On Sacred Images

On Sacred Images

By Bro. Isahel N. Alfonso

The most common objection raised by fundamentalists on our Catholic faith is the use of images inside the Church. At first they would innocently ask a Catholic why they have images inside the Church, then they would open up their Bible to Exodus 20:5 and say the Bible explicitly prohibit images so why do you have it inside your church? The implication is simple that the Catholic Church contradicts the Bible because it has images of saints inside the Church. A Catholic who knows nothing about his faith would get confuse with such a witty question from a fundamentalist friend. So, how do we respond to this kind of argument? The key in answering this objection is properly understanding the passage that was quoted by the fundamentalist.

“You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carved idols for yourselves in shape of anything in the sky above or on earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down to them or worship them.” Exodus 20:3-5

For a fundamentalist reading this passage the only thing that he sees are the words “you shall not carve images, do not bow down to them and you shall not have other gods” and completely disregarding the rest of the passage. When using this passage fundamentalist would want you to believe that God is absolutely forbidding the creation of all kinds of images and Catholics are not only creating what was forbidden but also worships the images of saints. It’s time for us to interpret this passage correctly, first and foremost this passage do not absolutely forbid the creation of all types and kinds of images what was forbidden in this passage are the images of idols or the gods and goddesses of pagans. The pagans have gods and goddesses in the sky above, earth below and water beneath the earth and these are the very images that were forbidden by God. The non-absoluteness of the prohibition in the creation of images is evident by God’s own command in the creation of the images of Cherubims.

“Make two Cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the propitiatory fastening them so that the cherub springs directly from each end. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, covering the propitiatory with them; they shall be turned toward each other , but with their faces looking toward the propitiatory.”Exodus 25:18-20

Ark of the Covenant with statue of Cherubim

Aside from the Ark of the Covenant God also ordered the creation of various images inside the temple, not to represent himself by these images but rather serves as aid in worship.

“Two winged creatures were made of olive wood and placed in the Most Holy Place, each one 15 feet tall. Both were of the same size and shape. Each had two wings, each wing 7½ feet long, so that the distance from one wing tip to the other was 15 feet. They were placed side by side in the Most Holy Place, so that two of their outstretched wings touched each other in the middle of the room, and the other two wings touched the walls. The two winged creatures were covered with gold. The walls of the main room and of the inner room were all decorated with carved figures of winged creatures, palm trees, and flowers. Even the floor was covered with gold. A double door made of olive wood was set in place at the entrance of the Most Holy Place; the top of the doorway was a pointed arch. The doors were decorated with carved figures of winged creatures, palm trees, and flowers. The doors, the winged creatures, and the palm trees were covered with gold. For the entrance to the main room a rectangular door frame of olive wood was made. There were two folding doors made of pine and decorated with carved figures of winged creatures, palm trees, and flowers, which were evenly covered with gold.” 1 Kings 6:23-35

God created with body and soul, therefore in worshiping God we not only worship him with our soul but also use our body to worship him. That is the very reason why all our senses our engage in worshiping Him in the Holy Eucharist. The various postures, sacred music, incense and images inside the Church are employed for this reason, to engage the whole person in worshiping God. The worship in the Old Testament are almost synonymous to the manner we worship God in the Holy Eucharist, they too have incense, images in the temple, various postures and sacred music.

“All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the Holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. They make manifest the “cloud of witnesses” who continue to participate in the salvation of the world and to whom we are united, above all in the sacramental celebrations. Through their icons, it is man “in the image of God,” finally transfigured “into his likeness,” who is revealed to our faith. So too are the angels, who are recapitulated in Christ: Following the divinely inspired teaching of our Holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church (for we know that this tradition comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in her) we rightly define with full certainty and correctness that, like the figure of the precious and life giving cross, venerable and holy images of our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God, and the venerated angels, all the saints and the just, whether painted or made of mosaic or another suitable material, are to be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, in houses and on the streets. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1161

St. Pio (Padre Pio)

I once had a discussion with a Fundamentalist regarding the images inside our Church, since he was very assertive in his belief that Catholics are violating the Scripture I ask him a simple question; Why do you think Catholics have images inside the Church? Surprisingly he did not know the very reason why we Catholics have images inside our Church. The objections of Fundamentalists on our use of images stems not from the proper understanding of the Bible but from the misconceptions that they heard from the preachings of their pastors. We have to correct these misconceptions in order to prevent Catholics from falling away from their faith and also to win back the lost.

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