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Three Treatises on the Divine Images (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press Popular Patristics Series) Paperback – October, 2003
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Original Language: Greek
Top Customer Reviews
He makes three basic arguments. First, he points out they did not worship images, but revere them as a window or pointer towards a heavenly reality, much like how most Christians would treat the printed Word (the book itself is not sacred, the messages contained in it are).
Secondly, the use of images is not only not forbidden in the Old Testament, but is actually commanded (the Ark, for instance, or the bronze serpent). Thus, only "idols" are forbidden, not images (actually, it is the word "eidol" in the Septuagint that St. John would have used).
Third, when God became man, He effectively gave us an image, Himself. To deny that images have a valid place in worship is to deny the Incarnation of Christ, and the Trinity is the very heart of Christianity.
St. John the Damascene makes these arguments bluntly and succinctly. He believed that he was holding up the traditional view of Christianity, and he did this in Syria, then controlled by Islam which forbids the use of images. His defence made him unwelcome in the Empire and it placed him at odds with a core teaching of his rulers. Given that he thus risked his life to write these, Christians should give him a firm hearing.
St. John takes on the iconoclasts from several directions. With respect to their use of scriptural prohibitions against images, St. John responds with church tradition as the guide to interpreting scripture and challenges those who would "remove the ancient boundaries, set in place by our fathers" [Prov 22:28]. He reminds his listeners several times in these sermons that, "Not only has the ordinance of the Church been handed down in writings, but also in unwritten traditions." And ends the first sermon on that theme with, "Therefore I entreat the people of God, the holy nation, to cling to the traditions of the Church. " Referring to Ezek 20:25 in light of Matt 19:7-8 with Heb 1:1-3, St. John says, "And I say to you, that Moses, on account of the hardness of heart of the sons of Israel, ordered them not to make images, for he knew their tendency to slip into idolatry. But now it is not so; we stand securely on the rock of faith enriched by the light of knowledge of God." The authority of the church to interpret scripture based on the sacred tradition is without doubt in John's eyes.Read more ›
If anyone is interested in Orthodox iconography, or the tradition of Christian painting, this book is a must read. Because this book is well translated and very accessible, I highly recommend simply reading this book - a primary source - rather than reading a secondary source where an author describes St. John of Damascus's theology of iconography. What makes this book an especially "must read" for those interested in iconography is the influence St. John had on the theology of Christian images. This book provides the foundation for all subsequent theology. In addition, St. John not only articulates the theology of images, but he articulates how iconography is central to all of Christian theology. His treatment is all-inclusive, and it goes much further than simply arguing that now that God has been seen in the person of Jesus Christ we can depict his image. Because iconography is so central to Christian theology and salvation, this book is a must read.
I won't write out his full theology here, but I will give a brief introduction. He starts by taking a look at the Old Testament prohibition against idols. St. John views this prohibition from two perspectives: 1) the nature of the commandment, and 2) the definition of veneration. He says that the nature of the commandment was to prevent the Israelites from falling into idolatry. He also argues that the commandment is more specifically against depicting the nature/essence/substance of God, and to prevent humanity from worshiping creation instead of the Creator. Iconography, St.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I ordered this book to help me write a paper on icons. It is very informative. It is the exact words of John of Damascus translated into English. Read morePublished on August 2, 2008 by Elisa Heilman