The Case Of The 8th Century Iconoclasts Against Images Of Christ

Wherefore we thought it right, to shew forth with all accuracy, in our present definition the error of such as make and venerate these, for it is the unanimous doctrine of all the holy Fathers and of the six Ecumenical Synods, that no one may imagine any kind of separation or mingling in opposition to the unsearchable, unspeakable, and incomprehensible union of the two natures in the one hypostasis or person. What avails, then, the folly of the painter, who from sinful love of gain depicts that which should not be depicted—that is, with his polluted hands he tries to fashion that which should only be believed in the heart and confessed with the mouth? He makes an image and calls it Christ. The name Christ signifies God and man. Consequently it is an image of God and man, and consequently he has in his foolish mind, in his representation of the created flesh, depicted the Godhead which cannot be represented, and thus mingled what should not be mingled. Thus he is guilty of a double blasphemy—the one in making an image of the Godhead, and the other by mingling the Godhead and manhood. Those fall into the same blasphemy who venerate the image, and the same woe rests upon both, because they err with Arius, Dioscorus, and Eutyches, and with the heresy of the Acephali. When, however, they are blamed for undertaking to depict the divine nature of Christ, which should not be depicted, they take refuge in the excuse: We represent only the flesh of Christ which we have seen and handled. But that is a Nestorian error. For it should be considered that that flesh was also the flesh of God the Word, without any separation, perfectly assumed by the divine nature and made wholly divine. How could it now be separated and represented apart? So is it wish the human soul of Christ which mediates between the Godhead of the Son and the dulness of the flesh. As the human flesh is at the same time flesh of God the Word, so is the human soul also soul of God the Word, and both at the same time, the soul being deified as well as the body, and the Godhead remained undivided even in the separation of the soul from the body in his voluntary passion. For where the soul of Christ is, there is also his Godhead; and where the body of Christ is, there too is his Godhead. If then in his passion the divinity remained inseparable from these, how do the fools venture to separate the flesh from the Godhead, and represent it by itself as the image of a mere man? They fall into the abyss of impiety, since they separate the flesh from the Godhead, ascribe to it a subsistence of its own, a personality of its own, which they depict, and thus introduce a fourth person into the Trinity. Moreover, they represent as not being made divine, that which has been made divine by being assumed by the Godhead. Whoever, then, makes an image of Christ, either depicts the Godhead which cannot be depicted, and mingles it with the manhood (like the Monophysites), or he represents the body of Christ as not made divine and separate and as a person apart, like the Nestorians.

The only admissible figure of the humanity of Christ, however, is bread and wine in the holy Supper. This and no other form, this and no other type, has he chosen to represent his incarnation. Bread he ordered to be brought, but not a representation of the human form, so that idolatry might not arise. And as the body of Christ is made divine, so also this figure of the body of Christ, the bread, is made divine by the descent of the Holy Spirit; it becomes the divine body of Christ by the mediation of the priest who, separating the oblation from that which is common, sanctifies it.
The evil custom of assigning names to the images does not come down from Christ and the Apostles and the holy Fathers; nor have these left behind them, any prayer by which an image should be hallowed or made anything else than ordinary matter.

Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., “Epitome of the Definition of the Iconoclastic Conciliabulum,” in The Seven Ecumenical Councils, trans. Henry R. Percival, vol. 14, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900), 543–44.


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  1. Schaff promoted a form of Fed Vision and helped destroy the 4th largest denomination in the U.S., was he against images?

    • Chris,

      He was a part of the “Mercersburg Movement,” which fid real damage to the RCUS (German Reformed Church). He was also an accomplished and historian. He co-edited this translation of the church Fathers. His own views were not directly at issue here.

  2. If the report of iconoclast views is accurate, they were definitely “orthodox” by creedal standards–and their stance on images was certainly more biblical.

  3. Did this make the cut of the ecumenical councils that the Roman church supposedly agrees with or are they free to go with the next (8th?) council that promoted images?

  4. ” it becomes the divine body of Christ by the mediation of the priest who, separating the oblation from that which is common, sanctifies it”. For some reason the ministers in my church don’t claim to have the power to carry out this transformation – Would you be able to direct me to a priest of your church in the UK who has this power?

    • Anthony,

      There is a difference between the way one speaks about the Supper after the Reformation, where we are, and the way early medievals spoke about it.

      He was speaking in sacramental terms just as we do when we say, “baptism for the remission of sins.” We do not actually believe that baptism itself confirms the remission of sins but that there is a sacramental relation between reality and the sign.

      Thus, In his context, the elements “become” The body and blood of Christ sacramentally. He was not claiming that they change substantially. We still use the language of setting apart the elements. There is no claim of any substantial change in them in that language.

      We should not read back later development into the eighth century.

      Further we should not miss the major point, namely, that the iconoclasts quite rightly saw that the supper is the divinely instituted image of Christ and not some stupid icon.

  5. There’s some intense theology behind this argumentation that your average pew-sitter has never considered. How many people in churches today truly know the importance of the council of Chalcedon and the theology defined there?

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