The “art” of the icon was (and remains) distinct from the art of the world. It “…does not resemble the art of the world. It expresses different kinds of truths and has other goals. If it mingles with secular art, it no longer corresponds to the goal which it must serve.”18 Rather, the icon serves as “…a link between the eternal and the temporal, serving as an image of the divine world even to the extent that it partakes in the spiritual energy of what it portrays, thereby aiding the worshiper as a bridge or signpost for his own pilgrimage through this earthly life.”19 It functions as a channel of grace rather than mere decorative artwork. In this way: “The beauty of the church is different from the beauty of the world because it reflects the harmony of the age to come.”20 “An icon is thus the servant of the Holy Tradition of the Church, a servant of the Gospel, not a mere artistic device.”21
The Edict of Milan
The Edict of Milan (313CE) had a profound impact on virtually every aspect of the Christian church. After this edict, Byzantine art emerged as the first Christian style. Its purpose was didactic, to teach the people through pictures. Pope Gregory the Great is credited with saying: “Painting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who can read”.22 This edict also had an impact on the icon. Prior to Constantine, the art of the church was hidden. After 313CE, it was possible that the art of the church could become public.
18 Ouspensky, 1992, p. 30.
19 Carnegie S. Calian. Icon And Pulpit: The Protestant-Orthodox Encounter. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1968), p. 129.
20 Ouspensky, 1992, p. 31.
21 Baggley, 1988, p. 7.
22 E. H. Gombrich. The Story of Art. (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1995), p. 135.