« PreviousContinue »
tive. In the beginning of the seventh century, such worship had showed its head; as is evident from the zeal against it manifested by the bishop of Marseilles, and approved of by the then bishop of Rome. After his decease, and a pontificate of a few months, and a vacancy of a few more, there succeeded Boniface the third; who accepted the title of "Universal Bishop," from one of the worst of men* who have disgraced the title of emperour. It is not probable, that after this, any difficulty occurred in respect to images, in Italy and in the neighbouring countries. But in the East, a succession of emperours made a vehement opposition to the worship of them, the cause of which at last triumphed even in that quarter, by the means of an unprincipled empress, who, to detain the reins of government from the hands of her own son, the lawful heir of the empire, found it convenient to make a common cause with the Roman bishop; of which the favouring of image worship was the cement. In this originated the second general Council of Nice, [so called] held towards the end of the eighth century; by which that practice was declared a law of the Church, and even alleged to be derived from Jesus Christ and his apostles. Dupin's comment on this, is worthy of notice. In relation to a fable, by which the council had sustained their position, he says" I should desire a better proof of it:" going on thus-"They allege the other proofs they had brought in; some of which do indeed show the use of images," [he does not say the worship of them] "was common in Churches in the fourth and fifth centuries, but never a one comes up to the time of Jesus Christ, his apostles, or their immediate successours."
Even the determination of the reputed general council did not, until after a long time, bind the innovation on those countries of the West, which had not much intercourse with Rome and the Italian States. In France, and in the other extensive dominions subject
to Charlemagne, pictures had been admitted into the Churches; but had not been worshipped in any sense of the word. That great prince caused some learned men to compose four books against the decision; and there long continued a resistance of it in France and in Germany. The opposition was at last born down, under the increasing ignorance of the times; aided by the state of Europe, which rendered it expedient for the emperours and the popes, to have a community of counsels and of interests.
This is a narrative which can hardly be contradicted; and gives a very unfavourable view of the introduction of image worship, into the Christian Church. But to return to the commandment. It is contended, that the prohibition relates, not to the sensible representation of a legitimate object of worship, but to that of the false gods of the heathen nations: and this sentiment is thought to apply, as well under the gospel as under the law. Let it be examined, as it regards them both.
When the Israelites demanded of Aaron-" Make us gods which shall go before us"*-or a god, as the Hebrew word is sometimes translated; and as it must be translated, where the same transaction is spoken of in Neh. ix. 18-they seem to have meant no more than a symbol of the presence of the divine Being: and this explains what is said-" These be thy gods"or, this is thy god-"O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." What is called the calf, is generally supposed to have been the ox, the symbol of the divine power: called by the other name in Exodus, from the diminutiveness of its size; but an ox in Ps. cvi. 19. These circumstances are much in favour of the sentiment, that the Israelites contemplated nothing further, than an emblematical representation of the true God. But the sentiment derives additional support from what we read in the aforesaid psalm"They changed their glory" [which refers, not to an idol, but to the true God]" into the similitude of an
* Exod. xxxii. 1.
† Verse 4.
ox, that eateth grass."* Therefore, the sin of Aaron and of the people, consisted in the circumstance of offering relative worship to an image.
The plea here remarked on is equally inapplicable, as it respects pagan worship since the delivery of the gospel. Of this many evidences might be produced from the fathers: of whom two only-Origen and Arnobius-shall suffice.
Early in the third century, Origen, in his answer to Celsus,† represents him undervaluing the understandings of the Christians. The former writer retorts the charge; considering those rather as deserving the character of ignorant and foolish, who address themselves to inanimate statues; asking health from the weak, life from the dead, and help from the helpless. Then there occurs to him the answer which some would makethat the images were not gods, but their representatives. He disallows the excuse, as follows-" If any one says these are not gods, but the images or representations of gods; nevertheless, those also are senseless, vile, and ignorant, who image to themselves gods in the works of the craftsmen; so that the lowest among us, labour not under folly of this sort."
Further; how totally opposed were the sentiments of this great man-or rather of the Christian world in his day---to image worship in any shape; may be seen from what he says in the same treatise to the following effect. He states an objection of Celsus against the Christians, that they fled from the dedications of altars, and statues, and temples: "not perceiving," says Origen, "that the mind of every one of us is his altar, from which there are carried the prayers of a pure conscience." He goes on to state, that "images are to be dedicated to God; not of human workmanship, but formed by the word of God; viz. virtues imitative of the first born of every creature, in whom are the examples of all the virtues." He says, that these statues are dedicated to God in the minds of Christians; by
* Verse 20.
† Lib. 6.
which they think there is properly honoured the archetype of all such statues---the image of the invisible God. Then he compares such images, with those made by Phidias and other celebrated statuaries: and he goes on, to ground the statues contended for, on where it is said..." I will walk among you, and be your God, and ye shall be my people;"* and on another passage to the same effect.
Arnobius wrote in the third century. In his work against the Gentiles, be states the defence which they made for their images, as follows..." The ancients were not ignorant that they [the images] had nothing in them of deity, nor of sense: but because of the untamed and unknowing vulgar, who are the greater number of the people, they were made with design, and for a good purpose; that by a certain appearance of deity presented to them, their roughness might be laid under the restraint of fear; and that conceiving of themselves as acting under the presence of the gods, they might lay aside wicked deeds, and, by a change of manners, betake themselves to the duties of life. Neither for any other reason, were venerable appearances sought for them in gold and silver; that there should be supposed a certain efficacy in the very ornaments, which should not only strike the sense of sight, but also overpower the mind by their magnificence." Every one may perceive an agreement of this, with the usual defence of images under the gospel. But the father goes on to express the unsoundness of the defence; without the least appearance of his being privy to the common distinction in latter times, between a worship which is absolute, and another which is only relative.
The last mentioned author wrote towards the close of the third century. Very soon after his day, we have a passage in the history of Eusebius, which shows that it must have been late in the fourth century, before images were introduced into the Churches. Eusebius relatest that the woman mentioned in the eighth chap† Lib. 7. Cap. 17.
Lev. xxvi. 12.
ter of Matthew as healed by Christ, was of the Gentile city of Paneas-that in memory of the cure, there was still to be seen in the said city, opposite to the door of the house wherein the woman had lived, a statue of her, kneeling before another statue, representing her benefactor. Eusebius, after relating this, remarks, that such commemoration was not singular among the heathen; and that he had himself seen graven among them the pictures of Peter, and of Paul, and of Christ himself. If this historian, who was far advanced into the fourth century, knew of no such custom, even out of Churches, except among the heathen; it cannot be supposed, that he knew of any images within the Churches-much less of their being worshipped.
The above and the like documents prove, that in the estimation of the primitive Church, no more is necessary to the sin of the worship in question, than its being offered through the medium of an image. Doubtless, the impropriety is aggravated by its being presented to an unlawful object of worship; as to the Virgin Mary, and to the saints. Although the invocation of the latter is merely the asking of an interest in their prayers; yet it presumes attributes, of which we have no reason to suppose them possessed. To the Virgin, a higher species of worship is professedly given, although not thought to amount to that which is paid to God. In the gospel, there is nothing to countenance it beyond what we read in the hymn called "The Magnificat"-" Behold, from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed." It would surely be profane, to detract from the honour anticipated in these words: but when will-worship challenges to this blessed person a devotion due to the godhead only; it cannot be unlawful to call to mind what the great Author of our religion, as if to guard against such extravagance, said in answer to the exclamation-" Blessed is the womb that bare thee and the paps which thou hast