Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nicaea II 787, the Doctrinal Decree on Icons of the 7th Council

(People have asked me to say precisely what is the dogma on Icons. Here it is.)

It will be noticed that this Decree is not merely about what the Orthodox Christian in the late 8th century is to believe but also what he must practice to be orthodox. In other words what is required is both belief and practice, doctrine and veneration; and anything less (just belief, for example) is not acceptable. Further, it is assumed that the veneration of the Cross and the Gospel Book has been around much longer than the veneration of images.

After expressing agreement with the doctrinal definitions of the previous six councils on The Trinity and the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Decree continues:

We decree with full precision and care that, like the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, the revered and holy images, whether painted or made of mosaic or of other suitable material, are to be exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, on walls and panels, in houses and by public ways; these are the images of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and our Lady without blemish, the holy God-bearer, and of the revered angels and of any of the saintly holy men. The more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. Certainly this is not the full adoration in accordance with out Faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but it resembles that given to the figure of the honoured and life giving cross, and also to the holy books of the Gospels and to other sacred cult objects. Further, people are drawn to honour these images with the offering of incense and lights, as was piously established by ancient custom. Indeed the honour paid to an image traverses it, reaching the model; and he who venerates the image, venerates the person represented in that image.
Then come four anathemas:

If anyone does not confess that Christ our God can be represented in his humanity let him be anathema.

If anyone does not accept representation in art of Gospel/evangelical scenes, let him be anathema.

If anyone does not salute such representations as standing for the Lord and his saint, let him be anathema.

If anyone rejects any written or unwritten tradition of the church, let him be

For those who wish to look it up, much the same dogma is set forth by the Council of Trent in session 25 in the mid-sixteenth century.

Obviously those who really embrace this dogma must attend a church where the holy icons/images are present and where they can adore Jesus by offering reverence to his image, and they can call upon Mary and the Saints to pray for them, also by veneration of their images/icons. To embrace this dogma and not to include as a basic part of piety the veneration of icons and images is to be unfaithful to its requirements.

The Reformed Catholic teaching of the Church of England has always refused to make this dogma (be it from the 7th council or from the Council of Trent) part of the Christian Faith. Individual members and local parishes have embraced it; but it is not an official and required part of the Anglican Way either in Britain or anywhere else in the Anglican Communion of Churches. So it ought to be counted for Anglicans as what private judgment may allow but not what a whole province or jurisdiction should embrace and require. In terms of human logic and right thinking, it is impossible to hold both the dogma of the 7th Council and the doctrine of The Thirty-Nine Articles for they are opposed over this very matter of the legitimacy and required nature of veneration of icons and invocation of the BVM and Saints.

Peter Toon July 25, 2006

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