Monday, August 5, 2013

Second Council of Nicea - 787 AD

The Second Council of Nicea - 787 AD

Heretics never rest, they are always looking to justify heterodox teaching so as to justify their erroneous belief.

The seventh century did not see the end to the heretical controversies surrounding the Person of Jesus Christ, they made their way into the eighth and even ninth centuries. The Heterodox came up with another plan to deter the Orthodox followers of the Church but this time it involved depiction of Christ, the Theotokos, and the Saints in sacred images known as icons. 

The Iconoclasts emerged. These Iconoclasts can be called 'Icon-destructionists' because they not only physically destroyed icons or sacred images of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Saints, but they also proliferated a destructionist or revisionist understanding of correct doctrine regarding matter and its use in lifting man up out of the mundane. The Icon-destructionists, commonly called the Iconoclasts, had decided to forget just how their redemption occurred. They had forgotten the Incarnation, that is, that God chose to condescend, to take on human nature, in the material that composes human bodies. God became man. Matter is a creation of the Creator. The Creator used creation to bring about the redemption of man through a man. 

Iconoclasts had lost the true sense of matter as a vehicle to bring us closer to God, to remind us of God and holy things, to bring our minds out of the world toward things sublime and heavenly. 

The Orthodox faithful fought back and defended the true doctrine of the Church regarding God and creation. The defenders of icons, sacred depictions of Christ, the Theotokos and the Saints were referred to as "Iconodules." It's a strange word, but essentially such people were defenders of the veneration of icons and their rightful place in the Church.

The Council Fathers not only defended the use of icons as instruments for bringing our minds out of the mundane, but also addressed three deeper aspects of the Orthodox teaching of the Church:

1. The human nature of Christ.
2. Matter and the proper Christian perspective in the economy of God's plan of salvation.
3. The Redemption through a man and the salvation wrought by Christ God for the entire material existence of the universe.

From a historical perspective as well, it's always important to look at the context of time in which such controversies brew. Just prior to the Iconoclast outbreak there was the destruction of icons ordered by the Muslim Caliph Yezid (circa 685 AD) whose Islamic religious views considered any depiction of the sacred in art as a form of idolatry. He was the second reigning Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate and the first one by heredity. He ordered the destruction of some of his own holy cities, such as Makkah and Medinah. Yezid I was a ruthless and evil man, remembered as such by Muslims too.

Two major periods surround the Iconoclast period:

1. 726 AD - 780 AD - Attacks on Icons were initiated by Leo III (Byzantine Emperor (717-741 AD) during this period. The Empress Irene ended this period of attacks in 780 AD.

2. 815 AD - 843 AD - The Empress Theodora put an end to the Iconoclast attacks following the second onslaught against the veneration of icons.

The Iconodules prevailed and the proper veneration of icons retained their place in the churches and homes of the Orthodox faithful. St. John of Damascus was instrumental in addressing the Iconoclast controversy during these dark periods for the Church:

      Concerning the charge of idolatry: Icons are not idols but symbols, therefore when an 
      Orthodox venerates an icon, he is not guilty of idolatry. He is not worshipping the 
      symbol, but merely venerating it. Such veneration is not directed toward wood, or paint 
      or stone, but towards the person depicted. Therefore relative honor is shown to material
       objects, but worship is due to God alone. ~St. John of Damascus

and again...

     I do not worship matter, but the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material
     and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation... 
    ~St. John of Damascus

The Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Second Council of Nicea in 787 AD, upheld the correct teaching of the Iconodules. The Council proclaimed:

"Icons...are to be kept in churches and honored with the same relative veneration as is shown to other material symbols, such as the 'precious and life-giving Cross' and the Book of the Gospels."

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