The 7th Ecumenical Council and the Importance of Icons

Yesterday, October 11, the Orthodox honored the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council who affirmed that icons are necessary for proclaiming the incarnation of God.  David Bell explains:

“The iconoclasts have forgotten the Incarnation and the fact that at that stupendous moment the bodiless and invisible God became embodied in visible humanity: ‘In former times God, who has no body and no form, could not be depicted in any way. But now, since God has appeared in the flesh and lived among human being, I depict God who can be seen. I do not worship matter; I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who deigned to dwell in matter and who brought about my salvation through matter. I will never stop honoring the matter through which my salvation was brought about.’ (John of Damascus)

An icon of Christ, therefore, is not merely something to remind us of our Redeemer, but a true symbol of the incarnation. As God revealed himself in the created stuff of flesh and blood, so he may reveal himself in the created stuff of wood and paint. An icon is a revelation of God through matter just as the Incarnation was a revelation of God through matter, and the fact that one was a perfect revelation while the other is imperfect does not negate the basic principle: they are both images. In summary, therefore, John of Damascus makes four main points: (i) evidence for images can be found in the Old Testament itself and they are extremely useful for teaching an illiterate population; (ii) an image need not be identical to its prototype in order to be called an image; (iii) the true worship of God and the veneration (or ‘relational worship’) of images are quite distinct; and (iv) images of Christ bear eloquent witness to the New Dispensation and are clear testimony to the reality and importance of the Incarnation.” (Many Mansions, pp 273-274)

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