Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Development of Christian Art inside the church walls.

I’m learning a bit about why somethings are, the way they are.

What I mean, is that for many years I have looked at Michelangelo as inspiration in the creation of larger than life art both figuratively , culturally, spiritually and literally (as in size and place). The issue recently revealed to me is this:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

So when you see the Sistine chapel and many other churches for that matter it is hard to imagine that these icons or illustrations weren’t used at all for worship. That they merely served their in illustrating a bible story and it ended there. What if I being who I am today create art of some kind that I mean to only honor God… Lets say I am commissioned by a church to do a particular kind of piece that hangs within its walls. What if it is actually used down the road somewhere or time for actual worship, as though there were something within the painting of spirit… A god. Would I be responsible for the sins of someone else? Am I sinning because someone else worships my art like the old pagan days of statue worship?

I learned how the Catholic church justified this during the Iconoclast movement in the seventh and eighth centuries a.d. (iconoclasts were those who opposed icons and sought to violently destroy them as heresies. Iconophiles were those who believed icons should exist.)
In my research in the Library, I found this official explanation from the church, made by the Council of Trullan in 692 AD.

Canon 82

“In some pictures of the venerable icons, a lamb is painted to which the Precursor points his finger, which is received as a type of grace, indicating beforehand through the Law, our true Lamb, Christ our God. Embracing therefore the ancient types and shadows as symbols of the truth, and patterns given to the church , we prefer "grace and truth," receiving it as the fulfilment of the Law. In order therefore that that which is perfect may be delineated to the eyes of all, at least in coloured expression, we decree that the figure in human form of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, Christ our God, be henceforth exhibited in images, instead of the ancient lamb, so that all may understand by means of it the depths of the humiliation of the Word of God, and that we may recall to our memory his conversation in the flesh, his passion and salutary death, and his redemption which was wrought for the whole world.”

I find this very interesting. Mainly because the desire was to be able to show the world Christ, all the while the world at the time was illiterate and even when they were in the church services they couldn’t understand the Latin or ancient Greek being spoken.

Now we live in a day and age when literacy is the majority in our culture. So are images still justifiable? With what reason can I continue to do what I do? To Glorify God of course, but one can not glorify in disobedience to the one they are glorifying. Maybe the explanation is as simple as: “I am making images that no one can or will worship.”

Here is an experts opinion on the matter:

“The honor shown the image passes over to the archetype.” He also illustrates the concept by saying, “If I point to a statue of Caesar and ask you ‘Who is that?’, your answer would properly be, ‘It is Caesar.’ When you say such you do not mean that the stone itself is Caesar, but rather, the name and honor you ascribe to the statue passes over to the original, the archetype, Caesar himself.” So it is with an Icon.

None the less there is still controversy. What can we say, we are dealing with humanity aren’t we?

“In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, only flat or bas-relief images are used. The Greeks, having a long, pagan tradition of statuary, found the sensual quality of three-dimensional representations did more to glorify the human aspect of the flesh rather than the divine nature of the spirit and so prohibitions were created against statuary. The Romans, on the other hand, did not adopt these prohibitions and so there is still statuary among the Roman Catholics to this day. Because the Greeks rejected statuary, the Byzantine style of iconography was developed in which figures were stylized in a manner that emphasized their holiness rather than their humanity. Symbolism allowed the icon to present highly complex material in a very simple way, making it possible to educate even the illiterate in theology. The interiors of Orthodox Churches are often completely covered in icons.”

So what I take from this conversation with history and Bible is that images not believed to be idols of worship are probably ok, since sin comes from the heart. A heart chosing oneself or another over god. After all that has been said it is really simply summed up in the 1st commandment: “Do not have any other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2)