When I was down in Charleston for the Mere Anglicanism conference, the question arose as to what the appropriate interpretation of Article 19 of the Church is. as the Article states:
19. The church
The visible church of Christ is a congregation of believers in which the pure Word of God is preached and in which the sacraments are rightly administered according to Christ’s command in all those matters that are necessary for proper administration. As the churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred, so also the church of Rome has erred, not only in their practice and forms of worship but also in matters of faith.
Now, the articles go on to outline in detail what the errors of Rome were/are (adoration of the sacrament, purgatory, transubstantiation etc…) but are silent as to exactly what the errors of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch were. There has been a steady debate about this–for instance, some insist the errors referred to were the heresies that got their starts in those cities, such as Nestorianism in Antioch, Judaisers in Jerusalem and Monophysites in Alexandria. Such an explanation would be beneficial in explaining why Constantinople was left off of the list, certainly a name one would have expected if this was meant to be a condemnation of all of Eastern Christianity. Others have held that, given the iconoclasm of the Reformation, that the error is idolatry, and specifically the use of Icons. I was going to post on this, but I’ve discovered two very detailed discussions of it recently. I’d Rather Not has a long and detailed discussion of this history and argues persuasively that Anglicans should officially accept the Seventh Ecumenical Council (officially, Anglicans have only accepted 4 or 6 depending on where you look) which dealt with the issue of Iconoclasm. Additionally, The Confessing Reader discusses the issue. I would simply contribute a warning from someone who has traditionally been considered a High Churchman, Jeremy Taylor, and his musings regarding statuary in his Dissuasive from Popery.
My personal view is that I’d Rather Not is correct when he says the 7th council is acceptable and should be affirmed by Anglicans, and I view his discussion of worship vs. appropriate respect given to images of Holy things to be helpful (he compares the respect the 7th council reserves for holy images to the reverence we should have for the Bible, i.e. you wouldn’t put an ash tray on a Bible). My concern though, as someone who gets great enjoyment out of iconography and historic Christian art, is in the actual practices associated with the veneration of Icons in the eastern Church. By way of introduction to Taylor’s comment, I would say that while I agree with the theological foundation of the 7th council, I think Taylor makes a very pertinent point when he discusses practice and whether or not people will understand fine distinctions.
For myself, I think people have a strong enough tendency toward idolatry without adding to it–we idolize everything from our favorite music, worship style, worship leader, Church building, fast car, iPod, TV, Beauty product and so on… But at the same time, I think we live in a nihilistic age where many people live lives bereft of beauty and an appreciation for the aesthetic character of Truth, i.e. truth is beautiful and beautiful things can express higher truth. In this sense then, appreciating beauty leads one to contemplate the author of beauty (see David Bently Hart’s “The Beauty Of The Infinite: The Aesthetics Of Christian Truth” for a discussion of this). At the same time we need to be cognizant that we don’t give up worship of the creator for the creation, and this is where I think Taylor’s critique is helpful.
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The church of Rome hath, to very bad purposes, introduced and imposed upon Christendom the worship and veneration of images, kissing them, pulling off their hats, kneeling, falling down and praying before them, which they call ‘Giving them due honour and veneration.’ What external honour and veneration that is, which they call ‘due,’ is expressed by the instances now reckoned, which the council of Trent, in their decree, enumerate and establish. What ‘the inward honour and worship’ is, which they intend to them, is intimated in the same decree. By the images they worship Christ and his saints; and, therefore, by these images, they pass that honour to Christ and his saints which is their due; that is, as their doctors explain it, ‘latria,’ or ‘Divine worship’ to God and Christ; ‘hyperdulia,’ or ‘more than service,’ to the blessed Virgin Mary; and ‘service,’ or ‘doulia,’ to other canonized persons. So that upon the whole, the case is this: Whatever worship they give to God, and Christ, and his saints, they give it first to the image, and from the image they pass it unto Christ and Christ’s servants. And, therefore, we need not to inquire what actions they suppose to be fit or due. For whatsoever is due to God, to Christ, or his saints, that worship they give to their respective images; all the same in external semblance and ministry; as appears in all their great churches, and public actions, and processions, and temples, and festivals, and endowments, and censings, and pilgrimages, and prayers, and vows made to them.
Now, besides that these things are so like idolatry, that they can no way be reasonably excused (of which we shall in the next chapter, give some account); besides that they are too like the religion of the heathens, and so plainly and frequently forbidden in the Old Testament, and are so infinitely unlike the simple and wise, the natural and holy, the pure and the spiritual religion of the Gospel; besides that they are so infinite a scandal to the Jews and Turks, and reproach to Christianity itself amongst all strangers that live in their communion, and observe their rites; besides that they cannot pretend to be lawful, but with the laborous artifices of many metaphysical notions and distinctions, which the people who most need them, do least understand; and that therefore, the people worship them without these distinctions and directly put confidence in them; and that it is impossible that ignorant persons, who, in all Christian countries, make up the biggest number, should do otherwise, when otherwise they cannot understand it; and besides, that the thing, itself, with or without distinctions, is a superstitious and forbidden, an unlawful and unnatural worship of God, who will not be worshipped by an image: we say, that, besides all this, this whole doctrine and practice is an innovation in the Christian church, not practiced, not endured in the primitive ages, but expressly condemned by them; and this is our present understanding to evince. (The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, volume X, 171-172)