Christians and Images: Early Christian Attitudes toward Images Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of the Book Christians and Images: Early Christian Attitudes toward Images



3.1 Introduction

3.2 The New Testament

3.3 Traditions Relating to the New Testament

3.4 The Pre-Constantinian Literature

3.5 The Archeological Monuments



1 Introduction

At the end of the preceding chapter, we called attention to the hypothesis of Meyers and Strange which, if it is correct, would be nothing less than revolutionary in its consequences: “Studies . . . leave open the possibility that narrative art and figurative representation have a still earlier history in Palestine that is unknown to us.i” This hypothesis is much like that of a detective: his intuition points out the criminal, but he cannot prove it yet. For Meyers and Strange, the archeological discoveries at Dura-Europos, and elsewhere, of Jewish images that go back to the first half of the third century must have had antecedents, roots, about which we presently have no information. If we take into account the conservatism of ancient Judaism, it is hard to imagine that in so little time such a great transformation could have taken place: from the supposedly imageless Palestinian Judaism before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, as claimed by Josephus, to the developed iconography we see in the ancient synagogues. Since the archeological evidence is undeniable and the dating of Dura‑Europos is certain (before the destruction of the city in 256), the roots of this art and the attitudes that permitted it must go back some time before the actual dates of the images themselves.

If we suppose that ancient Judaism before 70 AD was uniformly imageless and iconophobic and that the Dura synagogue was painted240 AD, we a period of only 170 years during which the Jews could have passed from a militant aniconia and iconophobia to a consciously developed iconography. This length of time seems rather short for such a revolution, for, indeed, we are talking of a revolution. We, therefore, share Meyers and Strange’s intuition that first-century Judaism does not correspond to the imageless and iconophobic picture that Josephus and others have painted and that the roots of narrative and figurative art found at Dura-Europos and elsewhere go back much farther than current scholarly opinion is willing to admit. By its increasingly ancient discoveries, archeology continues to push back the possible date of the beginning of Jewish images toward the first century. As a result, it also makes more credible the hypothesis that Christian imagery, in practice and in theory, may have had apostolic roots.

The ancient Christian traditions, as well as the reasoning of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, agree when they claim that the roots of Christian images go back to the Apostles. During numerous centuries, however, historians and theologians, Catholic and Protestant alike, have rejected the possibility that there is any historical basis to this claim, considering it to be fanciful reading back into history. Dumeige, a Catholic, expresses the dominant skepticism:

In his study of tradition, John (of Damascus) did not hesitate to push the beginning of images back to Christ and the Apostles themselves. He did this with more good faith than any sense of history. St. John’s statement, which is quite surprising for us, comes from the fact that he accepted as proof the stories about Christ’s sending his portrait to King Abgar and about the statue [of Christ set up by the women with an issue of blood] erected at Paneas (Cæsarea of Philippi).ii

The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, has always believed, naively according to some, that history as well as theology underlie Christian iconography.

What is surprising in our time is the following: the still rather young discipline of archeology is beginning to make the traditional belief about the origins of Christian images less “naive” and more credible, that is, that there may be a historical basis in the apostolic era itself for Christian images. Archeology has opened up this tantalizing possibility by showing us ancient Jewish images which, with each new discovery, increases the possibility that first-century Jews accepted and produced certain kinds of images, even in synagogues. If, in the years to come, the intuition of Meyers and Strange is born out by new archeological discoveries from the first century, even modest ones, then it will be practically impossible to maintain the position of the defenders of the hostility theory that the first Christians were hostile to images of all kinds. Ironically, nonetheless, the central point of the hostility theory would thus be confirmed: the ancient Christians inherited the Jewish attitude toward images. The only problem is this, and herein lies the undermining of the theory’s conclusion: scholars have greatly misjudged the content of that heritage.

2 The New Testament

As for the attitudes of the ancient Christians concerning images, it goes without saying that the New Testament has the first place in our study. The first thing to note is that there is a total silence about Christian and non-idolatrous images. It is important to note that the silence is in the New Testament texts, and this silence should not be interpreted as describing all the activities of the Apostles or first-century Christians. St. John himself said that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book. . .” (Jn 20:30) We could easily add that the Apostles also did and said many things not recorded in the New Testament. It is obvious, therefore, that we do not have a complete account of the activities and sayings of the Apostles. So, if we want to find out if the first Christians made or ordered any kind of figurative art, the New Testament is of no use whatsoever. The silence is a fact, but the reason given for the silence varies from exegete to exegete depending on his assumptions.

Those interpreters who lean toward iconophobia often cite the silence of the New Testament as a proof that the ancient Christians wereiconophobic as well as aniconic. It is, indeed, always dangerous to draw conclusions on the basis of silence, but this is as much a problem for those who would like to give figurative, Christian art an apostolic foundation as for those who defend the hostility theory. Two factors, however, reduce the impact of the silence: 1) the selectivity and the purpose of the New Testament writings and 2) Christian imagery as a Church tradition.

1) The gospels and other apostolic writings not only do not tell everything, but the authors write with a very specific goal in mind. As St. John stated it, their authors wrote so “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. . .” (Jn 20:31) They included those things which might convince their listeners. To our great disappointment, they did not inform us about Jesus’s teenage and young adult years, the death of Mary, the activities of the 70 Apostles, the New Testament prophets, the way the Apostles died, or what happened to the young Church in Jerusalem after the destruction of the city. All this information was not essential for their purposes. St. Paul also limited himself to specific goals. All this is to say that we should not be surprised about the limited and partial picture of the life of the first Christians as we have it in the New Testament. The apostolic preaching, even though only partially contained in the New Testament in terms of its volume, is nonetheless fully expressed in its essence. There is, therefore, theoretical space for activities of the first-century Christians that were not important enough or extensive enough to be reflected in the first Christian writings. It is in this theoretical space that any possible Christian artistic activity, if there were any, can be placed. We are not claiming that the apostolic Christians did in fact make or order images of Christ, Mary or anyone else or that they produced any symbolic designs. We simply want to state that the silence of the New Testament on this question does not exclude the possibility of some kind of artistic activity.

2) We have already discussed Christian imagery as a Church tradition, that is, that it is an activity adopted and developed by Christians to help them preach and live their faith. Even though Christianity is, as we know, it an iconophile faith, it is theoretically possible to imagine an orthodox Christianity without images, not in the sense of an openrejection because the Gospel is supposedly against them but in the sense that Christ or the Apostles did not command the production of images as baptism was commanded, for example. But, even though an imageless, orthodox Christianity is theoretically conceivable, the only real Christianity that we know is the historical one that did in fact develop an iconography. Because its legitimacy was questioned by the Byzantine iconoclasts, this iconography became essential to the Gospel tradition. Therefore, in order to properly ground the development of the Christian artistic tradition, it is not necessary for all New Testament Christians, or even a large number of them, to have produced or used images as we know them today. It is quite probable that the vast majority of first-century Christians never thought about a Christian art. They did not have the time or the money to make or order images, even if they had wanted to. It is sufficient for our purposes that they did not show themselves hostile to a non-idolatrous art, and in fact, there is no evidence to indicate that they were hostile to such imagery.

There are several references in the New Testament to concrete, material images, that is, those objects created by human artists. These pas sages can give us a certain idea about the attitude of the early Christians toward artistic imagesiii.

The first text, Mk 12:13–17, tells about the meeting between Jesus, on the one side, and the Pharisees and the Herodians, on the other, concerning the emperor’s image on a coin. As he looks at the coin, Jesus shows an attitude that markedly contrasts with that of such rigorist, Jewish authorities as Rabbi Nahum the Very Holyiv who refused even to look at coins because of the idolatrous image of the emperor on them. The attitude of Rabbi Nahum tells us nothing about what the early Christians thought about non-idolatrous images, but the contrast between Jesus’s and the Rabbi’s reactions seems to undermine any Christian rigorism similar to that represented by Rabbi Nahum. Jesus’s reaction is all the more significant because the image in question was clearly idolatrous since it was of the Emperor Tiberius who claimed, and was considered, to be a god. We must point out, however, that the con text of the story is not idolatrous, not even cultic. Jesus and the Jews were not in the Temple or a synagogue; they were in no situation where the danger of worshiping the emperor’s image was even remotely present. It is difficult to conceive how it would be possible, even for pagans, to worship, out in the open, an imperial image on a coin. The danger of idolatry was rather remote. Nonetheless, after studying this text, Finney arrived at the following conclusion:

In short, the one and only New Testament pericope that overtly mentions Cæsar’s image (but only on a coin) treats the image in a purely matter-of-fact manner. It is implicitly dismissive of the larger issue concerning idolatry. All that we can conclude from this much-discussed pericope is that principled Jewish opposition to the idolatrous image of the emperor was not part of the gospel editor’s theological or literary agenda.v

Even though it would not be justified to conclude from this New Testament text more than it can legitimately carry, or to speculate about Jesus’s or early Christians’ reaction toward other sorts of images, it does seem legitimate to ask the following question: If Jesus did not feel himself contaminated with idolatry by looking at, or even touching, an idolatrous image in a non-cultic setting, what might have been his reaction toward non-idolatrous, Jewish images? The point of the question is to establish a continuum and to place Jesus’s attitude on it. By identifying more or less rigorous attitudes on either side of Jesus’s attitude, we are able to shed some light on the reaction of early Christians toward various kinds of images.

At one end of the scale, we have the most extremist attitude, that of the rigorist rabbis who refused even to look at images on coins. It is not difficult to imagine these rabbis’ reaction had they found themselves in the presence of images that were really worshiped by pagans—idols. For Christians, this extreme position seems to be excluded by Jesus’s reaction, as recorded in Mark. On the other end of the scale, we have another position, less rigorous, that of being in the presence of an idolatrous image—but not in a cultic setting, that is, in a temple—where there is little danger of idolatry or even of being required to worship an idol. In this situation, Jesus, and many other Jews, could look at the image and even touch it without feeling contaminated. We can even extend our continuum to a third position, still further away from strict rigorism. We know that Jewish images existed, that they were considered non-idolatrous, both within and outside of a liturgical setting, and that they provoked various reactions and attitudes among Jews. (See the previous chapter.) Since we know that sculpted lions have played an important role in the decoration of Torah shrines throughout Jewish history, is it inconceivable that such lions existed in synagogues of first century Palestine? Is it possible that Jesus and the disciples could have worshiped in a synagogue with such lions? If so, what was their attitude toward them? We do not know the answer to these questions, and speculation, at this point, must remain just that, with all the inherent dangers of wishful thinking that go with speculation. It is not impossible, however, that at some time in the future, an archeological dig may find evidence of lions in a Palestinian synagogue of the first century. At that point, the above-mentioned questions will take on a totally different meaning. Our third position on the continuum indicates, nonetheless, a continued movement away from the rigorist pole.

The second New Testament reference to material, artistic images is found in a series of passages that identify such images with idols and idolatry. In the first series, we hear about the Beast and its image: Rv 12:14; 13:9 & 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4. In these passages, the image of theis commonly identified with the emperor’s statuevi, and those who refuse to worship it, and are thus put to death, are God’s faithful. These passages are less interesting for us, because they fall into a category that already contains many examples: worshipers of the true God refuse to pollute themselves by worshiping the images of false gods.

St. Paul’s visit to Athens (Ac 17:16–34) is the third reference. St. Paul seems to reflect Jesus’s attitude toward the image on the coin. He did not consider himself contaminated when he was in a city “full of idols” or when he saw them as he “passed along and observed the objects of . . . worship. . .,” even though “his spirit was provoked within him” at the sight of a whole forest of gods. Not being required to worship the idols himself, St. Paul, like most Jews in the Græco-Roman world, showed a certain tolerance toward idolatrous images. He would look at them, be in their presence, even touch them, certainly as struck on coins, without feeling himself contaminated. His attitude is in striking contrast to that of certain Jews who refused to enter a city whose gate had an idol on it.vii

Finally, Rm 1:23 gives the meaning of idol to the word image by contrasting the glory of God with images-idols: men have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.”

3 Traditions Relating to the New Testament

Although the New Testament provides no examples of non-idolatrous, Christian images, it is noteworthy that the only artistic images that are condemned are idols. Since we know the attitude of Judaism about idolatry, it is not surprising that Christians had a similar reaction. However, nothing in the New Testament supports, except silence, the conclusion of the advocates of the hostility theory that the early Christians were hostile to all figurative art. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the hostility theory could be defended by supposing that Jews were uniformly aniconic and iconophobic. First-century Christians, following their Jewish parents, carried over their attitude toward images, but it is no longer sufficient to repeat past suppositions when there is no proof to back them up and, especially, when early Jewish figurative art continues to be dug up by archeologists. This evidence has seriously undermined these received ideas.

In the light of the new open-mindedness about Jewish and Christian attitudes toward non-idolatrous images, it is necessary to reevaluate another source of information about the primitive Church: traditions that paint a different, but not necessarily conflicting, picture from what the New Testament tells us. We have several traditions that associate the apostolic times with non-idolatrous, Christian images. Let us be clear here: in studying these traditions, we are not necessarily claiming that they are historical, but we are not claiming, either, that they are void of historical content. It is, in fact, impossible to establish or disprove their historicity. Skeptics, of whom there are many today as in the past, will exclude these stories automatically as nothing more than legendary fabrications. According to these thinkers, oral tradition is nearly useless for establishing history. Whether the traditions are historical or not in their present form, their cumulative effect is to associate in a favorable light images and the New Testament period.

More recently, however, ethnographic, anthropological, biblical and historical studies have given researchers a more open mind about the possibility of gathering historical information from oral traditions that were written down at a considerable period of time after the events or people described. And even if we cannot accept all the details of such legends and stories, we can often see the general outline of the activities and people described. Forexample, no one can prove or refute the historicity of the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but modern scholars are more and more struck by the similarity between the general outlines of the Near Eastern culture at the time of the patriarchs as described in the Old Testament and the picture of the same period painted by the various scientific disciplines.

Jaroslav Pelikan, in his study The Vindication of Tradition,viiinotes that in many areas of research, there is a new respect for tradition and traditions and their ability to contribute to our knowledge of history. In some New Testament studies, for example, that of Perrinix, the authors often speak about the various oral traditions on which the written texts are based. In the context of this new openness toward the idea of tradition, in general, and oral traditions, in particular, it is profitable to reexamine the traditions that point to the existence of non-idolatrous, Christian images in apostolic times.

We learn from Col 4: 14 that St. Luke was a doctor: “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.” Modern biblical criticism has never doubted the truth of this statement, and, in the end, there is no reason to doubt it. Tradition in forms us that the evangelist was also a painter and that he was the first to paint a portrait of Mary and the Christ Child. This painting is supposedly the model for the Hodigitria icon, that is, Mary holding the Child in her right arm while she points to him with her left hand. The first historical reference to this tradition is found in the History of the Church by Theodore the Reader, around 530x, who was attached to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople: “Theodore the Reader, Hist. eccles.1, 1, quoted by Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos: ‘[Theodore] said . . . that, from Jerusalem, Eudoxia sent to Pulcheria an image of the Mother of God, like the one painted by St. Luke.xi’” Theodore wrote about an event that took place in 450 when Theodosius II was emperor. Several Church Fathers and the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicæa referred to this tradition in their struggle against the iconoclasts. The tradition that makes St. Luke a painter has entered into the liturgical texts of the Orthodox Church and is mentioned during the feast of several icons of the Mother of God.xii We are aware that the 400-year gap between the supposed event and the first historical reference to it poses a problem of credibility. The tradition exists, nonetheless, and is, by that very fact, historical material whether or not it gives us information about the attitude of apostolic Christians toward images. It gives us information about what some post-apostolic Christians felt about the attitude of apostolic Christians toward images.

King Abgar

The second ancient tradition concerns the image of Christ supposedly painted for King Abgar V the Black of Edessa (Oukhama of Osrhoene) who had heard about Jesus’s healing miracles. Abgar was himself sick and wanted Jesus to come to Edessa to heal him. Abgar’s ambassador, Ananias, who was also a painter, was sent to Jesus with a letter asking him to come to Edessa. Jesus refused to go but wrote a letter to Abgar promising him to send one of his disciples later on. There are two versions of the story: Ananias painted an image of Jesus for the king, and Jesus imprinted his features on a wet cloth. Once the image arrived in Edessa, it became the source of healing. After the Ascension, the Apostle Thaddeus went to Edessa to heal Abgar and to convert the people. Steven Runcimanxiii gives us the history of the tradition:

Eusebius of Cæsareaxiv (325) relates the story and claims to have read the original letters—including one written by Jesus himself—in the archives of Edessa. He says nothing about an image. Runciman, believing Eusebius to have been iconophobic, says that he simply sup pressed the section of his source that spoke about the image.xv The Teaching of Addaixvi (350–400) tells the story of Abgar and mentions the image of Christ that Ananias painted. In his Church History, Eusebius reproduces the passages that precede and follow the section in The Teaching that mentions the image. This omission makes Runciman think that Eusebius deliberately left it out.

In his Church History IV, 27 (600)xvii, Evagrius mentions the story about the image which has become an “icon-made-by-God” (theoteuktos eikon)xviii or an “image-not-made-by-hands” (acheiropoietos). Evagrius also tells how the image protected the city against a Persian attack in 544.

In On the Divine Images, St. John of Damascusxix gives the most developed version of the tradition by saying that the ambassador Ananias was not able to paint Christ’s image, because the divine rays that shone from Jesus’s face blinded him. Christ noticed the difficulty Ananias was having, wet his face, took a cloth and imprinted his features on the cloth.

In his study of the primitive Syriac traditionxx, Robert Murray calls attention to the historical links, as much for Judaism as for Christianity, between Palestine and the “Syriac region,” that is, northern Mesopotamia and Adiabene. The Jewish-Christian character of the Christian literature from this area reinforces the impression of a close relation between the two regions. Even though the Abgar story is not confirmed by Murray’s study, it quite naturally fits in the context of cultural, linguistic and ethnic relations that are well known to history. Murray considers the outline of the Abgar legend to be historical and part of the distant memory of the Christians of that area. It is, therefore, more difficult to consider the Abgar legend to be a total fabrication.

Thestatue of Christ at Paneas

In his History of the Churchxxi(320), Eusebius of Cæsarea describes a statue of Christ he claims to have seen in the town of Paneas (Cæsarea Philippi). It is the statue of a woman kneeling before a standing man. The woman extends her hand toward the man, and he does the same toward her. The local tradition of Paneas, recorded by Eusebius, claimed that the statue was set up by the woman with an issue of blood to honor Christ who had healed her (Mt 9:20–23; Mk 5:25–34; Lk 8:43–48). Eusebius apparently accepted that the monument, indeed, went back to apostolic times. He also had a rather high opinion of the work: “Her house was pointed out in the city, and a wonderful memorial of the benefit the Savior conferred upon her was still there. On a tall stone base at the gates of her house stood a bronze statue of a woman. . .xxii” In the same chapter, Eusebius notes that he had seen images of Sts. Peter and Paul and of Christ himself. Runciman says the following about this passage from Eusebius: “He admitted that pictures of Peter and Paul and even of Christ existed, but he referred to them coldly. . .xxiii” It seems rather that Eusebius expresses the opposite sentiment:

It is not at all surprising that Gentiles who long ago received such benefits from our Savior should have expressed their gratitude thus, for the features of His Apostles Paul and Peter, and indeed of Christ Himself, have been preserved in colored portraits which I have examined. How could it be otherwise, when the ancients habitually followed their own Gentile custom of honoring them as saviors in this uninhibited way?xxiv

Even if we suppose that the statue was not of Christ and did not go back to the apostolic period (Gustave Bardy thinks it was a statue of Æsculapius because of the “exotic plant” growing at the woman’s feetxxv), Eusebius, apparently, the people of Paneas, everyone, accepted the tradition as authentic. Even though Eusebius has been identified as an iconophobe before Iconoclasm, he does not find it impossible or incredible that the woman-with-an-issue-of-blood would have honored Christ by erecting a statue of him. He finds the custom natural and seems to praise it.

Let us suppose for a moment that the statue was indeed of the healing god Æsculapius. This would then be an example of Christians adopting some pagan element, in this case a statue, and giving it a Christian meaning. If this is what really happened, we have an excellent example of what we know from other sources: at an unknown date, Christians adopted pagan, artistic forms which they then rebaptized by imposing a Christian meaning on them. The parallels with the Good Shepherd and Orpheus for Christ and Endymion for Jonah are well known.

The portrait icon of St. John the Theologian. In the Acts of Johnxxvi, an apocryphal text of the second century, we have a story witnessing to the existence of Christian images, or at least a Christian image, at a very early date. This story is very hard to interpret because the theological context of the whole document clearly places it on the outer limits of the Christian movement. We can even wonder if the group for which the Acts of John was written was not outside what we can call the “Great Church.” Junod and Kaestlixxvii, having studied the Acts, characterize it in the following way:

A succession of narrative elements, speeches, thanksgivings, and prayers” which nonetheless “manifest a verbal cohesion and unity on the doctrinal level”;

no references to the Jews;

no reference to a New Testament text having any great authority;

an unpolished, undeveloped and archaic theology centered exclusively on John and his God;

a Eucharist with only bread;

hardly any reference to baptism;

no mention of a community, no sense of Church;

a naive dualism;

a docetic Christology without an incarnate and crucified Christ;

a supreme, transcendent and immaterial God.

Junod and Kaestli come to the following conclusion:

In our opinion, these characteristics are the marks of an extreme form of pagan Christianity, which, however, is not aware of its extremist position. . . The Acts its origin in, and was destined for, Christian converts from paganism and from the popular classes . . ., Christians who lived on the edge of the Great Church and its magisterium.xxviii

As for the date, the authors opt for the middle, or perhaps the first half, of the second century.

In chapters 26–29 of the Acts, read the story of St. John and his portrait icon. Lycomedes, one of St. John’s disciples, asked a painter friend to paint the portrait of St. John without his knowledge. When the artist had finished the painting, he gave it to Lycomedes who put it in his bedroom. He crowned the portrait with flowers, placed lamps before it and kissed it in honor of his “good guide.” When St. John first saw his own portrait, he did not recognize himself, but when he realized that Lycomedes had had his portrait painted, his “image in the flesh,” St. John advised his disciple to paint the portrait of his own soul with virtues: “. . . in brief, when a full set and mixture of such colors [virtues] has come together into your soul, it will present it to our Lord Christ undismayed and undaunted and rounded in form. But what you have now done is childish and imperfect; you have drawn a dead likeness of what is dead.xxix183”

This is the oldest written reference to an image used in a Christian context, around 150, but the story is found in a document strongly tainted with doctrines that have been judged heretical by the mainstream of Christianity of all ages. The hostility of St. John to his portrait was used by the iconoclasts during the iconoclastic crisis, but since the document’s Christology is clearly docetic, or “fantasist” as the Fathers of Nicæa II saidxxx, it is difficult to maintain its authority in other areas.

On the other hand, even if we consider the document as heterodox, how should we handle the episode of the image? Should we say that it is completely fictitious? Junod and Kaestli think that the Acts various kinds of material that “the author obviously did not invent in toto.xxxi” Did a group of pagano-Christians on the outer limits of the mainstream really have images that the Apostles or other Christians judged negatively? Or is it possible that the text’s heterodoxy has also deformed St. John’s attitude and reaction? When we categorize a document as heterodox, we suppose that there are orthodox documents or teachings to which the faulty document can be compared so as to determine how and to what degree it deviates from the standard. As for St. John’s attitude toward his portrait-icon, and its veneration, we have no means of determining precisely what were the practices and attitudes of the Apostles and other orthodox Christians toward images at the period when the Acts was written.

It is important to note, however, that St. John does not call his portrait an idol or its veneration idolatry, even though the outward forms of veneration (flowers, lamps, kisses) are the same as those of pagan idolatry. Before he recognized himself in the image, he thought it was a god: “Lycomedes, what is it that you have done with this portrait? Is it of your gods that is painted here? Why, I see you are still living as a pagan!” But when he sees that it is his own image, St. John says that “what you have now done is childish and imperfect; you have drawn a dead likeness of what is dead.”

The ethical argument of St. John is also interesting because it distinguishes between material colors that are used to paint “a dead likeness of what is dead” and the colors of virtues which can be used to paint a beautiful, moral image of the soul. The Byzantine iconoclasts, and iconoclasts of every age, moreover, have adopted this distinction and turned it into an opposition. We find it mentioned in iconoclastic documents of the iconoclast period.xxxii We can clearly see that at the time of the Byzantine crisis, the iconoclasts opposed these two ways of painting an image as though they were mutually exclusive. It is equally evident that the iconodules saw no opposition in the distinction between the two sorts of images. According to defenders of icons, it is quite necessary for Christians to reproduce the moral image of Christ and the saints, but it also permitted to paint their material images with material colors. It is interesting to note, finally, that few of the inheritors of the iconophobic tradition today would go so far as the St. John depicted in the Acts or the Byzantine iconoclasts and radically oppose the two types of images.

To better understand, let us make an analogy containing four elements, three of which are known, the fourth unknown. 1) During the iconoclastic crisis (eighth century), the heterodox iconoclasts turned a distinction into an opposition: a painted image of colors versus an ethical image of virtues. 2) For the orthodox iconodules, the elements of the distinction remained different but eminently compatible. 3) The Acts of John, heterodox document, written about 150, opposed an image painted with colors to a moral image “painted” with virtues. 4) Did the Christians of the main, orthodox stream accept the distinction without opposition? Some would say that the question is simply a projection back into history of an issue that concerned a later time. We cannot help noting, however, that throughout Christian history, protest movements of various sorts have ended up by being iconoclast and by opposing material and moral images. Therefore, while we wait for further documentary or archeological evidence, we do not feel it is illegitimate to suspect that the ancient Christians of the main, orthodox stream were either favorable to, or at least were not opposed to, non-idolatrous images.

One thing is certain, thanks to the Acts of John, opposition between material images and ethical images goes very far back into Christian history and that this opposition is identified, not with the central tradition, but rather with a marginal, suspect and heterodox tradition. In our opinion, it is permissible to suspect that the Tradition of the Great Church, which embraces both kinds of images, goes back at least as far as the opposite tradition.

The image of Christ made by Pilate. Irenæus of Lyons informs us that the Gnostic Carpocratians “also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them.xxxiii” Irenæus does not explicitly say that an image of Christ was among them, but the force of his presentation assumes that it was there. The justification given by the Carpocratians has its greatest persuasive force if we assume that Christ’s image was among those they possessed. If the images were just of the Apostles, there would have been no need for a justification referring to an image of Christ made by Pilate. If the Gnostic images were only of pagan philosophers, the justification would make no sense at all. Finney claims, however, that “several modern commentators have misread Irenæus: he does not report that the Carpocratians possessed or owned this image of Jesus [the very one supposedly made by Pilate] or that they claimed as much, only that one had been made.xxxiv” All the Carpocratians did was to justify their use of images on the basis of the tradition that said that Pilate made an image of Christ. Finney makes a free translation from Latin:

Gnosticos se autem vocant: etiam imagines, quasdam quidem depictas, quasdam autem et de reliqua materia fabricatas habent, detentes formam Christi factam a Pilato, illo in tempore quo fuit Jesus cum hominibus:

As if all the above-mentioned things were not enough, these people even have images . . . which practice they justify . . . by saying that an image of Christ. . .xxxv

Grant is one of these “modern commentators” who affirm what Finney denies: “They have images . . . and they say that their image of Christ was made by Pilate when Jesus was among men.xxxvi” Hutinxxxvii and Benoitxxxviii admit that an image of Jesus was among those mentioned by Irenæus, but they do not interpret the passage as though the Carpocratians claimed to have the very image made by Pilate. We can, therefore, reasonably conclude that the Carpocratians had several sorts of images including an image of Christ and that they justified their practice by appealing to the tradition that Pilate had an image of Christ made. Hippolytus of Rome reproduces nearly completely the text of Irenæus: “And they make counterfeit images of Christ, alleging that these were in existence at the time (during which our Lord was on earth, and that they were fashioned) by Pilate.xxxix

At the time of the Byzantine iconoclastic crisis, only St. John of Damascus cited this tradition; neither the iconodules nor the iconoclasts referred to it. The two groups must have known the tradition since Irenæ, Hippolytus of Rome, etc. were known to both parties, but no one quoted it. As for the iconodules, they did not want to support their argument by reference to heretics even though both parties justified themselves by appealing to previous historical precedents. As for Pilate, he is also a rather ambiguous ally. The iconoclasts did not refer to the tradition either: whether it be Pilate or another person of the apostolic age who might have made an image of Christ, or whether it was heretics who witnessed to the existence of such images at an early date, the iconoclasts did not want to add credence to the defense of their adversaries who claimed that such images had been made in the apostolic era. In fact, it suited the purposes of both parties simply to ignore the tradition about Pilate.

3.3 Jewish Christianity. There is a controversy among specialists of Christian antiquity about the nature, extent, theology and liturgical practices of Christians of Jewish origin.xl Everyone recognizes the existence of Jewish Christianity, but it has been traditionally thought that this kind of Christianity lost its vigor after the second Jewish revolt against the Romans, in 135, turned into heterodoxy, and finally disintegrated. Certain theological studies and archeological discoveries contest this point of view and claim that a small, marginal, but orthodox Jewish Christianity existed, along with various heterodox groups, and that orthodox Jewish Christians continued to exist for several centuries. We are here interested in the symbolism of the Jewish Christians and the degree to which they made these symbols visible in artistic forms. Archeological excavations at Nazarethxli have produced some important results.

At Nazareth, the traditional site of the Annunciation, under the Byzantine chapel, archeologists have found another, more ancient site: the grotto of the Annunciation which Jewish Christians of the region venerated for centuries. An incomplete Greek inscription on a column in the grotto can be interpreted, according to Bagatti, as an indication of the presence of an image of Maryxlii:

H (prostrated) ?

YPO AGIO TOPO M. . . under the holy place of M (ary?)

H EGRAPSA EK I wrote there the (the names)

EIKOS EYKOSM. . . the image I adorned

YTH(S) of her. . .

. . .The M can be completed in many ways; but the word “Marias” would be very appropriate at that place. . . In the fourth line, “eikos eukosm (esa) (a) ute(s)” suggest a) two possible translations, according to the value given to “eikos “: “I arranged well that which suits her”; b) “I adorned well her image.” As is clearly seen the graffito testifies to the existence of the veneration of Mary or of her image.

At another place, the archeologists found a real image, a drawing of a man that Bagatti identified as an image of St. John the Baptist.xliii

A second image of a man was found: “19: Lower down, fig. 120, is a figure of a man in profile. He seems to carry a chequered mantle and to be kneeling. He is 75 mm high.xliv

In the necropolis of Nazareth, tomb #79:

The most interesting things in this tomb are the sculptures and graffiti which cover the walls. On the north wall, to the right on entering, one sees a bust, somewhat ruined in recleaning, fig. 197, made with rough lines but not without craftsmanship. On the cheeks are letters, one of which is Y. There follows another bust, with a face like to the preceding, fig. 198, but with more letters. . . All these letters seem to relate to the Judeo-Christian surroundings.xlv

These archeological discoveries concerning Jewish Christianity do not directly touch on the traditions relating to the apostolic age, but we have included them here because it is possible that some of these images and inscriptions go back to, or very close to, the apostolic age. It is quite possible that others belong to the second or third centuries. It is, of course, difficult to date all these monuments, but it is not out of the question that some of them, especially those of Nazareth and Dominus Flevit in Jerusalem, do go back to the Apostles.

3.4 The interpretation of the evidence. It is obvious that modern science, does not give much weight to the traditions we have described. And even those researchers more open to what tradition can offer must finally face the final word: “According to tradition. . .” We can affirm, however, that very early, at the beginning of the fourth century in the case of Eusebius of Cæsarea, Christians believed that artistic talent and activity, used to serve Christian ends, was compatible with Christian belief, and they believed that such an approval, or at least non-opposition, went back to the apostolic era. For skeptics, this argument does not have much value in the case of St. Luke the painter or King Abgar since the written references are late: 530 for St. Luke and 350–400 for Abgar. If we assume that all oral traditions precede their first written redaction, we can push the legends back farther into history than these dates would indicate. The question, of course, is how far back?

In the case of Eusebius of Cæsarea, we have something different. He was a Christian bishop, often classed among the iconophobes, who affirmed having seen a statue of Christ erected by the woman whom he healed, a statue with an origin in the apostolic age. Eusebius seems to have accepted the oral tradition and to have thought it quite natural for Christians of pagan origin to honor Christ in this manner. He also stated that he had seen other images of Christ, St. Peter and St. Paul which did reproduce their physical features; he thought, therefore, that those images he examined were authentic portraits. If they were just that—they were obviously not the very first ones ever made but copies—Eusebius is himself a witness not only to the fact that an artistic tradition was already well established but also that there was nothing scandalous in the existence of such images, even during the Apostles’ time.

In the case of the portrait of St. John mentioned in the Acts of John, have evidence that images did exist at least in one Christian group. The problem of this group’s marginality and its doubtful orthodoxy is not to be minimized; nonetheless, we know that Christian images did exist at that early time.

The archeological monuments of the Jewish Christian are the only evidence that is apt to impress the skepticism of those who advocate the hostility theory. Of all the evidence, these images go the farthest back into history toward the Apostles’ time and can, therefore, give us some fairly certain information about the attitudes and practices of ancient Christians toward images.

The first thing to notice about the images found in the archeological digs is their symbolic nature: crown, vine, palm, lulab, etrog, cross, plow, star, the letter tav (T), etc.xlvi Such Jewish Christian designs do not differ much from those of Jews of the same period, or earlier. Goodenoughxlvii shows us how the Jews used symbolic designs to express their faith. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that those Jews who became Christian continued the same practice. Even if we did not have Jewish Christian monuments as evidence, it would not be difficult to suppose that Christians used symbolic designs to express their faith. We can then begin our analysis by affirming that some ancient Christians drew objects that had symbolic value for them. Did the Apostles or other Christians of the New Testament draw them or have them drawn? We cannot categorically affirm anything, but the monuments leave the question open. We have to admit, nonetheless, that the drawing of symbolic designs is already an artistic activity. What about the content of the symbolic designs? Were they only of inanimate objects or of plants? The monuments we have so far discovered say no.

We see among them the drawing of a man (St. John the Baptist?) and possibly an allusion to an image of Mary, in the grotto of Nazarethas well as faces in the Nazareth necropolis. Certain medals found in the digs showed personified crosses where a face, Jesus’s face, takes the place of the upper branch of the cross. The personified cross is part of Jewish Christian symbolismxlviii which Jewish Christians expressed on their medals. The designs are very primitive, it is quite true, but it cannot be denied that they are designs of human beings, even of Christ or angels. According to the hostility theory, Jews and ancient Christians could have made only geometric designs, or images of inanimate objects; the most daring might have accepted plants. The archeological evidence seems to make this point difficult to maintain.

What date can we give to these monuments? It is difficult to give a more precise date than the second or third century, but two aspects of the monuments are important for our argumentation. 1) The designs are very primitive, artistically crude and colorless. The ancient Christians, as we know, were not rich enough to make or order luxurious objects of great artistic quality. This lack of refinement seems to indicate a rather early dating. 2) archeologists have discovered these images in a Jewish Christian setting and have attributed them to the “Church of the Circumcision,” that is, to Christians of Jewish origin and not to pagan converts. According to the hostility theory, we should find figurative art (images of animals, men, angels, Christ) in a Gentile Christian context and not in a Jewish Christian one. The theory says that pagan, Greek converts brought images into Christianity. Due to the Jewish background of those who produced these images, the Jewish Christians should have maintained the supposed Jewish hostility to images. Archeology, though, shows us monuments that testify to the existence of a Christian artistic activity, however primitive it may have been, whose artists did not hesitate to draw human figures. Let us not forget that all this is to be found in a Jewish Christian milieu, at a date very close to the apostolic age and in sites closely linked to the New Testament and the apostolic Church, Nazareth and Jerusalem.

In the previous chapter, we feel that we seriously undermined the foundations of the theory according to which the Jews were uniformly to all figurative art. As a result, a new evaluation of the attitudes of the ancient Christians toward images is necessary. We should not be surprised, therefore, to learn that the first Christians, even Jewish Christians, saw no contradiction between the Gospel and a non-idolatrous imagery used in the service of Christ. Consequently, the ancient traditions concerning the apostolic age and images, seen in the light of these new discoveries, appear to be somewhat less fantastic.

4 The Pre-Constantinian Literature

4.1 Introduction

The advocates of the hostility theory support their arguments by an appeal to early Christian literature. They quote numerous authors of Christian antiquity to show the antipathy these authors supposedly had toward figurative art. Since it is our task to examine the merits of the hostility theory, we must also examine these writings to see if they support this point of view.

We must admit right from the beginning of our study that the questions we are asking of these ancient Christian authors are not ones they directly asked of themselves: What is, or should be, the attitude of Christians toward non-idolatrous images? Is it permitted for Christians to possess, paint or order non-idolatrous images for use at home or in church? The questions are quite precise for us because we live in an era 1,500 to 1,800 years after the pre-Constantinian period. Byzantine iconoclasm, the Reformation of the 16th century and other iconoclastic crises have debated the question concerning the place of Christian images; these debates are all part of our past. In the heat of these controversies, the questions have found their classical form, and their classical answers as well: Does the use of non-idolatrous images by Christians contradict the Gospel, or are they compatible with it? We insist on the word non-idolatrous—it goes without saying that the use of idols is excluded—to avoid the confusion that is so often present in the literature on this subject. Writers often speak of Jewish and Christian attitudes toward images in general, as though idols, family portraits, symbols and personifications were all in the same category. By distinguishing between at least two classes of images, idolatrous and nonidolatrous, we hope to advance our understanding of this question by simply introducing what ought to be an obvious distinction.It seems that the ancient Christians did not ask themselves the main question of our study: Are Christians permitted to have and use non-idolatrous images? There is, at least, nothing in the literature of the time that indicates that they were preoccupied with the matter. We must, therefore, try to read between the lines, to deduce an author’s ideas from the context of his work or to interpret what he does not say. In other words, we are often required to read an author’s silence. Our first observation then is that the question of Christian images was not on the minds of the early Christians, or at least it is not directly reflected in the literature. And this is precisely the source of the various and contradictory interpretations that have provoked spirited, and even bloody, controversies.

The point of the following analysis is not to prove that the early Christians accepted the position affirmed by the orthodox group at the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicæa, or that they produced images such as we know them from a later period. The sources do not permit this, and it would be dishonest to try to force them to do so. Our task here is rather to study the literature of the ancient Christians to see if it supports what we call the hostility theory, that is, that the ancient Christians were hostile to all kinds of images, idolatrous and non-idolatrous, because they felt that figurative art was in conflict with the Gospel itself.

We will examine the literature on the assumption that there are at least two categories of images, idols and nonidols, and that op position to one category does not necessarily imply opposition to the other. This is a fundamental element of our methodology. To confuse these two categories is a fatal, methodological error as much for the study of Christian attitudes toward images as for Jewish ones. By eliminating the ghost of a global, early Christian hostility toward all images, and by seeing that the hostility manifested in these documents is directed nearly exclusively toward idolatrous art, we hope to open up the possibility of detecting the roots of Christian art that go back, certainly to the pre-Constantinian period, and even, perhaps, to the apostolic age.

We will examine the literature of our period in the light of another factor that supports the hostility theory: the opposition between a strict clergy and a laxist laity.xlix According to Klauser’s theory, during the first three centuries, the clergy was conservative, iconophobic and opposed to all images; they, nonetheless, had to give way little by little to pressure from the liberal, iconophile laity. The clergy finally lost all control and had to accept the boundless iconophilia of the laity. We will want to see if the ancient Christian literature supports such a clergy-laity opposition and if there are any indications to the contrary?

In our presentation of early Christian literature, we will follow the selection established by Kochl who felt that he was able to trace an unbroken stream of hostility toward all figurative art in Christian antiquity; the authors’ names are followed by their approximate dates:

  1. Aristides of Athens, 125
  2. Justin the Philosopher [Martyr], 155
  3. Tatian the Syrian, 170
  4. Athenagoras of Athens, 177
  5. Irenæus of Lyons, 190
  6. Minucius Felix, 190
  7. Clement of Alexandria, 210
  8. Tertullian, 210
  9. Origen, 246
  10. he Didascalia, third century
  11. Cyprian of Carthage, 258
  12. Methodius of Olympus, 300
  13. Lactantius, 300
  14. The Council of Elvira, 300–304
  15. Arnobius of Sicca, 311
  16. Eusebius of Cæsarea, 315

4.2 Authors and documents

Aristides of Athens, Apologyli [125]

A) So the Egyptians and the Chaldæens and the Greeks made a great error in bringing forward such beings as gods, and in making images of them, and in deifying dumb and senseless idols. And I wonder how they saw their gods sawn out and hacked and docked by the workmen, and besides aging with time and falling to pieces, and being cast from metal, and yet did not discern concerning them that they were not gods. (From the Greek text)

B) But it is a marvel, O King, with regard to the Greeks, who surpass all other peoples in their manner of life and reasoning, how they have gone astray after dead idols and lifeless images. And yet they see their gods in the hands of their artificers being sawn out, and planed and docked. . . old, and. . . worn away through lapse of time. . . How, I wonder, did they not perceive . . . that they are not gods? (From the Syriac text)lii

In his Apology, Aristides gives us one of the first examples of the Christian attack against paganism in which he makes fun of the “dumb and senseless” idols. Aristides thus takes the lead in a long line of Christian authors who generally repeat the same arguments. What is true in the case of Aristides will also be more or less true for those who follow: the Christian attack will aim at statues and painted images of gods—idols—which are worshiped. These attacks take their place in the much larger campaign against idols already started by the Jews and even some Greek philosophers. There is nothing surprising, therefore, to see the Christians use this powerful weapon against paganism.

On the basis of their polemic against idolatrous images, it is illegitimate, however, to claim that the early Christians were hostile to all images and that they could not distinguish between the two kinds of images. As we have already seen, the Jews were no less hostile to idolatry than the Christians, and yet, they were able to develop a figurative, liturgical art where the danger of idolatry had been eliminated. The polemic of the Jews and Christians against idolatrous images is, therefore, not an indication of their attitudes toward non-idolatrous art. We have here one of the most serious methodological errors of those who believe in the hostility of Christians and Jews toward all kinds of images: the assumption that the campaign against idols expresses a general hostility towards figurative art. This false assumption is, in fact, a corollary of the lack of precision in distinguishing between the two basic kinds of images.

Consequently, we must understand Aristides on the basis of what he wrote: he is against worshiping images of dead men and pagan gods. As for the question of a Christian art used in a non-idolatrous setting and of his attitude toward such an art, Aristides does not deal with it and tells us nothing about whether such an art could, did or should exist.

Justin the Philosopher [Martyr], The First Apologyliii [155]

And neither do we honor with many sacrifices and garlands of flowers such deities as men have formed and set in shrines and called gods; since we see that these are soulless and dead, and have not the form of God, for we do not consider names and forms of those wicked demons which have appeared. For why need we tell you who already know, into what forms the craftsmen, carving and cutting, casting and hammering, fashion the materials? And often out of vessels of dishonor, by merely changing the form, and making an image of the requisite shape, they make what they call a god; which we consider not only senseless, but to be even insulting to God, who, having ineffable glory and form, thus gets His name attached to things that are corruptible, and require constant service. And that the artificers [makers] of these are both intemperate, and, not to enter into particulars, are practiced in every vice, you very well know; even their own girls who work along with them they corrupt. What infatuation! that dissolute men should be said to fashion and make gods for your worship, and that you should appoint such men the guardians of the temples where they are enshrined; not recognizing that it is unlawful even to think or say that men are the guardians of gods.liv

We recognize here, as with Aristides, a common argument of the apologies against the idolatrous worship of the pagans, but did the Christians of the first half of the second century know how to distinguish between idolatrous and nonidolatrous images? Did they draw symbolic or other types of images? This passage does not help us answer these questions.

However, in chapter 55 of this same apology, Justin sets out the obin the world that form a cross and which symbolically represent the and the power of Christ:

And this, as the prophet foretold, is the greatest symbol of His power and rule; as is also proved by the things which fall under our observation. For consider all the things in the world, whether without this form they could be administered or have any community. . . sailing ships. . . plows . . . shovels . . . the human body . . . the nose on a person’s face . . . the legions’

Justin clearly recognizes the meaning and the power of the visible symbol of the cross. Is it conceivable that he and the Christians of his time refused, through fear of violating the Second Commandment, to draw crosses? Even though the writings of Justin do not give us an answer, the archeological indications, which we have already studied in the section on Jewish Christianity, seem to indicate that they were not afraid to engage in this artistic activity, even adding a human face to the upper bar.

Tatian the Syrian, Address to the Greekslvi[170]. Tatian was a disciple of Justin the Philosopher, and, at a date difficult to determine, he wrote a violent attack on the whole of Græco-pagan civilization. In chapters 33–34lvii, he defends the good reputation of Christian women who, like male catechumens, receive instruction in divine wisdom. He sets out a long list of men and women whom the Greeks honor with statues while these same people were known for their shameful conduct.

At first sight, Tatian’s Address the impression of being an offensive against art, in general, and against statues, in particular, but a deeper analysis shows that Tatian did not oppose statues as such but rather their being used to glorify unworthy men and women. He seems even to want to praise the practice of making statues of persons worthy of veneration: “A certain Melanippe was a wise woman, and for that reason Lysistratus made her statue. But, forsooth, you will not believe that among us there are wise women!lviii” Tatian is even able to distinguish between a good work of art, admirable in itself, and the shamefulness of the subject: “Why are you not ashamed of the fornication of Hephæstion, even though Philo has represented him very artistically?lix

First of all, Tatian does not condemn Greek statues because they are idols. He does not even speak of the Second Commandment or idolatry. The statues are to be destroyed because they honor scandalous and scornful people. He seems to accept the possibility of honoring a respectable person with a statue and can recognize high quality art. Tatian does not recommend that Christians honor their illustrious men and women with statues, nor does he say that the Christians had any such statues. On the question of Christian art and his attitude toward it, he says nothing. We are once again faced with silence on our main question.

Tatian cannot, therefore, be taken as a witness for the hostility of ancient Christians to all kinds of images on the basis of the Second. The fact that he finished his days in the heretical sect of the Encratiteslx greatly discredits him on many issues, but his heterodoxy is not relevant here because he does not address the question of images among orthodox Christians or among the followers of his sect. Even though Bevan is more or less to be placed among the advocates of the hostility theory, he is not very convinced either of Tatian’s value as a witness in favor of a Christian hostility toward all figurative art.lxi

Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christianslxii [177]. Athenagoras was a Christian philosopher, but we know very little about his life. He wrote to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus to defend the Christians against false, pagan attacks: atheism, cannibalism and incest. After having mentioned the statues of the gods, Athenagoras continues as follows:

Now some say that these are but images, and that the gods are those after whose likeness the statues are made, and that as for the processions that are made to these statues and the sacrifices offered to them and made for them, there is no other way in which one can approach the gods: “For the gods are slow to show themselves clearly to the beholder.” They bring in proof of this the operations performed by certain statues; so let us examine the power which attaches to their names. lxiii

This passage is part of a general offensive against the idolatrous beliefs and practices of the pagans. It specifically aims at idolatrous images and does not deal with any other kind of image. It is neither positive nor negative evidence for the possibility of a Christian art purified of idolatry.

Irenæus of Lyons, Against Heresieslxiv [190] As we have seen before (Traditions), Irenæus informs us about certain groups of Gnostics in his great work against Gnosticism. On the subject of the disciples of Carpocrates, he states the following:

They also possess images, some of them painted images, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world; that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They also have other modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.lxv

In two other places, St. Irenæus tells us that the Emperor Claudius honored Simon Magus by erecting a statue to him because his magic was so strong and that Simon’s followers had a statue of him “fashioned after the likeness of Jupiter” and another one of his woman companion Helena “in the shape of Minerva; and these they worship.lxvi

These three passages, especially the first one, are often cited as examples of Irenæus’s opposition to all images. Coxe, the translator of Irenæfor the Ante-Nicene Fathers, in a note that “this censure of images as a Gnostic peculiarity, and as a heathenish corruption, should be noted.lxvii” By examining these passages a little more closely, we notice three elements: the existence of images of Christ, the way Irenæus relates the tradition and the context.

The existence of images of Christ. Based on our analysis of “Traditions,” it seems reasonable to suppose that Irenæus believed that images of Christ existed among the Carpocratians. If we date Against Heresies to around 190, we then have the oldest evidence from an orthodox and historical source witnessing to the existence of the image of Christ. Can we discern Irenæus’s attitude toward the existence of Christ’s image in his work? First of all, he does not say directly that the image of Christ existed among the images of the Carpocratians. Was he embarrassed to openly admit that they had such an image because of the heretical nature of the group? We can only say that we do not know why. We are reduced to interpreting his silence and laconic statements. In any case, we can say that Irenæus believed that images of Christ existed.

The way Irenæus relates the tradition. Irenæus also tells us that the Carpocratians justified their image of Christ by an appeal to history, the precedent of Pilate: they had an image of Christ, “they maintain,” because Pilate made one. What did Irenæus think of this tradition? How should we interpret the “they maintain”: in a sarcastic tone, in a matter-of-fact, journalistic manner? If he thought that this tradition was unjustified and ridiculous, why did he not use the opportunity to attack a group of heretics for which he had no sympathy? Again, we have no answer to these questions. For his own reasons, Irenæus chose not to elaborate. It is certain, however, that he knew that a part, at least, of the Carpocratians’ justification of Christ’s image was based on an appeal to history, and he expressed no clear opinion about this justification.

The context. Irenæus is more categorical about the context in which Christ’s image is found. The Carpocratians crowned their images and placed them alongside images of pagan philosophers, and “they also have other modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.” Christianity, along with Judaism, has always had a great fear of syncretism, of that “religious salad” that mixes all kinds of beliefs. We certainly have here a picture of a syncretistic cult, and it is not surprising that Irenæus was scandalized by their liturgical practices. Did the “other modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles” include sacrifices? If so, we clearly have idols and an idolatrous worship. Once again, however, Irenæus is unclear.

The idolatrous nature of the worship offered to the statue of Simon the Magician is more obvious: “Such was his procedure in the reign of Claudius Cæsar, by whom also he is said to have been honored with a statue, on account of his magical power. The man, then, was glorified by many as if he were a god.” Now in Irenæus’s time, he tells us that “they [Simon’s followers] also have an image of Simon fashioned after the likeness of Jupiter, and another of Helena in the shape of Minerva; and these they worship.” We see, therefore, that not only the beliefs of the various Gnostic groups were corrupted, but equally their worship was syncretistic and idolatrous.

First of all, it is obvious that Irenæus is a fierce adversary of any syncretistic worship that offers honor to “images of the philosophers of the world . . . and the rest . . . after the same manner of the Gentiles.” Faced with such a phenomenon, what other attitude could Irenæus have? His indignation could only increase if an image of Christ were introduced into such ceremonies. But now we come face to face with the essential question: Was Irenæus scandalized by the very existence of an image of Christ, in whatever context it was found, or was he scandalized because the image of Christ was used in syncretistic and idolatrous worship? Canwe categorically state (and on what evidence?) that Irenæus would have been scandalized by an image of Christ in his own Eucharist liturgy at Lyons, or in a catacomb? Let us not forget that we are only, perhaps, ten years away from the time when a certain catholic bishop in North Africa had, according to Tertullian (see the section on Tertullian below), an image of the Good Shepherd or his chalice.

On the other hand, Irenæus speaks very favorably about an image of an unknown king, perhaps even a supposedly divine king, and by that very fact shows that he knew about portrait art and that he could speak about it without identifying it with idolatry. He states that the Gnostics pick and choose the passages of scripture, rearranging them as they want to support their doctrines.

Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skillful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skillful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception [of] what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king.lxviii

This passage reminds us of the text of the New Testament where Jesus looked at the image of Cæsar on the coin as well as of the texts of the defenders of images during the period of Byzantine iconoclasm; they bring out the relation between the person of the king and his image in order to explain the doctrine and practice of the orthodox. Could Irenæus have seen or conceived of a portrait of King David or Solomon?This passage shows, at least, that he did not share the attitudes of the rigorist rabbis.

We can no longer naively identify the condemnation of a syncretistic and idolatrous worship, in which an image of Christ is used, whatever the justification of that image, with a rejection of all kinds of Christian images in an orthodox context. Bevanlxix who sometimes takes the side of the advocates of the hostility theory, felt obliged to make a nuance in his evaluation of the passage about the Carpocratians.

From this passage, Protestant scholars commonly infer that Irenæus considered it wrong for Christians to make visible representations of the Lord: the Roman Catholic A. Knoepfler, on the other hand, contends that what Irenæus found offensive was not the fact in itself that the Carpocratians had images of Christ, but their claim that these images reproduced a portrait made by Pilate and their addressing the same forms of reverence to the images of pagan philosophers as they do to those of Christ: but the passage cannot be considered conclusive proof that Irenæus thought all representations of Christ wrong.lxx

Without other evidence to clarify his attitude toward images of Christ in an orthodox context, Irenæ’s witness must remain highly ambiguous.

Minucius Felix, Octaviuslxxi [200].

But do you think that we conceal what we worship, if we have not temples and altars? And yet what image of God shall I make, since, if you think rightly, man himself is the image of God? What temple shall I build to Him, when this whole world fashioned by His work cannot receive Him? And when I, a man, dwell far and wide, shall I shut up the might of so great majesty one little building? Were it not better that He should be dedicated in our mind, consecrated in our inmost heart? Shall I offer victims and sacrifices to the Lord, such as He has produced for my use, that I should throw back to Him His own gift? It is ungrateful when the victim fit for sacrifice is a good disposition, and a pure mind, and a sincere judgment. Therefore he who cultivates innocence supplicates God; he who cultivates justice makes offerings to God; he who abstains from fraudulent practices propitiates God; he who snatches man from danger slaughters the most acceptable victim. These are our sacrifices, these are our rites of God’s worship; thus among us he who is most just is he who is most religious.lxxii

The Octavius is a defense of the Christian faith in Latin, dated sometime before, sometimes after Tertullian’s Apology. This particular passage is supposedly evidence for the aniconia and iconophobia of the early Church. Ernst Kitzinger, an advocate of the hostility theorylxxiii says the following about the above text: “As this passage shows, the radical rejection of the visual arts by the primitive Church was part and parcel of the general rejection of material props in religious life and worship.lxxiv” We see what great importance Kitzinger and others give to this passage; we will, therefore, have to examine it rather closely.

First, let us examine the context. Octavius answers an attack previously made by Cæcilius:

And now, as wickeder things advance more fruitfully, and abandoned manners creep on day by day, those abominable shrines of an impious assembly [the Christians] are maturing themselves throughout the whole world. . . They know one another by secret marks and insignia . . . and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous. . . I hear that they adore the head of an ass that basest of creatures. . . Some say that they worship the virilia [genitals] of their pontiff and priest. . . Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites: this infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily—0 horror!—they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs. . . For why do they endeavor with such pains to conceal and to cloak whatever they worship…? Why have they no altars, no temples, no acknowledged images? Why do they never speak openly, never congregate freely, unless for the reason that what they adore and conceal is either worthy of punishment, or something to be ashamed of?lxxv

Cæcilius, and pagan Romans in general, attacked the Christians because their liturgical meetings were closed, secret and because they had no public manifestation of their worship, such as temples, altars or images. As a result, it was assumed that Christians must be engaged in shameful ceremonies. Nonetheless, Octavius the Christian and Cæcilius the pagan agreed on one thing: Christians had no temples, no altars and no images. For Cæcilius, this was a sure sign of shameful ceremonies; for Octavius, it was the result of God’s invisible nature. After accepting Cæcilius’s accusation about not having temples, altars or images, Octavius makes an excellent reply explaining why these material things are not suitable for the Christians’ God.

How are we to understand these three elements: temples, altars and acknowledged images? Since the attack originates with a pagan, we must understand the accusation from a pagan point of view: the Christians do not have temples, altars and images according to the pagan definition of these things. Octavius, obviously, agrees that Christians do not have consecrated buildings, constructed to house altars on which priests offer bloody sacrifices to an image of God. We have here all the elements necessary for the functioning of paganism in Græco-Roman antiquity. Octavius informs us what the Christians do not have, but he says nothing about what they do have. Are we to understand Octavius’s answer to mean that Christians, around the year 200, had no buildings in which they met to carry out their ceremonies? This is an absurd question, of course, but at what date did Christians begin to construct buildings, or to adapt already existing structures, exclusively as places of worship? Or even, at what date did they dedicate a room, or some part of a house—a chapel—exclusively for worship? The development of Christian church es, as places of worship, seems to have been as follows: 1) private homes used as worship centers, according to the needs of the moment, without any space necessarily being designated as a “chapel.” The New Testament gives us several examples of this. 2) Somewhat later, certain Christians, probably the wealthier ones, offered their already existing homes or constructed a new one with the idea of reserving a space just for the worshiping community, a chapel. The discoveries of Dura-Europoslxxvi are an example of this second stage. 3) Finally, Christians built or adapted buildings whose primary use was for worship, churches as we think of them today. It is quite possible that the decree of the Emperor Aurelian (270–275), which returned church buildings to the bishops, is an example of this third stage.lxxvii Whatever might have been the exact nature of the building, or buildings, in which the Roman Christians gathered around the year 200, it is certain that they gathered together somewhere, and probably by that time not in someone’s home, considering the number of people to be accommodated. They, therefore, had one or more “temples” or “chapels,” in the wide meaning of the words: a building or space used for worship. Whatever word they used to describe this liturgical space, it was devoid, both in their minds and in the minds of non-Christians, of any pagan con notation. So, even though both pagans and Christians gathered together in buildings or in space used only for worship purposes, both pagans and Christians agreed that only the pagans had “temples,” in the strict meaning of the word.

Did the Christians have altars? Obviously not, in the pagan sense of the word, or even as in the Old Testament, where priests offered bloody sacrifices. But does that mean that any notion of “sacrifice” or “oblation” was foreign to the Christianity of Octavius’s period? Once again, no. We know, for example, that Irenæ, around 190, spoke of the Eucharist in sacrificial termslxxviii, as those terms had been purified and interpreted according to the Christian understanding. From the Didachê, between 100 and 150lxxix, we read the following:

But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.lxxx

If the Christians of antiquity did not hesitate to speak of the Eucharist in sacrificial terms, it did not take long either for them to speak about the table (trapeza)which they celebrated the Eucharist as an altar. The Greek word, even in the New Testament, could be used for a pagan altar as well as the Eucharist table: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.lxxxi” The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, in Greek, still uses the word trapeza to designate the altar-table in a church.lxxxii We must, therefore, not understand the phrase “no temples, no altars, no images” to mean that the words sacrifice and altar could not be used by Christians for various material elements associated with their liturgy, once, of course, these words were purified of their pagan connotations. The Christian liturgical tradition is evidence to the contrary.

We now come to the last term, “acknowledged images.” For Cæcilius and Octavius, what did it mean? It no doubt meant those images that Christians and Jews would call “idols,” and it goes without saying that the Christians did not have any of those. Does this mean, though, that Roman Christians at about the year 200 had no other sort of images? The passage says nothing to indicate that they did; what it does say is that there were no idolatrous images in Christian places of worship. Minucius Felix is silent, however, on the questions that interest us the most: Could he conceive of a difference between a forbidden, idolatrous art and a non-idolatrous art permitted under certain circumstances? If the answer is “yes,” did Christians actually have any symbolic or portrait images in their churches or elsewhere? Taking into account the restrictive meaning of “no temples, no altars. . .,” it would be hazardous to say that the churches of Roman Christians around 200 were absolutely imageless. According to Tertullian, we know that in North Africa at the same period, at least one catholic bishop had a Good Shepherd engraved on a chalice. We will study this case later on.

It is paradoxical that Kitzinger himself warns us not to accept the rigorist interpretation and not to reject the possibility that some sort of images existed. Having stated that the ancient Christians practiced a “radical rejection of visual arts,” he goes on, nearly contradicts himself and apparently accepts the thesis defended in this study:

The resistance to figure representations was, however, particularly strong, partly because of the prohibition of graven images which formed part of the Mosaic Law, and partly because of the very central role which statuary, and images generally, occupied in the religions of Græco-Roman paganism. Naturally, the resistance on both these counts was concerned primarily with those forms of representation which came under the heading of idols and lent themselves to idolatrous abuse. There were manyof representation to which no real objection could be taken on this score. Decorative and symbolic devices, narrative and didactic images—all these were relatively harmless, and it was in these guises that art did in fact enter Christian assembly rooms and cemeteries in the third century. Much of the art of the Roman catacombs betrays a studied attempt to avoid any suspicion or encouragement of idolatrous practices.lxxxiii

According to Kitzinger, it is not at all impossible, then, that the Christians of Rome could have had “decorative, symbolic, narrative or didactic images” in their “assembly rooms.” In the light of this surprising admission on the part of Kitzinger, and in the face of Minucius Felix’s silence on the question of non-idolatrous art, we can learn nothing from the Octavius the existence of decorative, symbolic, narrative or didactic images that might have been present in Roman churches at the beginning of the third century. In any case, this passage cannot serve as evidence for the supposed hostility of ancient Christians toward all figurative art.

The source of the Kitzinger’s confusion (“radical rejection of the visual arts by the primitive Church” and “There were many modes of representation to which no real objection could be taken. . .”) resides precisely in the confused definitions of idols and non-idolatrous images, of worship and veneration. We have here the old confusion that haunts nearly the whole study of Christian images. It started with the reaction of Charlemagne’s Frankish Church against the decree of Nicæa II, expressed in the Libri Carolini. This reaction was based on the faulty translation of the Greek text where the one Latin word adoratio was used to translate two Greek words: proskynesis, veneration, and latria, worship. Kitzinger’s study, as well as those of other authors, suffers from a similar confusion of fundamental categories. This lack of precision, projected into the period we are dealing with, is the cause of much misinterpretation of the data, written and archeological, of early Christianity.

Tertullian, On Idolatry, Against Marcion, The Shows and Modestylxxxiv [210]. By examining his written works, we do not want to ask Tertullian if he condemned idolatrous images. He obviously did. We want to know, rather, if he felt that all images were idolatrous; did he put all images into the same category?

It is natural, therefore, to begin with his essay On Idolatry. We limit ourselves just to this document, it is difficult not to get the impression that Tertullian, indeed, considered every image to be an idol, or a potential idol. In the beginning of human existence, he claims, idols did not exist, but . . .

when the devil introduced into the world artificers [makers] of statues and of images, and of every kind of likenesses, that former rude business of human disaster [idolatry] obtained from idols both a name and a development. . . To establish this point, the interpretation of the word is requisite. Eidos, Greek signifies form; eidolon, diminutively from that, by an equivalent process in our languages, makes, form formling, claims to be an idol. lxxxv

God prohibits an idol as much to be made as to be worshipped. . . For this cause—the eradicating, namely, of the mate rial of idolatry—the divine law proclaims, “Thou shalt make no idol” and by conjoining, “Nor a similitude of the things which are in the heavens, and which are in the earth, and which are in the sea,” [God] has interdicted the servants of God from acts of that kind all the universe over. lxxxvi

We have another passage from The Shows which Tertullian speaks in passing about images: “And in regard to the wearing of masks, I ask is that according to the mind of God, who forbids the making of every likeness, and especially then the likeness of man who is His own image.lxxxvii” The equation “image=idol” seems justified by Tertullian when he answers the criticism of a Marcionite who tried to accuse the God of the Old Testament of contradicting himself when, after having issued the Second Commandment, God ordered Moses to make the bronze snake: “But someone says, in op position to our proposition of ‘similitude being interdicted,’ ‘Why, then, did Moses in the desert make a likeness of a serpent out of bronze?lxxxviii’” The Marcionite quite clearly understood the scope of Tertullian’s definition, because he immediately noted a case, the bronze snake, which appeared to contradict Tertullian’s definition, that is, that every image is an idol.

We need to be somewhat more precise, however, about Tertullian’s definition of idolatry. He speaks not only of the worship of idols but also of their fabrication. According to him, the Second Commandment prohibits both, because every image participates in “the material of idolatry,” or according to Finneylxxxix, “the material causes of idolatry, or the total conditions requisite and conducive to the creation of idolatry.” This nuance gives us a two-storied definition: 1) first-class idols are those images made to be worshiped and, in fact, are worshiped; 2) second class idols are images which have not yet been worshiped but which have the potential of being worshiped. All images are, therefore, directly or indirectly, contaminated by idolatry.

By accepting that Tertullian did, indeed, link all images with idolatry, even in two classes, thus requiring their being rejected in total, we accept Finney’s conclusion: “On Idolatry contains four passages whose literal meaning amounts to an incontrovertible and unqualified repudiation of all visual images.xc” Bevanxci and Murrayxcii, on the other hand, do not share this opinion and think that Tertullian only spoke of idolatry in relation to the first class and that he did not condemn non-idolatrous images of the second class.

Let us make clear that we are only speaking here of Tertullian’s definition of idolatry given at the beginning of his essay On Idolatry. This definition and its rigorist interpretation of the Second Commandment, like all rigorist definitions and interpretations, clash nearly immediately with the Old Testament examples which appear to contradict such rigorism. Tertullian encountered this very problem and was obliged to answer precisely this question from a Marcionite critic: How is it possible to integrate Old Testament images with a rigorist interpretation of the Second Commandment? This is every rigorist’s nightmare. The Marcionites found an easy way to avoid the problem: they simply rejected the Creator God revealed in the Old Testament. This god, in any case, is not the true God and Father of Christ so what does it matter if he contradicted himself in his commandments and orders. Tertullian had to find another solution to his problem. In order to protect his interpretation of the Second Commandment and his equation “image=idol” and to protect the God of the Old Testament from any reproach, Tertullian created a special category of images. These, apparently, were not made of the “material of idolatry” of which all other images were made. Because the bronze snake was a type, a prefiguration of the cross of Christ and ordered by God himself, Tertullian claimed that God issued “an extraordinary precept.xciii” He did not, however, ask the following question: Why did God order the making of an image after having previously forbade all images? Could God not have found another way of reaching his goal without creating a problem for all the rigorists of subsequent history?

But Tertullian’s defense is not limited to a special category and “an extraordinary precept.” Elsewhere, he increases the number of images in the special category and adds other reasons for their justification.

The form, however, of the brazen serpent which the Lord afterwards commanded Moses to make, afforded no pretext for idolatry, but was meant for the cure of those who were plagued with the fiery serpents. . . thus, too, the golden Cherubim and Seraphim were purely an ornament in the figured fashion of the ark; adapted to ornamentation for reasons totally remote from all conditions of idolatry, on account of which the making of a like ness is prohibited; and they are evidently not at variance with this law of prohibition, because they are not found in that form of similitude, in reference to which the prohibition is given.xciv [The emphasis is ours.]

Why, once more, did the same Moses, after prohibiting the likeness of everything, set up the golden serpent on the pole; and as it hung there, proposed it as an object to be looked at for a cure? Did he not here also intend to show the power of our Lord’s cross, that old serpent the devil was vanquished—whereby also to every man who was bitten by spiritual serpents, but who yet turned with an eye of faith to it, was proclaimed a cure from the bite of sin, and health forevermore?xcv [The emphasis is ours.]

We have seen that at the beginning of his essay On Idolatry, put all images in the category of idols—real or potential—and required all artists who wanted to become catechumens to stop painting and sculpting images as well as worshiping them. At other times and circumstances, to answer other questions, he recognized the existence of images that were not idolatrous. He acknowledged the existence of decorative, symbolic and curative images. They could, like the bronze snake, manifest the power of what they prefigured, in this case the cross of Christ, and, even stranger still, they were not touched by the conditions that made all other images idolatrous. They did not belong to the category of images against which God issued the Second Commandment. Such images are, therefore, accept able and do not pollute with idolatry those who look at them, use them or make them. We cannot help noticing the theoretical distance between the two conceptions of the image-idol relationship. We cannot deny either that both ideas are present in the writings of one single author.

How can we explain the two, contradictory interpretations? Perhaps, the best explanation is found in the fact that Tertullian was “an occasional writer. When provoked, he wrote. And when he wrote, he wrote just to convince but if possible to overwhelm his opponent.xcvi” He was a polemicist and wrote passionately on the question that held his attention at the moment. He had no intention of creating a system and was, therefore, not necessarily consistent with himself. The rigorist position expressed in On Idolatry comes from his extremist side; he always preferred clear, unambiguous statements. On the other hand, he had to face attacks from his Marcionite adversaries and was forced to soften his rigorism to the point of accepting non-idolatrous, symbolic images. This “evolution” in his thinking shows the complexity of his character. According to the circumstances of the debate at hand, one or the other of the two tendencies would appear. Both are clearly present in his works, but the rigorist side was fatally compromised by the fact that, for strategic reasons, he had to recognize and justify the legitimate existence of decorative, symbolic and curative images.

What is, therefore, the result of analyzing Tertullian’s writings on the question of images? The ambiguity remains. He accepted the equation “image=idol” but also accepted non-idolatrous images. He justified these latter images not only by an appeal to an extraordinary divine precept, which he invoked not only for the bronze snake, but also for enlarging the category of permitted images that escaped the thunder of the Second. Having thus accepted, some 500 years before the iconoclastic crisis, the essential argument of the iconodules in reference to Old Testament images, Tertullian can only with great difficulty be called as a witness for the supposed hostility of early Christians toward all figurative art.

There are, in addition, several other aspects of his writings that we need to notice. Tertullian showed that Christian artists existed at his time and that the Church accepted them among the clergy: “Idol-artificers [idol-makers] are chosen even into the ecclesiastical order. Oh wickedness!xcvii” On the basis of our preceding analysis, we need to be very wary of the expression “idol-artificers.” What, in fact, was he referring to? It is difficult to imagine that around the year 200 there were bishops, priests and deacons in North Africa actually engaged in the making of real, pagan idols, that is, statues or painted images of Zeus, Serapis, Athena, etc., which were to be used in pagan temples. Such a thing is not strictly impossible, since Christian clergy have been known to engage in many kinds of unChristian activities, but would it not be more probable that Tertullian, speaking in his rigorist mode, is referring to decorative, etc. images like the Good Shepherd?

Even on the question of making real idols, Tertullian is stricter than many rabbis of the same period. We have already seen that many rabbis, for commercial reasons, accepted that Jewish artist-merchants could make images of pagan gods for their pagan clients. If we take Tertullian as a representative of his time on the question of images, we see that the Jews were further ahead than the Christians in developing less rigorist attitudes toward paganism. It seems that the opposite would more likely have been the case.

There is a corollary point that needs to be dealt with: When does an image become an idol? This was an important question for rabbinic discussions, because if it could be determined that such and such an object ordered by a pagan client was not an idol, then the danger of contamination by idolatry was greatly reduced. Tertullian did not directly answer this question, but it is not difficult to deduce his answer. In line with his rigorist definition and interpretation, an image becomes an idol by its very making. The only way such an image can become non-idolatrous is by destroying it. According to his less rigorist mode, he would probably follow the Old Testament itself in saying that a decorative, symbolic or curative image would become idolatrous as soon as someone worshiped it, as in the case of the bronze snake. In other words, the idolatrous character of an image is found in people’s attitude toward the image rather than in the image itself. Some rabbis refined this definition even more; they distinguished between the attitude of Jews toward an image and the attitude of pagans toward the same image. A Jew could remove the idolatrous character of an idol by profaning it without the pagans knowing what he had done. If Tertullian had been able to say that, at least in certain cases, people’s attitude toward an image determines its status, he would have once again put himself on the side of the iconodules during the iconoclastic crisis who based their distinction between an icon and an idol on the difference between veneration and worship, that is, on the intention of the people who use the image.

Did Tertullian represent the general opinion of Christians of his time or was he, even when he was orthodox, an extremist on the edge of the mainstream of thinking? We know very well that he had a tendency to ward inflexibility which ultimately pushed him out of the Church and into the Montanist sect. Let us take his attitude toward pagan teaching, for example.xcviii It would be interesting to know where this attitude should be placed on the continuum of Christian thinking at the time. He condemned the teaching but not the learning of pagan literature, because the teacher had to praise, affirm and commend the gods to his students.

All the previous considerations come together in the last case we would like to study: the image of the Good Shepherd engraved on a chalice. The context of the episode is Tertullian’s violent reaction, he was already a Montanist, toward a catholic bishop who absolved certain Christians of adultery. He attacked the Shepherd of Hermas, writing of the second century, which the bishop in question apparently invoked as an authority to justify his act. At the beginning of this passage, Tertullian speaks to his episcopal adversary:

You shall have leave to begin with the parables, where you have the lost ewe re-sought by the Lord and carried back on His shoulders. Let the very paintings upon your cups come forward to show whether even in them the figurative meaning of that sheep will shine through (the outward semblance, to teach) whether a Christian or a heathen sinner be the object it aims at in the matter of restoration . . . and the “good Shepherd” is Christ.xcix

But I would yield my ground to you, if the scripture of “the Shepherd,” which is the only one which favors adulterers, had deserved to find a place in the Divine canon; if it had not been judged by every council of Churches (even of your own) among apocryphal and false (writings); itself adulterous, and hence a patroness of its comrades; from which in other respects too, you derive initiation; to which, perchance, that “Shepherd” will play the patron whom you depict upon your (sacramental) chalice, (depict, I say, as) himself withal a prostitutor of the Christian sacrament, (and hence) worthily both the idol of drunkenness, and the breeze of adultery by which the chalice will quickly be followed (a chalice) from which you sip nothing more readily than (the flavor of) the “ewe” of (your) second repentance! I, however, imbibe the Scriptures of that Shepherd who cannot be broken.c

Tertullian saw the image of the Good Shepherd on the chalice used in the catholic Eucharist as a symbol of the supposedly laxist attitude of the bishop who forgave fornication and adultery, an attitude that was supported by the Shepherd of Hermas.

First of all, this passage is evidence that the catholic Church, either in North Africa or in Rome, depending on the identity of the bishop in question, used at least one symbolic, decorative image in the main service of the Church. This is, indeed, precious evidence, and there is no reason to doubt its authenticity. It is, thus, the oldest proof that the mainstream accepted and used non-idolatrous images. Even more important is the place of the image: on the chalice which was handled by a priest or a bishop at the heart of the Church’s liturgical life. Tertullian seems to indicate there were many such chalices. Klauserci claimed that the pressure of the laity against the conservatism and opposition of the clergy forced the bishops and priests to accept images, or that the laity adopted practices that the clergy knew nothing about. At least in this present case, no one can claim that the clergy knew nothing about the existence of this image and that they did not approve it. The fact that the image was found on a chalice, perhaps on many chalices, rather gives credence to the opposite hypothesis: it is possible that the clergy ordered the chalice with an image of the Good Shepherd on it. It is not impossible either, taking into account Tertullian’s accusation that artists, “idol-artificers,” were among the clergy, that the image was made by a cleric.

What was Tertullian’s attitude toward the image of the Good Shepherd? There are two sides to his reaction: 1) the Good Shepherd as a symbol of the “laxist” bishop’s attitude and action; 2) the image itself. First of all, we know his attitude toward the Shepherd of Hermas to ward everything he identified as laxism. It is possible that, at this point in his life when growing fanaticism went hand in hand with aging, he was no longer able to distinguish, on the one hand, between a symbol, the Good Shepherd—which in itself had no intrinsic relation to his adversaries and their attitude toward a second repentance—and, on the other hand, his adversaries themselves. Tertullian seems to have been blinded by his fanaticism. What is more important, and more difficult to determine, is his attitude toward the symbolic image on the chalice, as image. Was he able to conceive of a chalice carrying a different kind of image? Let us suppose that the image was of a fisherman, Noah or Jonas. Would he have called such an image an idol or a decorative image? We cannot determine his answer, because the real image was of the Good Shepherd, and his passion makes it impossible to separate the two questions. His extremely violent language and fanaticism may have pushed him back into his rigorist mode, condemning all images as idols. His argument against the bishop would have been even stronger if he could have added the charge of idolatry to that of laxism, but he did not accuse the bishop of idolatry, thus implying that the image of the Good Shepherd was not in the category of idols.

In the final analysis, the importance of this passage is not found in Tertullian’s attitude toward the Good Shepherd, either as idol or symbolic image. We have already seen that his attitude was not consistent, but changing. The passage is important, rather, for the information it gives us about what was acceptable in the liturgy of the Church, at least in one local Church, at the beginning of the third century. For that, if for nothing else, we must thank the tempestuous lawyer from North Africa.

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, The Instructor, The Stromatacii [205]. As Butterworth already noted 70 years agociii, two sources feed Clement’s attitudes toward art and images of all kinds: Israel and Greece. From these two sources, Clement worked out a rigorist interpretation of the Second Commandment and a certain disdain for the material world. Up to a point, Clement provides evidence in favor of the theory that the ancient Christians were hostile to all images. We say “up to a point” because in the two cases—the Second Commandment and disdain for the material world—Clement had to face certain difficulties when his conceptions ran up against other factors.

First of all, let us take his interpretation of the Second Commandment. We have to admit that in certain passages, Clement seems to have, indeed, excluded the making of all images; he quotes the Sibyl:

Happy, therefore, so to say, alone are all those with one accord “who shall refuse to look on any temples and altars, worthless seats of dumb stones, and idols of stone, and images made by hands. . .” For we are expressly prohibited from exercising a deceptive art: “For thou shalt not make,” says the prophet, “the likeness of anything which is in heaven above or in the earth beneath.civ

For Clement, the Christian faith is superior to pagan religion, because it is older; the philosophers learned their wisdom from Moses. In the following passage, we hear the echo of this idea as well as the rigorism of his interpretation of the Second Commandment:

And again, “Don’t wear a ring, nor engrave on it the images of the gods,” enjoins Pythagoras; as Moses, ages before, enacted expressly, that neither a graven, nor molten, nor molded, nor painted likeness should be made; so that we are not to cleave to things of sense, but pass to intellectual objects: for familiarity with the sight disparages the reverence of what is divine; and worship that which is immaterial by matter is to dishonor it by

Clement is so strongly convinced that the Second Commandment prohibits all images that he is ready to contradict the Scriptures by transforming the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant into allegory:

And those golden figures, each of them with six wings, signify. . . [Clement indicates several possible meanings] . . . For He who prohibited the making of a graven image, would never Himself have made an image in the likeness of holy things. Nor is there at all any composite thing, and creature endowed with sensation, of the sort in heaven. But the face is a symbol of the rational soul, and the wings are the lofty ministers and energies of powers right and left; and the voice is delightsome glory in ceaseless contemplation. Let it suffice that the mystic interpretation has advanced so far.cvi

This last passage shows that we cannot accuse Clement of inconsistency, as in Tertullian’s case. Both men recognized the inconsistency and caprice of a God who, in one chapter, forbids the making of all images and, in another, orders Moses to make cherubim and a bronze snake. The Marcionites and others saw very clearly the contradiction and required an answer. Clement believed that all images fell under the prohibition of the Second, but he also felt the force of the Marcionite reproach, without having mentioned it specifically. He, therefore, felt obliged to solve the problem of inconsistency by dissolving the historicity of the passage into allegory, and in so doing, he preserved the intellectual integrity of his rigorism but falsified the Scriptures. According to Clement, God was not inconsistent, because he did not really order the making of the cherubim. Clement solved his problem, but at what price?

We again clearly see the dilemma of all rigorist interpretations of the Decalogue: how to interpret the non-idolatrous images of the Old. This problem has essentially two solutions, Tertullian’s or Clement’s: 1) compromise the integrity of the rigorism by admitting a category of decorative, symbolic, curative images or 2) preserve the rigor and the integrity of the theory, but falsify the Scriptures themselves. It is noteworthy that Clement nowhere mentions the cherubim in the Temple or the other non-idolatrous images of the Old Testament: to allegorize the historicity of these episodes would in fact undermine the credibility of allegory as a method of interpreting the Scriptures. It is quite possible, however, that intellectual consistency would have again won out over historicity if Clement had ever considered the question.

In another passage, Clement seems to have diluted somewhat the rigor of his interpretation of the Second Commandment, if he did not simply recognize, like Tertullian, a special category of images:

And let our seals be either a dove, or a fish, or a ship scud ding before the wind, or a musical lyre, which Polycrates used or a ship’s anchor, which Seleucus got engraved as a device; and if there be one fishing, he will remember the Apostle, and the children drawn out of the water. For we are not to delineate the faces of idols, we who are prohibited to cleave to them; nor a sword, nor a bow, following as we do, peace; nor drinking-cups, being temperate.

Many of the licentious have their lovers engraved, or their mistresses, as if they wished to make it impossible ever to forget their amatory indulgences, by being perpetually put in mind of their licentiousness.cvii

This passage has become very famous and controversial because of its importance for Clement’s attitude toward images. The basic question can be stated this way: How many images did Clement approve for Christian signet rings; five or six? It is clear that he accepted at least five: dove, fish, ship, lyre and anchor, but did he also accept the image of a fisherman, that is, a human being?cviii The various translations are ambiguous because Clement’s Greek is also ambiguous: “. . . and if there be one fishing, he will remember the Apostle, and the children drawn out of the water.cix” Whether Clement accepted the image of a fisherman or not, there is no lack of seals from antiquity bearing such an image, thus showing its We have already seen, in our study of Tertullian, that the Catholics of North Africa used the image of the Good Shepherd; it is not impossible that the Christians of Alexandria used another symbolic image of a human being on their signet rings, in this case a fisherman. In terms of the text itself, an image of a fisherman would fit in quite naturally and logically in the list of symbolic images, and it has a Christian meaning. If the list ends with the anchor, the statement about someone fishing is out of place and does not make sense.

Even if we exclude the fisherman from the images approved by Clement, the five other images constitute a class of non-idolatrous, symbolic images that Christians could use without any danger of idolatry. It seems that the recognition of such a category of images—with or without the fisherman—constitutes a serious weakening of the rigorist interpretation of the Second Commandment, that is, a rejection of all figurative art. It is, at least, a serious inconsistency with which an intellectual like Clement could hardly have been comfortable. After all, he denied the historical meaning of the cherubim precisely to maintain such a theoretical consistency.

Further along in this text, Clement continues to prohibit “faces of idols.” We are not surprised by such a statement; what could be more natural, but he also prohibits symbolic images that clash with the Christian message because of their associations, not because of idolatry: the sword and the bow. These objects represent war, and Christians are for peace. The cup represents drunkenness, while Christians are for temperance. This is yet a fourth category of images, obviously forbidden to Christians: portraits of lovers and mistresses that “many of the licentious have” on their rings. Clement does not say that these portraits are idolatrous, but that they symbolize debauchery. Elsewherecxi, he condemns pornographic images which are not all idolatrous. It appears that Clement of Alexandria was quite able to nuance various kinds of images and recognize four categories: 1) idols, 2) pornographic scenes or portraits of licentious people, 3) symbolic images incompatible with the Gospel, and 4) symbolic images that could worthily represent some aspect of the Gospel.

An interesting question comes up regarding the second category of images. Clement excluded the portraits of homosexual lovers and mistresses because of the shameful eroticism that they symbolized, but what would he have thought of a portrait of someone worthy of admiration, let us say, the founder of the catechetical school of Alexandria, Pantænus, or St. Paul? We cannot automatically suppose that he would have condemned all kinds of portraits simply because he rejected a certain type of portrait. Let us not forget that Irenæus seemed to accept portraits, especially the emperor’s. In any case, we are faced with silence, and we cannot answer such a question. We cannot exclude, however, the possibility that Clement would have accepted non-idolatrous portraits of persons worthy of admiration.

How should we understand Clement’s distinction between symbol and image? “Clement regards the symbols of the divine law as symbols merely, and not images in the sense of the Decalogue.cxii” This distinction is often used, by Tertullian, Clement, the Old Testament itself and many iconophobes, to save the rigorist interpretation of the Second Commandment from inconsistency when faced with the “symbolic” representations of the Old Testament and the images of the first Christian centuries. Those who make this distinction say that the cherubim, the bronze snake, the Good Shepherd, etc. are symbols and not images; these, therefore, do not constitute a violation of the Second Commandment. This line of reasoning is somewhat hard to follow when we look at what the category of symbols contains, a category that supposedly does not contain images but only symbols: cherubim, a snake, bulls, lions, flowers, fruit, the face of a man, a man and a sheep, a fish, an anchor, a dove, a lyre, a ship, maybe a fisherman and others. According to this logic, what is, in fact, the difference between a symbol and an image? We would say they are simply two categories of artistic representation: image represents the general category of artistic designs which, in this case, express the idea of likeness between a prototype and the pictured object; symbol, still speaking of a graphic design, is a subcategory of images and represents rather the particular meaning recognized in the design. The two categories are obviously not mutually exclusive; they overlap. It is too artificial to consider images and symbols as mutually exclusive for no other reason than to maintain a rigorist prohibition of all images, but not symbols. Symbols are in fact images, in the broad sense, and do not cease being symbols when they incorporate plants, animals or humans. It is much more natural and convincing to say that the Second Commandment prohibits any and all images of whatever kind used as idols but does not condemn images used for non-idolatrous purposes. This is, in fact, what biblical, Jewish and Christian practice shows. The conscious, theological justification of this practice, however, was only to come at a later stage, in controversy.

The last point to consider is linked to the passage about the seals and is expressed by the word concession the following quotation: “Clement, indeed, in one passage makes a concession in regard to the designs on signet-rings worn by Christians; he suggests not only the representation of inanimate things—a ship, a lyre, an anchor—but even that of a dove or a fish. It seems unlikely that he would have allowed a human figure.”cxiii

Klausercxiv also uses the passage about signet rings as evidence for his theory that says that the laity pushed the conservative and iconophobic clergy to make concessions concerning images. The comment of Murray on this point seems very accurate.cxv She thinks that it is rather Clement who encouraged hesitant laymen to choose images from among those that they could use without danger of contamination. Considering the three rejected categories of images mentioned above, it is not impossible that Clement used a reassuring tone in his approval. We can imagine him saying, “I know you need images on your signet rings. Do not use these images, but it is all right, do not worry, you can use one of these.” The theory propounded by Klauser and Bevan is interesting, but it is entirely tied to the general supposition of a normative and universal hostility to all images among ancient Christians. By undermining the basic supposition on which the theory rests, we feel we have deprived it of credibility.

If we accept that Clement of Alexandria could theoretically distinguish between idols and graphic symbols, and we have seen that on one very narrow question, signet rings, he could in fact do so, do we not have, in part anyway, the theoretical basis on which to construct the theory and practice of Christian art? By using his own four categories, we can see that he was not opposed to the use of all figurative art among Christians. He can even be taken as a sort of founding father of Christian art. We know that he encouraged Christians to purify pagan music of its corruptions and to use it for the glory of God.cxvi Could he not have done the same for visual art? For a thinker like Clement, immersed as he was in all kinds of symbolism, literary, philosophic, poetic, verbal, etc.cxvii, is it conceivable that he would have rejected a visible, artistic and Christian symbolism, a symbolism that had been purified of idolatrous and licentious impurities? It is obvious that he accepted this kind of symbolism for signet rings, but did he do it under other circumstances as well? We cannot answer this most interesting question; we have no references in his writings which would help us find one, but nothing indicates that the last category of images mentioned above was for Clement a closed category. Others could, therefore, add to it.

We must now examine other passages in Clement’s writings that manifest his attitude toward art and images. We have the following pas sage from The Stromata:

The Eighth Commandment

And after this is the command respecting theft. As, then, he that steals what is another’s, doing great wrong, rightly incurs ills suitable to his deserts; so also does he, who arrogates to himself divine works by the art of the statuary or the painter and pronounces himself to be the maker of animals and plants.cxviii

This text is one that we will have to put with those that show Clement’s rigorist attitude toward images. It is curious, however, that he speaks of images in the context, not of the Second Commandment, but of the eighth, against stealing. He maintains that the artist claims to create animals and plants. What artist ever claimed that? Do we hear behind his words an echo of the Pygmalion story in which Pygmalion’s love for a statue he created turned it into a living woman?

Finally, we come to the many passages where Clement denounces art that falsifies reality and influential artists who seduce senseless and passionate men.cxix He reserves his sharpest remarks for the idolatrous art of Græco-Roman paganism, and in this context, his rigorist attitude seems to have its place. Clement uses the already well-known examples of the Greek philosophers and Jewish polemic against idols, but he makes these remarks, and others, in a context that directly and exclusively aims at Græco-Roman paganism. Faced with the horrors and the obscenities of pagan art, his rigorism attains its greatest intensity. This art is so repugnant to him that he is psychologically incapable of entertaining nuances. In other contexts, on the other hand, when idolatrous and obscene art is not the immediate object of his thoughts, he shows himself more flexible.

Finney, following Butterworth, thinks that it is possible to outline in a consistent way Clement’s thinking on images, because “(as it would be for Tertullian). . . his thoughts on the subject of visual arts did not change significantly from one sequence to the next.cxx” It may be that Clement did not change his ideas over time, but we do not see how we can say that he was consistent in his ideas on the subject. He certainly showed a rigorist interpretation of the Second Commandment, even at the price of denying the historicity of the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. What advocate of the hostility theory would go that far to sup port his interpretation? Such an extremism on the part of Clement shows that his rigorism is untenable. His silence about the other Old Testament images is equally troubling when we examine the consequences of his allegorization. The images on the signet rings are evidence that a symbolic, Christian art could and did exist at the beginning of the third century, even if it was only in an embryonic stage.

We are convinced that the passion of Clement’s attack against idolatrous and obscene Græco-Roman art pushed him to an extreme rigorism causing him to affirm positions that it is difficult to defend. At other times, however, in more lucid and dispassionate moments, Clement of Alexandria showed himself capable of accepting what his passion would never have allowed him to accept: symbolic images used by Christians. His overall position is this: a passionate denunciation of pagan art, a denunciation based on a rigorist interpretation of the Second Commandment, accompanied by a dispassionate acceptance of symbolic images, purified of pagan idolatry and obscenity, expressing Christian truths. As far as we know, at least from his extant writings, Clement never attempted to reconcile the inherent contradiction of the two positions.

Origen, Against Celsuscxxi[246]. It is not an accident that the passages from Origen used to support the supposed iconophobia of the ancient Christians sound very much like those used by Clement of Alexandria. This is not surprising since both men shared the same Alexandrian spirituality.

Against Celsus IV, 31. First of all, it appears that Origen did accept a rigorist interpretation of the Second Commandment. To defend the Jews Celsus’s attacks (“. . . the Jews were ‘fugitives from Egypt, who never performed anything worthy of note, and never were held in any reputation or account’”), Origen answers in the following way:

. . . if one will examine their polity from its first beginning, and the arrangement of their laws, he will find that they were men who represented upon earth the shadow of a heavenly life, and that amongst them God is recognized as nothing else, save He who is over all things, and that amongst them no maker of images was permitted to enjoy the rights of citizenship. For neither painter nor image-maker existed in their state, the law expelling all such from it; that there might be no pretext for the construction of images—an art which attracts the attention of foolish men, and which drags down the eyes of the soul from God to earth.cxxii

In another text, Origen distinguishes, somewhat artificially, between idols (composite creatures, with lions’ heads and birds’ bodies, for example) and figures (images of real creatures) and then continues saying that “the Word of God, which embraces all things, both damns and rejects these practices [invoking demons]; it forbids the making not only of an idol but also “the figure of all that is on the earth, in the waters, and in the heavens.cxxiii

Origen mentions the two cherubim on the Ark two times without any commentcxxiv and in his Homilies on Numbers does not comment on the episode of the bronze snake. (Nm 21:4–9) Having noted his previous, rigorist declarations, we would like to hear Origen on the images of the Old Testament.

On the other hand, when speaking of the Ark, he shows that artists were not exactly banished from Israel, as he claims in Against Celsus: “Order was thus given to all the people. . . to construct an ark so that all the parts form, so to speak, one single ark. . . Women skilled in the art of weaving are also to be found [for the embroidered seraphim] and craftsmen who know how to work in gold, silver, or bronze [the golden cherubim and the bronze snake]. . . cxxv

If the artists, painters or workers in metal, were condemned and banished on principle, it is somewhat strange that Origen uses the metaphor of a painter to talk about two types of images in man:

Thus, in former times, you carried the earthly image, but now. . . make the “heavenly image” shine in yourselves. Here then is the image of which the Father spoke to the Son: “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” The painter of this image is the Son of God. He is a painter of such quality and power that his image can be darkened by negligence but not destroyed by malice. The image of God still subsists in you, even though you superimpose the “earthly image” on it. That picture, you are the painter who made it. Has lust tarnished you? It is an earthly color that you are using. Does cupidity burn you? It is another color that you have mixed in. Anger . . . pride . . . impiety: thus for each kind of evil, as a combination of diverse colors, you paint for yourself this earthly image. . . And when he [the Word] has destroyed all these colors taken from the shades of evil, then the “image” that God created shines in you.cxxvi

Although he did not do so, Origen could have continued the metaphor and spoken of the colors of goodness that the Son used to paint the heavenly image in the same way he spoke of the colors of evil that we use to paint the earthly image. The fact that he compared the Son of God to a painter seems to suppose that Origen had a somewhat positive, or at least neutral, attitude toward painters and portraits. Is it conceivable that Origen could have compared the Son of God to a prostitute, a thief, a Pharisee, an executioner, a torturer, etc.? This passage appears to soften the iconophobic rigor of the one quoted at the beginning of this section.

It is possible then to interpret the banishment of painters and sculptors mentioned in Against Celsus a repudiation of artists who contaminate themselves by making idols. As we have seen with Clement and Philo, Moses’s banishing of artists is a common place of the attack against paganism, and it must be understood as a rhetorical exaggeration of the scope of the Law concerning images to reinforce the attack against pagan adversaries. In the final analysis, the Law did not banish any artist. The Jewish tradition has never understood the Law as an exclusion of artists and has always given them a place, modest though it may be, as well as to works of art permitted by the Law. What is more, in order to accentuate the lack of consistency of this interpretation, God, immediately after promulgating the Law that supposedly banishes artists, inspires Bezalel, Oholiab and their fellow workers to build the ark and its sculpted images. In this passage, is it not obvious that Origen means the artists who, by making idols, drag “down the eyes of the soul from God to earth,” that is, toward idols?

The more we meet this kind of presentation of the Second Commandment in highly polemical contexts, the more we must see it as a figure of rhetoric, an exaggeration, used to make a radical contrast between Judaism and Christianity, on the one hand, and paganism, on the other.

Against Celsus VI, 66. In another section, Celsus says that “those whom one would lead forth out of darkness into the brightness of light, being unable to withstand its splendors, have their power of vision affected and injured, and so imagine that they are smitten with blind ness.” Origen:

In answer to this, we would say that all those indeed sit in darkness, and are rooted in it, who fix their gaze upon the evil handiwork of painters, and molders and sculptors, and who will not look upwards and ascend in thought from all visible and sensible things, to the Creator of all things, who is light; while, on the other hand, everyone is in light who has followed the radiance of the Word who has shown in consequence of what ignorance, and, and want of knowledge of divine things these objects were worshipped instead of God. . . cxxvii

Origen, first of all, censures those who do not rise above the work of art, above the sensual, material object to the Creator and worship him. This is a valid criticism for those who consider what artists produce to be “good works,” just as much as for those who consider them “bad works.” Such a criticism in itself is not surprising coming from Origen, since by his method of allegorization, he tried to go beyond the sensible, historic and visible to attain the spiritual, intellectual and invisible level.

The heart of the problem here is found in the words “the evil handiwork of painters, and molders and sculptors.” What is the meaning of the word “evil” in the sentence? Does it imply that there is “good handiwork of artists . . .,” works that are legitimate if the faithful do not fix their gaze on them but look higher, rising from the visible to the Creator? Must we understand the distinctions “sensible-spiritual,” “visible-invisible,” “earthly-heavenly,” “literal-symbolic” and “historical allegorical” as oppositions such that the inferior must be eliminated so as to concentrate exclusively on the superior? The goal of the allegorical method of interpretation is not to destroy the earthly but to use it, to surpass it, to reach beyond it, to the heavenly. One without the other destroys the meaning of both.

Is it unreasonable speculation to wonder if Origen knew about “good handiwork of painters” which illustrated the Old Testament stories of deliverance? R. Greer has drawn our attention to the parallel between the stories of deliverance and Origen’s homilies:

The moral example of the saints, particularly figures from the Old Testament, is a source of strength for the Christian. He finds himself in the place of Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, of Daniel, of Mordecai and Esther, of Judith, and of Jonah. It is remarkable that these stories, which are used homiletically by Origen, also appear in early Christian art. The catacomb frescoes tend to focus upon these Old Testament stories of deliverance. The literary and iconographic evidence belong together.cxxviii

Whatever the answer might be to this interesting question, the passage noted at the beginning of this section can be interpreted in various ways and is not an obvious proof of Origen’s supposed iconophobia.

Against Celsus VII, 64–66:

Christians refuse to honor the statues of the gods on their altars and in their temples. Basing themselves on scriptural texts, among them the Second Commandment, Christians not only avoid temples, altars, and images, but are ready to suffer death when it is necessary, rather than debase by any such impiety the conception which they have of the Most High God.cxxix

The context is again the refutation of pagan idolatry represented by the three classical symbols: altars, temples and statues. This passage is similar to that of Minucius Felix who said that Christians had no altars, temples or statues. Their worship was “in spirit and in truth,” but are we to understand Origen to mean that Christians had no sort of altars, temples or images at all, or only that they did not have them as pagans understood them?

In another section, whose context is not that of the fierce fight against paganism but rather a more tranquil contextcxxx, we see that the passage Against Celsus VII, 64–65 must be somewhat nuanced:

But when you see the nations enter the faith, churches built, altars not covered with the blood of animals but consecrated by the “precious blood of Christ,” when you see the priests and the Levites no longer administering the “blood of bulls and goats,” the word of God by the grace of the Holy Spirit, then say that Jesus has taken the place of Moses and that he possesses the princely powers, not of Jesus son of Nun but Jesus Son of God.cxxxi

Origen is able to speak of altars and Christian buildings consecrated to worship—otherwise known as “temples.” What is important is not that the words temple, sacrifice altar themselves but, rather, the fact that these words take on a whole other meaning in a non-idolatrous context, such as that of Christian worship. Isolated from other texts, this passage gives the false impression that the Christian liturgy took place out in the open without any material accessories whatsoever. These three words, and the realities they represent, purged of their idolatrous contamination, could be and were used to describe Christianity.

Did Origen know about any images purged of idolatrous contamination being used by Christians? He wrote Against Celsus the year 246cxxxii, and at that date, the chalices with the image of the Good Shepherd painted on them had existed in North Africa for some time, as well as the images in the baptistry of Dura-Europos, and the catacombs. In the works of Origen that have come down to us, we have no indication that he approved them or even knew about them. At the same time, he does not reject the possibility of a purified Christian art used to express the Gospel. He simply does not deal with the question of a figurative, Christian art.

Against Celsus VIII, 17–19:

And the statues and gifts which are fit offerings to God are the work of no common mechanics [artisans], but are wrought and fashioned in us by the Word of God, to wit, the virtues in which we imitate “the First-born of all creation,” who has set us an ex ample of justice, of temperance, of courage, of wisdom, of piety, and of the other virtues. In all those, then, who plant and cultivate within their souls, according to the divine word, temperance, justice, wisdom, piety, and other virtues, these excellences are their statues they raise. . . And everyone who imitates Him to his ability, does by this very endeavor raise a statue according to the image of the Creator, for in the contemplation of God with a pure heart they become imitators of Him.cxxxiii

With the usual refusal of the cult of idols, Origen presents his own idea of the ethical image of God in man. What we have already said else where about this subject is valid for Origen: an ethical theology of the image of God does not necessarily exclude the possibility of representing Christ and the saints in painted images.

Church Orders/Didascalia and Canons [the third century].

There is a category of ancient documents containing canons, prayers, liturgies, moral precepts, etc. They are called Church Orders Didascalia and provide evidence, according to the advocates of the hostility theory, of an iconophobic attitude on the part of the Christians of the third century and, perhaps, of the beginning of the fourth century. It is difficult to date many of the documents because they include writings of different dates. The fact that they exist in various translations also complicates the problem of dating. After much study and comparison of the documents, specialists have come to the conclusion that they reflect the historical context of the third century, either before or after the persecution of Decius (248–251) .cxxxiv

The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Romecxxxv (AT). This document is probably from Hippolytus himself around 215 and has, in one way or another, influenced all the ones that have followed. Hippolytus paints a very important picture of the life of the Roman Church at the beginning of the third century. In the second part, “The Laity,” he sets out a list of jobs and professions that are not to be approved; those people who make a living in these areas cannot become catechumens without a change in their professional lives: “If anyone is a sculptor or a painter, let him learn not to make idols. If he will not stop, let him be sent away.cxxxvi

The Didascalia of the Twelve Apostlescxxxvii(DTA). This document exists only in a Syriac translation; the original Greek text has been lost. It is supposed that the DTA was written in Syria.

That it is not right to receive gifts of alms from reprehensible persons.

Do you the bishops and the deacons be constant therefore in the ministry of the altar of Christ—we mean the widows and the orphans. . . But if there be bishops who are careless and give no head to these matters. . . to administer for the nourishment of orphans and widows. . . from painters of pictures or from makers of idols . . . they . . . shall be found guilty in judgment in the day of the Lord. . .cxxxviii

The Ethiopic Didascaliacxxxix(ED). This document is another in the same family of didascalia. It generally reproduces the DTA with some variants.

That the bishop ought to show understanding in receiving offerings from those (only) that are worthy.

The bishop ought to show understanding and make a difference about receiving offerings in cases when it befitteth not. . .

Let us keep far from . . . them that make idols.cxl

The Octateuch of Clement, the Syriac versioncxli (0C). This constitution in eight books, piously attributed to Clement of Rome, is one among several anonymous collections written in various ancient languages.

Ordinance that contains the rule . . . about the order of those to be baptized.

A person who lives in debauchery, a drunkard, someone who makes and paints idols, an actor, a driver of horses [in horse races], a wrestler, anyone who goes to wrestling matches, an athlete, anyone who teaches fighting, a public huntsman, a priest or guardian of idols: these are not to be admitted.cxlii

Ecclesiastical canons about those who have recently come to the mystery [of baptism].

I too, Paul, the least of the Apostles, give this command to you, bishops and priests, about the canons: Let the maker of idols, if he comes forward, be ordered to stop or be excluded.cxliii

The Egyptian Didascalia (ED)

If there is a maker of images or a painter (zographos), let them be instructed not to make an idol (eidolon), either let them leave off or let them be rejected.cxliv

The Arabic Didascalia (AD)

And if anyone is a maker of idols or a painter, let him be taught not to make idols, and if he be not willing to desist, let him be sent away.cxlv

The Canons of Hippolytuscxlvi, canon 11 (CH). We include these canons in our list, even though Coquin dates them to around 340, a date which goes beyond the chronological framework of our study, because they reflect the Apostolic Tradition and other earlier documents.

About anyone who makes idols and images, whether maker or painter.

Every artist, let him learn not to make any image or any idol whatsoever, whether he be a maker, silversmith, or painter, or a worker in any other kind of art. If it happens that, after baptism, any artist makes any such thing, except what people need, let him be cut off until he repents.cxlvii

Depending on the context of the different ordinances, we have two general kinds of artists: 1) artists that are already in the Church (ED and CH) and 2) those who want to become Christians (AT and OC). The DTA, AD and DE are not clear as to whether the artists are in the Church already or not. Whatever their relation to the Church, artists who make idols are excluded from communion.

We see, therefore, that the only way to use these texts as evidence for the hostility of ancient Christians toward all figurative art is to use the equation image=idol. The text from the ED clearly shows the distinction between an idol and other images by giving a place in the Church to artists as long as they do not make idols. The AT clearly indicates, and other documents imply, that artists can make other art objects but that the making of idols is excluded. The same conclusion can be drawn from the OC in regards to those artists who want to be baptized. On the one hand, canon 11 seems to reject the making of “any image or any idol whatsoever,” but, on the other, it allows Christian artists to make “things people need.” A certain ambiguity remains, nonetheless.

If we apply to these texts the distinction between idolatrous and non-idolatrous images, we can interpret them quite naturally, without any mental gymnastics: they forbid Christian artists from making idols of two or three dimensions but allow them to exercise their artistic talents in any other way. If, on the other hand, we interpret them in a rigorist sense that excludes the making of any kind of image whatsoever, we have the enormous task of explaining how all this legislation could have had so little impact on the life of the Church, if their purpose was to suppress all art work. We have to have recourse to ideas such as an internal schism between the clergy and the laity, a rupture with the past, a corruption of the tradition, etc.; all these ideas have been put forward to justify the radical reforms of Byzantine iconoclasm and the iconophobia of the 16th-century Reformation.

It seems rather evident, then, that the ancient Christians could distinguish, in theory and in practice, between idolatrous and non-idolatrous images and that the various didascalia and canons reflect this distinction: Christian artists have their place in the Church as long as they do not pollute themselves by making idols.

Cyprian of Carthage, On the Dress of Virgins, An Address to Demetrianus and Letters 2 and 41 [258].

On the Dress of Virgins: Cyprian admonishes virgins, widows and all women who do not live modestly and who deform the work of God by putting on makeup. To change the work of God is the same thing as degrading it, as the devil seeks to do. The bishop of Carthage compares women who put on makeup and beautify themselves to a second artist who tries to “correct” the beautiful image made by another painter. The second artist is guilty of dishonoring the image of the first painter. Women who put on makeup offend God and his work, a human being, by immodestly trying to make an already magnificent creature more beautiful.

If any artist, in painting, were to delineate in envious coloring the countenance and likeness and bodily appearance of any one; and the likeness being now painted and completed, another person were to lay hands on it, as if, when it was already formed and already painted, he, being more skilled, could amend it, a serious wrong and a just cause of indignation would seem natural to the former artist. And do you think yourself likely with impunity to commit a boldness of such wicked temerity, and offense to God the artificer [Creator]?cxlviii

The fact that Cyprian compared God to a painter and his creature, man, to the artist’s work, a portrait, seems to indicate at least a neutral toward this art, on his part, even a positive one. Although he condemns the immodesty of virgins who are too concerned with their appearance, it is difficult to use this passage as evidence for St. Cyprian’s supposed hostility toward painters and portraits.

An Address to Demetrianus: Cyprian explains to Demetrianus, the proconsul of Africa, his indignation on hearing that the Christians’ refusal to worship the Roman gods is the cause of the terrible things happening to the Roman Empire at that time. He invokes, rather, God’s law according to which the world is getting old and weak. Everything is losing strength: “. . . the husbandman is failing in the fields, the sailor at sea, the soldier in the camp, innocence in the market, justice in the tribunal, concord in friendships, skillfulness in the arts, discipline in morals.cxlix

Except for the words “skillfulness in the arts,” this passage has nothing to say about artistic activity, artists themselves or images. As an indicator of St. Cyprian’s attitude toward non-idolatrous images, the text seems to have no value whatsoever.

Letter 2cl: Euchratius asked Cyprian what he should do about a member of his Church who is an actor (histrion) and professor of theater and who continues to practice and teach his “immodest art.” After having expressed his unfavorable opinion on the corruptions associated with the theater of the time, Cyprian suggests that this man stop being an actor and teaching a degrading profession. There is here no question of painters, or art, except in the sense of theatrical art. The point of the attitude of the ancient Christians toward figurative art is completely bypassed.

Letter 41cli: In this letter, Cyprian attacks Felicissimus and Augendus because they were trying to foment a schism in the Church. The letter mentions nothing about images, painters or any form of art. We do not know why Koch quoted it as evidence for St. Cyprian’s assumed iconophobia.

It is difficult to understand why Koch chose Cyprian as a witness for the hostility theory. The passages cited above are nearly worthless for the intended purpose. Taking into account Cyprian’s importance in the early Church, the advocates of the hostility theory, such as Koch, felt obliged to draw the bishop of Carthage into their camp, at whatever price. The effort failed, and the failure merely points out how far Koch was willing to go to use any reference to art or artists as support for his iconophobic thesis.

Methodius of Olympus, The Banquet of the Ten Virginsclii, From the Discourse on the Resurrectioncliii [300].

In Koch’s list of ancient Christian authorscliv who supposedly provide evidence for the iconophobia and aniconia of the primitive Church, we find the name of Methodius of Olympus, a little-known Greek bishop from Lycia, a region in the southwest of Asia Minor, present-day Turkey. In the work of Methodius entitled The Banquet, we read the following:

We have all come into this world, O virgins, endowed with singular beauty, which has a relationship and affinity to divine wisdom. For the souls of men do then most accurately resemble Him who begat and formed them, when, reflecting the unsullied representation of His likeness, and the features of that countenance, to which God looking formed them to have an immortal and indestructible shape, they remain such. For the unbegotten and incorporeal beauty, which neither begins nor is corruptible, but is unchangeable, and grows not old and has need of nothing, He resting in Himself, and in the very light which is in unspeakable and unapproachable places, embracing all things in the circumference of His power, creating and arranging, made the soul after the image of His image. Therefore, also, it is reasonable and immortal. For being made after the image of the Only-begotten, as I said, it has an unsurpassable beauty. . .clv

If, then, anyone will keep this beauty inviolate and unharmed, and such as He who constructed it formed and fashioned it, imitating the eternal and intelligible nature of which man is the representation and likeness, and will become like a glorious and holy image, he will be transferred thence to heaven, the city of the blessed, and will dwell there as in a sanctuary.clvi

Koch chose these two passages to show that Methodius had a “spiritual” idea of the image of God in man. We have seen elsewhere that this notion can be called “the ethical image” because we are con formed to the image of God in us by putting on the virtues of Christ and the saints. There is no reason, however, to conclude that this ethical conception of the image of God in man requires, or necessarily accompanies, a hostility toward artistic images, either in Methodius or in any other author.

Koch not only drew an unjustified conclusion by his equation “ethical image=rejection of painted images” but also read Methodius’s silence on Christian images as a rejection. This conclusion seems to be unacceptable in itself, but by studying Methodius’s language, we are permitted to conclude that he showed a rather favorable attitude toward artistic activity in general. We are not justified, either, in reading his silence as an approval of Christian images, but it is at least strange that he would have used such expressions if he were iconophobic.

We can see no justification in Koch’s conclusion about the second passage: “As we see, it was not the Christian Church but rather the pagan temple that furnished it with its agalma ieron [holy image].clvii

From the Discourse on the Resurrection

That man, with respect to his nature, is mostly truly said to be neither soul without body, nor, on the other hand, body without soul; but a being composed out of the union of soul and body into one form of the beautiful. . . That there is a difference between man and other living creatures; and to them are given varieties of natural form and shape, as many as the tangible and visible forces of nature produced at the command of God; while him was given the form and image of God, with every part accurately finished, after the very original likeness of the Father and the only-begotten Son.clviii

Once again, this passage shows the “spiritual and immaterial” conception of the image of God in man, but for the question of Christian images, and for the point of view Koch wants to undermine, it seems simply to be irrelevant.

Methodius says that Phidias the statuary [the sculptor], after he had made the Pisæan image of ivory, ordered oil to be poured out before it, that, as far as he could secure it, it might be preserved imperishable.clix

Koch says the following about this text:

Methodius explains, in his From the Discourse on the Resurrection, as Phidias protected his ivory image from corruption by pouring oil on its feet, in the same way God, the aristotechnas [the best artist], protected his agalma logikon[reasonable image], man, by anointing him with immortality and incorruptibility. . . clx

How does this text witness to Methodius’s iconophobic attitude? Its relevance escapes us.

From the Discourse on the Resurrection, a passage preserved by John of Damascus.

For example, even though the images of the emperor are not all made from gold or silver or precious metals, they are always honored by everyone. Men are not honoring the materials from which they are made; they do not choose to honor one image more than another because it is made from a more valuable substance; they honor the image whether it is made of cement or bronze. If you should mock any of them, you will not be judged differently for mocking plaster or gold; but for showing contempt your king and lord. We make golden images of God’s angels, principalities, and powers, to give glory and honor to Him.clxi

John of Damascus quoted this same passage to show that Methodius was favorable to Christian images. Koch thought, rather, that it showed that Methodius did not know of any Christian images; if he had known about them, he would have mentioned them instead of the emperor’s image.clxii We once again find ourselves faced with the argument of silence. It is noteworthy all the same that Methodius speaks with respect about an idolatrous image. We must not forget that he is talking about the emperor; he must have had mixed feelings about such images: they were of someone claiming to be a god, yet he felt obliged to honor the emperor. Could he have thought it possible to honor, venerate, in a non-idolatrous manner, an image thought to be that of a god by others? It is not difficult to imagine his attitude standing in front of a Christian emperor. His way of arguing is in fact that of iconodules of all time: the honor or disrespect given to the emperor’s image, as to those of any other person worthy of veneration, rebounds to the persons themselves. Methodius indicates as much when he says that “we make. . .” golden images of God’s angels in order to give him glory and honor. By using the present tense, he is not simply referring to the Old Testament cherubim but is saying that in his time, around 300, Christians were making golden images of angels for the greater glory of God.

It is amazing that Koch and other advocates of the hostility theory can use Methodius as a witness for a so-called Christian iconophobia. The lack of relevance of these passages leaves us simply perplex as to why Koch chose them. Our perplexity increases when we read the following passage which compares, with much sympathy, God’s restoration of the divine image in man to an artist’s restoration of a beautiful, but disfigured, image.

It appears, then, as if an eminent craftsmen were to cast over again a noble image, wrought by himself of gold or other material, and beautifully proportioned in all its members, upon his suddenly perceiving that it had been mutilated by some infamous man, who, too envious to endure the image being beautiful, spoiled it. . . For take notice, most wise Aglaophon, that, if the artificer [Creator] wishes that upon which he has bestowed so much pain and care and labour, shall be quite free from injury, he will be impelled to melt it down, and restore it to its former condition. . . Now God’s plan seems to me to have been the same as that which prevails among ourselves. For seeing man, His fairest work, corrupt by envious treachery, He could not endure, with His love for man, to leave him in such a condition, lest he should be forever faulty, and bear the blame to eternity; but dissolved him again into his original materials, in order that, by remodeling, all the blemishes in him might waste away and disappear. For the melting down of the statue in the former case corresponds to the death and dissolution of the body in the latter, and the remolding of the material in the former, to the resurrection after death in the latter. . . clxiii

Lactantius, The Divine Institutes and A Treatise on the Anger of God [between 260? and 317].

In the second book of his Divine Institutes, Lactantius exposes the false doctrines of polytheism and supposedly shows himself hostile to figurative art. It is certainly true that he attacks idols and the worship pagans gave to them. In his presentation, however, he is not very original. He uses already well-known arguments from the philosophical, Jewish, and Christian polemic against idols, but he says nothing about our main question: Is it legitimate for Christians to use of non-idolatrous images?

Lactantius ridicules the folly of those who fear gods made by hands while having no fear of the artist who made them. The pagans answered that “we do not fear the images themselves, but those beings after whose likeness they were formed, and to whose names they are dedicated.clxiv”This is a distinction that will be taken up again by the defenders of Christian images at a later time, but with one basic difference: idols are the images of nonexistent, or demonic, beings while Christian icons are images of historical events or persons, either human or angelic.

Lactantius continues his treatise on the subject of portraits and ex presses a point of view somewhat surprising if he is iconophobic: “For the plan of making likenesses was invented by men for this reason, that it might be possible to retain the memory of those who had either been removed by death or separated by absence.clxv

He asks if the gods are dead or absent; according to their divine nature, they should be neither dead nor absent, but alive and present everywhere.

For I ask, if any one should often contemplate the likeness of a man who has settled in a foreign land, that he may thus solace himself for him who is absent, would he also appear to be of sound mind, if, when the other had returned and was present, he should persevere in contemplating the likeness, and should prefer the enjoyment of it, rather than the sight of the man himself? Assuredly not. For the likeness of a man appears to be necessary at that time when he is far away; and it will become superfluous when he is at hand. But in the case of God, whose spirit and influence are diffused everywhere, and can never be absent, it is plain that an image is always superfluous.clxvi

Two points stand out in this passage. The first is the relatively positive attitude of Lactantius toward portraits of human beings. Since he believed that idolatrous images were in the beginning portraits of human beings that popular piety, with time, transformed into gods, Lactantius is able to use portraiture, very widespread in the Roman Empire, to reduce the gods to their proper size, that is, dead human beings. Even though he did not mention the existence of Christian portraits, he obviously left the open for such an art? We know that at Lactantius’s time, Eusebius informs us, portrait images of the Apostles and of Christ existed. The portrait and statue of the Emperor Constantine, for whose eldest son, Crispus, Lactantius was a tutor, were everywhere. We can very easily imagine that Lactantius would have had no objections to finding himself in front of a portrait image of the emperor, since Constantine in no way claimed to be a god. In such a case, the portrait of an ordinary, undeified man would have presented, and presents, no problem whatsoever. Would Lactantius have been scandalized in seeing a portrait image of Christ, the Apostles or the martyrs? Did he in fact know that such images existed? Unfortunately, we cannot answer these questions on the basis of the writings we possess.

The second point is that Lactantius maintains the Old Testament’s and Christianity’s prohibition of making a portrait image of God (the Father). Even though he says that a portrait image of God would be “superfluous” because God is everywhere, a somewhat curious argument, Lactantius is right in line with one of the great biblical principles: the impossibility and the prohibition of making a portrait image of God.

At the end of the passage we have been studying, Lactantius designates man as the only true image of God:

But the image of the ever-living God ought to be living and endued with perception. But if it received this name [simulacrum] resemblance [similitudo], can it be supposed that these images resemble God, which have neither perception nor motion? Therefore the image of God is not that which is fashioned by the fingers of men out of stone, or bronze, or other material, but man himself, since he has both perception and motion, and performs many and great actions.clxvii

In another work, A Treatise on the Anger of God, around 314, Lactantius defends the idea that God can just as well be angry against evil as he can love good. What is visible and invisible in man has been by a reason that goes beyond our understanding. To illustrate his point of view, Lactantius again refers to portraits:

If a statue, the resemblance of man, is made by the exercise of design and art, shall we suppose that man himself is made up of fragments which come together at random? And what resemblance to the truth is there in the thing produced, when the greatest and most surpassing skill can imitate nothing more than the mere outline and extreme lineaments of the body? Was the skill of man able to give to his production any motion or sensibility? . . . What artificer [artist] could have fabricated either the heart of man, or the voice, or his very wisdom? Does any man of sound mind, therefore, think that that which man cannot do by reason and judgment, may be accomplished by a meeting together of atoms everywhere adhering to each other?clxviii

Lactantius once again manifests a rather positive attitude toward portraits, but he uses the relation between a real man and his portrait (the full reality and the shadow) in the following argument: a “reason less” portrait of a reason-endowed man presupposes a reason-endowed artist; what is more, since man has reason, he must have been made by a Creator with even more reason than himself. Man was not created by accident. Lactantius does not denigrate portraiture by calling it “the mere outline and extreme lineaments of the body.” He says only what everyone already knows: the portrait image of a person is not that person but has a privileged relation to that person. Iconodules of all times should feel very much at home in this passage from Lactantius.

What conclusions can we draw from these texts? 1) Lactantius condemns idols and their worship; 2) he speaks favorably of portraiture; 3) man is the image of God; 4) no one should make a portrait image of God; and 5) the relation “artist-portrait-man” can be used to show the necessity of a Creator God endowed with at least as much reason as man. Where is the hostility toward non-idolatrous images? If Lactantius is seen to be iconophobic, does not this attribution come from a confusion between a portrait and an idol? The only way Lactantius can be claimed as an ally of the advocates of the hostility theory is by reading him with the preconceived idea that an attack on idols is a manifestation of a refusal of figurative art in general. Even if we accept this last supposition, Lactantius’s attitude toward portraits is a stumbling block. On the other hand, all the problems of interpretation evaporate if we read Lactantius in the light of the eminently reasonable distinction between idolatrous and non-idolatrous images.

Canon 36 of the Council of Elvira [around 300].

Placuit picturas in ecclesia esse non debere, ne quad colitur et adoratur in parietibus depingatur.clxix

It has seemed good that images should not be in churches so that what is venerated and worshiped not be painted on the walls.

The Council of Elvira in Spain (Granada) met in a period of relative peace, between 295–302 or 306–314. Between these two periods (302–306), the persecution of Diocletian wrought havoc in the Church. The bishops of Elvira issued 81 canons among which we find the famous canon 36. Because this canon deals with images in Christian churches, the very question of our study, it has become the center of great controversy. The problem, of course, is to know how to interpret it; what did it mean to those who issued it, and what does it say about the larger question of the attitude of the ancient Christians toward images? It is not surprising, therefore, that the advocates of an iconophobic tendency see in this canon a confirmation of their point of view. The iconodules, on the hand, are somewhat embarrassed by an open interdiction of images in churches and try to limit its importance, scope and meaning. As we have seen elsewhere, the interpretations of the texts and events of the past are often an expression of positions defended in the present. In general, we can distinguish the attitudes toward canon 36 along the same lines that separate the iconophobes and iconodules. Even though these predetermined positions are obviously present in the interpretations of all sides—and we cannot and should not try to eliminate them—we can study this text with a critical eye to see what issues are at stake and in which direction it more naturally leans.

We have in the Council of Elvira, one of the first Christian texts of the pre-Constantinian period that shows that the Christians could distinguish between idolatrous and non-idolatrous images. They could distinguish them not only in theory but also in practice, since it is obvious that there would be no images of pagan gods in the churches. In the canon, the word picturas (images) clearly means non-idolatrous, figurative representations.

This canon is also evidence that the painting of Christian images was not something new at the beginning of the fourth century. It is somewhat difficult to imagine that one day around the year 300, certain Spanish Christians conceived the completely original idea of painting Christian images on the walls of their churches, as though no one had ever heard of such a practice before. The year 300 is too late a date for a simple recognition of the existence of images in a Christian setting: around 200, the Good Shepherd on chalices in a catholic church in Africa (Tertullian, On Modesty X); between 240 and 256, the wall paintings of Dura-Europosclxx; and from at least 250, the catacomb paintings. In general, ecclesiastical canons, like civil law, especially in the form of prohibitions, are a response to an already existing situation. We can, therefore, suppose that in Spain at the beginning of the fourth century, there already existed churches with painted walls, but for how long? We cannot say.

First of all, we are in the dark as to the subjects of the paintings. According to the canon, the subject was, at least in part, “what is venerated and worshiped.” If we take the words colitur adoratur synonyms, we should conclude that God the Father, Christ, the Holy Spirit or all three appeared in the wall paintings, either in symbols or in “portraits.” The meaning of “what is venerated and worshiped” is only one of the problems related to this canon. What the bishops actually prohibited is also a problem: all sorts of subjects or just a limited category of images? If we knew the answer to this question, it would be much easier to interpret the canon.

Secondly, we do not know what motivated the bishops to issue the canon. What were the conditions in Spain at that time? Were the bishops afraid of profanation by the pagans, during a period of persecution; were they afraid of superstition among Christians? Without knowing the con text in which the bishops conceived their decision, we are left without the tools necessary for arriving at a deeper understanding of the canon.

Thirdly, the reference to the walls, in parietibus, another factor of ambiguity. Let us suppose that the bishops forbade images of X in churches for reason Y. It seems that the interdiction applies only to the walls of churches. Are we to assume that these same images were permitted in other places, such as homes, in catacombs, in a private chapel, on sarcophagi, as for example the Saragossaclxxi sarcophagus? The fact that the bishops mentioned the walls specifically is certainly an intentional restriction of the interdiction.

In his book Power and Sexuality, analyzes the 81 canons from the linguistic point of view and concludes that the very linguistic structure of canon 36—only three other canons have a similar form—indicates that the bishops clearly felt ambivalent about prohibiting images in the churches. Laeuchli establishes a linguistic structure containing five elements: 1) the persons condemned; 2) the cause, what the persons did; 3) the justification of the canon, often very emotional sentences that highlight the rectitude of the decision; 4) the authority, in general the word placuit, “has seemed good [to us],” that is the bishops in the synod; 5) the decision itself. In the case of canon 36, there is only an authority (4), placuit; decision (5), not to do something; and a justification (3). Sections (1) and (2), the persons and the cause, are absent. The absence of an anathema against those who do not conform to the canon adds to what Laeuchli calls the bishops’ ambiguity about the question of images, that is, they are not sure whether they should accept or ban them. Despite his very interesting, linguistic analysis, very much in vogue in our time, Laeuchli sets his new approach within the context of the old theory:

The ambiguity of can. 36, thus directly reflects the mixed feelings of the clergy toward the matter. As members of the Christian elite, they had to speak against the images; as part of a church that acquiesced more and more in the popular demand for visual, concrete imagery, they were not so sure about the corrupting character of such art. The . . . decision of can. 36 enables us to read that ambivalence between the elite’s traditional theological, as well as social, rejection of images and its personal emotional acceptance of them.clxxii

Canon 36 has its place in a list of 80 other disciplinary, and non-theological, canons. Should we, therefore, identify the motive behind it as merely disciplinary without any theological base? Those of an iconophobic bent tend to see an iconophobic theology based on the Second Commandment behind the canon while iconodules are inclined to restrict the canon’s scope to the realm of discipline. Two factors, nonetheless, seem to tip the scales in favor of a limited, disciplinary motive: 1) positively, the canon is part of a series of disciplinary canons, and 2) negatively, we have no indications that the bishops wanted to condemn all kinds of images on the basis of the Second Commandment or anything else. If canon 36 is in fact a disciplinary canon attempting to regulate, but not condemn, a well-established, or even a relatively new, practice, then the Council of Elvira does not deal with the basic question: the legitimacy of Christian images. Another 400 years will have to go by before that question is clearly and directly ask and answered.

We must recognize, however, that for whatever reasons it seemed good to a group of bishops in Spain around the year 300—reasons that we will never really know—to prohibit the painting of certain picturas the walls of the churches. It is fairly obvious that this decision and the reasons that motivated it did not impress the Spanish Christians of subsequent history because they continued to paint images on the walls of Spanish churches. As far as we know, there has never been an iconoclastic controversy in the Spanish Church. We also know that canon 36 was completely ignored in all other Churches until the Reformation of the 16thcentury. Even during the Byzantine iconoclastic crisis, the iconoclasts did not quote it in their argumentation. It is quite possible that they did not know about it since few iconoclasts spoke Latin or had many contacts with the West. Due to the great geographic distance between Spain and Byzantium as well as the language barrier, it is not surprising that the iconoclasts never heard of canon 36 of the Council of Elvira.

On the other hand, we cannot really say that the canon was hidden or lost. Several councils of the fourth century adopted certain of Elvira’s canons verbatim, but not canon 36. Various canonical collections, however, reproduced itclxxiii; the iconodules did not, therefore, try to conceal it. The canon slept peacefully in these collections, having no great importance, like many other ancient canons that have lost their importance due to a change in the historical setting that gave them birth. It really only entered onto the stage of history at the Protestant Reformation. Even though it had historical existence since the beginning of the fourth century, the canon had no historical importance until the 16th century. Since that time, iconoclasts and iconophobes have used it as a weapon against iconodules, both Catholic and Orthodox.

It is interesting to note that the mildly iconophobic, Frankish Church did not use this canon in its fight against the Seventh Ecumenical Council. It no doubt knew about it, being so close to Spain and Latin-speaking. Then again, since the Frankish Church did not prohibit Church wall paintings—it in fact encouraged them—this canon was not of much . It could even be seen as an embarrassment to the Frankish Church. In any case, it was never invoked in the West until the Reformation.

But if we feel we have reason to consider canon 36 as an essentially disciplinary canon, the scope of this decision remains very limited in time and space, and very few Protestants of an iconoclastic outlook would feel themselves bound by the decision of the synod of Elvira, if we understand its decision to be an absolute interdiction of all images on church walls. Only the most radical reformers of the 16th century, and their successors, would advocate a total ban on all figurative art.

To conclude, then, we can say that the Council of Elvira really did forbid picturas be painted on the walls of some Spanish churches, but for reasons that we will probably never know. This interdiction, however, is evidence for a tradition of wall paintings in Spanish churches, but for how long, we do not know. The vast majority of Christians, however, both iconoclasts and iconodules, have not given this council, or its canon 36, a lot of importance or authority. Nor have these Christians felt themselves bound to banish all picturas the walls of their churches. As for the attitude of Spanish Christians toward non-idolatrous images at the beginning of the fourth century, canon 36 is so embroiled in ambiguity that it is practically impossible to arrive at any clear and definitive conclusions. That it is an expression of a generalized iconophobia in Spain, and in the whole ancient Church, a repudiation of all figurative art, and a blueprint for an imageless Christianity seems to be a very heavy load, indeed, to put on the back of such a frail, little donkey. If we interpret the canon as a disciplinary decision having to do with a local situation during Diocletian’s persecution, then it simply becomes irrelevant when that persecution stopped and a Christian emperor took Diocletian’s place. The canon was known to exist, was transmitted in canonical collections, but did not influence subsequent Church history or the development of Spanish Church art. It simply slumbered peacefully until the Protestant Reformation misinterpreted it as a theological rather than a disciplinary canon. From this misreading of the canon stems all the controversy of the centuries following the Reformation.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case Against the Pagansclxxiv [around 311].

Arnobius was a rhetor, that is, a teacher of language and speech, from Sicca in Africa and converted to Christianity rather late in life. To prove to the local bishop that he was really sincere, he wrote The Case Against the Pagans in six books. The last book targets pagan temples and images.

In the first chapter, Arnobius admits that Christians do not carry on the same religious activities as the pagans:

In this respect, you have a habit of charging us with the highest of impiety, the fact that we erect no temples in which we may discharge the obligation of worship, set up no image or likeness to any god, build no public or private altars, no shrines, offer the blood of no slaughtered beings, no incense or salted meal, or finally, do not bring wine flowing in libations from bowls.clxxv

This passage recalls those of Minucius Felix and Origen already studied. What we said about them is still valid for Arnobius.

In the ninth chapter, Arnobius notes the pagan reply which has already become classic and which distinguishes between the images of the gods and the gods themselves. This distinction, however, does not lessen the force of Arnobius’s attack: “And what greater injustice, disgrace, and hardship can there be than to know a god, on the one hand, and on the other to pray to something else?clxxvi

Chapter 17 again takes up the objections of the pagans:

“But you err,” says he [a pagan], “and you [the Christian] are mistaken, for we do not hold the conviction that bronzes or gold or silver, or any other stuff out of which statues are made, are of themselves gods and sacred deities, but in them we worship and reverence those whom the act of sacred dedication introduces and causes to dwell in the fabricated images . . . [how can] anyone . . . believe that the gods having left behind their normal residence . . . do not shrink from, nor try to evade, entering earthly habitations.clxxvii

Arnobius asks sarcastically if “your gods, then, dwell in plaster and terracotta?”

Chapter 24, the last, has the pagans admit that their ancestors did not know that divinity did not exist in idols, but to calm and control the uneducated, lower classes, these ancestors accepted the worship of idols. If this was really the ancestors’ purpose, says Arnobius in an ironical tone, the worship of idols did not repress anything because “new swarms of evil deeds are begotten by the wickedness of wrongdoers. How does it square to say that the images of the gods were instituted to strike terror into the mob?clxxviii

Even though Arnobius’s treatise made points against paganism and the worship of idols, the chapters we have cited, having been previously cited by Koch in favor of the hostility theory, seem to us to miss the mark. At the end of the sixth book, Arnobius says that “since in the course of the exposition it has been sufficiently shown how futile it is to make images, we must next speak of sacrifices. . .clxxix” In context, we must understand what Arnobius says as meaning that it is futile to make idols, that is, images of false gods. It seems to be an obvious abuse to interpret the passage as condemning, not only idols, but also biblical illustrations and portraits of Old and New Testament personalities. It is not proper to make Arnobius say more than he actually says.

Eusebius of Cæsarea [260–340].

The terminal period we have set for this study is the life of the Emperor Constantine (280–337), but at what precise date do we close our inquiry: in 306 when he became emperor in the West; in 313 with the Edict of Milan; in 323 when he became ruler of the whole empire; in 325 at the Council of Nicæa; in 330 at the dedication of Constantinople; or in 337 when he died? Since our interest is essentially the period of the pagan empire and the conditions that prevailed during that time, it seems logical to choose the issuing of the Edict of Milan in 313. Despite the necessity of being as precise as possible, our terminal date must remain somewhat open because the pagan empire did not disappear immediately; nor did the Christian empire suddenly appear. The persecutions, at least, ended as Constantine extended his authority over the whole empire.

In this period of transition, Eusebius of Cæsarea appears as a person of first importance, for many reasons, one of which is his attitude toward Christian images. We think, nonetheless, that he belongs essentially to the Christian empire and, therefore, to the period which began with the of Constantine. His attitude toward images, especially as it may have been expressed in the letter to Constantia, Constantine’s sister, concerning the image of Christ, has drawn the attention of many scholars. We will not embark here on such a study of his ideas on images, that will come later. Those who would like to pursue the study of this important bishop and his ideas on Christian images can consult the many studies that specialists have already published.clxxx

4.4 Who Speaks for the Church?

We have argued that Christian art passed through several stages in the course of its historical development: from indirect symbols, signs and images to direct images of historical persons and events. We have also stated that Christian art was a tradition that the Church adopted and adapted to its own needs. Since the adoption and adaptation did not have the same rhythm of development everywhere, it is not surprising to note great differences in style, stages, etc. from one region to another and from one period to another. Whatever was the pace of this development in time and space, the literature of our period took very little notice of it and nowhere do we have any clear and unambiguous statements to the effect that Christians are forbidden to have or make non-idolatrous, figurative art.

By eliminating the restraining force of the hostility theory that claims to show that there was a rupture in continuity, that is, in tradition, our study has hopefully shown that nothing stands in the way of supposing that the artistic development that took place in the post-Constantinian centuries has roots that go far back into the pre-Constantinian period. We say “supposing” because the literature and works of art themselves are so fragmentary on the subject of ancient Christian art that we must limit ourselves to suppositions.

It is important to underline that there are two ways of talking about the attitudes of ancient Christians toward art: 1) we can talk about such an ancient author, or even about a current of opinion, that manifested such and such an attitude toward images, or 2) we can talk about the attitude of the ancient Church toward images. The first of the two ways of approaching the subject is based on scientific research of a particular author’s writings, of the history of his period, and of all other information likely to shed light on the documents and history. This scientific approach tries to determine what a specific author thought. We can even study several authors of a given period to identify a school of thought at the time, for example, the allegorizing tendency of the Alexandrians. It is a whole other research project to determine the mind of the Church, the mens ecclesiæ, images. To arrive at a conclusion in this second area of research, it is obvious that we must take into account the results of the first, scientific realm of inquiry, but it is not sufficient to remain there. The mind of the Church is not necessarily determined by a poll. There are other factors that enter into the equation in determining the mens ecclesiæ. This mind can be expressed in several ways also: by an ecumenical council, by a universality of belief or practice, by one particular Father who by inspiration rises to the occasion and expresses this mind during a crisis, etc. In the first realm of research, specialists try to determine the brute, historical facts of a question or of an author. In the second realm, we try to determine the theological truth on a question that is linked to God’s revelation to man. The criteria for deciding a question are different in the two realms, though they are not mutually exclusive.

We must admit that it is not always easy or even possible to deter mine the mind of the Church, because the necessary, theological reflection has not yet matured, perhaps because there has not yet been a crisis on the question. It is quite possible that on question X, the Church does not have a fixed opinion, and that only personal opinions and currents of opinion exist. This situation leaves a certain amount of liberty of opinion and expression to everyone. When dealing with a theological question, we want to know who is correctly interpreting the revelation of God to man, and what is the weight of evidence brought forward by those who claim to express the mind of the Church?this study, we will use the traditional, tripartite structure to evaluate the writings we have studied: 1) theological opinion binding on no one except the person who has it, and even he can change his mind; 2) theologoumena, theological opinions that have risen above the personal and private level to attain a certain credibility due to the theologians or ecclesiastical authorities that support them. These theologoumena respected, or at least acknowledged, currents of opinion; however, they can clash and be in open conflict within the Church. 3) The third level is dogma, orthodoxy, an opinion that has reached the highest level of Church approval, most often during a period of conflict and crisis. It is at this level that the mens ecclesiæ expressed, that is, the truth of a question in relation to divine revelation.

The advocates of the hostility theory, and iconoclasts in general, claim that the ancient authors they cite and that we have analyzed express not only their own personal opinions, or even a theologoumenon, orthodoxy, that is, true doctrine, the Gospel itself, in relation to images. They also give equal authority to all the witnesses called to testify without any regard for the value of each witness’s testimony. The result is, therefore, a potpourri of witnesses: some authors are orthodox but of minor importance, Arnobius and Athenagoras; some authors are orthodox and of major importance, Irenæus, Cyprian and Clement; others are extremists, schismatics and perhaps heterodox, Tertullian and Tatian; one author is of major importance but tainted with heterodoxy, Origen; there are ancient, broadly-based documents which themselves contain material of varying importance, The Apostolic Tradition the Didascalia; finally, we have a local council, Elvira, which, putting aside the question of images, issued bizarre and even perverse rulings. Which voices among these witnesses have the greatest authority? Why give so much authority just to canon 36 of Elvira when the advocates of the hostility theory would never even dream of accepting other canons of Elvira, such as the following:

46: Any faithful who, by abandoning all religious practice, has in fact apostatized, will only be received to communion aftera ten-year penance, on the condition that he has not sacrificed to the gods.

49: It is forbidden for Christians to allow Jews to manage their financial or material affairs; it is forbidden for a priest and lay people to do business with Jews. . .clxxxi

Why should we bow so deeply before the testimony of Clement of Alexandria who, according to some scholars, preached a Christianity “in spirit and in truth” when he repudiated the historical meaning of the Scriptures, for example, concerning the sculpted cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant, because the historical meaning did not agree with his allegorizing method of interpreting the Bible? Even the saints can have doubtful or erroneous opinions. We must, therefore, be discriminating in evaluating the importance of different works, even of the same author.

Did the Church have a mind, a mens ecclesiæ, nonidolatrous images in the pre-Constantinian period? If yes, who clearly ex pressed that mind? The iconodules of the mainstream, ecclesiastical Tradition answer “no.” The mind of the Church was not expressed in the pre-Constantinian period. Except in the case of idolatrous images, the Church did not have a mind, precisely because of the nature of a tradition that developed somewhat by accident but which came under Church scrutiny when the tradition was contested. The Church formulated its attitude toward noidolatrous images, and expressed that attitude, not in the pre-Constantinian period, but some four centuries later. In the fire of a crisis, during which the iconoclasts openly repudiated the tradition of Christian images, calling icons idols and veneration idolatry, the Church, and not just certain Christians, affirmed the legitimacy of this tradition by appealing to history and theology: to history, by claiming that images were made in the apostolic era; to theology, by stating that since the invisible God became visible in Christ, it is right to paint his earthly image. A tradition with a small “t” became part of holy Tradition with a capital “T”; it has become part of orthodoxy itself. The fact that the question of Christian images was so sharply posed during Byzantine iconoclastic crisis, allowing for no ambiguous thinking, forced the Church to define its mind about figurative art, and to justify on the highest level, the dogmatic level, its centuries-old practice.

A similar, though hypothetical, case could arise if certain Christians contested the correctness of Christian architecture saying that “Christian temples,” that is, buildings exclusively reserved for worship, are a pagan import and a corruption of the Gospel, that only the New Testament model, a house church, is in conformity with the Gospel. After all, they might say, there is no example of a Christian church in the New Testament. The mainstream of the Christian tradition has, on the other hand, developed a rich theological vision of the church building which expresses in architecture the renewed cosmos of the Kingdom of God. Here is another tradition that is very widely accepted, but which has not been sanctioned on the dogmatic level. If, by chance, this tradition were to be seriously contested, we are certain that it would receive a dogmatic definition.

Our pre-Constantinian period was not a period in which Christians felt obligated to express themselves on the question of Christian images, except in the case of the Council of Elvira. Passing references may have been made here and there, but the fundamental question was, as far as we know, never raised. At least the literature does not reflect such a preoccupation if there was one. The monuments that have come down to us, however, show that Christians were in the process of laying the foundations of a rich artistic tradition, and this foundation-laying does not seem to have drawn attention or provoked any major reactions. Iconoclasts and advocates of the hostility theory are wrong when they interpret the ancient Christian attack on idols and the silence of these same ancient Christians regarding non-idolatrous figurative art as an expression of the mind of the Church regarding Christian art.

4.4 Conclusion

After our own study, we feel obliged to accept the conclusion of Bevan:

In spite, however, of these approximations in early Christian writers to the Jewish view [sic], it remains, I think, true that there is no clear statement in any early Christian writing to the effect that it is definitely wrong to make the representations of a living creature, or of a human being, even when there is no question of worshiping it.clxxxii

What we have claimed is this: behind and underneath the attack on idols carried out by all the witnesses cited, there exist several indications—from Tertullian, 200 (the Good Shepherd on chalices) up to the Council of Elvira, 300 (the pictures on the walls) and Methodius, 300 (the golden angels)—to the effect that Christians were using figurative art, without feeling in danger of being polluted by idolatry. No author or document condemns Christian art; and no one, with the possible exception of the Council of Elvira, even dealt with the subject directly and openly. Some authors express a rigorist interpretation of the Second Commandment, making exaggerated statements about the Law and the scope of the Second Commandment, and then are forced to backpedal when they realize that the Old Testament itself contradicts their theory. These same authors testify to the existence of a category of non-idolatrous Christian images. We have other indications that the roots of Christian imagery may go back much farther. This time, the evidence comes from contaminated sources, the Acts of John, Carpocratians in the writings of Irenæand the chapel of a syncretistic emperor. And, finally, we have the traditions and legends that place Christian images in the apostolic era itself.

If, as Bevan says, there is “no clear statement” in ancient Christian literature to the effect that it is forbidden for Christians to paint animate beings, including human beings, how can we continue to claim that the ancient Christian Church was hostile to images without designating the kind of images being discussed? It is a lack of methodological rigor to maintain old, outdated opinions that archeology principally, but also the writings themselves, do not support, opinions that accuse the ancient Christians of being aniconic and iconophobic.

5 The Archeological Monuments

5.1 Introduction

This section will be considerably shorter than the preceding one on Christian literature, first of all, because there are relatively few archeological monuments of the pre-Constantinian period and because they are not as accessible as the writings of the period. But the main reason is the fact that the hostility theory is supposedly supported by the literary tradition but ignores the monuments that archeology has brought to light. Works of art more easily open themselves to the emotional, esthetic and mystical dimensions of man than does literature. The goal of this section is not simply to describe the artistic monuments of ancient Christianity; art historians have already accomplished that task in numerous, available studies.clxxxiii Our goal here is limited to an interpretative study of the very existence of these monuments. It is the existence of Christian images, whatever their subject, that is the source of the problem for the advocates of the hostility theory. If their theory is true, the ancient Christians should not have done what archeology shows that they did, that is, produce non-idolatrous images.

5.2 The Inventory

It is sufficient here to enumerate the kinds of works that have come down to us on which images are found.clxxxiv

Paintings: mainly those of the Roman catacombsclxxxv and the house church at Dura-Europos.clxxxvi

•Sculptures: statuesclxxxvii and bas-relief on sarcophagi.clxxxviii Golden glasses.clxxxix


•Cut gems.cxci

5.3 The Relation of the Monuments to the Literature

The advocates of the hostility theory, Dobschutz, Koch, Elliger, Klauser et al., supposed that the literary and the archeological witness were in conflict. They claimed that archeology showed a favorable attitude to images while the literature showed a hostile attitude. Naturally, according to them, the literary witness represented a pure and rigorist Christianity, and the archeology represented a corruption sliding toward paganism. It is noteworthy that these theoreticians, coming from a Protestant and iconophobic tradition, give more credit to the word, to texts, to an intellectualization than to the artistic testimony which escapes the control of the mind and, thus, opens itself to the deeper levels of the human psyche. A more recent work by Sabine Schrenkcxcii, though not necessarily advocating the hostility theory, does advocate separating monuments from literature. The works of Christian art that have come down to us from Late Antiquity do not reflect the pervasive typological interpretation that is found in patristic texts. Typological art is a medieval phenomenon. Such works must be interpreted on their own and not compared to literature.

We maintain, however, that the two orders of ancient Christian evidence, literary and archeological, must be read together if we hope to understand better the phenomenon which produced them, that is, the Christianity of the first three centuries. This is the point of view we want to defend in this study, a point of view that is being adopted by a growing number of scholars. There is no valid reason, except the preconceived hostility theory and the denigration of art in favor of the word, to oppose these two orders of testimony. In the same way, there is no justification to oppose the intellectual writings, such as the apologies and attacks on heresies, etc., to liturgical texts and prayers which have been preserved from the ancient Christian period. By putting the various orders of testimony together, we see more clearly that ancient Christianity was a movement that expressed itself on various levels and by various means.

5.4 The Chronology

The dating of artistic monuments from the ancient Christian period, especially the catacomb paintings, is one of the major problems facing scholars. The more we push back the dating of the first Christian images toward the apostolic era, the more difficult it is for the advocates of the hostility theory to claim that “pure Christianity” is and was aniconic and iconophobic. Here again we see open up before us the gulf separating the pro- and anti-image scholars especially in trying to date the catacomb paintings. De Rossi and Wilpert dated some paintings to the first century; Styger and Wirth chose the third century.cxciii It is obviously more difficult to determine the attitudes of ancient Christians toward non-idolatrous images if no such images from their time exist. As images dating with certainly to the first and second centuries is a problem for the advocates of the iconophobic tradition, the absence of images from these centuries also requires an explanation from advocates of the iconodule tradition. This is not an insurmountable problem, however, since we have said that Christian art is a tradition adopted unequally in time and space. It is less imperative for the iconodules to explain the silence than it is for the iconophobes to explain the monuments that contradict their basic theory.

The problem of dating is, therefore, obvious. The same criteria of dating are not accepted by all, thus another problem: which method to use? There are two general orientations used to date the monuments: 1) dating catacomb images by comparing their styles to Roman paintings of the same era; 2) dating the catacombs themselves and the structures that surround them. The paintings, thus, have the same dates as the catacombs regardless of the similarities or differences of style. Both methods have strong and weak points. If we look at all the literature on the question of chronology, we have to come to the conclusion that there is no reliable and acceptable chronology of the catacomb paintings; there is no method that is acceptable and recognized by all scholars in the field. Our study is, therefore, greatly handicapped by the absence of sure and recognized dates for the catacomb paintings.

The paintings of the house church of Dura-Europos do not pose a problem of dating. Kraeling has determined that the Christians of Dura painted their images between 240 and 256. The first date is indicated by a date mark left by the artist on the wall, and the second is the date of the destruction of the city by the Persians.cxciv

For the dating of the sarcophagi, the problem is also less acute. Since sarcophagi were luxury items, it is not surprising that they do not go much farther back than the first half of the third century. Few Christians of the first two centuries had great financial resources or social standing, and so few could afford, or even wanted, such a symbol of prestige as a sculpted sarcophagus.

5.5 The Stages of the Development of Christian Art

The Tradition of the Church recognizes that literary symbols, prefigurations and allegories of Christ from the Old Testament preceded his coming in the flesh in the Incarnation. Canon 82 of the Quinisext Council in 692 stipulates that Christ should, from that time on, be painted in his personal, historical image and no longer as a lamb, as one of “the ancient types and shadows as symbols of the truth.cxcv” This canon shows us how the mainstream Tradition relates indirect symbols and direct images. Symbols make us think of Christ but are not direct images of his person: the Good Shepherd, the lamb, the XP, the cross, the philosopher, etc. In canon 82, the Church showed a preference for direct images of the historical Christ, in other words, portrait icons. Even though canon 82 does not specifically speak of ancient Christian art, it can help us see that Christian images developed in the same way: from indirect symbols to direct images of persons and events.

Since the ancient Christians were part of an illegal religion in the Roman Empire, they naturally chose figurations, symbolic images and signs that would not attract the attention of their pagan neighbors. The literary and archeological evidence leaves the door open to the possibility that the first Christians expressed their faith in artistic representations. The Jews of the first century, and subsequent centuries, did the same. Neither the Jews nor the Christians believed they were breaking the Second Commandment by making and using these images because the images the two groups produced did not expose them to the dangers of idolatry. The images were used in a liturgical context where there was no question of worshiping them.

The Christians first chose the images common to the biblical tradition and the pagan culture, or only images that were known to the surrounding culture but filled them with a Christian meaning. In either case, the symbolic images did not attract the attention of the authorities.cxcvi Bruun gives a list of these images: agnus, ancora, asinus, calix, caput velatum, columba, corona, crux, delphinus, dolium, flagellum, folium, genius, Iibra, loulab, modify, navis, nimbus, olea, orans, palma, pampinus, panis, pastor bonus, pharos, phœnix, piscis, ramus olex, serpens, tabella, tridens, vas, vitis, uvæ. Finney designates these images and others as proto-Christian or even crypto-Christian.cxcvii We may have here one of the causes of the dating problem: we cannot distinguish between pagan, symbolic images and crypto-Christian ones.

To continue the development of Christian art, we know that at a certain time, we do not know where or when, Christians began to produce images clearly inspired by the Old Testament. Did this happen at different times and different places, or did one center, like Rome or Antioch, start the practice, with smaller communities following the lead? We unfortunately do not know. By beginning to illustrate certain stories of the Old Testament, they were moving out of the purely symbolic realm into that of representing historical scenes and, therefore, historical per sons in a direct and non-symbolic way. They no doubt continued to use symbols also. Even the historical scenes could be symbolic on another . Thirdly, scenes from the New Testament appeared. These images were not essentially different from Old Testament images, except they showed Gospel events and people directly. Scenes of Christ’s baptism were also included, showing that they did not hesitate to paint images of Christ himself. So even in the ancient, pre-Constantinian period, we have the essential principle that underlies images, called icons, of Christ and the saints in subsequent centuries: the ancient Christians did not hesitate to paint a direct image of Christ. The Christians continued to use symbolic, biblical and non-biblical images as well as scenes from the two Testaments. The fourth stage, in which Christ or the saints were represented without any historical setting, facing the observer, is generally beyond the time frame of our study even though Eusebius says that he had seen such portraits at the beginning of the fourth century. The last stage is determined by canon 82 of the Quinisext Council (692) by which the Church expressed its preference for direct, portrait images of the historical Christ over indirect, symbolic images, such as the lamb.

The main lines of Church Tradition and Nicæa II’s defense of icons is confirmed: from a very early period, perhaps, from the Apostles themselves, Christians used the word and image to preach the Gospel.

5.6 “Contaminated” Sources

Is it important, as some literary sources indicate, that images of Christ or of other New Testament per sons were found in a pagan, syncretistic or heretical context? The Emperor Severus Alexander (222–235), well known for his religious syncretism, had the images of Christ, Abraham, Orpheus and other illustrious per sons in his chapel where he prayed every morning.cxcviii Irenæus indicates that the heretical Carpocratians also had images of Christ. Let us suppose that these literary witnesses are historical; should we be concerned, as say the advocates of the hostility theory, that Christian images entered into the Church from contaminated sources showing that images, and their veneration, had no place in “pure” Christianity? Not necessarily.

We have already seen that there were several stages of the development of Christian art, and it would not be striking that pagan syncretists or heretics were ahead of Christians at one or another stage of the development. By comparing the number of images, their quality and their diversity in the synagogue and in the house church at Dura-Europos, we have the impression that the Jews were ahead of the Christians in developing a liturgical art. It is also quite possible that different regions and social classes advanced more or less rapidly than others. Since regional styles differed quite markedly for all sorts of reasons, why could not the movement from one stage to another be quite different from region to region and class to class?

Should we be worried about the possibility that orthodox Christians could have been influenced by pagans’ and heretics’ practices in the realm of art? Here again, not necessarily. There is nothing new or surprising in the fact that Christians borrowed from pagan sources to enrich some aspect of their community life. Many examples of this kind of borrowing already exist. The current of scholarly opinion that has tried to isolate Christianity from all outside influences of Græco-Roman culture does not have much credibility anymore. Even if we could prove that Gnostic heretics had a direct influence on Christian art, and this is still only a hypothesis, this fact in itself is no more disquieting than other borrowings made from pagans or the Jews. The important question here, as with the Hebrews’ borrowing of creation stories from the available literature in the ancient Middle East, is not that borrowings took place but to what extent did Christians, as with the Hebrews, change and reinterpret what was coming from the exterior. How did they purify images, forms and symbols and adapt them to their own needs by first changing the inner meaning of the symbols and images, and then changing the forms themselves.

5.7 Jewish Christians

According to Meyers and Strangecxcix, there is no consensus about the Jewish Christian identity of the monuments discovered by Bagatti and others. This problem is very important for our study because of the monuments on which images, signs and symbols are found and which may go back to the apostolic era. At the present stage of our knowledge, a resolution of this problem does not seem imminent. The pros and the cons continue to argue, but the monuments remain. The possibility, however, that Jewish Christians of the first or second centuries produced these artistic monuments is heavy with consequences for the question of the ancient Christians’ attitude toward images. The discovery of these monuments, and at least the possibility that they might be of Jewish Christian origin, should at least make us more prudent. As has already happened in the past, new archeological or literary discoveries may make today’s categorical statements about what was and was not true in the past look not only exaggerated but ridiculous.

iMeyers, E. and J. Strange, Archeology, the Rabbis, and Early Christianity, Nashville, Abingdon, 1981, pp. 153–154.

iiDumeige, G., Nicée II, Paris, Éditions de l’Orante, 1978, p. 73.

iiiSee the articles in the various theological and New Testament dictionaries: G. Kittel, “EIKON,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament II, 1964, pp. 381– 397; L. Goppelt, “TYPOS,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament VIII, 1974, pp. 246–259; 0. Flender, “Image,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology I, 1975, pp. 286–288; H. Lesêtre, « Image, » Dictionnaire de la Bible 3/1, 1912, col. 843-44; H. Muller, “Type,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology III, 1978, pp. 903–907; Finney, “The Emperor’s Image,” The Invisible God, pp. 69–98.

ivLe Talmud de Jérusalem: Abodah Zarah 42c, Paris, Éditions G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1969.

vFinney, The Invisible God, p. 72.

viKittel, p. 388; Finney, The Invisible God, pp. 72–74; Flender, p. 288.

viiKonikoff, C., The Second Commandment and Its Interpretation in the Art of Ancient Israel, Geneva, Imprimerie du Journal de Genève,1973, p. 93.

viiiPelikan, J., The Vindication of Tradition, New Haven Conn., Yale University Press, 1984.

ixPerrin, N., “The New Testament as Tradition and as Interpretation of Tradition,” The New Testament :An Introduction, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1974, pp. 34–35.

xOuspensky, L., The Theology of the Icon I & II, Crestwood, NY, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992 (vol I) p. 63.

xiPG 86,165 A, quoted in Mango, C., The Art of the Byzantine Empire: -312-1453, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1986, p. 40.

xii0uspensky (Vol. I), pp. 60–64.

xiiiRunciman, S., “Some Remarks on the Image of Edessa,” The Cambridge Historical Journal III/1,1929, pp. 238-52; “The Abgar Legend,” The New Testament Apocrypha, E. Hennecke, ed., London, Society for Christian Missions Press Ltd., 1974, pp. 437–444.

xivEusebius of Cæsarea, The History of the Church I,13, G. Williamson, tr., Harmondsworth, the UK, Dorset Press, 1984, pp. 65–70.

xvRunciman, pp. 241–242.

xviThe Doctrine of Addaï, the Apostle, G. Philips, tr., London, 1876; The Teaching of Addaï, G. Howard, tr., The Society of Biblical Literature: Texts and Translations 16 (Early Christian Literature Series 4) Ann Arbor, Mich., Scholars Press, 1981; J. Tixeront, Les Origines de l’Église et la légende d’Abgar, Paris, Maisonneuve et C. Leclerc, 1888; F.C. Burkitt, Early Eastern Churches (Christianity), London, J. Murray, 1904; E. von Dobschütz, Christusbilder, Leipzig, J. C. Hinrisch’sche Buchhandlung, 1899.

xviiPG 86/2, col. 2745–2749.

xviiiOuspensky I, p. 52.

xixJohn of Damascus, On the Divine Images!, D. Anderson, tr., Crestwood, NY, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980, p. 35.

xxMurray, R., “The Early Syriac Church Background,” Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in the Early Syriac Tradition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1975, pp. 4–24; see also S. Brock, “Eusebius and Syriac Christianity,” Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism, H. Attridge and G. Hata, eds., Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1992, pp. 212–234.

xxiEusebius 7, 18, pp. 301–302; this text was quoted by Nicæa II, see D. Sahas, Icon and Logos: Sources in Eighth-Century Iconoclasm, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1986, note 2, pp. 97–98.

xxiiIbid., p. 301.

xxiiiRunciman, p. 242.

xxivEusebius 7, 18, p. 302.

xxvEusèbe de Césarée, Histoire ecclésiastique VII, 18 (Sources Chrétiennes 41), G. Bardy, tr., Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 1952, note 1, p. 192.

xxviFestugière, A.-J., Les Actes apocryphes de Jean et de Thomas, C. Patrick, ed., Geneva, Cahiers d’orientalisme, 1983, pp. 12-13; New Testament Apocrypha, pp. 220-21.

xxviiJunod, E. et J.-D. Kaestli, “Les traits caractéristiques de la Théologie des “Actes de Jean,” Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie XXVI/26-27, 1976-77, pp. 125-145; K. Schäfedeiek, “Actes de Jean,” Neutestamentliche Apokryphen II, Hennecke- Schneemelcher, ed., Tubingen, 1971, pp. 125-143; A. F. Findlay, Byways in Early Christian Literature, Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1923; A. Grabar, “Le portrait en iconographie paléochrétienne,” Revue des Sciences Religieuses, (Archéologie paléochrétienne et culte chrétien), nos. 3-4, Strasbourg, July-December, Palais Universitaire, 1962.

xxviiiJunod, p. 141.

xxixNew Testament Apocrypha II, p. 221.

xxxMansi XIII, 168 E-172 C; Dumeige, p. 125.

xxxiJunod, p. 125.

xxxiiAnastos, M. V., “The Ethical Theory of Images Formulated by the Iconoclasts in 754 and 815,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 8,1954, pp. 151-60.

xxxiiiIrenæus of Lyons, Against Heresies I, XXV, 6, Ante-Nicene Fathers I, Grand Rapids, Mich., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, p. 351; this 10-volume work will hereafter be referred to as ANF and the volume number.

xxxivFinney, P., “Gnosticism and the Origins of Early Christian Art,” in Atti del IX congresso Internazionale di Archeologia Cristiana I, (September 21–27, 1975) Rome, 1978, p. 398.

xxxvIbid., p. 396 & p. 398.

xxxviGrant, R. M., Gnosticism: An Anthology, London, Collins, 1961, p. 38.

xxxviiHutin, S., Les gnostiques (Que sais-je? # 808) Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1959, p. 61.

xxxviiiBenoit, A., Saint Irenée: Introduction à l’étude de sa théologie, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1960, p. 69.

xxxixHippolytus of Rome, The Refutation of All Heresies VII, XX, (ANF V), p.114; Epiphanius, Augustine, John of Damascus and others have preserved the tradition in one form or another. See Finney, Gnosticism, note 8, p. 396.

xlDaniélou, J., Théologie du judéo-christianisme, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1958, and Les symboles chrétiens primitifs, Paris, Seuil, 1961; I. Mancini, Archeological Discoveries Relative to the judéo-Christians: Historical Survey, Jerusalem, Franciscan Printing Press, 1970 (bibliography pp. 178-85); B. Bagatti, L’Église de la Circoncision, Jérusalem, Franciscan Printing Press, 1965; P. E. Testa, 11 Simbolismo dei Giudeo-Cristiani, Jerusalem, Studium Biblicum Fransciscanum, 1962; B. Bagatti and J. Milik, Gil scavi del “Dominus Flevit” (Monte Oliveto Gerusalemme), Jerusalem, Studium Biblicum Fransciscanum, 1958.

xli“Testa, E., Nazaret Giudeo-Cristiana, Jerusalem, Franciscan Printing Press, 1969; B. Bagatti, Excavations in Nazareth, I: From the Beginning till the XII Century, Jerusalem, Fransciscan Printing Press, 1969. Bagatti’s English text incorporates Testa’s Italian material.

xliiTesta, Nazaret, pp. 70–76; Bagatti, Excavations, pp. 151–152.

xliiiTesta, Nazaret, pp. 73-74; Bagatti, Excavations, pp. 164-65; 13. Bagatti, “Probabile Figura del Precursore in un Graffito di Nazaret,” Oriens Antiquus III (1964) 61-66.

xlivBagatti, Excavations, p. 160, drawing, p. 162.

xlvIbid., pp. 244–245; for more on this tomb, see B. Bagatti, “Une Singolare Tomba a Nazaret,” Miscelannea, E. Josi II, Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana XLII, 1967, pp. 7–14.

xlviDaniélou, Symboles.

xlviiGoodenough, E. Jewish Symbols in the Græco-Roman Period, New York, Pantheon Books, 1953.

xlviiiBagatti, Église, pp. 181-184.

xlixKlauser, T., “Erwägungen zur Entstehung der altchristlichen Kunst,” Zeitschrift zur Kirchengeschichte LXXVI, 1965, pp. 1-11.

lKoch, H., Die altchristliche Bilderfrage nach den literarischen Quellen, Gottingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1917.

liAristides of Athens, The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher (ANF X) pp. 259–279.

liiIbid. XIII, pp. 274–275.

liiiJustin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin (ANF I), pp. 163–187.

livIbid., p. 165.

lvIbid. LV, p. 181.

lviiIbid. XXXIII and XXXIV, pp. 78–79.

lviiiIbid., p. 79.

lixIbid. XXXIV, p. 79.

lxAgainst Heresies I, 28, 1, p. 353 and III, 23, 8, pp. 457–458.

lxiBevan, E., Holy Images: An Inquiry into Idolatry and Image-Worship in Ancient Paganism and in Christianity, London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1940, p. 89.

lxiiAthenagoras, Embassy for the Christians, J. Crehan, tr. (Ancient Christian Writers 23) Westminister, Maryland, Paulist Press, 1956.

lxiiiEmbassy 18, p. 49.

lxivAgainst Heresies, pp. 315–567.

lxvIbid. I, 25, 6, p. 351.

lxviIbid. I, 23, 1 and 4, pp. 347–348.

lxviiAgainst Heresies, note 7, p. 351.

lxviiiIbid. I,8, 1, p. 326.

lxixBevan, p. 113: “We have seen that up to the time of Constantine, during the first three centuries of the Christian Church, the chief Christian writers show either a disapproval of any making of images—Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria—or at any rate a disapproval of images of Christ. . .” Bevan, however, wavers on this question as we will notice later; see below the conclusion of the section on ancient Christian literature.

lxxIbid. pp. 104–105.

lxxiThe Octavius of Minucius Felix (ANF IV), pp. 169–198.

lxxiiIbid. 22, p. 193.

lxxiiiMurray, C., Rebirth and Afterlife (British Archeological Reports 100) Oxford, 1981, p. 14. The first chapter of this study is a reproduction of an article that first appeared as “Art and the Early Church,” The Journal of Theological Studies XXVIII/2 Oct. 1977, pp. 303–345.

lxxivKitzinger, E., “The Cult of Images before Iconoclasm,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 8, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1954.

lxxvOctavius 9–10, pp. 177–178.

lxxviKraeling, C., The Excavations at Dura-Europos: The Christian Building, Final Report VIII/II New Haven, Dura-Europos Publications, 1967.

lxxviiEusebius, 7, 30, pp. 318–319.

lxxviiiAgainst Heresies IV, 17, 5, p. 459.

lxxixQuasten, pp. 36–37.

lxxxThe Teaching of the Apostles XIV, Didachê (ANF VII), p. 381.

lxxxiI Co 10:21 (RSV).

lxxxiiThe Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, Greek/French, Geneva, Archdiocese of Switzerland, Ecumenical Patriarchate, pp. 90–91.

lxxxiiiKitzinger, p. 89.

lxxxivOn Idolatry (ANF III), pp. 61–77; Against Marcion (ANF III), pp. 269–476; The Shows (ANF III), pp. 79‑ 92; On Modesty (ANF IV), pp. 74–101.

lxxxvOn Idolatry III,p. 62.

lxxxviIbid. IV, p. 62.

lxxxviiThe Shows XXIII, p. 89.

lxxxviiiOn Idolatry V, p. 63.

lxxxixFinney, The Oldest, Surviving Literary and Archeological Evidence for Christian Attitudes toward Visual Arts (an unpublished Ph.D. thesis from Harvard University) Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University, April 1, 1973, p. 165. This thesis is the basis of the previously mentioned book by Finney, The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art, which does not contain all the material in the thesis.

xcIbid., p. 162.

xciBevan, pp. 85–86.

xciiMurray, p. 21.

xciiiOn Idolatry V, p. 64.

xcivAgainst Marcion II, XXII, p. 314.

xcvIbid. III, XVIII, p. 337.

xcviFinney, The Oldest, p. 173.

xcviiOn Idolatry VII, p. 64.

xcviiilbid., X, pp. 66–67.

xcixOn Modesty VII, p. 80.

cIbid. X, 11–12, p. 85.

ciOn the question of the clergy against the laity, see Klauser, Erwägungen, pp. 1–11.

ciiExhortation (ANC II), pp. 163–206; Instructor (ANC II), pp. 207–289; Stromata (ANC II), pp. 209–568, The Ante-Nicene Fathers II,Grand Rapids, Mich., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983.

ciiiButterworth, G. W., “Clement of Alexandria and Art,” The Journal of Theological Studies XVII, 1916, p. 69.

civExhortation IV, p. 189.

cvThe Stromata V, V, p. 451.

cviIbid. V, VI, pp. 452–453.

cviiThe Instructor III, IX, pp. 285–286.

cviiiFor a discussion of this question, see Finney, “Appendix II Proto-Christian Images,” The Oldest, pp. 313 ff.; H. D. Altendorf, “Die Siegelbildvorschlage des Clemens von Alexandrien,” Zeitschrift far die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 58, 1967, pp. 129-138; L. Eizenhöfer, “Die Siegelbildvorschlage des Clemens von Alexandrien and die älteste Christliche Literatur,” Jahrbuch für Antike and Christentum 3, 1960, pp. 51–69.

cixThe Instructor III, IX, pp. 285–286.

cxLeclercq, H., «Pêcheur, » Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie 13/2, 1938, col. 2877‑2882.

cxiExhortation IV, p. 189.

cxiiThe Stromata, “Elucidations” V, p. 477.

cxiiiBevan, p. 88.

cxivKlauser, pp. 3–4.

cxvMurray, p. 23.

cxviThe Instructor H, IV, pp. 248–249.

cxviiMondésert, C., « Le symbolisme chez Clément d’Alexandrie,” Recherches de Science Religieuse 16, 1936, pp. 158-80.

cxviiiThe Stromata VI, XVII, pp. 514–515.

cxixExhortation IV, p. 189.

cxxFinney, The Oldest, p. 175.

cxxiOrigen, Against Celsus (ANF IV), pp. 395–669.

cxxiiIbid. IV, 31, p. 510.

cxxiiiOrigen, Homélies sur I’Exode VIII, 3 (Sources Chrétiennes 321) M. Borret., Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 1985, pp. 251-53.

cxxivIbid. IX, 3, p. 210 and IX, 4, p. 218.

cxxvIbid. IX, 3, p. 210.

cxxviOrigen, Homilies sur la Genèse XIII, 4 (Sources Chrétiennes 7 bis) H. de Lubac and L. Doutreleau, trs., Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 1976, p. 329.

cxxviiAgainst Celsus VI, 66, p. 603.

cxxviiiOrigen: Introduction, R. Greer (The Classics of Western Spirituality) New York, Paulist Press, 1979, p. 22; the following works are published in this book: An Exhortation to Martyrdom XXXIII, p. 63 & XVI, 3, p. 115; On Prayer XIII, 2, p. 105.

cxxixAgainst Celsus VII, 64–66, pp. 636–637.

cxxxHitchcock, M., “Origen’s Theory of the Holy Communion,” Church Review Quarterly CXXXI, January-March 1941, pp. 216–239.

cxxxiOrigen, Homilies sur Josué H (Sources Chrétiennes 71) A. Jaubert, tr., Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 1960, p. 117.

cxxxiiQuasten II, “Origen,” p. 53.

cxxxiiiAgainst Celsus VIII, 17–19, pp. 645–646.

cxxxivBartlet, C., Church-Life and Church-Order during the First Four Centuries, Oxford, Blackwell, 1943, pp. 84 & 102–103.

cxxxvHippolytus of Rome, The Apostolic Tradition II, 11, G. Dix, ed., New York, The Macmillan Co., 1937.

cxxxviIbid. 16, p. 25.

cxxxviiConnolly, H., Didascalia Apostolorum, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1929; The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (ANF VI); F.-X. Funk, «La date de la Didascalie des Apôtres,» Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique II, 1901, pp. 798-809; P. Galtier, “La date de la Didascalie,” Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique XLII, 1947, pp. 315-351

cxxxviiiDidascalia Apostolorum XVIII, IV, 5–6, pp. 156-58.

cxxxixThe Ethiopic Didascalia, J. M. Harden, tr., New York, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1920.

cxlIbid. XXI. pp. 101-102.

cxliLa version syriaque de l’Octateuque de Clément, F. Nau, tr., P. Léthielleux, 1912, reprinted by Pio Ciprotti, Paris, P. Léthielleux, 1967.

cxliiIbid. II, II, i, pp. 57-58.

cxliiiIbid. VI, X, pp. 90–91.

cxlivThe Statues of the Apostles or Canones Ecciesiastici, G. Homer, tr., “Translation of the Saidic Text,” 41: “Concerning the Occupations and the Crafts,” London, 1904, p. 312.

cxlvIbid., “The Translation of the Arabic Text,” 27: “Concerning the new persons . . . and the occupations which it is proper they should give up. . .,” p. 248.

cxlviCoquin, R.-G., “Les canons d’Hippolyte,” Patriologia Orientalis XXXI/2, 1966.

cxlviiIbid., p. 365.

cxlviiiCyprian, On the Dress of Virgins 15 (ANF V), p. 434.

cxlixCyprian, An Address to Demetrianius 3 (ANF V), p. 458.

clCyprian, Letter 2 (called Epistle LX in ANF V), p. 356.

cliCyprian, Letter 41 (called Epistle XXXVII in ANF V), pp. 315–316.

cliiMethodius of Olympus, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins (ANF VI), pp. 309–355.

cliiiMethodius of Olympus, From the Discourse on the Resurrection (ANF VI), pp. 364–377.

clivKoch, pp. 22–24.

clvBanquet VI, I p. 329.

clviIbid. VI, II, p.329.

clviiKoch, p. 23.

clviiiDiscourse III, IV & V, p. 370.

clixIbid. III, VI, p. 370.

clxKoch, p. 23.

clxi“Ancient Documentation and Testimony of the Holy Fathers Concerning Images,” Divine Images, pp. 106–107; Discourse II, p. 369.

clxiiKoch, p. 24.

clxiiiDiscourse I, VI, p. 365.

clxivLactantius, The Divine Institutes II, II (ANF VII), p. 41.


clxviIbid. p. 42.


clxviiiLactantius, A Treatise on the Anger of God 10 (ANF VII), p. 266.

clxixBareille, G., « Elvire, Concile d’, » Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique IV/2, 1924, col. 2378-96; H. Leclercq, “Elvire (Concile d’),” Dictionnaire d’Archéologie Chrétienne et de Liturgie 14/2, 1921, col. 2687-94; J. Gaudemet, “Le concile d’Elvire,” Dictionnaire d’Histoire et de Géographie Ecciésiastique 15, 1963, col. 317-48; M. Meigne, “Concile ou Collection d’Elvire?” Revue d’Histoire Ecciésiastique LXX, 1975, pp. 361-87; Koch, pp. 31-41; Bevan, pp. 113-16; Murray, pp. 20-21; W. Elliger, “Die Stellung der alten Christen zu den Bildern in den ersten vier Jahrhunderten,” in Studien fiber christliche Denkmäler, Leipzig, Dieterich’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1930; S. Laeuchli, Power and Sexuality: The Emergence of Canon Law at the Synod of Elvira, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1972.

clxxKraeling, C., The Christian Building, pp. 34–39.

clxxiBovini, G., I Sarcofagi paleocristiani della Spagna, Rome, L’Institut pontifical d’archéologie chrétienne, 1954.

clxxiiLaeuchli, p. 36.

clxxiiiGaudemet, col. 340-348.

clxxivArnobius of Sicca, The Case Against the Pagans (Ancient Christian Writers 7) New York, Newman Press, 1949, pp. 452-80; Against the Heathen (ANF VI), pp. 413–540.

clxxvCase 6,1, p. 452.

clxxviIbid. 6, 9, p. 460.

clxxviiIbid. 6, 17, p. 470.

clxxviiiIbid. 6, 24, pp. 477-478.

clxxixIbid. 6, 27, p. 480.

clxxxSchönborn, C., « Une théologie anti-icône: Eusèbe de Cesarean, » L’icône du Christ: Fondements théologiques, Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 1986, pp. 55-86; Elliger, pp. 47-53; Koch, pp. 41-58; Murray, pp. 25-30; K. HoII, “Die Schriften des Epiphanius gegen die Bilderverehrung,” Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte II, der Osten, Tübingen, 1928, note 1, p. 387; Klauser, pp. 4–5; G. Florovsky, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Iconoclastic Controversy,” Church History 19, 1950, pp. 77–96: for a discussion of the authenticity of the letter, see notes 21 & 22, p. 84; Bevan, pp. 110-12; Quasten III, pp. 309–345.

clxxxiLedercq, col. 2692.

clxxxiiBevan, pp. 89–90.

clxxxiiiBréhier, L., L’art chrétien, Paris, Librairie Nenouard, 1928; W. F. Volbach, Early Christian Art, London, Thames and Hudson, 1961; C. Morey, Early Christian Art, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1942; C. Morey, Christian Art, London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1935; J. M. C. Toynbee, “A New Roman Mosaic Pavement Found in Dorset,” The Journal of Roman Studies LIV, 1964, pp. 7–14; F. Gerke, La fin de l’art antique et le début de l’art chrétien, Paris, Albin Michel, 1973; C. Neyret, Art paléochrétien et art byzantin, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1973; J. Beckwith, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, New York, Penguin Books, 1970; M. Gough, The Origins of Christian Art, London, Thames and Hudson, 1973; P. du Bourguet, La peinture paléochrétienne, Paris, 1965; P. du Bourguet, Early Christian Painting, London, Contact Books, 1965; F. van der Meer, Early Christian Art, London, Faber and Faber Limited, 1967; W. Lowrie, Art in the Early Church, New York, W. W. Norton & Co. Inc., 1947; A. Grabar, L’art de la fin de l’Antiquité et du moyen-âge, Paris, College de France, 1968; A. Grabar, L’art paléochrétien et l’art byzantin: recueil d’études: 1967-77, Paris, Variorum, 1979; A. Grabar, Christian Iconography: A Study of Its Origins, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1968; A. Grabar, Early Christian Art, New York, Odyssey Press, 1968; A. Leroy, Naissance de l’art chrétien des origines à l’an mil, Paris, Fayard, 1956; J. Pichard, Images de l’Invisible: vingt siècles d’art chrétien, Paris, Casterman, 1958.

clxxxivIn this inventory and for other elements in this section, we have used the following works: Finney, “The Archeological Evidence,” in The Oldest and “The Earliest Christian Art,” in The Invisible God; F. W. Deichmann, Einfürhrung in die christliche Archäologie, Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1983; G. Snyder, AntePacem: Archeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine, Macon, Georgia, Mercer University Press, 1985: also look in the bibliographies for each category of monument; Bovini, Gli studi di archeologia cristiana, Bologna, Patron, 1968.

clxxxvDenis-Boulet, N., Rome Souterraine, Paris, Le Signe, 1965; J. Stevenson, The Catacombs: Rediscovered Monuments of Early Christianity, London, Thames and Hudson, 1978; G. P. Kirsch, The Catacombs of Rome, Rome, Società “Amici delle Catacombe,” 1946; Leclercq, «Catacombes» & «Catacombes, Arts des,” Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie 2/2, 1925, col. 2378-2486; J. Wilpert, Die Malereien der Katakomben. Roms, Freiburg, Herder, 1903; A. Nestori, Repertorio topografico delle picture delle catacombe Romane, The Vatican, The Pontifical Institute of Christian archeology, 1975.

clxxxviKraeling, The Christian Building.

clxxxviiWixom, W., “Early Christian Sculptures at Cleveland,” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 54/3 March 1967, pp. 67–88; E. Kitzinger, “The Cleveland Marbles,” Atti del IX congresso Internazionale di Archeologia Cristiana (September 21–27, 1975) pp. 653-75; G. Bovini, “La statua di San’lppolito del Museo Lateranese,” Bolletino della Commissione Archeologica del Governatorato di Roma 18, 1940, pp. 109-28; P. Nautin, Hippolyte et Josipe Constribution à l’histoire de la littérature chrétienne au IIle siècle, Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 1947; Lettres et écrivains chrétiens au II et III siècles, Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 1961.

clxxxviiiBovini, G., I Sarcofagi Paleochristiani, Rome, Societa Amici delle Catacombe, 1949, pp. 86–169; H. Leclercq, « Sarcophage, » Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie 6/1, 1950, col. 778-888; H. Leclercq, “Gayole, La,” Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie 6/1, 1924, col. 668-695; H. Leclercq, “Livia Primitiva,” Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie 9/2, 1930, cot. 1752-53; J.-P. Kirsch, “Ancre,” Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie 1/2, 1924, col. 2019, drawing of the Elvelpiste sarcophagus, fig. 575; J. Engemann, Untersuchungen zur Sepullkralsymbolik der späternen Römischen Kaiserzeit, Jahrbuch für Antike and Christentum, Ergänzungsband 2, 1973; B. Andreae, Die Römischen Jagdsarkophage, Berlin, Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1980; F. W. Deichmann, G. Bovini, et H. Brandenburg, Repertorium der christlich-antiken Sarkophage 1, Wiesbaden, Steiner Verlag, 1967; J. Wilpert, I sarcofagi cristiani antichi, Rome, The Pontifical Institute of Christian archeology, 1929–1936.

clxxxixTrowbridge, M. L., Philological Studies in Ancient Glass, Urbana, Illinois, 1930 (109, 110); C. R. Morey, The Gold Glass Collection of the Vatican Library, Le Vatican, 1955; I. Schiller, “A Note on Jewish Gold Glasses,” Journal of Glass Studies 8,1966, pp. 48–61; H. Leclercq, «Fonds de coupes,» Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie 5/2,1923, col. 1819-59.

cxcLedercq, H. «Lampes,» Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie 8/1, 1929, col. 1086-1221; A. Ennabli, Lampes chrétiennes de Tunisie, Paris, Éditions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1976.

cxciLeclercq, H., «Croix et Crucifix : III Gemmes chrétiennes,» Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie 6/1, 1924, col. 3048-50; H. Leclercq, “Gemmes,” Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie 6/1, 1924, col. 794-863.

cxciiSchrenk, Sabine, Typos and Antitypos in der früchristlichen Kunst, Munster, Aschendorff, 1995.

cxciiiReekmans, L., « La chronologie de la peinture paléochrétienne: notes et réflexions, » Rivista di Archeologia cristiana XLIX, 1973, pp. 271-91.

cxcivKraeling, “Date and Dating,” The Christian Building, pp. 34–39.

cxcvThe Seven Ecumenical Councils, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers XIV, Grand Rapids, Mich., Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., 1979, p. 401.

cxcviFerron, L. B., «Carthage,» Dictionnaire d’Histoire et de Géographie ecclésiastiques 11, 1949, col. 1149-1233; H. Instinsky, “Anaglipha cristiana,” Corpus Inscriptionum latinarum VIII/supplément V/2, 1955, p. 240; F. J. Dölger, IXTHUS, Munster, Aschendorffschen Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1922-1934; P. Bruun, “Symboles, Signes et Monogrammes,” Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiæ 1/2, 1963, pp. 73-166; Daniélou, Symboles; E. Urech, Dictionnaire des symboles chrétiens, Paris, Delachaux et Niestlé, 1972.

cxcviiFinney, “Appendix II Proto-Christian Images,” The Oldest, pp. 301-15.

cxcviiiÆlii Lampridii, Scriptores Historiæ Augustæ 29, Leipzig, Herman Peter, 1865, p. 248; Italian translation: Scrittori Storia Augusta XXIX, Torino Unione, Leopoldo Agnes, 1960, p. 304.

cxcixMeyers and Strange, pp. 134-40.

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