Good Argumentative Essay About Major Concerns Of The Iconoclasts
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Iconoclasm Position Paper Arguing for the Iconoclasts
The use of images and iconic features to represent the images of gods and goddesses among Christians was a long cherished and held religious culture that permeated the early history of Christianity. In the theological history of Christianity, there was a raging debate and controversy between those who advocated for the destruction of images, the iconoclasts, and those people who called for the preservation and protection of religious images (the Iconodules). The purpose of this paper is to outline the major concerns of the two sides of the arguments that is, the Iconoclasts and Iconodules while briefly explaining the historical moment of the Byzantine Iconoclastic debate. I will then develop the major arguments in support of the Iconoclasts’ position.
The Iconoclasts were a group of Christian people between the periods between 1730 and 1843 who were opposed to the usage of symbols and iconic figures to represent Christ and His mother, Mary. They therefore vehemently opposed images representing the nature of God and hence advocated their destruction.
One of the concerns that these early Christian had over the use of symbols and icons was the exact kind of attitude that was to be given to these images relative to the real God and Christ. Most of them were concerned that the representation of holy being using images only served to belittle God and place him in the same status with idols.
Furthermore, the Iconoclasts advanced the argument that the use of icons and images in the place of God or Jesus Christ went against the clear intention and intendment of the second commandment of God given to the early Israelite Christians through Moses. These people also raised concerns over whether Jesus or God deserves to be represented in the form of images. According to them, the representation of God using images not only served to betray Him, but was also served to conceal rather than reveal the true nature and spirit of God and Jesus (Bremmer 13). Also in contention was the real meaning of an image in as far as it was used to represent Christ and God.
In addition to these, the Iconoclasts also questioned the extent to which the incarnation of God and Jesus formed a real picture of who they really were and whether in resurrection, Jesus would maintain the same form that He was being represented by images. Further, these people expressed concerns over the potentials and limitations of using human art and pictures to represent the supreme beings; they particularly questioned the wisdom behind such a venture. Additionally, the Iconodules were of the view that these images did not form the substance or prototype of the true symbol of Jesus, and His body which they argued was the bread and the wine. What is more, another question that remained unanswered and which remained a concern among most Iconoclastic proponents was the exact purpose and meaning of the images or icons. Also of concern was the exact number and kinds of images that could exist and be purported to reveal the true nature of Christ.
The Concerns by the Iconodules
The Iconophiles or the Iconographes were a group of Christians in early who loved and approved the use of images in representing both Christ and God the Father. They therefore championed for the preservation rather than the destruction of images that portrayed God and Jesus in different ways of expressing their true pictures. One of the most formidable advocates and proponents of the need to protect and preserve religious images was Theodore the Studite, John of Damascus and Patriarch Nicephorus. Concerned by the wave of destruction of their images about God, these Christians argue that Jesus was a true manifestation of God and hence it was justifiable to represent Him in image form so there could be a better understanding of His origins and nature and humans (Evans 96).
The Brief Historical Moment of the Byzantine Iconoclasts Debate
The Iconoclastic debate over the destruction of religious images is mainly attributed to Emperor Leo III, who ruled the Christian nation between the 1717 and 1741 (Deliyannis 560). He is believed to have ordered the destruction and replacement of all iconic figures in Byzantine Empire after an eruption that occurred in the land convinced him and his religious advisors that God was angered by the several images on the land; God was therefore manifesting his displeasure at these icons by passing judgment against them.
He therefore issued a decree in 1730 to the effect that all the iconic images of the land be brought down and those who supported their presence and preservation, the Iconodules, to face persecution and punishment despite protests from the Pope and Patriarch of Constantinople (Brown 11). His son, Emperor Constantine V who succeeded him in 1754 also made similar orders for he too was against the portrayal of religious Saints and Christ using icons and images. Then one important event occurred that helped fuel the controversy and debate over the two theological issues. Michael III, who ruled the Byzantine emperor as a minor through his regent, Theodore II appointed an Iconodule patriarch. This action was viewed by many Christians then as the restoration of the veneration of icons and is popularly known as The Triumph of Orthodoxy for having shaped the iconoclastic debate and controversy (Bremmer 9).
The Iconoclastic controversy and debate was therefore based on the appropriateness of the use of icons and religious images during the veneration of God and Christ in religious ceremonies. The debate also centered around the sanctity of the images on the nature and divinity of Christ, God, and Saints.
Major Arguments and Propositions for the Iconoclasts’ Side of the Debate
The Iconoclasts majorly based their strong opposition and vilification of the use of icons and images as manifestations of Holy Saints and Christ on the Biblical teachings on sanctity and sacredness of God the Father and the Son (Baeber 111).
Violation of the Commandments of God
The Iconocasts mainly argued that icons were a serious violation and contravention of the Second Commandment of God in the book of Exodus 20. One of the chief proponents of the Iconoclastic view of the religious images and icons in the early Orthodox or Byzantine Empire church was Constantine from Nacolea. He questioned the accuracy of representing Christ using images and symbols without diluting the Christ’s divinity and Holiness.
Furthermore, the Iconoclasts advanced the argument that it is not justifiable and possible to paint the consubstantial image of Christ for it would be a violation to the Christian belief in the Eucharist which is believed by Christians as the true iconic manifestation of Jesus Christ. Constantine also argued that it is against the teaching of the Bible to circumscribe Christ’s divine nature by depicting in art. Moreover, these groups of Christians were of the opinion that the iconic manifestation constituted idolatry.
According to Evans, the use of icons to represent God and Christ cannot be vindicated even on Byzantine iconographic knowledge and history. The author notes that the Byzantine icons and images did not represent invisible prototype, went against the rule of inverse and reverse perspective of images and lack the emotional neutrality that would justify their representation of Christ (28).
In addition, the use of images to represent Christ constituted a violation of the salvation doctrine of the Christians of Byzantine Empire who believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ in body rather than symbols or icons. These images also served to confuse Christians as to the nature of Christ as they represented several manifestations of one body of Christ. The worship and reverence of these icons thus constituted a blasphemous act against God and Christ.
What’s more, the purported manifestation of Christ and other Saints using the human-crafted images was tantamount to gross paganism that tended to interfere with the Holy Trinity by adding some other person in form of icons to the Trinity.
Portrayal of an Invisible Nature of God
According to the Iconoclasts, the manifestation of Christ in the form of images portrays God and Jesus as an invisible and unreal being without any recognizable form. These iconic symbols conflict with His historic manifestations of the Prophets and Abraham in the human form and the son Jesus did appear on earth as a human rather than some abstract figure as the icons want us to believe they are (Brown 25).
Moreover, the Iconoclasts feared that the use of images to manifest God and Christ would make people direct their veneration to the icons instead of the exact person of Jesus and Saints who should be revered and respected. This seemed to be at the heart of the debate and the main criticism against the Iconodules
As evident form the discussion, the raging debate between the Iconoclasts and Iconodules about the use of images as physical manifestations of Christ and God continues to divide Christians just as it did during the early Byzantine times. While one group advocated the preservation of the images of Christ and Saints, the other group called for their destruction for being gross violation of God's Laws against paying reverence to gods and idols. The main argument advanced by the proponents of destruction of religious images and icons in the Byzantine empire is that the images go against the commands of God.
Barber, Charles. Figure and likeness; On the limit of representation in Byzante Iconoclasm. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Bremmer, Jan N. "Iconoclast, Iconoclastic, and Iconoclasm: Notes Towards a Genealogy." Church History and Religious Culture 88.1 (2008): 1-17. Web. 4 March 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/23923969>.
Brown, Peter. "A Dark-Age Crisis: Aspects of the Iconoclastic Controversy." The English Historical Review 88.346 (1997): 1-34. Web. 4 March 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/>.
Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf. "AmericaAgnellus of Ravenna and Iconoclasm: Theology and Politics in a Ninth-Century Historical Text." Speculum 71.3 (1996): 559-576. WEB. March 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2865793>.
Evans, Helen. Byzante: Faith and power (1261-1557) exhibit catalogue. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Arts, 2007. Print.
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