Blogging the Institutes–1.11.6–Theologians Against Images

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.

Theologians Against Images

Moreover, you should read Lactantius and Eusebius on this subject of images. These writes assume it was an indisputable fact that the things images were originally pattern were human beings. In a similar way, Augustine declares that it is not only sinful to worship images but also to dedicate. When he Augustine said that, he was merely restating something  Libertine Council said years earlier: “There must be no pictures used in churches: Let nothing which is adored or worshipped be painted on the walls” (Thirty-sixth Canon).  Augustine also quote Varro in another place: “Those who first introduced images of the gods both took away fear and brought in error.” Were this merely Varro’s opinion, then it might not count for much. But it should give us pause that a pagan unbeliever like him would come to the conclusion that corporeal images are unworthy of the majesty of God. The reason why they are unworthy, in his estimation, is that they diminish reverential fear of God and introduce error to people. This sentiment shows that it was spoken with wisdom and truth.

Augustine, although he quote Varro, comes to his own conclusions on the matter too. At the beginning, he shows that humanity did not fall into their erroneous knowledge of God through images. But images certainly exacerbated their situation. Afterwards, he explains how the fear of God was either impaired or extinguished by foolish, childish, and absurd representations. I wish this were not so, but we certainly experience it, even today! Therefore, if you want to gain knowledge of God, then go to other teachers than images to get it.

Blogging the Institutes–1.11.5–Images Don’t Substitute for Scripture

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.

Images Don’t Substitute for Scripture

Gregory the Great has said that, “Images are the books of the unlearned.” But the Holy Spirit goes in a very different direction. If Gregory had been taught by the Holy Spirit in this matter, he too would have gone in a different direction. When Jeremiah claims that idols are a delusion (10:8) and when Habakkuk claims that an idols is a “teacher of falsehood” (2:18), we can infer this truth from these verses: Everything learned from images about God is futile and false.

Now some may respond and claim that the prophets were only criticizing pagan idols. I admit this. But I add (which should be obvious to all), that the prophets condemn what the Catholic Church advocates: images can replace books. The prophets contrast images with the true God, as if the two were opposites in their nature, and could never be made to fit together or agree. In the passage which I quote above, the conclusion is drawn that since there is one true God whom the Jews worshipped, all visible shapes made to represent Him are false and evil lies. Therefore, anyone who looks to images of God for knowledge of God is miserably deceived.

In sum, if any knowledge could be gained from images of God, then the prophets would not have criticized images in such broad language. Therefore, the position I hold is this: Whenever pastors teach against the use of images of God, they are merely restating what the prophets have already said.

Blogging the Institutes–1.11.4–Idols are Self-Defeating

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Idols are Self-Defeating

The Psalms show that idols are nothing: “Their idols are silver and gold; the work of man’s hands” (Psalm 115:4; 135:15). Because of these idols are made out of physical materials, the Psalmist shows that they are not gods. The author takes for granted that any human attempt to depict God is a lie. He specifically mentions silver and gold, rather than clay and rock, to show that even the noblest materials can cause true worship. He then draws a general conclusion: that nothing is more unlikely than a “god” being made from inanimate matter. Human beings are forced to confess that they but creatures of the day, yet would want metal to be made into an idol. Where do idols come from except human will?

A heathen poet had good grounds for mocking idols: “I was once the trunk of a fig-tree, a useless log, when the tradesman, uncertain of whether he should make me a stool, chose rather that I should be a god.” In other words, a human being, who breathes out his life almost every moment, is able by his own reason and will to confer the name and honour of deity upon a lifeless tree-branch. While the heathen poet had no regard for religion when he mocked idolatry, let us hear the stinging rebuke of the prophet. May it cut us to the heart when he talks about the infatuation of those who take a piece of firewood to warm themselves, bake bread, roast meat, and out of the leftovers, make a “god” before whom they bow down and worship (Isaiah 44:16). Isaiah continues and in another place not only charges idolaters with guilt before God’s law, but also a failure to learn from creation that it is incomprehensible to try to make the infinite deity fit into the finite.

Yet experience shows that the abomination of idolatry is natural to people. The Bible also shows that every mode of idolatry is denounced. Being the works of people, idols have no authority from God (Isaiah 2:8; 31:7; Hosea 14:3; Micah 5:13). Therefore, this is an absolute truth: all modes of worship devised by people are detestable. The Psalmist places the infatuation with idolatry in even stronger light when he shows how helped is asked from dead and useless objects by people who have the intelligence to know that the universe is run by God alone. But while the corruption of humankind leads all people into this madness, the Holy Spirit thunders, “Those who make them will become like them; everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:8). What you should notice from the text is that the very likeness of God is forbidden, whether sculpted or otherwise. This dismissed the frivolity of the Greek Church. They think they’re ok because they have no sculpted shape of God. But no one uses images and pictures more than they do! The Lord, however, not only forbids any image of Himself to be set up in the church but any picture whatsoever because such an image is sinful and insulting to His majesty.