Posted by: thebylog | October 6, 2008

Worshipping at Images

When we were at Ayasofya in Istanbul, a famous museum which used to be a mosque which used to be a church, I was deeply affected as I looked upon a mosaic which depicted Jesus Christ. Perhaps it was the novelty of the medium, but I found that gazing into the eyes of this lifeless piece of art allowed me to contemplate this Man in a way that I rarely do.

Later, I was reading a book about the history of Constantinople, as Istanbul was known during the time of the Byzantine Empire, and it turns out that there was a great controversy in the Eastern church in the 8th century over this very issue. In typical Byzantine fashion, there were even people killed over it. However, John of Damascus argued for the use of these images of Christ–called icons in the Catholic tradition–by saying first of all that when one worships at an icon this person is not actually worshipping the image but the Person the image represents (good argument), and secondly that if one denies the spiritual right to worship at an image one denies the humanity of Christ (bad argument).

Setting aside concerns that humans may be unable to worship at an icon long-term without setting it up in idolatry, I believe one can worship Jesus while looking at a picture of Him. I did.


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