestant theology out of the water.  At the end, the author speaks about John Calvin's position on iconography and the serious problems with his position:

Offline primuspilus

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Re: Icons and the Early Church Fathers
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2011, 02:51:57 PM »
I read the cogwriter site you posted and Im actually pretty shocked that the writer tried to equate his church to be the same from Pentecost with that little list of "different names" theory. It sounded more like someone trying to make the Landmark Baptist "theory" look more presentable.

I'd be very cautious about reading anything that serves their own purposes like that.
The writer plays pretty fast and loose with Church history.

By the way, here is a link to a pre-nicene icon


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Offline Michael36

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Re: Icons and the Early Church Fathers
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2011, 04:31:01 PM »
I would like to thank everyone for their replies. In the end it was a podcast by Fr. Patrick Reardon that got me: What I liked about the podcast is that he doesn't BS you at all. He begins the podcast by making the case for iconoclasm and noting that it is *very convincing*. Following that he explains the necessity of icons as a testament to the incarnation (Christ and the Theotokos) and the glory of the age to come (the Saints now in heaven). He then makes a point I hadn't even considered before: the Church deemed this so important to the faith that they returned to Nicaea where the creed was first formed and the icons were restored.