Fathers Know Best
- "For I ask, if any one should often contemplate the likeness of a
man who has settled in a foreign land, that he may thus solace himself
for him who is absent, would he also appear to be of sound mind, if, when
the other had returned and was present, he should persevere in contemplating
the likeness, and should prefer the enjoyment of it, rather than the sight
of the man himself? Assuredly not. For the likeness of a man appears to
be necessary at that time when he is far away; and it will become superfluous
when he is at hand. But in the case of God, whose spirit and influence
are diffused everywhere, and can never be absent, it is plain that an image
is always superfluous."
- (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book 2, Chapter 2).
- "...but it is not possible at the same time to know God and to address
prayers to images."
- (Origen, Against Celsus, Book 7, Chapter 65).
- "And what greater wrong, disgrace, hardship, can be inflicted than
to acknowledge one God, and yet make supplication to something else — to
hope for help from a deity, and pray to an image without feeling?"
- (Arnobius, Case Against the Pagans, Book 6, Chapter 9).
- "But the devil has always slipped into the human mind in the guise
of someone righteous, and made human images with a great variety of arts,
to deify mortal human nature in human eyes. And yet the men who are worshipped
have died, and their images, which have never lived, are introduced for
worship -- and since they've never lived they can't be called dead either!
And with adulterous intent they have rebelled against the one and only
God, like a common whore who has been excited to the wickedness of many
relations and rejected the temperate course of lawful marriage to one husband...Which
scripture has spoken of it? Which prophet permitted the worship of a man,
let alone a woman?"
- (Ephipanius, Panarion, Section VII, 59 , 4.4-5.1).
- "The senseless earth is dishonoured by the makers of images, who change
it by their art from its proper nature, and induce men to worship it; and
the makers of gods worship not gods and demons, but in my view earth and
art, which go to make up images. For, in sooth, the image is only dead
matter shaped by the craftsman’s hand. But we have no sensible image of
sensible matter, but an image that is perceived by the mind alone,—God,
who alone is truly God."
- (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, Chapter 4).
Use of images in Christian worship apparently originated with the gnostics: "They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world, that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles."
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 26.6).
As is commonly the pattern with 'Catholic' practices, like for
instance infant baptism, we first hear about paintings in the churches
from the 'anti's:'
"About the year 300, the Council of Elvira, in Spain, made
a canon forbidding pictures in church, which shows that the practice
had then begun, and was growing; and also that, in Spain, at least, it
was thought to be dangerous (as indeed it too surely proved to be)."
(J. C. Robertson, Sketches of Church History, Part One: A.D. 33 - 604, Chapter
18, Christian Worship).
"At the very beginning of the fourth century
the Council of Elvira (in Spain) had ruled 'that there must be no
pictures (picturas) in the church, that the walls should have no
images of that which is revered and worshipped' (ne quod colitur et
adoratur in parietibus depingatur)." (Alexander Vasiliev, History
of the Byzantine Empire, 324 to 1453, Kindle location 3815).
A conflict raged in the eighth century between 'iconoclasts,' who smashed
the images, and 'iconodules,' who frankly and unapologetically wanted to
worship the images. Many Roman Catholics today are under the impression
that their church chose the sane middle ground in this conflict. It did
not, but rather embraced one of the indefensible extremes.
The pictures and statuary in a Roman Catholic Church are not harmless artwork offered for expressive or instructional
purposes. These images are intended to be "venerated": "Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate
Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons -- of Christ,
but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and the saints."
(2131, Catechism of the Catholic Church).
What Second Nicaea permits is precisely what the Bible forbids: images
to bow down before, to venerate ['proskyneo'].
Synod of Hieria
It was in the eighth century that the Byzantine Emperor Leo II began smashing
images. Leo's son Constantine V called the Synod of Hieria in mid-century
which affirmed his father's icon-smashing policy. It is sometimes suggested
that Leo II was responding to Islam's challenge. There must have been many
conversations in those days which ran something like this:
Muslim.--Do you believe the ten commandments have been abrogated or superseded,
or are they still in force?
Christian.---Still in force. Didn't Jesus say, "You know the commandments..." (Mark 10:19).
Muslim.--Does this include the second, which prohibits making graven images and
bowing down before them?
Muslim.--So why do you bow down before images?
Christian.--But we don't...
Muslim.--Yes you do, I've seen you. You genuflect before your statues, and kiss
them. I've even seen worn spots on the statues which have been ground down
by worshippers' repeated kisses. What do you think the Bible means by 'bow down'?
The plain fact is, the Christians of the day were bowing down before images,
precisely the behavior which the second commandment criminalizes. As pagans
entered the church, they had brought with them habits and patterns of worship.
The solution? Stop doing it—stop bowing down before the images. This is what's prohibited.
Leo's solution, however, was to smash the images. If their presence in
the churches was a snare to the weak, why not privatize them? The Byzantine
Emperor was the power in the church in those days; the bishop of Rome could
only weakly protest. One can only weep at the wonderful artwork left in
pieces on the pavement.
Here is the language justified by the Second Council at Nicaea:
"Proceeding as it were on the royal road and following the divinely inspired teaching of our holy Fathers,
and the tradition of the Catholic Church (for we know that this
tradition is of the Holy Spirit which dwells in the Church),
we define, with all care and exactitude, that the venerable
and holy images are set up in just the same way as the figure
of the precious and life-giving cross; painted images, and those
in mosaic and those of other suitable material, in the holy
churches of God, on holy vessels and vestments, on walls and
in pictures, in houses and by the roadsides; images of our Lord
and God and Saviour Jesus Christ and of our undefiled Lady,
the holy God-bearer, and of the honourable angels, and of all
saintly and holy men. For the more continually these are observed
by means of such representations, so much the more will the
beholders be aroused to recollect the originals and to long
after them, and to pay to the images the tribute of an embrace
and a reverence of honour ['timetike proskynesis], not to pay to them the actual worship
['alethine latreia'] which is according to our faith, and
which is proper only to the divine nature: but as to the figure
of the venerable and life-giving cross, and to the holy Gospels
and the other sacred monuments, so to those images to accord
the honor of incense and oblation of lights, as it has been
the pious custom of antiquity. For the honour paid to the image
passes to its original, and he that adores an image adores in
it the person depicted thereby..." (Definition of the Second
Council of Nicaea, 787 A.D., p. 94, Documents of the Christian Church, Henry Bettenson).
This cannot be considered an effort to understand the second commandment, but rather a defiant statement that one does not intend to observe it.
This word,-- 'proskynesis',- is the very word the translators of the Septuagint saw fit
to use in translating the second commandment: "Thou shalt not make to thyself an idol, nor
likeness of anything, whatever things are in the heaven above, and whatever are in the earth beneath,
and whatever are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down ['proskuneo'] to them, nor serve ['latreuo']
them; for I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, recompensing the sins of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth
generation to them that hate me..." (Exodus 20:4-5, Brenton Septuagint). Exactly what God forbade: bowing
down ['proskuneo'] before graven images -- is precisely what Empress Irene's Council legalized!
"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness
for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet
for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20). God does not allow the one and forbid
the other, He says you shall do neither one nor
the other: "And the Lord made a covenant with them, and charged them,
saying, Ye shall not fear other gods, neither shall ye worship ['proskuneo'] them, nor serve ['latreuo'] them,
nor sacrifice to them: but only to the Lord, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great strength and with a high arm:
him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship; to him shall ye sacrifice."
(2 Kings 17:35 Brenton Septuagint).
Roman Catholics claim 'proskynesis' is a lower form of worship than 'latreia,' the latter being reserved for God but the former available to the creature.
But the way the Bible uses these Greek words does not reflect any intent
to set up a two-tier scheme of worship. The Roman Catholics themselves
translate 'proskuneo' in Matthew 4:10 as "worship." Satan
demanded 'proskynesis' not 'latreia,' eliciting this rebuke from the Lord: "Then Jesus replied, 'Be off, Satan!
For scripture says: You must worship ['proskuneo'] the Lord your God, and serve him alone.'"
See the handsprings the flexible lexicographers must perform: "In many verses in
the New Testament, προσκυνεω is used to refer to the stance one is to have
in exclusive relationship to God (e.g., Matt. 4:10, Luke 4:7-8). When
used in this sense, προσκυνεω expresses submission to God's supreme
and ultimate authority." (Karen H. Jobes, Biblical Words and Their Meaning, Moises Silva,
Kindle location 2958). So here we have a general rule to which one
makes exception whenever one pleases, by redefining the operative term?
'You must worship God alone, though of course you can 'worship'
whatever you like.' This would be no rule at all, yet plainly, there it is.
It is like reading in a news report, 'Joe murdered Jack.' 'But
you're not supposed to murder! It must mean, "tapped lightly on the
The background of these words in classical Greek is that 'proskynesis' means 'worship,' 'latreia' means 'menial
service': "proskuneo...to make obeisance to the gods, fall down and worship, to worship, adore..."
Scott); "latreia...the state of a hired workman, service, servitude"
(Liddell & Scott); "latreuo,
to work for hire or pay, to be in servitude, serve..."
(Liddell & Scott). Part of what was wrapped up with proskynesis was prostration,
i.e., a face-plant. When Themistocles intended to present himself to the Persian king as
a suppliant, he went first to Artabanus the chiliarch, who read him the
"He replied, 'Stranger, the customs of different races are
different, and each has its own standard of right and wrong; yet among
all men it is thought right to honor, admire, and to defend one's own
customs. Now we are told that you chiefly prize freedom and equality;
we on the other hand think it the best of all our laws to honor the
king, and to worship him as we should worship the statue of a god that
preserves us all. Wherefore if you are come with the intention of
adopting our customs, and of prostrating yourself before the king,
you may be permitted to see the king, and speak with him; but if not,
you must use some other person to communicate with him; for it is not
the custom for the king to converse with any one who does not prostrate
himself before him.'" (Plutarch, Life of Themistocles, Chapter XXVII,
Plutarch's Lives, Volume I, p. 143).
But there was more. The literal meaning of the word is roughly 'make like a dog,' originally referring to a peculiar
gesture employed by the pagans: kissing the hand, then blowing
the kiss toward the object of adoration, sort of the way a dog
licks its master's hand. Job seems to be referring to the gesture:
"If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness;
And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed
my hand:..." (Job 31:26-27). "...the payer of 'proskynesis'
would bring a hand, usually his right one, to his lips and kiss the tips of his fingers, perhaps blowing
the kiss towards his king or god, though the blowing of kisses
is only known for certain in Roman society. In the carvings of
Persepolis, the nobles mounting the palace staircase or the attendants
on King Artaxerxes's tomb can be seen in the middle of the gesture,
while the Steward of the Royal Household kisses his hand before
the Great King, bending slightly forwards as he does so. These
Persian pictures and the Greeks' own choice of words show that
in Alexander's day, 'proskynesis' could be conducted with the body upright,
bowed or prostrate...In Greece it was a gesture reserved for the
gods alone, but in Persia it was also paid to men..." (Robin Lane
Fox, Alexander the Great, pp. 320-321).
Alexander the Great 'went Persian' according to Arrian, "For the
tale goes that Alexander even desired people to bow to the earth
before him, from the idea that Ammon was his father rather than
Philip, and since he now emulated the ways of the Persians and
Medes, both by the change of his garb and the altered arrangements
of his general way of life." (Arrian, Anabasis, Book IV, Chapter
IX). When Alexander demanded worship from his subjects,- - 'proskynesis' --
they understood him to be demanding, not the honor a monarch might reasonably expect from the populace,
but divine honors: "It is true that in Greece 'proskynesis'
was only paid to the gods, and that Alexander was doubtless aware of this...he had been wearing the
diadem, which among Greeks was a claim to represent Zeus...It
was to be the same with 'proskynesis': his own Master of Ceremonies
described the first attempt to introduce it and as the incident
took place at a dinner party, he would have been present in the
dining-room and able to see the result for himself...Then they
went Oriental: they paid 'proskynesis' to Alexander, kissing their hand and
perhaps bowing slightly...This unassuming little ceremony went
the round of all the guests, each drinking, kissing his hand and
being kissed in return by the king, until it came to Callisthenes,
cousin of Aristotle. He drank from the cup, ignored the 'proskynesis'
and walked straight up to Alexander, hoping to receive a proper kiss...Alexander refused to kiss him.
'Very well,' said Callisthenes, 'I go away the poorer by a kiss.'"
(Robin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great, pp. 322-323). This poverty
of a kiss would cost Callisthenes his life; he was executed as
a traitor. Even a pagan like Callisthenes aware one should not
offer 'proskynesis' to a mortal, while Roman Catholics
are not aware of this!
Let us try a thought experiment: suppose the American President
began to demand, not the short bow and curtsy expected by the British
monarch, not even genuflection, but full face prostration. This would
be controversial. It is even possible that some people, who could not move beyond the old style
hand-shaking, might be escorted out of the Oval Office sputtering, to
land at Guantanamo Bay. This gesture might be perceived as slavish, as
a kind of homage not belonging to a fellow human being. Oddly enough,
the Greek heavens were permeable; the gods and men were enough of a
kind that unions were fertile, and offspring, the 'heroes,' god-men,
could be born. Still what Alexander did was controversial. Linguists
place immense faith in the power of their profession to normalize all
human conduct; if 'proskynesis' is offered to an inappropriate object,
just define it down to mean 'make entreaty:' "In addition to
its sense of worship, προσκυνεω is found
in reference to paying political homage and in a third sense is used to
refer to entreaty, often accompanied by the posture of kneeling or
prostration." (Karen H. Jobes, Biblical Words and Their Meaning, Moises Silva,
Kindle location 2910). Who can object to making entreaty? But this leaves unexplained
discontent and assassination attempts. When a society is transitioning
from democracy to autocratic rule by Asiatic god-kings, some
dislocation must be expected. Simply redefining things cannot bridge
the gap, force must be used, just as the stiff-arm salute Hitler
popularized in formerly democratic Weimar Germany did not catch on
spontaneously, though one might define it as similar to the ever
popular 'waving.' People might have rigid, even theologically informed,
ideas about what is appropriate and what is not.
Pagans continued to offer this gesture of adoration to the idols
they worshipped down into the Christian era:
"And thus, when in the early morning we were going towards
the sea along the shore (of the Tiber), that both the breathing air
might gently refresh our limbs, and that the yielding sand might sink
down under our easy footsteps with excessive pleasure; Caecilius,
observing an image of Serapis, raised his hand to his mouth, as is the
custom of the superstitious common people, and pressed a kiss on it
with his lips." (Minucius Felix, Octavius, Chapter 2, ECF p. 340).
Once 'proskynesis' came to be used to translate foreign words that more properly
mean 'bow down' or 'prostrate oneself', the word's meaning broadened beyond this original sense,
but the various gestures of obeisance the Greeks called 'proskynesis' were bound by the
common thread that these were gestures of such servility the democratically-minded Greeks did not
think them appropriate for one mortal to offer to another. 'Proskynesis' is a strong word,
not a weak one, albeit if you read the LXX you'll find it used to translate 'bowing down' without
theological implications, for instance, "And Moses went forth to meet his father-in-law, and did
him reverence ['proskuneo' LXX], and kissed him, and they embraced each other, and he brought
them into the tent." (Exodus 18:7 Brenton Septuagint). Neither Jews nor Christians employed the
peculiar gesture the word originally described; the word is properly understood in the New Testament as
meaning 'worship,' which is how the King James version consistently translates it.
It carries that meaning in the Septuagint, as for instance:
"And it shall come to pass, that as all the good things are come upon us which the Lord God will bring upon you all the evil things, until he shall have destroyed you from off this good land, which the Lord has given you,
when ye transgress the covenant of the Lord our God, which he has charged us, and go and serve other gods, and bow down to them
[προσκυνησητε αυτοις]." (Joshua 23:15-16 Brenton Septuagint).
". . .and lest having looked up to the sky, and having seen the
sun and the moon and the stars, and all the heavenly bodies, thou
shouldest go astray and worship them [προσκυνησης αυτοις], and
serve them, which the Lord thy God has distributed to all the
nations under heaven." (Deuteronomy 4:19 Brenton Septuagint).
What is here prohibited isn't a posture, but false and idolatrous
worship. This is the word you would use if you wanted to say that. It is
not a weak or casual word. The Ethiopian eunuch came to Jerusalem to
worship: "And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an
eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who
had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to
worship [προσκυνησων], was returning, and sitting in his chariot
read Esaias the prophet." (Acts 8:27-28). Paul went to the same
place for the same reason: "Because that thou mayest
understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to
Jerusalem for to worship [προσκυνησων]."
'Latreia,' whose original sense is 'menial service' or 'slave-service', is used
in the Bible to describe the ministrations in the Hebrew temple: "Then
indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service ['latreia'] and the earthly sanctuary."
It remains unclear how Roman Catholics have convinced themselves that it's OK to "worship"
['proskuneo'] all and sundry, provided one does not "serve" ['latreuo'] all comers. The definitions of Second
Nicaea allow that worship ('proskynesis') belongs to the creature,
but service ('latreia') only to God. God's word says otherwise:
"And I fell at his feet to worship ['proskuneo'] him. But he
said to me, 'See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the
testimony of Jesus. Worship ['proskuneo'] God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of
prophecy.'" (Revelation 19:10).