Friday, December 03, 2010

Veneration of Images Debate with William Albrecht

On December 2, 2010, William Albrecht and I debated the topic: "Is the Veneration of Images Sinful?" I took the affirmative position and Mr. Albrecht took the negative position. Below I've provided the Youtube version and mp3 of the debate, as well as some very important notes.

(link to mp3 for the debate)

I relied heavily on the Old Testament prohibitions on the veneration of images, as well as on the New Testament confirmation of the Old Testament moral law. One of Albrecht's main attempts to distinguish his practice from idolatry was his claim: "Ancient Christianity knew how to differentiate between idolatry and true religious veneration."

But when challenged to produce such evidence, there was no evidence of any of the church fathers actually talking about religious veneration of images. Instead, they simply made the distinction between having images and venerating them.

Moreover, Mr. Albrecht was able to document some instances of ancient churches having images, and of people worshiping nearby images (Albrecht characterized it as people having no problem "worshiping with images around them"), but never any instances of ancient Christians actually venerating the images. The same was brought up with respect to the Jews. Some allegedly permitted the carving of a stone column, as long there was no worship of them - so again, no Jewish permission to venerate images.

There was one exception - one patristic quotation on which Mr. Albrecht tried to support his claim that the early church venerated icons, specifically there was a quotation allegedly taken from a letter of Basil the Great.

He mentioned it and relied on it (beginning at around 3:30 of part 6 below), but when asked to identify it, he seemed to have trouble giving me any kind of helpful citation.

The most popular edition of the fathers, the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers has the letter in the second series, volume 8 (NPNF2, Volume 8) at page 316. The page presents the full text of the letter (Letter 360 - the title given is "Of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the invocation of Saints, and their Images.")

The editors, at that same page, provide a note about this letter:
This letter is almost undoubtedly spurious, but it has a certain interest, from the fact of its having been quoted at the so-called 7th Council (2d of Nicæa) in 787. Maran (Vit. Bas. xxxix.) is of opinion that it is proved by internal evidence to be the work of some Greek writer at the time of the Iconoclastic controversy. The vocabulary and style are unlike that of Basil.
The editors go on to provide several examples:
  • at "I adore and worship one God, the Three," the editor comments "Neuter sc. πρόσωπα, not ὑποστάσεις, as we should expect in Basil."
  • at "I confess to the œconomy of the Son in the flesh," the editor comments "ἔνσαρκον οἰκονομίαν, an expression I do not recall in Basil’s genuine writings."
  • at "was Mother of God," the editor comments "Θεοτόκον, the watchword of the Nestorian controversy, which was after Basil’s time."
And the letter is only a paragraph or two long, so it's not as though these indicia are spread out over a large amount of writing.

Elsewhere in the volume there are similar comments about this letter:
Even Letter CCCLX., which bears obvious marks of spuriousness, and of proceeding from a later age …
NPNF2, Vol. 8 St. Basil: Letters and Selected Works, p.lxxiii
N.B. The letters numbered CCXII.-CCCLXVI. are included by the Ben. Ed. In a “Classis Tertia,” having no note of time. Some are doubtful, and some plainly spurious. Of these I include such as seem most important.
NPNF2, Vol. 8 St. Basil: Letters and Selected Works, p. 316

The letter can also be found in other patristic series. The Fathers of the Church series, in the introduction to volume 1 of Basil's letters, explains the situation:
The chronology of the letters and their order and arrangement into three classes according to the Benedictine editors have been retained. In the arrangement the first class includes all the letters adjudged by them to have been written before St. Basil's episcopate, in the years from 357 until 370, Letters numbered 1 to 46; the second, those written during his episcopate, from 370 until 378, Letters 47 to 291; and the third, letters of uncertain date, doubtful letters, and those clearly spurious, numbered Letters 292 to 365. Three more, Letter 366, included by Mai and also by Migne in their editions, and Letters 367 and 368, lately discovered by Mercati, have been added in the translation.
Another edition of Basil's letters provides this note:
This letter is clearly spurious. It has been attributed to the Greek Iconoclasts. The vocabulary, particularly that employed in the Trinitarian controversy, and the style are not Basil’s. Furthermore, it is missing in all the MSS. of St. Basil’s letters.
Basil: Letters, Volume IV, Letters 249-368. Address to Young Men on Greek Literature. (Loeb Classical Library No. 270), p.329 (Roy J. Deferrari and M. R. P. McGuire, translators)

It's the problem one runs into when one researches from unreliable secondary sources (such as this one). The second source puts it this way:

St. Basil the Great died 24 years earlier than Epiphanius, in 379. Schaff cites this Father:

"....I receive also the holy apostles and prophets and martyrs. Their likenesses I revere and kiss with homage, for they are handed down from the holy apostles, and are not forbidden, but on the contrary painted in all our churches." (Basil, Epist 205, Comp his Oratio in Barlaam, Opp 1, 515 cited in Schaff, ibid, page 567; and similar expressions in Gregory Naz, Orat 19).

Albrecht also alleged (see part 10 of the debate, around 6 minutes into that part) that Gregory of Nyssa quoted from this, or said something similar to this. The reason is (we presume) reliance on a secondary source like the one above (coupled with a conflation between Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa), because there is nothing like that in either Gregory's authentic writings (that I could find). You'll notice that Albrecht mentions an "Oration Barlaam" which is what the secondary source says should be compared to the actual work.

What made matters much worse, in my opinion, was that around 8 minutes into my second cross-examination of Mr. Albrecht (part 10 below), he indicated that no one had contested the validity of this work, he claimed it was cited by Schaff (which it was, the tertiary source I quoted from above is quoting from the secondary source of Schaff), Bickham (his source regarding Dura Europos), and "numerous Protestant authors," and he continued by stating: "I didn't find one - one author - contesting its validity - so I imagine its valid."

And then in his conclusion (part 11 below), Albrecht made the Basil quotation his leading argument - presumably because during the cross-examination period, Mr. Albrecht had acknowledged that he was not aware of any other patristic writings speaking about the veneration of images. He alleged that my opposition to the quotation was because it was so damaging to my position. And then after some other discussion he came back to it again and claimed that it had to be "pushed aside" because of its weight.

But it arguably got still worse, because Albrecht - in his conclusion - went on to complain about the authenticity of certain canons of the Council of Elvira (which I did not bring up) and of other allegedly spurious patristic writings (which I did not bring up), even while admitting that I did not bring them up. It would seem appropriate that perhaps Mr. Albrecht should check the authenticity of his own patristic works before questioning the authenticity of those that support but weren't even cited by other side.

Finally, Albrecht brought Basil back up again in his concluding remarks.

Albrecht also made an allegation about the Vienna Genesis manuscript, which is a very luxurious high-end manuscript copy of Genesis. He claimed it was dated from the 300's by "Hans" and that Metzger puts it in the "400's" (in his first cross-examination of me) fourth century, but Metzger puts it in the fifth or sixth centuries (see here) and Hans Gerstinger had dated it to the late fifth or early sixth century as well (see discussion here) but subsequent evidence suggested to him that it could be dated no earlier than the sixth century (as reported here). He's the only "Hans" that Metzger references (see the page linked above) - though "Hans" is a very common name, and so it possible that there is some guy named "Hans" out there who dates it earlier.

I don't believe that Mr. Albrecht was intentionally relying on wrong dates and pseudographic evidence, but without such evidence, there is really no ancient support for the distinction he is trying to make. There is no evidence that he provided for the fathers of the first five centuries venerating images. He tried to paint Calvin as ignorant of early church history for suggesting such a thing, but with all due respect I think that while some additional archaeology has come to light, John Calvin was more familiar with the authentic writings of the fathers than Mr. Albrecht is (although Calvin also was fallible and capable of making mistakes - and we have even more manuscripts now than Calvin did).

Parts of the Debate
  1. Affirmative Constructive Part 1 (TurretinFan)

  2. Affirmative Constructive Part 2 (TurretinFan)

  3. Negative Constructive Part 1 (Albrecht)

  4. Negative Constructive Part 2 (Albrecht)

  5. First Negative Cross-Examination of Affirmative - Part 1 (Albrecht cross-examining TurretinFan)

  6. First Negative Cross-Examination of Affirmative - Part 2 (Albrecht cross-examining TurretinFan)

  7. First Affirmative Cross Examination of Affirmative - Part 1 (TurretinFan cross-examining Albrecht)

  8. First Affirmative Cross Examination of Affirmative - Part 2 (TurretinFan cross-examining Albrecht)

  9. Second Negative Cross-Examination of Affirmative (Albrecht cross-examining TurretinFan)

  10. Second Affirmative Cross-Examination of Negative (TurretinFan cross-examining Albrecht)

  11. Negative Conclusion (Albrecht)

  12. Affirmative Conclusion (TurretinFan)


Mr. Albrecht has provided a comment by email, which I reproduce below:

" I want to thank Turretinfan for the notes he has sent me and I have surely looked deeper into this subejct. Whereas I am unwilling to grant that the quotation on Basil is definitively spurious, I am willing to say that we can dismiss it wholly if need be. I believe that through a thorough examination of Basil's works(that are not contested) we can clearly see he believed in proper religious honor being passed on to the person whose image is being venerated. I also want to apologize for not being more careful in regards to my comments on the Vienna Genesis. It would seem that in my constant fumbling of notes, I should have been clear that the Vienna Genesis is dated to the 400s and it is the COTTON Genesis dated to the 300s. The names are quite similar and it's quite easy to confuse the two! I hope this helps clear up certain things and I wish everyone that reads this blog a HAPPY HOLIDAY season!"

I reply:

1) I don't know why one wouldn't grant what scholarship universally affirms.

2) The issue about the honor given to an image reaching the prototype is the way that John of Damascus quoted Basil (and Aquinas interestingly quotes not Basil himself but John of Damascus quoting Basil). But what John of Damascus does is to rip Basil out of context. In context, Basil is speaking about veneration of the Son (Christ) who is the image of the Father being veneration passed on to the Father (view the original quotation from Basil in context here and also see here for a similar discussion).

3) As discussed in the post, the best date for the Vienna Genesis is the 6th century, i.e. the 500's - although it may possibly date to the late 400's according to some scholars.

4) The Cotton Genesis is also 5th or 6th century according to Metzger (see this link to Metzger's Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: an introduction to Greek palaeography, p. 45). Metzger even states that the Vienna Genesis is slightly later in date than the Cotton Genesis, which reaffirms the 6th century date I identified above.

5) You'll also notice on that same page of Metzger that Metzger confirms that the earliest New Testament Manuscript with minatures date from the 6th century. This confirms the point I made during the debate that the illumination of manuscripts became progressively more elaborate into the later periods of church history. It also tends to undermine Mr. Albrecht's seeming attempts to make this practice of adorning Biblical manuscripts a more ancient or perhaps apostolic tradition.

- TurretinFan


natamllc said...

Just finished listening to this debate.

You seemed to become short emotionally and a little hard in your voice in responding to Albrecht at times this time TF?

I think I am going to specifically pray for you. I do generally. You need to be refreshed and prayer seems to help bring it about.

Bless you and may the power of the Spirit of Grace and Truth refresh you.

Having noted what seemed obvious to me after listening to the debate; now, I turn to what is apparent to me regarding this debate.

I have been thinking about something for a few days now and things that have been going on over at the blog Green Baggins and now listening to this debate I would say something after a couple of citations of Scripture, here:

Gen 26:5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws."

Exo 15:26 saying, "If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer."

Heading hopefully in the right direction I will recount out loud an experience I had way back in 1975 when I was just newly saved and full of zeal and courage for the Lord.


natamllc said...


My group, the ministry of Gospel Outreach, were retained by a Apple Orchard corporation with groves in Bridgeport, Washington. We picked apples during apple picking season as a way to finance the work of the Gospel church planting in a number of places around the country and other countries. I was there back then but I was not picking apples. I was driving tractor bringing empty apple bins to multiple locations throughout the apple orchard and bringing back full bins to the barn to be loaded on long bed trailers to be hauled to the apple packing plants in Yakima. That was my day. I hated it. The diesel smoke was terrible and I had to breathe it in all day long six days a week until each grove was picked. The picking season ran about 2 and a half months give or take some days. Every noon time all the pickers went immediately to the dining area for lunch. I, with several other tractor drivers, had to stay back and bring full bins to the barn and take empty bins to replace the full ones so the pickers could start fresh after lunch picking and not waiting for us to get them empties before I could eat any lunch.

So consequently I always got to eat lunch 20 to 30 minutes after the pickers. I drove the tractor and parked it next to the kitchen area and went in and had a truncated lunch, usually 40 minutes and some days only a half hour. I did this day after day during picking season. The pickers who were mothers left their children at the dining area to be watched over each day by the cooking crew. There was an area right outside the window of the kitchen area set up for the little ones to play in and be watched over during the work day.

I always came up next to this area and parked the tractor. I got off it right in front of these children. Day after day I did this for a couple months. Then one day, after parking the tractor and just before going into the dining area to eat lunch I stopped and I said to the children, "stay off the tractor and don't touch it because ...". I went in and had lunch and when the work whistle blew, I got up and went out the kitchen to the tractor and to my amazement I saw all the children crawling all over the tractor. When they saw me, some cried and most were frightened of me.

That just struck me until some days later it came to me why those children didn't touch or go near that tractor for so many days and then on that day, they did. The Lord showed me that the nature of man is sinful. It wasn't until I established a law, "do not touch" the tractor that the nature to disobey me was activated in these children.

This story, in my view, highlights the two verses above. With Abraham, the question is, why was he obedient to God's charge, commandments, statues and laws? Because the relationship was based in the Gift of Faith not the Law of Righteousness. Abraham was just as sinful as all of Eve's children in every generation and the Scriptures show us that.

But with the children of Israel after Moses was given the charge to establish God's charge, commandments, statues and laws, and did, there was this explosion of sinfulness and idolatries and wickedness towards God!

I believe God gives us this understanding clearly when we read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Church of his day:

Rom 7:4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
Rom 7:5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.
Rom 7:6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.


natamllc said...


So it is now; plainly we can see the difference between True Biblical Christianity from the days of Jesus until now and that system of theology and religion of the RCC.

Our Faith is not based in the works of Righteousness while theirs is.

Let's be clear. Human nature is inherently sinful and evil.

There are only sinners in the Protestant Faith and there are only sinners in the all other faiths including the RCC.

What's the issue then and why does Albrecht argue for that which is contrary to True Biblical Christianity?

It's the Faith that is missing.

It is always the work of Grace through Faith that converts anyone.

You argued from the basis of Scripture because of the Gift of Faith that works in you.

Albrecht argued from the basis of an organization that is extra Scriptural and in so many ways nonsensical.

You clearly were not trying to get the ECF's to conform to this thinking that clearly has a historical place, sometime after the Fourth Century, I believe? Maybe you can comment on that for clarity?

Albrecht clearly was attempting to add to the plain meaning of the Scriptures and tried to get us to believe the ECF's up to that period in history held to what became more prevalent a practice the farther away from the First Century they got. The Spirit of Grace and Truth is always present. But when on is drawn away from the Scriptures and begins to allow extra Biblical understanding to influence your thinking the obvious fruit will come forth and it won't be the Fruit of the Spirit but the fruit of the work of the flesh.

Idolatry is a part of human nature.

It is the Spirit of Grace and Truth that frees people from idolatry.

I suppose one should be surprised to not see it dealt with as it is in the Scriptures and was by the ECF's of the first several centuries after Pentecost.

Idolatry has been since the time before Abram. In fact that culture was ripe with this sort of worship in natural things and artistically created idols and things of Mesopotamia during Abram's life in Ur of the Chaldees and also during the all periods afterwards. We see it being addressed during the First Century as well and sure enough, it is a testament to the unchanging notion and weakness of human flesh that in these days this crime against God abounds!

I conclude my comments hereon with some more words by the Apostle Paul as commendation to your part of this debate:

Eph 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Eph 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Eph 5:3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
Eph 5:4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
Eph 5:5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Eph 5:6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
Eph 5:7 Therefore do not become partners with them;
Eph 5:8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
Eph 5:9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),
Eph 5:10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
Eph 5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Viisaus said...

The iconolaters have quite shamelessly relied on spurious patristic materials ever since first controversies in the 8th century, so Albrecht is merely following the example of his masters.

George Salmon writes:

pp. 360-361

"But a more plentiful crop of illustrations may be drawn from the proceedings of the seventh General Council, the second of Nicaea. The Fathers attempted to prove the propriety of image worship from Scripture; but, as if conscious that they would have no easy task, they propounded the then novel doctrine of the insufficiency of Scripture, and anathematized those who say that they will not receive any doctrine on the bare authority of Fathers and Councils, unless it be plainly taught in the Old and New Testament.

Their Scripture proofs were not what would be very convincing to us. For instance, the antiquity of looking at images is proved from the Psalms, since David says, ‘Show me thy face’: and ‘Like as we have heard, so have we seen’; and again, from Canticles, ‘Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice, for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.’ Should we have any hesitation in setting up our infallible judgment against that of those infallible interpreters, and in pronouncing such proofs to be texts wrested from their contexts, we need have less scruples about their proofs from antiquity, several of which are from spurious documents which no learned Roman Catholic would now venture to defend.

I will read you from Robertson’s Church History (ii. 156) one famous story, which was such a favourite that it was twice used in the proceedings of the Council:

‘An aged monk on the Mount of Olives, it was said, was greatly tempted by a spirit of uncleanness. One day the demon appeared to him, and after having sworn him to secrecy offered to discontinue his assaults if the monk would give up worshipping a picture of the Blessed Virgin and infant Saviour which hung up in his cell. The monk asked time to consider the proposal, and notwithstanding his oath applied for advice to an aged abbot of renowned sanctity, who blamed him for having been so deluded as to swear to the devil; but told him that he had yet done well in laying open the matter, and that it would be better for him to visit every brothel in Jerusalem than to refrain from adoring the Saviour and His Mother in the picture. From this edifying tale a twofold moral was drawn with general consent: that reverence for images would not only warrant unchastity but breach of oaths, and that those who had sworn to the Iconoclast heresy were free from their obligations.’"

And Anglican bishop George Bull (whom famous RC bishop Bossuet btw praised for his defense of Trinitarian Nicene orthodoxy) used even blunter language to describe the 787 AD 2nd Nicene council:

p. 279

"And indeed, I am persuaded that no man of judgment and integrity, that hath been conversant in the holy Scriptures, and in the writings of the more ancient doctors of the church, will be able to read those acts of the pseudo-synod of Nice, without indignation and abhorrence of it, when he observes upon what ridiculous fables, gross misinterpretations of Scripture, falsifications, and impertinent allegations of the ancient Fathers, the bishops of that convention built their decree concerning image-worship."

natamllc said...

Earlier today, TF, while on a walk talk with the Lord, I turned to praying for you and these verses came to me to post as another encouragement to you about what God is doing through your ministry life:

Gal 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.
Gal 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Turretinfan said...

Thanks, NatAmLLC. I did get more than a little irked at Mr. Albrecht's inability to tell me the name of the work he cited - and at his claim that he had told me the title - and at his comments that seemed to suggest he had checked its authenticity.


Rhology said...

I don't believe that Mr. Albrecht was intentionally relying on wrong dates and pseudographic evidence, but without such evidence,

Did you mean pseudepigraphic?

Turretinfan said...

I mean that the work is a pseudograph: a false work, a spurious or misattributed writing.

The pseudepigrapha is a term that I tend to use of a very specific class of non-canonical literature.

Turretinfan said...

I have updated the post with some comments from Mr. Albrecht and my response to those comments.

Ryan said...

Interesting debate. I'm glad you called Mr. Albrecht on his spurious citation and pressed him after he repeatedly defended his research as thorough. It did seem obvious he was willing to use anything to support his position.