Many, it is true, who bow down, pray and light candles to, and kiss religious images do not view themselves as idolaters or image worshipers. For
example, Catholics claim that they venerate images of Christ and Mary, not because the images themselves possess any divinity, but because of whom the
The World Book Encyclopedia states that
“in the Roman Catholic Church, images are venerated as symbols of the people represented by them.”
The Catholic clergy have preached that it is proper to venerate an image as long as the veneration is inferior in quality to that owed to God
The reality is that these images are being venerated.
Even the New Catholic Encyclopedia admits that such veneration is “an act of worship.” However, Jesus Christ ruled out the use of images as aids
in approaching God when he said: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) It is no surprise, then, that first-century
Christians repudiated the use of images in worship.
In spite of all the historical and Scriptural evidence exposing the folly of rendering veneration to an image, professed Christians worldwide continue
to bow and pray before images in their sincere search for God. Why?
Most Catholics don't even know this about their own history but prominent religious figures of the second, third, fourth, and fifth centuries C.E.,
such as Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Epiphanius, and Augustine, opposed the use of images in worship.
About the beginning of the fourth century C.E., at Elvira, Spain, a group of bishops formulated a number of important resolutions against the
veneration of images. This famous Council of Elvira resulted in the banning of images from churches and in the establishment of severe sanctions
against image worshipers.
These developments set the scene for one of the greatest controversies of history: the iconoclastic controversy of the eighth and ninth centuries. One
historian states that this “bitter controversy lasted for a century and a half, and was the occasion of untold suffering” and that it was “one
of the immediate causes of the division between the Eastern and Western empires.”
The word “iconoclast” comes from the Greek words eikon, meaning “image,” and klastes, meaning “breaker.” Living up to its name, this
movement against images included the removal and destruction of images throughout Europe. Several anti-image laws were put into effect to abolish the
use of images in worship. The veneration of images became a heated political issue that dragged emperors and popes, generals and bishops into a
veritable theological war.
And this was more than a war of words. The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by McClintock and Strong, states that
after Emperor Leo III issued an edict against the use of images in churches, the people “rose up in masses against the edict, and violent
disturbances, especially at Constantinople,” became a daily occurrence. Clashes between the imperial forces and the people resulted in executions
and massacres. Monks were cruelly persecuted.
Hundreds of years later, during the 16th century, a number of public debates took place in Zurich, Switzerland, on the issue of images in churches. As
a result, a decree demanding the removal of all images from the churches was enacted. Some reformers were noted for their intense and often violent
condemnation of image worship.
Even today there is a wide schism among modern theologians regarding the use of images in worship.