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.

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