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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

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In a religious sense, is an artificial representation of some person or thing used as an object of adoration; in which sense it is used synonymously with idol. The use and adoration of images have been long controverted. It is plain, from the practice of the primitive church, recorded by the earlier fathers, that Christians, during the first three centuries, and the greater part of the fourth, neither worshipped images, nor used them in their worship. However, the generality of the popish divines maintain that the use and worship of images are as ancient as the Christian religion itself: to prove this, they allege a decree, said to have been made in a council held by the apostles at Antioch, commanding the faithful, that they may not err about the object of their worship, to make images of Christ, and worship them. Baron. ad. ann. 102. But no notice is taken of this decree till seven hundred years after the apostolic times, after the dispute about images had commenced. The first instance that occurs, in any credible author, of images among Christians, is that recorded by Tertullian de Pudicit. 100: 10, of certain cups or chalices, as Beliarmine pretends, on which was represented the parable of the good shepherd carrying the lost sheep on his shoulders: but this instance only proves that the church, at that time, did not think emblematical figures unlawful ornaments of chalices.

Another instance is taken from Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. lib. 7: cap. 18, ) who says, that in his time there were to be seen two brass statues in the city of Paneas, or Caesarea Philippi; the one of a woman on her knees, with her arm stretched out; the other of a man over against her, with his hand extended to receive her; these statues were said to be the images of our Saviour, and the woman whom he cured of an issue of blood. From the foot of the statue representing our Saviour, says the historian, sprung up an exotic plant, which as soon as it grew to touch the border of his garment, was said to cure all sorts of distempers. Eusebius, however, vouches none of these things; nay, he supposes that the woman who erected this statue of our Saviour was a pagan, and ascribes it to a pagan custom. Philostorgius (Eccl. Hist. lib. 7: 100: 3.) expressly says that this statue was carefully preserved by the Christians, but that they paid no kind of worship to it, because it is not lawful for Christians to worship brass, or any other matter. The primitive Christians abstained from the worship of images, not, as the Papists pretend, from tenderness to heathen, idolaters, but because they thought it unlawful in itself to make any images of the Deity. Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Origen, were of opinion, that, by the second commandment, painting and engraving were unlawful to a Christian, styling them evil and wicked arts. Tert. de Idol. cap. 3. Clem Alex. Admon. ad Gent. p. 41. Origen contra Celsum, lib. 6: p. 182. the use of images in churches, as ornaments, was first introduced by some Christians in Spain, in the beginning of the fourth century; but the practice was condemned as a dangerous innovation, in a council held at Eliberis, in 305. Epephanius, in a letter preserved by Jerome, tom. 2: Ephesians 6:1-24 , bears strong testimony against images; and he may be considered as one of the first iconoclasts.

The custom of admitting pictures of saints and martyrs into churches (for this was the first source of image worship) was rare in the end of the fourth century, but became common in the fifth. But they were still considered only as ornaments, and, even in this view, they met with very considerable opposition. In the following century, the custom of thus adorning churches became almost universal, both in the East and West. Petavius expressly says (de Incar. lib. 15: cap. 14.) that no statues were yet allowed in the churches, because they bore too near a resemblance to the idols of the Gentiles. Towards the close of the fourth, or beginning of the fifth century, images, which were introduced by way of ornament, and then used as an aid to devotion began to be actually worshipped. However, it continued to be the doctrine of the church in the sixth, and in the beginning of the seventh century, that images were to be used only as helps to devotion, and not as objects of worship. The worship of them was condemned in the strongest terms by Gregory the Great, as appears by two of his letters written in 601.

From this time to the beginning of the eighth century, there occurs no instance of any worship given, or allowed to be given to images, by any council or assembly of bishops whatever. But they were commonly worshipped by the monks and populace in the beginning of the eighth century; insomuch, that in 726, when Leo published his famous edict, it had already spread into all the provinces subject to the empire. The Lutherans condemn the Calvinists for breaking the images in the churches of the Catholics, looking on it as a kind of sacrilege; and yet they condemn the Romanists (who are professed image-worshippers) as idolaters: nor can these last keep pace with the Greeks, who go far beyond them in this point, which has occasioned abundance of disputes among them.

See ICONOCLASTES. The Jews absolutely condemn all images, and do not so much as suffer any statues or figures in their houses, much less in their synagogues, or places of worship. The Mahometans have an equal aversion to images; which led them to destroy most of the beautiful monuments of antiquity, both sacred and profane, at Constantinople Bingham's Orig. Eccl. b. 8: 100: 8. Middleton's Letters from Rome, p. 21. Burnet on the Art. p. 209, 219. Doddridge's Lect. lec. 193. Tennison on Idolatry, p. 269, 275. Ridgely's Body of Div. qu. 110.


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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Image'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/cbd/i/image.html. 1802.

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