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§ 6. The Second Commandment.

The two fundamental principles of the religion of the Bible are first, that there is one only the living and true God, the maker of heaven and earth, who has revealed Himself under the name Jehovah; secondly, that this God is a Spirit, and, therefore, incapable of being conceived of or represented under a visible form. The first commandment, therefore, forbids the worship of any other being than Jehovah; and the second, the worship of any visible object whatever. This includes the prohibition, not only of inward homage, but of all external acts which are the natural or conventional expression of such inward reverence.

That the second commandment does not forbid pictorial or sculptured representations of ideal or visible objects, is plain because the whole command has reference to religious worship, and because Moses, at the command of God himself, made many such images and representations. The curtains of the tabernacle and especially the veil separating between the Holy and Most Holy places, were adorned with embroidered figures representing cherubim; cherubim overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant with their wings; the Golden Candlestick was in the form of a tree “with branches, knops, and flowers;” the hem of the high priest’s robe was adorned with alternate bells and pomegranates. When Solomon built the temple, “he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim, and palm-trees, and open flowers, within and without.” (1 Kings vi. 29.) The “molten sea” stood upon twelve oxen. Of this house thus adorned God said, “I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there forever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall 291be there perpetually.” (1 Kings ix. 3.) There can therefore be no doubt that the second commandment was intended only to forbid the making or using the likeness of anything in heaven or earth as objects of worship.269269The later Jews interpreted this commandment more strictly than either Moses or Solomon. Josephus, Ant. 8, 7, 5, pronounced making the figures of oxen to support the brazen laver to be contrary to the law. One of the most distinguished ministers of our Church objected to the American Sunday School Union, that they published books with pictures. When asked, What he thought of maps, he answered that so far as maps were designed simply to show the relative position of places on the face of the earth, they were allowed but if they had any shading on them to represent mountains, they were forbidden by the second commandment.

The Worship of Images forbidden.

It is equally clear that the second commandment does forbid the use of images in divine worship. In other words, idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images. This is clear, —

1. From the literal meaning of the words. The precise thing forbidden is, bowing down to them, or serving them, i.e., rendering them any kind of external homage. This, however, is exactly what is done by all those who employ images as the objects, or aids of religious worship.

2. This is still further plain because the Hebrews were solemnly enjoined not to make any visible representation of the unseen God, or to adopt anything external as the symbol of the invisible and make such symbol the object of worship; i.e., they were not to bow down before these images or symbols or serve them. The Hebrew word צָבַר, rendered “to serve,” includes all kinds of external homage, burning incense, making oblations, and kissing in token of subjection. The Hebrews were surrounded by idolaters. The nations, having forgotten God, or refusing to acknowledge Him, had given themselves up to false gods. It was nature’s invisible force, of which they saw constant, and often fearful manifestations around them, that was the great object of their reverence and fear. But nature, force, the invisible, could no more satisfy them, than the invisible Jehovah. They symbolized not the unknown, but the real, first in one way and then in another. Light and darkness were the two most obvious symbols of good and evil; light, therefore, the sun, moon, and stars, the host of heaven, were among the earlier objects of reverence. But anything external and visible, living or dead, might be made to the people, by association or arbitrary appointment, the representative of the great unknown power by which all things 292were controlled. Most naturally, men distinguished by force of character and by their exploits would be regarded as manifestations of the unknown. Thus nature-worship and hero-worship, the two great forms of heathenism, are seen to be radically the same. It was in view of this state of the Gentile world, all nations being given to the worship of the visible as the symbol of the invisible, that Moses delivered the solemn address to the chosen people recorded in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. “Only take heed to thyself,” said the prophet, “and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons, and thy sons sons.” What is it that he thus earnestly called on them to remember? It was that in all the wonderful display of the divine presence and majesty upon Sinai, they had seen “no similitude,” but only heard a voice, “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; (for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire,) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of anything that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them [literally, “to prostrate thyself before them”], and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. . . . . Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, the likeness of anything which the Lord thy God hath forbidden thee. For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” The thing thus repeatedly and solemnly forbidden as a violation of the covenant between God and the people, was the bowing down to, or using anything visible, whether a natural object as the sun or moon, or a work of art and man s device, as an object or mode of divine worship. And in this sense the command has been understood by the people to whom it was given, from the time of Moses until now. The worship of the true God by images, in the eyes of the Hebrews, has ever been considered as much an act of idolatry as the worship of false gods.

3. A third argument on this subject is, that the worship of 293Jehovah by the use of images is denounced and punished as an act of apostasy from God. When the Hebrews in the wilderness said to Aaron, “Make us gods which shall go before us,” neither they nor Aaron intended to renounce Jehovah as their God; but they desired a visible symbol of God, as the heathen had of their gods. This is plain, because Aaron, when he fashioned the golden calf and built an altar before it, made proclamation, and said, “To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah.” “Their sin then lay, not in their adopting another god, but in their pretending to worship a visible symbol of Him whom no symbol could represent.”270270The Holy Bible, with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary. By Bishops and other Clergy of the Anglican Church. New York. Charles Scribner & Co., 1871, vol. i. p. 405.

In like manner, when the ten tribes separated from Judah and were erected into a separate kingdom under Jeroboam, the worship of God by idols was regarded as an apostasy from the true God. It is evident from the whole narrative that Jeroboam did not intend to introduce the worship of any other god than Jehovah. It was the place and mode of worship which he sought to change. He feared that if the people continued to go up to Jerusalem and worship in the temple there established, they would soon return to their allegiance to the house of David. To prevent this, he made two golden calves, as Aaron had done, symbols of the God who had brought his people out of Egypt, and placed one in Dan and the other in Bethel, and commanded the people to resort to those places for worship. Thus also Jehu, who boasted of his “zeal for Jehovah,” and exterminated the priests and worshippers of Baal, retained the service of the golden calves, because, as Winer expresses it, “that had become the established form of the Jehovah-worship in Israel.” “Er [Jehu] behielt den Kälberdienst in Dan und Bethel, als in Israel einheimisch gewordenen Jehovahdienst.271271Biblishces Realwörterbuch. von Dr. Georg Benedict Winer, 3d edit. Leipzig, 1847, art. “Jehu.” In Leviticus xxvi. 1, it is said: “Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God.” And Moses commanded that when the people had gained possession of the promised land, six of the tribes should be gathered on Mount Gerizim to bless, and six upon Mount Ebal to curse: “And the Levites shall speak and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice, cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen.” (Deut. xxvii. 15.)

The specific thing thus frequently and solemnly forbidden is the bowing down to images, or rendering them any religious service. In this sense these commands were understood by the ancient people of God to whom they were originally given, and by the whole Christian Church until the sudden influx of nominally converted heathen into the Church after the time of Constantine, who brought with them heathenish ideas and insisted on heathen modes of worship.

The simple obvious facts with regard to the religion of the gentile world are, (1.) That the gods of the nations were imaginary beings; that is, they either had no existence except in the imaginations of their worshippers, or they did not possess the attributes which were ascribed to them. Therefore they are called in Scripture vanity, lies, nonentities. (2.) Of these imaginary beings symbols were selected or images formed, to which all the homage supposed to be due to the gods themselves was paid. This was not done on the assumption that the symbols or images were really gods. The Greeks did not think that Jupiter was a block of marble. Neither did the heathen mentioned in the Bible believe that the sun was Baal. Nevertheless some connection was supposed to exist between the image and the divinity which it was intended to represent. With some this connection was simply that between the sign and the thing signified; with others it was more mystical, or what in these days we should call sacramental. In either case it was such that the homage due to the divinity was paid to his image; and any indignity offered to the latter was resented as offered to the former.

As, therefore, the heathen gods were no gods, and as the homage due to God was paid to the idols, the sacred writers denounced the heathen as the worshippers of stocks and stones, and condemned them for the folly of making gods out of wood or metal “graven by art and man’s device.” They made little or no difference between the worshipping of images and the worshipping false gods. The two things were, in their view, identical. Hence in the Bible the worship of images is denounced as idolatry, without regard to the divinity, whether true or false, to whom the image was dedicated.

The Reasons annexed to this Commandment.

The relation between the soul and God is far more intimate than that between the soul and any creature. Our life, spiritual and eternal, depends on our relation to our Maker. Hence our 295highest duty is to Him. The greatest sin a man can commit is to refuse to render to God the admiration and obedience which are his due, or to transfer to the creature the allegiance and service which belong to him. Hence no sin is so frequently or so severely denounced in the Scriptures.

The most intimate relation which can subsist among men is that of marriage. No injury which can be rendered by one man against another is greater than the violation of that relation; and no sin which a wife can commit is more heinous and degrading than infidelity to her marriage vows.

This being the case, it is natural that the relation between God and his people should be, as it is, in the Bible so often illustrated by a reference to the marriage relation. A people who refuse to recognize, or an individual man who refuses to recognize Jehovah as his God, who transfers the allegiance and obedience due to God alone to any other object, is compared to an unfaithful wife. And as jealousy is the strongest of human passions, the relation of God to those who thus forsake Him is illustrated by a reference to the feelings of an injured and forsaken husband. It is in this way that the Scriptures teach that the severest displeasure of God, and the most dreadful manifestations of his wrath, are the certain consequences of the sin of idolatry; that is, of the sin of having any other God than Jehovah, or of giving to images, to stocks and stones, the external homage due to Him who is a spirit, and who must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.

The Lord, therefore, in this commandment, declares Himself to be “a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation; and showing mercy unto thousands (unto the thousandth generation) of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” The evil consequences of apostasy from God are not confined to the original apostates. They are continued from generation to generation. They seem indeed, and, humanly speaking, in fact are remediless. The degradation and untold miseries of the whole heathen world are the natural and inevitable consequence of their forefathers having turned the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. These natural consequences, however, are designed, ordained, and judicial. They are not mere calamities. They are judgments, and therefore are not to be counteracted or evaded. Consequently those who teach atheism, or who undermine religion, or who corrupt and degrade the worship of God by associating with it the worship of creatures; 296or who teach that we may make graven images and bow down to them and serve them, are bringing down upon themselves and upon coming generations the most direful calamities that can degrade and afflict the children of men. Such must be the issue unless they not only can counteract the operation of natural causes, but also can thwart the purpose of Jehovah.

It is a great cause for thankfulness, and adapted to fill the hearts of God’s faithful people with joy and confidence, to know that He will bless their children to the thousandth generation.

The Doctrine and Usage of the Romish Church as to Images.

Salvation, our Lord said, is of the Jews. The founders of the Christian Church were Jews. The religion of the Old Testament in which they had been educated forbade the use of images in divine worship. All the heathen were worshippers of idols. Idol-worship, therefore, was an abomination to the Jews. With the Old Testament authority against the use of images and with this strong national prejudice against their use, it is absolutely incredible that they should be admitted in the more spiritual worship of the Christian Church. It was not until three centuries after the introduction of Christianity, that the influence of the heathen element introduced into the Church was strong enough to overcome the natural opposition to their use in the service of the sanctuary. Three parties soon developed themselves in connection with this subject. The first adhered to the teachings of the Old Testament and the usage of the Apostolic Churches, and repudiated the religious use of images in any form. The second allowed the use of images and pictures for the purpose of instruction, but not for worship. The common people could not read, and therefore it was argued that visible representations of Scriptural persons and incidents were allowable for their benefit. The third contended for their use not only as a means of instruction, but also for worship.

As early as A.D. 305, the Council of Elvira in Spain condemned the use of pictures in the Church.272272The year 305 is usually assigned as the date of this Council, although the precise time of its session is a matter of dispute. In the thirty-sixth Canon the Council says,273273Binius, Concilia Generalia Provincalia, Cologne, 1618, t. i. vol. i. p. 195, b, c.Placuit picturas in ecclesia esse non debere; ne quod colitur et adoratur in parietibus depingatur.” Augustine complained of the superstitious use of images; Eusebins of Cæsarea, and Epiphanius of Salamis, protested against 297their being made objects of worship; and Gregory the Great allowed their use only as means of instruction.274274See Guericke, Kirchengeschichte, II. iii. 2, § 77, 6th edit. Leipzig, 1846, vol. i. p. 350.

In A.D. 726 the Emperor Leo III. issued an ordinance forbidding the use of images in churches as heathenish and heretical. To support his action a council was called, which met in Constantinople A.D. 754, and which gave ecclesiastical sanction to this condemnation. In A.D. 787, however, the Empress Irene, under Roman influence, called a council, which Romanists of the Italian school consider ecumenical, at Nice, by which image-worship was fully sanctioned. This Council first met in Constantinople, but there the opposition to the use of images was so strong that it was disbanded and called to meet the following year at Nice. Here the face of things had changed; enemies had been converted; opponents became advocates; even Gregory of Neo-Cæsarea, who had been a zealous supporter of the policy of Leo III. and of his son Constantine Copronymus, was brought to say, “Si omnes consentiunt, ego non dissentio.” Few could withstand the promises and threats of those in power, and the cogency of the argument for image worship drawn from the numerous miracles adduced in favour of their worship. This Council, therefore, declared the previous Council, called by Leo III., heretical, and ordained the worship of pictures in the churches; not indeed with λατρεία, or the reverence due to God, but with ἀσπασμὸς καὶ τιμητικὴ προσκύνησις (with salutations and reverent prostrations). The Council announced the principle on which image-worship, whether among the heathen or Christians, has generally been defended, i.e., that the worship paid the image terminates on the object which it represents. Ἡ τῆς εἰκόνος τιμὴ ἐπὶ τὸ προτότυπον διαβαίνει καὶ ὁ προσκυνῶν τὴν εἰκόνα προσκυνεῖ ἐν αὐτῇ τοῦ ἐγγραφομένου τὴν ὑπόστασιν.

The decisions of this Council, although sanctioned by the Pope, gave offence to the Western Churches. The Emperor Charlemagne not only caused a book to be written (entitled “Libri Carolini”) to refute the doctrines inculcated, but also summoned a council to meet at Frankfort on the Main A.D. 794, at which delegates from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and even two legates from the Bishop of Rome, were present; where the decrees of the so-called General Council of Nice were “rejected,” “despised,” and “condemned.” All worshipping of pictures and images was forbidden, but their presence in the churches for instruction and ornament was allowed.

The friends of image-worship, however, rapidly gained the ascendancy, 298so that Thomas Aquinas, one of the best as well as the greatest of the Romish theologians in the thirteenth century, held the extreme doctrine on this subject. He taught that images were to be used in the churches for three purposes, first, for the instruction of the masses who could not read; secondly, that the mystery of the incarnation and the examples of the saints may be the better remembered; and thirdly, that pious feelings may be excited, as men are more easily moved by what they see than by what they hear. He taught that to the image in itself and for itself no reverence is due, but that if it represents Christ, the reverence due to Christ is due to the image. “Sic ergo dicendum est, quod imagini Christi in quantum est res quædam (puta lignum vel pictum) nulla reverentia exhibetur; quia reverentia nonnisi rationali naturæ debetur. Relinquitur ergo quod exhibeatur ei reverentia solum, in quantum est imago: et sic sequitur, quod eadem reverentia exhibeatur imagini Christi et ipsi Christo. Cum ergo Christus adoretur adoratione latriæ, consequens est, quod ejus imago sit adoratione latriæ adoranda.275275Summa, III. quæst. XXV. art. 3, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 53 of fourth set.

Tridentine Doctrine.

The Council of Trent acted with reference to the worship of images with its usual caution. It decreed that to the images of Christ and the saints “due reverence” should be paid, without defining what that reverence is. The council decided: “Imagines porro Christi, Deiparæ Virginis, et aliorum sanctorum, in templis præsertim habendas, et retinendas; eisque debitum honorem, et venerationem impertiendam; non quod credatur inesse aliqua in eis divinitas, vel virtus, propter quam sint colendæ; vel quod ab eis sit aliquid petendum; vel quod fiducia in imaginibus sit figenda; veluti olim fiebat a gentibus, quæ in idolis spem suam collocabant; sed quoniam honos, qui eis exhibetur refertur ad prototypa, quæ illæ representant: ita ut per imagines, quas osculamur, et coram quibus caput aperimus, et procumbimus, Christum adoremus; et sanctos, quorum illæ similitudinem gerunt, veneremur.

In the same session it was decreed concerning relics: “Sanctorum quoque martyrum, et aliorum cum Christo viventium sancta corpora, quæ viva membra fuerunt Christi, et templum Spiritus Sancti, ab ipso ad æternam vitam suscitanda, et glorificanda, a fideibus veneranda esse; per quæ multa beneficia a Deo hominibus præstantar: ita ut affirmantes, sanctorum reliquiis venerationem, atque honorem non deberi; vel eas, aliaque sacra monumenta a 299fidelibus inutiliter honorari; atque eorum opis impetrandæ causa sanctorum memorias frustra frequentari; omnino damnandos esse; prout jampridem eos damnavit, et nunc etiam damnat ecclesia.276276Sess. XXV.; Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, vol. i. pp. 93, 94.

On relic-worship the Roman Catechism, says, “Cui fidem non faciant et honoris, qui sanctis debetur, et patrocinii, quod nostri suscipiunt, mirabiles effectæ res ad eorum sepulcra, et oculis, et manibus membrisque omnibus captis, in pristinum statum restitutis, mortuis ad vitam revocatis, ex corporibus hominum ejectis demoniis? quæ non audisse, ut multi, non legisse, ut plurimi gravissimi viri, sed vidisse, testes locupletissimi sancti Ambrosius et Augustinus litteris prodiderunt. Quid multa? si vestes, sudaria, si umbra sanctorum, priusquam e vita migrarent, depulit morbos, viresque restituit, quis tandem negare audeat, Deum per sacros cineres, ossa, ceterasque sanctorum reliquias eadem mirabiliter efficere? Declaravit id cadaver illud, quod forte illatum in sepulcrum Elisei, ejus tacto corpore, subito revixit.277277III. ii. 8 (15, xxx., xxxi.); Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 482.


The whole of the Liber Secundus of Bellarmin’s Disputation “De Ecclesia Triumphante” in the second volume of his works, is devoted to the discussion of the question of the worship of the relics and images of the saints. As to the worship of images he says there are three opinions among Romanists themselves: “Prima, quod imago non sit ullo modo in se colenda, sed solum coram imagine colendum exemplar.” “Secunda opinio est, quod idem honor debeatur imagini ut exemplari, et proinde Christi imago sit adoranda cultu latriæ, Beatæ Mariæ cultu hyperduliæ, sanctorum aliorum, cultu duliæ.” “Tertia opinio versatur in medio, estque eorum, qui dicunt, ipsas imagines in se, et proprie honorari debere, sed honore minori, quam ipsum exemplar, et proinde nullam imaginem adorandam esse cultu latriæ.278278De Ecclesia Triumphante, lib. II. De Imaginibus Sanctorum, cap. xx.; Disputationes, Paris, 1608, vol. ii. pp. 801, 802. His own opinion is given in the following propositions: “Prima sententia, sive propositio. Imagines Christi, et sanctorum venerandæ sunt, non solum per accidens, vel improprie, sed etiam per se proprie, ita ut ipsæ terminent venerationem ut in se considerantur, et non solum ut vicem gerunt exemplaris.” “Secunda propositio. Quantum ad modum loquendi præsertim in concione ad populum, non est dicendum imagines ullas adorari debere latria, sed e contrario non debere sic adorari.” “Tertia propositio. Si de re 300ipsa agatur, admitti potest, imagines posse coli improprie, vel per accidens, eodem genere cultus, quo exemplar ipsum colitur.” “Quarta propositio. Imago per se, et proprie non est adoranda eodem cultu, quo ipsum exemplar, et proinde nulla imago est adoranda cultu latriæ per se, et proprie.” “Quinta conclusio, Cultus, qui per se, proprie debetur imaginibus, est cultus quidam imperfectus, qui analogice et reductive pertinet ad speciem ejus cultus, qui debetur exemplari.279279Ut supra, cap. xxi.-xxv. pp. 802-809.


Bellarmin in his defence of the “cultus reliquiarum” begins with an attempted refutation of Calvin’s five arguments against such worship. He then presents his own in favour of it.280280Ut supra, cap. iii. pp. 746-753. They are such as these: First, from Scriptural examples: (a.) Moses carried the bones “sancti Josephi” with him when he left Egypt; (b.) God honoured the remains of Moses by burying them with his own hands; (c.) A dead man was restored to life by contact with the bones of Elisha (2 Kings xiii. 21); (d.) Isaiah predicted that the sepulchre of the Messiah should be glorious. The Vulgate renders Isaiah xi. 10, “Et erit sepulcrum ejus gloriosum;” which Bellarmin understands as foretelling “ut sepulcrum Domini, ab omnibus honoraretur.” And adds, “Ex quo refellitur Lutheri blasphemia, qui in libro de abolenda Missa dicit, Deo non majorem curam esse de sepulcro Domini, quam de bobus.” (e.) The woman mentioned in the Gospel was healed by touching Christ’s garment; the sick, according to Acts v. 15, were placed in the streets “that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them”; again, in Acts xix. 11, 12, it is said: “God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” If, says Bellarmin, Christ were now on earth, and we should kiss his garment, the Protestants would call us idolaters.

His second argument is from the decisions of councils; the third from the testimony of the fathers; the fourth and fifth from the miracles wrought by and in the relics of the saints, of which he cites numerous examples; the sixth from the miraculous discovery of the remains of the saints, “Si enim Deo cultus reliquiarum non placeret, cur ipse servis suis corpora sanctorum, quæ latebant, ostenderet?” the seventh, from the translation of relics from one place to another. He also argues from the 301custom of depositing the remains of the saints under altars, and burning incense and lamps before their tombs.281281   In the Decreta et Articuli fidei jurandi per Episcopos et alios Prælatos in susceptione muneris consecrationis, publicati Romæ in Consistorio ap. S. Marcum, d. IV. Septbr. a. MDLX., are the following articles: “Virgo Dei genitrix, Angeli, et Sancti religiose coli debent, et invocari, ut eorum meritis, et precibus juvemur.
   “Crux Christi, et imagines, ac quæcunque attigerunt, adorana sunt, juxta Ecclesiæ catholicæ doctrinam, et fidem.

   “Deiparæ Virginis Mariæ, angelorum, et sanctorum sunt imagines adorandæ (id est in honore habendæ, as it reads in the margin) tum corpora, et reliquiæ quævis.” See Steitwolf, Libri Symbolici Ecclesiæ Catholicæ, Göttingen, 1846, vol. ii. p. 328.

   Notwithstanding such authoritative declarations, Bellarmin enumerates it as among the “mendacia” of the Centuriators and of Calvin that they say that the Catholics “Non solum sanctos Christi loco adorant, sed etiam eorum ossa, vestes, calceos, et simulacra;” and asks: “At quis unquam Catholicorum reliquias invocavit? Quis unquam auditus est un precibus, aut litaniis dixisse: ‘Sanctæ reliquiæ, orate pro me?’ Et quis easdem unquam divino honore affecit, vel Christi loco adoravit: nos enim reliquias quidem honoramus, et osculamur ut sacra pignora patronorum nostrorum: sed nec adoramus ut Deum nec invocamus ut sanctos, sed minore cultu veneramur, quam sanctorum spiritus, nedum quam Deum ipsum. De Ecclesia Triumphante, lib. ii., De Reliquiis Sanctorum, cap. ii.; Disputationes, edit. Paris, 1608, vol. ii. pp. 745, e, 746, a.


1. From all this it appears that the Romanists worship images in the same way that the heathen of old did, and pagans of our own day still do. They “bow down to them and serve them.” They pay them all the external homage which they render to the persons they are intended to represent.

2. The explanations and defence of such worship are the same in both cases. The heathen recognized the fact that the images made of gold, silver, wood, or marble were lifeless and insensible in themselves; they admitted that they could not see, or hear, or save. They attributed no inherent virtue or supernatural power to them. They claimed that the homage paid to them terminated on the gods which they represented; that they only worshipped before the images, or at most through them. So far as the Greeks and Romans are concerned, they were less reverential to the mere image, and claimed far less of the supernatural in connection with their use.

3. Both among the heathen and the Romanists, for the uneducated people the images themselves were the objects of worship. It would be hard to find in any heathen author such justification of image-worship as the Romish theologians put forth. What heathen ever said that the same homage was due to the image of Jupiter as to Jupiter himself? This Thomas Aquinas says of the images of Christ and of the saints. Or what heathen ever has said, as Bellarmin says, that although the homage to be paid 302to the image is not strictly and properly the same as that due to its prototype, it is nevertheless improperly and analogically the same; the same in kind although not in degree? What can the common people know of the difference between proprie and improprie? They are told to worship the image, and they worship it just as the heathen worshipped the images of their gods. As the Bible pronounces and denounces as idolatry not only the worship of false gods, but also the worship of images, ‘the bowing down to them and serving them,’ it is clear that the Roman Church is as wholly given to idolatry as was Athens when visited by Paul.

4. The moral and religious effects of image worship are altogether evil. It is enough to prove that it is evil in its consequences that God has forbidden it, and threatened to visit the worshippers of idols with his severe judgments. It degrades the worship of God. It turns off the minds of the people from the proper object of reverence and confidence, and leads the uneducated masses to put their trust in gods who cannot save.

5. As to the worship of relics, it is enough to say, (a.) That it has no support from Scripture. The outline of Bellarmin’s arguments given above, is sufficient to show that the Bible furnishes no apology for this superstitious custom. (b.) What pass for relics, in the great majority of cases, are spurious. There is no end to the deceptions practised on the people in this regard. There are, it is said, enough fragments of the cross exhibited in different sanctuaries, to build a large ship; and there are innumerable nails which are reverenced as the instruments of our Lord’s torture. Bones not only of ordinary men, but even of brutes, are set before the people as relics of the saints.282282   Luther in the Smalcard Articles says: “Reliquæ sanctorum refertæ multis mendaciis, ineptis et fatuitatibus. Canum et equorum ossa ibi sæpe reperta sunt.” In German it reads thus: “Das Heiligthum (reliquiæ sanctorum), darinne so manche öffentliche Lügen und Narrenwerk erfunden, von Hunds- und Rossknochen, das auch um solcher Büberei willen, das der Teufel gelacht hat, längst sollte verdammt worden seyn, wenn gleich etwas Gutes daran wäre, dazu auch ohne Gottes Wort, weder geboten noch gerathen, gänz unnöthig und unnütz Ding ist.” Pars. II. art. ii. 22.
   In the church at Wittenburg there hangs an original portrait of Luther under which it is written, “All his words were thunderbolts.”
In one of the cathedrals of Spain there is a magnificent ostrich feather preserved in a gorgeous casket, which the priests affirm fell from the wing of the angel Gabriel. Romanists themselves are obliged to resort to the doctrine of “economics or pious fraud, to justify these palpable impositions on the credulity of the people. Of such impositions the most flagrant example is the blood of St. Januarius, which is annually liquefied in Naples. (c.) Ascribing miraculous 303powers to these pretended relics as Romanists do, is to the last degree superstitious and degrading. It is true that a little more than a century ago belief in necromancy and witchcraft was almost universal even among Protestants. But there is the greatest possible difference between superstitious beliefs prevailing for a time among the people, and those beliefs being adopted by the Church and enacted into articles of faith to bind the conscience of the people in all time. The Church of Rome is chained down by the decisions of her popes and councils pronouncing the grossest superstitions to be matters of divine revelation sanctioned and approved by God. She has rendered it impossible for men entitled to be called rational to believe what she teaches. The great lesson taught by the history of image-worship and the reverencing of relics, is the importance of adhering to the word of God as the only rule of our faith and practice; receiving nothing as true in religion but what the Bible teaches, and admitting nothing into divine worship which the Scriptures do not either sanction or enjoin.

Protestant Doctrine on the Subject.

As the worship of images is expressly forbidden in the Scriptures, Protestants, as well Lutheran as Reformed, condemned their being made the objects of any religious homage. As, however, their use for the purposes of instruction or ornament is not thus expressly forbidden, Luther contended that such use was allowable and even desirable. He, therefore, favoured their being retained in the Churches. The Reformed, however, on account of the great abuse which had attended their introduction, insisted that they should be excluded from all places of worship.

The Lutheran standards do not dilate on this subject. In the Apology for the Augsburg Confession it is said: “Primum quia cum alii mediatores præter Christum quæruntur, collocatur fiducia in alios, obruitur tota notitia Christi, idque res ostendit. Videtur initio mentio sanctorum, qualis est in veteribus orationibus, tolerabili consilio recepta esse. Postea secuta est invocatio, invocationem prodigiosi et plus quam ethnici abusus secuti sunt. Ab invocatione ad imagines ventum est, hæ quoque colebantur, et putabatur eis inesse quædam vis, sicut Magi vim inesse fingunt imaginibus signorum cœlestium certo tempore sculptis.283283IX. 34; Hase, Libri Symbolici, 3d edit. Leipzig, 1846, p. 229.

Luther was tolerant of the use of images in the churches. On this subject he says: “If the worship of images be avoided, we 304may use them as we do the words of Scripture, which bring things before the mind and cause us to remember them.”284284On Micah i. 7; Works, edit. Walch, vol. vi. p. 2747. “Who is so stone blind,” he asks, “as not to see that if sacred events may be described in words without sin and to the profit of the hearers, they may with the same propriety, for the benefit of the uneducated, be portrayed or sculptured, not only at home and in our houses, but in the churches.”285285Ibid. p. 2740. In another place he says that when one reads of the passion of Christ, whether he will or not an image of a man suspended on a cross is formed in his mind just as certainly as his face is reflected when he looks into the water. There is no sin in having such an image in the mind why then should it be sinful to have it before the eyes?286286Wider die himmlischen Propheten, von den Bildern und Sacrament, 63, Ibid. vol. xx. p. 213.

The Reformed went further than this. They condemned not only the worship of images, but also their introduction into places of worship, because they were unnecessary, and because they were so liable to abuse. The Second Helvetic Confession says, “Rejicimus non modo gentium idola, sed et Christianorum simulachra. Tametsi enim Christus humanam assumpserit naturam, non ideo tamen assumpsit, ut typum præferret statuariis atque pictoribus. . . . . Et quando beati spiritus et divi cœlites, dum hic viverent, omnem cultum sui averterunt, et statuas oppugnarunt, cui verisimile videatur divis cœlestibus et angelis suas placere imagines, ad quas genua flectunt homines, detegunt capita, allisque prosequuntur honoribus?” In another paragraph of the same chapter it is said: “Idcirco approbamus Lactantii veteris, scriptoris sententiam, dicentis, Non est dubium, quin religio nulla est, ubicunque simulachrum est.287287Confessio Helvetica Posterior, cap. iv.; Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, Leipzig, 1840, p. 472.

The Heidelberg Catechism, says,288288Quest. 97, 98. Niemeyer, 453, 454. “Is it forbidden to make any images or statues? God cannot and ought not in any way to be depicted, and although it is lawful to make representations of creatures, yet God forbids that they should be worshipped, or He through them. But may not images be tolerated in the churches for the instruction of the uneducated? By no means; for it does not become us to be wiser than God, who has willed that his Church be instructed, not by dumb images, but by the preaching of his word.”

No one who has ever seen any of the masterpieces of Christian art, whether of the pencil or of the chisel, and felt how hard it 305is to resist the impulse to “bow down to them and serve them,” can doubt the wisdom of their exclusion from places of public worship.

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