Page images

apologists defended themselves, by contending that image worship was unlawful, and by condemning the pagans for the practice of it. These facts, and the opposition subsequently made to the introduction of pictures and images into Christian worship, are fatal to the antiquity alleged by the church of Rome, in favour of the idolatrous practice now under consideration.

The testimony of Mosheim to the progress of superstition, in the fourth century, will clearly show the pagan origin of this and other corruptions of Christian worship. "An enormous train," he remarks, "of different superstitions were gradually substituted for true religion and genuine piety. This odious revolution proceeded from a variety of causes. A ridiculous precipitation, in receiving new opinions, a preposterous desire of imitating the pagan rites, and of blending them with the Christian worship, and that idle propensity which the generality of mankind have towards a gaudy and ostentatious religion, all contributed to establish the reign of superstition upon the ruins of Christianity. Accordingly, frequent pilgrimages were undertaken to Palestine, and to the tombs of the martyrs, as if there alone the sacred principles of virtue, and the certain hope of salvation, were to be acquired." "The public processions and supplications, by which the pagans endeavoured to appease their gods, were now adopted into the Christian worship, and celebrated in many places with great pomp

and magnificence. The virtues which had formerly been ascribed to the heathen temples, to their lustrations, to the statues of their gods and heroes, were now attributed to Christian churches, to water consecrated by certain forms of prayer, and to the images of holy men. And the same privileges that the former enjoyed, under the darkness of paganism, were conferred upon the latter under the light of the gospel, or, rather, under that cloud of superstition which was obscuring its glory. It is true, that, as yet images were not very common, nor were there any statues at all. But it is, at the same time, as undoubtedly certain, as it is extravagant and monstrous, that the worship of the martyrs was modelled, by degrees, according to the religious services that were paid to the gods before the coming of Christ."* The obvious reason for thus corrupting Christian worship, and assimilating it to the pagan rites, was to induce the pagans to regard with a more favourable eye, and to embrace more readily, Christianity. "Hence," Mosheim remarks," it happened, that in these times, the religion of the Greeks and Romans differed very little, in its external appearance, from that of the Christians. They had both a most pompous and splendid ritual; gorgeous robes, mitres, tiaras, wax tapers, crosiers, processions, lustrations, images, gold and silver vases, and many such circumstances

* Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, vol. i. p. 326, 327.

of pageantry, were equally to be seen in the heathen temples, and in the Christian churches."

The brevity prescribed to this work will render it inexpedient to pursue fully the history of the progress of the idolatrous veneration of images, the introduction of which into Christian worship was strenuously opposed by Epiphanius and others. Epiphanius in particular marked his holy zeal against such things. It is related of him, that going into a church, in the village of Anabletha, he found there a picture hanging up—whether it was the picture of Christ, or of some saint, we are not informed—which he instantly cut in pieces, as scandalous and contrary to the holy Scriptures; and desired John, bishop of Jerusalem, to take care for the future, that no such pictures were hung up in any church under his jurisdiction. It was not possible for the people to see the pictures and images of Christ and his saints in their churches long, without paying those marks of respect to them, which, in a short time, assumed the character of worship and adoration. This practice widely spread during the whole of the fifth century, though, as yet, it was unauthorized by any positive law of the church. It was condemned by the Council of Constantinople, convoked by Constantine Copronymus, a. D. 754, at which were present three hundred and thirty-eight bishops, from every part of the empire. "This synod, after a close examination of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the six

preceding councils, upon the point in question, condemned all idolatry, the use of images and pictures representing Christ, &c.; and interdicted, under pain of anathema, any adoration or reverence of such images, as an insult to God, to Christ, and to the saints. The consequence of this synod was the overthrow of image worship throughout the east, except in such places as were at a considerable distance from the royal city."*. About thirty years after, the second Council of Nice (A. D. 787) restored what the Council of Constantinople had abolished. This council was called by Irene, who held the reins of government as Regent, during the minority of her son, Constantine VII.; she was a bigoted worshipper of images and relics, and the zealous patroness of the growing superstitions of the church. From this synod the patriarchs of the church, with the exception of those of Constantinople and Rome, absented themselves. Irene, by her persuasions and threats, influenced the decision of the synod in favour of the worship of images, &c. "After much disputation, in which passages, feigned to be in favour of image service, were quoted from the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, and many false. representations given, to afford a pretence for this heresy ; it was decreed, that images might not only be had for historical use, but also for worship (ad cultum)

* Spanheim's Ecclesiastical Annals, p. 418.

in the temples; that they were to be kissed, venerated, worshipped, (colendas,) adored, (adorandas,) and honoured with wax lights, incense, and other rites; the religious worship, due to God alone, excepted. The last council at Constantinople was declared to be null and void."

[ocr errors]

About seven years after the Council of Nice had restored the worship of images, the Council of Frankfort assembled, (A. D. 794,) by the authority of the Emperor Charlemagne: three hundred bishops are said to have assembled on this occasion from Italy, France, and Germany. This council revoked the decrees of that which had been held at Nice, and condemned, not only the worship of images, (cultrum latriæ,) but all other kinds of idolatry. Among others who attended this convocation was our own countryman, the learned Alcuinus, the emperor's tutor, who had previously distinguished himself by a learned treatise against image worship, addressed to the emperor in the name of the British bishops and princes, in which the acts of the Nicene Council were abundantly refuted from Scripture. This fact is interesting and important, as exhibiting the protest of the British church and nation at that time, against one of the principal corruptions of Christianity by the church of Rome.

The last general council of the Romish church,

* Spanheim, p. 418.


« PreviousContinue »