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ACCEPTANCE OF IDOL OR IMAGE WORSHIP WITHIN THE CHURCH
NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERS
M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Positions on Idol Worship
This long article is a continuation of my three other articles published in CHRISTIAN LITERATURE AND LIVING, Idols and Idol Worship,
The Bible on Idol Worship and Early Arguments Against Idolatry Prior to the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325.
The Council of Nicea, A.D. 325, and After
The Council of Nicaea, held in A.D. 325, was a great turning point in the history of the Church. The Council was convened by Emperor Constantine, who, thus, set a precedent for other rulers to convene councils and other bodies to settle ecclesiastical matters. The first-ever ecumenical council in Nicaea was convened mainly to discuss doctrinal issues concerning Christology, arising out of the teaching of Arius. The creed of Arius was rejected by this Council and the creed proposed by Eusebius was not found to be precise enough to reject Arianism. With several modifications, suggested mainly by Athanasius, the Creed declared that the Son was of one substance with the Father and that the Son was begotten and not made. Three hundred bishops attended this Council.
Athanasius (A.D.293-373), in the beginning, was an archdeacon to the bishop of Alexandria. He was a contemporary of Arius, who was a presbyter in the principal church in Alexandria, under the very same bishop, Bishop Alexander. The bishop did not agree with the doctrine of Arius and got him deposed by a synod of bishops. However, Arius was gaining in stature before men and had by then attracted a good number of followers to his doctrine. Athanasius was totally and bitterly opposed to the Arian dogma since it questioned the Trinity in one in several ways, as already explained by the end of the last chapter. When the Council at Nicae was convened, it was Athanasius the theologian who led the repudiation of Arianism. Athanasius was used of the Lord to help write the Nicene Creed, which even today continues to influence the theology of both the Catholic and Protestant denominations all over the world.
A New Function for the Theology Against Idolatry
Athanasius wrote against idolatry in his apologies. He wrote these apologies at a time when the Christian faith started receiving the support of the Roman empire. The theology against idol worship is now given a different function in the writings of Athanasius, that of demonstrating the Living God who had won over the idols and weaned their worshippers away from them and towards him. This was a task no one could accomplish so far from the time man had given himself to the worship of inert material in place of true God. The Lord Jesus Christ accomplished this victory by his gospel. Idolatry considered to be invincible was now being shown by Athanasius to be totally defeated, because the victory was always that of the Lord. The writings of Athanasius, while assigning a new function now to idolatry, rather to the abolition of idolatry, which proved the power of the Living God, also threw more light on the bases and nature of idolatry.
In his work On the Incarnation, Athanasius began with the presentation of arguments against idol worship which were much similar to the Psalmist's and prophets' position. Men wholly rejected God and darkened their soul. They fashioned for themselves one invention after another and made idols for themselves. They honored things that were not there before the Living God, and they served the creation rather than the Creator. They gave the honor of God to men, animals, reptiles, birds and all kinds of material. They began to worship the devils, and claimed them to be gods. They offered sacrifices of every sort, and bound themselves down to these demons. Idolatry and godlessness came to dominate their life. They had every evidence before them to see for themselves the glory of the true God. Even by seeing that the evil spirits were cast out they could have turned to God. They saw the Saviour rise from the dead and this should have made these worshippers of the dead as heroes to declare the risen Christ as the true God. Then the demons were cast out by him and in his name. But all these did not make the give up their idolatry. However with the preaching of the gospel, with the spread of the Word, the long and agonizing darkness of idolatry was now removed. This act had confirmed to everyone that Jesus Christ is the true Living God and not the idol gods.
When did men begin to desert the worshipping of idols, save since God, the true Word of God, has come among men? Or when have the oracles among the Greeks, and everywhere, ceased and become empty, save when the Saviour has manifested himself upon earth? Or when did those who are called gods and heroes in the poets begin to be convicted of being merely mortal men, save since the Lord effected his conquest of death, and preserved incorruptible the body he had taken, raising it from the dead? Or when did the deceitfulness and madness of demons fall into contempt, save when the power of God, the Word, the master of all these as well, condescending because of man's weakness, appeared on earth?
Defeat of the Idols Everywhere: Gospel Constrains the Movements of Gods
Not only this amazing turn of events, Athanasius found so many other developments which did not happen earlier than the arrival of the Good News of the Redeemer. Now peoples all over the world had given up worshipping their own specific gods which were of different kinds and were many in number. These gods could not pass from one territory into another. Sometimes each man kept to his own idol, thinking that it was lord of all! Now with the risen Christ, peoples all over the world had come to worship the one and only true God the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus had persuaded not only those who were close at hand but also peoples in far off places. Note that inert nature and the lack of mobility of the idols came handy to compare them with the dynamic gospel.
Idols, limited in time and space, provided a backdrop to highlight the dynamic and life-bearing characteristics of the gospel. Attack on idolatry was no more done emphasizing their limitations, but their limitations were now used to highlight the vigor and life-giving roles of the gospel. There was also an emphasis on the unifying function of the gospel as opposed to the divisive nature of idols and their worship.
Contrasts Between the Gospel and Pagan Wisdom and Ways of Life: Gospel versus Idolatry
Athanasius the Philosopher sees several other contrasts also. The pretensions and the wisdom of the Greek philosophers could not persuade even their neighbors as to immortality and virtuous life. They used pompous language and reasoning, but Christ used the ordinary language and men not clever with the tongue. And yet peoples all over the world, not just a few, were persuaded as to immortality and virtuous life. The Greeks told tales but were never able to resurrect their idols. But Christ rose from the dead and persuaded men not to perform idolatry.
The Greeks and the Barbarians fought wars against each other, now with the preaching of the gospel there was peace and people could live a peaceful life; the nations and the oceans were accessible to all. It was because these nations gave up idolatry and accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ they were able to give up fighting and to lead a peaceful life. Note that since idolatry was considered to be prime sin, giving it up would lead to everything beneficial to men. Idolatry was no more shown to be only as an individual or group religious act, full of sins leading on to the soul's condemnation, but it was the fountainhead of all misery in the natural world, in the earthly lives of all the peoples. And this fountainhead could be totally dried up and closed only by worshipping the true God. This was exactly what the gospel of Jesus Christ did.
For whom they used to worship, them they are deserting, and whom they used to mock as one crucified, him they worship as Christ, confessing him to be God. And they that are called gods among them are routed by the sign of the Cross, while the crucified Saviour is proclaimed in all the world as God and the Son of God. And the gods worshipped among the Greeks are falling into ill repute at their hands, as scandalous beings, while those who receive the teaching of Christ live a chaster life than they. If, then, these and the like are human works, let him who will point out similar works on the part of men of former time, and so convince us. But if they prove to be, and are, not men's works, but God's, why are the unbelievers so irreligious as not to recognize the master that wrought them?...
The tenor of arguments against idolatry, thus, changed with the spread of the gospel. From an earlier stance of just explaining the Christian's refusal to and rejection of idol worship, arguments presented the spread and acceptance of the gospel as additional proof of the worthlessness of idolatry and the idols. Note however that resistance to idols and idol worship did not diminish in any manner. In fact there was renewed vigor in exposing the folly, relating it to the hold of the demons and showing how men would suffer both spiritually and in the natural when given to idol worship.
Athanasius: Harbinger of a New Christian World
Athanasius lived at a time which was momentous for the spread of the gospel. Christians, big and small, by their sheer faith in the Lord, withstood the torture inflicted upon them by successive rulers of the Roman empire. Their faith and their holy lives became a living testimony to the idolatrous nation and people had begun to see the worthlessness of idol worship and the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Freed from the clutches of idol worship, people had begun to accept Jesus Christ. The writings of Athanasius heralded this change and confidence:
And to sum up the matter, behold how the Saviour's doctrine is everywhere increasing, while all idolatry and everything opposed to faith of Christ is daily dwindling, and losing power, and falling.
Idols: Void and Full? Beneficent and Malignant?
Gregory of Nazianzuz (A.D.330-389) was a great preacher. In the first of his Theological Orations, Gregory urged his congregation to reject the `Void and Full' beliefs of the heathen. When the idols were void, how could these be full of divinity? They should reject also all the details about the gods and the sacrifices and the idols and demons. There was no question of retaining beneficent demons and throwing out the malignant ones. They should also not believe in all the tricks that people played with divination, evoking gods, or of souls and the power of the stars. Note that Gregory of Nazianzuz attacked not just the idolatry but all the related belief systems, the mental constructs and behavioral conduct which were sustained by and extended from the idol worship.
Cutting Off Idols: Part of God's Plan to Save Humanity
In his fifth Theological Orations, Gregory of Nazianzuz said that God did not benefit the unwilling, but he did good to the willing. God was like a physician who blended the bitter medicine with what was nice. God knew that it was indeed difficult for men to change wholly all on a sudden, especially to change from those habits which custom and use had made honorable. That is why God first cut off the idol, but did not stop the sacrifices; then he destroyed the sacrifices, but did not forbid circumcision. Then, people, understanding the purpose of God, did not insist upon circumcision for all. Gentiles became Jews first, and then instead of remaining Jews they became Christian, `being beguiled into the gospel by gradual changes.'
Note that the entire process of becoming Christian is seen ordained by God through gradual changes, but the first step, however, is the step getting away from idol worship. Avoidance of idol worship is thus considered a very important step in the Christian's journey.
Carnal Nature: Cause for Idol Worship
Gregory of Nazianzuz, in his second theological oration, declared that as we were the prisoners of the earth we were covered with the denseness of carnal nature. Hence to grapple with objects of pure thought through bodily objects was always impracticable. Even Mind, an invisible object, had difficulty in applying itself to the invisible objects of pure thought. For it was always influenced by the creeping environment. Somehow the objects in the world came to be associated with the objects of pure thought.Could any one conceive of Spirit apart from motion and diffusion? Could we conceive of a mind as if it were not inherent in some person, an entity in itself?
Or are we rather to leave all these things, and to look at the Deity absolutely, as best we can, collecting a fragmentary perception of It from Its images? What then is this subtle thing, which is of these, and yet is not these, or how can that Unity which is in its Nature uncomposite and incomparable, still be all of these, and each one of them perfectly? Thus our mind faints to transcend corporeal things, and to consort with the Incorporeal, stripped of all clothing of corporeal ideas, as long as it has to look with its inherent weakness at things above its strength. For every rational nature longs for God and for the First Cause, but is unable to grasp Him, for the reasons I have mentioned. Faint therefore with the desire, and as it were restive and impatient of the disability, it tries a second course, either to look at visible things, and out of some of them to make a god....(a poor contrivance, for in what respect and to what extent can that which is seen be higher and more godlike than that which sees, that this should worship that?) or else through the beauty and order of visible things to attain to that which is above sight; but not to suffer the loss of God through the magnificence of visible things.
There is an inherent inability in man which does not enable him to see the incorporeal with his corporeal body. However, man longs for God and is unwilling not to be in touch with God. So, man designed various ways of making visible the Deity to him for his worship. Thus idol worship is misguided and is characterized as a folly.
Invisible Nature of God
Men made the elements, stars, and every visible objects as their gods. There were people who worshipped even pictures of images. From ancestor worships, they went to honor the departed with memorials. Later on even the images and pictures of strangers were worshipped by people of subsequent generations, separated from the original worshippers by time. This was made possible by the ignorance of the First Nature, and the consideration that the traditional honor was lawful and necessary. Usage became law in due course. From this step it was not far from worshipping all and sundry objects, men and mental constructs as gods for one reason or the other.
Some of these gods were conceived to be in the heavens, some on the earth and some others under the earth. Some were treated as gods and some were treated as demons; each of them was given a name. And this was all the trick of the Evil One. He abused good to an evil purpose. For men wanted to hold on to God in some manner, but the Evil One entered and took hold of men.
What God is in nature and essence, no man ever yet has discovered or can discover. Whether it will ever be discovered is a question which he who will may examine and decide. In my opinion it will be discovered when that within us which is godlike and divine, I mean our mind and reason, shall have mingled with its Like, and the image shall have ascended to the Archetype, of which it has now the desire.
Limiting Nature of Vision Mode
Basil (A.D.329/330-379), in his Homily III on Deut.15:9, said that taking heed was to discern between the noxious and the wholesome. One could gaze with the eyes of the body at visible objects. One could contemplate incorporeal objects with the intellectual faculty of the soul. Of these two possibilities, the former was of much limited scope, because the eye could not see itself, nor could it see the head. It could not see the back also. Hence the whole could not be perceived by the physical eye. Hence taking heed is intellectual action. The wholesome devotion and faith thus had to be anchored on to the intellectual faculty of the soul, not linked with the limitations of the physical eye.
In one of his letters (Letter No. 233, a letter addressed to Amphilochius, in reply to certain questions), Basil wrote that it was in mind that we possessed what was after the image of the Creator. The eye was always in perpetual motion, forming imaginations about things non-existent as though there were existent. It had two faculties: that of the demons which drew us on to their own apostasy; and the divine, which would take us to the likeness of God.
When, therefore, the mind remains alone and unaided, it contemplates small things, commensurate with itself. When it yields to those who deceive it, it nullifies its proper judgment, and is concerned with monstrous fancies. Then it considers wood to be no longer wood, but a god; then it looks on gold no longer as money, but as a object of worship. If on the other hand it assents to its diviner part, and accepts the boons of the Spirit, then, so far as its nature admits, it becomes perceptive of the divine.
We should recognize the emerging concern about the role of the visual mode, the vision itself, in being in touch with the divine. As of now there was yet no explicit preference for the use of the visual mode for contemplation.
The Relative Merits of the Physical Eye and the Pure Thought
Both Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil discussed the relative merits of the physical eye and the pure thought and seemed to suggest that pure thought was the best form for the worship and touch of the incorporeal. Our mind's operations were wicked, whereas our soul's operations were neither damnable nor laudable. However, these operations inclined in one direction or the other in accordance with the will of those who used them. If our mind were impregnated with the Spirit, then we would behold the divine beauty. The primary function of our mind was to know one God, but this did not require any great effort. He could be known by the very small. It was similar to the use of the physical eye. When our eyes were first brought to the perception of visible objects, all objects were not at once brought into sight. But one by one we were able to see them and to derive a wholesome picture. From what was known, we derived the unknown. One would not allege these to be invisible because of what was unknown; these would be taken to be visible based even on our limited perception of the objects. Likewise, God may be invisible, but through the aid of the Spirit. However, if the mind had been affected by devils, it would seek idolatry, or some other form of impiety. Aided by the Spirit, mind would know God, will know in part in this world and would know him more perfectly in the life to come.For `when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.'
Tradition: An Extension of the Scripture?
Basil considered Arianism practical paganism. Arianism made the Son a creature, and at the same time offered to worship him. This was nothing but to reintroduce polytheism. In chapter 27 of his treatise On the Spirit, Basil spoke of the relationship between traditional beliefs and practices on the one hand, and the dictates found in the canonical texts, making provisions for acceptance of tradition as extension of what the Bible said. He said that both had the same force. This section, however, is considered to be a spurious insertion to the original text of the treatise.
Erection of Images for Saints Approved
In another letter (Letter No.360), Basil spoke approvingly of the invocation of saints and the erection of images for the saints. Basil acknowledged the Trinity, and adored and worshipped one God, the Triune God. He also acknowledged Mary to be the Mother of God, by her giving birth to him in flesh. He acknowledged also the holy apostles, prophets, and martyrs; and declared:
I invoke them to supplication to God, that through them, that is, through their mediation, the merciful God may be propitious to me, and that ransom may be made and given me for my sins. Wherefore also I honor and kiss the features of their images, inasmuch as they have been handed down from the holy apostles, and are not forbidden, but are in all our churches.
This letter, however, is considered to be spurious, but it should be noted that it had been quoted at the 7th Council (the second Council of Nicae) in A.D. 787. So, whether spurious or not, the letter had been believed to be true in A.D.787 and used as a weapon against the iconoclasts of the time.
What is most important is the fact that there were now attempts in the theology to discuss the relative merits of the visual mode for devotion, worship and piety. From the arguments made by Basil, he seemed to hold the view that piety based on perception of the mind , not of the physical eye, led and given by the Holy Spirit, was superior to the physical sight of objects for piety and worship.
Essence and Substance: Reality versus Image
Hilary of Poitiers (b.A.D.315-367) looked at the relation between God the Father and the Son as a close relationship established between the image and reality it represented. He distinguished between essence and substance and established a relationship between the two as the basis of his conception of God. Essence was a reality which was permanent. But this was identical with substance. Essence signified nature, or genus, or substance.
The relationship between the Father and the Son was not to be represented as a matter of names. Every image was similar in species to that of which it was an image. No one could be himself his own image. The image was to demonstrate the person of whom it was an image. The image brought out the figure and likeness of the thing for which it stood for.
Therefore the Father is, and the Son is, because the Son is the image of the Father; and he who is an image, if he is to be truly an image, must have in himself his original's species, nature and essence in virtue of the fact that he is an image.
A feature of visual representation was used by Hilary of Poitiers to discuss the relationship between the Father and the Son. But there was nowhere an indication, actual representation of the Son in concrete substance, in the form of an image or images, was to be approved. A principle, something which every one would understand, was used to illustrate a point. Thus far, the visual representation of the Deity was not approvingly referred to.
Not the Law But the Gospel Responsible for Repudiation of Idolatry
In his essay, An Address on Religious Instruction, Gregory of Nyssa (334-395) declared that the deceit of demons filled the whole world and had control over man's life by the madness of idolatry. People on the earth worshipped demons in the form of idols. They sacrificed living victims and made offerings on their altars. It was through God's saving grace men were saved from this folly. God appeared among men and lived with them in human nature, and because of that, all idolatry vanished into nothing, like smoke. Their oracles and prophecies also ceased. Likewise several other activities of false beliefs had disappeared. Note that the Law prohibiting idol worship was not seen instrumental in eliminating the folly of idol worship among the peoples of the nations. It was Christ's incarnation and the preaching of the gospel that was seen to be responsible for the abolition of idol worship. In this sense, not just a position against idol worship but its abolition became the mark of the Christian faith.
The Sure Way of Avoiding the Folly of Idolatry
Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 315-386?) also spoke about the power of the Lord which rooted out idolatry in Lecture IV. Some worshipped the elements, some other worshipped the planets and still others the human beings, animals and the arts and so on. He prescribed a sure way of avoiding the folly of idolatry: One should accept the unity of God in his heart and put his trust in God and this would certainly would root out the whole crop of the evils of idolatry. It would also set right the error of the heretics. Cyril called this as the first doctrine of religion. Thus the crux of the problem of the persistence of idolatry lay in people not accepting the unity of God and putting their trust in him. Unity of God and trust in him alone are characteristics opposed to pantheism. Thus, idolatry and pantheism are equated here.
Caution Against Eating Idol Offerings
In the same lecture, Cyril warned also against eating things offered to idols. The Apostles and Elders also wrote an epistle to all the Gentiles, that `they should abstain first from things offered to idols, and then from blood also and from things strangled'. Eating such things was not eating in reverence, according to Cyril.
God Has No Body
In Lecture VI, Cyril's major thrust was to show that the Son's role was to restore the glory of the Father, that is, to eliminate idolatry and to restore worship of the Father. Another thrust was to insist that God had no body, but the polytheistic peoples had given him all kinds of bodies. Cyril listed the abominations which people called God, the animate and inanimate objects, the vegetables and so on which were called by the heathen as gods. In this way the Father was despised, and so the Son had to correct the error. The wound had to be healed:
for what could be worse than this disease, that a stone should be worshipped instead of God?
God, wrote Cyril, is not like us -- of great understanding in one matter and ignorant in another. We shall never be able to express his shape and form, asserted Cyril. He quoted the Scripture `You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape'. He quoted also Moses' words to the Israelites, `Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves: for ye saw no manner of similitude'. Hence it was impossible to picture what God was like. Note that this was an argument presented also by the other fathers before Cyril's time.
Anti-Christ Also Will Abhor Idols
In his Lecture XV, Cyril made the point that Anti-Christ would also abhor idols, for it would amount to sharing glory with these gods. Anti-Christ would come with all signs and lying wonders, would exalt himself against all idols.
Theater and Idolatry
In his five catechetical lectures addressed to the newly baptized, Cyril spoke against the influence of theater inside the church worship and among the Christians.
Now the service of the devil is prayer in idol temples; things done in honor of lifeless idols; the lighting of lamps, or burning of incense by fountains or rivers, as some persons cheated by dreams or by evil spirits do (resort to this), thinking to find a cure even for their bodily ailments. Go not after such things. The watching of birds, divination, omens, or amulets, or charms written on leaves, sorceries, or other evil arts, and all such things, are services of the devil; therefore shun them.
Unity of Triune God - Guarantee Against Idolatry
In his sixteenth catechetical lectures, Cyril of Jerusalem pointed out the unity of the Triune God.
There are not some graces that come from the Father, and different graces from the Son, and others again from the Holy Spirit. There is but one salvation, one giving of power, one faith, and yet there is one God the Father, our Lord, his only begotten Son, and One Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
Note that this characterization was important to dispel the sense of polytheism one might impose on the Triune God. We cannot expect different favors from the different persons of the Trinity in one. On the other hand, in polytheism different favors would be sought from different gods. Hence the insistence on one salvation and so on.
Astrology is a Form of Idolatry
Nemesius of Emesa around the last decade of the fourth century (A.D.390) continued the trend set earlier that not only idolatry but also the behavioral extension of the same as reflected in belief in astrology, etc., should be repudiated.
Lessons from Attempts at Restoration of Idolatry
In addition to the above cited extension of the notion of idolatry, the early church fathers were also vigilant against efforts at restoration of idolatry in some form or the other. The legal abolition of idolatry in the period of Emperor Constantine did not end the matter then and there; since idolatry, as clearly affirmed both by the Scripture and the early church fathers, was the work of demons, it would revive itself in subsequent periods. Julian the Apostate made attempts to help revive idolatry. There were also attempts by the senators who were idolaters to revive it. Bishop Ambrose took continuous and bold steps against all such attempts at the restoration of idolatry in the Roman empire.
Ambrose (A.D.339-397) wrote against restoring the Altar of Victory in the Roman Senate. Ambrose did succeed in getting a decision from the young emperor Valentinian II in favor of Christian faith and in removing the altar. The story of this struggle for and against the removal of the Altar of Victory is quite interesting and should be considered a prototype for all such Christian endeavor against pagan/new age practices.
Ambrose wrote in his letter to emperor Valentinian II that there was no place for the servant of true God to offer him neglect or weakness of principle. Even if he had not eager faith and devotion (Ambrose seemed to suggest) he ought not face or allow any worship of idols or observance of profane ceremonies. From a Christian emperor God demanded not faith alone, but zeal and care and devotion in the exercise of faith. The endowments given for the senate for maintaining the Altar of victory had already been taken back to the privy purse or treasure. So any grant now sanctioned for the restoration and maintenance of the Altar would amount to support from the Christian emperor for idolatry.
If anything different is decided, we bishops can certainly not accept it with equanimity and take no notice of it. You may come to church as you please, but you will find no bishop there, or else one who will resist you.
If this ever happened, it was emperor's word, his hand, his signature and his doing, so declared Ambrose. There was no other way of explaining such grants.
There are four important letters of Ambrose (A.D.340 - 397) which reveal the position taken by the Church as regards restoration of heathen worship with the active support and connivance of the State. The statue and Altar of Victory was first removed by Constantius, son of Constantine in A.D.356. Julian the Apostate restored these along with the restoration of heathen symbols and rites. Valentinian I did not do anything against this. According to Ambrose, his action might be explained as due to ignorance of the magnitude of the evil. These were again removed by Gratian. Symmachus, the pagan senator, appealed to Valentinian II for the restoration of the Altar. The Roman senator Symmachus asked in his memorial to successive emperors that the statue and Altar of Victory in the Roman senate be restored. This was opposed by the Christian senators, who forwarded through Pope Damascus a petition against any restoration of idolatry. Emperor Gratian refused to receive the deputation of the pagans. In A.D.384, they made another attempt to influence Valentinian II, the brother of Gratian, who had now become the Emperor. Symmachus tried once again to influence Valentinian II in A.D.392, but was not successful. In 393, Emperor Eugenius restored the Altar of Victory, but this was finally removed by Theodosius after the defeat of Eugenius and Arbogastes.
State Funds for Propogation of Other Religions?
There is yet another interesting letter of Ambrose addressed to emperor Theodosius against the emperor's decision to restore the Jewish synagogue which was burnt down by some Christians. This letter is important for two reasons: Firstly, the letter reveals the opposition of the Christians of the time to the State building any non-Christian places of worship with State funds. Secondly, the letter suggests that by punishing/killing the persons who burnt down the synagogue, the emperor would only be making martyrs for a wrong reason. In this connection, a canon of the Council of Elvira, A.D.305 or 6 was very relevant. This canon stipulated that a person who was killed for breaking idols was not to be treated and venerated as a martyr. So, if the emperor built a synagogue, if this were to be burnt down by some zealots, and if in this process some were killed, there might be claims for those persons being declared and venerated as martyrs. This would thus result in some action against the said canon. While this canon was not referred to in this letter, there was enough of a warning that the people would not like the synagogue to be built and that the Bishop of the region would oppose the construction with all his might.
Resistance to Everyone who Supported Idolatry
Ambrose was never reluctant to rebuke the emperor or any one else in power to show his displeasure to them for their conduct with regard to heathen worship. Once he excused himself from meeting the emperor Eugenius in Milan. He wrote a letter to the same emperor asking him to refrain from supporting heathen worship in any manner. He narrated how he (Ambrose) sent memorials to Valentinian II against the possibility of restoring the Altar of Victory and how the memorial of the illustrious Symmachus was finally turned down. Later on he pursued the matter with the emperor Theodosius as well.s This was all done for the profit of the emperor and of his own soul, Ambrose declared.
When you became Emperor, envoys requested that you would make restitution to the temples, and you did not do it; others came a second time and you resisted, and afterwards you thought fit that this should be granted to those very persons who made the petition.
Though the imperial power be great, yet consider, O Emperor, how great God is. He sees the hearts of all, He questions the inmost conscience, He knows all things before they happen, He knows the inmost things of your breast. You do not suffer yourselves to be deceived, and do you desire to conceal anything from God?
Ambrose reiterated that he would continue to show deference to the emperor and to all persons in authority, since this was ordained so in the Holy Scripture.
But do you who desire that deference be paid to you suffer us to pay deference to Him Whom you are desirous to be proved the Author of your power.
Early fathers, thus, not only opposed idol worship but were vigilant against the revival of pagan idol worship.
Idolatry is of the Devil: Jerome's Theology Against Idolatry
Jerome (A.D.347/374-419/420) wrote in his letter to Heliodorus (Letter 14) urging him against idolatrous practices; he called them the transgressions. Idolatry was of the devil, because all the idols were subject to him, Jerome wrote. And whatever was of the devil savored of enmity to God. As Paul said, fornication, uncleanness, evil concupiscence and covetousness were in the service of idols,and thus they received the wrath of God. Idolatry was `not confined to casting incense upon an altar with finger and thumb, or to pouring libations of wine out of a cup into a bowl'. Covetousness was idolatry, or else the selling of the Lord for thirty pieces of silver would be considered a righteous act. Lust involved sacrilege because this would not help being `a living sacrifice acceptable to God.' It would defile men. Fraud was idolatry; otherwise Ananias and Sapphira would be worthy of imitation. But they were `perished by an instant doom'.
Lives of Martyrs who Refused to Worship Idols
Jerome, in his book Lives of Illustrious Men, gave brief sketches of 135 Christian leaders. The work of Jerome was written at Bethlehem in A.D.492. The preface of the book tells us that Jerome gave an account of the illustrious men of letters among the gentiles, from the time of our Lord's passion until the fourteenth year of the Emperor Theodosius. It lists many martyrs and others who refused to offer sacrifices or worship idols. For example, it speaks of Phileas as one who composed a work in praise of martyrs and who argued against the judge who tried to compel him to offer sacrifices. It speaks also of Maximus, bishop of the church at Turin, who composed a treatise Homily on all the Martyrs. It lists Paulinus, bishop of Nola in Campania, as having written several brief works in verse. One of these was A General Panegyric of All the Martyrs.
Jerome in Defence of Veneration of Relics
Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, introduced the ascetic life, established monastic institutions, spoke and wrote high of the relics and sacred places, defended the veneration of these, always wrote in favor of the Episcopal authority and the authority of the Roman Pontiff. What Jerome supported remained the bases of the Church until the Reformation. Thus, Jerome's influence on the Holy Church was substantial and lasted for over thousand years. Even today Jerome's influence on the Roman Catholic Church is substantial.
Opposition to Erection and Worship of Visual Representation of Jesus Christ - A Position Against Growing Worship of Images
An interesting letter of Ephiphanus, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, addressed to John, Bishop of Jerusalem, and dated 394 A.D., was translated by Jerome. This letter spoke of the image of God in man, and also threw some light on the iconoclastic trend of his time, prevalent among some.
Ephiphanus said that the heretics presumed that Adam lost the image of God, but nowhere it was declared so in the Holy Scripture. On the contrary, the Holy Scripture showed that the image of God in Adam was continually transferred to all the men subsequent to Adam. This grace of God, the image of God, was found in Noah, Abraham and subsequent generations. The Psalmist confirmed it when he said that every man walked in the image. Solomon also said, in the Book of Wisdom, that God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of His own eternity. The New Testament affirmed that men did not lose the image of God. James taught us that man did possess God's image and likeness. He said that men were made after the similitude of god. Paul also said that man was made in the image and after the likeness of God and he explained the nature of the image as glory. One could not fathom the particular way in which God created men in his image and after his likeness. We should leave it to God.
While all these were in affirmation of Euphanius' belief that God's image still rested with men, Euphanius' subsequent narration of an incident spoke of his opposition to (and also his toleration of) depicting the Deity in visual form. From the fact that Jerome chose to translate this letter, it is obvious that Jerome was well aware of the practice of visually representing the Deity. He, however, did not make any comment on the incident while translating this letter.
Euphanius wrote that he had heard that certain persons had a grievance against him, when he accompanied Bishop John of Jerusalem, to the holy place called Bethel. There he came to a villa called Anablatha. In it he saw a lamp burning there. He found that out to be a church. He went in to pray, and `found there a curtain hanging on the doors of the said church, dyed and embroidered. It bore an image either of Christ or of one of the saints: I do not rightly remember whose image that was. Seeing this, and being loth that an image of a man should be hung up in Christ's church contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures, I tore it asunder and advised the custodians of the place to use it as a winding sheet for some poor person'. The people in the church, however, were not happy with his act and said that if he had decided to tear it up, then he should give another curtain to the church. He promised that he would give one. He got one good quality curtain from Cyprus sent it to them with the request to Bishop John of Jerusalem that he would `afterwards give directions that curtains of the sort -- opposed as they are to our religion -- shall not be hung up in any Church of Christ and of those Christians who are committed to your charge.
This episode brings out the fact that by this time church buildings had some visual representation of Christ, that there were people who were opposed to such visual representations and that there were also people who murmured against people who objected to such visual representations. Epiphanius refers to the practice of such visual representation as `opposed to our religion.
Jerome's Defence of Images of Christ and Other Christian Personages
Jerome's work Against Vigilantius refutes the position of Vigilantius, considered to be a heretic by Jerome and the Roman Church. This treatise of Jerome was written in A.D.406. Vigilantius, in his work which is lost, argued as superstitious the reverence paid to the relics of holy men. These relics were carried round the church in vessels or silken wrappings which the people kissed. Prayers were also offered to the dead. Vigilantius was also against the watching at the basilicas of the martyrs. People reported miracles there which were only made up. He was against burning of numerous tapers. Vigilantius did not also approve the sending of alms to Jerusalem. Instead the same could be spent among the poor in each separate diocese. He attacked the tradition of honoring and praying to the martyrs. He attacked the emphasis on the vow of monks and the exaggerated emphasis of virginity. In other words, Vigilantius opposed the traditions then prevailing in the Church.
Jerome asserted that none ever adored the martyrs and that none ever thought man was God. Note the assertion that the martyrs were not adored. Jerome seemed to make a point for the honoring of the martyrs based on the fact that the devil and the demons were free to move about and thus caused all troubles for men. Why should the martyrs be kept in their coffins out of sight?
Jerome was equally emphatic that if the apostles and those who sacrificed their lives for the glory of God prayed all the time for our salvation and benefit while they were alive on the earth, should we not believe that they continued to pray for us even from the heaven? It was fallacious to argue that `so long as we are alive we can pray for one another; but once we die, the prayer of no person for another can be heard', asserted Jerome. He told Vigilantius
The truth is that the saints are not called dead, but are said to be asleep... As for you, when wide awake you are asleep, and asleep when you write.
Vigilantius had attacked the practice of lighting the tapers as superstitious. Jerome pointed out that the tapers were not lighted in the daytime. In the night, by the tapers, one received solace and cheered the darkness of the night, and watched for the dawn.
And if some persons, being ignorant and simple minded laymen, or, at all events, religious women--of whom we can truly say, `I allow that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge'--adopt the practice in honor of the martyrs, what harm is thereby done to you?
Jerome said that once upon a time even the Apostles were rebuked by the Lord, when they complained that the woman wasted the costly ointment. Just as the Lord Jesus Christ did not need the ointment, the martyrs also did not need the light of tapers. It was the devotion of the woman's heart that was accepted. Likewise, all those who lighted these tapers had their reward according to their faith. These men could not be called as idolaters. Jerome would not deny, however, that
all of us who believe in Christ have passed from the error of idolatry. For we are not born Christians, but become Christians by being born again. And because we formerly worshipped, does it follow that ought not now to worship God lest we seem to pay like honor to Him and to idols? In the one case respect was paid to idols, and therefore the ceremony is to be abhorred; in the other the martyrs are venerated, and the same ceremony is therefore to be allowed.
Jerome thus sought to justify the tradition of honoring the martyrs based on several counts -- it was the devotion and faith in the heart that mattered, and not the form the worship would take; since people were born Christians, it was likely that they might bring with them their old customs; worship was a principle, not a specific practice; it was not the ceremony that was to be condemned, it was the object to whom the worship was offered that would come to govern the continuation or repudiation of the practice. All this, while accepting that such practices were done mostly by the ignorant.
Jerome sought to support the practice of lighting the tapers based on a tradition followed in the Eastern Churches also wherein the candles were lighted even in the daytime whenever the Gospel was read.
accordingly the virgins in the Gospel always have their lamps lighted. And the Apostles are told to have their loins girded, and their lamps burning in their hands.
Jerome supported the practice also on the basis that the veneration of the bones of Peter and Paul was done by the Pope of Rome.
And not only is the bishop of one city in error, but the bishops of the whole world, who, despite the tavern-keeper Vigilantius, enter the basilicas of the dead.
Jerome called Vigilantius a monster who should be banished for such sacrilegious statements. Vigilantius suggested by his arguments, Jerome attacked, that the basilicas were sepulchres with filthy remains and foul smell. He mocked at the relics of the martyrs by asking whether the souls of the martyrs loved their ashes because they hovered in the places of their burial, angrily declared Jerome. Vigilantius thus was to be counted as a heretic in the company of Montanus and the other heretics.
I am surprised you do not tell us that there must upon no account be martyrdoms, inasmuch as God, who does not ask for the blood of goats and bulls, much less requires the blood of men. This is what you say, or rather, even if you do not say it, you are taken as meaning to assert.
Even if one agreed with Vigilantius that the signs and miracles done in the basilicas of the martyrs were useful only for the unbelieving, not to believers, Jerome argued that because of these signs and miracles the faithless were now brought to believe. But then how was it that poor worthless dust and ashes were associated with this wondrous power of signs and miracles, queried Jerome.
Tradition - The Supreme Dictat
Tradition had already established its footing in the Church. The arguments and evidences offered by Jerome formed the major outline for all arguments in support of veneration versus adoration/worship distinction. Jerome's method of quoting events and ideas in the Scripture, which are not applicable to or meant to be used in support of idolatrous activities and image worship would be adopted in subsequent arguments in favor of image worship. Illustrations from the Bible wherein incense was used for worship, wherein the temple was carved with figurines and such other information would be used in subsequent arguments. What is most important to note is that there was no specific support in favor of images for the Deity and their worship. And such practices were still considered as done mostly by the ignorant people.
Vulgar Pride as Basis of Idolatry
Augustine (354-430 A.D.) said in his treatise On the Spirit and the Letter that it was due to the sin of vulgar pride that even some great men had `drifted from the sure anchorage of the divine nature, and have floated down into the shame of idolatry'. Pride and self-reliance became the major reason for people to begin to worship idols.
Abandoning Pagan Idol Worship - An Outward Mark of Christian
Giving up idol worship continued to be an outward mark of the heathen becoming Christians even during Augustine's time. Augustine wrote in his treatise Concerning Faith of Things not Seen that when Jeremiah prophesied that the `nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, Our fathers possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them nothing good' it was a matter of faith, something which had not been seen yet, which had now been fulfilled. This certainly was what happened whether one wished it or not. This was what we saw, declared Augustine. Even if some people might believe that there was some substance, some profit left in worshipping the idols, yet, surely peoples of the nations, after having left, or cast away or broken in pieces such like vanities, had declared that their fathers worshipped worthless idols that did them no good.
Abolition of Idolatry - Evidence of Shining Divine Grace
The evidence for the fact that the Divine grace was shining on the human race during the period in which Augustine was writing, was to be seen in the abandoning of the false gods, Augustine suggested in his treatise Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen. The images of these false gods were `every where broken in pieces, their temples overthrown or changed into other uses, and so many vain rites plucked out by the roots from the most inveterate usage of men'. Idolatry was described as inveterate, perhaps because this was unbecoming of the human who was made in the image of God.
By the time Augustine was preaching, teaching and writing, it was recognized that the pagan idolaters were few in the Christian world. Augustine wrote in his treatise On the Profit of Believing that
we are now for the first time seeking unto what religion we shall deliver up our souls, for it to cleanse and renew them; without doubt we must begin with the Catholic Church. For by this time there are more Christians, than if the Jews and idolaters be added together.
Christians Must Repudiate Idolatry in the Public
Because of persecution, there were, among the Christians, people who wanted to obey the orders of the authority and prayed to the idols and partook of the food offered to these idols. In secrecy they claimed to be Christians but in public they worshipped the idols. They claimed that they had to this in order to avoid a greater peril. In his treatise On Lying, Augustine did not approve of these arguments. He wrote that the deeds of men included not only what they did, but whatever they consented to be done to them. If some one burnt incense to idols because they were threatened to do so, it just amounted to telling lies. From one lie, he would go to another to protect himself from the threat of violence to his body. He would then do every disgraceful thing to save himself from the threat to his body. If this were to be accepted as a good deed, then those who were murdered because they refused to burn incense and worship the idols would be considered murderers of themselves.
what if these terms were offered to a Martyr, that, upon his refusing to bear false witness of Christ and to sacrifice to demons, then, before his eyes, not some other man, but his own father should be put to death; his father entreating him that he would not by his persevering permit that to be done? Is it not manifest, that, upon his remaining steadfast in his purpose of most faithful testimony, they alone would be the murderers who should slay his father, and not he a parricide into the bargain?
The persecutors, indeed, asked people to do evil so that they might not do the evil to them.
Servants of Christ Turning Servants of Demons
In his treatise To Consentius: Against Lying, Augustine wrote that the servants of Christ gave themselves to the servants of demons by false witness. They worshipped the idols so that they would not be killed, and some did approve of this. This was just an egregious doctrine, according to Augustine. They would have the servants of Christ `lyingly pretend a worship of the Devil in the body, when the worship of God was preserved in the heart' But this was not what the Martyrs understood from the life-sacrificing acts of the Apostles, `the true, the holy Martyrs'. They held on to what they saw and was written.
For if, because he said, `To the Jews became I as a Jew, and to them which were under the law as under the law', he is therefore to be accounted to have in a lying manner taken up the sacraments of the old law, he ought in the same manner to have taken up, in a lying way, the idolatry of the Gentiles, because he hath said that to them which were without law be became as without law; which thing in any wise he did not. For he did not any where sacrifice to idols or adore those figments and not rather freely as a martyr of Christ show that they were to be detested and eschewed.
Defeat of the Hebrews and the Vicotory of Jesus
Augustine, in his treatise The Harmony of the Gospels, argued that the God of the Hebrews, the True God, was never conquered by the Romans, although the Romans conquered the Hebrews. This God of the Hebrews was offended by the conquered, and was denied acceptance by the conquerors, but was now preached and worshipped among all nations. God always reigned supreme. The Romans allowed the other gods of the nations whom they conquered to be worshipped in their empire, but did not allow the God of Israel, because they thought that by this they would prevent the destruction of their own gods. However, the God of Israel Himself had destroyed the idols of the nations.
Christ Did Not Preach Against Idols?
Some of the pagan philosophers argued that the demolition of temples, condemnation of sacrifices, and the shattering of all images were not preached and brought about by Christ Himself but only by the hands of the apostles. They contended that the apostles taught different from the Christ himself. this was an attempt on the part of these philosophers to denigrate the Christian faith while pretending to honor Christ himself.
But if they refuse to believe that Christ taught in the way indicated, let them read the prophets, who not only enjoined the complete destruction of the superstitions of idols, but also predicted that this subversion would come to pass in Christian times.
Duplicity of Men of Wisdom Supports Only Idolatry
The fact that idolatry had been rejected by those who had become Christians and the fact that the Christian faith removed idolatry from among many nations became a powerful instrument in the hands of Augustine to press forward the claims of Christianity and the True God before the eyes of those who still clung to their own pagan ways of faith and worship.
Augustine wrote in his treatise The Harmony of the Gospels that some still clung to their gods and had not admitted the worship of the true god. These argued that all the gods ought to be worshipped by the men of wisdom. At the same time, these men of wisdom would exclude only the worship of the one true god from their list.
Why is He the only Deity whom they have judged worthy neither of being called upon for help, nor of being propitiated? What God is this, who is either one so unknown, that He is the only one not discovered as yet among so many gods, or who is one so well known that He is now the only one worshipped by so many men? There remains, then, nothing which they can possibly allege in explanation of their refusal to admit the worship of this God, except that His will was that He alone should be worshipped; and His command was, that those gods of the Gentiles that they were worshipping at the time should cease to be worshipped....... For if they were minded to worship Him in a method different from the way in which He had declared that He ought to be worshipped, then assuredly they would have been worshipping not this God as he is, but some figment of their own. And, on the other hand, if they were willing to worship Him in the manner which He had indicated, then they could not but perceive that they were not at liberty to worship those other deities whom He interdicted them from worshipping.
Gods Could Not Predict Their Own Fate
The gods of the pagans did not even predict the danger that awaited them in the hands of those who worshipped the true God. On the other hand the prophets of the true God had predicted the destruction of the idols. What had been effected by the Christians in the destruction of images had long been predicted and the Jews themselves, who behaved themselves to be enemies of the Christian faith, would stand testimony for this, Augustine argued. Hence the attempt to find alleged difference between what Christ himself taught and the teachings of the apostles was only a mischievous act.
Wherefore let those evil applauders of Christ, who refuse to become Christians, desist from making the allegation that Christ did not teach that their gods were to be abandoned, and their images broken in pieces.
Gods - No Source of Power
Another false doctrine spread by the pagans was that Christ acquired power through worshipping their gods. Augustine asked of them to answer whether they thought that the God of Israel also worshipped their gods. God of Israel, through Christ, had fulfilled what was predicted before and extended his own worship through what Christ had accomplished.
Pagans also said that because they offended their gods these gods had deserted them. That was why the Christians had prevailed over them, the pagans claimed. Could the pagans show in their books that this was predicted and that the true God who had thrown out the idols should not be worshipped? Thus, the success of the Christians in throwing out the idols and stopping idolatry was seen closely related to the predictions in the Holy Bible, something that had been ordained and which could not be stopped. The overthrowal itself came to signify the greatness and the superior power of the true God in the theology of Augustine and other fathers. Idolatry was no more an act of worship, its abolition had acquired the function of signifying what the true religion was.
When Do Christians Break the Idols? Should They? Should They Not?
In his Sermons on New-Testament Lessons (Sermon XII), Augustine spoke of the conditions in which the Christians could break the idols. The Christians should not give credit to the words of the pagans. The pagans might criticize the Christians as enemies of their idols. However, the Christians should not be afraid of such criticism or of the idolaters. Let the Lord give the idols into the hands of the Christians for their destruction. The Christians should destroy only those images given to them for that purpose by the Lord. They should not do it if it was not lawfully in their power to do it.
for it is the way of ill-regulated men, and the mad Circumcelliones,(vagrants) both to be violent when they have no power, and to be ever eager in their wishes to die without a cause...... When we shall have got the power, do this. When the power has not been given us, we do not do it; when it is given, we do not neglect it. Many Pagans have these abominations on their own estates; do we go and break them in pieces? No, for our first efforts are that the idols in their hearts should be broken down. When they too are made Christians themselves, they either invite us to so good a work, or anticipate us. At present we must pray for them, not be angry with them.
Augustine wrote that there were so many places in which idols were kept and worshipped. These places were known to the Christians but the Christians should not go to all these places with the intent of destroying the images, Augustine advised. When the owners of these places became Christians, power was given to the Christians to break these images. the owners themselves would break these images or would invite the other Christians to come and do it.
When this was requested, the act should be executed with the greatest devotion. And when a piece of land was given to the Church, care should be taken to ensure that there were no idols in the Church's estate. The Christians did not attempt to take away the idols from the lands of the pagans, and thus did not give them an opportunity to complain against the Christians.
We preach against idols, we take them away from the hearts of men; we are persecutors of idols; we openly profess it. Are we then to be the preservers of them? I do not touch them when I have not the power; I do not touch them when the lord of the property complains of it; but when he wishes it to be done, and gives thanks for it, I should incur guilt if I did it not.
No Christian Should Be a Stumbling Block
In sermon xii of the Sermons on New-Testament Lessons, Augustine emphasized the need for the Christians to avoid the idols lest they misguide the weak among them. Citing the principle suggested by the apostle Paul, Augustine asked people to refrain from being a stumbling block to them in the matter of idol worship. A Christian might claim that he was pure in his heart and the Lord knew what he did and why he did it, when he paid obeisance to an idol out of compulsion or for any other reason. However, the weak Christian brother who saw another Christian worshipping the idol on that occasion would be misled:
If thou art weak, beware of a still greater weakness; if thou art strong, have a care of thy brother's weakness. They who see what you do, are emboldened to do more, so as to desire not only to eat, but also to sacrifice there.
Those who disregarded the words of the apostle Paul in this matter were like those who pressed but not touched! They came to church not to receive saving health but to make a pressure.
One should not accept meat and other substances offered to the idols, even if this act offended others above him. For, by partaking of food offered to the idols, one did indeed offend God, who was greater than every one, who was above all persons. If Christians indulged themselves in idol worship, it hampered not only the weak among the Christians to follow the true religion, but it stopped the heathen also from becoming Christians, Augustine pointed out. Such was the importance now given to the repudiation of idolatry.
Whosoever they are who are minded to disregard these things, and sin against Christ, let them only consider what they are doing. We wish the rest of the Heathen to be gathered in; and ye are stones in their way: they have a wish to come; they stumble, and so return. For they say in their hearts, Why should we leave the gods whom the very Christians worship as we do?
Christians might still claim that they were not worshipping the gods. However in these temples they could not speak of the gospel. Where one could not speak of the gospel, there people did lose their God. There they would be talking of the idols only. The sacrifices offered by the pagans were for the devil only and thus fellowship with the idolaters and their rites would mean fellowship with the devils only.
It is this that the Apostle warns us of. For that they regard that statue as something divine, and take it for a god, the altar is witness.
Christians Are in the Furnace of the Goldsmith
Augustine wanted us to regard this world as the furnace of the goldsmith; it is a narrow place wherein gold, chaff, and fire were to be found. Whereas the gold was purified by the fire, the chaff was burnt. When a man yielded to the threats and thus consented to worship the idols, he became a chaff and thus would be burnt. On the other hand, the man who refused to kneel down before the idols in spite of the threats, he would be purified like gold.
So then if the Emperor enjoin one thing, and God another, what judge ye? Pay me tribute, submit thyself to my allegiance. Right, but not in an idol's temple. In an idol's temple He forbids it. Who forbids it? A greater Power. Pardon me then; thou threatenest a prison, He threateneth hell.
The believers were required to take faith as their shield so that they could brave all the fiery darts of the enemy. There was no exception thus given to a Christian as regards idol worship. There no excuse allowed by which one could partake of the sacrifice and food offered to the idols. Idol worship was devil worship, and it was in no way connected with the worship of the one true God.
Psalmist Position and Description Had Come True: The Fall of Human Wisdom
Augustine, in his treatise On the Psalms, wrote that the Psalmist prediction and description had come true: All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols -- worship him, all you gods! (Psalm 97:7). All those who worshipped images were put to shame, because all the nations confessed the glory of Christ now and they all had seen his glory. So the people who worshipped the stones were left alone and thus were ashamed. Indeed these stones never lived and could not be thus called even dead, wrote Augustine. The nations had now acknowledged his glory; they had left the temples, and they ran to the Churches. They did not seek to worship carved images. They had chosen to forsake their idols and their gods had forsaken them. However, there were still people, the disputers who considered themselves learned, Augustine found to his dismay, who still gloried themselves in their idols. Such persons claimed that they did not worship the stone, nor even the image which was without sense. They claimed that they adored what they saw, and served him whom they did not see.
Who is that? Some invisible deity, he replieth, who presideth over that image. By giving this account of their images, they seem to themselves able disputants, because they do not worship idols, and yet do worship devils.
These learned persons could not excuse themselves and explain away their conduct because, as the apostle Paul said the things offered to idols were offered to demons, and not to God. Paul asked us not to be participants with the demons. Thus in whatever manner one could interpret, these learned persons were indeed devoted not to the insensate idols, bit to the devils, which was more dangerous, so proclaimed Augustine.
For if they were only worshipping idols, as they would not help them, so they would not hurt them; but if thou worship and serve devils, they themselves will be thy masters...
Honor and Glory Due Only to God: Resist the Devil
Men who were truly holy would not allow fellow human beings to worship them, instead of God. They would not accept the honor due to God. They would rather be with us under God, and as god to us. This was what Paul and Barnabas did. Just as the devils were angry if they were not worshipped, the angels were very angry if they were worshipped, declared Augustine.
Augustine exhorted the Christians not to be afraid of the devil. If the devil the power over the Christians he would have done with all the Christians, because the Christians spoke against him all the time and refused to worship the idols, his abode. In spite of the threat of the devil, the harvest increased daily. Why? It was because the devil had no power over the Christians. Satan was not allowed to harm the children of God.
Augustine further wrote on psalm 99:1 (`The lord reigns, let the nations tremble') that when the gospel began to be preached the peoples of the nations who worshipped idols were angry, because the Creator of all things were proclaimed. Any one who was angry with any body because of his idols should be condemned, Augustine argued. However, even the anger of these people led to the glory of God. For because of the opposition there were martyrs in whose supreme sacrifice the one true God was glorified.
God and World - Soul and Body?
Augustine asked, in his City of God:
Is God the soul of the world, and is the world as the body of his soul in such wise that the two together make up a living organism composed of body and soul? Does this God, like nature's womb, so to speak, contain all things in Himself, so that His soul, which vitalizes the entire mass, is the source of the life and the soul of all living things, according to the lot determined for each one at birth? Does nothing remain which is not a part of God?
This was one of the arguments given in favor of idol worship. If together the earth and the soul of God formed a set, then worship of the earth and earthly objects would amount to worship of God. Augustine truly labeled this argument as impious and blasphemous, because when anyone trampled on anything he would be trampling on God! When he killed any living thing, he killed God! Augustine argued against polytheism and showed that the Roman religion, which had so many gods made polytheism look really ridiculous. Those who found fault with polytheism, however, failed to come to the True God.
Are the Gods in charge of Life after Death?
Augustine refuted also the thesis that the gods of the pagans were to be worshipped not on account of this life, but with a view to life after death. Yet the very life of these gods were feared by persons like Varro. Varro had fear about their survival -- their destruction might come not from the hands of the foreign invaders but from his own people's indifference. He claimed that he wrote his works on the gods just to save them from this indifference! Varro admitted that those who first made images for worship took away the fear of people but added error to their thinking. Secondly, Varro also believed that the ancient Romans had a purer reverence for the gods when they had no images!
Augustine described the functions of some of the selected gods of the Romans, as discussed by Varro and showed that these functions were often confused and were antagonistic to one another.
Low Error, High Doctrine
The heathen hid his low error of worshipping the images under a high doctrine, Augustine pointed out. For example, Varro claimed that `the ancients made images, insignia, and ornaments of the gods so that those who looked at them in the light of a doctrine for initiates could see with their mind and contemplate the soul of the world and all its parts, that is to say, the true gods'. Pagans' images of the gods looked like men because they believed that human spirit, the spirit of the mortals, was very much like the spirit which was immortal. They assumed that the container symbolized what it contained. So, they sought to symbolize a rational soul with the help of an image which had a human form, because it was contained in a rational body. Augustine, thus, brought in information from the highly respected advocates of idol worship to show the folly.
Augustine's repudiation of idolatry came from a close scrutiny of the futility of idol worship in a crosscultural set up. While refuting the practices of idol worship of his contemporaneous Roman culture, Augustine also brought the Egyptian practices of the old to bear upon the subject matter. Augustine found that the Egyptian, Hermes, believed demons to be mediators between men and gods, and hence these were indispensable to the mortals. He did not however distinguish their worship from the worship of superior gods.
On the other hand, he allowed for two types of gods, some made by the supreme god, and the others by men. Hermes also maintained that the images, the visible and tangible representations, were indeed the bodies of gods. He claimed that these bodies were animated by the invitation given to the spirits to dwell in them. These had the power either to harm or to favor people who paid honor and reverence to them, so claimed Hermes.
According to Hermes, the gods were not just those made by human hands. It was the facilitating act, the enabling act of the people through some art to unite the invisible spirits with the visible and material things that should be considered as making gods. This great and amazing gift had been entrusted to men, claimed Hermes. Hermes also claimed that it was the duty of the human to imitate the divinity. As God created the celestial gods, so did man create the deities in the temples who were satisfied to stay with the mortals. Lord and Father fashioned eternal gods to be like himself, and men fashioned the deities like themselves. Egypt was an image of heaven and whatsoever was directed and effected by the gods above descended and was transported to Egypt. Indeed, Egypt was the temple of the whole world.
Augustine found that despite such assertions by him, Hermes also predicted that in future the Egyptians would realize that they did pay homage to their gods in vain. And, indeed, this period of destruction had arrived with Christianity, even though Hermes talked of such a destruction with sympathy for the gods who would be destroyed.
Hermes appeared to bemoan that by this the status of Egypt as heaven on the earth was being taken away. Augustine wondered as to how a man could speak in favor of idol worship, with `what blindness of heart he could wish men to be always subject to gods made by men.'
For, what could be more hapless than a man controlled by his own creations? It is surely easier for a man to cease to be a man by worshipping man-made gods than for idols to become divine by being adored. For it is easier to compare a man to cattle if, for all his human dignity, he lacks understanding than to prefer a work of man to a creation of God, made to His own image -- that is, to man himself.
Augustine recalled that Isaiah had a specific prophecy for Egypt: `The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of Egypt melt within them' (Isaiah 19:1).
Relationaship between Paganism and Ancestor Worship
Augustine makes a very significant comment in the chapters 24 to 26 that paganism eventually degenerated into ancestor worship. In other words, paganism which purported to worship gods, indeed, became a worship of the ancestors,that is, men.
Contextualization from Region to Region: Saint Worship
Augustine compared the Christian practices prevalent during his time, which had been apparently approved by the various churches in various regions, and nothing wrong with the differences in Christian practices from region to region. This section is very crucial for our understanding of how the worship of the saints and how the construction and maintenance of shrines for the saints came to be associated with image worship in due course. Augustine states in these chapters that the Christians did not construct shrines, and perform rites and sacrifices for the martyrs. However, Christians did honor their shrines because they were men of God and they fought for the true religion. They gave their lives against falsehoods. People before them did know the truth but were afraid to express their conviction. The martyrs, on the other hand, never hesitated. And yet, Augustine asserted, they were not adored as God. Christians did not have priests standing before the altars of these shrines and offer honor and service to the martyrs lying there.
No! Before the monuments of these martyrs, the Sacrifice is offered to God alone, who made them first men and then martyrs and finally associated them with His holy angels in heavenly honor.
The sacrifices offered were for God only, to thank him for the victories of the martyrs. This renewed the memory of the martyrs in us. This was a call for us to emulate the example of the martyrs. Thus, acts of veneration at the tombs of martyrs were only tributes paid to the memory of the martyrs and not to be treated as worship of the martyrs, Augustine argued. Note that this argument would be presented even today by the Roman Catholic Church.
Augustine insisted that such acts of veneration at the tombs of the martyrs were not sacred ceremonies or sacrifices offered to the dead, as to gods. However, from Augustine's statements we find that the practice was widely prevalent and, in some parts, this practice led to, for example, bringing food to these places, by less enlightened Christians.
Note the recognition of the need to distinguish between the sacrifices and practices of the Christians from the sacrifices and practices of the pagans. Stung by the criticism of the pagans that the practices of the Christians were not much different from those of their own, Augustine had to explain away the apparent similarity between the two in some manner; he clung to the tradition and gave it a rationale which would be considered in due course by the Roman Catholic Church as sanctified practice.
We revere our martyrs, therefore, with neither divine homage nor the human vices which the pagans offer to their gods. We neither offer them sacrifices nor do we convert their sins into sacred rites....Let anyone who likes it (reported by the poets and the mystic writings of the Egyptians) and can stand it read it, but then let him pause and reflect in honor of what kind of man, guilty of what monstrous sins, sacred rites were offered to the dead as to gods.
The pagans appointed priests for the worship of their gods and for offering sacrifices. Doing this for the purpose of offering sacrifices to the Christian martyrs would be `incongruous, improper, and unlawful, since worship is due to God alone,' Augustine declared. The pagans while tending to worship their gods did also mock at them, which the Christians would not do for their martyrs. The pagans commemorated the sins of their gods and took great delight in such acts by their gods. they might make a distinction between the benevolent gods and bad demons and claim that they did supplicate to the benign ones.
Augustine did not agree to this position, because when a man was caught by these spirits, he might `never reach the true God, with whom and in whom and by whom alone the rational, intellectual, and human soul can attain its blessedness.'
A Test for the Pagan Gods and for Christian Saints
Augustine suggested a crucial test to find out the intent of the gods of the pagans. Did they `wish for themselves or only for their God, who is also ours, the homage of our ceremonies and sacrifices and the consecration by religious rites of some of our goods or even of ourselves?' The pagan gods wanted to usurp the worship due only to God to themselves.
Distinction Between Worship Due Only to God and Service for Others
Augustine distinguished between the worship that was due only to God and the service that might be offered to God and/or others. The Greek term latreia, Augustine found, had been translated as service. However this service meant only service due to God and not to others. The distinction Augustine made between service to God as found in the use of the term latreia, as opposed to service to others, would come, in the future, to guide the whole of Roman Catholic doctrine as regards image worship.
While the service offered to God was always referred to with the term latreia, the service, for example, the service a slave did to his master, was referred to with another Greek term. Such a service (cultus) was not reserved only to the worship of God.
what in Greek is called latreia and in Latin servitus in the sense of the service of worshipping God; or what in Greek is called threskeia and in Latin religio, in the sense of religion binding us to God; or what the Greeks call theosebeia, meaning `piety toward God' and for which there is no Latin equivalent -- this is due exclusively to God who is the true God and who makes those who worship Him shares in His divinity.
Those who dwell in heaven, the immortal spirits, drew their happiness from the same source as the humans on the earth did, from the one true God. So these spirits would not ask us to worship them. If they loved the humans they would not ask for worship from the humans, but, on the other hand, as these drew happiness from the same source as the humans did, would deny any such service from the humans, so argued Augustine. If they loved the humans, they would the humans also to become immortal as they were, and would want us to be happy driving happiness from the same source as they did. However, the deceitful did not love men, and they wanted worship for themselves. They wanted that the humans worshipped them only.
The spirits, then, who claim divinity for themselves take pleasure not in the fumes of bodies but in the soul of any suppliant whom they dominate, once they have deceived and seduced him; and they bar from him the way to the true God, so that, while cornering homage to some being other than God, he is unable to offer himself in sacrifice to Him.
Idol worship, the worship of the demons, thus became a barrier to reach out to God.
Emphasis on the Need for Visible Sacrifice to God
Augustine argued that sacrifice was always associated with the worship of God. Any good men did could become sacrifice, but only if this was done for God. Augustine was insistent that visible sacrifices to God be performed. In this insistence of visible sacrifices, Augustine should be considered as supporting Christian rituals of various sorts. Augustine said that there were some people who thought and preached that visible sacrifices were relevant only for the gods of the heathen. These argued that for the God who was invisible and greater than all the pagan gods, there was no need for visible sacrifices.
Augustine characterized the visible sacrifices as mere signs of realities, just as the audible signs were mere signs of the realities the words referred to. When we prayed to God and praised him, we used words with meaning. These words were signs of the realities which we offered in our hearts. That is, the mental constructs in our heart were conveyed by these words. Likewise,
when we offer sacrifice, we know that visible sacrifice would be offered to no one but him to whom we ourselves, in our hearts, should be the invisible sacrifice.It is when we are offering such sacrifice that all the angels and the higher powers who, outstanding especially in goodness and piety, look with favor upon us, rejoice with us, and aid us with all their strength to make this sacrifice. Even if we should wish to offer this homage to them, they are unwilling to receive it. And when, under a visible form, they are sent to men, they openly forbid it, as the examples in Scripture show.
Augustine, thus, supported the honor or veneration being paid to the martyrs, but he asserted that such veneration was not the same as the one paid to God. Neither the angels nor the martyrs nor any men of God would ever accept the worship due only to God for themselves. Thus the question of paying worship to them did never arise. He argued also that the visible sacrifices were equally important and had an important role to play. He opened up the possibility of worshipping God not only through the aural medium but also through the visual mode, in his support of the visual sacrifices. It was on the goodness and god-fearing and loving nature of the angels, spirits of the martyrs and the men of God that target of worship was to be decided, and not on the intent of the worshipper.
Tolerance of the Diversity
In conclusion, Augustine suggested a `tolerance' of the diversity of the earthly city. The city of this world had come to believe in multiplicity of divinities. It had come to believe that these were linked to human life, with different functions for each of them. The heavenly City, on the other hand, had faith in only one true God. It adored only him with total dedication referred to by the Greek word latreia. As a result, the heavenly City dwellers could not have a total communion with the dwellers of the earthly city. The dwellers of the heavenly City had to withstand and bear heroically the anger of the earthly city citizens. Thus failure to worship God with that kind of worship due only to God came to distinguish the two types of dwellers. However, Augustine would not insist upon any other uniformity among the dwellers of the earthly city:
So long, then, as the heavenly City is wayfaring on earth, she invites citizens from all nations and all tongues, and unites them into a single pilgrim band. She takes no issue with that diversity of customs, laws, and traditions whereby human peace is sought and maintained. Instead of nullifying or tearing down, she preserves and appropriates whatever in the diversities of divers races is aimed at one and the same objective human peace, provided only that they do not stand in the way of the faith and worship of the one supreme and true God.
Saints as Effective Intercessors
Chrysostom (A.D.347-407) lived at a very crucial time and place. The church of Antioch had, for nearly nine decades, been plagued by schism from within. Although only half of its population of 200,000 was Christian, the heathen segment could not succeed in reviving the sacrifices to the pagan gods. The attempt to revive the sacrifices to the pagan gods by emperor Julian in A.D.362 became an utter failure. The population at Antioch, pressed hard by excessive taxes, revolted against the emperor Theodosius the Great and broke down the statues of the emperor and his wife. The emperor threatened destruction of the entire city, but, at the intervention Bishop Flavian, did not proceed with the implementation of his declared intent. During this period of anxiety, Chrysostom delivered a series of lectures called Homilies on the Statues, which were not intended as lectures against idolatry. The lectures exhorted Christians to a better conduct in life and be spiritual in their attitude and lives. What is most important to note is that statues were no more untouchable objects, in the thinking process of the Christian fathers.
Chrysostom, unlike Origen, generally shunned away from allegorizing as a major method of explaining the scriptural verses and content. He generally took into consideration the historical context, the psychological state of the writer and the grammatical axis of the text.
In the writings of Chrysostom, we find laudation and promotions of the saints as effective intercessors. He treated the saints as great heroes and exalted them in many ways. Chrysostom's writings should be considered as laying exegetical/doctrinal foundations for the veneration of saints. For, such veneration had been already assumed in the writings of several fathers of the time and in the practice in the church in many places. At the same time, while veneration of the martyrs was approvingly encouraged, idolatry continued to be criticized. Under such circumstances, Chrysostom wrote in an eulogizing tone about the martyrs and found in the veneration of even their relics and sepulchres a sure means of obtaining many good things, both spiritual and natural.
The End versus the Means
That the end justified means appeared to be accepted by Chrysostom, at least in some measure. In a way this approach should be linked with the position taken on the intercessory role assigned to the saints by Chrysostom.
Chrysostom evaded election to a bishopric and through a well-intentioned deception that he also was willing to become a bishop, got his equally reluctant friend Basil elected as a bishop. On this Chrysostom wrote:
What is wrong that I have done thee, since I have determined to embark from this point upon the sea of apology? Is it that I misled you and concealed my purpose? Yet I did it for the benefit of thyself who wast deceived, and of those to whom I surrendered you by means of this deceit. For if the evil of deception is absolute, and it is never right to make use of it...... But if the thing is not always harmful, but becomes good or bad according to the intention of those who practice it, you must desist from complaining of deceit...... For a well-timed deception, undertaken with an upright intention, has such advantages, that many persons have often had to undergo punishment for abstaining from fraud.
Bodies and Sepulchres of Saints Have Efficacy
In his work Homilies on St.Ignatius and St.Babylas, Chrysostom wrote to the Christians of Antioch on the greatness of the martyrs and the benefits one derived by giving honors to them. The martyr had to undergo what all he did because God wanted to impress upon the Romans the reality of his own power and glory. The martyr was killed not outside the city, not inside of a dungeon, not in any court of justice or in any unknown corner, but in the very center of the city and in front of all the people in the theater. He had to undergo such cruelty, being thrown to the wild beasts, because god wanted the spectators to see and emulate his piety and steadfast faith. He departed from the earth to the heaven, crowned. God not only crowned him but restored him to the people on the earth and distributed the martyr to the cities. Although Rome received his blood as witness to god, the remains of the martyr were brought back to Antioch for the people of Antioch to venerate and derive benefits from his presence in the city of Antioch. Not only Antioch but also the cities en route received the remains of the martyr with great jubilation and veneration.
Thus the martyr, Bishop Ignatius, encouraged all the cities. this blessed Ignatius, Chrysostom declared, filled those who came to him with blessing and boldness for the faith. People should go to him every day to gather the fruit of many good things from him.
Chrysostom wrote that not only the bodies of the martyrs but also the very sepulchres of the saints were filled with spiritual grace. Thus an extension from the heroic act of the martyr which should be emulated by the Christians being persecuted, veneration of the martyrs was approved. Then, as further extension, the remains of the martyrs were seen to be dispensing grace, spiritual and other gifts for those who paid homage to these martyrs. From emulation, gifts of tangible nature were added to the list of benefits. Then, as further extension, it was declared that the places in which the bodies or the mortal remains of the martyrs were kept also had the same gifts to offer by way of their association with the remains of the martyrs. Chrysostom cited the case of Elisha's remains giving life to a dead body (Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man's body into Elisha's tomb. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood on his feet (2 Kings 13:21).
when grace is more abundant, when the energy of the spirit is greater, is it possible that one touching a sepulchre, with faith, should win great power; thence on this account God allowed us the remains of the saints, wishing to lead by them us to the same emulation, and to afford us a kind of haven, and a secure consolation for the evils which are ever overtaking us (italics ours).
Seek the Saints At All Times
Chrysostom asked those who might be in any despondency or disease, or under any insult, or in any other adverse circumstances, and in sins, come to these sepulchres of the martyrs with faith. They would be able to lay aside all these and obtain much joy and benefits from the martyrs, `having procured a lighter conscience from the sight alone' (italics mine)'. Even those who were well off should come to these sepulchres, because by beholding(itaalics mine) the saints they would preserve what they had.
Sign the Cross on the Forehead to Resist Devil
Chrysostom encouraged signing the cross on the forehead, as an accompaniment of prayer. Along with the word of prayer, one would have the sign of the cross on the forehead, Chrysostom recommended. When the devil and the evil persons saw you appearing with the word of prayer and the sign of the cross, they would never be able to defeat you, so insisted Chrysostom.
Reasons for the Veneration of Saints
In his lectures Concerning the Statues, Chrysostom discussed the status and relevance of sainthood for us. There were eight reasons for the veneration of the saints.
- The first reason was that God permitted them to suffer evil because they would realize that it was god's power which held them through.
- The second was that this would demonstrate that they were only men and not gods before the eyes of the people.
- The third reason was that it afforded an opportunity for the power of God to manifest in their victory.
- The fourth was that by their endurance of the beastly attack on them, the martyrs became a striking example.
- The fifth reason offered was that the spectators would realize the reality and importance of the doctrine of a resurrection.
- The sixth reason was that all who would be subjected to such suffering in future would `have a sufficient consolation and alleviation, by looking at such persons, and remembering what sufferings have befallen them'.
- The supreme sacrifice of these martyrs stood as a great example to be emulated. One would not emulate the ordinary. This was the seventh reason.
- The eighth reason, suggested by Chrysostom, was that one would learn from all these as to what indeed gave real happiness to men.
Saints Help Us Attain A Divine State
It was during the fourth century that invocation of saints and prayers to God for their prayers on behalf of the worshippers became very common. This was already noted in the writings of Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, Athanasius, and a host others. These either prayed to or referred to the prayers to the saints and the benefits one derived from the relics of the saints. Martyrs were considered `mediators for attaining a divine state.'
Reason for the Power of Relics
Chrysostom wrote in his homilies Concerning the Statues (Homily VIII) that the ashes of the holy Martyrs drove away demons. Such thoughts and assigning such powers to the relics of the martyrs were linked with the archetypical personages found in the Bible:
The word of Elisha changed the waters, so that it made them to bear the iron on their surface! the rod of Moses divided the Red Sea and cleft the rock! The garments of Paul expelled diseases! The shadow of Peter put death to flight! The ashes of the holy Martyrs drive away demons!
Chrysostom wrote also in his commentary/homily on the Acts of the Apostles about the need to venerate the martyrs. Prayers, oblations, and almsdeeds all helped people grow in their spiritual life. Moreover, it was the saints who helped people break into pieces the bonds that tied them to evil. The saints also helped the people to go forward in tempestuous situations in their lives.
Where the feet of saints step, there will be nothing painful; and if such should happen, it is for proving us and for the greater glory of God. Accustom the floor of thy house to be trodden by such feet, and an evil spirit will not tread there. For as where a sweet odor is, there a bad odor will not find place.
Iconoclasm - An Instrument of the Devil
Chrysostom did not approve of the breaking down of the emperor's statue. This act of some men brought the wrath of the emperor on the city which then faced imminent retribution from the emperor. However, the Lord used this situation to bring more souls to the church and to strengthen the hearts of the Christians. Chrysostom eulogized that by the very means of an ill-conceived act of breaking the emperor's statue
the devil hoped to overturn our city, hath God restored and corrected it. The devil animated certain lawless men to treat the very statues of the Emperor contemptuously, in order that the very foundations of the city might be razed. But God employed this same circumstance for our greater correction...
Note that the earlier contempt of the idols and idol worshippers, although retained in some measure, now was replaced by a cautious tolerance of the same. It was not the fear of the ethereal power alone which led to this softening of the anti-idolatry position. The developments within also helped develop such a position. Already saints were admired and venerated. Their relics were also assumed to perform miracles. References to the archetypical characters in the Bible in support of this claim were made. The daring sacrifices of the martyrs, which helped impress upon the heathens and pagans the truthfulness and validity of Christian faith, became the foundations by which a secondary mechanism, intercession of the saints, was well established. Worshipful treatment even of the sepulchres, and of the relics and the miracles which seemed to have been wrought by the glorious saints all led to a reduction in opposition to idolatry.
Chrysostom Against Idolatry
In his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Chrysostom wrote severely against idolatry. The idolaters had great conceit in themselves. They plunged themselves into the reasoning of senselessness and changed the glory of god into images (Romans 1:22, 23). Thus they did not find God, although they had every opportunity and means to do it. Then they claimed themselves to be wise. They lowered God into lesser status like that of the devil and into all kinds of materials and beings. These were arguments given by Paul which were repeated also By Chrysostom.
Thus Chrysostom, like the fathers of his time, tended to distinguish between the worship of the idols, which, for them, was blatantly against God, and the veneration given to the martyrs and even to their sepulchres. In this way, it was assumed that what and who were worshipped was more important than the form of worship. Even if the form of worship resembled that of the heathen or the pagan, it was not to be condemned so long as the object of worship was the only true God and that the veneration paid to the saints did not usurp the worship to be paid exclusively to the Lord.
The Cause for Idolatry
The cause for of idolatry was to be had from the people's desire to find out more and more about everything around. It was due to `lusters after new devices, for such is all that is Grecian.' The very same lust made them fight against one another also, even at the intellectual level. These totally surrendered themselves to the machinations of the devil.
Chrysostom clearly extended the notion of idolatry, following Apostle Paul, to include covetousness, etc. Continuing his discussion on the Epistle to the Romans, Chrysostom wrote that the Christians could not draw the pagan from idolatry if they themselves did not get away from this sin.
Now do not tell me, that you do not worship an image of gold, but make this clear to men, that you do not do those things which gold bids you. For there be different kinds of idolatry, and one holds mammon lord, and another his belly his god, and a third some other most baneful lust. But, `you do not sacrifice oxen to them as the Gentiles do.' Nay, but what is far worse, you butcher your own soul. But `you do not bow the knee and worship.' Nay, but with greater obedience you do all that they command you, whether it be your belly, or money, or the tyranny of lust. For this is just what makes Gentiles disgusting, that they made gods of our passions; calling lust Venus, and anger Mars, and drunkenness Bacchus. If then you do not grave images as did they, yet do you with great eagerness bow under the very same passions...
Name of the Lord - A Spiritual Charm
Chrysostom would call the Name of the Lord a spiritual charm (Homily 8 on the Epistle to the Romans), along with the Cross. Salutation of the saints and visit to the shrines of the saints and even construction of the shrines of the saints were greatly emphasized by Chrysostom.
Continuing Battle for Pagan Idols
Socrates the historian (A.D.379/380-a few years after 439?) wrote a church history covering the period between A.D.305 and 439. He spoke of the acts of emperor Julian against Christians and Christian institutions. Julian had a predilection for the idolatry of the heathens. He pretended to be good to his Christian subjects by recalling the exiled bishops. He restored to them their positions and estates. However, he had agents to ensure that the closed pagan temples were opened. He supported the philosophers who were writing and speaking and encouraging idolatry and worship of pagan gods.
Because of this state support there were many who pretended to be philosophers. These supported Julian's pagan worship. Julian himself derided all his predecessors and wrote a book against them. He composed treatises against the Christians also.
Socrates the church historian spoke of the demolition of the idolatrous temples at Alexandria by the emperor Theodophius. This resulted in conflict between the Christians and the pagans in that city (Book 5 Chapter 16). The pagan temples were demolished with great fanfare, showing obscenities to all to see. This angered the pagans of Alexandria and the philosophers in the city. They pre-planned and made a concerted attack on the Christians and murdered every Christians they came across or get hold of. The Christians did retaliate and this resulted further blood shed.
All the images were accordingly broken to pieces, except one statue of the god(phallic in form) before mentioned, which Theophilus preserved and set up in a public place; `Lest,' said he `at a future time the heathens should deny that they had ever worshipped such gods.
Sozomen (b. A.D.370/380-), in his church History, The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Comprising a History of the Church From A.D. 323 to 425, recorded how the emperor Julian slowly but steadily made every effort to stir up opposition to Christianity, and how he tried but failed to establish paganism. He assigned considerable money for the restoration of pagan temples. He himself offered worship to the idols openly and publicly sacrificed. He was very generous towards everything pertaining to pagan rites, temples and worship. On the contrary, he showed open hostility towards everything Christian, Sozomen recorded. However he was grieved to see that Christianity could not be suppressed and that people did not turn to the pagan gods in great numbers. He was more hurt when he discovered that `the wives, children, and servants of many of the pagan priests had been converted to Christianity'. He tried to introduce some of the systems of Christian worship and personal conduct. And yet despite all these efforts, he could not succeed reviving the pagan religion.
One of the subtle devices used by Julian was as follows: When the stated day came round for giving money to the troops, as each soldier approached to receive the money, he was commanded to offer sacrifice, fire and incense having been previously placed for this purpose near the emperor, according to an ancient Roman custom. Some of the soldiers had the courage to refuse to offer sacrifice and receive the gold; others were so habituated to the observance of the law and custom that they conformed to it, without imagining that they were committing sin. Others, again, deluded by the luster of the gold, or compelled by fear and consideration on account of the test which was immediately insight, compiled with the pagan rite, and suffered themselves to fall into the temptation from which they ought to have fled (Book 5, Chapter 17).
Sozomen recorded an incident in which a statue of Christ was overthrown and made valueless by Julian the emperor. He wrote that after overthrowing a statue of Christ in Paneas, Julian erected his own statue in its place. This incident clearly shows that at the time of Constantine's rule there were statues erected for Christ. Whether such statues were worshipped or not is not clear. But from the report of Sozomen it is clear that such statues were valued in some sense:
Among so many remarkable events which occurred during the reign of Julian, I must not omit to mention one which affords a sign of the power of Christ, and proof of the Divine wrath against the emperor.
Having heard that at Caesarea Philippi, otherwise called Paneas, a city of Phoenicia, there was a celebrated statue of Christ which had been erected by a woman whom the Lord had cured of a flow of blood, Julian commanded it to be taken down and a statue of himself erected in its place; but a violent fire from heaven fell upon it and broke off the parts contiguous to the breast; the head and neck were thrown prostrate, and it was transfixed to the ground with the face downward at the point where the fracture of the bust was; and it has stood in that fashion from that day until now, full of the rust of the lightning. The statue of Christ was dragged around the city and mutilated by the pagans; but the Christians recovered the fragments, and deposited the statue in the church in which it is still preserved.
Sozomen reported also on the complete demolition of idolatrous temples in Egypt and related this destruction as one of the causes which induced the pagans to go to Christian churches.
When the pagans found themselves deprived of their own houses of prayer, they began to frequent our churches; for they did not dare to offer sacrifices after the pagan form in secret, for it was dangerous, since the sacrifice was under the penalty of death and of confiscation of property (Book 7, Chapter 20).
Theodoret A.D.393-458?) wrote yet another church history, called The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret, which narrated among other things the acts of the pagans against the Christians when they got the power from Julian. The crimes against the Christians were voluminous in nature. So Theodoret selected a few and presented the same in his book, Theodoret wrote. According to him, the virgin priests and women were disembowelled.At the city of Emesa they dedicated to Dionysus the newly erected church, and set up his image. Marcus, the bishop of Arethusa was put in a basket, was smeared with pickle and honey, and was hung up `in the open air in the height of summer, inviting wasps and bees to a feast. Their object in doing this was to compel him either to restore the shrine which he had destroyed, or to defray the expense of its erection. Marcus, however, endured all these grievous sufferings and affirmed that he would consent to none of their demands'.
The destruction of the temples and idols was used to instruct people about the mischief committed by the idolaters. For example, Theodoret narrated an incident in the life of bishop Theophilus. Theophilus exposed the vile of the idolaters:
The idolaters had constructed statues of bronze and wood hollow within, and fastened the backs of them to the temple walls, leaving in these walls certain invisible openings. Then coming up from their secret chambers they got inside the statues, and through them gave any order they liked and the hearers, tricked and cheated, obeyed. These tricks the wise Theophilus exposed to the people.
Image and Type versus Reality: Moses and Jesus
The Dialogues of Theodoretus is an imaginary dialogue between two individuals holding different views. The Eranistes held erroneous views regarding Godhead, Trinity and other important aspects of Christian theology. On the other hand, Orthodoxos represented the true views of the holy Christian Church. Eranistes, or Polymorphous, received information and teaching from many sources, full of conceit.Orthodoxos was indeed Theodoret.
Theodoret says that Jesus `is called a mediator because he does not exist as God alone; ... and as man with us, because from us He took the form of a servant, He is properly termed a mediator, uniting in Himself distinct qualities by the unity of natures of Godhead, I mean, and of manhood'. Eranistes asked in response as to why then Moses was not called a mediator. Orthodoxos replied to him that Moses was a type of the reality and that the type would not have all the qualities of the reality. Eranistes asked how one not having the distinct characteristics of the archetype could be called a type. Orthodoxos answered that the imperial images were the images of the emperor. These images did not have all the characteristics which their archetype had. They had neither life nor reason; they had no inner organs, heart, belly and liver and the other parts. They had the organs of sense, but none of these worked.and yet they were called imperial statues. `In this sense Moses was a mediator and Christ was a mediator; but the former as an image and type and the latter as reality'.
Robber as a Saint: How to Discern a True Martyr
Life of Saint Martin written by Sulpitius Severus (A.D.363-420) reported that Saint Martin demolished an altar consecrated to a robber, who was claimed to be a martyr. Martin wanted to ensure that such claims should have had the authority of the antiquity, should have been accepted by the elders and the cleric upon verification of the facts relating to them.
In Book III, chapter VIII of his Dialogues, Sulpitius Serverus wrote about the miracle by which an idol temple was destroyed. Such miraculous happenings were reported in several of the works of the period.
Scripture, Canons, Holy Fathers and Tradition
A Commonitory (an aid to memory), an important work believed to have been written by Vincentius under an assumed name Peregrinus around A.D.434, laid down clearly the relative importance of the Holy Scripture, canons, writings of the holy fathers and traditions. It called the `error' of Origen as a great trial to the church and put Tertullian also on the same footing. Then it went on to discuss what one should learn from these examples. Note that Origen and Tertullian, among other things, had taken a very strong position against idolatry. Although the repudiation of the theology of Origen and Tertullian did not make any reference to their position against idolatry, it appears that several of those who wrote against idolatrous practices in general had been found guilty of erroneous theological positions by the Church councils then.
Commonitory suggested that we should learn lessons from the church history. The Scripture might be used both by holy men and agents of the devil. `The words, the sentiments, and the promises' of the Scripture had been misquoted and misused by the heretics in the past. In such conditions how did one arrive at the only truth? How would the `Catholics and the sons of Mother Church' would decide and identify the truth?
... they must interpret the sacred Canon according to the traditions of the Universal Church and in keeping with the rules of Catholic doctrine, in which Catholic and Universal Church, moreover, they must follow universality, antiquity, consent. And if at any time a part opposes itself to the whole, novelty to antiquity, the dissent of one or a few who are in error to the consent of all or at all events of the great majority of the Catholics, then they must prefer the soundness of the whole to the corruption of a part; in which same whole they must prefer the religion of antiquity itself in like manner, to the temerity of one or of a very few they must prefer, first of all, the general decrees, if such there be, of a Universal Council, or if there be no such, then, what is next best, they must follow the consentient belief of many and great masters.
By way of recapitulation, Vincentius further clarified the relationship between the components of tradition, the Scripture and the canons of the Church:
first by the authority of the Divine Canon, and next by the tradition of the Catholic Church. Not that the Canon alone does not of itself suffice for every question, but seeing that the more part, interpreting the divine words according to their own persuasion, take up various erroneous opinions, it is therefore necessary that the interpretation of divine Scripture should be ruled according to the one standard of the Church's belief, especially in those articles on which the foundations of all Catholic doctrine rest.
As regards the relationship between universality and antiquity, Vincentius would suggest that equal emphasis be given to both the factors. Within the ecclesiastical antiquity two points were to be considered: Decisions in ancient times by the whole priesthood of the Church and, in the absence of such decisions, the opinions of the holy Fathers. Vincentius said also that the rules suggested by him were not of his own making but were decisions made in the council at Ephesus in Asia.
The statements of Vincentius made it clear that any practice which could be interpreted as idolatrous could not be called so if the authority of the Church had sanctioned it on various grounds. Exclusive recourse only to the Holy Scripture was not recommended. This practically stopped people from calling the image worship of the Christian as similar to the idol worship of the pagans.
How to Deal with Continuing Pagan Practices?
Leo the Great (390/400-461) noticed that there were people, even among the Christians, who followed pagan practices in their worship of the Lord. He argued that the festival of nativity had nothing do with Sun-worship, as some maintained at that time (Sermon 22). In his sermon 27, Leo the Great called it a foolish practice if one bowed down to the sun.
even some Christians think it is so proper to do this that, before entering the blessed Apostle Peter's basilica, which is dedicated to the One Living and true God, when they have mounted the steps which lead to the raised platform, they turn round and bow themselves towards the rising sun and with bent neck do homage to its brilliant or.
Thus it had been almost a constant problem that the traces of heathen beliefs lingered and that the new Christian tended to retain some of his heathen practices. Leo the Great called it a source of grief and vexation for him and others.
We are full of grief and vexation that this should happen, which is partly due to the fault of ignorance and partly to the spirit of heathenism............we must abstain even from the appearance of this observance; for if one who has abandoned the worship of gods, finds it in our own worship, will he not hark back again to this fragment of his old superstition, as if it were allowable, when he sees it to be common both to Christians and to infidels?
Note that this argument was not seen applicable to the veneration of the martyrs and their relics. Nor was it seen applicable to the intercessory roles assigned to the martyrs and the saints.
Continuing Vigilance Against Pagan Idolatry and Support for Christian Image Worship
Gregory the Great (A.D.540?-604), in one of his epistles (Epistle 115) asked the clerics to be vigilant against worshippers of idols, soothsayers, and diviners. He called these a great sacrilege. and such temptation of divine judgment, and peril in the present life. If those who indulged in these and those who believed in these were unwilling to repent and change their conduct, he asked the clerics
to lay hold of them with fervent zeal, and, in case of their being slaves, to chastise them with blows and torments, whereby they may be brought to amendment. But, if they are freemen, they should be directed to penitence by suitable and strict confinement.
By the fifth century, thus, the stage was set for punishing those who continued to adhere to pagan practices. The pagan practices were attacked as part of an apologetic in favor of Christianity, to begin with. Then came the stage in which the Christian beliefs were shown to be victorious. Now was the stage in which those who, despite the orders of the Church, continued the practices began to be reprimanded and punished.
The epistles of Gregory the Great addressed to Serenus Bishop of Massilia (Marseilles) contained some interesting information about the attitude of the pope as well as of the Bishop Serenus towards installing and worshipping images. Gregory the Great warned the Bishop not to do away with the images in churches. In his epistle (Epistle 105) addressed to Serenus, Gregory the Great said that
Furthermore we notify to you that it has come to our ears that your Fraternity, seeing certain adorers of images, broke and threw down these same images Churches. And we commend you indeed for your zeal against anything made with hands being an object of adoration; but we signify to you that you ought not to have broken these images. For pictorial representation is made use of in Churches for this reason; that such as are ignorant of letters may at least read by looking at the walls what they cannot read in books. Your Fraternity therefore should have both preserved the images and prohibited the people from adoration of them, to the end that both those who are ignorant of letters might have wherewith to gather a knowledge of the history, and that the people might by no means sin by adoration of a pictorial representation.
This letter makes it clear that there was some opposition to image worship even at the time of Gregory the Great. The position of the Church then was to tolerate such worship because, in its opinion, this helped the ignorant, illiterate people in their piety. Pictorial representation and representation by image had become a common practice, but the visual representation was not yet actively encouraged. There continued to be people in clerical positions within the Church who did oppose such visual representations and paying honor to such representations. It further appears that the issue of honoring the martyrs and their relics was dealt with differently from the issue of the visual representation of the Deity and paying worship to such representations.
In another epistle addressed to Serenus, Bishop of Massilia (Marseilles), Epistle XIII, Gregory the Great took serious objection to the act and position of the Bishop:
while putting aside consideration of our wholesome admonitions, thou hast come to be culpable, not only in thy deeds, but in thy questionings also. For indeed it had been reported to us that, inflamed with inconsiderate zeal, thou hadst broken images of saints, as though under the plea that hey ought not to be adored. And indeed in that thou forbadest them to be adored, we altogether praise thee; but we blame thee for having broken them. Say, brother, what priest has ever been heard of as doing what thou hast done? If nothing else, should not even this thought have restrained thee, so as not to despise other brethren, supposing thyself only to be holy and wise? For to adore a picture is one thing, but to learn through the story of a picture what is to be adored is another. For what writing presents to readers, this a picture presents to the unlearned who behold, since in it even the ignorant see what they ought to follow; in it the illiterate read. Hence, and chiefly to the nations, a picture is instead of reading. And this ought to have been attended to especially by thee who livest among the nations, lest, while inflamed inconsiderately by a right zeal, thou shouldest breed offence to savage minds. And, seeing that antiquity has not without reason admitted the histories of saints to be painted in venerable places, if thou hadst seasoned zeal with discretion, thou mightest undoubtedly have obtained what thou wert aiming at, and not scattered the collected flock, but rather gathered together a scattered one; that so the deserved renown of a shepherd might have distinguished thee, instead of the blame of being a scatterer lying upon thee. But from having acted inconsiderately on the impulse of thy feelings thou art said to have so offended thy children that the greatest of them have suspended themselves from thy communion. When, then, wilt thou bring wandering sheep to the Lord's fold, not being able to retain those thou hast? Henceforth we exhort thee that thou study even now to be careful, and restrain thyself from this presumption, and make haste, with fatherly sweetness, with all endeavor, with all earnestness, to recall to thyself the minds of those whom thou findest to be disjointed from thee.
An explicit argument in favor of image worship was thus presented in the letter of Gregory the Great. However, even here, the thrust was that image worship facilitated piety in the illiterate and the ignorant. It was not offered as the essential and integral element of Christian worship for all. And yet the letter of Gregory the Great assigned a new function to the image worship within the Church. Image worship had brought people from the non-Christian background to the Christian faith and had enabled them to integrate themselves with the Christian faith. Image worship, in other words, was seen to be a means to attract these non-Christians to the Christian fold. Now with attack on this image worship, worse still, with the breaking of images by the Bishop, these people were unwilling to be part of the Church. The Bishop was accused of scattering his flock, which had been united so long under image worship.
Gregory the Great cited the sanction of the antiquity in visually representing the saints, as an approval for setting up images. However, he was also aware of the sanctions against worshipping any object created by the hands of men, found in the Scripture. So, he desired that the Bishop should call the dispersed members and explain to them
by testimonies of sacred Scripture that it is not lawful for anything made with hands to be adored, since it is written, Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and him only shalt serve (Luke 4:8).
However Gregory the Great was unwilling to stop such image worship, or making and installing images for worship. He asked the Bishop to accept the fact that these were meant for the unlearned and that the opportunity should not be taken advantage of to be harsh with the practice to wean them away from image worship.
And then, with regard to the pictorial representations which had been made for the edification of an unlearned people in order that, though ignorant of letters, they might by turning their eyes to the story itself learn what had been done, it must be added that, because thou hadst seen these come to be adored, thou hadst been so moved as to order them to be broken. And it must be said to them, If for this instruction for which images were anciently made you wish to have them in the church, I permit them by all means both to be made and to be had. And explain to them that it was not the sight itself of the story which the picture was hanging to attest that displeased thee, but the adoration which had been improperly paid to the pictures. And with such word appease thou their minds; recall them to agreement with thee. And if any one should wish to make images, by no means prohibit him, but by all means forbid the adoration of images. But let thy Fraternity carefully admonish them that from the sight of the event portrayed they should catch the ardor of compunction, and bow themselves in adoration of the One Almighty Holy Trinity.
This letter of Gregory the Great, thus, amounted to disciplining the Bishop rather than restricting the people from worshipping images. On the one hand, the pope recognized the sanctions against image worship in the Holy Scripture, and, on the other, was willing to put up with the tradition. Thus, it was the tradition that carried the day. Any indulgence of adoration of the images should be admonished, but not the entire practice of setting up images in the church buildings.
In another of his epistles, Epistle 66, Book XI, Gregory the Great exhorted Edilbert, King of the Angli, to remove the idols and to destroy the heathen temples. This was to be part of Christianizing the nation and this was considered the duty of the King.
Make haste to extend the Christian faith among the peoples under thy sway, redouble the zeal of thy rectitude in their conversion, put down the worship of idols, overturn the edifices of their temples, build up the manners of thy subjects in great purity of life by exhorting, by terrifying, by enticing, by correcting, by shewing examples of well-doing; that so you may find Him your recompenser in heaven Whose name and knowledge you shall have spread on earth.
On the one hand, the images of the saints within the church buildings were not to be removed, and even their adoration to be tolerated and, on the other, the idols of the pagans should be thrown out and destroyed, as speedily as possible. Thus, so long as the idols stood for the false gods of false religions these should be destroyed. If the images stood for the saints of Christian faith, these should be tolerated. In this, the act of making images and idols which had been associated solely with the false religions and thus proscribed in the Bible had come to acquire a neutral, religion and value-free, status. The act of making idols and images per se was not considered any more offensive.
Subsequent to this understanding, then, adoring personages of the Christian faith in the form of images was distinguished from worship of the idols of false gods. Idol-worship of false gods continued to be criticized and every opportunity seized to stop the practice. However, worship of the images of Christian images, at least in this stage, was to be tolerated, if not encouraged.
In another epistle, now addressed to Mellitus, the Abbot in France, Gregory the Great modified his stand as regards the destruction of the heathen temples. He asked the Abbot to tell Bishop Augustine of Angli
that the temples of idols in that nation should not be destroyed, but that the idols themselves that are in them should be. Let blessed water be prepared, and sprinkled in these temples, and altars constructed, and relics deposited, since, if these same temples are well built, it is needful that they should be transferred from the worship of idols to the service of the true God.
This was indeed a further extension of the process already outlined. As soon as it was accepted that the images of Christian personages could be installed within the church buildings and that the people could pay adoration to them, it was but natural that a decision was advocated in favor of making use of the pagan temple buildings in good condition. Gregory the great in the quote cited above established a procedure of sanctification for the purpose, which in no way differed from such sanctification processes in the pagan religions all over the world.
Gregory the Great gave several reasons for this proposal of his. The pagans would see that these temples were not destroyed but were put to use. When they saw it they would refrain from committing the error of idol worship and the worship of false gods. They would have a greater familiarity with the place of worship and thus it would encourage them to participate more actively in the worship of the true God. If any hesitation or reluctance was there, because the worship of the true God was done in buildings and in environments not familiar to them, this would go now. As they had been accustomed to several types of solemnity in their worship of the demons, they could be encouraged to have solemnity in a different form around these buildings now converted into church buildings.
on the day of dedication, or on the anniversaries of the holy martyrs whose relics are deposited there, they make for themselves tents of the branches of trees around these temples that have been changed into churches, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasts.
People would not be allowed to sacrifice animals to the devil as they were used to, but they would be allowed to kill animals
to the praise of God for their own eating, and return thanks to the Giver of all for their fullness, so that, while some joys are reserved to them outwardly, they may be able the more easily to incline their minds to inward joys. For it is undoubtedly impossible to cut away everything at once from hard hearts, since one who strives to ascend to the highest place must needs rise by steps or paces, and not by leaps (emphasis added).
Gregory the Great's method was to accept the form adopted in pagan culture and worship, change the content and target of this worship with values of the Christian faith in order to make the newly converted to be at home, so to say, in the Christian fold. Contextualization, here, involved direct substitution of the intent and contents of pagan worship, accompanied by a staunch retention of the form. However, this process was only a transfer of pagan worship, rites and other activities into Christian worship. The question is as to whether the form and content of pagan worship, insofar as these related to the specific acts listed above, could be divorced from each other in a manner that what resulted by this divorce or separation and used for Christian worship would be accepted within the teachings found in the Bible.
Since canon and antiquity had already been accepted as authoritative tools for interpretation of the Scripture, such questions would not be raised. And yet Gregory the Great felt the necessity of justifying his position by citing precedents in the Bible.
Thus to the people of Israel in Egypt the Lord did indeed make Himself known; but still He reserved to them in His own worship the use of the sacrifices which they were accustomed to offer to the devil, enjoining them to immolate animals in sacrifice to Himself; to the end that, their hearts being changed, they should omit some things in the sacrifice and retain others, so that, though the animals were the same as what they had been accustomed to offer, nevertheless, as they immolated them to God and not to idols, they should be no longer the same sacrifices.
The whole argument rightly fitted into the position taken as regards image worship. So long as the images were those of the Christian personages, these could be tolerated and even adored by the unlearned. So long as the idols of false gods were not worshipped, the newly converted pagan was in the right path, even if he set up images for the Christian personages and adored them. We could remove the idols of the pagans from the pagan temples, and replace them with the images of the Christian personages. The newly converted pagan could be allowed to follow his own pagan rites so long as these were directed to the adoration of the Christian personages. And for all these there were precedents in the Bible, and all these were already supported by antiquity.
Continuing Education of the Convert Against Pagan Idolatry within the Church
The Church exhorted the newly converted and all the Christians to continue to abhor idolatry of the pagan gods. Reminders to this effect were incorporated in the hymns sung during service. The hymns of Ephraim the Syrian (Ephraim Syrus) who lived in the fourth century (died in A.D. 373 or 378) made several references to the defeat of the idolatrous practices, even as these referred positively to various kinds of offerings including frankincense in the Christian church. Ephraim the Syrian's 60th hymn (Nisibene Hymns) sung in the church spoke of the defeat of idolatry and the false gods. Zaccheus was shown to be bemoaning that when he tried to shut men's eyes, Jesus opened them to see that the images were all the works of men's hands. the worshippers sang in great jubilation that the carved images had become a mockery, and the carvers subject of derision. Thus, music within the church encouraged the believers to avoid idol worship, and pray to the Lord for the down fall of such worship.
Ephraim the Syrian, in his Hymns of Nativity also, talked about the success of the Gospel over the idolatry of the day. In his fifteenth nativity hymn, he sang that the created things were worshipped, because the worshipper was foolish except the true God. The hymn was beautifully worded, encouraging the singers and the listeners to refrain from worship of false gods. One of lines went like this:
The Sun revealed in silence,
Response: Blessed is the Child that is worshipped...
his worshippers to his Lord:
--it was grievous to him, a servant,
to be worshipped instead of his Lord.
--Lo! creation is glad,
that the Creator is worshipped.
Chorus: Delusion blinded men,
to worship created things:
--fellow servants were worshipped,
and the God of all was wronged.
--He who is to be worshipped came down to His birth,
and gathered to himself worship.
Response: Blessed is He Who by all is worshipped!
In his Homily On the Lord, Ephraim Syrus made references to the fact that preaching of the Good News led to the elimination of pagan and idol worship.
From a beginning of a clear and firm stand against all idolatry, the Christian Church had now moved over to the worship of Christian images, in the process transforming a low error into a high doctrine, to use an expression of Augustine. In the subsequent articles we will see how this `high doctrine' which was based only on tradition and antiquity came to be sanctified by the bishops. We will also see that such sanctification was not acceptable to all. As a result, the Church had to rend itself apart.
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