Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Lutherans are not iconoclasts. . . even though we sometimes appear to be

Lutherans are not iconoclasts. That should not be a shock to anyone but it might be to the folks who are accustomed to churches devoid of art -- even a crucifix. Lutherans have a history with art and beauty in service to the Gospel that does not merely relate to ancient history and to churches in Europe. That said, it cannot be substantiated today by the view of many toward art within the House of the Lord.

No less than the premier theologian of the LCMS, Francis Pieper, insisted that the Gospel is such a means of grace in every form in which it reams men, whether it be preached or printed or expressed as formal absolution or pictured in symbols or types or pondered in the heart... (Vol. 3 of Christian Dogmatics, p. 106). Pieper breaks no new ground here but speaks with Luther. by a crucifix or some picture... Luther often recalls that in the Papacy many, when in the throes of death, were reminded of Christ's substitutionary satisfaction by means of a crucifix held before their eyes and thus died a blessed death. This was not an isolated statement of Luther but represented more than four references.

This is not art for beauty's sake but the art in service to the Gospel that communicates what it signs -- the sacrificial suffering and death of Christ that pays for all our sin and the comfort of this Gospel to those who most need to hear its consoling and gracious goodness -- even when it is spoken to the eye in the form of art or image.

At the second council of Nicea in 787, the use of images was the subject of much discussion. One side were the iconoclasts, that is, those who were against the use of images altogether. They rejected the use of images in the churches or homes of the baptized. They rejected pictures of Jesus or the saints. The opposing side, well represented by St. John of Damascus, insisted that icons of Jesus, Mary, the Angels, and the Saints, not only could but ought to be displayed in churches and homes. The icon could receive veneration (in distinction from worship which was for God alone); the veneration of the icon or crucifix was not toward the picture or image to what it represented. While the Reformed are the modern day counterparts of the “iconoclast” position (most radically represented in the Amish, for example), Lutherans adopted the Damascene position (within limits) and Lutheran churches were repositories of great works of art that spoke the faith in form without words. Think here of the great altar pieces of Germany and of Reformation artists such as Martin Schongauer (c.1440-91), Matthias Grunewald (1470-1528), Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538), Hans Baldung Grien (1484-1545), among others.

But just as Lutherans produced the finest musicians and music in service to the Word (think Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Walther, Bach, etc.) and found Lutherans no longer had the musical instrumentals or the musicians to play this music or the choirs to sing it, so modern day Lutherans have found the average church building in stark contrast to the richly adorned and beautiful artistic expressions of the past. We are only now recovering our appreciation for the visual and musical arts and it is not uncommon to find longtime Lutheran folk bristling at the idea of a crucifix or statuary or an orchestra or elaborate musical settings (such as Bach's cantatas) for a typical parish and a typical Sunday. Lutheranism is not iconoclastic but sometimes Lutherans, ignorant of their own faith and history, sound like iconoclasts.


Kirk Skeptic said...

Nicaea II canonized the grossest of heathen superstitions and left no proactical distinction between veneration and worship. Western religious art feminized Christ and sanitized the gore of his physical torments. Good riddance to both.

Lutheran church music is beautiful but, if it needs a trained choir to perform it, its presence in worship is questionable. Choirs and instruments were instituted to support congregational singing but have become centerpieces of entertainment and emotional manipulation. Reform them or remove them.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I have never liked iconic imagery of the Lord displayed in art or in church, and as a Catholic for the first 40 years of my life, icons were on everything, paintings, Christian greeting cards, and murals, on stained glass windows, and in sculpture and statues. Lutheran churches are also iconoclastic as well. In some homes people display pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus is always painted as a handsome bearded young man in a clean robe. In reality, Jesus was likely deeply tanned and wore robes which were worn and often soiled by the sand and dirt blown by dry winds along the Desert roads and paths He followed. Yet...despite the rather explicit commands of God to avoid creating graven images, the church kept this practice alive. I know...some say the OT prohibitions are just saying we shouldn't "worship" such images of God which came from an artist's imagination alone. In my humble viewpoint....Luther should have abandoned iconic representations and discouraged their display, but it did not happen. As for Lutheran church music, it is true that fewer churches have trained choirs to help the congregations with the melodies and hymnody today, but we should retain as many as possible. I personally would like to see the acceptance of more Gospel music and some better contemporary music incorporated across the board into worship.

William Tighe said...

I think that both pf the preceding comments on this thread prove Pastor Peter's point about Reformed or even "Schwaermer" attitudes among some of those who subscribe to the Lutheran confessions.

William Tighe said...

I should have added, "just as when we see the matter of semper virgo and the Lord's 'brothers and sisters' come up in similar contexts," although there it is purely Schwaermer, since Zwingli and Calvin, for all their other faults, were firm on this point.

Pr. H. R. said...

Chemnitz does in fact reject Nicea II and its conclusions in the Examen; indeed, he condemns it as "that image worshiping council."

That said, I agree with Larry's general point about the utility of Christian art.

That section of the Examen is very much worth reading. As are the acts and decrees of the first seven councils. When one performs the latter exercise the distinction between Nicea II and the rest becomes quite clear.


Kirk Skeptic said...

@Mr Tighe: if rejecting sissified pictures of Christ and worship as entertainment makes me Reformed or Schwaermer, then I accept the label, although what papish kitsch and entertainment have to do with confessional subscription is beyond me. I'm sure you have some sources from FC to back up your position; do educate me.

Pastor Peters said...

So you have surveyed the Lutheran artists I mentioned and found their images of Jesus to be feminized? Yes, of course, there are such but it does not follow that all Christian art has a feminized image of our Lord or that this is the great tradition. FWIW the blond haired blue eyed smiley soft Jesus is more recent than ancient. Look at the images of His suffering on crucifixes and you do not find any whimpy Jesus there.

Feminized Jesus is a straw man to discount the role and place of Christian art that has been both catholic in history and evangelical (at least in Lutheran circles). You can argue what you want but as much as Lutherans protested the excess of Nicea II they did not white wash their churches, smash statutes, break stained glass, or discard crucifixes.

Come on, people, an extreme is not the ordinary. Look around you and you will find ample opportunity to judge good churchly art that supports the faith. Try Rev. Larry White's parish in Texas. Our Savior is a profound example of good art and good faithful practice among Lutherans. I have a post about his parish on my blog. Search it there.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Pastor Peters, I disagree with you, and whether church art is good or not begs the issue. If it is a painting of God on a ceiling of a Cathedral, or a mural of Jesus above the podium in my local Lutheran church, it still remains a willful, emotional, and inaccurate representation and depiction of the Father and the Son. I know we all revere the "Last Supper" and other iconoclastic treasures, but we really are looking at God with an idea of what we desire in His appearance. I cannot say all art is to be banished, but I for one do not think it is reverential to bring Him down to a carnal representation. True, we are made in His "image and likeness" but not in the same manner as artistic license reflects.

Chris Jones said...

@Kirk Skeptic

Nicaea II canonized the grossest of heathen superstitions and left no practical distinction between veneration and worship.

This is simply untrue as a matter of history, and strongly suggests that you have not read the decree of Nicaea II. You claim that Nicaea II made no distinction between veneration and worship, but the bishops at the council were very careful to make precisely that distinction. Particularly when read in the context of the writings of the iconodule Fathers (esp St John of Damascus and St Theodore the Studite), it is clear that the distinction between veneration and worship (προσκύνησης και λατρεία) is central to the teaching of Nicaea II.

what papish kitsch and entertainment have to do with confessional subscription is beyond me

I'll pass over the vulgar rhetoric (except to note that Dr Tighe is a Catholic -- albeit a Byzantine Catholic rather than a Roman Catholic -- and leave you to consider what courtesy may be due even to someone whom you regard as heterodox) and simply say that what it has to do with confessional subscription is that the Confessions commit us to receive the tradition of the Catholic Church (as our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new), and nowhere do the confessions condemn the teaching of Nicaea II, whatever Chemnitz's personal views may have been.

Pastor Peters said...

Does the prohibition on graven images mean none or does it mean none except that God Himself has sanctioned (like the ones in the Temple)? Or the one that He Himself showed us when He made His Son flesh and blood, like us in every way except sin? Does a crucifix or words that are pictures really assail all that God has commanded OR do they honor the commandments? The Church through the ages, until Radical Reformers, has said images do not violate the command. I prefer to stand with the Church through the ages than to agree with iconoclasts of modern vintage.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@Pr P: My comments were restrited to a large portion of western portrayals of Christ; eastern iconography is not meant to be physically accurate but rather is heavily spiritualized; I don't recall any encomium for a Scots-style "sanctification of the cathedrals."

BTW the comparison of Christian art to the accoutrements of tabernacle and temple is poor, as such images didn't portray Godhead and were not re recipients of adoration like those of Rome and parts east. Do recall that once Nehushtan, albeit divinely authorized, became a cult object it was properly destroyed. Remember also that the iconoclast party had no problem with statist iconography (esp the laurata; let your colleagues with American flags in their sanctuaries take note.

@CJ: the conciliar veneration vs worship distinction is bunk from a Scriptural perspective, considering how appropriate Rome et Cie finds its bowing, scraping, praying toward, parading, attributing bogus miracles to, etc ad nauseam. St John the Revelator was rebuked by the angel for behavior far less unseemly than that displayed in Romish piety. The council's position is reduced to fallacy of intention.

As for the FC and reception of the practices of the western church, I fail to see the relevance of your comment vis-à-vis my position; I didn't call for elimination, but for reformation which is in keeping with avoiding abuses. Nowhere do our standard allow for abuse of artistic license: a church is not a concert hall, and worship is not a spectator's sport, and use of art is not proscribed. ISTM those of us who abhor contemporary worship should not engage in antiquarian versions of the same, reducing the controversy to mere aesthetics.

As for courtesy to your friend, no discourtesy was shown; if he's old enough to post, he's old enough to support his case. Call me a Calvinist and a Schwarmer, andI'm within my right to demand an explanation - it's that simple.

Chris Jones said...

@Kirk Skeptic

the conciliar veneration vs worship distinction is bunk from a Scriptural perspective

This means no more than that your personal understanding of Scripture differs from that of the council fathers. In any case, it's one thing to say that you don't buy the distinction that the council made; it's quite another to say the council made no such distinction.

The point about the reception of the tradition of the Catholic Church (not just the western Church) is that Nicaea II is part of our patrimony which our Confessions do not reject. The Confessions do not give us license to reject our Catholic heritage based on our personal understanding of Scripture.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@CJ: we also have no leave to not distinguish between priceless antiques and old junk. We also believe in sola scriptura rather than sola ecclesia, and believe/teach/confess that popes and councils can and do err. Our synods did not feel free to impose their personal views on what was & was not proper practice; ie we are normative principle (what isn't forbidden is permitted) vs the Reformed regulative principle (what isn't commanded is forbidden)and hence enjoy a degree of latitude in practice.

Returning to Nicaea II, making an indistinct distinction is an exercise in futility, particularly given permissible church practice (ie the context and ramifications of the ruling). In practice there is no distinction between worship and veneration irrespective of the intention of the participant. Since I think we both agree that words and gestures mean things, to fail to adequately address practice is to give assent to abuses. The early church certainly got the distinction and demonstrated its grasp of the same by refusing to cast incense before statues of Caesar.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Brothers, this certainly became a very theological treatise in our own little place in the internet kingdom. I suppose few minds have been changed, as the arguments for and against iconography have gone forward. Lacking the historical perspective of some of your positions, I suppose I can contribute very little. But let me say aside from a plain cross, I see no value in depicting the Lord Jesus in hundreds or thousands of various figures. I say this whether the church fathers agreed or not, and the traditions and ceremonial motivations which made them attach a veneration to such figures does not, in my view, make it God glorifying. For me...that is sufficient reason to oppose iconographic Art and place them inside Lutheran churches. As for Catholics and their tradition of placing statues of Mary in every church, in every grotto, in every solemn garden...well...if you see no paganistic or pre-Christian era reference, than you will accept it as art regardless of what criticism is offered.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@JF: I'm with you, especially given that the early church was aniconic; the catholicizing party in the LCMS cherry-picks while accusing those of us pleased to be counted as Protestants as Reformed and Schwaermer. I'm a faithful Lutheran but would prefer to dine with Calvin rather than with Sadoleto.

Pastor Peters said...

So Pieper is part of the catholicizing part of the LCMS???? OMG!!!!!

Kirk Skeptic said...

@Pr P: my understanding of Pieper and orthodox/orthopraxic Lutheranism is that we are the continuing western church from which Rome has departed; this is far different from vibes I get from certain bloggers and commenters who abominate Protestants while being all comfy-cozy with those who burned Lutherans - something the Reformed and Anglicans never did.

You must admit that, as seen among those who claim to be the continuing western church, that there is a lot of interpretation of what is & isn't proper Catholicism; you will also agree that the exercise of private judgment is inescapable, whether challenging certain practices and teaching prior to the Schism of Trent to choosing to mindlessly accept anything and everything Roman. Either way, one is exercising private judgment. You say that crucifixes bring comfort to the suffering while they make John Flanagan (raised in Rome) uncomfortable; how do you judge? So tell me, then, what exactly Pieper expected of churches and members vis-a-vis conscience-binding.

Chris Jones said...

@Kirk Skeptic,

we are the continuing western church from which Rome has departed

That is our only excuse for existing. If we are not the actual, concrete Apostolic Church rightly reformed, if we are only a group of Bible readers who happen to think alike about what the Scriptures mean, then we have no claim to teach authoritatively and no reason to have confidence in the objective efficacy of the means of grace among us. It's not enough to have confidence that we, and we alone, have "got the Bible right." We have to teach and practice what the historic Church has always taught and practiced. If our faith and practice is not the same as that of Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory of Rome, Cyprian, and Irenaeus, by what authority do we presume to teach differently than they did? Because Martin Luther just happened to get the Bible right? I'm sorry, but I need more than that.

That is by no means the same thing as being "comfy-cozy with Rome." It means being faithful to the tradition of the historic Church, and understanding our Confessions as part of that tradition (which the Confessions themselves explicitly claim). If this salutary attitude leads us to have some things in common with Rome, that is OK -- it is hardly surprising. If it leads us to have some things in common with the Orthodox (rather more than we do with Rome), that is OK. Because what we are about is confessing and practicing the Catholic faith as the historic Church has always held, without those (relatively few) items where Rome has departed from it.

those who burned Lutherans - something the Reformed and Anglicans never did

The Lutheran Robert Barnes was burned by the Anglicans (under Henry VIII), not the Catholics.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@CJ: the term "historic church" is a nose of wax, as the concept of unanimous consent of the fathers is a myth. Our symbols are undergrided by the solas, and hence we have both the right and the duty to remove the many corruptions instuted by Rome and parts east from our doctrine and practice; eg clerical celibacy, faux sacraments, invocation & intercession of saints, to name but a few. The early church was aniconic; what changed, and why? Huge cathedrals and luxurious art built upon the foundations of Purgatory and plunder were not found in the earliest times of the church; neither was a complex ceremonial a la Cyril of Jerusalem). Your phrase "rightly reformed" says it all. ISTM "historic church" all too often means "that which floats my boat."

As for Henry VIII, he was no Protestant; the reformation of the C of E took place under his successors. He was what one might call an English or National Catholic.

William Tighe said...

Six religious dissidents were executed together on the same day, July 30, 1540, in London. Three of them were burned at the stake: Robert Barnes, Thomas Gerrard, and William Jerome; three were hanged, drawn and quartered: Thomas Abel (my particular favorite and hero), Richard Featherstone, and Edward Powell. I consider this a fine example of the "Anglican via media." Both Lutherans and Catholics on the continent were shocked; Luther penned some choice words about Henry VIII.

A pedantic note on the concept Anglican/Anglicanism. The word "Anglicanism" is a 19th-Century coining, attributed by the Oxford English Dictionary to an anonymous article in the May 1836 issue of "The Dublin Review" and, secondly, to J. H. Newman in "The British Critic" in 1838. But there is one earlier precursor, which appeared in 1616 in a Catholic polemic against Protestantism entitled "Tessaradelphus, Or The Foure Brothers" written by the pseudonymous Thomas Harrab. The four brothers are, according to Harrab, Lutheranisme, Calvinisme, Anabaptisme, and Anglicanisme. In his introductory "To the Reader," Harrab writes "I call the religion of England Anglicanisme, because it among the rest hath no one especiall Authour, but is sette forth by the Prince, and Parliament." In his Ch. VII, "Of Anglicanisme," he claims that some of the Catholic features which Queen Elizabeth retained are in his time growing more and more out of use, and concludes "The Prince with the Parliament may determine of Religion, and what by them is set forth must be observed," a statement which was recently confirmed by the (English) High Court in its decision in the case Williamson v Regina (1994, 1996), on which see:

(The original case does not appear to have been included in any published Law Report, but it declares baldly that "the doctrine of the Church of England on any subject is whatever Parliament determines it to be.")

Kirk Skeptic said...

@WT: given the number of dissidents who met similar deaths or worse under the papacy, 6 in a day is a via media. As for Henry VIII, he remained a Catholic to the end ( Elizabeth I was a different case entirely.

William Weedon said...

I seem to recall that Andreae in the conversation with the Patriarch witnessed a more nuanced approach to Nicaea II than Chemnitz, and I do wonder how much is due to translational issues. If the matter is rendered as "honor" then I think we get it and wouldn't disagree at all. Do you recall in *That Hideous Strength* where that unfortunate young man is told to stomp on the crucifix, after all, it's only "wood"? He realizes that to do so would in some way dishonor Christ Himself and can't bring himself to do so. I am very blessed to worship in a sanctuary replete with church art (from stained glass, to a number of crucifixes, a statue of the Risen Christ, images of the Holy Evangelists, St. Paul, and the Holy Family). When the cross is carried down the ailse in procession, many people freely bow before it and some cross themselves as it passes. "The honor of the image passes to the prototype." I know that's not the original meaning of St. Basil's words and I assume that the authors of Nicaea II knew that as well; but it fits. You show honor precisely toward what the image depicts.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@Pr W: honoring God through images is exactly how he told us not to honor him, but it's a lot easier than actual covenant obedience vis-à-vis attention to the Word and worthy partaking of the Sacrament and hence its popularity.