Blog Template Theology of the Body: Worship With Graven Images

Friday, May 19, 2006

Worship With Graven Images

I wrote this explanation about icons for a friend this morning...

Icons can be sticky, but they are so valuable and often so helpful to people in their prayers.

First, (of importance to Jews), Christians read the First Commandment in light of our worship of Jesus, who is the Word incarnate, and hence the IMAGE of God. Thus, the use of images (icons) in Christian worship, in light of this fundamental principle of our faith (the Incarnation of God, wherein God makes Himself known to us not only through Word but through the physical, visible, creaturely reality of flesh and blood) does not violate the First Commandment. As God revealed Himself and inhabited the creaturely reality in Jesus, the creaturely realities expressed in images become appropriate resources for our worship. The incarnation of the Son of God ushered in a new role for images; though God is always invisible and incomprehensible, images of Christ (in whom God has made Himself definitively, visibly, and physically known) allow for deeper contemplation of our Lord Jesus.

So iconography is always ultimately about Jesus, who is our only "picture" of God. As such, icons are helpful in communicating the Gospel in images which illuminate the words of Scripture- the two realities can illustrate and illumine each other, particularly for nonliterate persons. Icons allow for a harmony of the senses, as persons hear God's Word proclaimed, and simultaneously consider the illustrations of that Word in icons; this harmony also allows for a deeper impression on the hearer's memory, imagination, and heart. Christ can be glorified in images, in as much as they signify Him to the viewer and make Him manifest. The beauty of icons can subtly deepen a person's experience in prayer. Finally, images of other believers who are now in God's presence powerfully remind Christians that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, with whom we join (now) in praise and worship of the Lord.

Hope this helps-

CF also New Advent on point here, and the Orthodox Catecism here.