Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

A recent post by Christopher Benson on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in which he mused about the anathematising of the iconoclasts ... and what that says about him as a non-icon worshipping Christian. I’m not going to essay and defence of icons, the Lossky/Ousspensky book (The Meaning of Icons) is likely a good place to start, although accusing 8th to 11th century Orthodoxy/Eastern theologians of Nestorianism or Monophytism is something of a stretch, seeing as a primary reason we are today not monophytist is the defence of Orthodoxy against that heresy by St. Maximus the Confessor. What instead I’d like to do is offer a few points on the controversy that perhaps are less often considered.


  • One of the reasons given by the iconoclasts for their practice was that it would allow for easier relations with Islam. The Eastern empire at the time was at the forefront of the struggle between Christendom and Islamic nations. Islam is strongly iconoclastic, images of God and the divine are strictly forbidden, even the stylised symbolic images used in the Byzantine (and later) Eastern icon tradition. It might be noted that today there is a rising conflict/confrontation between Islam and the putatively Christian west.

  • The iconoclast/iconodule violence lasted for generations. The hierarchical leadership as well as the (semi?) secular governmental leadership (the Emperor) were iconoclasts. The rejection of the iconoclast position was something of a rejection by the common church members of a position taken by the authorities. Similarly in the waning years of the Easter Roman empire the authorities (hierarchs and political leaders) were interested in reconciliation with, now stronger Papal Christian West against the Ottoman. Like the earlier iconoclastic movement this was rejected by the rank and file. Protestant, one would think, might have some sympathy for a church which demonstrates that demonstrates has no notion of infallibility of its leaders.

  • As St. Basil the Great says, “The honor shown the image passes over to the archetype.” When one takes on that idea, not venerating the image of Christ seems more in the wrong than not.

  • From the Synodicon:
    As the prophets have seen, as the apostles have taught, as the Church has received, as the teachers have set forth in dogmas, as the whole world has understood, as Grace has shone forth, as the truth was demonstrated, as falsehood was banished, as wisdom was emboldened, as Christ has awarded; thus do we believe, thus we speak, thus we preach Christ our true God and His saints, honoring them in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in temples, and in icons, worshipping and respecting the One as God and Master, and honoring the others, and apportioning relative worship to them, because of our common Master for they are His genuine servants, This is the Faith of the apostles, this is the Faith of the fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this Faith hath established the whole world.


Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.

Tags

Loading...

Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles