Thursday, August 06, 2009

"We Don't Worship Statues"

How many times have I heard the line, "We don't worship statues"! It seems that whenever one brings up the subject of idolatry with a Roman Catholic, they invariably think it is a defense that they are not venerating the statue itself, but the thing it represents. My intuitive response has typically been: do you think the pagans think that the statue is actually the god itself?

Just in case they think that, I happen to have found an interesting article that makes the following claim:
P. Sivaraman, the chairman of the temple's board of trustees, explained to the 80 [Roman] Catholics that Hindus do not worship the images -- they are only there to help devotees focus their minds on an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God.

Now, where have we heard that before?

Recall what Augustine said:
Why have I said this? Please consider carefully the chief point I’m making. We had started to deal with the apparently better educated pagans — because the less educated are the ones who do the things about which these do not wish to be taken to task — so with the better educated ones, since they say to us, “You people also have your adorers of columns, and sometimes even of pictures.” And would to God that we didn’t have them, and may the Lord grant that we don’t go on having them! But all the same, this is not what the Church teaches you. I mean, which priest of theirs ever climbed into a pulpit and from there commanded the people not to adore idols, in the way that we, in Christ, publicly preach against the adoration of columns or of the stones of buildings in holy places, or even of pictures? On the contrary indeed, it was their very priests who used to turn to the idols and offer them victims for their congregations, and would still like to do so now.

“We,” they say, “don’t adore images, but what is signified by the image.” I ask what images signify, I ask what the image of the sun signifies; nothing else but the sun, surely? For yes, perhaps the explanation of other images convey deeper, more hidden meanings. For the time being let’s leave these, and put them on one side to come back to shortly. The image of the sun, certainly, can only signify the sun, and that of the moon the moon, and that of Tellus the earth. So if they don’t adore what they see in the image, but what the image signifies, why, when they have the things signified by these images so familiarly before their very eyes, do they offer adoration to their images in stead of directly to them?
Augustine, Sermon 198, Sections 16-17

Of course, the Hindu claims must be taken with a very large grain of salt. For example, the same folks are trying to suggest that Hinduism is somehow analogous to monotheistic Trinitarianism:
In Hinduism, Dhoraisingam explained, "The universe manifested from Brahman, is sustained by him and will return to him." She added that Hindus believe in a trinitarian God personified by Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, and Shiva the Transformer.
That title "transformer," aside from making one chuckle about there being more to Shiva than meets the eye, appears to be an attempt to downplay the more traditional title of Shiva as "the destroyer."

Nevertheless, despite the obvious propaganda nature of the piece, it is simply intuitive. When a Hindu looks at a statue of Brahma, or Vishnu, or Shiva, the Hindu doesn't think that the statue is the god, any more than the Greeks thought that the statue of their gods were the gods themselves. But the true and living God is not worshiped with the works of man's hands, as though he needed anything, as Scriptures teach. Therefore, whether your idolatry is Roman Catholic or Hindu, flee it. Keep yourselves from idols.



John said...

I think the world is still waiting for a protestant definition of worship that doesn't entrap either themselves, or the faithful old testament Israel.

Rhology said...

Wow. Never heard that citation from Augustine. Why isn't it in Engwer's Catholic but not Roman Catholic collection, I wonder?

Turretinfan said...

I would guess that the reason is because it has only recently been translated into English.

Turretinfan said...


The faithful Jews did not worship statues. The unfaithful did. They were judged.


Anonymous said...

The quote: "....So if they don’t adore what they see in the image, but what the image signifies, why, when they have the things signified by these images so familiarly before their very eyes, do they offer adoration to their images in stead of directly to them?....".

My answer: "The Living God establishes (naturally) as well as (spiritually) the living relationship we are to have with Them and one another".

Just because His Son became a man, visible to the senses, it takes nothing away from His Being being worshiped in Spirit and Truth, now born again also a Holy Spirit, manifestly, to Our Heavenly Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Christian Church is a "spiritual body" called to be holy and blameless!

To this He attested when giving these Words to Moses:::>

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments".

The question for me that comes is "Why then did He have to become a Man"?

I cannot answer that to everyone's satisfaction but I can answer it with His Word nevertheless:

Heb 2:7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,
Heb 2:8 putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
Heb 2:9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Heb 2:10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
Heb 2:11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,
Heb 2:12 saying, "I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise."
Heb 2:13 And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again, "Behold, I and the children God has given me."
Heb 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
Heb 2:15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

He became a Man to expose the imposter and to destroy him and to destroy Death himself, too!

John said...

"The faithful Jews did not worship statues"

I'd like to know how you define that so we can see how it applies to me or to you.

BTW, that Augustine quote doesn't exist in any of the normal sources. What publication did you get it from?

Ben Douglass said...

There's nothing for a Catholic to disagree with in St. Augustine's sermon. The pagans objected that they did not worship the images, but what the images represented. In that case, if they don't worship the image of the sun, but the sun itself, they are still worshiping an idol, for they have made the sun an idol. Furthermore, what is the use of a representation of the sun or moon when you can easily see the real thing? Catholics would have no use for images if we could see Jesus, Mary, and the saints face to face.

BJ Buracker said...


Do you know of an instance where the Israelites fashioned an image of YHWH? Most of the examples I can think of are images of other gods (Baals, Asherahs, Ashtoreths, etc.).

The only example I can think of was the Golden Calf, but I don't think it is ever explicitly called YHWH. Instead, the people seem to want a substitute god (Ex. 32:1), rather than an image of the their God. Perhaps Exod 32:4 would suggest otherwise, but I think that could be debatable (i.e. if they made another god, then they would naturally give him/her/it the attributes of YHWH).

If my assessment is correct, then couldn't the problem have been not just the images but also the false god?

Also, how do you think one's enumeration of the 10 Commandments (e.g. the difference between Catholic and Protestant numberings of Exod. 20:4-6) affects one's understanding of this particular prohibition on images?



Rhology said...

And how does the serpent on the pole play into that question?

Turretinfan said...


As to your first question group of questions, I hope that my newest post will help (link).

I will try to post some other time on the odd Roman Catholic numbering of the commandments and its impact on the question.


Turretinfan said...

The serpent on the pole was not supposed to be worshiped. When it came to be worshiped, it was destroyed.

2 Kings 18:4 He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.


Turretinfan said...

Ben Douglass:

The problem for Roman Catholics (not "Catholics" in the true sense of the term) is Augustine's condemnation of the adoration of columns and pictures.


Turretinfan said...

John wrote: "BTW, that Augustine quote doesn't exist in any of the normal sources. What publication did you get it from?"

What are you talking about? I tell you in the post were I get it from.


Paul Baylis said...

So, I guess you're not showing comments that might make you look um..wrong. Show everything as long as it's not abusive and reasonably intelligent. What have you got to lose? Aren't you very confident?

Turretinfan said...

Mr. Baylis,

a) Read my comment policy. If you have some comments that show me up, and you are concerned that they are going to get concealed by my sneaky efforts to dodge the tough questions, post them over on the open forum where I don't moderate the comments.

b) Better yet, you have your own blog - post your comments there and post a link back to this post. Blogger automatically generates a link in the "comments elsewhere" section, and I am not in the habit of taking down those automatic links.

c) Your previous comment on this particular post is awaiting moderation. When I have time to get to it, I will.