Images and Idols
Quotes from Christians through the ages
Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):
Asking what place it was, and learning it to be a church, I went in to pray, and found there a curtain hanging on the doors of the said church, dyed and embroidered. It bore an image either of Christ or of one of the saints; I do not rightly remember whose the image was. Seeing this, and being loath that an image of a man should be hung up in Christs church contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures, I tore it asunder and advised the custodians of the place to use it as a winding sheet for some poor person.
They, however, murmured, and said that if I made up my mind to tear it, it was only fair that I should give them another curtain in its place. As soon as I heard this, I promised that I would give one, and said that I would send it at once. Since then there has been some little delay, due to the fact that I have been seeking a curtain of the best quality to give them instead of the former one, and thought it right to send to Cyprus for one. I have now sent the best I could find, and I beg that you will order the Presbyter of the place to take the curtain which I have sent from the hands of the Reader, and that you will afterwards give directions that curtains of the other sort opposed as they are to our religion shall not be hung up in any church of Christ.” NPNF2: Vol. VI, The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 51 – >From Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, In Cyprus, to John, Bishop of Jerusalem, §9.
Synod of Constantinople (Hieria, 753 AD):
When, however, they are blamed for undertaking to depict the divine nature of Christ, which should not be depicted, they take refuge in the excuse: We represent only the flesh of Christ which we have seen and handled. But that is a Nestorian error. For it should be considered that that flesh was also the flesh of God the Word, without any separation, perfectly assumed by the divine nature and made wholly divine. How could it now be separated and represented apart? So is it with the human soul of Christ which mediates between the Godhead of the Son and the dullness of the flesh. As the human flesh is at the same time flesh of God the Word, so is the human soul also soul of God the Word, and both at the same time, the soul being deified as well as the body, and the Godhead remained undivided even in the separation of the soul from the body in his voluntary passion. For where the soul of Christ is, there is also his Godhead; and where the body of Christ is, there too is his Godhead. If then in his passion the divinity remained inseparable from these, how do the fools venture to separate the flesh from the Godhead, and represent it by itself as the image of a mere man? They fall into the abyss of impiety, since they separate the flesh from the Godhead, and represent it by itself as the image of a mere man? They fall into the abyss of impiety, since they separate the flesh from the Godhead, ascribe to it a subsistence of its own, a personality of its own, which they depict, and thus introduce a fourth person into the Trinity. Moreover, they represent as not being made divine, that which has been made divine by being assumed into the Godhead.
Whoever, then, makes an image of Christ either depicts the Godhead which cannot be depicted, and mingles in with the manhood (like the Monophysites), or he represents the body of Christ as not made divine and separate and as a person apart, like the Nestorians.
The only admissible figure of the humanity of Christ, however, is bread and wine in the holy Supper. This and no other form, this and no other type, has he chosen to represent his incarnation
Martin Luther (1483-1546):
(Other quotes of Martin Luther would support the use of images in worship, but I’ve chosen to include this earlier quote since it, at least, agrees with the thrust of the Protestant reformers here presented.)
Here we must admit that we may have images and make images, but we must not worship them, and if they are worshipped, they should be put away and destroyed, just as King Hezekiah broke in pieces the bronze serpent erected by Moses [II Kings 18:4]. And who will be so bold as to say, when he is challenged to give an answer: They worship the images. They will say: Are you the man who dares to accuse us of worshipping them? Do not believe that they will acknowledge it. To be sure, it is true, but we cannot make them admit it. Just look how they acted when I condemned works without faith. They said: Do you believe that we have no faith, or that our works are performed without faith? Then I cannot press them any further, but must put my flute back in my pocket; for if they gain a hairs breadth, they make a hundred miles out of it.
Therefore it should have been preached that images were nothing and that no service is done to God by erecting them; then they would have fallen of themselves. That is what I did; that is what Paul did in Athens, when he went into their churches and saw all their idols. He did not strike at any of them, but stood in the market place and said, “You men of Athens, you are all idolatrous” [Acts 17:16, 22]. He preached against their idols, but he overthrew none by force. And you rush, create an uproar, break down altars, and overthrow images! Do you really believe you can abolish the altars in this way? No, you will only set them up more firmly. Even if you overthrew the images in this place, do you think you have overthrown those in Nürnberg and the rest of the world? Not at all. St. Paul, as we read in the Book of Acts [28:11], sat in a ship on whose prow were painted or carved the Twin Brothers [i.e., Castor and Pollux]. He went on board and did not bother about them at all, neither did he break them off. Why must Luke describe the Twins at this point? Without doubt he wanted to show that outward things could do no harm to faith, if only the heart does not cleave to them or put its trust in them. This is what we must preach and teach, and let the Word alone do the work, as I said before. The Word must first capture the hearts of men and enlighten them; we will not be the ones who will do it. Therefore the apostles magnified their ministry, ministerium [Rom. 11:13], and not its effect, executio.
Let this be enough for today. (This is an excerpt from a series of sermons Luther gave at Wittenberg during Lent, 1522, published under the title, “Eight Sermons by Dr. M. Luther, preached by him at Wittenberg in Lent, dealing briefly with the masses, images, both kinds in the sacrament, eating [of meats], and private confession, etc.” Specifically, this is his “Third Sermon, March 11, 1522, Tuesday after Invocavit.”)
John Calvin (1509-1564):
There is no need of refuting the foolish fancy of some, that all sculptures and pictures are here condemned by Moses, for he had no other object than to rescue Gods glory from all the imaginations which tend to corrupt it . Some expound the words, Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image, which thou mayest adore; as if it were allowable to make a visible image of God, provided it be not adored; but the expositions which will follow will easily refute their error. Meanwhile, I do not deny that these things are to be taken connectedly, since superstitious worship is hardly ever separated from the preceding error; for as soon as any one has permitted himself to devise an image of God, he immediately falls into false worship. (Calvin’s Comment on Ex. 20:4-6; Deut. 5:8-10. Harmony of the Last Four Books of Moses, p. 108.)
And it is to be observed, that the thing forbidden is likeness, whether sculptured or otherwise. This disposes of the frivolous precaution taken by the Greek Church. They think they do admirably, because they have no sculptured shape of Deity, while none go greater lengths in the licentious use of pictures. The Lord, however, not only forbids any image of himself to be erected by a statuary, but to be formed by any artist whatever, because every such image is sinful and insulting to his majesty. (Institutes I.xi.4)
…the things pertaining to our salvation are too high to be perceived by or senses, or seen by our eyes, or handled by our hands; and that in the meantime we do not possess these things in any other way than if we transcend all the limits of our senses and direct our perception beyond all things of this world and, in short, surpass ourselves.
Therefore he adds that this assurance of possession is of those things which lie in hope, and are therefore not seen. ‘Whatsoever,’ as Paul writes, ‘is visible, is not hope; nor do we hope for what we see’ [Rom.8:24]. When he calls it an ‘indication’ or ‘proof’ – or, as Augustine has often translated it, ‘a conviction of things not present’ . . . Paul speaks as if to say that faith is an evidence of things not appearing, a seeing of things not seen, a clearness of things obscure, a presence of things absent, a showing forth of things hidden. The mysteries of God, and especially those which pertain to our salvation, cannot be discerned in themselves, or as it is said, in their own nature. But we contemplate them only in his Word, of the truth of which we ought to be so persuaded that we should count whatever he speaks as already done and fulfilled. (Institutes III.2.41)
Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter IV – Of Idols or Images of God, Christ and the Saints (1566):
Images of God.
Since God as Spirit is in essence invisible and immense, he cannot really be expressed by any art or image. For this reason we have no fear pronouncing with Scripture that images of God are mere lies. Therefore we reject not only the idols of the Gentiles, but also the images of Christians.
2. Images of Christ.
Although Christ assumed human nature, yet he did not on that account assume it in order to provide a model for carvers and painters. He denied that he had come “to abolish the law and the prophets” (Matt. 5:17). But images are forbidden by the law and the prophets (Deut. 4:15; Isa. 44:9). He denied that his bodily presence would be profitable for the Church, and promised that he would be near us by his Spirit forever (John 16:7). Who, therefore, would believe that a shadow or likeness of his body would contribute any benefit to the pious? (2 Cor. 5:5). Since he abides in us by his Spirit, we are therefore the temple of God (2 Cor. 3:16). But “what agreement has the temple of God with idols? (2 Cor. 6:16)
3. Images of Saints.
And since the blessed spirits and saints in heaven, while they lived here on earth, rejected all worship of themselves (Acts 3:12f.; 14:11ff.; Rev. 14:7; 22:9) and condemned images, shall anyone find it likely that the heavenly saints and angels are pleased with their own images before which men kneel, uncover their heads, and bestow other honors? But in fact in order to instruct men in religion and to remind them of divine things and of their salvation, the Lord commanded the preaching of the Gospel (Mark 16:15)–not to paint and to teach the laity by means of pictures. Moreover, he instituted sacraments, but nowhere did he set up images.
4. The Scriptures of the Laity.
Furthermore, wherever we turn our eyes, we see the living and true creatures of God which, if they be observed, as is proper, make a much more vivid impression on the beholders than all the images or vain, motionless, feeble and dead pictures made by men, of which the prophet truly said: “They have eyes, but do not see” (Ps. 115:5). Lactantius. Therefore we approved the judgment of Lactantius, an ancient writer, who says: “Undoubtedly no religion exists where there is an image.”
5. Epiphanius and Jerome.
We also assert that the blessed bishop Epiphanius did right when, finding on the doors of a church a veil on which was painted a picture supposedly of Christ or some saint, he ripped it down and took it away, because to see a picture of a man hanging in the Church of Christ was contrary to the authority of Scripture. Wherefore he charged that henceforth no such veils, which were contrary to our religion, should be hung in the Church of Christ, and that rather such questionable things, unworthy of the Church of Christ and the faithful people, should be removed. Moreover, we approve of this opinion of St. Augustine concerning true religion: “Let not the worship of the works of men be a religion for us. For the artists themselves who make such things are better; yet we ought not to worship them” (De Vera Religione, cap. 55).
Heidelberg Catechism, Images of God (1563):
Q.96: What does God require in the second commandment?Answer: That we in nowise make any image of God, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his Word.
Q.97: Must we, then, not make any images at all?Answer: God may not and can not be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping any likeness of them, either to worship them, or by them to serve himself.
Q.98: But may not pictures be tolerated in churches as books for the laity?Answer: No; for we should not be wiser than God, who will not have his people taught by dumb idols, but by the lively preaching of the Word.
Westminter Larger Catechism (1648):
Question: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
Answer: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God has appointed.
Fisher’s Catechism (1765),
Selections from Q&A #51:
Q. 5. Can any image or representation be made of God?
A. No; it is absolutely impossible; he being an infinite, incomprehensible Spirit (Isa. 40:18). “To whom will ye liken God? or, what likeness will ye compare unto him?” If we cannot delineate our own souls, much less the infinite God (Acts 17:29). “We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.”
Q. 6. What judgment should we form of those who have devised images of God, or of the persons of the adorable Trinity?
A. We should adjudge their practice to be both unlawful and abominable.
Q. 7. Why unlawful?
A. Because directly contrary to the express letter of the law in this commandment, and many other Scriptures; such as, Jer. 10:14-15; Hos. 13:2; and particularly Deut. 4:15-19, 23. “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, (for ye saw no MANNER OF SIMILITUDE on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb, out of the midst of the fire) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female,” etc.
Q. 8. How is it abominable?
A. As it is a debasing the Creator of heaven and earth to the rank of his own creatures; and a practical denying of all his infinite perfections (Psa. 50:21).
Q. 9. May we not have a picture of Christ, who has a true body?
A. By no means; because, though he has a true body and a reasonable soul (John 1:14), yet his human nature subsists in his divine person, which no picture can represent (Psa. 45:2).
Q. 10. Why ought all pictures of Christ to be abominated by Christians?
A. Because they are downright lies, representing no more than the picture of a mere man: whereas, the true Christ is God-man; “Immanuel, God with us” (1 Tim. 3:16; Matt. 1:23).
Q. 11. Is it lawful to form any inward representation of God, or of Christ, upon our fancy, bearing a resemblance to any creature whatsoever?
A. By no means; because this is the very inlet unto gross outward idolatry: for, when once the Heathens “became vain in their imaginations, they presently changed the glory of the incorruptible God, into images made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:21-23).
Q. 23. Is it lawful, as some plead, to have images or pictures in churches, though not for worship, yet for instruction, and raising the affections?
A. No; because God has expressly prohibited not only the worshipping, but the making of any image whatsoever on a religious account; and the setting them up in churches, cannot but have a native tendency to beget a sacred veneration for them, and therefore ought to be abstained from, as having, at least, an appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).
Q. 24. May they not be placed in churches for beauty and ornament?
A. No: the proper ornament of churches is the sound preaching of the gospel, and the pure dispensation of the sacraments, and other ordinances of divine institution.
Thomas Vincent, Pictures of Christ (1674):
It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, because his divine nature cannot be pictured at all, and because his body, as it is now glorified, cannot be pictured as it is, and because, if it do not stir up devotion, it is in vain; if it do stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment. Exposition of the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism.
Thomas Vincent, A Family Instructional Guide (1674):
Q 5: Is it not lawful to have images or pictures of God by us, so we do not worship them, nor God by them?A. : The images or pictures of God are an abomination, and utterly unlawful, because they debase God, and may be a cause of idolatrous worship.
Q 6: Is it not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, he being a man as well as God?
A. : It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, because his divine nature cannot be pictured at all; and because his body, as it is now glorified, cannot be pictured as it is; and because, if it do not stir up devotion, it is in vain; if it stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment.
James Durham (1622-1658), Images of Christ:
And if it be said man’s soul cannot be painted, but his body may, and yet that picture representeth a man; I answer, it doth so, because he has but one nature, and what representeth that representeth the person; but it is not so with Christ: his Godhead is not a distinct part of the human nature, as the soul of man is (which is necessarily supposed in every living man), but a distinct nature, only united with the manhood in that one person, Christ, who has no fellow; therefore what representeth him must not represent a man only, but must represent Christ, Immanuel, God-man, otherwise it is not his image. Beside, there is no warrant for representing him in his manhood; nor any colourable possibility of it, but as men fancy; and shall that be called Christ’s portraiture? Would that be called any other man’s portraiture which were drawn at men’s pleasure, without regard to the pattern? Again, there is no use of it; for either that image behoved to have but common estimation with other images, and that would wrong Christ, or a peculiar respect and reverence, and so it sinneth against the commandment that forbiddeth all religious reverence to images, but he being God and so the object of worship, we must either divide his natures, or say, that image or picture representeth not Christ. From the Law Unsealed: or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments.
John Owen, The Glory of Christ (1679):
Many there are who, not comprehending, not being affected with, that divine, spiritual description of the person of Christ which is given us by the Holy Ghost in the Scripture, do feign unto themselves false representations of him by images and pictures, so as to excite carnal and corrupt affections in their minds. By the help of their outward senses, they reflect on their imaginations the shape of a human body, cast into postures and circumstances dolorous or triumphant; and so, by the working of their fancy, raise a commotion of mind in themselves, which they suppose to be love unto Christ. But all these idols are teachers of lies. The true beauty and amiableness of the person of Christ, which is the formal object and cause of divine love, is so far from being represented herein, as that the mind is thereby wholly diverted from the contemplation of it. For no more can be so pictured unto us but what may belong unto a mere man, and what is arbitrarily referred unto Christ, not by faith, but by corrupt imagination.
The beauty of the person of Christ, as represented in the Scripture, consists in things invisible unto the eyes of flesh. They are such as no hand of man can represent or shadow. It is the eye of faith alone that can see this King in his beauty. What else can contemplate on the untreated glories of his divine nature? Can the hand of man represent the union of his natures in the same person, wherein he is peculiarly amiable? What eye can discern the mutual communications of the properties of his different natures in the same person, which depends thereon, whence it is that God laid down his life for us, and purchased his church with his own blood? In these things, O vain man! does the loveliness of the person of Christ unto the souls of believers consist, and not in those strokes of art which fancy has guided a skilful hand and pencil unto. And what eye of flesh can discern the inhabitation of the Spirit in all fulness in the human nature? Can his condescension, his love, his grace, his power, his compassion, his offices, his fitness and ability to save sinners, be deciphered on a tablet, or engraven on wood or stone? However such pictures may be adorned, however beautified and enriched, they are not that Christ which the soul of the spouse does love;- they are not any means of representing his love unto us, or of conveying our love unto him;- they only divert the minds of superstitious persons from the Son of God, unto the embraces of a cloud, composed of fancy and imagination.
Matthew Henry, On the Decalogue (1706-1721):
The first commandment concerns the object of our worship, Jehovah, and him only (v3). . . The second commandment concerns the ordinances of worship, or the way in which God will be worshipped, which it is fit that he himself should have the appointing of. I:358-59.
It is certain that it [second commandment ed.] forbids making any image of God (for to whom can we liken him? Is. Xl.18, 15), or the image of any creature for a religious use. It is called the changing of the truth of God into a lie (Romans. 1.25), for an image is a teacher of lies; it insinuates to us that God has a body, whereas he is an infinite spirit, Hab. 2.18. It also forbids us to make images of God in our fancies, as if he were a man as we are. Our religious worship must be governed by the power of faith, not by the power of imagination. I:359.
Ebenezer Erskine/James Fisher, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained, By Way of Question and Answer (1753):
Q. 9. May we not have a picture of Christ, who has a true body?
A. By no means; because, though he has a true body and a reasonable soul, John 1:14, yet his human nature subsists in his divine person, which no picture can represent, Psalm 45:2.
Q. 10. Why ought all pictures of Christ to be abominated by Christians?
A. Because they are downright lies, representing no more than the picture of a mere man: whereas, the true Christ is God-man; “Immanuel, God with us,” 1 Tim. 3:16; Matt. 1:23.
J.G. Vos (son of Geerhardus Vos)
Commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism (1949):
Question: Is it wrong to make paintings or pictures of our Savior Jesus Christ?Answer: According to the Larger Catechism, this is certainly wrong, for the catechism interprets the second commandment as forbidding the making of any representation of any of the three persons of the Trinity, which would certainly include Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, God the Son. While pictures of Jesus are extremely common in the present day, we should realize that in Calvinistic circles this is a relatively modern development. Our forefathers at the time of the Reformation, and for perhaps 300 years afterward, scrupulously refrained, as a matter of principle, from sanctioning or making use of pictures of Jesus Christ. Such pictures are so common in the present day, and so few people have conscientious objections to them, that; it is practically impossible to obtain any Sabbath School helps or Bible story; material for children that is free of such pictures. The American Bible Society is to be commended for its decision that the figure of the Savior may not appear in Bible motion pictures issued by the Society.
Question: What attitude should we adopt in view of the present popularity of pictures of Jesus Christ?
Answer: The following considerations may be suggested as bearing on this question:
(a) The Bible presents no information whatever about the personal appearance of Jesus Christ, but it does teach that we are not to think of him as he may have appeared “in the days of his flesh,” but as he is today in heavenly glory, in his estate of exaltation (2 Cor. 5:46).
(b) Inasmuch as the Bible presents no data about the personal appearance of our Savior, all artists’ pictures of him are wholly imaginary and constitute only the artists’ ideas of his character and appearance.(c) Unquestionably pictures of the Savior have been very greatly influenced by the theological viewpoint of the artist. The typical modem picture of Jesus is the product of nineteenth-century “Liberalism” and presents a “gentle Jesus” who emphasized only the love and Fatherhood of God and said little or nothing about sin, judgment, and eternal punishment.
(d) Perhaps more people living today have derived their ideas of Jesus Christ from these typically “liberal” pictures of Jesus than have derived their ideas of Jesus from the Bible itself. Such people inevitably think of Jesus as a human person, rather than thinking of him according to the biblical teaching as a divine person with a human nature. The inevitable effect of the popular acceptance of pictures of Jesus is to overemphasize his humanity and to forget or neglect his deity (which of course no picture can portray).
(e) In dealing with an evil so widespread and almost universally accepted, we should bear a clear testimony against what we believe to be wrong, but we should not expect any sudden change in Christian sentiment on this question. It will require many years of education in scriptural principles before the churches and their members can be brought back to the high position of the Westminster Assembly on this question. Patience will be required.
Question: Are not pictures of Jesus legitimate provided they are not worshiped or used as “aids to worship”?
Answer: As interpreted by the Westminster Assembly, the second commandment certainly forbids all representations of any of the persons of the Trinity, and this coupled with the truth taught in the Westminster Standards that Christ is a divine person with a human nature taken into union with himself, and not a human person, would imply that it is wrong to make pictures of Jesus Christ for any purpose whatever. Of course, there is a difference between using pictures of Jesus to illustrate children’s Bible story books or lessons, and using pictures of Jesus in worship as Roman Catholics use them. Admittedly the former is not an evil in the same class with the latter. In spite of this distinction, however, there are good reasons for holding that our forefathers of the Reformation were right in opposing all pictorial representation of the Savior. We should realize that the popularity – even the almost unchallenged prevalence – of a particular practice does not prove that it is right. To prove that a practice is right we must show that it is in harmony with the commands and principles revealed in the Word of God. Merely showing that a practice is common, is useful, or seems to have good results does not prove it is right.
John Murray, Pictures of Christ (1961):
Secondly, pictures of Christ are in principle a violation of the second commandment. A picture of Christ, if it serves any useful purpose, must evoke some thought or feeling respecting him and, in view of what he is, this thought or feeling will be worshipful. We cannot avoid making the picture a medium of worship. But since the materials for this medium of worship are not derived from the only revelation we possess respecting Jesus, namely, Scripture, the worship is constrained by a creation of the human mind that has no revelatory warrant. This is will-worship. For the principle of the second commandment is that we are to worship God only in ways prescribed and authorized by him. It is a grievous sin to have worship constrained by a human figment, and that is what a picture of the Saviour involves.
G.I. Williamson, The Shorter Catechism For Study Classes (1970):
The second commandment is broken when men attempt to make a graven image or a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us that there is one God. It teaches us to worship the three persons, the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. But Paul tells us that we “ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone graven by art and man’s device” (Acts 17:29)…
There was a time when the Protestants recognized this evil. They saw the images in the Roman Catholic Church and they understood that this was a violation of the second commandment. They realized that this was wrong – this making of images and likenesses of Christ–even though the Roman Catholic Church was careful to say that it did not want people to worship these images, but only to worship the Lord through these images. But now, it seems, many Protestants have accepted the Roman Catholic position. They may not realize this. And they may still think, in their minds, that there is an important difference between a statue (image) and a picture (likeness). But the commandment recognizes no such difference. It forbids us to make any likeness, just as it forbids us to make any image, of the Lord.
Karl Barth (1886-1968), Church Dogmatics:This decisive task of preaching in divine service seems to suggest that the presence of artistic representations of Jesus Christ is not desirable in the places of assembly. For it is almost inevitable that such static works should constantly attract the eye and therefore the conscious or unconscious attention of the listening community, fixing them upon the particular conception of Jesus Christ entertained in all good faith no doubt by the artist. This is suspect for two reasons. The community should not be bound to a particular conception, as inevitably happens where there is an artistic representation, but should be led by the ongoing proclamation of His history as His history with us, so that it moves from one provisional Amen to another, in the wake of His living self-attestation pressing on from insight to insight. Supremely, however, even the most excellent of plastic arts does not have the means to display Jesus Christ in His truth, i.e., in His unity as true Son of God and Son of Man. There will necessarily be either on the one side, as in the great Italians, an abstract and docetic over-emphasis on His deity, or on the other, as in Rembrandt, an equally abstract, ebionite over-emphasis on His humanity, so that even with the best of intentions error will be promoted. If we certainly cannot prevent art or artists from attempting this exciting challenge theme, it should at least be made clear both to them and to the community that it is better not to allow works of this kind to compete with the ministry of preaching. (CD IV/3.2:867-8)
In all of them [worldviews], as the term itself implies, man grasps (1) at the possibility of viewing, of making images of things and finally of the totality, from a certain distance. When the Word of grace is spoken and causes itself to be heard, it immediately removes this distance and thus leaves no place for man and his contemplation of images. It takes, in fact, the form of a forceful prohibition of images. (CD IV/3.1:255)
…it is [not] a mere accident that speaking about God is commanded hundreds of times in the Bible but setting up images of God is forbidden and barred expressis verbis. (CD I/1:134)
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), A Grief Observed:
Images I must suppose, have their use or they would not have been so popular. (It makes little difference whether they are pictures and statues outside the mind or imaginative constructions within it.) To me, however, their danger is more obvious. Images of the Holy easily become holy images – sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. (pp.76-77)