The Use of Images in Christian Worship
What arguments now used by professing Christians to defend image worship were rejected by Christians of the first three centuries? Why is it abominable to bow down, burn incense and otherwise worship before an image?
THE devotees of Hinduism, particularly among the lower castes, treat their images as if they were living creatures “with all of the needs, weaknesses and passions common to humans. The worshipers give food to the images, bathe them, put dresses, jewelry and wreaths of flowers on them, tuck them in bed at night. In at least one temple the goddess is even brought into the god’s bedroom at dusk to spend the night with him. In another temple the image catches a cold when he is bathed and then has to convalesce for several weeks.” In a very similar manner the unlearned Roman Catholic people of Mexico, Central America and South America daily dress and bathe, place food and drink offerings before images of the “virgin” and the “saints.” Before these images they bow, pray, burn incense and confess sins.
The Roman Catholic Church, of course, denies the charge of worshiping images, or idolatry. Schaff-Herzog’s Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge states: “The Roman Catholic Church has a peculiar talent for denying in principle what she admits in practice. She does not forbid people to read the Bible, but she prevents them from doing it. She does not deny that it is the merit of Christ which makes man’s works meritorious, but she inculcates that it is his own works which save a man. She does not teach image-worship, but she allows it.” The Catholic Church, in neither openly admitting nor officially condemning this open idolatry, leaves an opening for all possible degrees of idolatry in her own ranks. She carefully refrains from doctrinal definitions on the subject as would fully convict her of idolatry. She studiously, draws a distinction between the adoration and the worship of “saints,” but the distinction is so fine that neither the Catholic masses nor their clergy understand or observe it.
Catholic theologians divide worship into three grades: “Latria being the name of the highest sort; that which is something less is styled hyperdulia, while the lowest order of all is called dulia.” They instruct that latria worship belongs to God, but dulia worship can be given to images. But these theologians give no Scriptural support for such distinction. Such degrees of worship rest strictly within the imaginations of men and have no authority whatsoever from the Word of God.
To prove this point, at Matthew 6:24 (NW) Jesus declares: “No one can be a slave to two masters.” Here, in the original Greek the word translated “slave” is the very same from which the Catholic Church draws her “dulia,” her inferior worship. But Christ plainly states that no one can be a slave to two masters; that this “dulia” worship is the exclusive right of God. And at 1 Thessalonians 1:9 (NW): “How you turned to God from your idols to be slaves to a living and true God.” Here again in the original Greek the word “slaves” is but the translation of that word in which the Roman Catholic Church finds her inferior worship “dulia.” But Paul unmistakably shows that this worship, service as slaves, was not to idols, but “to a living and true God.” Through his prophet Isaiah, Jehovah says: “I am Jehovah, that is my name; and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise unto graven images.” These scriptures prove beyond all controversy that those who give the worship of “dulia” to pictures and images, and not to Jehovah God, are guilty of idolatry.—Isa. 42:8, AS.
“RELATIVE” WORSHIP TO IMAGES
But Catholics will say: “We do not worship the image, but the one whom the image represents.” They claim that such worship is relative, different from the worship directed to God. Let it be noted, however, that God commanded the Israelites not only not to serve or worship any images but also not to make any for the purpose of worship nor to bow down to them: “You must not make worthless gods for yourselves, and you must not set up a carved image or a sacred pillar for yourselves, and you must not put a stone as a showpiece in your land in order to bow down toward it, for I am Jehovah your God.” God’s form is not known to men, so there is no need to try to represent it. And it befouls the dignity of the great Creator to liken him to earthly creation.—Lev. 26:1, NW.
Note how emphatically Moses pressed this point home to the Israelites: “And you must take good care of your souls, because you did not see any form on the day of Jehovah’s speaking to you in Horeb out of the middle of the fire, that you may not act ruinously and do not make for yourselves a carved image, the form of any symbol, the representation of male or female, the representation of any beast that is in the earth, the representation of any winged bird that flies in the heavens, the representation of anything creeping on the ground, the representation of any fish that is in the waters under the earth; and that you may not raise your eyes to the heavens and indeed see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the army of the heavens, and certainly get seduced and bow down to them and serve them, which Jehovah your God has apportioned to all the peoples under the whole heavens. . . . Watch out for yourselves that you may not forget the covenant of Jehovah your God that he concluded with you and that you do not make for yourselves a carved image, the form of anything about which Jehovah your God has commanded you. For Jehovah your God is a consuming fire, a God exacting exclusive devotion.”—Deut. 4:15-24, NW.
As for the claim made that only “relative” worship is given to the image, it is not true. Du Bois, one of the early Roman Catholic missionaries in India, declared: “The common people indubitably worship the image itself.” Thomas Aquinas, one of the very first authorities in the church of Rome, taught that an image may receive the same worship as what is represented by it; Christ’s image may receive the same worship as Christ himself. According to Robert Bellarmine, another high dignitary of the church, the “images of Christ and the saints are to be adored not only in a figurative manner, but quite positively, so that the prayers are directly addressed to them, and not merely as the representatives of the original.” Bonaventura affirms that “since all veneration shown to the image of Christ is shown to Christ himself, then the image of Christ is also entitled to be prayed to.”
So, more than relative worship is accorded images. This is proved by the way devotees treat them. The newspaper L’Europeo of April 5, 1947, showed pictures of devout Roman Catholics in Naples crawling prostrate on their stomachs before the images of Madonnas and licking the ground with their tongues on their way to the statues. In May, 1952, the image of the “Virgin of Charity” was paraded through Havana and thousands of persons thought themselves blessed if they even caught a glimpse of the fifteen-inch image. In the several villages of Navarre prayers for rain were offered to St. Peter, and by way of enforcing them the villagers carried the image of the “saint” in procession to the river, where they would three times demand the image to reconsider their prayers; then, if a downpour did not occur, they would toss the “saint” into the water for refusing to heed their demands.
A special dispatch to the Providence Sunday Journal, December 24, 1950, told of angry villagers of Mascali abandoning the statue of their patron saint, St. Leonard, to burn in the onrushing lava, because it had failed to stop the flow of the volcano. The Catholic Herald, London, December 19, 1950, published a picture showing the inhabitants of Milo carrying a statue of “Our Lady” right to the edge of the advancing avalanche of lava during a recent eruption of Mt. Etna. Similarly, in 1944 Italian peasants placed their images in the path of the flowing lava from Mount Vesuvius in a vain attempt to stop it. These are only a few of many instances showing that worshipers regard these images as more than representations and that considerably more than relative honor is accorded to them.
LAW AS SAFEGUARD
To safeguard the Israelites from such idolatry, Almighty God gave them the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. And the first two of the Ten Commandments warn against foreign gods and idolatry: “You must never have any other gods against my face. You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.”—Ex. 20:2-5, NW.
Catholic theologians are so well convinced that the second commandment condemns image worship that they resort to dishonesty when they list the Ten Commandments in many of their catechisms. “I defy any man,” says Dr. Berg, “to show me the second commandment in any one of the manuals of the Romish Church, before the Reformation.” If you have the revised edition of the Baltimore Catechism, look for the second commandment. You will note that it says: “The second commandment of God is: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” This is not true. That is the third commandment. The second they do not show, because it states the prohibition against image worship. It is dishonest to leave out the second and split the tenth under the pretense of teaching the complete law of God. The very underhanded method in which this is done is in itself evidence of the unscripturalness of this practice.
Dr. Dens, a Roman Catholic scholar, in his Theology, endeavors to justify the use of images by stating that the second commandment did not forbid the making of images, because “likenesses and images of cherubim were made by Moses at the command of God; also, by the command of God Moses erected a brazen serpent.” Why, then, do Catholic authorities fear revealing the truth regarding the second commandment? Dr. Dens himself fails to tell all, as he should have told in all honesty, that these cherubim that Moses made at God’s command were never seen by the people, save by the high priest once a year; that no man ever bowed, burned incense or worshiped before them. Dr. Dens does not add that when the people fell to worshiping the brazen serpent the faithful king Hezekiah broke the image in pieces, that he ordered the absolute destruction of all the other images in the land of Israel. And for this he received favorable mention by God.—Num. 4:5; 2 Ki. 18:4.
When the Israelites worshiped the golden calf at Sinai, they did so only as “a help to devotion,” “relatively,” so to speak. For Aaron said: “There is a festival to Jehovah tomorrow.” Nevertheless, God was angry with them and punished them severely for their idolatry. Time and again Israel fell away to idol worship, these pagan “helps to devotion,” and just as often God punished them for it. For setting up calf worship in Israel, Jeroboam received the infamous title of one “who made Israel to sin.” Yet, the Israelites sacrificed nominally to Jehovah just as they did in Jerusalem, but they bowed before the calves and kissed them. The bowing to and kissing of molten images as “relative” worship was abominable in the sight of God.—Ex. 32:5, NW.
Today, images and statues are kissed to an extent that Jeroboam’s calves never enjoyed. The great toe of the brass statue of Peter in the church of Rome is virtually worn away by this process. The worshiper first bows before the statue until his forehead touches the toe, then kisses it, then bows again. Are such worshipers lifting their hearts to God? Lactantius’ answer was: “You worship them; for, if you believe them to be in heaven, why do you not raise your eyes up to heaven? Why do you look at the wood and stone, and not up, where you believe the originals to be?” The distinguishing mark of faithfulness in Elijah’s day was that men did not bow the knee to Baal or kiss his image. The distinguishing mark of faithful men from Adam’s day to ours is that they did not worship any other God than Jehovah, nor did they bow to graven images.—1 Ki. 19:18.
With the coming of Jesus Christ and the new system of things, the prohibition against image worship has not changed. Paul admonished Christians to “flee from idolatry.” John appealed: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” The Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol. XII, page 750 (1907 edition), declares: “The early Christians were absolutely unanimous in utterly condemning all heathen image-worship and the various customs, many of them obviously immoral, with which it was associated; it is needless to multiply citations from the fathers in proof of so undisputed a fact.” “In point of fact it was a common accusation brought against Christians by their enemies that they had ‘no altars, no temples, no known images’; and that ‘they set up no image or form of any god,’ and this charge was never denied.”—1 Cor. 10:14; 8:4-6; 1 John 5:21, NW.
Why should anyone kneel before an image of Christ Jesus or any saint, when he can bow the knee directly to God? God is looking for those who would, to worship him “with spirit and truth.” When John fell down before an angel, he was told not to do that—“Worship God.” When the devout Cornelius did obeisance to Peter, Peter lifted him up, saying: “Rise; I myself am also a man.” The true worshiper bows worshipfully to God alone. To him he directs his prayers through Jesus Christ. Image making and image worship are anti-God. “Cursed is the man who makes a carved image or a molten statue, a thing detestable to Jehovah.” “What profiteth the graven image, that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, even the teacher of lies, that he that fashioneth its form trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise! Shall this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But Jehovah is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” That fact alone, the fact that God is in his holy temple, should cause men to awake to their responsibility before him, put away their graven images and worship him, the only true and living God. He will not tolerate his praise to go to images.—Rev. 19:10; Acts 10:24-26; Deut. 27:15, NW; Hab. 2:18-20, AS.