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
There are two basic types of idolatry - "Formal idolatry" and
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.