Wednesday 24 August 2016



The Second Commandment

The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Holy Bible, first at Exodus 20:1–17, and then at Deuteronomy 5:4–21. Both versions state that God inscribed them on two stone tablets, which he gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.

The Second Commandment dictates: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.

Iconoclasm, Greek for ‘breaker of icons', is the deliberate destruction within a culture of the culture's own religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually for religious or political motives. People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any person who breaks or disdains established dogmata or conventions.

Christian worship by the sixth century had developed a clear belief in the intercession of saints. This belief was also influenced by a concept of a hierarchy of sanctity, with the Trinity at its pinnacle, followed by the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer) or Meter Theou (Mother of God) in Greek, the saints, living holy men, women, and spiritual elders, followed by the rest of humanity. Thus, in order to obtain blessings or divine favour, early Christians would often pray or ask an intermediary, such as the saints or the Theotokos, to intercede on their behalf with Christ. A strong sacramentality and belief in the importance of physical presence also joined the belief in the intercession of saints with the use of relics and holy images (or icons) in early Christian practices.

Believers would, therefore, make pilgrimages to places sanctified by the physical presence of Christ or prominent saints and martyrs, such as the site of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Relics, or holy objects which were a part of the remains, or had come into contact with, Christ, the Virgin or a saint, were also widely utilised in Christian practices at this time. Relics, a firmly embedded part of veneration by this period, provided physical presence of the divine but were not reproducible (an original relic was required), and still usually required believers to undertake a pilgrimage or have contact with somebody who had.

Byzantine Iconoclasm refers to two periods in the history of the Byzantine Empire (726 – 787 AD) & (814 - 842) when the use of religious images or icons was opposed by religious and imperial authorities within the Eastern Church and the temporal imperial hierarchy. According to the traditional view, Byzantine Iconoclasm constituted a ban on religious images by Emperor Leo III and continued under his successors. It was accompanied by widespread destruction of images and persecution of supporters of the veneration of images. The Western church remained firmly in support of the use of images throughout the period, and the whole episode widened the growing divergence between the Eastern and Western traditions in what was still a unified church.

The use and abuse of images had greatly increased during this period and had generated a growing opposition among many in the church. Images in the form of mosaics and paintings were widely used in churches, homes and other places.

The rise of Islam in the 7th century had also caused some consideration of the use of holy images. Early Islamic belief stressed the impropriety of iconic representation. Traditional explanations for Byzantine iconoclasm have sometimes focused on the importance of Islamic prohibitions against images influencing Byzantine thought. The prestige of Islamic military successes in the 7th and 8th centuries that motivated Byzantine Christians to adopt the Islamic position of rejecting and destroying idolatrous images.

The Second Commandment, among many other issues, saw the emergence of Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) a German professor of theology, composer, priest and monk as a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation. Luther taught that salvation and, subsequently, eternal life are not earned by good deeds but are received only as the free gift of God's grace through the believer's faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority and office of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge from God. 

When you enter a Catholic Church or even a residence, the most prominent visible figure is that of Jesus on the Cross. How does this jell with the Second Commandment?