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Icons & the Gospel

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Fred Sanders

on 19 November 2014

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Transcript of Icons & the Gospel

Icons & the Gospel
Ancient Images & Modern Evangelicals
Noah, from a Roman catacomb
Thesis: Alongside the ancient liturgies, interpretive practices, and other venerable traditions that come down to us from Christian antiquity, there is a robust tradition of Christian iconography.
Question: What should we do with it?
1. The tradition of Christian iconography
is not a source of revelation.
Negative Answers:
-Biblically, God makes himself known in actions, words, and in verbal-conceptual imagery, but not in reproducible visual images
-Historically, the iconographical tradition is not a source of
information but of interpretation.
7th council: Icons are "euaggelikas exegeseis tas stelographikos ginomenas,"
"evangelical exegesis stelographically brought about"
"gospel interpretations made by spatial depiction"
2. The tradition of Christian iconography
is not a locus of divine presence
-No biblical command or permission links the presence of a divine person
to its visual representation. Rather the reverse.
-Practices that emphasize the presentness of the archeteype in the image
are to be avoided.
-7th council (787): authorizes the possibility of representing Jesus Christ visibly,
rejecting the 754 mini-council that argued otherwise on christological grounds.
787's christological defense of icons of Christ does not endorse "presencing"
We, therefore... define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God...

For by so much more frequently as they are seen in artistic representation, by so much morereadily are men lifted up to the memory of their prototypes, and to a longing after them; and to theseshould be given due salutation and honourable reverence, not indeed that true worship of faith which pertains alone to the divine nature; but to these...incense and lights may be offered according to ancient pious custom. For the honour which is paid to the image passes on to that which the image represents, and he who reveres the image reveres in it the subject represented.
3. Its artifacts are to be respected but not
brought into worshipful reverence.
-This is a stronger application of the dulia-latria distinction made by the council
From Nicaea II, the 7th council (787):
The revelatory,
and dulial uses
of icons
are neither
nor helpful

Positive Answers:
-The actual content of this tradition is a rich source of theological commentary
on the gospel, and is profitable for instruction.
1. Learn its content.
2. Trace its development
-Earliest Christian art was barely distinguishable from Roman pagan art
-Tradition developed into an organic or systematic whole
3. Study its rules
-Many of the best mistakes have already been made!
-This developed alongside our written exegetical traditions
I. History of Haloes, Mandorlas,
Aureoles, Nimbuses, Glory
II. The History of God
(iconography of the Trinity)
I. The First Steps
II. The Assimilation of Contemporary Imagery
III. The Portrait
IV. The Historical Scene
V. Dogmas Expressed in a Single Image
VI. Dogmas Represented by Juxtaposed Images
Main burden
of most Christian
Verdun Altar, 1180s
Ouspensky's view:
"the icon is not art illustrating Holy Scripture;
it is a language that corresponds to it and is
equivalent to it; corresponding not to the
letter itself... but to the evangelical kerygma,
to the content of the scripture itself, to its
meaning, as is true also for liturgical texts. This is why the icon plays the same role that
scripture does in the church...."
de Lubac:
"Not a game"
Full transcript