St Denis the Areopagite. From his Letter to Bishop Titus.


Instead of attaching the common conception to images, we should look upon what they symbolise, and not despise the divine mark and character which they portray, as sensible images of mysterious and heavenly visions.
Commentary.-Mark that he cautions us not to despise sacred images.   

The Same, "On the Names of God."

We have taken the same line. On the one side, through the veiled language of Scripture and the help of oral tradition, intellectual things are understood through sensible ones, and the things above nature by the things that are. Forms are given to what is intangible and without shape, and immaterial perfection is clothed and multiplied in a variety of different symbols.
Commentary.-If it be a good work to clothe with shape and form, according to our standard, that which is formless, shapeless, and without consistency, how shall we not make images to ourselves in the same way of things perceived through form and shape, so that we may bear them in mind, and be moved to imitate what they represent.  

The Same, on the "Ecclesiastical Hierarchy."

Now, if the substances (ousiai) and orders above us, of which we have already made reverent mention, are without bodies, their hierarchy is intellectual and above sense.
We supply by the variety of sensible symbols the visible order, which is according to our own measure. Those sensible symbols lead us naturally to intellectual conception, to God and His divine attributes. Spiritual minds form their own spiritual conceptions, but we are led to the divine vision by sensible images.

Commentary.-If, then, it be rational that we are led to the divine vision by sensible images, and if Divine Providence mercifully clothes in form and image that which is without either for our benefit, what is there unseemly about imaging, according to our capacity, Him who graciously disguised Himself for us in shape and form?
A tradition has come down to us that Angaros, King of Edessa, was drawn vehemently to divine love by hearing of our Lord, and that he sent envoys to ask for His likeness. If this were refused, they were ordered to have a likeness painted. Then He, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, is said to have taken a strip of cloth, and pressing it to His face, to have left His likeness upon the cloth, which it retains to this day. 

St Basil's Sermon on the Martyr St Barlam, beginning, "In the first place the death of the saints."

Arise, you renowned painters of brave deeds who set forth by your art a faint image of the General. My praise of the laurel-crowned victor is faint compared to the colours of your brush. I will give up writing on the excellencies of the martyr whom you have crowned. I rejoice at the victory won to-day by your strength. I contemplate the hand put out to the flames, more powerfully dealt with by you. I see the struggle more clearly depicted on your statue. Let demons be enraged even now, overcome by the martyr's excellencies which you reveal. Let the powerful hand be again outstretched to victory. May Christ our Lord, the supreme judge of the warfare, appear in picture. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

From the same, from the Thirty Chapters to Amphilochios, on the Holy Ghost. Chap. xviii.

The image of the king is also called the king, and there are not two kings in consequence. Neither is power divided, nor is glory distributed. just as the reigning power over us is one, so is our homage one, not many, and the honour given to the image reaches back to the original. What the image is in the one case as a representation, that the Son is by His humanity, and as in art likeness is according to form, so in the divine and incommensurable nature union is effected in the indwelling Godhead.
Commentary.-If the image of the king is the king, the image of Christ is Christ, and the image of a saint the saint, and if power is not divided nor glory distributed, honouring the image becomes honouring the one who is set forth in image. Devils have feared the saints, and have fled from their shadow. The shadow is an image, and I make an image that I may scare demons. If you say that only intellectual worship befits God, take away all corporeal things, light, and fragrance, prayer itself through the physical voice, the very divine mysteries which are offered through matter, bread, and wine, the oil of chrism, the sign of the Cross, for all this is matter. Take away the Cross, and the sponge of the Crucifixion, and the spear which pierced the life-giving side. Either give up honouring these things as impossible, or do not reject the veneration of images. Matter is endued with a divine power through prayer made to those who are depicted in image. Purple by itself is simple, and so is silk, and the cloak which is made of both. But if the king put it on, the cloak receives honour from the honour due to the wearer. So is it with matter. By itself it is of no account, but if the one presented in image be full of grace, men become partakers of his grace according to their faith. The apostles knew our Lord with their bodily eyes; others knew the apostles, others the martyrs. I, too, desire to see them in the spirit and in the flesh, and to possess a saving remedy as I am a composite being. I see with my eyes, and revere that which represents what I honour, though I do not worship it as God. Now you, perhaps, are superior to me, and are lifted up above bodily things, and being, as it were, not of flesh, you make light of what is visible, but as I am human and clothed with a body, I desire to see and to be corporeally with the saints. Condescend to my humble wish that you may be secure on your heights. God accepts my longing for Him and for His saints. For He rejoices at the praises of His servant, according to the great St Basil in his panegyric of the Forty Martyrs. Listen to the words which he uttered in honour of the martyr St Gordion.  

From St Basil's Sermon on St Gordion

The mere memory of just deeds is a source of spiritual joy to the whole world; people are moved to imitate the holiness of which they hear. The life of holy men is as a light illuminating the way for those who would see it. And again, when we recount the story of holy lives we glorify in the first place the Lord of those servants, and we give praise to the servants on account of their testimony, which is known to us. We rejoice the world through good report.
Commentary.-The remembrance of the saints is thus, you see, a glory to God, praise of the saints, joy and salvation to the whole world. Why, then, would you destroy it? This remembrance is kept by preaching and by images, says the same great St Basil.  

The same, on the Martyr St Gordion

Just as burning follows naturally on fire, and fragrance on sweet ointment, so must good arise from holy actions. For it is no small thing to represent past events according to life. Is it a dim memory of the man's wrestlings [38] which has come down to us, and does not the painter's picture tally with our present conflict? Now, as painters draw images from images, they frequently depart from the original as much as the image itself does, and as we did not see what they represent, there is no little fear that we may injure the truth.

The same, at the end.

The sun fills us with perpetual wonder, though always before us, so the memory of this man is ever fresh.
Commentary.-It is evident that it is fresh through sermon and image.  

Testimony of the same, from his Sermon on the Forty Martyrs.

Can the lover of the martyrs have too much of their memory? For the honour shown to the just, our fellow-men, is a testimony to the goodness of our common Lord.
And again --
Recognise the blessedness of the martyr heartily, that you may be a martyr in will; thus, without persecutor, or fire, or blows, found worthy of the same reward.

Commentary.-How, then, would you dissuade me from honouring the saints, and be envious of my salvation? Listen to what he says a little further on to show that he united the painter's art to oratory.  

St Basil.

See, then, that setting them before us in representation, we are making them helpful to the living, exhibiting their holiness to us all as if in a picture.
Commentary.-Do you understand that both image and sermon teach one lesson? He says: "Let us show them forth in a sermon as if in a picture." And again: Writers and painters point out the struggles of war; the first by the art of style, the second with their brush, and each induce many to be brave. That which a spoken account presents to the hearing, a silent picture portrays for imitation.
Commentary.-What better proof have we that images are the books of the illiterate, the ever-speaking heralds of honouring the saints, teaching those who gaze upon them without words, and sanctifying the spectacle. I have not many books nor time for study, and I go into a church, the common refuge of souls, my mind wearied with conflicting thoughts. I see before me a beautiful picture and the sight refreshes me, and induces me to glorify God. I marvel at the martyr's endurance, at his reward, and fired with burning zeal, I fall down to adore God through His martyr, and receive a grace of salvation. Have you not heard the same holy father in his homily on the beginning of the Psalms, say that the Holy Spirit, knowing the human race were obstinate and hard to lead, mixed honey with the psalm-singing? What do you say to this? Shall I not perpetuate the martyr's testimony both by word and paint brush? Shall I not embrace with my eyes that which is a wonder to the angels and to the whole world, formidable to the devil, a terror to demons, as the same great Father says? Again, towards the end of his homily on the forty martyrs, he exclaims, "O sainted band! O sacred fraternity! O invincible army! protectors of the human race, solace of the troubled, hope of your petitioners, most powerful intercessors, light of the world, bloom both intellectual and material of the Churches! The earth has not hidden you from sight, heaven has received you. May its gates be opened to you. The spectacle is worthy of angels and patriarchs, prophets, and just."

Commentary.-- How shall I not desire to see what the angels desire? St Basil's brother, who is one with him in thought, St Gregory of Nyssa, shares his sentiments.  
St Gregory of Nyssa, from the "Structure of Man"

Supplementary.-Just as in human fashion the image makers of the powerful grasp the character of the form and set forth the royal dignity with the insignia of the purple, and their handiwork is called image or king, so is it with human nature. As it was created to rule over other creations, it was made as an animated type or image, partaking of the original in dignity and name.

The same, Fifth Chapter

The divine beauty is not set forth either in form or comeliness of design or colouring, but is contemplated in speechless blessedness, according to its virtue. So do painters transfer human forms to canvas through certain colours, laying on suitable and harmonious tints to the picture, so as to transfer the beauty of the original to the likeness.
Commentary.--You see that the divine beauty is not set forth in form or shape, and on this account it cannot be conveyed by an image (ouk eikonizetai) it is the human form which is transferred to canvas by the artist's brush. If, therefore, the Son of God became man, taking the form of a servant, and appearing in man's nature, a perfect man, why should His image not be made? Ifin common parlance, the king's image is called the king, and the honour shown to the image redounds to the original, as holy Basil says, why should the image not be honoured and worshipped, not as God, but as the image of God Incarnate?  

The same, from his Sermon at Constantinople on the Godhead of the Son and of the Spirit, and on Abraham.

Then the father proceeds to bind his son. I have often seen paintings of this touching scene, and could not look at it with dry eyes, art setting it forth so vividly. Isaac is lying [43] before the altar, his legs bound, his hands tied behind his back. The father approaching the victim, clasping his hair with the left hand, stoops over the face so piteously turned towards him, and holds in his right hand the sword, ready to strike. Already the point of the sword is on the body when the divine voice is heard, forbidding the consummation.

Leo, Bishop of Neapolis in Cyprus.  From his book against the Jews, on the Adoration of the Cross, and the Statues Of the Saints, and on Relics.

If you, O Jew, reproach me saying that I adore the wood of the Cross as God, why do you not reproach Jacob, who worshipped on the point of his staff (epito akron thV rabdou)? Now it is evident that he was not worshipping wood. So with us; we are worshipping Christ through the Cross, not the wood of the Cross.
Commentary.-If we adore the Cross, made of whatever wood it may be, how shall we not adore the image of the Crucified?  

[44] From the same.

Abraham worshipped the impious men who sold him the cave, and bent his knee to the ground, yet did not worship them as gods. Jacob praised Pharao, an impious idolator, yet not as God, and he fell down at the feet of Esau, yet did not worship him as God. And again, How does God order us to worship the earth and mountains? "Exalt the Lord your God and worship Him upon His holy mountain, and adore His footstool," (Ps. 99.9, 5) that is, the earth. For "heaven is My throne," He says, "and the earth My footstool." (Is. 66.1)  How was it that Moses worshipped Jothor, an idolator, (Ex. 18.7) and Daniel, Nabuchodonosor? How can you reproach me because I honour those who honour God and show Him service? Tell me, is it not fitting to worship the saints, rather than to throw stones at them as you do? Is it not right to worship them, rather than to attack them, and to fling your benefactors into the mire? If you loved God, you would be ready to honour His servants also. And if the bones of the just are unclean, why were the bones of Jacob and Joseph brought with all honour from Egypt? (Gen. 50.5ff, Ex. 13.19) How was it that a dead man arose again on touching the bones of Eliseus? (II Kgs. 13.21) If God works wonders through bones, it is evident that He can work them through images, and stones, and many other things, as in the case of Eliseus, who gave his staff to his servant, saying, "With this go and raise from the dead the son of the Sunamitess." (II Kgs. 4.29) With his staff Moses chastised Pharao, parted the waters, struck the rock, and drew forth the stream. And Solomon said, "Blessed is the wood by which justice cometh." (Wis. 14.7) Eliseus took iron out of the Jordan with a piece of wood. (II Kgs. 6.4-7) And again, the wood is the wood of life, and the wood of Sabec, that is, of remission. Moses humbled the serpent with wood and saved the people. (Num. 21.9) The blossoming rod in the tabernacle confirmed the priesthood of Aaron. (Num. 17.8) Perhaps, O Jew, you will tell me that God prescribed to Moses beforehand all the things of the testimony in the tabernacle. Now, I say to you that Solomon made a great variety of things in the temple in carvings and sculpture, which God had not ordered him to do. (II Chron. 3.1ff) Nor did the tabernacle of the testimony contain them, nor the temple which God showed to Ezechiel, (Ez. 40.47ff) nor was Solomon to be blamed in this. He had had these sculptured images made for the glory of God as we do. You, too, had many and varied images and signs in the Old Testament to serve as a reminder of God, if you had not lost them through ingratitude. For instance, the rod of Moses, the tablets of the law, the burning bush, the rock giving forth water, the ark containing the manna, the altar set on fire from above (purenqeon), the lamina bearing the divine name, the ephod, the tabernacle overshadowed by God. If you had prepared all these things by day and by night, saying, "Glory be to Thee, O Almighty God, who hast done wonders in Israel through all these things"; if through all these ordinances of the law, carried out of old, you had fallen on your knees to adore God, you would see that worship is given to Him by images.
And further on :-
He who truly loves a friend or the king, and especially his benefactor, if he sees that benefactor's son, or his staff, or his chair, or his crown, or his house, or his servant, he holds them fast in his embrace, and if he honours his benefactor, the king, how much more God. Again I repeat it, would that you had made images according to the law of Moses and the prophets, and that day by day you had worshipped the God of images. Whenever, then, you see Christians adoring the Cross, know that they are adoring the Crucified Christ, not the mere wood. If, indeed, they honoured wood as wood, they would be bound to worship trees of whatever kind, as you, O Israel, worshipped them of old, saying to the tree and to the stone, "Thou art my God and didst bring me forth." (Jer. 2.27) We do not speak either to the Cross or to the representations of the saints in this way. They are not our gods, but books which lie open and are venerated in churches in order to remind us of God and to lead us to worship Him. He who honours the martyr honours God, to whom the martyr bore testimony. He who worships the apostle of Christ worships Him who sent the apostle. He who falls at the feet of Christ's mother most certainly shows honour to
 her Son. There is no God but one, He who is known and adored in the Trinity.
Commentary. - Who is the faithful interpreter of blessed Epiphanius--Leontius, whose teaching adorned the island of Cyprus, or those who spoke according to their own conceits? Listen to the testimony of Severianus, Bishop of the Gabali.  

Severianus, Bishop of the Gabali, on the Dedication of the Cross.

How was it that the image of the enemy gave life to our progenitors? . . .
How was it that the image of the serpent worked salvation to the people in distress? Would it not have been more reasonable to say, "If any of you be bitten, let him look up to heaven, to
 God, and he shall be saved, or let him look towards the tabernacle of God"? Passing over this, he set up the image of the Cross alone. Why did Moses do this, who said to the people, "Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth"? (Ex. 20.4) However, why do I speak to unworthy people? Tell me, devout servant of God, will you do what is forbidden, and disregard what you are told to do? He who said, "Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing," condemned the golden calf, and you make a brazen serpent, and this not secretly, but most openly, so that it is known to all. Moses answers, I laid down that commandment in order to root out impiety, and to withdraw the people from all apostasy and idolatry; now, I have the serpent cast for a good purpose--as a figure of the truth. And just as I have put up a tabernacle, and everything in it, and cherubim, the likeness of the invisible powers, over the holy of holies, as a sign and figure of the future, so I have set up a serpent for the salvation of the people, to serve as a preliminary to the image of the Cross, and the redemption contained in it. As a confirmation of this, listen to the Lord saying, "As Moses exalted the serpent in the desert, so must you exalt the Son of Man, that every one believing in Him may not be lost, but may have eternal life." (Jn. 3.14)
Commentary.-Notice that His commandment not to make any graven thing was given to draw the people from idolatry, to which they were prone, and that the brazen serpent was an image of our Lord's suffering.
Listen to what I am going to say as a proof that images are no new invention. It is an ancient practice well known to the best and foremost of the fathers. Elladios, the disciple of blessed Basil and his successor, says in his Life of Basil that the holy man was standing by the image of Our Lady, on which was painted also the likeness of Mercurius, the renowned martyr. He was standing by it asking for the removal of the impious apostate Julian, and he received this revelation from the statue. He saw the martyr vanish for a time, and then reappear, holding a bloody spear. 

Taken word for word from the Life of St John Chrysostom.

Blessed John loved the epistles of St Paul exceedingly. . . . He had an image ofthe apostle in a place where he was wont to retire now and then on account of his physical weakness, for he outdid nature in watchings and vigils. As he read through St Paul's epistles, he had the image before him, and spoke to the apostle as if he had been present, praising him, and directing all his thoughts to him. . . .
When Proclus had finished speaking, gazing intently at the image of the apostle, and recognising the likeness to the man he had seen, saluting John, he said, pointing to the image: "Forgive me, father; the man I saw talking to you is very like this statue. In fact, I should say he is the same."
In the life of St Eupraxia we are told that her Superior showed her the likeness of our Lord.
We read in the life of St Mary of Egypt that she prayed before the statue of Our Lady and besought her intercession, and so obtained leave to enter the Church.
In all the past array of Christian priests and kings, wise and pious, conspicuous by teaching and example, in so many councils of holy and inspired fathers, how is it that no one has pointed out these things? We are not advocating a new faith. "The law shall come out of Sion," the Holy Ghost said prophetically, "and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." (Is. 2.3) We do not advocate one thing at one time, and another at another, nor that the faith should become a laughing-stock to those outside. We will not allow the king's commands to overturn the tradition handed down from the fathers. It is not for pious kings to overturn ecclesiastical boundaries. These are not patristic ways. Things done by force are impositions, and do not carry persuasion. A proof of this was given in the 2nd Council of Ephesus, when a decree, which has never been recognised as valid, was enforced by the emperor's hand, and blessed Flavian was put to death. Councils do not belong to kings, as the Lord says: "Wherever one or two are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them." (Mt. 18.20) Christ did not give to kings the power to bind and to loose, but to the apostles, (Mt. 18.18) and to their successors and pastors and teachers. "If an angel were to teach you a different gospel to what you have received," (Gal. 1.8) St Paul says--but we will be silent about what follows, in the hope of their conversion. And if we find the warning disregarded, which may God avert, we will then add the rest. Let us hope it will not be needed.
If any one should enter a house and should see on the walls a history in painting of Moses and Aaron, perchance he might ask about the people who are walking across the sea as if it were dry land. "Who are they?" he asks. What would you say? "Are they not the sons of Israel?" "Who is dividing the sea with his rod?" Would you not say "Moses"? So if a man makes an image of Christ crucified, and you are asked who he is, you reply, "It is Christ our Lord, who became incarnate for us." Yes, O Lord, we adore all that belongs to Thee, and we take to our hearts Thy Godhead, Thy power and goodness, Thy mercy towards us, Thy condescension and Thy Incarnation. And as men fear touching red-hot iron, not because of the iron but because of the heat, so do we worship Thy flesh, not for the nature of flesh, but through the Godhead united to that flesh according to substance. We worship Thy sufferings. Who has ever known death worshipped, or suffering venerated? Yet we truly worship the physical death of our God and His saving sufferings. We adore Thy image and all that is Thine; Thy servants, Thy friends, and most of all Thy Mother, the Mother of God.
We beseech, therefore, the people of God, the faithful flock, to hold fast to the ecclesiastical traditions. The gradual taking away of what has been handed down to us would be undermining the foundation stones, and would in no short time overthrow the whole structure. May we prove steadfast, unflinching, immovable, founded on the solid Rock which is Christ, to whom be praise, glory, and worship, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.



St John Chrysostom. From His "Commentary on the Parable of the Sower."
If you despise the royal garment, do you not despise the king himself? Do you not see that if you despise the image of the king, you despise the original? Do you not know that if a man shows contempt for an image of wood or a statue of metal, he is not judged as if he had vented himself or lifeless matter, but as showing contempt for the king? Dishonour shown to an image of the king is dishonour shown to the king.

The same, from his Sermon to St Meletius, Bishop of Antioch, and on the zeal of his hearers, beginning, "Casting his eyes everywhere on this holy flock."
What took place was most edifying, and [84] we ought always to bear this consolation in mind, and to have this saint before our eyes, whose name was invoked against every bad passion and specious argument. This was so much the case that streets, market-place, fields, every nook and corner rang with his name. Not only have you longed to invoke him, but to look upon his bodily form. As with his name so with his image. Many people have put it on their rings and goblets and cups and on their bedroom walls, so as not only to hear his history but to look upon his physical likeness, and to have a double consolation in his loss.

St Maximus, Philosopher and Confessor. From his "Acts" and those of Bishop Theodosius.

And after this all rose with tears of devotion, and kneeling down, prayed. And every one kissed the holy Gospels, and the sacred Cross, and the image of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and of Our Lady, His Immaculate Mother (panagiaV qeotokou), putting their hands to it in confirmation of what had been said.

Blessed Anastasius, Archbishop of Theopolis, on the Sabbath, to Simeon, Bishop of Bostris.
As in the king's absence his image is honoured instead of himself, so in his presence it would be unseemly to leave the original for the image. This is not to say that what is passed over in his presence should be dishonoured. . . . As the man who shows disrespect to the king's image is punished as if he had shown it to the king in very deed, although the image is composed merely of wood and paint moulded together, so one who shows disrespect to the likeness of a man means it for the original of the likeness.


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