Friday, April 02, 2010

Augustine Against Idolatry

Augustine, commenting on Psalm 75, wrote:
"For the cup in the hand of the Lord of pure wine is full of mixed" (ver. 8). Justly so. "And He hath poured out of this upon this man; nevertheless, the dreg thereof hath not been emptied; there shall drink all the sinners of earth." Let us be somewhat recruited; there is here some obscurity....The first question that meeteth us is this, "of pure wine it is full of mixed." How "of pure," if "of mixed"? But when he saith, "the cup in the hand of the Lord" (to men instructed in the Church of Christ I am speaking), ye ought not indeed to paint in your heart God as it were circumscribed with a human form, lest, though the temples are shut up, ye forge images in your hearts. This cup therefore doth signify something. We will find out this. But "in the hand of the Lord," is, in the power of the Lord. For the hand of God is spoken of for the power of God. For even in reference to men ofttimes is said, in hand he hath it: that is, in his power he hath it, when he chooseth he doth it. "Of pure wine it is full of mixed." In continuation he hath himself explained: "He hath inclined," he saith, "from this unto this man; nevertheless the dreg thereof hath not been emptied." Behold how it was full of mixed wine. Let it not therefore terrify you that it is both pure and mixed: pure because of the genuineness thereof, mixed because of the dreg. What then in that place is the wine, and what the dreg? And what is, "He hath inclined from this unto this man," in such sort that the dreg thereof was not emptied?
- Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, at Psalm 75:8 (Psalm 75, Section 10)

I'd like to draw the reader's attention to Augustine's particular expression, "ye ought not indeed to paint in your heart God as it were circumscribed with a human form, lest, though the temples are shut up, ye forge images in your hearts."

And again Augustine wrote:
"Their idols," he saith, "are silver and gold, even the work of men's hands" (ver. 4). That is, although we cannot display our God to your carnal eyes, whom ye ought to recognise through his works; yet be not seduced by your vain pretences, because ye can point with the finger to, the objects of your worship. For it were much worthier for you not to have what to point to, than that your hearts' blindness should be displayed in what is exhibited to these eyes by you: for what do ye exhibit, save gold and silver? They have indeed both bronze, and wood, and earthenware idols, and of different materials of this description; but the Holy Spirit preferred mentioning the more precious material, because when every man hath blushed for that which he sets more by, he is much more easily turned away from the worship of meaner objects. For it is said in another passage of Scripture concerning the worshippers of images, "Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth." But lest that man who speaketh thus not to a stone or stock, but to gold and silver, seem wiser to himself; let him look this way, let him turn hitherwards the ear of his heart: "The idols of the Gentiles are gold and silver." Nothing mean and contemptible is here mentioned: and indeed to that mind which is not earth, both gold and silver is earth, but more beautiful and brilliant, more solid and firm. Employ not then the hands of men, to create a false Deity out of that metal which a true God hath created; nay, a false man, whom thou mayest worship for a true God; one whom any man who should receive into his friendship as a true man, would be insane. For resemblance of figure, and the imitation of the limbs, hurrieth away the weak hearts of mortals with its degrading affection: but as thou shewest each member as it is constructed, so also shew the duties of each of those members, whose figure, O human vanity, doth attract thee.
- Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, Exposition 2 on Psalm 115, Section 1, at Psalm 115:4

While I encourage you to read the entire exposition (link to the entire exposition - please note that ccel.org version of this particular Psalm has been subjected to significant redaction, which has been noted with elipses (...) but nevertheless omits much helpful content), notice here Augustine's arguments against images. In particular, note his argument "Employ not then the hands of men, to create a false Deity out of that metal which a true God hath created; nay, a false man, whom thou mayest worship for a true God; one whom any man who should receive into his friendship as a true man, would be insane." I am sure that those who wish to excuse their own idols will be quick to point out that Augustine's comments are directed against the pagan idols. That's very true. He is speaking about pagan idols. Yet you will read carefully and not find him defending images of Jesus as being different from these pagan idols.

Quite to the contrary, Augustine states, "That is, although we cannot display our God to your carnal eyes, whom ye ought to recognise through his works ... ." Augustine does not say, "we can display Jesus, who was God and man," but rather simply "we cannot display our God to your carnal eyes."

And again, we recognize that some will say that when they portray Jesus, they only portray his humanity, not his divinity. Yet will anyone think that Jesus' image is made on account of his humanity rather than on account of his divinity? Is not the very reason and purpose for the creation of the image and its use because it is acknowledged that Christ is the God-man and not a mere man?

Yet even if we were somehow persuaded that those who create such imagines really mean only to portray Jesus' humanity (somehow separated from his divinity without destroying the unity of his person), how shall we come to accept their practice of representing the Trinity itself in human form (by three-faced or three-headed grotesqueries), or even the Father alone in human form (as so famously found centrally within the Sistine chapel)?

Surely Augustine was glad not to see the day of such widespread idolatry. Had he seen it, we may rightly suppose he would have condemned it as he did the pagan idolatry, and for many of the same reasons.

For indeed Augustine condemned not only the pagans but in the Jews condemned the idolatry of the golden calf:
"And they made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the graven image" (ver. 19). "Thus they changed their glory, in the similitude of a calf that eateth hay" (ver. 20). He saith not "into" the likeness, but "in" the likeness. It is such a form of speech as where he said "and they believed in His words." With great effect in truth he saith not, they changed the glory of God when they did this; as the Apostle also saith, "They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man:" [Romans 1:23] but "their glory." For God was their glory, if they would abide His counsel, and hasten not; unto Whom is said, "Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of my head." [Psalm 3:3] That "their glory," that is, God, "they changed in the similitude of a calf that eateth hay," that they might be devoured by him, by whom those who are wise according to the flesh are devoured: for "all flesh is grass." [Isaiah 40:6]
- Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, Psalm 106, Section 19 (at vss. 19-20)

Let us, therefore, learn from their error and turn our eyes from idols to worship the true and living God in Spirit and in Truth.

As Augustine explained:
"Confounded be all they that worship carved images" (ver. 7). Hath not this come to pass? Have they not been confounded? Are they not daily confounded? For carved images are images wrought by the hand. Why are all who worship carved images confounded? Because all people have seen His glory. All nations now confess the glory of Christ: let those who worship stones be ashamed. Because those stones were dead, we have found a living Stone; indeed those stones never lived, so that they cannot be called even dead; but our Stone is living, and hath ever lived with the Father, and though He died for us, He revived, and liveth now, and death shall no more have dominion over Him. [Romans 6:9] This glory of His the nations have acknowledged; they leave the temples, they run to the Churches. "Confounded be all they that worship carved images." Do they still seek to worship carved images? Have they not chosen to forsake their idols? They have been forsaken by their idols. "Confounded be all they that worship carved images, who glory in their idols."
- Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, Psalm 97, Section 11, at Psalm 97:7 (read the whole exposition here)

- TurretinFan

8 comments:

Viisaus said...

Did you know that even the 2nd Nicene council (787 AD) that authorized the worship of icons, even THAT council, still specifically forbade the artistic depiction of God the Father - only incarnated Christ could be legitimately depicted, not the invisible members of Godhead.

(The council also rejected statues as smacking of paganism, approving only flat-board paintings.)

But since then, the Roman church went further on its own and was by the times of Michelangelo depicting God the Father as Zeus-like patriarch with flowing beard without any ecclesiastical censures. And of course, approved statues and their veneration.

natamllc said...

With regard to idols and idolatry, I would quote this verse:

Pro 20:9 Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?

Having quoted it, I would put over another:::>


Pro 16:20 Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.

Giving thought then to these things, what is discovered good?

Trust in the Lord is good. One is blessed who trusts in the Lord!

No one, not even Jesus, can answer the question posed above:::>

Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?

Why? Well, for one thing, Christ's Heart, having been sinless, is sinless and never not will be anything other than sinless, has never not been pure so He cannot say He has made His Heart clean, cleansing His Heart from His sin.

Well, for another thing, we cannot say we have made our heart pure or cleansed ourselves from our sins! Only an idolater would do that.

Having said these things, then, I would only point to another verse from John 17 that seems to me to point to that "purity" that idolatry is not.

Jesus, in praying to Our Heavenly Father, there, prayed an unusual thing, in my opinion, that I will point to now:::>

Joh 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.


The question I have is this one, "when" did impurity come about and by "who" so that when Jesus prays here, He prays this way?

Huh?

Well, consider what He is asking Our Heavenly Father to do for Him?

He is "not" asking God to "bring" Him into the "Glory" He had just before leaving His Throne, to, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit upon the Virgin Mary, come into the world by a natural birthing process from that woman.

He is "not" asking God to "bring" Him into the "Glory" He had just after returning back to His throne, from that visit with Abraham recorded in Genesis 18.

He is asking God to "bring" Him into "a" "Glory" He had with Him at the time in "Eternity" past "just" before the world began.

Hmmmmm!! Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.

Why idolatry? Who is the author of all idolatry?

Idolatry is akin to and an expression of direct hatred for God in "all" His purity.

The author of all sorts of idolatry in eternity past and all idolatry remaining before the utter and total destruction of these present heavens and earth through time, is Satan himself.

What I propose to say here then is that what Jesus was praying to the Father to do, He is doing actively in our lifetime too, even still; He is asking God to destroy this present heavens and earth, the world and everything impure in it; a total, complete and permanent destruction of the authors of idolatry and all idolatry, too.

I propose to say this and add these words of Jesus to it:::>

Luk 14:25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,
Luk 14:26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Luk 14:27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

We, according to my understanding of Scripture, are four parts. Three of the parts are who God promises us He will sanctify. The fourth part is the flesh and the flesh will go back to it's base substance, dirt.

The other three parts God promises to sanctify are our spirit, soul and body. cf., 1Th 5:22-24.


Where does that leave, God abiding, God loving Believers then? Why, it leaves us at the First Commandment:

"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" and loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourself!

Alphonsus said...

"Did you know that even the 2nd Nicene council (787 AD) that authorized the worship of icons, even THAT council, still specifically forbade the artistic depiction of God the Father - only incarnated Christ could be legitimately depicted, not the invisible members of Godhead.

"(The council also rejected statues as smacking of paganism, approving only flat-board paintings.)"

That's interesting, but could you provide some documentation? I couldn't find any of that in the edition of Ecumenical Council decrees that I referenced.

Viisaus said...

Alphonsus, on this online book you can find all you need to know about this subject - search for "statues" word inside the book, for example.

See pp. 64 and 248-249 especially.

http://www.archive.org/details/seventhgeneralc00mendgoog

Alphonsus said...

Viisaus, you made a claim about what the 2nd Council of Nicaea specifically forbade regarding religious artwork. You book you referred me to seems (according to my search of "statues" and the pages you sugested) to deal mostly with disputes among bishops and theologians. Can you point me to where, in the promulgated decrees of the Council, the use of statues and images of the Father is specifically forbidden?

God Bless

Turretinfan said...

See the discussion beginning at the bottom of this page and continuing onto the following pages, Alphonsus.

Alphonsus said...

I tried to post something earlier, but I think it failed to make it through or something.

In any case, I wanted to know what was the basis for Viisaus's comment that the council itself specifically condemned the aforementioned kinds of religious artwork when the decreta of the council contained no such condemnations. If that was just a miststatement on his part, then I don't really have anything else to say at the moment.

God Bless

Turretinfan said...

Alphonsus:

Both Viisaus and I have provided you with links to the discussion.

It's not a canon, if that's what you're asking.

-TurretinFan