An Orthodox Rebuttal Part 2
Some time ago Steve Amato attempted to refute my rebuttal of his criticism of Orthodoxy, in particular concerning Holy Images or Icons. In this re-examination of his answer I will once again point out the errors of this dedicated Bible student. Right in the beginning I wish to emphasize that I do not question his dedication to Christ or his devotion to Scripture. I question the form in which his true dedication and devotion are shaped.
Downsizing my argumentation
Steve has attempted to represent my argument in two short points below. In doing so he has neglected large and significant elements of my response to his criticisms which perhaps were too strong to be refuted. Nevertheless some weak spots in my argumentation were found and these he has tried to make the most of:
1. There are two kinds of worship which are appropriate.
The first is latreia which is to be directed at God alone.
The second is proskynese which is directed towards such things as saints and orthodox icons.
2. The Bible isn't clear in making this distinction, but rather it is justified by ascribing to post-Biblical orthodox dogma.
In point 1, Steve shows that he has understood very well the difference
the Orthodox Church makes between absolute and relative worship. He has
understood therefore that the Orthodox Church does not idolize Icons but
merely venerates them.
Point 2 again shows he has understood very well that Scripture (according to the Orthodox Church) does not contain all the answers but must be seen and read in the light of the Church as a whole. Or as Steve put it "post-Biblical orthodox dogma". Here we recognize the assumption Steve argues from; the man-made tradition of 'Sola Scriptura' to the point of denying even Scripture itself. For Scripture testifies that "the Church is the Pillar and Ground of the Truth" (1Tim. 3, 15).
But if the orthodox claim to follow not simply orthodox dogma but the also the Bible then we have some common ground for discussion, don't we? Surely you're not saying that the Orthodox church overrode the Bible in developing its dogma! While we may disagree on those other writings, let us at least examine this area of common ground, shall we?
Now here we have a very clever attempt to draw Orthodox theology away from its own base and put it on a Protestant base. Steve makes a false distinction between Orthodox dogma and the Bible. He makes it seem like the distinction between Bible and Orthodox dogma is one of opposition rather than one of natural growth in the Holy Spirit.
Orthodoxy does not also follow the Bible. Orthodoxy is the necessary
context within which the Bible can be understood. The Bible is in fact
born from the womb of the Church through the Holy Spirit. It is here that
we meet one aspect of what it means that the Church is the Pillar and Ground
of the Truth.
"The soul of Holy Orthodoxy is prayer, and it is also Holy Scripture since the Christian Church is a Scriptural Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church follows the beliefs of the Old Testament, the New Testament and including several books of the Apocrypha. Since the Eastern Orthodox Church therefore looks to Holy Scripture the Bible as the supreme expression of God's revelation to man, and it must not be regarded as something set up over the Church, but as something that lives and is understood within the Church (that is why one should not separate Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition). It is from the Church that Holy Scripture ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church, which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority (Fr. Demetrios Serfes "Holy Scripture in the Orthodox Church")."
The Bible was developed in the Church and by the Church through the Holy Spirit. The guiding principle in discerning what was Scripture and what was not the Church was guided by her dogmatic self-understanding (Tradition) which is nothing other than the voice of the Holy Spirit. But it is equally true to say that this dogmatic self-understanding has its roots in Scripture. Tradition and Scripture are two sides of the same coin. It is therefore impossible to understand Scripture without Tradition and to understand Tradition without Scripture. The two are dependent upon one another. Here than is the primary weakness of the whole of Protestant based theology and spirituality.
It seems that common ground is yet to be established. For what Steve
has called common ground is nothing more but a transferral of Orthodox
teaching and spirituality to the questionable soil of Protestant error.
The Bible and the Church on Latreia and Proskynese
In my first answer to Steve I wrote about latreia and proskynese and
how we can discern in Scripture the difference between these two. Steve
questions my argumentation by quoting a few passages of Scripture that
forbid the proskynese of :
- Angels (Rev. 22, 8-9)
- Saints (Acts 10, 25-26)
- Idols (Ex. 20, 4-5 LXX)
And it is true that Scripture does use the word proskynese in all these instances. But what does the word express in these verses? Can it be considered synonymous with the way the Seventh Ecumenical Council uses it? Steve seems to think so.
As I have shown and as Steve has understood, the Bible isn't clear in
making the distinction between proskynese and latreia. But the Church has
further developed her understanding of absolute and relative worship making
a clear distinction between proskynese and latreia.
The passages quoted by Steve are ones which use the word proskynese while they are referring to absolute worship. They are not therefore to be applied to what the Church means with relative worship. Doing so would be an anachronism. We must interpret these words in their proper temporary context. In the time that these passages were written the distinction between absolute and relative worship was not yet linked to these two words. That does not mean there was no such distinction however, it simply means that this difference was not yet as precisely defined as it later did become.
Steve's argumentation against the Orthodox veneration of Icons and against
the distinction now made between latreia and proskynese cannot stand. Upon
analyses they must fall down.
What does the Veneration of Icons mean?
A question not asked and therefore not answered, yet a vital question in order to understand the Orthodox veneration of Icons. An Icon is the creative result of the Incarnation. God took upon Himself human flesh and blood, clothing Himself in matter and dust. The archetypal Icon therefore is Jesus Christ; God Incarnate.
"The icon of Jesus Christ, the God-man, is an expression of the dogma of Chalcedon in image; indeed, it represents the person of the Son of God who became man, who by His Divine Nature is consubstantial to the Father and by His human nature is consubstantial with us, 'similar to us in everything except sin,' in the expression of Chalcedon (Leonid Ouspensky 'Theology of the Icon" vol. I, p. 152)."
The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, so the Orthodox Church believes, proves the Spirit-bearing quality of matter. In Protestantism matter is not at all Spirit-bearing but opposed to Spirit, which is a gnosticizing attitude. Matter does not possess the capacity to express and manifest the glorious and spiritual presence of God in Protestant thinking.
The Orthodox Church, however, considers the Icon a natural result of the clothing of God in matter. God, by His birth of the Virgin, begot a human and material image. God united Himself with matter thereby glorifying matter a process powered by the Holy Spirit and leading to what St. Paul has called 'God all in all' (1 Cor. 15, 28). The Icon is in fact a human response to the task God has called him for; to be God's co-worker in building His kingdom on earth.
"The colours and lines of the [Icons] were not meant to imitate nature; the artist aimed at demonstrating that men, animals, and plants and the whole of the cosmos, could be rescued from their present state of degradation and restored to their proper 'image'. The [Icons] were pledges of the coming victory of a redeemed creation over the fallen one (Nicholas Zernov, quoted by H.H. Kalistos Ware "The Orthodox Church", p. 42)."
"There is nothing exactly similar in the experience of western Christians
to the place which ikons occupy in the life of the Christian East. The
sacred pictures are not merely suitable for the centres of worship; they
are not even regarded as means of visual instruction. To the Orthodox,
they reveal the ultimate purpose of creation: to be the temple of
the Holy Spirit; and they manifest the reality of that process of transfiguration
of the cosmos which began on the day of Pentecost and which is gradually
extending to all sides of earthly life. At home, or on a journey, in hours
of danger or in happy moments an Orthodox wishes to see ikons, to gaze
through these windows into the world beyond time and space and be reassured
that this earthly pilgrimage is only the beginning of another and fuller
Ikons are prayers enshrined in painted wood, they are sanctified by Church blessing and in return assist worshippers in their aspiration to heavenly realm by actualizing the divine presence (Nicholas Zernov 'Eastern Christendom', p. 276-277)."
For this reason the Orthodox venerate and paint Icons. "We confess and proclaim our salvation in word and images" writes Leonid Ouspensky ('Theology of the Icon', vol. I, p. 152). Not to do so implicates a denial or at least a weakening of this fullness of faith in God and His salvation. Denying the Icon implies denial of all the Icon stands for, which is in effect a denial of the very essence of Christianity itself.
"Indeed, if the negation of the human image of God logically leads to the negation of the very meaning of our salvation, the opposite is also true,.. (Leonid Ouspensky 'Theology of the Icon,' vol. I, p. 153)."
Even though I doubt Steve is willing to accept the natural conclusion to his rejection of the Icon, it is nevertheless clear that Protestantism rejects Icons at a price, a price that shines crystal clear in such movements as "Protestant Liberalism" (currently manifesting as "The Jesus Seminar") whose doctrine is completely deprived of soil in the Orthodox Church and has not risen in her ranks but only there where it did get a fertile soil. In the gnosticizing tendencies of Protestantism and it's erratic 'Sola Scriptura' principle.
But even today Jesus knocks at the door of the Protestant heart asking
to be invited in, wherefore hope remains.
An Eastern Orthodox Christian