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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Why Iconoclasm is Heretical.

Fr. Joseph Komonchak at Commonweal reminds us with pictures of sculptures by Niccolo dell'Arca.

Oh, and because I haven't posted anything about Byzantium for a few weeks:

A brief historical note--Iconoclasm is probably the least organic of the Christian heresies, being imposed solely by the will of the Byzantine Emperor Leo III (reigned 717-741). Leo, whom we have ample reason to thank for his brilliant defense of Constantinople during the final Arab Muslim siege of 717-18 (a victory far more earth-shaking than Martel's still-essential victory at Tours fifteen years later), blamed Christian use of icons for military reverses in the 720s. Consequently, he promulgated a decree banning their use ca. 725.

To be fair, iconoclasts had some legitimate complaints--use of images by Christians in that time could be borderline idolatrous, with there being some recorded instances of icons standing as godparents for baptisms. Nevertheless, the iconoclasts went too far, especially Leo's son and successor, Constantine V (reigned 741-75), who unleashed a series of bloody persecutions of iconophiles and went further, outlawing any intercessory prayers involving the saints. Constantine was so hated by iconophiles that he was given a nickname after his death--"Copronymous", which is Greek for "Name of Dung."

Iconoclasm would sputter on in fits and starts after the death of Constantine V, with rulers taking it up or abandoning it periodically--even after the Second Council of Nicaea condemned it in 787. Nevertheless, no succeeding iconoclast emperor would approach the savagery of Copronymous. The last iconoclast ruler was Theophilus, who died in 842. Immediately after his death, iconoclasm was again outlawed, without a peep of protest from either clergy or laity. As heresies go, iconoclasm was entirely artificial and foreign to the Christian worldview, and the absence of a popular movement to continue it shows that.

Which offers a note of hope for those suffering from the stripping of the altars in our time.

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