From Iconoclasm to 'the Triumph of Orthodoxy'
April 16, 2004
Telford Work, Religious Studies

What Is the relationship between a sign and the thing it signifies?
Contemporary examples: a family picture, a wedding ring, a flag, a Bible, a signature, a souvenir, an icon
Historical setting: use of images, relics, shrines, etc. has increased among Christians through the mid-eighth century
Worries: Is this politically shrewd? Is it theologically correct?

What is the relationship in the case of God? (Ex. 20:4, Rom. 1:22-23, John 4:24)
Historical setting: Muslim Conquests in the Byzantine empire
Had earlier Jewish practice been superseded? How or why?

What is the relationship in the case of Jesus Christ? (John 1:1-18)
Historical setting: centuries of Christological controversies and councils define the debate
First-round challenge: Iconoclastic emperors seek to overturn Christian uses of images
Argument: Only the Eucharist is an authorized representation of Christ
Terms of debate: Icons are Arian or Docetic
First-round response: John of Damascus defends images
Argument: Incarnation changes God's relationship to creation
Second-round challenge: The Iconoclastic Synod of 754 forbids images (NPNF II.14 543-544)
Arguments: Icons are Nestorian or Eutychian
Second-round response: Theodore of Studium responds to the Iconoclastic Synod
Argument: images portray the person in whom the natures are united

What is the relationship in the case of Christians? (Rom. 8:28-30)
Examples: Mary, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and their relics
Challenge: images and relics conjure the dead
Response: The saints are in Christ; the Church is the Spirit's Temple; honoring believers honors Christ whose image they now bear

What is the relationship in the case of sacred objects? (1 Cor. 10:16)
Examples: Eucharist (?), the cross, the holy scriptures, images
Challenge: Such things must have the same essence as the originals
Responses:
Only in the case of the Father and the Son; otherwise, an analogy of participation
Veneration/honor (douleia, proskunêsis) is different from adoration (latreia)
The honor paid to the images passes to the prototype without confusing the two
What is the relationship in the case of creation? (Col. 1:15-20)
Challenge: the finite cannot contain the infinite
Response: God's entry into the world 'divinizes' creation

Outcome: "The Triumph of Orthodoxy"
Nicea II, the Seventh Ecumenical Council, upholds holy images (NPNF II.14 549-551)

Lingering Issue: What are the rules that distinguish proper vs. improper uses of images?