Saturday, July 12, 2014

John Woolley on the Second Commandment forbidding images of our Lord Jesus Christ

From A Catechetical and Practical Exposition of the Decalogue by John Woolley (rector of Athelhampton):

Q. May not our Lord Jesus Christ be represented by an image or picture?

A. He may not; for He is God Almighty, Infinite, and Eternal, of one substance with the Father.

Q. It is true that in respect of His Divine nature He is of one substance with the Father, but He is also man: may not an image or picture of His human nature be made?

A. By no means; because the two natures are inseparable, and His personality belongs properly and originally to His Divine nature; so that His human nature or substance without the Divine essence is not a person: whereas His Divine nature or essence constituted His individuality before His incarnation. Therefore, a picture of Christ must be either a picture of God or of no person whatever. And as the idea of personality is inseparably connected with every image or picture of the human form, every picture or image of Christ's human nature must be a picture or image of God; and to deny this is to maintain the heresy of Nestorius: therefore, it is contrary to this commandment to make or use a picture or image of our Lord God Jesus Christ.

Q. Have not Christians made images of God?

A. (1) In the first ages of the Christian Church no image or picture of Christ was made by orthodox Christians; and until the second or third century no picture or image was allowed to be placed in Churches, lest that which was worshipped should be painted upon the walls. (2) At length pictures were introduced for the sake of ornament; but this use of them was at first generally condemned. (3) When they began to be used religiously, great and general opposition was made to the use of them, which by degrees became weaker and weaker, till the worship of them became general. Pictures and images of God the Son were made and adored; afterwards, pictures of God the Father and of the Holy Spirit were made. Each Divine Person thus represented had His own peculiar features and characteristics. The Father was represented as an old man, the Son as a man of mature age, and the Holy Ghost as a youth. And those features and characteristics, presumptuously ascribed to the unchangeable God varied at different times, according to the caprice of the age and the skill of the artist!