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Monday, December 04, 2006

St. John of Damascus (675-749): On Holy Icons

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Collect:
Lord,
may the prayers of Saint John Damascus help us,
and may the true faith he taught so well
always be our light and our strength.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.


Worship is the symbol of veneration and of honour. Let us understand that there are different degrees of worship. First of all the worship of latreia, which we show to God, who alone by nature is worthy of worship. When, for the sake of God who is worshipful by nature, we honour His saints and servants, as Josue and Daniel worshipped an angel, and David His holy places, when be savs, "Let us go to the place where His feet have stood." Again, in His tabernacles, as when all the people of Israel adored in the tent, and standing round the temple in Jerusalem, fixing their gaze upon it from all sides, and worshipping from that day to this, or in the rulers established by Him, as Jacob rendered homage to Esau, his elder brother, and to Pharaoh, the divinely established ruler. Joseph was worshipped bv his brothers. I am aware that worship was based on honour, as in the case of Abraham and the sons of Emmor. Either, then, do awav with worship, or receive it altogether according to its proper measure.

Answer me this question. Is there only one God? You answer, "Yes, there is only one Law-giver." Why, then, does He command contrary things? The cherubim are not outside of creation; why, then, does He allow cherubim carved by the hand of man to overshadow the mercy-scat? Is it not evident that as it is impossible to make an image of God, who is uncircumscribed and impassible, or of one like to God, creation should not be worshipped as God. He allows the image of the cherubim who are circumscribed, and prostrate in adoration before the divine throne, to be made, and thus prostrate to overshadow the mercy-seat. It was fitting that the image of the heavenly choirs should overshadow the divine mysteries. Would you say that the ark and staff and mercy-scat were not made? Are they not produced by the hand of man? Are they not due to what you call contemptible matter? What was the tabernacle itself? Was it not an image? Was it not a type and a figure? Hence the holy Apostle's words concerning the observances of the law, "Who serve unto the example and shadow, of heavenly things." As it was answered to Moses, when he was to finish the tabernacle: "See" (He says), "that thou make all things according to the pattern which was shown thee on the Mount." But the law ,-,,as not an image. It shrouded the image. In the words of the same Apostle, the law, contains the shadow of the goods to come, not the image of those things. For if the law should forbid images, and vet be itself a forerunner of images, what should we say? If the tabernacle 'was a figure, and the type of a type, why does the law not prohibit image-making? But this is not in the least the case. There is a time for everything.

Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God's body is God by union, it is immutable. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by, a logical and reasoning soul.

I honour all matter besides, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, me. Was not the with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to thrice happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? Was not the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Sepulchre, the source of our resurrection: was it not matter? Is not the most holy book of the Gospels matter? Is not the blessed table matter which gives us the Bread of Life' Are not the gold and silver matter, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either do away with the veneration and worship due to all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the worship of images, honouring God and His friends, and following in this the grace of the Holv Spirit.

3 Comments:

Blogger Brian Douglas said...

Seems to me like a statement of realism here. The incorporeal and uncircumsribed God became clothed in flesh (the incarnation - an instantiation of the divine) and it is there that God is worshipped - not the matter but the God of matter. For those who accept a realist view of the sacraments there is acceptance of the position put here - it certainly seems to me to come to use from the Scriptures and the traditions of the Church have embraced it - not least of all in the Eucharist. There is ample evidence in the Anglican eucharistic tradition to support such a view.

9:17 am  
Blogger Jeff said...

Brian,

I think you are exactly correct here! Interestingly too, Andrewes refers to and draws from St. John of Damascus quite frequently in his writings. I am looking forward to getting into you diss. I will print it this evening when I get home. I am trying to re-write my chapter on sacrifice now and it is giving me a headache. So much to know and so little time and space to write and think. I still feel like I don't know anything!

10:04 am  
Blogger Brian Douglas said...

I understand what you say about knowing nothing. I too feel like that sometimes but I think this is a function of an active mind and one that is never satisfied with its achievements. 'The more I know the less I know I know' is a little saying someone gave me a long time ago. I think it is healthy to make these sorts of observations. Just keep doing what you are doing.

12:18 am  

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    O God, most glorious, most bountiful, accept, we humbly beseech thee, our praises and thanksgivings for thy holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all who bear the name of Christ; for the faith which it hath conveyed in safety to our time, and the mercies by which it hath enlarged and comforted the souls of men; for the virtues which it hath established upon earth, and the holy lives by which it glorifieth both the world and thee; to whom, O blessed Trinity (+), be ascribed all honour, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.
    --Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

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