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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)




Section 2 Subsection 25.

The Image - Worship Question



Nothing, perhaps, can more strikingly illustrate the difference between the Christians we read of in the New Testament, and those who professed to be "orthodox christians" of the flock of the one Shepherd, styled the Universal Bishop, than the fierce disputes of the eighth and ninth centuries, concerning the worship of images. For these symbols of dead men and women, whose factitious immortalities are supposed to be in a heaven "beyond the realms of time and space," Apostolic Christians had no respect. They had renounced image-worship when they became Christians; and, as his little children, were earnestly exhorted by the disciple beloved of Jesus, among the last words he addressed to them, to "keep themselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).

The use of pictures in churches preceded that of images, the first notice of which is in the censure of the council of Illiberis, three hundred years after the birth of Jesus. The first introduction of a worship of stocks and bones was in the veneration of the cross, and of relics. The "immortal souls" of saints and martyrs, whose intercession was implored, were supposed to be seated at the right hand of God; and their worshippers imagined that they showered gracious, and often super-natural favors around their tombs, whose disgusting contents they touched and kissed as memorials of their merits and sufferings. From such memorials the transition was easy to delineations of the deceased by painting or sculpture. At first, the experiment of paying them religious honors was made with caution and scruple. Gradually, however, the honors of the original were transferred to the copy; and he who began by worshipping three gods devoutly prayed before the image of a dead person; and the pagan rites of genuflexion, luminaries and incense, became part of the ritual of the Greek and Roman superstition in which was firmly established the use and worship of images before the end of the sixth century. The style and sentiments of a Byzantine hymn will show the gross idolatry of this worship. "How can we with mortal eyes contemplate this image, whose celestial splendor the host of the heaven presumes not to behold? He who dwells in heaven condescends this day to visit us by his venerable image: He who is seated on the cherubim, visits us this day by a picture which the Father has delineated with his immaculate hand, which he has formed in an ineffable manner, and which we sanctify by adoring it with fear and love." These images of Christ were styled acheiropoietoi, made without hand; and were circulated in the camps and cities of the eastern empire, as objects of worship, and instruments of miracles.

- But, in the beginning of the eighth century, in the full magnitude of the abuse, an apprehension was awakened among the Greeks, that the Incessant charge of the Jews and Mohammedans that they were idolaters might possibly be true. The murmurs of many simple and rational people arose against the superstition. They appealed to the evidence of texts, of facts, and of the primitive times, and secretly desired the reformation of the church.

Of this party was Leo the Third, who, from the mountains of Isauria, ascended the throne of the East. He is styled the Iconoclast, or Image-breaker. Though inspired with hatred of images, in the outset of an unsettled reign, during ten years of toil and danger, he submitted to the meanness of hypocrisy, bowed before the idols he despised, and satisfied the Universal Bishop, the special patron of the idols, with the annual profession of his orthodoxy and zeal. In the reformation he attempted, his first steps were moderate and cautious; but resistance and invective, and the urgency of his friends, provoked him to more active measures. The existence and use of religious pictures were proscribed; the churches of Constantinople and the provinces were cleansed from idolatry; the images of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints were demolished; the sect of the Iconoclasts was supported by the zeal and despotism of six emperors; and the East and West were involved in a noisy conflict of one hundred and twenty years.

It was, however, with reluctance that the patient east was brought to abjure its sacred images; they were fondly cherished, and vigorously defended by the more violent zeal of the Italians, stimulated to sanguinary resistance by the pretended Vicar of Christ. "It is agreed," says Gibbon, "that in the eighth century, the dominion of the popes was founded on rebellion, and that the rebellion was produced and justified by the heresy of the Iconoclasts." This is equivalent to saying, that the dominion of the popes and their clergy was founded on idolatry and their zeal for its support. This is true, and upon this basis the pope stands before the world as the "Pontifex Maximus" of Roman Idolatry, in which character he is the striking counterpart or "Image" of the pagan imperial pontiffs of the Sixth Head of the Beast.

Two original epistles from Gregory II., founder of the papal -monarchy, to the emperor Leo Isauricus are still extant. "During ten pure and fortunate years," says he, "we have tasted the annual comfort of your royal letters, subscribed in purple ink with your own hand, the sacred pledges of your attachment to the orthodox creed of our fathers. how deplorable the change! How tremendous the scandal! You now accuse the catholics of idolatry; and by the accusation you betray your own impiety and ignorance. To this ignorance we are compelled to adapt the grossness of our style and arguments; the first elements of holy letters are sufficient for your confusion; and were you to enter a grammar school, and avow yourself the enemy of our worship, the simple and pious children would be provoked to cast their horn-books at your head." After this not very complimentary salutation, the episcopal apologist of Catholic idolatry attempts the usual distinction between the idols of the pagans and the idols of the Catholics. The former, he affirms, were the fanciful representations of phantoms or demons, at the time when the true God had not manifested his person in any visible likeness. The latter, he says, are the genuine forms of Christ, his mother, and his saints, who had approved, by a crowd of miracles, (styled by Paul "all power, and signs, and lying wonders") the innocence and merit of this relative worship, which he lyingly asserted had been in perpetual use from the Apostolic age. To the impudent and humane Leo, more guilty than a heretic, he recommends peace, silence, and implicit obedience to his spiritual guides of Constantinople and Rome. He defines the limits of civil and ecclesiastical powers. To the civil he appropriates the body; to the ecclesiastical, the "immortal soul;" the sword of justice is in the hands of the magistrate: the more formidable weapon of excommunication is entrusted to the clergy; and in the exercise of their Divine commission, a zealous son will not spare his offending father: the Successor of St. Peter may lawfully chastise the kings of the earth!

"You assault us, 0 Tyrant," he continues, "with a carnal and military hand: unarmed and naked, we can only implore the Christ, the prince of the heavenly host, that he will send unto you a devil, for the destruction of your body and the salvation of your soul. You declare, with foolish arrogance, I will despatch my orders to Rome; I will break in pieces the image of St. Peter; and Gregory, like his predecessor, Martin, shall be transported in chains, and in exile, to the foot of the imperial throne. Would to God that I might be permitted to tread in the footsteps of the holy Martin; but may the fate of Constans serve as a warning to the persecutors of the church. After his just condemnation by the bishops of Sicily, the tyrant was cut off in the fullness of his sins by a domestic servant: the saint is still adored by the nations of Scythia, among whom he ended his banishment and his life. But it is our duty to live for the edification and support of the faithful people; nor are we reduced to risk our safety on the event of a combat. Incapable as you are of defending your Roman subjects, the maritime situation of the city may perhaps expose it to your depredation; but we can remove to the distance of four and twenty stadia, to the first fortress of the Lombards, and then - you may pursue the winds. Are you ignorant that the popes are the bond of union, the mediators of peace, between the East and the West? The eyes of the nations are fixed on our humility, whom all the kingdoms of the west hold as a God upon earth, whose image, St. Peter, you threaten to destroy. The remote and interior kingdoms of the west present their homage to Christ and His Vicegerent; and we now prepare to visit one of their most powerful monarchs, who desires to receive from our hands the sacrament of baptism. The Barbarians (the Ten Horns) have submitted to the yoke of the gospel, while you alone are deaf to the voice of the shepherd. The pious barbarians are kindled into rage; they thirst to avenge the persecution of the East. Abandon your rash and fatal enterprise; reflect, tremble, and repent. If you persist we are innocent of the blood that will be spent in the contest: may it fall on your own head."

The character of Leo, says an ecclesiastical writer, has been so blackened by catholic partisans, that it is difficult to form a just estimate of it; but when we consider that he not only condemned the worshipping of images, but also rejected relics, and protested against the intercession of saints, we cannot doubt of his possessing considerable strength of mind, while it may help us to account for much of the obloquy that was cast upon him.

The first assault of Leo against the idols of Constantinople had been witnessed by a crowd of strangers from Italy and the West, who related with grief and indignation the iconoclasm of the emperor. But on the reception of his proscriptive edict, they trembled for their domestic deities - "the demonials and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood" (Apoc. 9:20). The edict abolished the images of Christ and the virgin, of the angels, martyrs, and saints, from all the churches of Italy; and a strong alternative was presented to the Roman High Priest of the New Idolatry, namely, the imperial favor as the price of his compliance, or degradation and exile, as the penalty of his disobedience. Gregory did not hesitate which to accept. Without depending on prayers or miracles, he' boldly armed against his imperial master, and by pastoral letters, excited the Italians to resistance. At the signal given, Ravenna, Venice, and the cities of the exarchate and Pentapolis, which adhered to the cause of idol-worship, unfurled the banner of rebellion. They swore, as fools only would swear, to live and die in defense of the Bishop of Rome and the demonials; and even the Lombards were ambitious to share in the war, not so much in the interest of the pope and his idols, as for the sake of expelling the Dragon Power from Italy, that the entire country might be theirs. The statues of Leo were destroyed, and the tributes of Italy withheld; magistrates and governors were elected, and the creation of an orthodox emperor was proposed. Gregory II. and his successor of the same name, were condemned at Constantinople as the authors of the revolt, and every attempt was made, either by fraud or force, to seize their persons and assassinate them. But these attempts did not succeed. The Greeks were thwarted and massacred; and at Ravenna, the Exarch himself was slain. To punish this flagitious treason, and to restore his dominion in Italy, the Dragon cast out of his mouth water as a flood; in other words, the imperial government of Constantinople sent a fleet and army into the Adriatic to depopulate and lay waste the country. But the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the flood. In a hard-fought day the idolators prevailed. The imperialists retreated to their galleys, but the populous sea coast poured forth a multitude of boats; and the slaughter is said to have been so great that the waters of the Po were deeply infected, so that during six years the people abstained from eating the fish of that river. But, in the midst of these broils, while defending idolatry and promoting the rebellion with all his influence, Gregory II. was stopped short in his roaring blasphemies. "He was extremely insolent," says an impartial writer, "though he died with the character of a saint."

He was succeeded in the Roman Bishoprick, A.D. 731, by Gregory III., who entered with great spirit and energy into the measures of his predecessors. The following epistle addressed by him to the emperor, on his elevation, is an amusing illustration of his arrogance and blasphemy.

"Because you are unlearned and ignorant," says he, "we are obliged to write to you rude discourses, but full of sense and the word of God. We conjure you to quit your pride, and hear us with humility. You say that we adore stones, and walls, and boards. It is not so, my Lord; but these symbols make us recollect the persons whose names they bear, and exalt our grovelling minds. We do not look upon them as gods; but if it be the things of Jesus, we say, 'Lord help us.' If it be the image of his mother, we say, 'Pray to your Son to save us.' If it be of a martyr, we say, 'St. Stephen, pray for us.' We might, as having the power of St. Peter, pronounce punishment against you; but, as you have pronounced the curse upon yourself, let it stick to you. You write to us to assemble a general council, of which there is no need. Do you cease to persecute images, and all will be quiet; we fear not your threats."

"No sooner," says Gibbon, "had they confirmed their own safety, the worship of images, and the freedom of Rome and Italy, than the popes appear to have relaxed in their severity, and to have spared the relics of the Byzantine dominion. Their moderate counsels delayed and prevented the election of a new emperor, and they exhorted the Italians not to separate from the body of the Roman Monarchy. The Exarch was permitted to reside within the walls of Ravenna, a captive rather than a master; and till the imperial coronation of Charlemagne, the govern-ment of Rome and Italy was exercised in the name of the successors of Constantine.

Rome and her territory were now reduced to narrow limits, extending from Viterbo to Terracina, and from Narni to the mouth of the Tyber. Nominally subject to Constantinople, still they were really without any other protection than they who were slaves by habit could create for themselves. They had become free by an accident, the effect of the grossest superstition; so that when the excitement was allayed, their liberty was the object of their amazement and terror; and they were devoid of knowledge, or virtue, to build the fabric of a commonwealth. Their scanty remnant, as at this day, the offspring of slaves and strangers, was despicable in the eyes of the victorious barbarians; who, as often as they expressed their most bitter contempt of a foe, called him a Roman; "and in this name," says the bishop Luitprand, "we include whatever is base, whatever is cowardly, whatever is perfidious, the extremes of avarice and luxury, and every vice that can prostitute the dignity of human nature." It must be remembered that the popes were the Eyes and Mouth of this Name - the unicum nomen in mundo; so that Luitprand's definition of it is true of that Name of Blasphemy on the Seven Hills; by whose authority in their now transition state from the dominion of the Little Horn of the East, to that of the Little Horn of the West, their foreign and domestic counsels were moderated. His alms, his preachings, his correspondence with the kings and bishops of the west his recent services in the interest of idolatry, and so forth, accustomed the idol worshippers of Rome to consider him as the first magistrate or Prince of the city. The pretended humility of the popes was not offended by the title of Lord; and coins of the date A.D. 772 are extant bearing the face and inscription of the popes, who now commenced a career of temporal ambition which was insatiable; and demanded exaltation "above every thing called god, or is worshipped."

Having thus by rebellion freed themselves from all but a nominal subjection to the Constantinopolitan Dragon, the great object of these ambitious blasphemers was now to preserve themselves in their feebleness from falling a prey to the Lombards, who longed for a united Italy with Rome for their capital. The love of arms and rapine was congenial to them; and they were irresistibly tempted by the disorders of Italy, the nakedness of Rome, and the unwarlike profession of her new chief, to embrace the present opportunity of effecting what would have been, if successful, the healing of the Seventh Head of the Beast. This, however, was not the Providential indication to be fulfilled. It was the Imperial Head, not the Regal, that was to be healed, or reestablished as an Eighth head upon the Seven Hills. But the Lombards did not know this; and in the confident hope of success, marched to the conquest of Spoleto and Rome. The storm, however, evaporated without effect; but alarmed the country with a vexatious alternative of hostility and truce, which caused a feeling of insecurity for life and property on every side. Hence, a Protector of the Roman People against the Lombards was the great desideratum of the time.

The Lombards were now masters of the Exarchate, and as ambition is only increased by accession of dominion, they began to lay claim to the Roman Dukedom, and to Rome itself. In order to enforce his demand, Astolphus marched an army towards the city, reducing many places in its vicinity, and threatening to put the inhabitants to the sword, if they refused to acknowledge him as their sovereign. The Romans hesitated, complained, used prayers and entreaties, and offered presents, but all in vain. Stephen III., then pope, alarmed at the severity of his message, sought to appease him by a solemn embassy; but all was useless, for the one desire of Astolphus was to govern Rome. Time, however, was gained by negotiations, till the friendship of an ally and avenger beyond the Alps was secured.

This ally appeared on the arena in the person of Pepin, son of Charles Martel, who governed the French monarchy with the humble title of Mayor or Duke; but who by his signal victory over the Saracens, had saved his country, and perhaps Europe, from the Mohammedan yoke. Zachary, predecessor of Stephen, and successor to Gregory III., an aspiring and crafty politician, had attached Pepin to his interests by resolving a case of conscience in his favor. He desired to know whether a prince incapable of governing, or a minister invested with royal authority, and who supported it with dignity, ought to have the title of king? Zachary decided in favor of minister Pepin; and the French clergy supported his pretensions, because he had restored to them the lands of which his father had robbed them. The pope's decision silenced all scruples. Pepin threw his master, Childeric III., into a monastery; and caused himself to be crowned king with all orthodox solemnity at Soissons by Boniface the bishop of Mentz, the famous apostle of Rome's idolatry to the Germans.

Stephen, made sensible that nothing but force could avail against Astolphus, resolved to crave the protection of Pepin; who, mindful of his obligations to Zachary, readily promised him assistance. A treaty was concluded between them at the expense of the Constantinopolitan Dragon, and the Lombard Horn of the Beast. On his visit to Paris, Stephen reanointed Pepin with the unction of papal holiness, declaring him and his son Charles, known afterwards as Charlemagne, Protector of the Romans; in return for which honors, Pepin promised to make a donation of the Exarchate and Pentapolis to the Romish Church.

Pepin's presence in Italy, at the head of a French army, caused Astolphus to sue for peace, and he obtained it, on condition that he should deliver up to the pope, not to the emperor, all the places he had taken. He consented; but when Pepin had returned, he resumed his former position, and laid siege to Rome.

In this extremity, Stephen again had recourse to his protector the king of France; but apprehensive of fatiguing the zeal of his transalpine allies, enforced his complaint and request by an eloquent letter in the name and person of St. Peter himself. This blasphemous forgery is too remarkable to be here omitted. It runs thus: "Peter, called an apostle by Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, etc. As through me the whole catholic, apostolic, and Roman church, the Mother of all other churches, is founded on a rock: and to the end that Stephen, Bishop of the beloved church of Rome, and that virtue and power may be granted by our Lord to rescue the church of God out of the hands of its persecutors: To you most excellent princes, Pepin, Charles, and Carloman, and to all the holy bishops and abbots, priests and monks, as also to dukes, counts, and people, I, Peter the apostle, conjure you, and the Virgin Mary, who will be obliged to you, gives you notice and commands you, as do all the thrones, dominations, etc. If you will not fight for me, I declare you by the Holy Trinity, and by my apostleship, that you shall have no share in heaven." Whether Pepin believed this forgery or not, he obeyed the summons, and delivered Rome from its peril a second time.

Meanwhile, Constantine Copronymus, who had succeeded Leo Isauricus, informed of the treaty between the king of France and the Pope, by which the latter was to be put into the possession of the Exarchate and Pentapolis, remonstrated by his ambassadors against that agreement, offering to pay the expenses of the war. But Pepin replied, that the Exarchate belonged to the Lombards, who had acquired it from the East by arms, as the Romans had originally done; that the right of the Lombards was now in him, so that he could dispose of that territory as he thought proper. He had bestowed it, he said, on St. Peter, that the Catholic faith might be preserved in its purity, free from the damnable heresies of the image-breaking Greeks; and all the money in the world, he added, should never make him revoke that gift, which he was determined to maintain to the church with the last drop of his blood.

Before Pepin returned to France he renewed his donation to what he called St. Peter, yielding to the Catholic church represented by the Popes the Exarchate   Romagna and Marca d'Ancona, with twenty-one cities therein, to be held by them for ever; the kings of France retaining the superiority as Protectors of the Romans. Thus was the sceptre of temporal dominion added to the keys, the sovereignty to the priesthood, which was enriched by the spoils of the Lombard kings and the Roman emperors. It was a novelty among the Horns, and the beginning of the Two-Horned Beast of the Earth, and the Image of the wounded head, or of the Imperial Sixth.

After this double chastisement, the Lombards languished about twenty years in languor and decay. "On either side," says Gibbon, "their expiring monarchy was pressed by the zeal and prudence of Pope Adrian I., the genius, the fortune, and greatness of Charlemagne the son of Pepin; these heroes of the church and state were united in public and domestic friendship, and while they trampled on the prostrate, they varnished their proceedings with the fairest colors of equity and moderation." A quarrel between Adrian and Desiderius, the last of the Lombard kings, caused the latter to ravage the Patrimony of St. Peter, and to threaten Rome itself. In order to avert the pressing danger, Adrian sent privately to Charlemagne, not only imploring his aid, but inviting him to the conquest of Italy. Having a pique of his own to avenge, he accepted the invitation with great satisfaction. Being determined to pluck up the Lombard kingdom by the roots, he passed the Alps by an unexpected route, with an overwhelming force, and falling suddenly upon the enemy, struck them with such terror that they fled in the utmost confusion. He besieged Desiderius in his capital with great vigor. While the siege was progressing under the conduct of his uncle, he visited Rome for the celebration of Easter. The pope received his deliverer in the most pompous manner, the magistrates and judges walking before him with their banners, and the clergy, always ready to flatter and fawn upon the world's heroes, and to blaspheme those who dwell in the heaven, repeating, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!" After Charlemagne had gratified his curiosity, and confirmed his father's donation to St. Peter, he returned to the camp before Pavia, which, after a blockade of two years, was surrendered by Desiderius with the sceptre of the kingdom. Thus ended the power of the Lombards A.D. 774, after it had continued two hundred and six years. The Vandalic Horn had been annexed to Italy by Belisarius, and Italy now became the property of Charlemagne; so that the Horn of the Vandals, and the Horn of the Lombards, both included in Italy, were two of the three horns Daniel predicted would fall before the Little Horn, with Eyes and Mouth, and be "plucked up by the roots." The third will appear in the sequel.

The question, however, concerning images, was still far from settlement, either at Rome or Constantinople, but continued to agitate the Laodicean Apostasy for many years. During the reign of Constantine Copronymus, a synod was held at Constantinople to determine the controversy. It decreed, that "every image of whatsoever materials made and formed by the artist, should be cast out of the christian churches (as they styled their temples) as a strange and abominable thing," adding an "anathema upon all who should make images or pictures, or representations of God, or of Christ, or of the Virgin Mary, or of any of the saints," condemning it as "a vain and diabolical invention"   deposing all bishops, and subjecting the monks and laity who should set up any of them, in public or private, to all the penalties of the imperial constitution. Paul I., then Roman Pontiff, sent his legate to Constantinople, to admonish the emperor to restore his beloved idols to their temples; threatening him with excommunication in case of refusal. But the Dragon chief treated his message with the contempt it richly deserved.

On Paul's decease, A.D. 768, the Lion-Mouth of the Beast was represented for one year by a bishop named Constantine, who condemned the worship of idols, for which he was tumultuously deposed, and Stephen IV., a furious defender of them, substituted in his place. He forthwith assembled a council in the Lateran, where they abrogated all Constantine's decrees, deposed all the bishops he had ordained, annulled all his baptisms and chrisms, and as some historians relate, after having beat him and used him with great indignity, made a fire in the church and burned him to death. After this cruel disposition of this papal specimen of "holiness" and "infallibility," they annulled all the decrees of the Dragon's council, ordered the restoration of the idols, and cursed that execrable and pernicious synod, giving the absurd and blasphemous reason for the use of images - "that if it was lawful for emperors, and those who had deserved well of their country, to have their images erected, but not lawful to set up those of God, the condition of the immortal God would be worse than that of man."

The fortunes of the demonials and idols were at length revived in the East. As soon as Irene reigned in her own name and that of her son Constantine Porphyrogenetus, she undertook the ruin of the Iconoclasts. The first step of her future persecution was a general edict for liberty of conscience; after which she convened a general council at Nice, A.D. 787, at which the legates of the Roman Pontiff Adrian, attended, and her domestic slave the Patriarch of Constantinople, who presided. This counsel of three hundred and fifty bishops unanimously pronounced, that the worship of images is agreeable to Scripture and reason, to the fathers and councils of the church. The acts of this council are still extant; "a curious monument," says Gibbon, of "superstition and ignorance, of falsehood and folly." An illustration of the judgment of these bishops on the comparative merit of image-worship and morality, may be found in the reply of one to a certain monk, that "rather than abstain from adoring Christ and his mother in their holy images, it would be better to enter every brothel, and visit every prostitute, in the city."

During the five succeeding reigns the contest was maintained with unabated rage and various success between the idolators and the breakers of idols. At length the enthusiasm of the times ran strongly against the Iconoclasts; and the emperors who stemmed the torrent were exasperated and punished by the public hatred. The final victory of the idols was achieved by Theodora, A.D. 842(*). Her measures were bold and decisive. She ordered her Iconoclast Patriarch a whipping of two hundred lashes in commutation of the loss of his eyes; the bishops trembled, the monks shouted, and the demonials and idols of all metals and woods were triumphant. Rome and Italy were jubilant; while the Latins of Germany, France, England and Spain, lagged behind in the race of superstition. They admitted the idols into their spiritual bazaars, not as objects of worship, but as memorials of faith and history. Nevertheless, idolatry advanced with silent and insensible progress; but, as Gibbon remarks, "a large atonement is made for their hesitation and delay, by the gross idolatry of the ages which precede the reformation, and of the countries both of Europe and America, which are still immersed in the gloom of superstition."




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