Sometimes the best way to strengthen one’s beliefs and convictions is to see if they hold up to scrutiny by others. It is also in the practice of defending one’s beliefs in a sensible, reasoned manner that they are in turn strengthened and further resolved. Unfortunately, when it comes to dialoguing by way of social media (Facebook in particular, I am not too keen on conversations restricted to catchphrases or pictures, as is the case with other platforms), oftentimes I find myself left hanging after taking the time to start a meaningful, relevant or challenging discussion.
One of my staunchly Calvinist acquaintances posted a link to a satirical piece entitled The Case for Idolatry: Why Evangelicals Can Worship Idols. The point of the work is that since Jesus did not speak out openly against idol worship, evangelicals should be free to do just so. I suppose the teaching behind the write-up is that Jesus also didn’t speak openly against homosexual lifestyles or a range of other vices, and therefore Christians should feel free to indulge. Point taken.
My friend went on to post the following addendum to this post:
Excellent. The central reason for the reformation was a reaction against overlooked and often encouraged idolatry. As we reach out to brothers who live in error, we do well to remember this greatest error.
How was idol worship “the central reason for the reformation”? Are you claiming that Roman Catholics are idol worshippers?
That they encourage idol worship, yes. Are all individual Catholics idol worshippers, no. At the time of the reformation idols were everywhere, images in churches were bowed down to. Relics were bought and sold, and the host was worshipped as the actual body and blood of Jesus.
It’s funny you speak in past tense. The Roman Catholic Church along with many high church Protestant traditions still have images, statues, relics, etc. But idolatry has always been condemned by the Church.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566) says: “by worshiping idols and images as God, or believing that they possess any divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, or reposing confidence in them” (374).
Also, the latest Catechism states: “Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who ‘transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God’” (CCC 2114).
Bowing down to images or statues does not necessarily and should not constitute “idol worship” or worship at all (unless it is worship of God alone in His heavenly glory), but rather veneration or honour and respect of what the image represents. It is also Biblical. While God forbade the Hebrews to worship false idols, he also commanded them to create many religious images for the purpose of Temple worship.
Simony, or the buying and selling of relics, is also strictly forbidden by the Church. Pointing to abuses during the era of the Reformation by greedy churchmen does not define the teachings of the Church. I would challenge you to find a credible source where this is taught, or where idolatry is encouraged.
Veneration of relics along with the Saints has been part of Christianity from the very beginning, in the Scriptural accounts such as Acts 19:11-12, as well as second century written accounts of martyrs such as Bishop Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle, who was burned at the stake and his bones carefully preserved for veneration (more info on relicshttp://www.ewtn.com/library/answers/relics.htm).
The host is also worshiped because of the doctrine of the Real Presence, which has great support in the writings of the Fathers and strong Scriptural support with passages such as the bread of life discourse in John 6 or 1 Cor. 11:23-27 . It is one of the great mysteries of faith. Even Lutherans believe in the Real Presence, although in terms of a Sacramental Union rather than a full on transubstantiation. It follows that the Church’s views on this doctrine developed as many other doctrines developed and were later defined, including the nature of Christ’s divinity and the doctrine of the Trinity.
I don’t say all these things for sake of argument, but honest discussion. It is not helpful to one’s faith to write off other traditions without fully understanding what they purport to believe. Yes, abuses in practice occur, but they do in every faith tradition, and its not fair to caricature the beliefs of others.
Just a quick response, which I will divide into three; and I want to be careful to say that my argument was a historical argument, with the realization that not all catholic brothers are drawn away from God by idolatry of the saints. 1. I am not against high liturgy or against high church. I am not against, in fact I am for, beautiful churches, with images used for decoration. I think Protestants have lost something of this in their worship. Worship is a picture of heaven and we should make it so as much as possible. 2. I am against using an image as a talisman for the worship of God, to help in the worship of God, as if that image has something in itself, which is a defense of images given to me by certain friends of mine who are Catholic or Orthodox. I am incredibly suspicious of and most likely completely against any bowing down to such an image. I am completely against praying in front of any image. The heart may not be idolatrous, but the action is. To separate an action from intention is in itself a type of gnosticism, but in this case a Catholic one. The way many Catholics and Orthodox think of their images is in such a way and if they are intellectually honest, they will warn their people about transferring their love of Christ to the image. They will warn against bowing down or praying in front of images and the host. To not do so is to enslave their people to these images, when they should belong wholly to Christ. It is very clear to me that the Catholic Church at the time of the reformation did countenance these practices, which perhaps was cleaned up to some extent by Trent and the Counter-Reformation. 3. I believe in the real presence, but from Calvin’s understanding, that is, through the Spirit, we eat of the actual body and blood of Christ, but their is nothing in the the bread and wine themselves and therefore outside of communion itself the bread and wine are not to be treated as holy. This does not mean that Catholics and Orthodox are not brothers, any more than the people of idolatrous Israel were not brothers to the people of Judah.
“I am against using an image as a talisman for the worship of God, to help in the worship of God, as if that image has something in itself, which is a defense of images given to me by certain friends of mine who are Catholic or Orthodox. “
Why should images not be used to help in worship of God? God commanded the Israelites to construct the Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of the Lord, out of gold with golden cherubim. Also, in Num. 21:8–9 we see that images can also be used in ritual. I believe that any understanding Catholic would vehemently oppose any worship or adoration of the image itself and would caution other faithful to do the same. Worship is alone reserved for what the image represents, much like a photo of your mother reminds you of her and draws your heart to thinking of her.
You say that, “To separate an action from intention is in itself a type of Gnosticism, but in this case a Catholic one.” I believe what you are advocating for is Gnosticism, as you are condemning the use of material things to help and assist in lifting our hearts up to the heavenly realities they point us to. God created a world of beauty and symbol, so to use what we have been given to aid in our worship and veneration is to reject Gnosticism, which would advocate for a rejection of the material to help us spiritually, which is what you are suggesting.
You say that the act of bowing or praying in front of an image may be right at heart but wrong in action. But how can you say that bowing or praying in front of an image–or a person for that matter–always constitutes worship of the material thing? In many Asian cultures, bowing is a sign of respect, as would be the case if you were to have the privilege of meeting the Queen. Also, many times people will kneel by their bedside in front of their Bibles to pray, or kneel in front of friend in order to pray for them. Should these actions themselves be condemned because they are somehow worshiping the Queen, praying to the Bible or a friend? Of course not. To think that physical signs of reverence or prayer in front of objects or individuals is directly related to idolatry or prayer to objects is foolish thinking. The action cannot be inherently wrong in and of itself, and the heart defines the meaning of the action in these instances.
You say that you support the adorning of church buildings with beauty. When you see the beauty of stained glass and the truths contained within, is your heart not drawn to worship of God or the inspiration of the Apostles and Saints? What good is aesthetic beauty in a church context if they do not draw you to these things which they represent. And if they do stir your heart, would you not be drawn to kneel, bow, or pray in their presence?
” It is very clear to me that the Catholic Church at the time of the reformation did countenance these practices.” I would ask you to provide one legitimate, official teaching of the Church that promotes idolatry or worship of images if you believe this is true.
To find us some common ground, I do agree that there may be Catholics who have been badly taught or are ignorant to the correct use of images, but clearly the extent to which you take your argument, that the actions themselves are abhorrent despite intent or that the Church somehow promotes idolatry, is baseless.
Again, on the Real Presence, you are following the tradition of a medieval theologian. Please read the quotes from the Church Fathers and you will see that they very much believed that the host should be treated as holy. Christ himself was willing to lose all of his disciples for the sake of the hard teaching of the Real Presence in John 6. Also, Paul in 1 Cor 11:27 clearly states that to unworthily partake of the bread and wine is to sin against the very “body and blood of the Lord.”
just a couple of quick points again. 1. there are two practical ways to live out gnosticism. One is to be afraid of matter in general. The other is to deny importance to the position of the body. To say that two people may bow their head before an image and say that they are doing two different things is a type of gnosticism, just as much as those who say matter is un-important. 2. When Moses found the people worshiping the calf, which was to be a representation of the God of Israel, they did not try to make a distinction between reverence and worship.”3. We may bow to men, because they are made in the image of God. 4. The very viper that was used in Numbers 21 was later destroyed because men worshiped it. 5. unlike family members, deceased or far away, we do not need pictures of Jesus, because He is always with us through His Spirit. 6. The ultimate image of God is Jesus Himself, and we only may worship God through his flesh. 7. When John fell down before an angel in Rev. 22, the angel, beautiful and something that brought great worshipful feelings into the heart of John, told to get up, because he was to worship God alone. 8. Calvin’s doctrine of the real presence had to be developed, because of the improper use of the sacrament. Yes it is to be viewed as Holy, but only in context of worship, where we are taken into the throne room of God and brought to the supper of the lamb. 9. The great comfort of all this is that whether a church worships in a great cathedral or a humble cottage they do not need anything other than Christ himself to bring them before God. 10. Finally, this does not mean, as some protestants assume, that beautiful church buildings should not be built, for they are physical expressions of our thankfulness to God.
Unfortunately at this point he is not answering the questions I had brought up, namely to cite an official Catholic Church teaching that promotes idolatry or buying and selling of relics. He also still conflates worship and veneration, believing that any bowing to an image is equal to idol worship, not matter the intent (although he says bowing to a human person is OK because humans are created in the image of God, which doesn’t fit into his prior logic).