Church History: 700-800
The big controversy in the 8th century was over icons.
The early church was not adverse to images at all… the catacombs and recently uncovered places of Christian worship that date to the third century show a rich history of art in the church.
As art flourished in this time period, it flourished in the church and among Christian who decorated both the churches and their homes with symbols of the faith.
There came a growing concern among some bishops that the paintings and sculptures were becoming objects of worship themselves, thus leading the people into idolatry.
However, many in the Eastern churches believed that a church was not a holy place unless it was adorned with images and icons as an aid to worship.
To the iconoclasts it was a violation of the second commandment to depict Christ in art…a painting could not capture His glory as God and thus was a caricature of who He was.
The Emperor Leo III commanded the destruction of icons in 726 against the desires of the Pope, many local priests…and most of all the people.
Thus, the battle turned into not just one over a doctrinal issue, but of a clash between church and state.
In 787, the Second General Council of Nicaea was convened and it proclaimed that while it was unlawful to worship images, it was necessary and good to venerate them.
Today icons and images are vital parts of both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox worship.
This became a controversy again during the Reformation…while Lutherans maintained an appreciation of art in the church without the veneration of icons or images, the Reformed branch stripped their churches bare to walls.
The basement of St. Pierres in Geneva is piled high with all the things Calvin had removed in line with the rest of the Swiss Reformers.
I think they took it a tad too far…
What do you think of icons and images in the church?
Names You should Know
Boniface: A British monk/missionary who carried the Gospel through Europe and into Germany.
John of Damascus: The spiritual leader of those who supported the use of icons, he remains a major theologian of the Eastern church and influential in the West as well. He has a very interesting take on hell..
Much of the material here was taken from “Heroes and Heretics” by Iain D. Campbell