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
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.
Mark Horne has a helpful post on why he is not a Roman Catholic. An excerpt:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I finally finished touching up this paper which is part of an old book. It’s a discussion of the use of art in the Anglican Church and it makes clear our position on icons and the like.
You can see it here.