Perhaps one of the most argued practice of the Church is the use of images, virtually every Protestant denomination deem this idolatry “Catholics worship idols”, so goes the claim, “they are violating the commandment of God” as backup they quickly resort to Exodus 20:4-5 “You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow down to them or serve them”
Even an Anti-Catholic writer Loraine Boettner has this to say “God has forbidden the use of images in worship” (281). Yet if people were to “search the scriptures” (cf. John 5:39), they would find the opposite is true. God forbade the worship of statues, but he did not forbid the religious use of statues. Instead, he actually commanded their use in religious contexts! (From his book Roman Catholicism). This man stands against everything the Church believes, but cannot deny the fact that images can be used for religious purposes without offending God. That God can and had willed the making of such images as symbols of his presence and action.
WHERE WE DISAGREE
It is important to note that the primary disagreement of Protestant and Catholic teachings on this topic is not so much about practice as some fundamental understanding of concepts. Personally I am of the opinion that the Catholic concept of worship differs greatly to that of the Protestant. The Catholic Church understands worship in the context of community praying through Christ, or Christ praying in the Community. Worship is sacrificial in our understanding. To the Pentecostal, worship is basically any gesture you make, words, songs, etc. to “Any One” so long as you cannot see the Person(s) you address. Whilst this is not the doctrine they directly teach, this is what is at the core of their arguments and beliefs. Because of this they can say that a simple request made to Mary is an act of Worship, simply because “we cannot see her” or in their language “she is dead”! That even saying “Mary, pray for us” is considered an abomination tilting towards idolatry.
A MISUNDERSTANDING OF THE COMMAND
Some Jews once believed that the command of God “Thou shalt not make for yourself any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…” meant that even having a personal portrait would violate this command as well. Since God said we should not represent anything, we should not make any images. However, Protestants today see this interpretation as erroneous; they make images of themselves, family etc. They snap pictures, frame them and hang on their walls. They know “somehow” without another confirmation from the same scriptures that God “cannot” mean they should not make images at all. What God commands is not against making images, but “Worshiping them as gods”, and replacing the Unseen God with the images we carve, depending on them and ascribing attributes to them which belong to God alone. Once one does not think an image is Infinite, can directly answer him or hear him, and is the sole object of his prayer (and not someone “behind” the scene), then praying before a religious image is not idolatry just like praying before a tomb with the image of a beloved one departed.
GOD COMMANDS IMAGES TO BE MADE
We say “No making of images” God says “Make these images”, below are some few passages where God, not only commands, but also gives description of images to be built for religious purposes:
“And you shall make two cherubim of gold [i.e., two gold statues of angels]; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece of the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be” (Ex. 25:18–20).
“For the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord. All this he made clear by the writing of the hand of the Lord concerning it all, all the work to be done according to the plan” (1 Chr. 28:18–19).
“On the walls round about in the inner room and [on] the nave were carved likenesses of cherubim.”
We believe that Images can be used as symbols of God’s presence (As in the Ark) and of his action and power (as in the Bronze Serpent)
During a plague of serpents which was sent upon the Israelites, God commanded Moses to make a statue of a fiery serpent and set it upon a pole, anyone who was bitten by the live serpents and looks upon the statue on the pole shall live.
“So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Num. 21:8–9).
God, through this statue extended his healing to the people of Israel, when they looked, upon this serpent, they survived. This confirms that God has and still uses images to mediate his power; this is why we believe that images can be used for religious purposes.
Catholics merely use these images as helpers for recalling those things or the Person(s) the images depict. The entire being of Man worships God and this includes the imaginative power of man. The images bring to the mind, a shallow representation of an Absolutely Simple Being (in the case of God), an imaginative representation of the Saints and Mary.
We offer Masses to God alone, and we believe this Act, together with other liturgical acts of Adoration to be due to God alone. We believe in the sacrificial worship of God as Supreme Being. Until anyone begins to really adore images either by killing and sacrificing animals to them (as do pagans) or to hold them as sole End and not means to reach to God, then the use of images in the catholic Church isn’t idolatry.
Mere outward actions cannot be absolute basis for judging an action to be of worship. If you say its Bowing, people bow to people (as though the Japanese) or even the Yoruba (in Nigeria), they would prostrate to the ground to greet an elder. This is merely an act of respect rather than adoration. One has to really hold another in highest esteem; they must have to hold these statues or people to be the Source of their existence and their Last End, before those gestures can have an element of worship in them. If not, they are mere gestures signifying respect. Bottom-line, bowing, kneeling etc. can be postures/elements found in worship, but not all bowing, kneeling is worship.
The Catholic Church condemns idolatry
“by worshiping idols and images as God, or believing that they possess any divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, or reposing confidence in them” Catechism of the Council of Trent (374).
“Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who ‘transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God’” (CCC 2114).
1. If you say making images is wrong, just making them at all: Then God condemns the making of personal portraits and even the Protestants (INCLUDING YOU) are idolaters. But this is not true.
2. If you say making images for religious purpose is wrong: Then God made a mistake asking images to be made, and the Israelites were idolaters for virtually placing their hopes in the God who through the Ark manifests himself.
3. If you say worshiping it is wrong, expecting some help through them: I say this is true, and this is not what the Church does. We expect to recall and gain reply from they whom they represent. We honor the memory of the Saints who inspire us, Mary who speaks before Christ for us, and Christ who is the Sole Mediator between us and the Father.
4. If you say “it’s a lie, you worship them”, then I say “You’re a god for judging my innermost intentions” Well done Zeus!
The Church cannot modify her beliefs just because she is accused, she merely, through her ministers and lay apostles, teaches and reteaches what she received from the Apostles. You should know that the veneration of Saints and the use of images began from the earliest times of the Church. If you are well acquainted with Ecclesiastical history, you will know that even the Bones of Peter was safely kept as a relic and was later found buried beneath St Peters Basilica. The early Christians witnessed several miracles wrought by God in the tombs of the Martyrs, and to them, this is confirmation of the present Doctrine of the Communion of Saints. Which I will treat under the title “Do Catholics worship the Saints”
By GabrielMary Alimba