Net Abbey

Online Catholic information and inspiration for everyone!



Do Catholics worship idols?

Net Abbey home page             

Iconoclasm Source: Dr Marcellino D'Ambrosio

In the 7th Century, Islam rose very rapidly and Moslems started attacking Christians and Christians were losing the battles. Leo III, in 726 decided that Christians were losing because Moslems have no images - perhaps God was punishing the Christians because of their statues and icons -After all, he pointed out, "Doesn't it say in the 10 Commandments - thou shalt have no images?" Leo commanded that all the statues and icons in the Church be destroyed. This was unthinkable considering that Christians had been honoring icons and statues for centuries.

This anti statue movement was called "iconoclasm" and the defender wasn't a Christian but an accountant who worked for a Moslem.

His name was St John of Damascene and he wrote a pamphlet defending icons with the following points:

1. God did not prohibit all images because in the Old Testament He commanded the Seraphs - Serpents images to be made.

2. God broke this Commandment when He brought His Son into the world - "And the Word was made flesh". Jesus is the very image of the unseen God. Flesh can be depicted in images so it is right that we make images of Jesus and members of His Body, the church.

3.There is a difference between worship of images and honor of images. In the Old Testament, men did bow down before the king, the temple, prophets etc. In the same way we bow down before the images representing the unseen God - we are honoring God through this.

4. That the people in the palace wanted to forbid icons - could be called class warfare because they could read but for most of the people who could not read, these images of the people and stories in the Gospel told the stories. They were an important catechetical tool.

After St John of Damascene's death, the 2nd council of Nicea leaned heavily on his teachings and declared that God wanted the church to use images and icons and Leo's position on iconoclasm was incorrect.

So what IS idolatry?

Idolatry is putting a person or thing as more important in your life than God.

There are two basic types of idolatry - "Formal idolatry" and "Practical Idolatry"

In Formal Idolatry, it is believed that the god comes down and dwells in the image.  Very few, if any people in the world today, practice formal idolatry.  Having statues of Jesus and the "heros" of the church is the same thing as having photos of our family or paintings on the wall - just to remind us of these people.

As for Practical Idolatry, MANY people today practice that but they are not aware of it. For example, to many people, much more time and effort and sacrifice is spent in making money than in worshipping God.  Others idolatize human beings like Madonna or President Obama or the like.