Vol. 4 Chapter X (Cont’d) – The Worship of Images. Literature. Different Theories


Comp. Vol. II., chs. vi. and vii.; Vol. III. §§109-111.

(I.) John of Damascus (chief defender of image-worship, about 750): Λόγοι ἀπολογητικοὶ πρὸς τοὺς διαβάλλοντας τὰς ἁγίας εἰκόνας (ed. Le Quien I. 305). Nicephorus (Patriarch of Constantinople, d. 828): Breviarium Hist. (to a.d. 769), ed. Petavius, Paris, 1616. Theophanes (Confessor and almost martyr of image-worship, d. c. 820): Chronographia, cum notis Goari et Combefisii, Par., 1655, Ven. 1729, and in the Bonn ed. of the Byzant. historians, 1839, Tom. I. (reprinted in Migne’s “Patrol. Graeca,” Tom. 108). The later Byzantine historians, who notice the controversy, draw chiefly from Theophanes; so also Anastasius (Historia Eccles.) and Paulus Diaconus (Historia miscella and Hist. Longobardorum).

The letters of the popes, and the acts of synods, especially the Acta Concilii Nicaeni II. (a.d. 787) in Mansi, Tom. XIII., and Harduin, Tom. IV.

M. H. Goldast: Imperialia Decreta de Cultu Imaginum in utroque imperio promulgata. Frankf., 1608.

The sources are nearly all on the orthodox side. The seventh ecumenical council (787) ordered in the fifth session that all the books against images should be destroyed.

(II.) J. Dalleus (Calvinist): De Imaginibus. Lugd. Bat., 1642.

L. Maimbourg (Jesuit): Histoire de l’hérésie des iconoclastes. Paris, 1679 and 1683, 2 vols. (Hefele, III. 371, calls this work “nicht ganz zuverlässig,” not quite reliable).

Fr. Spanheim (Calvinist): Historia Imaginum restituta. Lugd. Bat. 1686 (in Opera, II. 707).

Chr. W. Fr. Walch (Lutheran): Ketzerhistorie. Leipz., 1762 sqq., vol. X. (1782) p. 65-828, and the whole of vol. XI. (ed. by Spittler, 1785). Very thorough, impartial, and tedious.

F. Ch. Schlosser: Geschichte der bilderstürmenden Kaiser des oströmischen Reichs. Frankf. a. M., 1812.

J. Marx (R.C.): Der Bilderstreit der Byzant. Kaiser. Trier, 1839.

Bishop Hefele: Conciliengesch. vol III. 366-490; 694-716 (revised ed., Freib. i. B. 1877).

R. Schenk: Kaiser Leo III. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Bilderstreites. Halle, 1880.

General Church Histories: 1) R. Cath.: Baronius, Pagi, Natalis Alexander, Alzog, Hergenröther (I. 121-143; 152-168). 2) Protest.: Basnage, Gibbon (ch. 49), Schroeckh (vol. XX.), Neander (III. 197-243; 532-553, Bost. ed.; fall and fair); Gieseler (II. 13-19, too short).

The literature on the image-controversy is much colored by the doctrinal stand-point of the writers. Gibbon treats it with cold philosophical indifference, and chiefly in its bearing on the political fortunes of the Byzantine empire.

With the worship of saints is closely, connected a subordinate worship of their images and relics. The latter is the legitimate application of the former. But while the medieval churches of the East and West — with the exception of a few protesting voices — were agreed on the worship of saints, there was a violent controversy about the images which kept the Eastern church in commotion for more than a century (a.d. 724-842), and hastened the decline of the Byzantine empire.

The abstract question of the use of images is connected with the general subject of the relation of art to worship. Christianity claims to be the perfect and universal religion; it pervades with its leavening power all the faculties of man and all departments of life. It is foreign to nothing which God has made. It is in harmony with all that is true, and beautiful, and good. It is friendly to philosophy, science, and art, and takes them into its service. Poetry, music, and architecture achieve their highest mission as handmaids of religion, and have derived the inspiration for their noblest works from the Bible. Why then should painting or sculpture or any other art which comes from God, be excluded from the use of the Church? Why should not Bible history as well as all other history admit of pictorial and sculptured representation for the instruction and enjoyment of children and adults who have a taste for beauty? Whatever proceeds from God must return to God and spread his glory.

But from the use of images for ornament, instruction and enjoyment there is a vast step to the worship of images, and experience proves that the former can exist without a trace of the latter. In the middle ages, however, owing to the prevailing saint-worship, the two were inseparable. The pictures were introduced into churches not as works of art, but as aids and objects of devotion. The image-controversy was therefore a, purely practical question of worship, and not a philosophical or artistic question. To a rude imagination an ugly and revolting picture served the devotional purpose even better than one of beauty and grace. It was only towards the close of the middle ages that the art of Christian painting began to produce works of high merit. Moreover the image-controversy was complicated with the second commandment of the decalogue which clearly and wisely forbids, if not all kinds of figurative representations of the Deity, at all events every idolatrous and superstitious use of pictures. It was also beset by the difficulty that we have no authentic pictures of Christ, the Madonna and the Apostles or any other biblical character.

We have traced in previous volumes the gradual introduction of sacred images from the Roman Catacombs to the close of the sixth century. The use of symbols and pictures was at first quite innocent and spread imperceptibly with the growth of the worship of saints. The East which inherited a love for art from the old Greeks, was chiefly devoted to images, the Western barbarians who could not appreciate works of art, cared more for relics.

We may distinguish three theories, of which two came into open conflict and disputed the ground till the year 842.

1. The theory of Image-Worship. It is the orthodox theory, denounced by the opponents as a species of idolatry, but strongly supported by the people, the monks, the poets, the women, the Empresses Irene and Theodora, sanctioned by the seventh ecumenical Council (787) and by the popes (Gregory II., Gregory III. and Hadrian I). It maintained the right and duty of using and worshipping images of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints, but indignantly rejected the charge of idolatry, and made a distinction (often disregarded in practice) between a limited worship due to pictures, and adoration proper due to God alone. Images are a pictorial Bible, and speak to the eye even more eloquently than the word speaks to the ear. They are of special value to the common people who cannot read the Holy Scriptures. The honors of the living originals in heaven were gradually transferred to their wooden pictures on earth; the pictures were reverently kissed and surrounded by the pagan rites of genuflexion, luminaries, and incense; and prayers were thought to be more effective if said before them. Enthusiasm for pictures went hand in hand with the worship of saints, and was almost inseparable from it. It kindled a poetic inspiration which enriched the service books of the Greek church. The chief hymnists, John of Damascus, Cosmas of Jerusalem, Germanus, Theophanes, Theodore of the Studium, were all patrons of images, and some of them suffered deposition, imprisonment, and mutilation for their zeal; but the Iconoclasts did not furnish a single poet.

The chief argument against this theory was the second commandment. It was answered in various ways. The prohibition was understood to be merely temporary till the appearance of Christ, or to apply only to graven images, or to the making of images for idolatrous purposes.

On the other hand, the cherubim over the ark, and the brazen serpent in the wilderness were appealed to as examples of visible symbols in the Mosaic worship. The incarnation of the Son of God furnished the divine warrant for pictures of Christ. Since Christ revealed himself in human form it can be no sin to represent him in that form. The significant silence of the Gospels concerning his personal appearance was supplied by fictitious pictures ascribed to St. Luke, and St. Veronica, and that of Edessa. A superstitious fancy even invented stories of wonder-working pictures, and ascribed to them motion, speech, and action.

It should be added that the Eastern church confines images to colored representations on a plane surface, and mosaics, but excludes sculptures and statues from objects of worship. The Roman church makes no such restriction.

2. The Iconoclastic theory occupies the opposite extreme. Its advocates were called image-breakers. It was maintained by the energetic Greek emperors, Leo III. and his son Constantine, who saved the tottering empire against the invasion of the Saracens; it was popular in the army, and received the sanction of the Constantinopolitan Synod of 754. It appealed first and last to the second commandment in the decalogue in its strict sense as understood by the Jews and the primitive Christians. It was considerably strengthened by the successes of the Mohammedans who, like the Jews, charged the Christians with the great sin of idolatry, and conquered the cities of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt in spite of the sacred images which were relied on for protection and miraculous interposition. The iconoclastic Synod of 754 denounced image-worship as a relapse into heathen idolatry, which the devil had smuggled into the church in the place of the worship of God alone in spirit and in truth.

The iconoclastic party, however, was not consistent; for it adhered to saint-worship which is the root of image-worship, and instead of sweeping away all religious symbols, it retained the sign of the cross with all its superstitious uses, and justified this exception by the Scripture passages on the efficacy of the cross, though these refer to the sacrifice of the cross, and not to the sign.

The chief defect of iconoclasm and the cause of its failure was its negative character. It furnished no substitute for image-worship, and left nothing but empty walls which could not satisfy the religious wants of the Greek race. It was very different from the iconoclasm of the evangelical Reformation, which put in the place of images the richer intellectual and spiritual instruction from the Word of God.

3. The Moderate theory sought a via media between image-worship and image-hatred, by distinguishing between the sign and the thing, the use and the abuse. It allowed the representation of Christ and the saints as aids to devotion by calling to remembrance the persons and facts set forth to the eye. Pope Gregory I. presented to a hermit at his wish a picture of Christ, of Mary, and of St. Peter and St. Paul, with a letter in which he approves of the natural desire to have a visible reminder of an object of reverence and love, but at the same time warned him against superstitious use. “We do not,” he says, “kneel down before the picture as a divinity, but we adore Him whose birth or passion or sitting on the throne of majesty is brought to our remembrance by the picture.” The same pope commended Serenus, bishop of Marseilles, for his zeal against the adoration of pictures, but disapproved of his excess in that direction, and reminded him of the usefulness of such aids for the people who had just emerged from pagan barbarism and could not instruct themselves out of the Holy Scriptures. The Frankish church in the eighth and ninth centuries took a more decided stand against the abuse, without, however, going to the extent of the iconoclasts in the East.

In the course of time the Latin church went just as far if not further in practical image-worship as the Eastern church after the seventh ecumenical council. Gregory II. stoutly resisted the iconoclastic decrees of the Emperor Leo, and made capital out of the controversy for the independence of the papal throne. Gregory III. followed in the same steps, and Hadrian sanctioned the decree of the second council of Nicaea. Image-worship cannot be consistently opposed without surrendering the worship of saints.

The same theories and parties reappeared again in the age of the Reformation: the Roman as well as the Greek church adhered to image-worship with an occasional feeble protest against its abuses, and encouraged the development of fine arts, especially in Italy; the radical Reformers (Carlstadt, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox) renewed the iconoclastic theory and removed, in an orderly way, the pictures from the churches, as favoring a refined species of idolatry and hindering a spiritual worship; the Lutheran church (after the example set by Luther and his friend Lucas Kranach), retained the old pictures, or replaced them by new and better ones, but freed from former superstition. The modern progress of art, and the increased mechanical facilities for the multiplication of pictures have produced a change in Protestant countries. Sunday School books and other works for old and young abound in pictorial illustrations from Bible history for instruction; and the masterpieces of the great religious painters have become household ornaments, but will never be again objects of worship, which is due to God alone.



The Council of Trent, Sess. XXV. held Dec. 1563, sanctions, together with the worship of saints and relics, also the “legitimate use of images” in the following terms: “Moreover, that the images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God, and of the other saints, are to be had and retained particularly in temples, and that due honor and veneration are to be given them; not that any divinity, or virtue, is believed to be in them, on account of which they are to be worshiped; or that anything is to be asked of them; or that trust is to be reposed in images, as was of old done by the Gentiles, who placed their hope in idols; but because the honor which is shown them is referred to the prototypes which those images represent; in such wise that by the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover the head, and prostrate ourselves, we adore Christ, and we venerate the saints, whose similitude they bear: as, by the decrees of Councils, and especially of the second Synod of Nicaea, has been defined against the opponents of images.” The Profession of the Tridentine Faith teaches the same in art. IX. (See Schaff, Creeds, II. p. 201, 209).

The modern standards of the Eastern Church reiterate the decision of the seventh Ecumenical Council. The Synod of Jerusalem, or the Confession of Dositheus, includes pictures of Christ, the mother of God, the saints and the holy angels who appeared to some of the patriarchs and prophets, also the symbolic representation of the Holy Spirit under the form of a dove, among the objects of worship (προσκυνοῦμεν καὶ τιμῶμεν καὶ ἁσπαζόμεθα). See Schaff, l.c. II. 436. The Longer Russian Catechism, in the exposition of the second commandment (Schaff, II. 527), thus speaks of this subject:

“What is an icon (εἱκών)?

“The word is Greek, and means an image or representation. In the Orthodox Church this name designates sacred representations of our Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate, his immaculate Mother, and his saints.

“Is the use of holy icons agreeable to the second commandment?

It would then, and then only, be otherwise, if any one were to make gods of them; but it is not in the least contrary to this commandment to honor icons as sacred representations, and to use them for the religious remembrance of God’s works and of his saints; for when thus used icons are books, writen with the forms of persons and things instead of letters. (See Greg. Magn. lib. ix. Ep. 9, ad Seren. Epis.).

“What disposition of mind should we have when we reverence icons?

“While we look on them with our eyes, we should mentally look to God and to the saints, who are represented on them.”


101. The Iconoclastic War, and the Synod of 754

The history of the image-controversy embraces three periods: 1) The war upon images and the abolition of image-worship by the Council of Constantinople, a.d. 726-754. 2) The reaction in favor of image-worship, and its solemn sanction by the second Council of Nicaea, a.d. 754-787. 3) The renewed conflict of the two parties and the final triumph of image-worship, a.d. 842.

Image-worship had spread with the worship of saints, and become a general habit among the people in the Eastern church to such an extent that the Christian apologists had great difficulty to maintain their ground against the charge of idolatry constantly raised against them, not only by the Jews, but also by the followers of Islam, who could point to their rapid successes in support of their abhorrence of every species of idolatry. Churches and church-books, palaces and private houses, dresses and articles of furniture were adorned with religious pictures. They took among the artistic Greeks the place of the relics among the rude Western nations. Images were made to do service as sponsors in the name of the saints whom they represented. Fabulous stories of their wonder-working power were circulated and readily believed. Such excesses naturally called forth a reaction.

Leo III., called the Isaurian (716-741), a sober and energetic, but illiterate and despotic emperor, who by his military talents and successes had risen from the condition of a peasant in the mountains of Isauria to the throne of the Caesars, and delivered his subjects from the fear of the Arabs by the new invention of the “Greek fire,” felt himself called, as a second Josiah, to use his authority for the destruction of idolatry. The Byzantine emperors did not scruple to interfere with the internal affairs of the church, and to use their despotic power for the purpose. Leo was influenced by a certain bishop Constantinus of Nakolia in Phrygia, and by a desire to break the force of the Mohammedan charge against the Christians. In the sixth year of his reign he ordered the forcible baptism of Jews and Montanists (or Manichaeans); the former submitted hypocritically and mocked at the ceremony; the latter preferred to set fire to their meeting-houses and to perish in the flames. Then, in the tenth year (726), he began his war upon the images. At first he only prohibited their worship, and declared in the face of the rising opposition that he intended to protect the images against profanation by removing them beyond the reach of touch and kiss. But in a second edict (730), he commanded the removal or destruction of all the images. The pictured walls were to be whitewashed. He replaced the magnificent picture of Christ over the gate of the imperial palace by a plain cross. He removed the aged Germanus, patriarch of Constantinople, and put the iconoclastic Anastasius in his place.

These edicts roused the violent opposition of the clergy, the monks, and the people, who saw in it an attack upon religion itself. The servants who took down the picture from the palace gate were killed by the mob. John of Damascus and Germanus, already known to us as hymnists, were the chief opponents. The former was beyond the reach of Leo, and wrote three eloquent orations, one before, two after the forced resignation of Germanus, in defence of image-worship, and exhausted the argument. The islanders of the Archipelago under the control of monks rose in open rebellion, and set up a pretender to the throne; but they were defeated, and their leaders put to death. Leo enforced obedience within the limits of the Eastern empire, but had no power among the Christian subjects of the Saracens, nor in Rome and Ravenna, where his authority was openly set at defiance. Pope Gregory II. told him, in an insulting letter (about 729), that the children of the grammar-school would throw their tablets at his head if he avowed himself a destroyer of images, and the unwise would teach him what he refused to learn from the wise. Seventy years afterwards the West set up an empire of its own in close connection with the bishop of Rome.

Constantine V., surnamed Copronymos, during his long reign of thirty-four years (741-775), kept up his father’s policy with great ability, vigor and cruelty, against popular clamor, sedition and conspiracy. His character is very differently judged according to the doctrinal views of the writers. His enemies charge him with monstrous vices, heretical opinions, and the practice of magical arts; while the iconoclasts praise him highly for his virtues, and forty years after his death still prayed at his tomb. His administrative and military talents and successes against the Saracens, Bulgarians, and other enemies, as well as his despotism and cruelty (which he shares with other Byzantine emperors) are beyond dispute.

He called an iconoclastic council in Constantinople in 754, which was to be the seventh ecumenical, but was afterwards disowned as a pseudo-synod of heretics. It numbered three hundred and thirty subservient bishops under the presidency of Archbishop Theodosius of Ephesus (the son of a former emperor), and lasted six months (from Feb. 10th to Aug. 27th); but the patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria, being under Moslem rule, could not attend, the see of Constantinople was vacant, and Pope Stephen III. disregarded the imperial summons. The council, appealing to the second commandment and other Scripture passages denouncing idolatry (Rom_1:23, Rom_1:25; Joh_4:24), and opinions of the Fathers (Epiphanius, Eusebius, Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, etc.), condemned and forbade the public and private worship of sacred images on pain of deposition and excommunication, but (inconsistently) ordered at the same time that no one should deface or meddle with sacred vessels or vestments ornamented with figures, and formally declared its agreement with the six ecumenical councils, and the lawfulness of invoking the blessed Virgin and saints. It denounced all religious representations by painter or sculptor as presumptuous, pagan and idolatrous. Those who make pictures of the Saviour, who is God as well as man in one inseparable person, either limit the incomprehensible Godhead to the bounds of created flesh, or confound his two natures, like Eutyches, or separate them, like Nestorius, or deny his Godhead, like Arius; and those who worship such a picture are guilty of the same heresy and blasphemy. The eucharist alone is the proper image of Christ. A three-fold anathema was pronounced on the advocates of image-worship, even the great John of Damascus under the name of Mansur, who is called a traitor of Christ, an enemy of the empire, a teacher of impiety, and a perverter of the Scriptures. The acts of the Synod were destroyed except the decision (ὅρος) and a brief introduction, which are embodied and condemned in the acts of the second Nicene Council.

The emperor carried out the decree with great rigor as far as his power extended. The sacred images were ruthlessly destroyed and replaced by white-wash or pictures of trees, birds, and animals. The bishops and clergy submitted; but the monks who manufactured the pictures, denounced the emperor as a second Mohammed and heresiarch, and all the iconoclasts as heretics, atheists and blasphemers, and were subjected to imprisonment, flagellation, mutilation, and all sorts of indignities, even death. The principal martyrs of images during this reign (from 761-775) are Petrus Kalabites (i.e. the inhabitant of a hut, καλύβη), Johannes, Abbot of Monagria, and Stephanus, Abbot of Auxentius, opposite Constantinople (called “the new Stephanus,” to distinguish him from the proto-martyr). The emperor made even an attempt to abolish the convents.


102. The Restoration of Image-Worship by the Seventh Ecumenical Council, 787

Leo IV., called Chazarus (775-780), kept up the laws against images, though with more moderation. But his wife Irene of Athens, distinguished for beauty, talent, ambition and intrigue, was at heart devoted to image-worship, and after his death and during the minority of her son Constantine VI. Porphyrogenitus, labored with shrewdness and perseverance for its restoration (780-802). At first she proclaimed toleration to both parties, which she afterwards denied to the iconoclasts. She raised the persecuted monks to the highest dignities, and her secretary, Tarasius, to the patriarchal throne of Constantinople, with the consent of Pope Hadrian, who was willing to overlook the irregularity of the sudden election of a layman in prospect of his services to orthodoxy. She removed the iconoclastic imperial guard, and replaced it by one friendly to her views.

But the crowning measure was an ecumenical council, which alone could set aside the authority of the iconoclastic council of 754. Her first attempt to hold such a council at Constantinople in 786 completely failed. The second attempt, owing to more careful preparations, succeeded.

Irene convened the seventh ecumenical council in the year 787, at Nicaea, which was less liable to iconoclastic disturbances than Constantinople, yet within easy reach of the court, and famous as the seat of the first and weightiest ecumenical council. It was attended by about three hundred and fifty bishops, under the presidency of Tarasius, and held only eight sessions from September 24 to October 23, the last in the imperial palace of Constantinople. Pope Hadrian I. sent two priests, both called Peter, whose names stand first in the Acts. The three Eastern patriarchs, who were subject to the despotic rule of the Saracens, could not safely leave their homes; but two Eastern monks, John, and Thomas, who professed to be syncelli of two of these patriarchs and to have an accurate knowledge of the prevailing orthodoxy of Egypt and Syria, were allowed to sit and vote in the place of those dignitaries, although they had no authority from them, and were sent simply by a number of their fellow-monks.

The Nicene Council nullified the decrees of the iconoclastic Synod of Constantinople, and solemnly sanctioned a limited worship (proskynesis) of images.

Under images were understood the sign of the cross, and pictures of Christ, of the Virgin Mary, of angels and saints. They may be drawn in color or composed of Mosaic or formed of other suitable materials, and placed in churches, in houses, and in the street, or made on walls and tables, sacred vessels and vestments. Homage may be paid to them by kissing, bowing, strewing of incense, burning of lights, saying prayers before them; such honor to be intended for the living objects in heaven which the images represented. The Gospel book and the relics of martyrs were also mentioned among the objects of veneration.

The decree was fortified by a few Scripture passages about the Cherubim (Exo_25:17-22; Eze_41:1, Eze_41:15, Eze_41:19; Heb_9:1-5), and a large number of patristic testimonies, genuine and forged, and alleged miracles performed by images. A presbyter testified that he was cured from a severe sickness by a picture of Christ. Bishop after bishop, even those who had been members of the Synod of 754, renounced his iconoclastic opinions, and large numbers exclaimed together: “We all have sinned, we all have erred, we all beg forgiveness.” Some professed conscientious scruples, but were quieted when the Synod resolved that the violation of an oath which was contrary to the law of God, was no perjury. At the request of one of the Roman delegates, an image was brought into the assembly, and reverently kissed by all. At the conclusion, the assembled bishops exclaimed unanimously: “Thus we believe. This is the doctrine of the apostles. Anathema upon all who do not adhere to it, who do not salute the images, who call them idols, and who charge the Christians with idolatry. Long life to the emperors! Eternal memory to the new Constantine and the new Helena! God protect their reign! Anathema upon all heretics! Anathema especially upon Theodosius, the false bishop of Ephesus, as also upon Sisinnius and Basilius! The Holy Trinity has rejected their doctrines.” Then follows an anathema upon other distinguished iconoclasts, and all who do not confess that Christ’s humanity has a circumscribed form, who do not greet the images, who reject the ecclesiastical traditions, written or unwritten; while eternal memory is given to the chief champions of image-worship, Germanus of Constantinople, John of Damascus, and George of Cyprus, the heralds of truth.

The decrees of the Synod were publicly proclaimed in an eighth session at Constantinople in the presence of Irene and her son, and signed by them; whereupon the bishops, with the people and soldiers, shouted in the usual form: “Long live the Orthodox queen-regent.” The empress sent the bishops home with rich presents.

The second Council of Nicaea stands far below the first in moral dignity and doctrinal importance, and occupies the lowest grade among the seven ecumenical synods; but it determined the character of worship in the oriental church for all time to come, and herein lies its significance. Its decision is binding also upon the Roman church, which took part in it by two papal legates, and defended it by a letter of Pope Hadrian to Charlemagne in answer to the Libri Carolini. Protestant churches disregard the council because they condemn image-worship as a refined form of idolatry and as a fruitful source of superstition; and this theory is supported by the plain sense of the second commandment, the views of the primitive Christians, and, negatively, by the superstitions which have accompanied the history of image-worship down to the miracle-working Madonnas of the nineteenth century. At the same time it may be readily conceded that the decree of Nicaea has furnished aid and comfort to a low and crude order of piety which needs visible supports, and has stimulated the development of Christian art. Iconoclasm would have killed it. It is, however, a remarkable fact that the Catholic Raphael and Michael Angelo, and the Protestant Lucas Kranach and Albrecht Duerer, were contemporaries of the Reformers, and that the art of painting reached its highest perfection at the period when image-worship for a great part of Christendom was superseded by the spiritual worship of God alone.

A few months after the Nicene Council, Irene dissolved the betrothal of her son, the Emperor Constantine, to Rotrude, a daughter of Charlemagne, which she herself had brought about, and forced him to marry an Armenian lady whom he afterward cast off and sent to a convent. From this time dates her rupture with Constantine. In her ambition for despotic power, she rendered him odious by encouraging his bad habits, and at last incapable of the throne by causing his eyes to be plucked out, while he was asleep, with such violence that he died of it (797). It is a humiliating fact that Constantine the Great, the convener of the first Nicene Council, and Irene, the convener of the second and last, are alike stained with the blood of their own offspring, and yet honored as saints in the Eastern church, in whose estimate orthodoxy covers a multitude of sins. She enjoyed for five years the fruit of unnatural cruelty to her only child. As she passed through the streets of Constantinople, four patricians marched on foot before her golden chariot, holding the reins of four milk-white steeds. But these patricians conspired against their queen and raised the treasurer Nicephorus to the throne, who was crowned at St. Sophia by the venal patriarch. Irene was sent into exile on the Isle of Lesbos, and had to earn her bread by the labors of her distaff as she had done in the days of her youth as an Athenian virgin. She died of grief in 803. With her perished the Isaurian dynasty. Startling changes of fortune were not uncommon among princes and patriarchs of the Byzantine empire.


103. Iconoclastic Reaction, and Final Triumph of Image-Worship, a.d. 842

Walch, X. 592-828. Hefele, IV. 1-6; 38-47; 104-109.

During the five reigns which succeeded that of Irene, a period of thirty-eight years, the image-war was continued with varying fortunes. The soldiers were largely iconoclastic, the monks and the people in favor of image-worship. Among these Theodore of the Studium was distinguished by his fearless advocacy and cruel sufferings under Leo V., the Armenian (813-820), who was slain at the foot of the altar. Theophilus (829-842) was the last and the most cruel of the iconoclastic emperors. He persecuted the monks by imprisonment, corporal punishment, and mutilation.

But his widow, Theodora, a second Irene, without her vices, in the thirteenth year of her regency during the minority of Michael the Drunkard, achieved by prudent and decisive measures the final and permanent victory of image-worship. She secured absolution for her deceased husband by the fiction of a death-bed repentance, although she had promised him to make no change. The iconoclastic patriarch, John the Grammarian, was banished and condemned to two hundred lashes; the monk Methodius of opposite tendency (honored as a confessor and saint) was put in his place; the bishops trembled and changed or were deposed; the monks and the people were delighted. A Synod at Constantinople (the acts of it are lost) reënacted the decrees of the seven ecumenical Councils, restored the worship of images, pronounced the anathema upon all iconoclasts, and decided that the event should be hereafter commemorated on the first Sunday in Lent by a solemn procession and a renewal of the anathema on the iconoclastic heretics.

On the 19th of February, 842, the images were again introduced into the churches of Constantinople. It was the first celebration of the “Sunday of Orthodoxy,” which afterwards assumed a wider meaning, as a celebration of victory over all heresies. It is one of the most characteristic festivals of the Eastern church. The old ecumenical Councils are dramatically represented, and a threefold anathema is pronounced upon all sorts of heretics such as atheists, antitrinitarians, upon those who deny the virginity of Mary before or after the birth of Christ, the inspiration of the Scriptures, or the immortality of the soul, who reject the mysteries (sacraments), the traditions and councils, who deny that orthodox princes rule by divine appointment and receive at their unction the Holy Ghost, and upon all iconoclasts. After this anathema follows the grateful commemoration of the orthodox confessors and “all who have fought for the orthodox faith by their words, writings, teaching, sufferings, and godly example, as also of all the protectors and defenders of the Church of Christ.” In conclusion the bishops, archimandrites and priests kiss the sacred icons.


104. The Caroline Books and the Frankish Church on Image-Worship

I. Libri Carolini, first ed. by Elias Philyra (i.e., Jean du Tillet, or Tilius, who was suspected of Calvinism, but afterwards became bishop of Meaux), from a French (Paris) MS., Paris, 1549; then by Melchior Goldast in his collection of imperial decrees on the image-controversy, Francof., 1608 (67 sqq.), and in the first vol. of his Collection of Constitutiones imperiales, with the addition of the last ch. (lib. IV., c. 29), which was omitted by Tilius; best ed. by Ch. A. Heumann, Hanover, 1731, under the title: Augusta Concilii Nicaeni II. Censura, h. e., Caroli Magni de impio imaginum cultu libri IV., with prolegomena and notes. The ed. of Abbé Migne, in his “Patrol. Lat.,” Tom. 98, f. 990-1248 (in vol. II. of Opera Caroli M.), is a reprint of the ed. of Tilius, and inferior to Heumann’s ed. (“Es ist zu bedauern,” says Hefele, III. 696, “dass Migne, statt Besseres, entschieden Geringeres geboten hat, als man bisher schon besass”.)

II. Walch devotes the greater part of the eleventh vol. to the history of image-worship in the Frankish Church from Pepin to Louis the Pious. Neander, III. 233-243; Gieseler, II. 66-73; Hefele, III 694-716; Hergenröther, I. 553-557. Floss: De suspecta librorum Carolinorum fide. Bonn, 1860. Reifferscheid: Narratio de Vaticano librorum Carolinorum Codice. Breslau, 1873.

The church of Rome, under the lead of the popes, accepted and supported the seventh ecumenical council, and ultimately even went further than the Eastern church in allowing the worship of graven as well as painted images. But the church in the empire of Charlemagne, who was not on good terms with the Empress Irene, took a position between image-worship and iconoclasm.

The question of images was first discussed in France under Pepin in a synod at Gentilly near Paris, 767, but we do not know with what result. Pope Hadrian sent to Charlemagne a Latin version of the acts of the Nicene Council; but it was so incorrect and unintelligible that a few decades later the Roman librarian Anastasius charged the translator with ignorance of both Greek and Latin, and superseded it by a better one.

Charlemagne, with the aid of his chaplains, especially Alcuin, prepared and published, three years after the Nicene Council, an important work on image-worship under the title Quatuor Libri Carolini (790). He dissents both from the iconoclastic synod of 754 and the anti-iconoclastic synod of 787, but more from the latter, which he treats very disrespectfully. He decidedly rejects image-worship, but allows the use of images for ornament and devotion, and supports his view with Scripture passages and patristic quotations. The spirit and aim of the book is almost Protestant. The chief thoughts are these: God alone is the object of worship and adoration (colondus et adorandus). Saints are only to be revered (venerandi). Images can in no sense be worshipped. To bow or kneel before them, to salute or kiss them, to strew incense and to light candles before them, is idolatrous and superstitious. It is far better to search the Scriptures, which know nothing of such practices. The tales of miracles wrought by images are inventions of the imagination, or deceptions of the evil spirit. On the other hand, the iconoclasts, in their honest zeal against idolatry, went too far in rejecting the images altogether. The legitimate and proper use of images is to adorn the churches and to perpetuate and popularize the memory of the persons and events which they represent. Yet even this is not necessary; for a Christian should be able without sensual means to rise to the contemplation of the virtues of the saints and to ascend to the fountain of eternal light. Man is made in the image of God, and hence capable of receiving Christ into his soul. God should ever be present and adored in our hearts. O unfortunate memory, which can realize the presence of Christ only by means of a picture drawn in sensuous colors. The Council of Nicaea committed a great wrong in condemning those who do not worship images.

The author of the Caroline books, however, falls into the same inconsistency as the Eastern iconoclasts, by making an exception in favor of the sign of the cross and the relics of saints. The cross is called a banner which puts the enemy to flight, and the honoring of the relics is declared to be a great means of promoting piety, since the saints reign with Christ in heaven, and their bones will be raised to glory; while images are made by men’s hands and return to dust.

A Synod in Frankfort, a.d. 794, the most important held during the reign of Charlemagne, and representing the churches of France and Germany, in the presence of two papal legates (Theophylactus and Stephanus), endorsed the doctrine of the Libri Carolini, unanimously condemned the worship of images in any form, and rejected the seventh ecumenical council. According to an old tradition, the English church agreed with this decision.

Charlemagne sent a copy of his book, or more probably an extract from it (85 Capitula or Capitulare de Imaginibus) through Angilbert, his son-in-law, to his friend Pope Hadrian, who in a long answer tried to defend the Eastern orthodoxy of Nicaea with due respect for his Western protector, but failed to satisfy the Frankish church, and died soon afterwards (Dec. 25, 795).

A Synod of Paris, held under the reign of Charlemagne’s son and successor, Louis the Pious, in the year 825, renewed the protest of the Frankfort Synod against image-worship and the authority of the second council of Nicaea, in reply to an embassy of the Emperor Michael Balbus, and added a slight rebuke to the pope.



The Caroline Books, if not written by Charlemagne, are at all events issued in his name; for the author repeatedly calls Pepin his father, and speaks of having undertaken the work with the consent of the priests in his dominion (conniventia sacerdotum in regno a Deo nobis concesso). The book is first mentioned by Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims in the ninth century as directed against the pseudo-Synodus Graecorum (the second Nicene Council), and he quotes a passage from a copy which he saw in the royal palace. The second mention and quotation was made by the papal librarian Augustin Steuchus (d. 1550) from a very old copy in the Bibliotheca Palatina. As soon as it appeared in print, Flavius and other Protestant polemics used it against Rome. Baronius, Bellarmin, and other Romanists denied the genuineness, and ascribed the book to certain heretics in the age of Charlemagne, who sent it to Rome to be condemned; some declared it even a fabrication of the radical reformer Carlstadt! But Sirmond and Natalis Alexander convincingly proved the genuineness. More recently Dr. Floss (R.C.) of Bonn, revived the doubts (1860), but they are permanently removed since Professor Reifferscheid (1866) discovered a new MS. from the tenth century in the Vatican library which differs from the one of Steuchus, and was probably made in the Cistercian Convent at Marienfeld in Westphalia. “Therefore,” writes Bishop Hefele in 1877 (III. 698), “the genuineness of the Libri Carolini is hereafter no longer to be questioned (nicht mehr zu beanstanden).”


105. Evangelical Reformers. Agobardus of Lyons, and Claudius of Turin

I. Agobardus: Contra eorum superstitionem qui picturis et imaginibus SS. adorationis obsequium deferendum putant. Opera ed. Baluzius Par. 1666, 2 vols., and Migne, “Patrol. Lat.” vol. 104, fol. 29-351. Histoire litter. de la France, IV. 567 sqq. C. B. Hundeshagen: De Agobardi vita et scriptis. Pars I. Giessae 1831; and his article in Herzog2 I. 212 sq. Bähr: Gesch. der röm. Lit. in Karoliny. Zeitalter, p. 383-393. Bluegel: De Agobardi archiep. Lugd. vita et scriptis. Hal. 1865. Simson: Jachbücher des fränkischen Reichs unter Ludwig dem Frommen. Leipz. 1874 and ‘76. C. Deedes in Smith and Wace, I. 63-64. Lichtenberger, I. 119.

II. Claudius: Opera in Migne’s “Patrol. Lat.” vol. 104, fol. 609-927. Commentaries on Kings, Gal., Ephes., etc., Eulogium Augustini, and Apologeticum. Some of his works are still unpublished. Rudelbach: Claudii Tur. Ep. ineditorum operum specimina, praemissa de ejus doctrina scriptisque dissert. Havniae 1824. C. Schmidt: Claudius v. Turin in Illgen’s “Zeitschrift f. die Hist. Theol.” 1843. II. 39; and his art. in Herzog2, III. 243-245.

III. Neander, III. 428-439 (very full and discriminating on Claudius); Gieseler, II. 69-73 (with judicious extracts); Reuter: Geschichte der Aufklärung im Mittelalter, vol. I. (Berlin 1875), 16-20 and 24-41.

The opposition to image-worship and other superstitious practices continued in the Frankish church during the ninth century.

Two eminent bishops took the lead in the advocacy of a more spiritual and evangelical type of religion. In this they differed from the rationalistic and destructive iconoclasts of the East. They were influenced by the writings of Paul and Augustin, those inspirers of all evangelical movements in church history; with this difference, however, that Paul stands high above parties and schools, and that Augustin, with all his anti-Pelagian principles, was a strong advocate of the Catholic theory of the church and church-order.

Agobard (in Lyonese dialect Agobaud or Aguebaud), a native of Spain, but of Gallic parents, and archbishop of Lyons (816-841), figures prominently in the political and ecclesiastical history of France during the reign of Louis the Pious. He is known to us already as an opponent of the ordeal, the judicial duel and other heathen customs. His character presents singular contrasts. He was a rigid ecclesiastic and sacerdotalist, and thoroughly orthodox in dogma (except that he denied the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures); but, on the other hand, a sworn enemy of all superstition, and advocate of liberal views in matters of worship. He took part in the rebellion of Lothaire against his father Louis in 833, which deprived him of his bishopric and left a serious stain on his character, but he was afterwards reconciled to Louis and recovered the bishopric. He opposed Adoptionism as a milder form of the Nestorian heresy. He attacked the Jews, who flocked to Lyons in large numbers, and charges them with insolent conduct towards the Christians. In this he shared the intolerance of his age. But, on the other hand, he wrote a book against image-worship. He goes back to the root of the difficulty, the worship of saints. He can find no authority for such worship. The saints themselves decline it. It is a cunning device of Satan to smuggle heathen idolatry into the church under pretext of showing honor to saints. He thus draws men away from a spiritual to a sensual worship. God alone should be adored; to him alone must we present the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart. Angels and holy men who are crowned with victory, and help us by their intercessions, may be loved and honored, but not worshiped. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man” (Jer_17:5). We may look with pleasure on their pictures, but it is better to be satisfied with the simple symbol of the cross (as if this were not liable to the same abuse). Agobart approves the canon of Elvira, which forbade images altogether. He says in conclusion: “Since no man is essentially God, save Jesus our Saviour, so we, as the Scripture commands, shall bow our knees to his name alone, lest by giving this honor to another we may be estranged from God, and left to follow the doctrines and traditions of men according to the inclinations of our hearts.”

Agobard was not disturbed in his position, and even honored as a saint in Lyons after his death, though his saintship is disputed. His works were lost, until Papirius Masson discovered a MS. copy and rescued it from a bookbinder’s hands in Lyons (1605).

Claudius, bishop of Turin (814-839), was a native of Spain, but spent three years as chaplain at the court of Louis the Pious and was sent by him to the diocese of Turin. He wrote practical commentaries on nearly all the books of the Bible, at the request of the emperor, for the education of the clergy. They were mostly extracted from the writings of Augustin, Jerome, and other Latin fathers. Only fragments remain. He was a great admirer of Augustin, but destitute of his wisdom and moderation.

He found the Italian churches full of pictures and picture-worshipers. He was told that the people did not mean to worship the images, but the saints. He replied that the heathen on the same ground defend the worship of their idols, and may become Christians by merely changing the name. He traced image-worship and saint-worship to a Pelagian tendency, and met it with the Augustinian view of the sovereignty of divine grace. Paul, he says, overthrows human merits, in which the monks now most glory, and exalts the grace of God. We are saved by grace, not by works. We must worship the Creator, not the creature. “Whoever seeks from any creature in heaven or on earth the salvation which he should seek from God alone, is an idolater.” The departed saints themselves do not wish to be worshipped by us, and cannot help us. While we live, we may aid each other by prayers, but not after death. He attacked also the superstitious use of the sign of the cross, going beyond Charlemagne and Agobard. He met the defence by carrying it to absurd conclusions. If we worship the cross, he says, because Christ suffered on it, we might also worship every virgin because he was born of a virgin, every manger because he was laid in a manger, every ship because he taught from a ship, yea, every ass because he rode on an ass into Jerusalem. We should bear the cross, not adore it. He banished the pictures, crosses and crucifixes from the churches, as the only way to kill superstition. He also strongly opposed the pilgrimages. He had no appreciation of religious symbolism, and went in his Puritanic zeal to a fanatical extreme.

Claudius was not disturbed in his seat; but, as he says himself, he found no sympathy with the people, and became “an object of scorn to his neighbors,” who pointed at him as “a frightful spectre.” He was censured by Pope Paschalis I. (817-824), and opposed by his old friend, the Abbot Theodemir of the diocese of Nismes, to whom he had dedicated his lost commentary on Leviticus (823), by Dungal (of Scotland or Ireland, about 827), and by Bishop Jonas of Orleans (840), who unjustly charged him with the Adoptionist and even the Arian heresy. Some writers have endeavored, without proof, to trace a connection between him and the Waldenses in Piedmont, who are of much later date.

Jonas of Orleans, Hincmar of Rheims, and Wallafrid Strabo still maintained substantially the moderate attitude of the Caroline books between the extremes of iconoclasm and image-worship. But the all-powerful influence of the popes, the sensuous tendency and credulity of the age, the ignorance of the clergy, and the grosser ignorance of the people combined to secure the ultimate triumph of image-worship even in France. The rising sun of the Carolingian age was obscured by the darkness of the tenth century.