To Picture His Humanity Makes Him But Half Christ

Quest. 1. If it be not lawful to make the image of God the Father, yet may we not make an image of Christ, who took upon him the nature of man?

Resp. No. Epiphanius seeing an image of Christ hanging in a church, broke it in pieces; ’tis Christ’s Godhead, united to his manhood, that makes him to be Christ; therefore to picture his manhood, when we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him to be but half Christ; we separate what God hath joined, we leave out that which is the chief thing, which makes him to be Christ.

Thomas Watson, A Body of Practical Divinity (1692), 280. [spelling modernized]

15 comments

    • Rube,

      Since the Reformed churches have a confessed position against representations of God the Son incarnate any alternative is necessarily contra confessional, is it not?

      DVD in New Horizons.

      Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?

      A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.

      (Larger Catechism, 109)

      PCA BCO:

      47-1. Since the Holy Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice, the principles of public worship must be derived from the Bible, and from no other source.

      The Scriptures forbid the worshipping of God by images, or in any other way not appointed in His Word, and requires the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in His Word (WSC 51, 50).

    • Since the Reformed churches have a confessed position against representations of God the Son incarnate any alternative is necessarily contra confessional, is it not?

      Yes. And in the extremely unlikely event that I ever stand for ordination, I would make clear my exception on this point. (Also in the linked debate I make it pretty clear…)

    • Why is it permissible for the laity to advocate views that contradict the confession of the church? This seems like a good reason to ask all the members to subscribe the standards as a condition of membership.

      Are laity, because they do not hold special office, permitted to advocate adultery?

      #ThereAreNotTwoClassesOfChristians

    • Note the PCA BOCO (and the example of Epiphanus) pertain to images in worship, which I agree are prohibited by the 2nd commandment. But another fundamental question is whether images necessarily involve worship in any and all contexts.

      I don’t want to rehash the whole debate again here; I just wanted to point out that Christ’s Godhead is invisible, and therefore could not have been pictured even by people who saw Jesus with their own eyes. So I don’t buy this “pictures of Christ deny his divinity” argument (any more than you buy “forbidding pictures of Christ deny his humanity).

    • Why is it permissible for the laity to advocate views that contradict the confession of the church?

      Why shouldn’t officers of the church, ministers of word and sacrament, holders of the keys of the kingdom, be held to stricter standards?

      #OrdinationMeansSomething

    • Of course officers should confess and subscribe the standards. The question is why we should accept the modern novelty that allows laity to deny the church’s confession? Where in the NT are there two classes of Christians, those who affirm Paul’s teaching and those who deny it? It seems to me that 1Corinthians is a fairly sustained argument against that very notion.

      Why should the Reformed confession be reduced to a second blessing held only by a few? The 16th- and 17th-century Reformed churches in the British Isles and in Europe knew nothing of such a distinction.

      Yes, it makes it easier for folk to join the church but to what result?

      I could see a case for receiving folk without a full subscription on the premise of future instruction but I don’t understand how laity are permitted to advocate doctrines that flatly contrary to those confessed by the church.

    • How about if I told you, I have this friend, who is completely confessional in every way, but he can’t see how “pictures of Christ deny his divinity” arguments are any more logically valid than “forbidding pictures of Christ deny his humanity”?

    • Well, that changes everything! 🙂

      You accept that Christ’s divine nature has properties that his human nature does not, right?

      You accept that any artistic representation of his humanity is necessarily a figment since there are no artistic representations of his humanity that are not wholly invented out of the imagination of the author, right?

      You accept that the person of Christ, being a personal union of two natures, is incapable of being represented artistically, right?

      Where’s the problem?

    • You accept that Christ’s divine nature has properties that his human nature does not, right?

      Yes, but none of them are visible, thus none of them are capable of being represented visibly. Thus as a corollary, an image that portrays no divine properties correctly renders all of the divine properties (just as they would be rendered to actual viewers of Jesus’ incarnate form).

      You accept that any artistic representation of his humanity is necessarily a figment since there are no artistic representations of his humanity that are not wholly invented out of the imagination of the author, right?

      Yes, but inaccuracy is not in itself sinful. You would not say that a picture of Moses parting the red sea is sinful, even though it is necessarily inaccurate. A B&W photograph of you is not sinful; even though you are actually in 3D and in color, and sometimes even in motion!

      The particular details of Jesus’ incarnate appearance are unimportant/accidental/non-contingent (else the Bible is insufficient in that it fails to reveal those details to us!). Thus I have no problem with pictures not being accurate representations of Christ’s particular appearance.

      You accept that the person of Christ, being a personal union of two natures, is incapable of being represented artistically, right?

      No. Christ, with a visible human form (although not a visible human nature — what does a nature look like anyways?) and an invisible divinity, is capable of being represented artistically. See also the front half of this quote from DVD “That an authentic image of Christ is ontologically possible, [as the iconophiles argued], is granted; but such an image is authentic only if it attempts to represent Christ’s actual appearance.” (As already noted, I disagree with the necessity for “authenticity”)

      But here we are, having the whole debate, and in the second-level nesting of a comment thread on a blog post no less. I’ll let you have the last word (it’s your blog after all!); all my words are available online.

  1. I have frequently seen the EO (John of Damascus) reasoning about it being ok to present Christ’s humanity, but this is the first time I have ever seen this response. Thank you for posting this; I think this one needs to get more exposure.

  2. Here are the more or less “official” explanations in favor of this practice.

    St. John of Damascus: Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/johndamascus-images.asp

    St Basil says, “Honouring the image leads to the prototype.”… If, in common parlance, the king’s image is called the king, and the honour shown to the image redounds to the original, as holy Basil says, why should the image not be honoured and worshipped, not as God, but as the image of God Incarnate? …

    If we made an image of the invisible God, we should in truth do wrong. For it is impossible to make a statue of one who is without body, invisible, boundless, and formless. Again, if we made statues of men, and held them to be gods, worshipping them as such, we should be most impious. But we do neither. For in making the image of God, who became incarnate and visible on earth, a man amongst men through His unspeakable goodness, taking upon Him shape and form and flesh, we are not misled. We long to see what He was like. As the divine apostle says, “We see now in a glass, darkly.” (I Cor. 13.12) The image, too, is a dark glass, according to the denseness of our bodies. The mind, in much travail, cannot rid itself of bodily things. Shame upon you, wicked devil, for grudging us the sight of our Lord’s likeness and our sanctification through it.

    And one of my favorites, from the forger known as “St Denis, Bishop” of Athens: “from his letter to St John the Apostle and Evangelist.”

    “Sensible images do indeed show forth invisible things.”

    Second Council of Nicaea – 787 A.D.

    http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum07.htm

    Anathemas concerning holy images

    1. If anyone does not confess that Christ our God can be represented in his humanity, let him be anathema.
    2. If anyone does not accept representation in art of evangelical scenes, let him be anathema.
    3. If anyone does not salute such representations as standing for the Lord and his saints, let him be anathema.
    4. If anyone rejects any written or unwritten tradition of the church, let him be anathema.

  3. John of Damascus is bad enough, but when John of Orlando “performatively” frames his doctrine in the likeness of J of D’s image, the EO non sequiturs don’t get any better.

    God chose to preserve his Word written for us, not a portrait of the Word become flesh, though no doubt the apostles were eyewitnesses of Christ.

    After all, Paul tells Timothy, that from the time he was a child or “brephos”, Timothy had known Scripture which were able to make him wise unto faith in Christ.

    Is a blessing promised those who have not seen and yet believed, or do we walk by sight rather than faith in these enlightened days?

    And after pictures, what next? Moving pictures as per Mad Max’s Panavision version of the Passion of the Christ? Arguments for the Shroud of Turin?

    The reformed have confessionally considered images, neither lawful, necessary, expedient or indifferent. If members (not ministers) not only think differently, but wish to speak publicly, it might behoove them to begin process if the spirit, as well the letter of the confessions is honored.

  4. It also bears remembering that the iconodules won the war of attrition against the iconoclasts, and overthrew the council that had abominated the institution of images as “introduced by the devil” into the churches.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Hieria

    The use of an image to represent Christ (under one or both natures) fundamentally “goes the wrong direction” in thinking about Christ, 2Cor.5:16. Consider the case of every one of Jesus disciples. They began their acquaintance with Christ admiring things about the man. They began to respect him as a great man, eventually believing him to be the greatest man ever.

    And then he came out of his tomb. And Thomas speaks for them all when he says, “My Lord and my God!”

    In other words, the appropriate “direction” of every disciple’s notions of Christ are toward his divinity, without reducing his humanity to a mere appendage. This was the path of the original disciples (all Jews, and allergic to religious imagery), and Paul (can you imagine Paul trying to reduce his Damascus vision to a mosaic?).

    Unfortunately, the very institution of icons or images shortcircuits the divinely ordered path to acquaintance with Christ. It pulls the plug on biblical piety. It removes the keystone that unites the elevated humanity of Christ with his divinity, and upholds his Mediatorial office.

    And it is opposed by the 2C, and the earliest church-history.

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