In the 21st century, a climate of post-modernity, there are significant changes happening in the dialogue between the east and the west.
167 Clendenin, 1994, p. 75.
168 Ouspensky, 1992, p. 153.
169 Clendenin, 1994, p. 79.
170 Coniaris, 1982, p. 177.
171 Giakalis, 1994, p. 54.
The positive news is that: “We have come from an age of disputes to tone of dialogue, from divergence to convergence, from polemics to irenics.”172
Anti-image Sentiment in the Post Reformation Church
John Calvin contested the ecumenical legitimacy of the 7th Ecumenical council. He believed that it wasn’t actually ecumenical.173 Calvin also said “images cannot stand in the place of books”174 and that the revelation of God is verbal and oral – not image. Images had value for illustrating the word (words?) but no value beyond that. However, Kretschmar suggests that Calvin “… probably never saw an icon in his life.”175 This is somewhat ironic in that the term used in I Corinthians in one case for Christ and in another for man is “image” (eikon).176 Yet this anti-image sentiment has persisted through much of the protestant church since the time of Calvin.
Luther was also suspicious of images and saw a dichotomy between an image of Christ and Christ himself. He felt that it was “…intolerable that a Christian should set his heart on images and not on Christ.” He considered this to be superstition.177 But the “word” is essentially discussion of life – of image. It is not possible to think about the biblical narratives without thinking about some kind of image. It is possible that the protestant emphasis on Word (and arguably, words) was more a result of a combination of the invention of the printing press and a reaction against anything Roman than a truly biblical and historical doctrine.
172 Calian, 1992, p. 92.
173 Limouris, [Kretschmar]1990, p. 79.
174 Clendenin, 1994, p. 78.
175 Limouris, [Kretschmar]1990, p. 80.
176 I Cor. 11:7 – Man is the image of God. II Cor. 4:4 – Christ is the image of God
177 Limouris, [Kretschmar]1990, p. 81.
Pheidas suggests that the protestant church’s suspicion of icons was rooted in the pre-reformation western church, which “…had never been fully capable of incorporating in its tradition the theology on icons of the Eastern Church.”178 It is intriguing and ironic that, in protestant churches, “words” can be put on the wall without suspicion. Yet, these words virtually always inspire image in ones mind. In any case, the Orthodox theology of icons has been largely hidden until the 20th century. For evangelicals it is basically now a new discovery.179 Many of the concerns of Calvin, Luther and other reformers have been obscured by a contemporary intrigue with anything new. In this sense, the rediscovery of icons, and resulting intrigue, may be more related to a hunger for novelty than to any theological stance.
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.