THE VENERATION OF IMAGES IN THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH - Part II
5. The first
The first attacks against the making of images came from the Jews, probably
Christian converts, but who carried with them the misinterpreted Old
The present day attack on images has its origin, however, in the 8th century
with Emperor Leo, the "Isaurian of Constantinople" (717-741) who
needed gold, silver and precious stones to finance his planned invasion of
Italy. Seeing that these precious metals and stones were easily available in
religious images, he had them all confiscated, decreeing that the making of
religious images was against the orthodox religion. He conveniently
burned the wooden images but melted the metal ones into coins with his
image; just like Henry VIII who conveniently used his desire for a mistress
to break away from Rome. Both kings looked for learned men to rationalize
their vices. No learned men would do so. . .precisely because they were
Emperor Leo burned his learned theologians in their library; Henry beheaded
So the two kings employed their "bottom of the barrel"
theologians. Leo's theologians picked up the Jewish erroneous interpretation
of God's Old Testament prohibition. Understandably so, for if they had
chosen the right interpretation, they would have been burned alive too.
Poor Leo, did you not see that the fact you had so many images confiscated
shows that these images had been in those churches long before you were
born, being honored by Christians? Long before your heresy?
During Leo's persecution, Stephen, a monk, went to Leo and presented a coin
bearing the imperial image; "Sire, whose image is this?" "It
is mine." Then the monk threw the coin down and trampled it. The
emperor had him seized and condemned to a painful death. The monk's last
words were: " If I am punished for dishonoring the image of the
emperor, what punishment is in store for those who dishonor the image of
Christ and His saints?"
See, Leo, you yourself believed that honor given to the image is honor
due to the prototype. You knew the truth; but you needed the funds more.
Leo's heresy did not survive the onslaught of the holy and learned men of
the Church. So it disappeared for a while until the 16th century where it
found fertile ground in the errors of Protestantism. Their main argument,
just like the Jews and Leo's, was based on the same misinterpreted Old
The confusion and misinterpretation of God's Old Testament command was
partly caused by the word used: PROSKINESIS, which described everything from
adoration to veneration to mere friendship. Even in English, the words,
adoration, worship and veneration mean the same thing.
So St. John of Damascus used LATREIA for absolute worship of God and
PROSKINESIS for the veneration given to saints, relics and images.
Today, we have this heresy in a more alarming and hideous state. For, as
they set aside all images, they go further, like praying directly to God
(thus removing the saints and the Blessed Mother); next is confessing
directly to God (dispensing with confessors and priests); next will be
receiving Christ in spirit (putting aside the Holy Eucharist).