Thought for the Day – 7 August – Meditations with Antonio Cardinal Bacci (1881-1971)
“There are two extremes to be avoided in venerating the images of Christ and the Saints.
In emulation of the ancient heresy of the Iconoclasts, there are some, who regard the veneration of images as a superstitious and idolatrous practice.
In support of their view, they quote from the Book of Exodus: “You shall not carve idols for yourselves … you shall not bow down before them or worship them” (Ex 20:4-5).
The equivocation is obvious.
This prohibition refers to the images of false gods, not to the images of Saints.
It is the worship of idols which is forbidden, not devotion to the Saints.
There are examples in the Old Testament of the veneration of images and symbols, indicating the presence of God, such as the Ark of the Covenant, adorned by “two cherubim of beaten gold,” (Ex 25:18) and the bronze serpent mounted by Moses on a pole in the desert (Num 21:8).
From the early days of the Church, there existed in the Catacombs, representations of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin and the Martyrs and, the fact that they were adorned with halos, is a clear indication of the veneration with which they were regarded by the faithful.
The historian Eusebius, specifically mentions a bronze statue erected in honour of the Saviour, before which, the faithful prayed and were sometimes awarded with miracles.
Contrary to the accusations of some Protestants, therefore, this practice is not a novelty introduced by the Roman Church.
Moreover, the honouring of images is not idolatry because, it is not a direct adoration but, a relative and indirect veneration.
Homage is not paid to the actual statues or pictures but, to Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, whom the images represent.
“The images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God and of other Saints, are to be kept with honour in places of worship especially and, to them due honour and veneration is to be paid – not because it is believed that there is any divinity or power intrinsic to them, for which they are reverenced, nor because it is from them that something is sought, nor that a blind trust is to be attached to images as it once was, by the Gentiles who placed their hope in idols but, because the honour which is shown to them, is referred to the prototypes which they represent” (Council of Trent, Session 25).
The cult of images has, therefore, a solid theological foundation.
“We make images of holy men,” as St Cyril of Alexandria expressed it, “not to adore them as Gods but, as a reminder and a stimulus to ourselves to imitate them. Moreover, we make images of Christ so that our love for Him may be more easily aroused” (In Ps 113:16).
Besides, being theologically correct, the practice is useful!”
Antonio Cardinal Bacci