Deus Ex Machina

"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

Reversing an Old Charge: The Nestorian Nature of Iconodulism

The following is taken from the blog Proto-Protestantism where in this post the author discusses a lot of issues to do with the nativity, Christmas, etc, including this rather intriguing reversing of a traditional argument against iconoclasm.

…One of these arguments is now commonly embraced by Evangelicals, that is to accuse those who would oppose pictures or depictions of Christ of being guilty of the heresy of Nestorianism.

Now it can be argued that the 5th century Constantinopolitan Patriarch Nestorius never really taught this, nevertheless the Nestorian position can be summed as this:

Christ has two Natures, human and divine, and the Incarnation is also comprised oftwo Persons, human and divine.

The Orthodox position has always been:

Christ has two Natures, human and divine, and they both reside in one Person.

The argument has long been that there is but One Christ, who is miraculously both human and divine.

Nestorians have said that by combining the two Persons into one, he is neither properly speaking human or divine.

Nestorians also argued the Persons must be separate or else what will you say? That God died on the Cross? Can God die?

So they would in some way separate his humanity and his divinity. They are not quite unified in the person of Christ.

There were other errors in the early church, some that were more serious in that they denied His humanity, or His divinity…or made him into a tertium quid, a third something that was neither fully man or fully God…

A Protestant pro-image argument often is framed thus:

While we would reject the depiction of God the Father, by rejecting the depiction of Christ you are separating his humanity from his Divinity and are thus guilty of Nestorianism. You can’t separate the natures, and therefore since Christ is Fully Man, we can depict him.

Did you catch that?

Since Christ was human, He is exempt from the prohibitions of the 2nd Commandment. By insisting that He shouldn’t be depicted, you must be breaking apart the Incarnate fusing of the Divine and Human.

…I wish to flip this on its head.

By depicting Jesus, they are separating His Divinity. You can’t picture just Christ’s humanity. If you think so, then you are in fact a Nestorian (as we defined it above.)

They go together. He is the Theanthropos, the God-Man. God Incarnate, the Icon (Image) of the Father.

So, when you see a painting of Christ….is it Him?

If it’s not depicting His Divinity…then it’s not Christ.

If if is depicting His Divinity (for the sake of argument)…then it’s at the very least a violation of the Second Commandment, if not taking His name in vain and outright blasphemy.

His Divinity of course, cannot be depicted…and so the picture is not Christ….and thus it is a lie.

This is why during the Reformation in Holland and Scotland, newly Reformed Christians were ripping down and smashing statues and destroying images of Christ. I’m not saying they were right to reverence the buildings and want to purge the ‘solemn’ places….but that’s what motivated them. They viewed these things as idols…false gods, or false representations of the True God….and thus false gods.

I think what this argument at most proves is not exactly his conclusion, that is, that no pictures or images of Christ or his saints are allowed to be made, but that the question of images have to be decided on other grounds other than that of one’s Christology, e.g. questions of representation of divinity, use of representation, etc, more of a discussion of what the second commandment means rather than a debate about Christological implications.

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8 comments on “Reversing an Old Charge: The Nestorian Nature of Iconodulism

  1. Andrzej
    October 11, 2013

    But…Christ didn’t come down as the Father. He came to us as the perfect/first/original image (to be precise, Icon) of the Prototype (The Father).

    So if you tell me he cannot be depicted (at the very least in Iconography), then by that same rule the people of ancient Jerusalem should never have been able to have laid eyes on him – and if they did, it would have been all lies!

    Nestorius was confused. I guess that is where this argument false apart. The living theanthropic hypostasis, the historical Jesus Christ, had already been birthed by a virgin, ministered, died, rose, and resurrected. To say that He existed as two persons on separate dimensions and was unable to exist through a hypostatic union of his two natures on Earth, (apart from being a serious blow at Gods executive capabilities) poses a lot of problems and makes no sense. Which is why Nestorius himself found it problematic to refer to the Holy Virgin as God-Bearer, but instead as Christ bearer ( Theotokos vs Christotokos, implying that the historical Jesus Christ was fully human). But if the historical Jesus Christ, is not God – then why the whole drama of the Virgin birth? Wouldn’t John the Baptist have been enough for that same Ministry?

    But if Christ, truly was Son of God as he claimed He was whose mission was to mediate between man and God to bring mankind to salvation, then I guess it would make more sense to say that He was of two natures, God-Man – Theantropos, the Icon/depiction of God the Father that can exist on Earth. And if God the Father, as supreme Iconographer has already rendered us a worshipful Icon of Himself in the person of Christ, then we too can follow suit by rendering worshipful Icons of Christ.

    Hence in my opinion, had these same (image/statue wrecking) protestants that you speak of gone back to ancient Israel, they would have been the same one’s finding the idea of God depicted as flesh and blood – blasphemous (as per the Jews).

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    • Andrzej
      October 11, 2013

      It wasn’t our fault that God made himself visible to the eyes of man – and what is made visible as matter can be reproduced as matter. Perhaps, a more through understanding of Iconography as opposed to religious statues/paintings is in order 😛

      I suggest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZCQXNw0Z34

      Godspeed!

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    • Dominic
      October 11, 2013

      So if you tell me he cannot be depicted (at the very least in Iconography), then by that same rule the people of ancient Jerusalem should never have been able to have laid eyes on him – and if they did, it would have been all lies!

      I think the argument here is confused. It is one thing to say that Christ cannot be depicted in iconography made by us, it is another thing to say that Christ cannot be incarnate in a human flesh and thereby visible to the people of ancient Jerusalem. Obviously through the hypostatic union of the divine Word with a particular material body two thousand years ago, we can see God in that particular incarnation and in that very particular material body.

      But unless you are arguing that there is such a likewise hypostatic union between your icons and the Eternal Word, and I hope you’re not saying such a thing, then your icons are not in any sense of the word a depiction or even an “icon” of Christ in both his divine and human nature.

      Therefore your conclusion that “we too can follow suit by rendering worshipful Icons of Christ” does not follow from your premise that “the Icon/depiction of God the Father that can exist on Earth. And if God the Father, as supreme Iconographer has already rendered us a worshipful Icon of Himself in the person of Christ, then”.

      Yes, the icon/depiction of God the Father can exist on earth through the hypostatic union and the whole joining of the Eternal Word with that particular body two thousand years ago, and it is in that very particular person and material body whereby God has “rendered us a worshipful icon of Himself”. However, there is no such hypostatic union between your icons and the Eternal Word, and therefore your conclusion does not follow at all.

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      • Andrzej
        October 11, 2013

        I do not pretend to be well versed in the all round Orthodox understanding of this,but from my understanding of Icon – it is not seen to be mere paintings. I also do know that without Iconography – Orthodoxy is gone; it is also my opinion that any religion that refuses to depict the essence of its faith in any other way other than words, loses its mirth and ends up becoming violently fixated towards its own survival (and therefore is not worth taking seriously or giving it attention). Furtherore, all of human kind are to be considered Icons of the one Prototype – God (that is to say we are made in his ‘image’) – the Westerners are never thought to see things in this way (hence, you get the two extremes; various forms of iconoclasm as seen among prots. and the near-idolatrous behaviour towards non-Icon religious images as seen in papism/anglo-caths).

        Christ is the eternal Word. When we depict Christ – as he is remembered through the collective memory of the Church via the Fathers, Apostles and early Christians (People saw Christ, met him personally, saw him preach and perform miracles, ate and drank with him, etc.) – we get to capture the essence of that hypostatic union. God, through Christ has given mankind something that can be depicted (i.e. no longer invisible or generic; burning bush or thunderous voice). To me iconoclasm is hypocritical, when one reads scripture, and reads a narrative of Christ’s acts – one is bound to form depictions of His image in ones mind – to me even that narrative of Christ is an Icon. At the end of the day, nobody DRAWS or PAINTS an Icon we WRITE them.

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      • Dominic
        October 12, 2013

        I do not pretend to be well versed in the all round Orthodox understanding of this,but from my understanding of Icon – it is not seen to be mere paintings.

        Whatever it is, as long as it is not a hypostatic union, it will fall short of being a divine incarnation and visible depiction of the invisible divine nature.

        I also do know that without Iconography – Orthodoxy is gone

        Which merely entails that the refutation of iconography would also be at the same time a refutation of Eastern Orthodoxy, at least, a refutation of their theology of icons. How tightly bound is all their theology with iconography, and whether the other parts can survive without iconography, is a separate question.

        …it is also my opinion that any religion that refuses to depict the essence of its faith in any other way other than words, loses its mirth and ends up becoming violently fixated towards its own survival (and therefore is not worth taking seriously or giving it attention).

        This is quite a substantial thesis of which is missing in many premises in its proof. But even if I grant you it’s claim (of which I do so merely for the sake of argument), then that merely implies that the Christian faith is not a “religion” in some cultural/sociological empirical sense of the word but is a divine miracle sustained by the will of God alone and is in no need of non-linguistic depictions, etc. And of course, if the faith is sustained by a divine miracle or action of God, then I doubt its adherents would be too worried about its survival since they can’t do anything about it but merely dependent upon divine grace alone.

        Furtherore, all of human kind are to be considered Icons of the one Prototype – God (that is to say we are made in his ‘image’)

        Disregarding the odd claim that Western Christians have never taught the image of God doctrine (which is so blatantly false that I don’t think it deserves an actual refutation, you can google it up yourself), many Reformed Christians have contented precisely that because mankind alone are icons and images of God whereby it is man, and not man-made icons, which are deserving of devotion and love, and not icons. As this Reformed theologian explains here,

        So, what is Paul’s reasoning against the Greek use of images? The answer is found in vv 27-29:

        “…So that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.”

        We do not find the Divine nature in gold, silver or stone, and I believe it is fair to say, not even in wood.

        We find it in other people, the offspring of God.

        Thus, because people alone, and not icons, are the proper image of God, it is people alone who are the proper object of devotion and love and not icons.

        Christ is the eternal Word. When we depict Christ – as he is remembered through the collective memory of the Church via the Fathers, Apostles and early Christians (People saw Christ, met him personally, saw him preach and perform miracles, ate and drank with him, etc.) – we get to capture the essence of that hypostatic union. God, through Christ has given mankind something that can be depicted (i.e. no longer invisible or generic; burning bush or thunderous voice).

        Again, the argument here is the same confusion. No one is disputing that God can be depicted, since even Protestant do claim that God has depicted and represented himself in his divine Word and in Christ. But to say this is not to say the same thing as that we can depict him by our own iconography and invented images. It is one thing to talk about that the Scriptural depiction of God, the various theophanies, the Incarnation itself, all events of direct divine revelation and inspiration, it is another thing to speak about the icons in the same breath which I trust you do not suggest we include your icons into the biblical canons or are divine revelations on par with Scripture and the burning bush or even hypostatically united with the divine Word.

        To me iconoclasm is hypocritical, when one reads scripture, and reads a narrative of Christ’s acts – one is bound to form depictions of His image in ones mind – to me even that narrative of Christ is an Icon. At the end of the day, nobody DRAWS or PAINTS an Icon we WRITE them.

        Actually, I agree with you here. If you’ve read my actual conclusion at the end of this post, I did not actually grant the conclusion that all icons and pictures are absolutely forbidden. I am more Lutheran here in that while images and pictures are not to be used for devotional or worship purposes, but they are perfectly fine as pedagogical tools as books for the unlearned as Pope Gregory would put it. You can read more here.

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  2. Andrzej
    October 12, 2013

    We are not arguing on the same premises.

    I do not agree than faith can be rationalised. If anything, it has to be experiential.

    You have also not understood the concept of Icons as well as you might like to portray – proof of this can be seen in how you clumped Icon and image as the same thing (typical of westerners). They are also, not as you portrayed in the St. Paul quote, merely static and innanimate matter. No one worships the paint pixels of Icons which is what your arguments seem to imply. each Icon depicts an act or some structured event or some theological statement, they are not static. So when we worship an Icon of Christ in the Orthodox Church we are not worshipping Christ in the paint – we are worshipping a specific description of his divinity (egs. Icon of Christ pantokrator, shows Christ as Lord of Host).

    Forming Prayer is not unlike writting Icons. So, if I were to apply your arguments to where I stand – it just seems absurd. If Icons of Christ cannot capture the divine properties of His Hypostatic union – then neither can the formation of words (as prayer).

    Once again, I will assert that I know far too little regarding the Orthodox standpoint of the matter.

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  3. Cal
    October 16, 2013

    Two thoughts:

    Part of the struggle of EO is the understanding that icons (or pictorial images) are ‘canon’. Thus the argument must be around authority and not subordinate standing. In other words it is: does this picture measure my understanding of Jesus? Rather than: does this image conform to the standard in the Scripture?

    Now if the second, that’s the divide between (for lack of better words) Reformed-minded and those not. Part of it, as Proto pointed out, is whether this is a violation of the Lord as the Iconographer in differing theophanies or ultimately in His Incarnation.

    I’m torn between the argument for pictures as ‘book for unlearned’, which has somewhat dried up as a serious argument as literacy rates have increased, but again could be confronted by Paul’s own provoking question: how will they know without a preacher?

    We don’t need to become literatti snobs, sneering at the unlearned, to oppose pictorial representation. The Gospel, while contained in writing, comes by preaching first. That’s apart of the weekly gathering: to hear the Scriptures as a witness to Christ.

    Another thought to contend with is in much of Jacques Ellul’s “The Humiliation of the Word”. It is mostly sociological, but the point is interesting: while a spoken word is free and flowing, art entraps it into a static figure.

    Thought for food,
    Cal

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    • Dominic
      October 17, 2013

      We don’t need to become literatti snobs, sneering at the unlearned, to oppose pictorial representation. The Gospel, while contained in writing, comes by preaching first. That’s apart of the weekly gathering: to hear the Scriptures as a witness to Christ.

      Another thought to contend with is in much of Jacques Ellul’s “The Humiliation of the Word”. It is mostly sociological, but the point is interesting: while a spoken word is free and flowing, art entraps it into a static figure.

      Thought for food,

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      But as interesting as this argument might be, the fact is that you’re appealing to mainly pedagogical considerations rather than theological principles implies that the issue of the use of pictures and icons is mainly a pragmatic and prudential issue, to do with pedagogical efficiency and methods, and not so much upon more fundamental theological considerations like the commandment against idolatry or the “canonical” nature of icons as conduits of divine grace, etc.

      In Lutheranese, these are matters of “adiaphora”.

      There is no doubt that preaching is the primary means of communication, but unless you’re going to rule out reading, then as per the link I placed arguing against iconoclasm here, I see pictures and written words as occupying the same continuum.

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This entry was posted on October 11, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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