A Healthy Understanding of Symbol

We have seen that many of the reasons for the lack of use of image in the Protestant churches are reactionary. They stem from observation of the abuses in the various contexts in the church leading up to the Reformation. However, the introduction of symbol, and specifically, icon to contemporary churches must begin with a healthy understanding of symbol itself. The starting point for this understanding can be the content of bible itself. The bible is full of symbol.

178 Limouris, [Pheidas] 1990, p. 20.
179 Limouris, [Kretschmar]1990, p. 84.

For example, “The parables fulfill for us the function of icons, by putting forward the efficacy of what they mean, as if it were accessible to sight and to touch, as well as even of those things that may be contemplated invisibly in subtle conceptions.”180 A healthy understanding of symbol helps us consider the mystery of meaning that is beyond the obvious and physical. In this sense, symbols can “…participate in the reality they convey.”181 We “…see the image itself as an emblem of Incarnation.”182 It provides us with the possibility of participating in the redemption of created things, the sanctification of matter. “It (the icon) is a sanctification of materiality, meant to remind us of its Prototype…” The prototype is the image of the invisible God.183

It may be fair to suggest that in real life, it is impossible not to have symbol. In the context of evangelicalism, it is important to remember that words themselves are symbols. Language is bound to images. “The meaning of words is necessarily invested with the images that those words suggest.”184 In this way, the distinction between word and image is somewhat artificial in that all words are symbolic. In fact, in some cases, the priority of words has caused evangelicals to miss the point behind the words, which is the images the words represent. In the same way, there has been some inappropriate separation between the logos (word) and the bible (words). These are inseparable. The church has maintained symbols from its inception. For example, a symbol of the church (early and contemporary) is the church building. Generally, the gathering place of the body of Christ is treated in a different way from other buildings, no matter how common it is. This indicates symbolic power. The communion table represents symbol.