Icons and Anglicanism

In light of the recent appearance of Metropolitan Jonah at the ACNA Assembly, it may be worth re-posting this paper, "Images in the Church of England." One of the primary ideas recovered during the Reformation was to reject idolatry, something that is often ignored today. The paper quotes John Donne, who wrote:

God, we see, was the first that made images, and he was the first that forbade them. He made them for imitation; He forbade in danger of adoration. For – qualis dementiae est id colere, quod melius est – what a drowsiness, what a laziness, what a cowardliness of the soul is it, to worship that which does but represent a better thing than itself. Worship belongs to the best. Know thou thy distance and thy period, how far to go and where to stop. Dishonor not God by an image in worshiping it, and yet benefit thyself in following it. There is no more danger out of a picture than out of a history, if thou intend no more in either than example.

Further, Archbishop Wake wrote:

Were the benefits of images never so great, yet you know this is neither that which we dispute with you, nor for which they are set up in your churches. Your Trent Synod expressly defines that due veneration is to be paid to them. Your catechism says that they are to be had not only for instruction but for worship. And this is the point in controversy betwixt us. We retain pictures, and sometimes even images too in our churches for ornament, and (if there be such uses to be made of them) for all the other benefits you have now been mentioning. Only we deny that any service is to be paid to them; or any solemn prayers to be made at their consecration, for any divine virtues, or indeed for any virtues at all, to proceed from them.

This is the historic position of the Anglican Communion: images are good, but they are not to be "venerated" or prayed to / through. In light of I John 5.21, the leadership of ACNA should reconsider rushing into dialog with the Orthodox. We can be co-belligerents on issues of morality in our nation, but we must not unite with them in areas where the Reformation reclaimed Scriptural truths.

Irenaeus and the Origin of Icons

St. Irenaeus discusses the Gnostic leader Carpocrates and his followers, and in so doing, hints at the origin of icons. He says of these heretics:

They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.

From Against Heresies, I.25.6

Hugh Latimer Disputation

A few years ago I set about to modernize the language of this disputation, but alas, I didn’t get very far. Here is what I have to date:

The Disputation Had at Oxford, the 16th Day of April, 1554, Between Mr. Hugh Latimer, Answerer, and Mr. Smith and Others, Opposers.

The disputation began on Wednesday, the 18th of April, at 8 o’clock. It was in the same manner as before, but mostly in English. Mr. Latimer, the answerer, alleged that his Latin was out of use, and unfit for that place. Mr. Smith of Oriel College replied, Dr. Cartwright, Mr. Harpsfield and various others bit at him, and gave him bitter taunts. He didn’t escape hissings and scornful laughing any more than those who went before him. He was very faint and desired that he not stay long. He did not drink for fear of vomiting. The disputation ended before 11 o’clock.

Mr. Latimer was not made to read what he said he had painfully written, but it was exhibited up, and the prolocutor read part of it, and then proceeded to the disputation.

Weston’s preface to the disputation

“Men and brethren, we are come together this day, by the help of God, to vanquish the strength of the arguments and dispersed opinions of adversaries against the truth of the real presence of the Lord’s body in the sacrament. And therefore you, father, if you have any thing to answer, I do admonish that you answer in short and few words.”
Latimer: “I pray you, good master Prolocutor, do not exact that of me which is not in me. I have not these twenty years much used the Latin tongue.”
Weston: “Take your ease, father.”
Latimer: “I thank you sir, I am well. Let me here protest my faith, for I am not able to dispute; and afterwards do your pleasure with me.”

The Protest of Mr. Latimer

The conclusions that I must answer are these:
1. The fist is, that in the sacrament of the altar, by the virtue of God’s word pronounced by the priest, there is really and naturally the very body of Christ present, as it was conceived of the virgin Mary, under the kinds of bread and wine. And, in like manner, his blood [in the cup].
2. The second is, that after the consecration there remains no substance of bread and wine, or any other substance but the substance of God and man.
3. The third is, that in the mass there is the lively sacrifice of the church, which is propitiatory for the living and the dead.

To these I answer:

1. Concerning the first conclusion, I think it is set forth with certain new terms, lately found, that are obscure, and do not agree with the speech of the scripture. Nevertheless, however I understand it, thus do I answer, although not without the peril of my life. I say: there is no other presence of Christ required than a spiritual presence; and this presence is sufficient for a Christian man, as the presence by which we both abide in Christ, and Christ in us, to obtain eternal life, if we persevere in his true gospel. And the same presence may be called a real presence, because to the faithful believer there is the real, or spiritual body of Christ. I say this again, so that some sycophant or scorner supposes me, with the Anabaptist, to make nothing else of the sacrament but a bare and naked sign. As for what is pretended by many, I, for my part, take it for an invention of the Popes, and therefore I think it should be utterly rejected from among God’s children, that seek their Savior in faith and are taught among the fleshly Roman Catholics, that will be again under the yoke of antichrist.

2. Concerning the second conclusion, I say boldly that it has no support or ground from God’s holy word; but is a thing invented and found out by man, and therefore to be reputed and known as false; and, I would almost say is the mother and nurse of all other errors. It would be good for you my masters and lords, the transubstantiators, to take better heed to your doctrine, so that you do not conspire with the Nestorians. For the Nestorians deny that Christ had a natural body: and I cannot see how the Roman Catholics can avoid it, for they would contain the natural body which Christ had (sin excepted) against all truth, into a wafer cake.

3. The third conclusion, as I understand it, seems subtly to sow sedition against the offering which Christ himself offered for us in his own person, for all, never again to occur, according to the scriptures written in God’s book. In that book read the forceful and brief words of St. Paul in Hebrews 9 and 10, where he says that Christ himself made a perfect sacrifice for our sins, never again to be performed; and then ascended into heaven, and there sits a merciful intercessor between God’s justice and our sins; and there shall wait until these transubstantiators and all his other foes are made his footstool. This offering he freely made of himself, as it is written in John 10, he did not need any man to do it for him. I say nothing of the amazing presumptions of men, that dare attempt this thing without any manifest calling, especially that which intrudes to the overthrow and make fruitless (if not wholly, then partially) the cross of Christ. Therefore, a man can worthily say to my lords and master offerers, ‘By what authority do you do this? And who gave you this authority? When and where?’ St. John says, ‘A man cannot take any thing except it be given him from above,’ much less then may any man presume to usurp any honor before he is called to do it.

St. John also says, “If any man sin, we have,’ not a masser, nor an offerer upon earth who can sacrifice for us at mass; but ‘we have an Advocate with God the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one, who once offered himself for us long ago.” The efficacy and effect of that offering endures forever, so that it is needless to have such offerers. But if they had a nail driven though one of their ears every time they offer, as Christ had four driven through his hands and feet, they would soon stop offering. Yet, if their offering did not bring gains in addition, it would not be done so often. For they say, ‘No penny, no pater noster.” What does St. Paul mean when he says “They that preach the gospel shall live of the gospel?” He should rather have said, “The Lord has ordained that they that sacrifice at mass should live of the sacrificing.” But although the Holy Ghost appointed them no living for their saying mass in God’s book, yet they have appointed themselves a living in antichrist’s decrees. For I am sure that if God would have had a new kind of sacrificing priest at mass, then he or some of his apostles would have made some mention of it in their master, Christ’, will. But perhaps the secretaries were not the masser’s friends, or else they saw that it was a charge without profit.

 

No Sacred Space

Writing in the London Review of Books, Keith Thomas says of sacred space and the Church:

All these practices presuppose that divinity is immanent in the world, but in a localized way. The demarcation and protection of holy spaces becomes one of the means by which religious institutions assert their claim to supernatural authority. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that the first Christians should have rejected the whole notion of sacred space. Whereas the Greek and Roman world had been full of holy places, the early Christians were encouraged to see themselves, not buildings or sanctuaries, as the temple of the living God (II Corinthians 6.16). For them, God was ubiquitous, rather than located in some particular spot. Only in the fourth century did Christians begin to construct their own sacred topography. The driving force as the cult of the martyrs and the building of urban churches to contain their relics. It set in motion a long process by which Catholic Christianity would construct a new geography of the sacred.

This same glorification of space still exists in Protestant circles with regard to Jerusalem, the “Holy City” which is thought of as somehow closer to God than Ames, Iowa or anywhere else. The fact is that all the land is now sacred.

Exciting Each Other to Idolatry

Commenting on Isaiah 41:7-8, Calvin says:

for the Prophet means that workmen, by beating “in their turn,” mutually excite each other, because by being earnestly employed in the same work, they grow warm, and each of them urges and arouses the other, to perform in the shortest time what they have undertaken. In short, he describes the rebellion and madness of idolaters, by which they excite each other to oppose God.

Carlos Eire summarizes his views by saying, “The inclination to commit false worship inherent in every individual is aggravated by society through mutual support and social conditioning.” Calvin continues:

From this passage and from all histories it is manifest that this vice was not peculiar to a single age, and at the present day we know it by experience more than is desirable. We see how men, by mutual persuasion, urge one another to defend superstition and the worship of idols; and the more brightly the truth of God is manifested, the more obstinately do they follow an opposite course, as if they avowedly intended to carry on war with God. Since religion was restored to greater purity, idols have been multiplied and set up in hostility to it in many places; pilgrimages, masses, unlawful vows, and, in some cases, anniversaries, have been more numerously attended than before. During that ancient ignorance there was some kind of moderation; but now idolaters, as if they had been seized by madness, run about, and are driven by blind impulse. There is nothing which they do not attempt in order to prop up a trifling superstition and tottering idols. In a word, they join hands, and render mutual aid, in order to resist God. And if any person wish to throw back the blame on his brother, he will gain nothing; for it adheres to every one in such a manner that it cannot in any way be removed. All are devoted to falsehood, and almost avowedly devise methods of imposture, and, trusting to their great numbers, each of them places himself and others above God. They excite each other to the worship of idols, and burn with such madness of desire that nearly the whole world is kindled by it.

Greek Orthodox Deacon Traffics Fake Relics

As I have noted here previously, relics are still for sale in our day. The idolatrous veneration of bones, teeth, hair and paintings lends itself to the unscrupulous preying on the gullible. In this case, a Greek Orthodox deacon assisted a Swiss man in trying to pass off “normal” bones as the bones of saints.:

Police in the northern city of Thessaloniki arrested 43-year-old Swiss Stephan Meyer, an electrician from Zurich, after airport security found 197 human bones and three skulls in the man’s luggage as he tried to board a flight from Thessaloniki to Germany.

Mayer was due to pass the bones onto a representative from the Russian Orthodox Church in Germany, pretending that the bones were from the skeletons of Orthodox saints.

Police also arrested Meyer’s accomplice, a 24-year-old deacon from the diocese in Sidirokastro near the Bulgarian border, after they discovered 505 human bones and 15 skulls at his home.

The bones that had been cleaned were also labelled with various names of saints.

Both men were in custody in Thessaloniki and will face the city court Tuesday charged with theft, trafficking and profanation.

Of course this begs the question regarding if they had succeeded. Orthodox folks would have been “venerating” the bones of who knows who…makes you wonder if this happens anyway?
UPDATE: This article adds details:
the items were meant to be delivered – i.e. sold – to a Russian Orthodox priest presently living in Germany. It seems that the Greek and Swiss accomplices tried to sell the items as genuine relics of deceased saints. Some items had name-tags such as St Andrew, St Dimitris and St Basil, and all of the skulls and bones had been doused in incense-like fragrances.
As of now it is unknown whether or not the receiver was to be deceived, who planned to take the ‘relics’ to India in order to start a new church, or if he perhaps knew that it was all faked and wanted to deceive his future parishioners with some ancient relics from Christian lands. Among the items found by police were also two nails labeled ‘Holy Nails of Jesus,’ apparently an attempt to pass them off as nails used during the crucifixion.
UPDATE 2: [source]
A search of the deacon’s home on Monday by Thessaloniki Security police turned up 10 narcotic pills, 505 bones and 15 skulls on which names of saints were written, as well as a 19th century Byzantine icon, a 19th century Byzantine cross, two Byzantine rings, and five ancient and Byzantine coins which are protected under antiquities laws.

Catholic Idolatry

Mark Horne has a helpful post on why he is not a Roman Catholic. An excerpt:

  1. Idolatry is a huge sin and praying through icons (whether 3d or 2d) is idolatry.  I cannot possibly engage in such a practice, allow anyone in my guardianship to do so, or excuse such a thing, without falling into rank unbelief.
  2. Necromancy is almost as huge a sin and praying to the departed saints is necromancy.  See #1 above.  People raised thinking bigamy is Christian may be true Christians, but people who know better are living in sin and without hope of eternal life unless they repent of such behavior.
  3. The way some Roman Catholic constituencies provide ministry opportunities for defectors from Protestantism is, of course, tempting–but it can hardly count as anything more than thirty pieces of silver if #1 and #2 hold.  If one must be marginalized and impoverished in the Protestant world due to sectarian sins, well, God has called many Christians and their families to far worse martyrdoms.
  4. Claiming unity can be achieved by everyone else joining one’s own denomination is exactly the sect spirit that is so loathsome in many Protestant groups, and it gains no more attractiveness in Rome.

While Mark’s honesty will offend many who justify idolatry by appealing to John of Damascus, we have an opposite example in the Internet Monk’s interview with Bryan Cross, someone who has made that plunge into idolatry. I don’t know why these issues are never raised in these ecumenical interviews. Many Protestants still seem to assume that justification is the core issue between us and Rome, while in fact idolatry is and always has been one of the central concerns of the Reformation, if one that is often ignored today.

Nowell on Idolatry

Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and shew mercy unto thousands in them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

M. What is the meaning of these words?

S. As in the first commandment he commandeth that himself alone be honoured and worshipped, so in this commandment he restraineth us from all superstition, and from all wrongful and bodily inventions, forasmuch as the worshipping of him ought to be spiritual and pure; and chiefly he frayeth us from the most gross fault of outward idolatry.

M. It may seem then that this law wholly condemneth the arts of painting and portraiture, so that it is not lawful to have any images made at all.

S. Not so. But he first forbiddeth us to make any images, to express or couterfeit God or to worship him withal; and secondly he chargeth us not to worship the images themselves.

M. Why is it not lawful to express God with a bodily and visible form?

S. Because there can be no likeness or agreeing between God, which is a Spirit eternal, unmeasurable, infinite, incomprehensible, severed from all mortal composition—and a frail, bodily, silly, spiritless, and vain shape. Therefore they do most injuriously abate the majesty of the most good and most great God, when they go about in such sort to make resemblance of him.

M. Have not they then said well, which affirm that images are unlearned men’s books?

S. I know not what manner of books they be; but surely, concerning God, they can teach us nothing but errors.

M. What manner of worshipping is that which is here condemned?

S. When we, intending to pray, do turn ourselves to portraitures or images; when we do fall down and kneel before them with uncovering our heads, or with other signs shewing any honour unto them, as if God were represented unto us by them; briefly, we are in this law forbidden, that we neither seek nor worship God in images, or, which is all one, that we worship not the images themselves in honour of God, nor in any wise by idolatry or superstition abuse them with injury to his majesty. Otherwise the lawful use of making portraitures and of painting is not forbidden.

M. By this that thou tellest me, it may easily be gathered, that it is very perilous to set any images or pictures in churches, which are properly appointed for the only worshipping of God.

S. That that is true we have had already too much experience, by the decay in a manner of whole religion.

From A Catechism Written in Latin by Alexander Nowell, Dean of St. Paul’s Translated into English by Thomas Norton