“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.
Second Council of Nicea Proves Nothing
I would wrap my discussion of images if were not for the Council of Nicea. I’m not talking about the famous “Council of Nicea” called by Emperor Constantine. I’m actually talking about the second council called eight hundred years later by Empress Irene. This Council not only said that images were appropriate for churches but also that they should be worshipped. Everything I have said already could be undercut by this Synod. I’m not convinced by this Synod, however. All I want to do is show the lengths that people will go to worship idols rather than become Christians.
Let’s dispatch this line of argument. Some who want to support the use of images in the church appeal to this Synod. The Synod can be refuted, however. Charlemagne, called for a collection of arguments against images to be compiled to counter the Synod. The refutation contains opinions of the bishops who were present and the argument they presented. John, the representative of the Eastern Churches, argued that since the Scriptures says that God created man “in His image” that images ought be used in churches. He also supported his case by appealing to the Scripture, “Show me your face, because it is beautiful.” Another bishops, to prove that images should be put on the altar, quotes Scripture: “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:15). And another bishop, to show the usefulness of images, quotes a line from the Psalms, “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” (4:6).
Furthermore, another made this comparison: Just as the patriarchs of the Old Testament often used similar sacrifices as pagans, so also Christians should use images of the saints than the idols of the Gentiles. They also twisted the words of Scripture to support the use of images, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house, and the place where your glory dwells” (Psalm 26:8). But the most ingenious interpretation was this: “As we have heard, so also have we seen” (Psalm 48:8). Therefore, they reason, God is not only known through His word, but also by seeing images. Bishop Theodore wrote, “God is to be admired by the saints.” Elsewhere, it is said, “To the saints who are on the earth” must refer to images. In sum, these interpretations are so absurd that it’s painful to quote them.