The Seventh Ecumenical Council
The Seventh Ecumenical Council was convened in 787CE under the Empress Irene.67 Church leaders were brought together for the purpose of establishing the validity of the existence and veneration of icons. A key document dealing with this council is “Sacrorum Conciliorum noca et amplissima collectio” (The Acta Of The Council) edited by D. Mansi.68 Giakalis quotes Mansi in defense of the support of icon:
63 Ibid, p. 99-100.
64 Daniel B. Clendenin. Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), p. 84.
66 Ouspensky, 1992, p. 111.
67 Clendenin, 1994, p. 85.
68 This pivotal twelve volume set published in Florence and Venice from 1759-1798 is often referred to by writings on the Seventh Council. Although I found many references to this work, I did not find the work itself.
“The iconophiles, then, “represent those things which are seen and contemplated” primarily “as light” – that is to say, the bodies of Christ and of the saints, which already shine or will shine “like the sun” in accordance with the teaching of the Gospel.”69 A distinct theology of the use of icons in the church came out of this council. Key ideas in this theology included a strong sense of the potential sacredness of matter, the extension of veneration from existing objects (like the cross) to icons and an affirmation of the humanity of Christ himself. This council also considered Old Testament prohibition against the use of images and concluded that certain kinds of images were permissible because of the incarnation. This defense of icons will be discussed here in some detail.
Basically, the iconoclasts refused to allow that matter could be good at all. A root of this ideology was the Platonic idea that the physical world was a mere shadow of the ultimate reality, the spiritual world. In fact, Plato considered painters as contributing to an inferior degree of truth because the painter fostered an inferior part of the soul and impaired the possibilities of reason, which was the sole way to truth.70 Matter was seen as the antithesis of spirit, which was good. In other words, God (spirit) is indescribable. However, Zibawi suggests that, although God is indescribable, Christ is fully describable.71 This demonstrated that, through the incarnation, matter had the potential of being/becoming sacred. “It (the iconoclastic controversy) was not simply a controversy over religious art, but over the entire meaning and implication of the incarnation and its consequent significance for man.” God took a material body, proving that material can be redeemed.72