Rejecting Nicea II (Again): Of Anglicans and Apostolic Faith and Practice

INTRODUCTION

Let us give John Henry Newman, circa 1836 (before his own bishop’s rejection drove him mad for a certainty of his own devising), the first word, on the recent controversy over Iconodulia in the Anglican Church:

We have indeed too often fought the Romanists on wrong grounds…we have argued the unscripturalness of image worship as its only condemnation; a mode of argument which one would be very far indeed from pronouncing untenable, but which opens the door to a multitude of refined distinctions and pleas; whereas the way lay clear before us to appeal to history, to appeal to the usage of the early Church Catholic, to review the circumstances of the introduction of image worship, the Iconoclast controversy, the Council of Frankfort, and the late reception of the corruption in the West.[1]

First, let it be noticed that Newman himself believed that the Scriptural argument for prohibition of image worship is eminently tenable.[2] Second, that Newman’s analysis of Church history vindicated the Anglican position, as heir to the ‘Council of Frankfort,’ not the position of Nicea II.

In a recent exchange of essays, Fr. Perkins claims catholic continuity to be on his side, against Mr. Devereux. That is, Fr. Perkins claims that Nicea II is properly catholic, and Anglicans who hold to the Formularies are therefore less than catholic, and, to the degree that they push on this front, anti-catholic. Fr. Perkins is wrong about this, as I shall seek to demonstrate in this essay. My thesis, in harmony with Mr. Devereux, is that the true Anglican position is in fact the catholic position. In other words, the true Anglican position, over and against the error of the pseudo-synod of Nice, comports most harmoniously with Scripture and the Church Fathers.

My aim is larger than merely “taking sides” between these two good men, but since I have leveled a fairly strong claim against Mr. Perkins, I will take quotes from his essay as spring-boards for the various components of my composite argument.

For those who would like to skip the fine-print, let me begin with my conclusion, of just what this Anglican position actually is.

THE END OF THE MATTER

When it comes to religious images, Anglicans, at least those who think and pray and do theology as Anglicans, are permitted to be iconotimists. That is, we are neither forced into iconodulia (however much the inertia of tradition, or the dictates of the pseudo-synod of Nicea II would have it otherwise), nor are we of our own accord to be iconoclasts. We are not called by ourselves to smash icons[3] (although some have done so, in their over-zeal), nor are we called to pay religious obeisance to them (although some have done so, in their over-zeal). We are invited simply to honor them (Greek: timao; hence, iconotimousin). We do not have to have them at all. They are not a necessary feature of catholic Christianity. But if they are had at all, they are to be respected in the way one would respect the picture of one’s mother hung in the stair-well.

This practice is not unique to Anglicans. On the contrary, it is the ancient catholic practice, in which our Anglican formularies re-center us in the midst of the theology and practice of the Fathers of the Church. This is the position that is compatible with the belief and practice of the first five centuries of the Church; from the Apostles themselves, to the dawn of the innovative practice of showing devotion to images in the sixth century.

Those who would submit to Nicea II as having ecumenical authority self-sever from the oikoumene in which the Apostles and the Fathers lived out their Faith. Not only does Nicea II urge devotion to images as a wholesome and catholic practice (strike one), it enjoins it on pain of anathema on all Christians (strike two).

AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION: IMAGE-MAKING AND IMAGE VENERATING

“A lively and widespread tradition of iconographic veneration in the early Church”?

This is false as a matter of fact. It is the case that the painting of images depicting Christ or biblical events has occasional attestation in the life of the early Church,[4] record of which begins somewhere in the third century (the artifacts in the Catacombs) and has attestation in writing here and there in a handful of places. But image-making doesn’t become a normal practice in the Church until the fifth century, and even then, it is not accompanied by the veneration of images. This is a crucial distinction. Catholics of the past tolerated the production of images, but this is not the plea of Nicea-II-endorsing iconodules, which is the rightness of their veneration, and indeed, the necessity of such veneration. The definitive authority for any historical claim as to the facts of this matter is to be found in L. Brubaker and J. Haldon’s Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, c. 680-850 (Cambridge, 2011); here is their analysis, worth quoting at length.

“the surviving theological literature written before the fifth century is generally opposed to religious imagery.”[5]

“Th[e] significance [of portraits of holy people] changed profoundly over the course of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries. By the year 800, the ‘icon’ could serve as an intermediary between the viewer and the holy person represented; this was not the case around the year 400, nor even around the year 600…it was only in the seventh century that all of the features we now associate with holy portraits fell into place.”[6]

“Seventh-century texts pay little attention to holy portraits. Eighth-century authors, by contrast, bestow a great deal of attention on them: John of Damascus (c. 730) and the Acts of the 787 council consider many things besides icons, but they give considerably more time to them than do any texts written before c. 700. In fact, John and the 787 churchmen basically established the core theory or theology of images still central to the orthodox church. By c. 730, a fundamental transformation in the ways holy portraits were understood had taken place. A confluence of sources suggests that this change took place toward the end of the seventh century.”[7]

“There is thus little support for a ‘cult of sacred images’ in pre-iconoclast Byzantium. [8] The textual and the material evidence agree that sacred portraits existed, but there is no indication that these images received special veneration in any consistent fashion before the late seventh century.”[9]

And to conclude definitively,

“The iconoclasts of 754 were right when they condemned image veneration as an innovation that ran counter to the venerable traditions of the church.”[10]

BACK TO THE BIBLE

“The Bible is ambiguous on the question”?

Let us leave the history aside for a moment, and go back to the source of sources, the Scripture itself. Fr. Perkins, in the iconodule tradition, argues that the Bible sometimes affirms venerating images, and that therefore the Bible isn’t clear on images. Fr. Perkins references his own writing as if that case is already open and shut. However, a little digging reveals that Fr. Perkins only draws out texts that are old chestnuts in the iconodule arguments, as old as John of Damascus, and the protest of Mr. Devereux goes unanswered, “The biggest problem with these examples however is that they have nothing to do with images.” What Abraham, or Joshua, or whomoever, does as a gesture of salute before another person has some instructive value, but a person is not an image! These texts therefore do not prima facie authorize the veneration of images. They merely give enfleshed examples to help explicate what might be permitted by teachings we have in the New Testament such as “honor the emperor” (1 Pet 2:17).

In fact, the gravity of these passages tends the other way, in that the early Christians submissively “honored the emperor” but vehemently refused to do veneration to the images of the emperor — the idol-worship, for refusing which many of the early martyrs died.

The one adduced text that at first blush appears to come to bear — the Cherubim[11] prescribed to be constructed and embroidered inside the tabernacle (Exodus 25-26) — is inadequately attended to in its details, vis-a-vis the prohibition of the second commandment.[12] Here is the Second Commandment, as recorded in Exodus 20:4-5a (emphasis mine):

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.

The images of the Cherubim within the tabernacle present no difficulty to the total application of the second commandment.

First, God’s prohibition concerns images made “for yourselves”, I.e. of one’s own will and devising. To make an image that God has commanded — as he did with the Cherubim — is not to follow one’s own devising, but to be obedient.

Second, the only people who ever saw the images of the Cherubim — the Aaronic priests — were never commanded to venerate them with “bowing down to them” or “serving them.” Nor do we have any testimony that they ever attempted such a thing.[13] This gets to the heart of the matter. In reality, the making of images of one’s own choosing very often is done for the purpose of venerating those images. The second commandment lands on this telos, and opposes it: do not bow down to them.

Thus we see the creation of images, such as were found in the Tabernacle, when commanded or permitted by God, is fine in itself, but the veneration (“bowing”, “serving”) of them, continues to be totally forbidden. With this analysis, the one supposed obstacle to a mono-vocal witness of Scripture pertaining to the great danger of veneration of images is cleared away, and we see that the Bible is not nearly so ambiguous as Fr. Perkins suggests.

The case of the bronze serpent recorded in Numbers 21 is a perfect illustration of these careful differences. God commands an image to be made (Num 21:8; it is not Moses’ own idea, like Aaron’s calf), and commands that it be looked at: “when he sees it, shall live.” (8b). But later on, as recored in 2 Kings 18:3-4, God approves of Hezekiah smashing the bronze serpent because the image was being venerated.

“And he [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).”

The Biblical witness only appears ambiguous if we do not regard this distinction, between the creation of God-appointed images and their subsequent veneration.

HOW DID NICEA I (A.D. 325) DISCERN THE TRUTH?

“There was nothing like a settled consensus about how best to interpret the Christological data of the New Testament prior to Nicea I.”?

The construction of the pro-Nicea II argument rests on a false claim to the Bible’s ambiguity, and an additional false claim concerning the nature of the early Church councils, as instanced in the above quotation. It is the ground on which Fr. Perkins builds his own acceptance of Nicea II, as he goes on to state, “the resolution of Nicea I was no more obvious than that of Nicea II.”

Here now we approach the center of this argument’s maze, where the Minotaur of misconception shall be slain by plain facts of history, and from whence we shall retrace the way back to a clarified Anglican doctrine. I ask for your patience, reader, as this part of the argument requires some complex tangential details.

The Word of God became flesh, and dwelt among us. In his mortal life, and in the forty days after he was raised from the dead (Acts 1:3), he taught and imparted perfect Truth and all salvific wisdom to the Apostles. This collection of truths, known summarily as “the Gospel” was then inscribed with ink by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and these writings became the New Testament. The New Testament is therefore the record of what is and isn’t Apostolic (and ergo, Divine) in its origin. The Scriptures contain the Faith once for all delivered to the saints. The Faith was passed down from Christian to Christian in the early centuries of the Church: Parents teaching their children, pastors teaching their people, and the Scriptures read aloud when the congregation was gathered served as a constant plumb-line and check on all that was taught — ensuring that the teaching remained true to the Apostolic deposit. In other words, Holy Tradition is one stream, not two, and the stream that was unwritten initially meandered its way into the written record: The Bible.

And, when it was no longer illegal to be publicly known as a Christian, the logician Arius started spouting some logical but very bad ideas. Local councils convened in opposition, but he had found enough sympathizers that a general (ecumenical) council was called for. Three hundred and twenty five years after our Lord took on flesh, 318 Bishops gathered in the little town of Nicea, just outside Constantinople. There was no “question” on the table at this Council. It was not as if the Church needed to “make up its mind” with regard to the divine identity of Jesus. There were no Scriptures that stood in honest need of debate. No, the Faith that had been taught and received was clear: Jesus was, and is, and always will be fully God. The bishops were called simply to attest to the Faith that they had received, and for which many of them had suffered physical torture two decades prior.

Among these witnesses were such great lights of the early Church as St. James of Nisibis, who had raised the dead; St. Paul of Neocaesarea, whose hands had been reduced to stubs by the hot irons; and the hamstrung St. Paphnutius. As E.B. Pusey writes “The [Fathers of Nicea] came not as disputants, but to bear witness to the faith which they had received.” [14]

We have the eye-witness testimony of Athanasius, who as a deacon assisted his bishop, Alexander, who confirms that the question at hand was simply what has been received from the Apostles,

As to the Nicene Council, it was not a common meeting, but convened upon a pressing necessity, and for a reasonable object…they wrote concerning Easter, ‘It seemed good as follows,’ for it did then seem good that there should be a general compliance; but about the faith they wrote not, ‘It seemed good,’ but, ‘Thus believes the Catholic Church;’ and thereupon they confessed how they believed, in order to show that their own sentiments were not novel, but Apostolical; and what they wrote down was no discovery of theirs, but is the same as was taught by the Apostles.[15]

This gives the lie to Fr. Perkins assertion that, “There was nothing like a settled consensus about how best to interpret the Christological data of the New Testament prior to Nicea I.” or even his more modest claim that, “the Council does in fact seek to interpret biblical data.” which betrays a confusion. Councils are attestations, they are not parliamentary arguments. The devout knew beforehand what the outcome would be, just as the devout now receive it. The fact that it took thirty years to quench the center of the heretical fire and explain exactly what was and was not meant by the homoosuion does not change the case.

This is surely what Mr. Devereux meant by “an an open and shut case.” There isn’t a real ambiguity in the Scriptures as to the divinity of Christ — the ambiguity is manufactured post hoc by false teachers, from Arius to Bart Ehrman.[16]

The Truth of God is never decided on democratically. It is handed down faithfully. It is not decided on at all. It was given, by our Lord, to the Apostles.[17]

AFTER A COUNCIL HAS TAKEN PLACE, HOW DID CHRISTIANS KNOW IF A COUNCIL HAD BEEN TRUE?

“If you adjudicate the authority of a Council on the basis of whether it adheres to (your personal interpretation of) Scripture, then clearly the authoritative interpreter is not the Council but you.”?

Though I personally honor the 318 Fathers[18] of Nicea I with an honor second only to the Holy Apostles, it is meaningful that St. Athanasius himself would not have us accept even Nicea I on its own ecumenical authority, but he refers the recipients of its Acts back to Scripture,

Vainly do the Arians run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake, for Divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in Divine Scripture. [19]

And in the succeeding generation, St. Basil affirms similarly,

What then our Fathers said, we too say…But it does not satisfy us to say that the tradition is from the Fathers. For they too followed the mind of the Scripture, taking as their first principle those testimonies which we set before you from the Scripture.[20]

And this was no new standard subsequent to the gathering of the Scriptures into single bound codices. It was the standard a century before, as maintained by St. Cyprian who sums up the entire Apostolic Tradition as being coterminus with the witness of the New Testament,

Whence is that tradition? Whether does it descend from the authority of the Lord Jesus and the Gospel, or does it come from the injunctions and epistles of the Apostles? For…we are to do what is written….If, then, it is commanded in the Gospels, or contained in the Epistles or Acts of the Apostles, then should it be preserved as being Holy and Divine tradition.[21]

There are two assumptions within these exhortations of St. Cyprian, St. Athanasius, and St. Basil, that are worth teasing out.

One, that each Christian should test assertions of truth against the Scriptures.

Two, that the Scriptures are sufficiently clear and perspicuous in themselves, prior to conciliar dogmatic definition.

It would seem then, that these great doctors of the Church would not speak as Fr. Perkins does when he accuses Mr. Devereux of erroneously “adjudicat[ing] the authority of a Council on the basis of whether it adheres to (your personal interpretation of) Scripture.”

WHAT ABOUT THE ANATHEMAS OF A COUNCIL?

“Conciliar deliberations, while critical for understanding the mind of the Council fathers, are not in and of themselves authoritative proclamations. And, as I have argued at some length, the anathemas belong to the broader proceedings of the Council, not to its Definition.”?

Father Perkins here asserts a truth, but then groups the wrong facts with the truth. It is accurate to sat that the deliberations of a Council are not authoritative. It is inaccurate to then assert that the anathemas are a part of the deliberation. They are not. The Anathemas of a Council are the flip-side of the coin of its Definition; Pace, Bulgakov’s unique protest to the contrary.[22] The anathemas are clearly intended by the Fathers of a Council to carry the same gravity of the Faith they have described. Indeed, as for the actual primary records that remain from Nicea I itself — we have only anathemas without a definition (creed), as recorded in the Synodal Letter:

First of all, then, in the presence of our most religious Sovereign Constantine, investigation was made of matters concerning the impiety and transgression of Arius and his adherents; and it was unanimously decreed that he and his impious opinion should be anathematized, together with the blasphemous words and speculations in which he indulged, blaspheming the Son of God, and saying that he is from things that are not, and that before he was begotten he was not, and that there was a time when he was not, and that the Son of God is by his free will capable of vice and virtue; saying also that he is a creature.  All these things the holy Synod has anathematized, not even enduring to hear his impious doctrine and madness and blasphemous words.

When St. Cyril summarizes Nicea a century later, he instinctively bundles the anathema with the Nicene Creed,

Now this is the Faith of the Catholic and Apostolic Church to which all Orthodox Bishops, both East and West, agree, ‘We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father, that is, of the substance of the Father; God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, both those in heaven and those in the earth.  Who for us men and for our salvation, came down, and was incarnate, and was made man.  He suffered, and rose again the third day.  He ascended into the heavens, from thence he shall come to judge both the quick and the dead.  And in the Holy Ghost:  But those that say, There was a time when he was not, and, before he was begotten he was not, and that he was made of that which previously was not, or that he was of some other substance or essence; and that the Son of God was capable of change or alteration; those the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.’[23]

The Acts of Chalcedon record the ‘Chalcedonian Definition’, and several anathemas, and then proclaim, “After the reading of the [above] definition, all the most religious Bishops cried out:  This is the faith of the fathers.” indicating that they perceived the Anathemas to be a component part of the Definition, since they enforce by prohibition the doctrine that has been professed.

And these are not mere occasional oddities of the past. On the contrary, when the Creed is read in many Orthodox liturgies today, it includes the reading of the anathemas.[24]

There are aspects of an ecumenical council that are not binding on the whole Church, such as the disciplinary canons, or lines of reasoning used leading up to a definition with its anathemas. But the anathemas themselves sit on the other side of this line. To lump them together with the disciplinary proceedings, calendrical decisions, and certain philosophies is to dishonor the council and its memory.

Nicea I anathemtized Arius and Arianism. And this is a good thing.

Nicea II anathemetized “anyone [who] does not salute [icons]” This is the heart of the issue at hand. If this is granted, then the catholic faith has changed, and is capable of change, which is anathema to all who believe the Bible that “the Faith was once for all delivered” and the Apostles themselves were “led into all Truth.”

WHAT EXACTLY NICEA II COMMENDS AND CONDEMNS

“Nicea II’s teachings on sacred images — teachings that are significantly more subdued and limited than her polemical opponents would have you believe… …Eastern Orthodox partisans, who wish for Nicea II to demand more than it actually does.”?

If Nicea II merely commended a warm appreciation of holy images, it would not have erred. It goes much further. In the positive definition, it asserts,

The more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration.[25]

Then a particular act of folk-piety is mentioned in a commendatory tone, “Further, people are drawn to honour these images with the offering of incense and lights, as was piously established by ancient custom.”[26]

It then re-states the meaning of this positive definition in four anathemas. The first two present no serious problem. Everything hinges on the third anathema:

If anyone does not salute such representations as standing for the Lord and his saints, let him be anathema.

The Greek word rendered here as ‘salute’ is ἀσπάζομαι (aspazomai) which at first blush might sound, as Fr. Perkins implies, to be making a small demand. But the word must be understood in the context of its users. The reconstructions of lexicographers would get us some of the way in comprehending its denotation, but in this instance we have the good fortune of being able to go straight to the horse’s mouth.

Tarasius (730-806) was the Patriarch Archbishop of Constantinople and the de facto authoritative president of the Council convened at Nicea in 787 (a few miles down the road from Constantinople). He writes a summary letter to the Empress Irene immediately after the council, and explicates the meaning of the anathema by explaining what the Council meant by ‘salute’ (ἀσπάζομαι):

[We have likewise decreed] that these images are to be reverenced (προσκυνεῖν), that is, salutations (ἀσπάζομαι) are to be offered to them.  The word [προσκυνέω] is not only made use of by us, but we also find it set down in the Divine Scriptures by the ancients.  For it is written in the histories of the Kings, “And David rose up and fell upon his face and did reverence to (προσεκυνήσε) Jonathan three times and kissed him” (1 Kings xx. 41).  And what is it that the Lord in the Gospel says concerning the Pharisees?  “They love the uppermost rooms at feasts and greetings (ἀσπασμοὺς) in the markets.”  It is evident that by “greetings” here, he means reverence (προσκύνησιν) for the Pharisees being very high-minded and thinking themselves to be righteous were eager to be reverenced by all, but not (merely) to be kissed.  For to receive salutations of this latter sort savored too much of lowly humility, and this was not to the Pharisees’ liking.[27]

Here we see clearly the denotation of ‘salute’ in the anathema: reverential gestures of bowing, such as the Orthodox still practice to this day.

Were this practice merely permitted by Nicea II, we would be in more ambiguous doctrinal territory. It would probably still be in the wrong, but less certainly so. It is the enjoining of the practice. And less an attempt is made to wiggle out of the force of the injunction by appealing to what is meant by anathema, hear what Patriarch Tarasius goes on to say in the same letter:

it is confessedly and beyond all question acceptable and well-pleasing before God, that the images of our Lord Jesus Christ as man, and those of the undefiled Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, and of the honourable Angels and of all Saints, should be venerated and saluted.  And if anyone does not so believe, but undertakes to debate the matter further and is evil affected with regard to the veneration due the sacred images, such an one our holy ecumenical council (fortified by the inward working of the Spirit of God, and by the traditions of the Fathers and of the Church) anathematises.  Now anathema is nothing less than complete separation from God.[28]

THE ACTUAL HISTORICAL RECEPTION OF NICEA II IN THE WEST

“Nicea II — viewed by both East and West as an Ecumenical Council for nearly eight centuries prior to the Reformation, and still viewed as such by the Roman and Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions”

Were it the case that every Christian between 787 and 1522 believed image-veneration to be an essential and mandatory part of Christian devotion, it still wouldn’t change the fact that they were in error. As St. Paul boldly contends, “Let God be true, though everyone were a liar.” (Rom 3:4) However, the premise itself is not to be granted.

Here is Pusey’s summary:

The second Council of Nice [sic] was not at first recognized universally even in those Churches in which it was received, the Eastern and Rome. Only six General Councils are spoken of in the East, nearly 600 years after (AD 1339); by Pope Nicolas a century after it (AD 859), and by Pope Adrian (AD 871). It was rejected by 300 Bishops of Gaul, Aquitain, Germany, and Italy at the Council of Frankfort, (AD 794) and called “a pseudo-synod” by Gallican and German writers from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries. Its degree of reception was owing to its being interpolated in the Liber Diurnus by Gratian, and then inserted in the Canon law; but the Council of Frankfort, which rejected it, was never rescinded.[29]

And lest this be taken as possible an idiosyncratic Anglican historiography; the fact is confirmed by none other than the Roman Catholic apologist Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621).

It is very credible that St. Thomas, Alexander of Hales, and other scholastic doctors had not seen the second synod of Nice, nor the eighth general synod;… …[they were] were long in obscurity, and were first published in our own age, as may be known from their not being extant in the older volumes of the councils; and St. Thomas and the other ancient schoolmen never make any mention of this Nicene Synod.[30]

The fact of the matter — according to Bellarmine! — in the West is that Nicea II only came clearly into view in the era of the Reformation, and as it did, it was rejected by the Reformation Divines, who concurred with the initial assessment of the Fathers of Frankfurt, seven hundred years prior.

NICEA II IN LIGHT OF NICEA I

“The resolution of Nicea I was no more obvious than that of Nicea II”?[31]

In light of all that was surveyed above about the manner by which Nicea I discerned the truth, we see stark contrast between it and Nicea II.

Nicea I testified to that which was believed by the Apostles. Nicea II, while claiming the same, cannot bring forward any clear precedent prior to its own century, as Brubaker and Haldon have proved.[32] Nicea I passed the “scripture test”, Nicea II does not. Nicea I, while contested for thirty years, was soon after universally received. Nicea II went unknown in the West for centuries.

In short, the Bible doesn’t command image-veneration. On the contrary it condemns it. Corroborated with later history, we confirm what the Bible testifies; that the Apostles knew nothing of image-veneration. For Nicea II to add image-veneration to the Christian Faith is to alter the Apostolic Deposit by addition. Addition and Subtraction are both equally dangerous to the Faith (cf. Deut 4:2, Rev 22:18-19).

ANGLICAN REJECTION OF NICEA II AN AFFIRMATION OF THE CATHOLIC FAITH

“Nicea II — viewed … as an Ecumenical Council… by the…Anglo-Catholics”?

As I have written about before, while second-generation Anglo-catholics, enamored with Ritual and dreams of reunion, warmed to Nicea II, the tractarians themselves maintained a more discriminating view, and remained anchored to our formularies.

For instance, Pusey writes,

Not images, but the worship of images was forbidden by the council of Frankfort to which we appeal, [and] by the English Church.[33]

And again:

Our Church receives the six ecumenical councils, and our best Divines speak of there having been six, or four ecumenical councils only, according as they include the fifth and the sixth in the third or fourth to which they were supplementary, or no.[34]

This catholic view is the same teaching still embodied in Anglican statements of faith today, produced by the Realignment movement of which we (including Mr. Devereux) are a part. For instance the Jerusalem Declaration of GAFCON,

We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.[35]

and the derivative Fundamental Declarations of the Province of the ACNA,

Concerning the seven Councils of the undivided Church, we affirm the teaching of the first four Councils and the Christological clarifications of the fifth, sixth and seventh Councils, in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures.[36]

Therefore to appeal to six and not seven is not an act of supreme judgment on behalf of the individual Christian, but merely an act of submission to our true authorities as Anglicans, which themselves are truly catholic.

IMAGE-REVERENCE AFTER NICEA II

The history of Image-reverence after Nicea II is very significant to the case, as it reveals the natural end towards which Image-reverence ends.[37] Were it the case that Iconodules merely paused before an image, and said a prayer to God the Father in heaven, there never would have been cause for the writing of a sermon like the Homily on Peril of Idolatry. The real trouble with Nicea II, viewed pastorally, is what it sanctions and underwrites as a matter of fact: practical idolatry.[38] Here is a report from the Byzantine Emperor Michael II (770-829) who writes to Louis the Pious concerning image veneration in his day,

Images before which they burn incense…. They sing psalms before these images, prostrate themselves before them, implore their help. Many dress up images in linen garments and choose them as godparents for their children. Others who become monks, forsaking the old tradition — according to which the hair that is cut off is received by some distinguished person — let it fall into the hands of some image. Some priests scrape the paint off images, mix it with the consecrated bread and wine and give it to the faithful. Others place the body of the Lord in the hands of images from which it is taken by the communicants. Others again, despising the churches, celebrate Divine Service in private houses, using an image as an altar.

Although Michael II polemically opposes these practices, he is not fabricating the facts. As the Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) adds, “most of the practices described by the emperor can be established by other and quite unimpeachable evidence”[39]

Indeed, these and other practices — such as the offering of wax figurines —continue on in Church history, becoming well established as folk piety in the West in the High Middle Ages through to Reformation times. The Homily on the Peril of Idolatry (1563) calls out the self-same problems as Michael II:

Instances of bowing, (which, recall, Tarasius enjoins as mandatory to proper aspazomai):

Yet we like mad men fall down before the dead idols or images of Peter and Paul , and give that honor to stocks and stones, which they thought abominable to be given to themselves being alive.

Instances of offering candles and incense:

Thus far Lactantius , and much more, too long here to write, of candle lighting in Temples before images and Idols for religion: whereby appeareth both the foolishness thereof, and also, that in opinion and act, we do agree altogether in our candle religion, with the Gentiles idolaters. What meaneth it that they, after the example of the Gentiles idolaters, burn incense offer up gold to images,

And attributing miraculous powers:

[The venerators of images] hang up crouches, chains, and ships, leg, arms, and whole men and women of wax, before images, as though by them, or Saints (as they say) they were delivered from lameness, sickness, captivity, or shipwreck?

It is perfectly comprehensible that a thing before which one bows and makes offerings would soon be believed to have special authority in the cosmos. The attribution of miraculous powers to an icon or statue is downstream from saluting it.

Nicea II attempted to make a distinction between proskunesis (προσκύνησις) which is enjoined to be given to Images and latreia (λατρεία) which is due to God alone. As the Definition given asserts, “Certainly this is not the full adoration (latria) in accordance with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature.” However, real Church history revealed that such a verbal distinction does not have a correlative substantial difference in real life. There is no gesture or act of devotion that was spared for God alone that was not given to Images. As far as the category of “latreia” goes, qua acts, it is an empty set.

Therefore, what the byzantine and medieval “iconodules” practiced, the Homilies call out for what it is: worship. And since not given to the only immortal, invisible, God, it is by definition, idolatry.

You have heard (wellbeloved) in the first part of this Homily, the doctrine of the word of God against idols and images, against Idolatry, and worshipping of images, taken out of the Scriptures of the old Testament and the New, and confirmed by the examples as well of the Apostles as of our Saviour Christ himself.

And lest we think that these are trumped-up charges made by a puritan-minded Homilist, Eamon Duffy gladly corroborates the witness, giving instances of the great amount of care that was given to the maintenance of candles before these images, and the doctrine that was annexed to the practice:

The laity left bequests in their wills to honour their [the saints’] images with lights[40]

And they would affectionately remark such things as:

The good saints that I have had mynde and prayers moost unto, that is, to St Nicholas, Saint George, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Christofer, St Mary Magdalene, Saint Gabriell, St Erasus, Saint Fabian, Saint Sebatian… …St John the Evangelist… whom I have always worshipped[41] and loved, … SS Cuthbert and Katheryn myn advocates” or “my singular helpers and socourers in this my grete nede.[42]

Indeed, these practices continue unchecked in large portions of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox world to this day. The East has it’s “miracle working icons” — icons believed to have such healing powers in themselves that even copies of the icons are believed to have “apotropaic” qualities.[43] The way in which the Theotokos Paramythia, or the Tikhvin Theotokos, or the Panagia Tricherousa, are regarded represent but the tip of the ice-berg of the East’s on-the-ground “iconodulia.”

The Roman Catholic west is equally at fault. Apart from the rampant superstitious practices that continue in countries where the Reformation never took a native root: Portugal, Ireland, etc. Where every medieval practice is still maintained in earnest; apart from this, the number of sanctioned devotions popular around the globe that ascribe magical properties to images is astounding. The so-called “Miraculous Medal” of Catherine Labouré is a prime instance. Combined with the number of Marian shrines lavishly adored, the number of statues of Mary that process through the streets, the number of wax statues placed at her feet around the world — we see that the global catholic Church still needs to hear the Homily on Peril of Idolatry, just as we Anglicans have (for the most part) heard and received it.

THE HOMILY ON PERIL OF IDOLATRY IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The Homily on Peril of Idolatry exhorts the destruction of images, and it is implied by its context of deployment (cf. Article 34), and explicitly in the homily itself that such destruction be carried out by the legitimate civil and ecclesial authorities:

But lest any private persons, upon colour of destroying images, should make any stir or disturbance in the common wealth, it must always be remembered, that the redress of such public enormities pertaineth to the Magistrates

The Homily repeats ad nauseum that the very creation of images inherently leads to the veneration of images, and therefore is to be shunned, and images to be destroyed:

…as Idolatry is to be abhorred and avoid, so are images (which can not be long without Idolatry) to be put away and destroyed.

However, at multiple junctures, the homilist concedes that there is the theoretical possibility of images that are treated rightly: where they are looked at but not venerated. E.g.

… as it may be possible in some one City or little Country, to have Images set up in Temples and Churches, and yet idolatry by earnest and continual preaching of God’s true word, and the sincere Gospel of our Saviour Christ, may be kept away for a short time.

And again:

… whereas they yet alleadge, that howsoever the people, Princes, learned, and wise of old time, have fallen into idolatry by occasion of images, that yet in our time the most part, specially the learned, wise, and of any authority, take no hurt nor offence by idols and images, neither do run into far countries to them, and worship them

The homily is maximally skeptical that such a possibility can exist for any but a short time, and that eventually, all such cautious use collapses into idolatry. Indeed, with the 15th century in living memory, this is a very sound judgment. Experience at that time verified the thesis: All did collapse to idolatry.

But the window of possibility expressed in the Homily creates a reasonable interpretation of the Homily that honors its spirit while recognizing the limitations of historical context. While it was the case in 1563, that the destruction of images was necessary for the spiritual health of the English people (as it was for Hezekiah to destroy Nehushtan), this injunction remains historically contextualized, even as the wisdom and theological reflection of the homily remain perennially valuable and authoritative. Parker and Jewel were calling the Church back to an obedience of the second commandment that the catholic Church practiced for the first five centuries of her life.

Today, living in a demythologized, Newtonian, Secular Age, the risk of ascribing magical properties to images is much lower in the developed West. It is not zero, but it is orders of magnitude safer than it was in 1563. What the homilist thought “may be possible” — the keeping of images without idolatrous veneration — experience in the year 2022 shows is in fact abundantly possible; indeed, standard fare for most Anglicans living in North America. While the good pastor will always be on the lookout for error of faith or practice sneaking in to deceive God’s people, for the majority of people in North America today (those, at least, who were not raised Roman Catholic, etc.) idolatrous honoring of images is not a virulent threat.[44]

With this contextualized reception of the Homily, we turn at last to right practice today.

CONTEMPORARY APPLICATION

We have now made it through the maze of history, let us follow the thread back out into the light of the present and attend to contemporary application — what does all this mean for us today?

We do well to keep in mind a spectrum of categories that regulate Christian practice:

—Forbidden—Discouraged—||—Permitted—Encouraged—Enjoined—

Gathering all that we have surveyed so far, we can see that:

  • Nicea II enjoined the veneration of images, which underwrote all of the practical idolatry from the 8th century down to our own day.[45]
  • The Bible forbids idolatry.
  • The Early Church sometimes permitted the creation of images (but not the veneration).
  • The Homily on Peril of Idolatry forbids the veneration of images, and discourages the creation of images.

Synthesizing all this, we see that the common conception of “Iconodulia” is not Anglican: Bowing, giving votive offerings to, etc. We also see that though Anglicans may at times be called to put away images, images in themselves have the possibility of being benign or even useful.[46] Anglicans are permitted to honor images with affection and respect, as is manifest in the act of looking at them (rather than smashing them) and contemplating them. Perhaps even in a moment of Spiritual joy to kiss them, but not to venerate them with the religious gestures that are given to God, I.e. all sub-species of bowing.

This catholic, Anglican position is something of a middle way, and thus deserves a term other than Iconodulia or Iconomachia (or Iconoclasm), and I would propose Iconotimousin.

Lastly, as it circles back around to the wider discussion about Nicea II, I wish to end with the words of Theodulf of Orleans, who first received the teaching of Nicea II, and who recognized it for what it was:

If he who scandalized one of the least shall fall under the most dreaded sentence, how much more terrible will be the judgment against the one who either drives almost the whole church of Christ to adore images or binds with anathema those who spurn the adoration of images. Both should be avoided with great caution so, whether adhering to one party or the other, one does not do more than good order demands.[47]

Notes:

  1. J.H. Newman Tract 71. Also, lest any one try to make cavils out of my citing Newman, let it be noted that in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, he doesn’t recant Tract 71, but affirms the balance of his assessments in that tract, “whereas the Tract [71] is written as if discussing the differences of the Churches with a view to a reconciliation between them.” Indeed, Newman’s next major work, his Development of Doctrine was created around the thesis that there must be room for new things to develop within the Church, after the time of the Apostles and the early Church. Devotion to images is one such development. Newman recognized it as such both before and after his conversion to Rome. The only difference before and after his conversion is that before he believed the development to be illegitimate (“corruption” is the language of Tract 71), and after he believed it to be legitimate.
  2. Contra Fr. Perkins, “the Bible is ambiguous on the question”…”undemonstrated assumption that venerating images is a species of idolatry.”…”Mr. Devereux’s reading of Scripture is inadequate”, etc.
  3. “by ourselves”, because, it may be needful for rightful ecclesial authority from time to time to destroy images, if they have become inextricably bound up in idolatrous, superstitious practices.
  4. It is significant that the first record of images of Christ in Christian writing occurs in St. Irenaeus of Lyons c. 180 who describes the practice as taking place within the gnostic groups, I.e. outside the Christian (catholic) Church, not within it.
  5. Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, c. 680-850 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2011), 42.
  6. Ibid., 51.
  7. Ibid., 58.
  8. I.e. before c. 700
  9. Ibid., 62.
  10. Ibid., 63.
  11. All of the other items prescribed in the embroidery and metalwork are non figurative, and thus are ornamental rather than images in se. The real rub is with the Cherubim.
  12. E.g. Fr. Perkins writes, “Exodus 20:4 does not forbid idols, but any image in the likeness of anything in creation.”
  13. The references in the Psalms to bowing down “toward your holy temple” (e.g. Psalm 138) are not a sufficient counter-point. They are communicating a directional attitude from a distance, not a reverence “before the face” of any image. They are a parallel instance to Daniel praying toward Jerusalem while in exile.
  14. E.B. Pusey, On the Councils of the Church (1857)
  15. St. Athanasius, De Synodis, 5.
  16. Individual Church Fathers and Ecumenical Councils are also, in charity, to be judged according to the timeline on which they present themselves. Occasional incautious statements of early fathers does not mean testify to substantive difference in doctrine, only to difference in language. St. Justin Martyr said things that would have been blasphemy if they were said by St. Augustine, because St. Augustine had the advantage of the language-clarifying councils that came before him.When an aspect of Biblical, Apostolic truth has been challenged, and a Council has convened to address it, and the Acts of that Council are broadcast — whatever room for contrary language there may have tacitly been within the Church up until that moment is removed. Church Fathers of the second and third century did occasionally use experimental language to try and describe the Triune God. They would not have used these words after they had been forbidden by a Council. Every one of them, should they have received knowledge of the council, from where they stood (we trust) in heaven, would have said, “Yes, that is the Faith I was seeking to profess.”
  17. Fr. Mark writes, “Nevermind that, for at least eight centuries, the Eastern and Western Churches unanimously disagreed with [Mr. Devereux’s] reading of Scripture, and that iconoclasm remains a minority opinion in the Church today.” Setting aside that in rejecting Nicea II, Anglicans are not therefore proponents of Iconoclasm, the argument is still essentially, “the majority of Christians believe it now, so it is probably true.” But the Apostles didn’t believe it. And the Bible doesn’t put it forth. So it cannot be true.It is the case that 1.2 billion Roman Catholics today believe the Pope to have universal ordinary jurisdiction over the church. A mere 200 million Orthodox and 90 million Anglicans disagree. But that we are “out voted” doesn’t have anything to do with the truth or falsehood of the claim itself. We must cling to the Faith once for all delivered.
  18. I am aware that this is a traditioned number
  19. St. Athanasius, De Synodis, 1. Emphasis Mine
  20. St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit, 7.
  21. St. Cyprian, Letter 74.
  22. This is something that last year, when I was first exchanging essays with Fr. Perkins, I suspected but was not certain of. Now I am certain of it.
  23. The Epistle of Cyril to Nestorius with the 12 Anathemas
  24. I learned this fact from the Rev. Nathaniel Kidd, who has a deep personal familiarity with contemporary Orthodoxy
  25. The translation is Norman Tanner’s, available at https://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum07.htm The older translation in Schaff actually renders it, “to these should be given due salutation and honourable reverence”
  26. Remember why Hezekiah smashed Nehushtan!
  27. Cited in the Schaff volume of the Ecumenical Councils, pg. 573
  28. Ibid. (Emphasis mine)
  29. E. B. Pusey, The Articles Treated on in Tract Ninety Reconsidered (1841)
  30. Bellarmine, Robert. De Imag. Sanct. Book II.22, Cited in William Palmer, A Treatise on the Church of Christ (1838)
  31. A note on the historiography which Fr. Perkins assumes: Until the early decades of the 1800s, the standard narrations of the first four ecumenical councils, from Eusebius through to Mosheim were traditioned by an intuition that orthodoxy triumphs, and that what has triumphed is therefore orthodox. This is a pious way of regarding the early ecumenical councils. The publication of the widely influentiual General History of the Christian Religion of the Schleiermachian August Neander (1789-1850), combined with the de-coupling of theological institutions from the churches they were created to serve brought the dawn of an academic history writing, which would come to bud in Harnack, and then full flower in the latter half of the twentieth century, and whose aroma now fills the air across disciplines, from the pages of Ehrman, Hart, and, downstream, Fr. Perkins. This way of reading the Church history (especially the councils) fixates not on the victor, as pre-19th century histories had done (however many caveats along the way), but instead on the political back-drop, and misunderstandings, and ambiguities. Practically every heresiarch of old has been “vindicated” by some academic as not really teaching the heresy that bears their name. From this vantage point, the councils appear as contests between two opposing conceptions, both potentially equally valid, and the outcome of the victor secured through disreputable means. By failing to see that every Council is a question of Truth versus Falsehood, the deep conservatism of the Church in council is mis-represented. What this way of reading the Councils might gain in subtlety, it loses in piety.
  32. The vast majority of claimed patristic citation by 8th century iconodules were spurious fabrications, or quotes given strange new meanings apart from their original context (such as St. Basil’s description of how heathen honoring of emperor images works!)
  33. E.B. Pusey, Letter to the Bishop of London (1851)
  34. E.B. Pusey, The Articles Treated on in Tract Ninety Reconsidered (1841)
  35. Jerusalem Declaration, Article 3
  36. Article 5
  37. And possibly what was already in view in 787, though not explicitly mentioned by the council, just as the Council of Trent when addressing images comes off as comically blind to the extent of the actual practices on the ground.
  38. To be distinguished notionally from idolatry in se. To the pure all things are pure, and I well believe that there have been and are some individual iconodules who are not committing the sin of idolatry.
  39. “Veneration of Images” Adrian Fortescue. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) accessed at NewAdvent.org
  40. Duffy, Eamon The Stripping of the Altars (Yale University Press: New Haven, 2005), 156-157.
  41. “worshipped” in late Middle English meant “adored”. The issue is not the wording, but the acts that the words connote. Although, the confluence of lexemes here is meaningful besides.
  42. Ibid., 161 citing “Somerset Wills”. So much for devotion to the saints leading to Christ!
  43. “Apotropaic” is the academic word used to paper over the magical way in which these icons are really used in folk piety, sanctioned by all the spiritual leaders who defend such uses on the ground of Nicea II.
  44. The case might be different in New Orleans, or in some non-Western countries. The pastor must know his parish and discern.
  45. Not that every act of every Christian who venerated images was idolatrous, but that many were (and are). That millions and millions of Christians have been misled in the Eastern and Roman communions on the question of images doesn’t mean that these Communions ceased to be the Church. It is uncharacteristic of Fr. Perkins to assume this line of thinking even when framing his opponent’s view, but this is what he writes, “that [according to Mr. Devereux’s view] the Church had by the sixteenth century all but ceased to exist for nine centuries.” I am confident this is not Mr. Devereux’s claim; it is certainly not the Anglican claim. The church was alloyed with that partuclar error for those few centuries. Just as it has been alloyed with many errors in other centuries besides. The Church does not forfeit her union with her head when some of her teachers get doctrine wrong. False doctrine does hurt the people of God, and dampen the life of the Spirit within the Church, and this is why it is so important to get these things right. Many Anglican teachers today are often wrong about a lot of things, (Divorce after remarriage, and Women’s Ordination being the first two that come rushing to mind), but on the matter if icon-worship, the witness of the Bible, corroborated by all of our glimpses into the earliest record of the Church, which clarifies any possible ambiguity, tell us that our Anglican Reformers got this right.
  46. A tenet further supported by the abundance of stained glass and reredos art and sculpture kept through the course of the English Reformation.
  47. Theodulf of Orleans, Opus Caroli

 


The Rev. Ben Jefferies

The Rev. Ben Jefferies is a sinner, grateful to the Lord for his mercy. He grew up in England, and emigrated to the United States in 1999. He went to Wheaton College, and several years later discerned a call to ministry and went to seminary at Nashotah House Theological Seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Duncan in 2014. He currently serves The Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Opelika, Alabama. He served on the Liturgy Task Force of the ACNA from 2015-2019, and was the lead designer for the production of the printed prayer book. He continues as the Assistant to the Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer (2019), and serves on the board of directors of Anglican House Media Ministries. He is married with three daughters.


'Rejecting Nicea II (Again): Of Anglicans and Apostolic Faith and Practice' have 11 comments

  1. July 25, 2022 @ 2:43 pm Ven. Job Serebrov

    Fr. Ben, your text is incredibly well written and you should consider a book. I do want to make a comment on Fn. 24, which reflects incorrect Orthodox Church practice. The Creed is, in fact, chanted at every liturgy but without the anathemas. Only on Orthodoxy Sunday (the first Sunday of Great Lent) are all the anathemas read out from a document called the Synodikon.

    Reply

  2. July 26, 2022 @ 3:34 pm Fr. Mark Perkins

    Thanks for Fr. Jefferies, as always, for a learned and thoughtful contribution. In lieu of a more fulsome response, let me simply make a few isolated comments here:

    1. The thrust of St. John of Damascus’s distinction between veneration and worship has nothing directly to do with images. It simply affirms that there is a form of veneration which is not worship and therefore is not idolatrous. (For what it’s worth, like Newman, I am not only opposed to “image worship” but to the worship of anything or anyone outside of God.) At one point, Fr. Jefferies seems to suggest that there is a species of behavior or acts which would be acceptable when rendered to a living person but suddenly become idolatrous when directed at an image, but he does not expand on this claim, and I find it hard to credit on the face of it. The definition of idolatry would seem to be any act of honor that should only be directed to God but which one gives to anything or anyone that is not God. If an act is idolatrous worship when directed at an image, how can it not be idolatry when directed at anything or anyone other than God? Was David’s veneration of Jonathan idolatrous or not?

    2. Although Fr. Jefferies briefly ventures the notion that some forms of veneration are non-idolatrous when directed to humans but idolatrous when directed to images, for the most part he (like Mr. Devereux, and following the Homily on Peril of Idolatry) ignores or rejects the distinction. Their entire biblical argument depends upon the assumption that veneration simply is worship. (“Serving” in Exodus 20:4 is equivalent to latria, which is why many translations have “bow down to them and worship.” Iconodules would readily affirm that no one should serve/worship images.) That assumption seems indefensible and has not been defended. Though one can certainly claim that certain acts claimed to be veneration are actually worship, the position taken by Fr. Jefferies and Mr. Devereux requires there to be no distinction at all.

    3. I made no claim about the anathemas of the First Council. My claims (https://www.earthaltar.org/post/what-does-nicea-ii-require-of-you) about the anathemas of the Seventh Council being distinct (part of the acclamations; made verbally *after* the assembled bishops had signed the Definition and thus not part of the authoritative text) have not been answered and seem to me unanswerable. (I cited myself not as an authority, obviously, but simply as a shorthand reference to much larger arguments I was not going to repeat.)

    4. One previous commenter (https://northamanglican.com/on-the-rightful-rejection-of-nicea-ii/#comment-1759), attempting to support Fr. Jefferies’ position, noted that in Orthodox liturgy both the Definition and the Anathemas of Nicea II are read on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. But, as he noted in passing, the Anathemas in that liturgy are expanded and revised, which seems to me proof positive of my position. No Eastern Orthodox liturgy would ever dare to revise or modify the Council’s Definition – indeed, the Great Schism in large part resulted from (in the Eastern view) an unauthorized modification of the Nicene Creed. Thus, the liturgical modification of the Anathemas suggests that its authority is separable and separate from that of the Definition.

    One correction: the quotation in footnote 12, which Fr. Jefferies refutes, is in fact from Mr. Devereux, not me.

    In fn 45, Fr. Jefferies objects to my characterization of Mr. Devereux as claiming that “all but ceased to exist for nine centuries.” I was referring to this passage from Mr. Devereux’s original piece: ‘The Homily Concerning the coming down of the Holy Ghost says that “for the space of nine hundred years and odd” the Church has been “so far wide from the nature of the true Church, that nothing can be more” saying it was no longer “built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, retaining the sound and pure doctrine of Christ Jesu.” Since this Homily was written in the late 16th Century, that would mean it sees the Church as having been corrupted since the 7th Century.’

    Readers can decide if my comment was a fair gloss.

    Beyond that, I will finally comment that I do not find Fr. Jefferies’ view of Nicea I plausible, and I think the evidence he himself presents (e.g. fn 16) agitates against his view — but readers can judge for themselves.

    Blessings,
    Fr. Mark Perkins

    Reply

    • July 28, 2022 @ 12:34 pm Fr. Mark Perkins

      I forgot to reiterate — the specific post-Nicea-II developments of iconographic veneration, as well as contemporary practices, are not themselves authoritative. The context for “salute” Fr. Jefferies’ offered is very interesting — but that comes from the anathemas, and, contrary to Fr. Jefferies’ claim, I have never at any point ventured an interpretation of those anathemas. Instead, I have noted that the Definition itself offers not a word of description about what “veneration” means except in clarifying that it is *not* worship. Fr. Jefferies’ additional context about “saluting” may serve to illustrate what the Council fathers might have had in mind in veneration, but, even if we could assume that one private letter was an authoritative commentary on “salute” in the anathemas, I don’t think we can import that explanation into the Definition’s affirmation of veneration.

      Reply

      • August 4, 2022 @ 3:37 pm Ben Jefferies

        Hey Fr. Mark —

        I think calling a letter *from the presiding archbishop of the council* TO the *empress* is not rightly put aside as a “private letter.”

        I also don’t think that anathemas of Nicea II and anathemas of Nicea I deserve to be treated differently — they are of the same species and should be regarded in common, i.e. as to how they relate to definitions.

        Reply

        • August 4, 2022 @ 4:01 pm Fr. Mark Perkins

          Per “private letter,” good point — my framing is a little tendentious. The question of how far such contextualizations should be understood to determine the meaning of conciliar act is, I think, worth debating. I think you could consider the letter as roughly equivalent to the Federalist Papers vis a vis the Constitution — not a private letter but rather an extremely weighty interpretation of the document itself… but also not, in and of itself, authoritative. Still, it was surely intended to govern the reception of the anathemas and can’t be dismissed as trivially as I did so. On the other hand, the letter remains only tangentially relevant to the Definition itself. So I withdraw the characterization but maintain the overall stance.

          The use of “anathema” does not amount to a genre-defining matter, such that all conciliar anathemas are to be treated as generically equal. The Nicea I anathemas are literally part of the (original, pre-Constantinopolitan) Nicene Creed. There is no distinction whatever between Creed and anathema at Nicea I — they are *part* of the Creed itself, and are therefore signed and promulgated as essentially creedal. The fact that the word “anathema” is used in subsequent Councils does not automatically mean it should be treated the same as those of Nicea I. The actual proceedings determine their meaning and authority.

          Thanks for a good conversation, as always.

          Blessings,
          Fr. Mark

          Reply

  3. July 27, 2022 @ 6:55 pm Simon

    The article was very good and very thought provoking . For the most part I agree with it. I am not sure I would agree with the assertion that all Bowing Down before an image is idolatrous. The second commandment clearly is speaking of idols, images of deities. One can also bow as an act of honor (like bowing before a king) not worship. It is common practice in Anglican churches to bow down when when the cross passes by in the processional. What are your thought on that?

    Reply

    • August 4, 2022 @ 1:57 pm Bruce

      I had the same question. Another common practice in some Anglican/Episcopal churches is genuflecting before sitting in the pew and/or before going up for communion. I am curious to hear thoughts on that as well.

      Reply

      • August 4, 2022 @ 3:35 pm Ben Jefferies

        Dear Bruce —

        The matter of the Holy Sacrament is a slightly different one, because *unlike* images or sculptures, our Lord really is conveyed (I believe via his Real Presence in, with, and under the form of the Bread and Wine, but of course, more Reformed Anglicans believe a different mode, but still a real conveyance) with the Sacrament. In this case, I think reverence IS called for, and is not at all idolatrous. I do not think Exposition of the Sacrament a comely practice however, and this could perhaps fall under the same proscription as the veneration of images – but I’d need to think about that more.

        Blessed John Keble really wrestled through this in the course of his life — whether or not reverence should be shown to the Blessed Sacrament itself, and he came down in the affirmative, in this work: http://anglicanhistory.org/keble/adoration/chapter1.html

        His thesis in summary, “Where the Lord is, He is to be adored”

        Reply

    • August 4, 2022 @ 3:31 pm Ben Jefferies

      Dear Simon —

      An acquaintance called me on the phone the other day and asked me the same question — and after sitting on it a few days, and asking for the Lord to guide, I realize that my inherited, uncritical practice, of bowing toward the processional cross, is in fact opposed to the principles that I laid out in this essay, and that I have lately come to (over the past year plus), and am convicted of. So — as of this week, I no longer am reverencing the processional cross. I am glad we have a processional cross; but I do not reverence it with a bow, or really in any way.
      Thank you for this challenge.

      Reply

  4. August 9, 2022 @ 12:29 pm simon

    Thank you for your response. I had no idea that my question would actually result in you giving up the practice of bowing at the cross in the processional. I was actually hoping that you would change your perspective on bowing. I think that father perkins in the comments has shown that your distinction of bowing to certain persons in ancient times (which was permissable) and that to bowing to an image is a distinction with no real difference. If one can bow to a person as an act of honor (not worship) than one can do so in their heart with a sacred image. If your taking the 2nd commandment of not bowing as absolute for all images, than I think you should also take an an absolute the making of all images as well in the commandment. Yet You do not oppose the creation and even usage of all images. You acknowledge that the Old testament itself clearly shows that God actually commanded the creation of images (eg.cherubim, images on the temple wall, the brazen serpeant)which shows that second commandment was not an absolute prohibition against creation of all images. I see the second commandment in similiar fashion to the the 6th commandment “Thou shalt not Kill”. The commandment was specifically against Murder, not all killing. This is verified by the death penalty and wars that the Lord sanctioned. Likewsie, the second commandment is specifically against the creation of idols (an image design specificially to represent a pagan deity). The backdrop is clearly the paganism of ancient egypt. The commandment itself is quite specific when talking of creating an image that is above, on the earth, and in the sea. Clearly this relates to the Eyptian plethora of deities. The word for image that is used in hebrew is the most common word that is used througout the OT for an idol ( A carved out images design to represent a pagan deity). No Christian should bow down to such an image. That would be idolatry. . So I see two types of images and two types of bowing. To bow with honor to our sacred image of the Cross does not constitute idolatry in and of itself. It could only be if one is actually worshipping the cross itself. (That can only happen in the ignorance and heart of an individual not in the act itself).

    Never the less, I do understand that the medieval 16 century church really did abuse images. So i Get the push back. Also Nice II did overstep when it requires such icons as necessary for salvation. That they are are useful and beneficial for instruction, edificiation, and beutification I go with,, but would no push furthur than that. However, in defense of nice 2, the council did go out of its way to draw a distinction between worship and venerate (honor), and clearly rejected worshipping of images just like article 22 rejects. Granted, I concede your point that what has happen in practice makes
    the distinction a distinction with no real difference. But I don’t believe that the distinction should be rejected just the bad practice.

    I am not a fan of bowing down to icons of the virgin mary and saints simply because of the connection with the “cult of saints” that I do agree with you is still a problem in the EO and the RC. But I would be fine with bowing down to an icon of Christ just as I bow down when I use th name Jesus christ during the eurachistic prayer. It is Christ I am worshipping not his image nor the word Jesus Christ. I realize that my position will not go over well with both an EO or low church protestant.

    Reply

    • September 28, 2023 @ 8:54 am Simon

      I wrote this reply over a year ago. I do realize reflecting on it that I was self- contradictory on one point. I defended bowing before the cross (the processional) but also stated about images that they “useful and beneficial for instruction, edification, and beauty. But I would not
      Push further than that”. Well, obviously I was pushing further than that if I am defending the bowing during the processional. So I do need to correct myself on that. That was a blind spot of mind.

      Reply


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