Calvin Versus The Icon: Was John Calvin Wrong?

Orthodox Church – Warrenville, IL

One of the most striking differences between Orthodox and Protestant worship is icons.  When one enters an Orthodox church one encounters a profusion of images.  One sees the icon of Jesus Christ the Word made flesh.  One also sees an icon of the Virgin Mary, icons of the angels, and icons of the saints.  On the other hand, when one enters a Protestant church one sees an austere absence of images.

 

Presbyterian Church – Los Gatos, CA

This is not to say that Protestant churches suffer from an absence of aesthetics.  There is a certain abstract beauty in the internal architecture of Protestant sanctuaries: the steps leading up to the altar, pulpits standing to the side, the cross hanging from the ceiling, and the interplay of wood, stone, and glass are all beautifully designed.

What accounts for the stark difference between Orthodox and Protestant worship experience?  Why did they diverge into two different worship traditions?  The answer to these questions can be found in the Protestant Reformation, especially that of the Reformed tradition.  Protestantism’s iconoclasm can in large part be traced to John Calvin.  In what follows, I will be describing and critiquing Calvin’s argument against the use of icons in Christian worship.

Calvin’s Legacy

As one of the leading theologians of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin helped define and shape Protestant theology.  One of Calvin’s lasting legacies is Protestantism’s iconoclasm.  According to Georg Kretschmar: “Calvin built up the most precise and radical position opposed to the icon theology of the 787 Council of Nicea” (1990:80).  Where Luther was quite tolerant of images in churches, Calvin and his followers were much more vigorous in their opposition to images in the church.  As a consequence, Protestant places of worship have a stark austerity in comparison to Eastern Orthodox Churches.  Among the notable exceptions in Protestantism are the Lutheran and Anglican traditions.

The Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicea II, stands as a landmark in church history.  It was at this council that the Christian Church decisively affirmed the use of icons for worship.  It was here that icons were recognized as being an integral part of the historic Christian Faith.  Any attempt to disprove the veneration of icons must come to grips with the decision made at Nicea II and early theologians like John of Damascus.  Therefore, one of the tasks of this paper is not only to assess Calvin’s position on the icons on its own ground but also in relation to historic Orthodoxy.

The Logic of Calvin’s Iconoclasm

In order to understand Calvin’s opposition to icons, we must first understand the logic of his Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Calvin devotes no little attention to the issue of icons.  He devotes three chapters of this book to attacking the icons (Book I, chapters 10-12).  Only after we can show that we understand Calvin’s arguments against the icons, can we proceed to critically assess the validity of Calvin’s iconoclasm.

The starting point of Calvin’s Institutes is the question: How can we know God?  In Book I of Calvin’s Institutes we see Calvin denying the possibility of knowing God through creation but affirming the possibility of knowing God through the Scriptures.

We have taught that the knowledge of God, otherwise quite clearly set forth in the system of the universe and in all creatures, is nonetheless more intimately and also more vividly revealed in his Word (Institutes 1.10.1).

For Calvin God’s transcendence not only rendered him unknowable, it also made him beyond human comprehension.  Therefore, it became axiomatic that any human attempt to depict the transcendent God in a visible representation was not only a gross superstition, it also deformed our understanding of the true God and distorts our worship of the one true God (Institutes 1.11.9).

…we must cling to this principle: God’s glory is corrupted by an impious falsehood whenever any form is attached to him (Institutes 1.11.1; italics added).

This principle is valid in light of the predominance of paganism in the ancient world.  The Old Testament injunctions against idols and graven images were necessary in order to protect the purity of Israel’s monotheism.  However, it seems that such a sweeping statement about “any form” would even rule out the possibility of the Incarnation of the Word of God.  Paul in his letter to the Philippians 2:6-7 described the Incarnation in terms of Jesus having the “form of God” (εν μορφη θεου) and taking on the “form of a servant” (μορφην δουλου).  It appears that Calvin has overstated his case.

 

Interior of Solomon's Temple

Interior of Solomon’s Temple

Calvin seems to have assumed that in both the Old and New Testament worship of God was totally devoid of images: “What punishments do the prophets, apostles, martyrs, deserve, in whose days no images existed?” (Institutes 1.11.16).  However, either Calvin is overstating his case or he ignores biblical references to art forms in the Old Testament tabernacles: the sculpted cherubim over the ark of the tabernacle, the faces of the cherubim woven into the tabernacle curtains, and the twelve bulls that held up the Sea of cast metal (see Exodus 26, I Kings 6 & 7).  There were also the carved images of cherubim and palm trees in the New Temple (Ezekiel 41:15 ff.).

If Calvin did not treat these verses in his Institutes, did he treat them in his commentaries?  An examination of the 22 volume Calvin’s Commentaries series show a number of omissions.  Calvin’s exposition of Ezekiel is incomplete.  He treated chapters 1 to 20 but failed to treat the remaining chapters 21 to 48, especially chapter 41 which speaks of images in the eschatological Temple.  Furthermore, there is no mention of I Kings 6 and 7 which mention the use of images in Solomon’s Temple.  Apparently the reason for Calvin’s omission was his untimely death (see Vol. XI, Preface p. v).

Calvin did exposit on Exodus 26 (see Vol. II, page 168 ff.) which talks about the construction of the cherubim for the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle veil with images of the cherubim.  In his exposition of Exodus 26 Calvin takes the position that people were not to look at the Tabernacle but beyond it to the heavenly realities (vol. 2 page 174).  Calvin here seems to understand that spiritual worship does not depend on visible forms.

…for it is certain that God would never be worshipped except agreeably to His nature; whence it follows, that His true worship was always spiritual, and therefore by no means comprised in external pomp (vol. 2 page 151; italics added).

In many ways Calvin’s exegesis of Exodus 26 is quite consistent with the traditional Orthodox position that it is forbidden to depict God the Father in icons.  But Orthodoxy allows for the depiction of God the Son after his taking on human flesh.  This is because icons are agreeable to Christ’s incarnate nature.

In Institutes 1.11.3 Calvin takes note of the fact that God did manifest himself in the Old Testament through visual forms but that these do not justify attempts to depict God.  For Calvin even the depictions of cherubim in the Old Testament Tabernacle cannot justify the use of images.

Hence it is perfectly clear that those who try to defend images of God and the saints with the example of those cherubim are raving madmen.  What, indeed, I beg you, did those paltry little images mean?  Solely that images are not suited to represent God’s mysteries (Institutes 1.11.3).

For Calvin the nature and purpose of the Tabernacle was not to manifest the divine presence as to point to its hiddenness.  He writes:

The mercy seat from which God manifested the presence of his power under the law was so constructed as to suggest that the best way to contemplate the divine is where minds are lifted above themselves with admiration.  Indeed, the cherubim with wings outspread covered it; the veil shrouded it; the place itself deeply enough hidden concealed it [Exodus 25:17-21] (Institutes 1.11.3).

It seems Calvin overemphasized the concealing aspects of the Tabernacle.  It is probably more accurate to say that the Tabernacle both revealed and concealed the divine Presence.  The divine Presence, the shekinah glory, was situated deep within the Holy of Holies.  This was the place where only the High Priest could enter and only once a year.  This points to the Tabernacle’s concealing function.  However, there is also the Tabernacle’s revealing function.  Visual depictions of the cherubim were far more profuse than Calvin lets on.  Images of the cherubim were visible on the inner-curtain of the Holy Place and on the curtains that made up the Tabernacle structure (Exodus 26).  A more fair reading of the biblical text will lead us to conclude that the visual arts were an integral part of Old Testament worship.

Calvin’s hostility to the use of images stemmed from his desire for the glory of God — soli deo gloria.  Anything that detracted from God’s glory or obscured it was to be vigorously opposed.  His hostility was also based upon his belief that it is it is impossible to visually depict God who is invisible and transcendent.

We believe it wrong that God should be represented by a visible appearance, because he himself has forbidden it [Exodus 20:4] and it cannot be done without some defacing of his glory (Institutes 1.11.12).

Calvin had no objection to sculpture and paintings in themselves.  He recognized them to be gifts from God and legitimate in their own proper spheres (Institutes 1.11.12).  But he strongly objected to their use in the realm of religious worship and teaching.  Calvin argues that visual representation were allowable with respect to creation but not with respect to God.

Therefore it remains that only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing: let not God’s majesty, which is far above the perception of the eyes, be debased through unseemly representations (Institutes 1.11.12).

This argument is similar to the position taken by Eastern Orthodoxy.  The Orthodox position is that God the Father cannot be represented in the icons.  The Orthodox position also holds that because God the Son took on human flesh in his Incarnation, it was possible to depict the Son in the icons.  John of Damascus anticipated the main thrust of Calvin’s argument against icons when he argued that the Old Testament injunction against images was given in order to prevent the Israelites from attempting to represent the invisible God.  He noted however that the situation changed with the Incarnation.

It is clearly a prohibition against representing the invisible God.  But when you see Him who has no body become man for you, then you will make representations of His human aspect.  When the Invisible, having clothed Himself in the flesh, become visible, then represent the likeness of Him who has appeared.  When He who, having been the consubstantial Image of the Father, emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, thus becoming bound in quantity and quality, having taken on the carnal image, then paint and make visible to everyone Him who desired to become visible (in Ouspensky 1978:44).

Calvin’s failure to deal with St. John of Damascus probably constitutes the greatest weakness in his polemic against the icons.  It is a serious oversight because St. John’s apologia provided the classic biblical and theological defense for the veneration of icons.  This gap in Calvin’s arguments against the icons is one of the greatest missed opportunities in church history.

The Philological Argument

As a Renaissance humanist scholar one of the tools that Calvin employed was the discipline of philology or historical linguistics (Bouwsma 1988:12).  Calvin’s critique of the semantic distinction between dulia “veneration” and latreia “worship” in Institutes 1.11.11, 1.12.2 and 1.12.3 would seem to be one of his strongest attacks against the veneration of icons.  The defenders of icons argued that they were attributing to icons “veneration,” not “adoration.”  In response to this, Calvin resorts to a number of proof texts to demolish this claim.

However, Calvin’s philological argument misses the point.  The dulia/latreia distinction was unique to medieval Catholicism.  John Cochlaeus, a contemporary of Calvin, used this distinction in response to Calvin’s Inventory of Relics (Calvin 1960:111 n. 21).  This distinction was not used at Nicea II (Cavarnos 1973:9-10).  This tells us that Calvin was not familiar with the official Orthodox position on icons.  More importantly, it means that Calvin’s polemic against icons never effectively refuted the Orthodox position on icons.

The closest Calvin comes to rebutting the terminology of Nicea II is in his study of the word proskuneo. Calvin marshals a whole list of proof texts where honor improperly given is strongly discouraged: Satan’s temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:10), John’s prostration to the angel in Revelation (Revelation 19:10 & 22:8-9), Cornelius’ falling before Peter’s feet (Acts 10:25).  The word used in these three passages is proskuneo which can have the abstract meaning ‘to worship’ or the more concrete meaning of the act of prostrating one’s self before someone and kissing their feet (see Arndt and Gingrich).  It was the custom among the Persians to prostrate one’s self before the king and kiss his feet.  Because the Persians saw the king as an incarnate deity, this political act was charged with sacred meaning.  Nicea II used the word proskuneo for the veneration of icons but at the same time qualifies it by attaching timetike (to honor) to it.  This is the word used in: “Honor your father and mother.” However, it appears that Nicea II did a more than adequate job in defining and circumscribing the terminology for the veneration of icons and so anticipated much of Calvin’s philological arguments.

The Historical Argument

Calvin’s historical argument is seriously flawed.  In Institutes 1.11.13, he is under the impression that for the first 500 years the Christian churches were devoid of images and that it was only with the decline of doctrinal purity that images began to appear in the churches.

If the authority of the ancient church moves us in any way, we will recall that for about five hundred years, during which religion was still flourishing, and a pure doctrine thriving, Christian Churches were commonly empty of images.  Thus, it was when the purity of the ministry had somewhat degenerated that they were first introduced for the adornment of churches (Institutes 1.11.13; italics added).

However, Calvin seems to be unaware of or he ignores Eusebius’ Church History in which mention is made of colored portraits that were made of Christ and his apostles (7:18).  The fact that Eusebius lived c. 265 to c. 339 and that the final version of his Church History appeared in A.D. 325 deals a devastating blow to Calvin’s historical argument.  Furthermore, it undermines his theory of church history.  The presence of icons in the early church implies either that icons were an integral part of the early Christian tradition or that Christianity had suffered corruption from its early days.  To assume the latter position is extremely problematic.  It calls into question Christ’s promises to be with the Church always, to guide it by the Holy Spirit, and to establish it in truth.

Calvin’s assumption of the anionic nature of Jewish and early Christian worship is not supported by scientific evidence.  Recent archaeological findings show that as late as the third century, Jewish synagogues and Christian churches had images in their interiors, as demonstrated by the findings at Dura-Europos (circa 240-250 AD) in modern Syria.

 

Image of Baby Moses - Dura Europos Synagogue

Image of Baby Moses – Dura Europos Synagogue

The presence of sacred images in both church and synagogue tells us that the early Church did not invent icons but carried them over from its Jewish predecessors.  This also indicates that the presence of icons in Orthodox churches today represents a profound continuity with Jewish worship.  If icons have Jewish roots, Calvin’s historical arguments are rendered nonsensical.

 

Baptistry – Dura-Europos Church

Thus, there are strong historical evidence in support of the use of icons in the early Church.  The Dura-Europos church has been dated to the pre-Constantine period which means that the notion widespread among Evangelicals that Emperor Constantine caused the early Church to fall from apostolic purity into the ceremonialism and sacerdotalism of Roman Catholicism is plain wrong.

 

Did Calvin Understand Eastern Orthodoxy?

The numerous omissions and oversights in Calvin’s polemic against the icons reflect not so much weaknesses in Calvin’s scholarship, but constraints imposed upon him by historical circumstances.  It should be kept in mind is that Nicea II was quite new to Calvin.  Kretschmar points out that the decisions of Nicea II was published in 1540 and the Libri Carolini became available in 1549 (1990:79).  This leads Kretschmar to conclude that Calvin’s opposition to icons was not based upon direct encounters with icons nor was it founded upon familiarity with Orthodox theology.

The way Calvin actually deals with the 8th-century Councils of the iconoclast controversy shows he did not really get to grips with the questions at issue in the Byzantine theology of that age.  For that matter he probably never saw an icon in his life (1990:80).

It appears that Calvin was aware of the different ways Catholics and Orthodox Christians venerated the icons.  However, there is no evidence of Calvin ever having had direct contact with Orthodox Christians or first hand experience of Orthodox worship.  Thus, Calvin’s disparaging remark about the “Greek Christians” in Institutes 1.11.4 can be seen as uninformed stereotyping.  Calvin writes:

But we must note that a “likeness” no less than a “graven image” is forbidden.  Thus is the foolish scruple of the Greek Christians refuted.  For they consider that they have acquitted themselves beautifully if they do not make sculptures of God, while they wantonly indulge in pictures more than any other nation (1.11.4).

Similar constraints probably applied to Calvin’s understanding of Nicea II.  Calvin knew of the decision of Nicea II in 787 to affirm the use of icons (Institutes 1.11.14; 4.9.9).  To refute the pro-icon stance of Nicea II Calvin cites an early council, the Council of Elvira, and an early church leader, Bishop Epiphanius (see Prefatory Address §4; Battles p. 20). He also drew upon the anti-iconist Libri Carolini.

However, in dealing with patristic literature it is not enough throw out names and councils as Calvin did.  One must show how these references demonstrate a universal consensus among the church Fathers (i.e., Vincent of Lerins’ famous canon: “What has been believed everywhere, always and by all” Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus).  In the field of constitutional law the legal scholar’s strongest argument rests upon the findings of the Supreme Court, not the lower courts.  Calvin’s references to one minor bishop (Epiphanius) or one local council (Elvira) or the polemical work sponsored by a king (Libri Carolini by Charlemagne) are all minor league stuff in comparison to the universal authority of an Ecumenical Council (Nicea II) and the reputation of highly respected church Fathers (John of Damascus and Theodore the Studite).

Calvin’s polemic is understandable as a reaction to the extravagant and excessive ornamentation of medieval Catholic churches.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux was troubled by the excessive ornamentation that resulted in the Church “resplendent in her walls and beggarly in her poor” (Coulton 1928:573).  The extravagance of religious art was compounded by the absence of a regulating principle.  Unlike the Eastern artistic tradition which had an art-manual and a shared understanding about proper iconography, in the West there was no centralization of its artistic tradition (Coulton 1928:243-244).  This resulted in Western European religious art being much more free in their depiction of God.  Michaelangelo’s depiction of God the Father with the long flowing beard in The Creation of Adam in the famous Sistine Chapel frescoes would not be allowed in the Orthodox tradition.  During 1300s the Trinity was often depicted in the form of a man with three mouths, three noses, and four eyes or in the form of a head with three faces! (Coulton 1928:378)  These excesses were such that the Roman Catholic Church was forced to curb them during the Counter-Reformation.

Conclusion: Was Calvin Wrong?

In conclusion, I find Calvin’s polemic against the icons unconvincing.  They are unconvincing because of four significant flaws: (1) Calvin’s philological argument (dulia vs. latreia) has no bearing on the terminology of Nicea II, (2) Calvin’s historical argument is plain wrong, (3) Calvin’s theological argument failed to take into account the theological implication of the Incarnation as spelled out by John of Damascus and Nicea II, and (4) Calvin’s biblical proof texts overlooked some important passages.

Because Calvin never dealt directly with the Orthodox position on icons, he never effectively refuted the Orthodox position.  His polemic are quite valid when viewed against the abuses and excesses of Medieval Catholicism.  However, it should be noted that medieval Catholicism by Calvin’s time had diverged significantly from Eastern Orthodoxy and Nicea II.  For this reason it can be claimed that Calvin’s polemic against the icons is incomplete and invalid.

Calvin’s polemic against icons flows from the deep structure of his theology.  Calvin’s theological system rests on two major premises: (1) that God is utterly transcendent and unknowable, and (2) God’s transcendence is bridged by means of divine revelation, particularly the Bible as the Word of God.  The preeminence given to the written Word of God in Calvin’s theological system builds upon Martin Luther’s discovery of the radical power of the Gospel to transform the sinner.  In the Reformed tradition the preaching of the Word of God takes priority to the exclusion of everything else: the sacraments, the icons, the saints.  Calvin’s emphasis on the written Word of God as the basis for sure knowledge of God leads him to exclude images as means for teaching people about God.

A similar claim can be made for the Orthodox acceptance of icons.  The Orthodox Church’s veneration of icons flows from the deep structure of patristic theology.  The Orthodox theological system rests on two premises: (1) that God is a Triune Being utterly transcendent and unknowable, and (2) that God’s transcendence has been bridged through the Incarnation of the Son.  For Orthodox Christians the Incarnation forms the basis for the icons.

Christianity is the revelation not only of the Word of God, but also of the Image of God, in which His likeness is revealed (Leonid Ouspensky in Forest 1997:53).

The Incarnation was crucial to the theology of the early Church.  The significance of the Incarnation was such that one cannot understand the Christology of the early Church apart from it.  In the same way one cannot understand the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils (see End Note 1) apart from the Incarnation.  The interplay between these two factors helped determine the outcome of Nicea II.  Alain Blancy notes,

The Council’s theology was a theology of the Incarnation and it depended directly on the Christology of Chalcedon which had been defined four centuries previously.  The canons of Nicea make it clear, in particular, that representation of the figure of Christ was not merely legitimate but requisite, because of and on the basis of the Incarnation (1990:40).

The issue then becomes not just a matter of visual representation but of Christology.  If the hypostatic union is indeed (as taught in the Chalcedonian Definition) a personal unity of the divine and human natures of Christ then the icons of Christ and the veneration directed towards them complement each other.  Alain Blancy writes: “True God and true man without separation and without confusion: the Christology of Chalcedon fits the case of the icon perfectly and is expressed in it” (1990:40). For Protestants who accept the first four Councils this present something of a challenge (see End Note 2). Nicea II (the Seventh Council) becomes a logical extension of the theology of Chalcedon (the fourth council).  The Protestant who accepts the Council of Chalcedon must then ask themselves if accepting Chalcedon leads logically to accepting Nicea II.

From the standpoint of historical theology, the Reformed understanding of the Incarnation represents a major paradigm shift (see End Note 3).  Although Calvin did not deal directly with the concept of the Incarnation as providing a basis for icons, the Second Helvetic Confession did (see End Note 4).  The Second Helvetic Confession (chapter IV) decisively dismisses any attempt to use the Incarnation to justify icons of Christ:

Although Christ assumed human nature, yet he did not on that account assume it in order to provide a model for carvers and painters.

A further reading of this confession shows that this dismissal arises not out a mere prejudice against icons, but out of a radically different understanding of the Incarnation.

He denied that his bodily presence would be profitable for the Church, and promised that he would be near us by his Spirit forever [John 16:7].

The attitude of the Second Helvetic Confession towards the Incarnation stands in sharp contrast to Nicea II:

One of the traditions which we thus preserve is that of making representational paintings, which is in accord with the history of the preaching of the Gospel, as confirming the real and not merely imaginary incarnation of God the Word (Logos)…. (in Cavarnos 1973:10; emphasis added; see also NPNF Series 2 Vol. XIV p. 550)

Although Calvin and the early Church Fathers believed in the Incarnation, their understanding of the Incarnation led to divergent theologies and practices.  Where Calvinism views the Incarnation as a historical fact, Orthodoxy views it as a momentous cosmic event.  The Calvinist emphasis on the written Word results in the centrality of the pulpit and the preaching ministry in worship.  Orthodoxy with its emphasis on the Word made flesh leads to liturgical worship, liturgical vestments, the use of incense and icons, and most importantly the centrality of the Eucharist in worship.

Can a Calvinist Venerate the Icons?

A few years ago I met a graduate student who grew up Presbyterian and was visiting the Greek Orthodox Church in Hawaii.  I didn’t think much of it as this church quite often has visitors interested in Orthodoxy.  But one day I saw him go up and venerate the icon.  I knew that he wasn’t yet Orthodox, but was he still a Presbyterian, a Reformed Christian?

In the end it must be recognized that anyone who actively venerates the icons has made a decisive break from Calvin and Calvinism.  To venerate the icons involves acting on theological principles alien to Calvinism.  The veneration of the icons is good example of the principle lex orans, lex credens — the rule of worship is the rule of faith.  This ancient theological principle teaches that the way we worship regulates the way we do theology.  Conversely, the way we do theology affects the way we worship.  This theological principle (which is also good sociology) applies to both Calvinism and to Orthodoxy.

As has been shown in this paper, Calvin’s opposition to the icons arises from the underlying logic of Calvin’s theology.  The primary motive for Calvin’s iconoclasm lies his in concern for the recovery of a true knowledge of God which leads to pure worship in the Church as well as the reform of the Church.  For this reason Protestant Reformation was concerned not just with the reformation of theology but also with the reformation of worship.  Thus, the plain interiors of Protestant churches are not tangential but integral to Protestantism and its theology.  The bare interiors are an embodiment of Protestantism’s theology, especially its emphasis on the primacy of Scripture.  Therefore, iconoclasm cannot be easily detached from Calvin’s theology.

This leaves Reformed Christians interested in Orthodoxy in a quandary or to put it more positively at a crossroads.  They can either follow the modern paradigm of Calvinism or they can follow the ancient paradigm of historic Orthodoxy.

The Challenge of the Icons

Although icons may seem to be a quaint curiosity to many Evangelicals and Reformed Christians, icons in fact pose a profound theological challenge.  Icons stand as a significant challenge to Reformed Christianity because it calls into question its Protestant presuppositions.  One consequence of this paper is that Calvin’s failure to effectively deal with Nicea II and the Orthodox teaching on icons means that the burden is now on the Calvinists of the twenty first century to pick up where Calvin has left off.

We are living at a historic moment when genuine dialogue can take place between Reformed Christians and Eastern Orthodox Christians.  There is an unprecedented openness among Protestants to Orthodoxy.  Kretschmar notes that until recently it was only the specialists who were aware of the Orthodox theology of icons (1990:84).  There has begun some attempts by Protestants to take icons seriously.  Some believe that icons are compatible with Calvinism, e.g., Alain Blancy’s chapter which is subtitled: “Towards a Reformed Theology of the Icon.”  However, I am also aware that there will be Calvinists who will continue to insist that the Orthodox position on icons is wrong.  It is my hope that Evangelicals and Reformed Christians will not cavalierly dismiss the icons, but take up the challenge to meet and dialogue with Orthodox Christians.  The Orthodox position on icons has compelling biblical, theological, and historical arguments that Reformed Christians need to address.

Three Challenges for Reformed Christians

I have three challenges for Reformed Christians.  One, I challenge them to address the exegetical issues that Calvin overlooked: Exodus 26, I Kings 6 and 7, and Ezekiel 41.   Two, I challenge them to prove that iconoclasm was part of the historic Christian Faith.  In addition to the testimony in Eusebius’ Church History and by other early Christians, how do you account for the archaeological evidence of religious images found in the church in Dura-Europos and the Christian art work found in the catacombs in Rome which date back to the second century?  Three, I challenge them to respond to deal with the theological defense presented by the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea II) and other early Church Fathers, e.g., John of Damascus’ classic defense of the icons — that the prohibition against images apply to God the Father but not to the Incarnation of the Son.

Robert Arakaki

REFERENCES

Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich.  1952.  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Fourth revised and augmented edition, 1952.  Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.

Blancy, Alain.  1990.  “Protestantism and the Seventh Ecumenical Council: Towards a Reformed Theology of the Icon.” In Icons: Windows On Eternity, pp. 35-45.  Compiled by Gennadios Limouris.  Geneva: WCC Publications.

Bouwsma, William J.  1988.  John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Calvin, John.  1960.  Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Ford Lewis Battles, translator.  The Library of Christian Classics. Volume XX. John T. McNeill, editor.  Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Calvin, John.  n.d.  Commentaries.  22 volumes.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Press.

Cavarnos, Constantine.  1973.  The Icon: Its Spiritual Basis and Purpose.  Authoritative Christian texts, translated from the original Greek and edited with notes by Constantine Cavarnos.  First published 1955.  Belmont, Massachusetts: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies.

Coulton, G.G.  1928.  Art and the Reformation.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Demus, Otto.  1970.  Byzantine Art and the West.  The Wrightsman Lectures III.  New York: New York University Press.

Eusebius.  1965.  The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine.  G.A. Williamson, translator.  New York: Penguin Books.

Forest, Jim.  1997.  Praying With Icons.  Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.

Gillquist, Peter E., ed.  1992.  Coming Home: Why Protestant Clergy Are Becoming Orthodox.  Ben Lomond, California: Conciliar Press.

John of Damascus.  1997.  On the Divine Images.  David Anderson, translator.  Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Kennedy, Jon.  1997.  “Orthodoxy on the Rise” in Again Magazine, pp. 24-27.  (August 1997)  Ben Lomond, California: Conciliar Press.

Kretschmar, Georg.  1990.  “The Reformation and the Theology of Images.”  In Icons: Windows On Eternity, pp. 76-85.  Compiled by Gennadios Limouris.  Geneva: WCC Publications.

Kuhn, Thomas S.  1962.  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Second Edition, Enlarged 1970.  International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, Volume 2, Number 2.  Otto Neurath, Editor-in-Chief.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Leith, John H., ed.  1963.  Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present.  Third edition, 1982.  Atlanta: John Knox Press.

Ouspensky, Leonid.  1978.  Theology of the Icon.  Vol. I.  Trans. Anthony Gythiel.  Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Schönborn, Christoph.  1990.  “Theological Presuppositions of the Image Controversy.” In Icons: Windows On Eternity, pp. 86-92.  Compiled by Gennadios Limouris.  Geneva: WCC Publications.

Theodore the Studite.  1981.  On the Holy Icons.  Catharine P. Roth, translator.  Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Ugolnik, Anthony.  1989.  The Illuminating Icon.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Ware, Timothy.  1963.  The Orthodox Church.  Reprinted 1973.  Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

END NOTES

End Note 1:  The seven Ecumenical Councils were crucial to the theological development of the early Church.  It was at these gatherings that the Church set forth the theological benchmarks of the Christian faith: Nicea I (A.D. 325) which affirmed the full divinity of Christ; the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) which affirmed the two natures of Christ; and Nicea II (A.D. 787) which affirmed the icons.  The Ecumenical Councils also defined the parameters of what it meant to be a Christian.

End Note 2:  Protestants accept the first four Ecumenical Councils, whereas Orthodox and Roman Catholics accept all seven Ecumenical Councils.  Although much of Evangelicalism pay little or no attention to the early Ecumenical Councils, Evangelicals who belong to mainline denominations or who take theology seriously acknowledge to some degree the decisions of the early councils, e.g., the divinity of Christ, the dual nature of Christ as truly divine and truly human.

End Note 3:  The phrase “paradigm shift” is taken from Thomas Kuhn’s classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

End Note 4:  The Second Helvetic Confession has been described as “the most universal of Reformed creeds” (see Leith’s Creeds of the Churches p. 131).

This posting was originally published on Liturgica.com.  It has been revised and updated for OrthodoxBridge.com.

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86 Responses to Calvin Versus The Icon: Was John Calvin Wrong?

  1. LOL. There are so many problems with this article that it almost isn’t worth commenting. In the main, the real problem is that this proceeds from a decided polemical perspective that is not welcoming all the facts. For example:

    As a consequence, Protestant places of worship have a stark austerity in comparison to Eastern Orthodox Churches. Among the notable exceptions in Protestantism are the Lutheran and Anglican traditions.

    Calling the Lutheran and Anglican traditions “notable exceptions in Protestantism” is just skewing the matter in the extreme. In point of fact, the national and international identities of historic Anglicanism and Lutheranism make up much more than notable exceptions. I’m sure Lutherans would love to learn that they’re not really Protestants compared to Geneva-inspired churches! If you are going to continue with generalizations that have little regard for the specific circumstances of the highly complex events surrounding the Reformation, you would be more accurate to say that the Anglicans and Lutherans make up a good two thirds of classical Protestantism in terms of the representative positions. Even that statement has problems, however. But, to pretend in the main that Protestant churches are overly stark compared to Orthodox centers of worship is unfounded.

    As far as the presentation concerning Calvin, honestly, his concern wasn’t really involved terribly with the East and its contentions concerning icons. If you want to continue the proposition that this website is a site for mutual understanding, you might take the time to consider what Calvin valued regarding the Orthodox rather than continue to issue ill-informed attacks against him.

    • It’s difficult to have a discussion with someone who refuses to acknowledge even the most obvious points. Obviously it is true that the Lutherans and Anglicans are exceptions to the general Protestant tendency to eschew the use of religious images in their churches. You offer no contrary arguments or evidence, just complaints that someone would point out such a thing.

      Just point us to the examples of great frescoed Presbyterian Churches of the world, if you can. Otherwise, own your own tradition.

      • I’m sorry you’re having difficulty with what I said, but the origin of the term “Protestant” is most clearly bound up in initial efforts in Speyer, Germany among those who would later be referred to as Lutherans. We cannot speak to Protestantism in the main as if it didn’t fundamentally contain both Anglican and Lutheran elements and to pretend that they are exceptions to the tradition is just more convenient Orthodox revisionism.

        As for owning my own tradition – please, I’m not Presbyterian so do yourself a favor and quit assuming that I hail from this or that background.

        As to providing a more thorough or substantial critique – I’m sorry, I just don’t have the time right now. I’m finishing one Master’s degree this week and embarking on yet another at the same time. I’ll say what I’ve consistently said elsewhere–for those who have been tempted to buy what you folks are selling–do the research yourself and don’t rely on what is clearly a presentation of the matter with an axe to grind. Jonathan Bonomo’s suggestion re: Zachman is a good one below and one of the tragedies of the above article is that it does not deal with more up-to-date research in the same vein but continues with stereotypes that are unfortunately embedded in the narrative of those afflicted with convertitis.

        • Canadian says:

          Kevin said: “and one of the tragedies of the above article is that it does not deal with more up-to-date research….”

          How does the latest research trump the authority of an Ecumenical Council? Does the latest research make
          Calvin out to be an iconodule?
          Calvin is an iconoclast, why does demonstrating that become “convertitis”?

          • ‘Canadian’,

            One of the clear issues with this article from our perspective is the assumption that Nicea II or the later ecumenical councils ought to have any weight in considering these matters without taking into account the fuller range of issues present in understanding why they were largely rejected by Protestants. It is not overly surprising but it is regrettable that this article is so critical of Calvin while passing over any sort of critical look of the later ecumenical councils that caused the issues addressed here in the first place.

          • >>>Calvin is an iconoclast, why does demonstrating that become “convertitis”?

            The problem here is not so much the demonstration of such a thing. The problem here is making the assumption that refuting Calvin means you’ve refuted Protestantism or worse that in the main Protestantism is largely reflected in the teaching of one of its masters.

            By way of contrast, the real truth is that Protestantism represents a variegated stream of theological traditions that range from Lutheranism to Presbyterians with Anglicans and many others all the way in between. You’re not refuting Protestantism when you make Calvin look like he had no idea what he was talking about any more than you’re correctly representing Protestantism by presenting it as an extreme and inaccurate example of iconoclasm.

            Furthermore, this is a matter of convertitis because what is presented here is a superficial understanding of the issues present in representing Calvin and the history of the great councils. I know you and Mr. Arakaki will likely disagree but all this proceeds via a distinct pattern that is common to most all “converts” to Rome or the East. Usually, the problem boils down to jumping ship because someone trades one superficial understanding of the theology and history of one Christian communion for another that is equally superficial.

          • Canadian says:

            Kevin said:
            “It is not overly surprising but it is regrettable that this article is so critical of Calvin while passing over any sort of critical look of the later ecumenical councils that caused the issues addressed here in the first place.”

            Your “critical” look is based on your own, or your tradition’s own pick-and-choose-from-the-councils
            methodology. The Councils have no real authority as you have retained that for yourself based on
            your reading of history and scripture. Also, you use “later” councils, do the first 4 Councils have
            any authority for you other than when they agree with your interpretation?

            Kevin said:
            “Usually, the problem boils down to jumping ship because someone trades one superficial understanding of the theology and history of one Christian communion for another that is equally superficial.”

            Ad hominem. I could say this of everyone who moves from evangelicalism to Calvinism without merit.
            I am not trading my personal interpretation of the data for another, I am trading my personal authoritative
            interpretation of the data and submitting to the church. Those who have an exhaustive rather than
            superficial understanding may be no closer to the truth. And Christ gave the church normative and
            binding authority as the pillar and ground of the truth–not the individual.

          • Kevin if we should not assume that 2nd Nicea has any weight in dealing with these matters, then all the more reason for us not to allow Protestants to assume that the rag tag group of Reformers views should have any weight.

            It also seems odd that we should talk about the “wider issues” when Protestants did not have significant grasp of the theology they were rejecting and this has been mainly so up til this day.

        • Kevin said:
          “It is not overly surprising but it is regrettable that this article is so critical of Calvin while passing over any sort of critical look of the later ecumenical councils that caused the issues addressed here in the first place.”

          Your “critical” look is based on your own, or your tradition’s own pick-and-choose-from-the-councils methodology. The Councils have no real authority as you have retained that for yourself based on your reading of history and scripture.

          I’m sorry but this is an inaccurate portrayal of the Protestant position and it is regrettable after hashing out many of the details of sola Scriptura on one of the previous comment threads that you would continue to throw up this canard.

          Also, you use “later” councils, do the first 4 Councils have any authority for you other than when they agree with your interpretation?

          Of course the first four councils carry authority. However, their authority is indirect and in the main based on the Scriptures and “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”.

          Kevin said:
          “Usually, the problem boils down to jumping ship because someone trades one superficial understanding of the theology and history of one Christian communion for another that is equally superficial.”

          Ad hominem. I could say this of everyone who moves from evangelicalism to Calvinism without merit.

          With the exception of calling this an ad hominem I’m happy to grant that most “who [move] from evangelicalism to Calvinism” do so superficially. Such an answer on your part only strengthens my original observation. I personally wish everyone would just stay put where God has placed them – it would make for a much more rich, honest, and diverse expression of Christianity.

          I am not trading my personal interpretation of the data for another, I am trading my personal authoritative interpretation of the data and submitting to the church. Those who have an exhaustive rather than superficial understanding may be no closer to the truth. And Christ gave the church normative and binding authority as the pillar and ground of the truth–not the individual.

          Even in accepting the authority of another, you still must exercise private judgment. That’s the whole point here and it’s what makes “conversion” to other Christian communions so Protestant on the part of those think they’re submitting to a proper ecclesial authority. The “authority argument” you propose is simply without merit. You are welcome to argue on the basis of experience to avoid refutation but it provides you with little justification to tell others to do the same.

          • John the second says:

            “I personally wish everyone would just stay put where God has placed them – it would make for a much more rich, honest, and diverse expression of Christianity.”

            If the Calvin, Zwingli and Luther did this, there would be no Protestant Reformation. If that were the case you would probably be drinking the Roman Koolaid right now. Is that what you really want? I doubt it.

            The fact is, if this were to really have happened, we wouldn’t have schism, period. There’d be nothing more than One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

          • No. You are incorrect. Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli didn’t really go anywhere and start new churches. They worked with the established churches where they were and reformed them as necessary. What allowed them to do so was a receptiveness among the people that was not possible with the hierarchy, sadly.

        • Kevin Johnson wrote: “I’m sorry you’re having difficulty with what I said, but the origin of the term “Protestant” is most clearly bound up in initial efforts in Speyer, Germany among those who would later be referred to as Lutherans. We cannot speak to Protestantism in the main as if it didn’t fundamentally contain both Anglican and Lutheran elements and to pretend that they are exceptions to the tradition is just more convenient Orthodox revisionism.”

          Me: You’re nit picking here. First off, if we assume the claimed membership of the the Anglican and Lutheran Churches, they represent less than a quarter of the total number of Protestants — and in Western Europe especially, their claimed membership compared with their active membership would reduce that percentage significantly if adjusted in comparison with Evangelical and Charismatic Christians. Within Anglicanism, there has always been a great deal of diversity, because the Anglican Church was essentially a forced unity of divergent Protestants… and not all of those in the Anglican Communion have the same attitude towards Christian Art. So clearly the point that was made is that the vast majority of Protestants take a dim view of Christian art in worship, and that point is clearly accurate. Now try addressing something of substance.

          KJ: “As for owning my own tradition – please, I’m not Presbyterian so do yourself a favor and quit assuming that I hail from this or that background.”

          Me: If you own it, tell us what it is then.

          KJ: “As to providing a more thorough or substantial critique – I’m sorry, I just don’t have the time right now. I’m finishing one Master’s degree this week and embarking on yet another at the same time.”

          Me: In what, and from what school?

          • I haven’t *ever* said that I’m on a higher plane than anyone else here nor have I really done anything other than question the nature and purpose of this site, what it means to be a “convert” to Orthodoxy, and some of the conclusions made by those who have advocated certain positions.

            By way of contrast and through a height of hypocrisy that is certainly dizzying, you’ve embarked on an FBI-like investigation into my background and continually mocked it. I have no need to continue such a foolish conversation.

        • Kevin,
          I don’t think anybody knows what you are, so don’t be so offended when even people who have known you for years aren’t sure. I’ve heard you mention attending a CREC at one point (basically Prebyterian), a Southern Baptist church, and an Anglo-Catholic Church. You have self described as a Reformed Catholic in the past, and I assume you still hold that.

          Sorry, pal, but Fr. John’s fresco comment stands.

          Cheers,
          Jamey

          • Nah. Jamey. Since you’ve decided to play both referee and participant here while Fr. My-Way-or-the-Highway waxes on, I’m going to pass on this discussion.

            Next time you’re in Phoenix, look me up. I’ll be happy to sit down over a beer or five.

          • Kevin, is there some reason why you cannot state what tradition you belong to, what subject your master degrees are in, and what school you got or are getting them from?

          • Fr. Whiteford,

            No. There’s no reason I’m being coy except to avoid drawing yet another conversation into the mire. To answer your question directly and to avoid further ill-founded suspicions, this Saturday I will graduate with an MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management which coincides with pursuing a long overdue Master of Arts in Theology via the pre-PhD program from Fuller Theological Seminary. As to my ecclesial status, as I have stated repeatedly, I advocate a Reformed catholic/classical Protestant perspective and have for a number of years. Satisfied???

          • No, because if you apply the word “Reformed” to yourself, if that word has any real historical meaning, it would have to indicate “Calvinist”, and yet you have acted as if you don’t have to answer for the views of historic Calvinists. So what exactly do you mean by “Reformed Catholic”? Also, do you have any theological undergraduate degrees, and if so, from where?

          • Sigh. No. I’m not here for you to define terms for me in terms of what it means to be Reformed. Reformed does not necessarily entail Calvinism (especially as that term is understood today) as Nevin quite ably proved with Hodge. As for Reformed catholic – the term itself originated as far as we know in 1597 — but it generally speaks to Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 22 advocating that “catholic undoubted faith” present in the creeds.

            I missed by the way the mention of your own academic credentials. Somewhere I read you went to a Nazarene school or something like that but nothing more – care to share your own educational background? My undergraduate degree is a BA in history from Grand Canyon University.

          • Kevin wrote: “Sigh. No. I’m not here for you to define terms for me in terms of what it means to be Reformed. Reformed does not necessarily entail Calvinism (especially as that term is understood today) as Nevin quite ably proved with Hodge. As for Reformed catholic – the term itself originated as far as we know in 1597 — but it generally speaks to Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 22 advocating that “catholic undoubted faith” present in the creeds.”

            Me: You seem to be very evasive about your own theology. If a Martian came to your Church and said take me to your leaders, who would you take them to? Or are you a non-denomination independent of some sort?

            KJ: “I missed by the way the mention of your own academic credentials. Somewhere I read you went to a Nazarene school or something like that but nothing more – care to share your own educational background? My undergraduate degree is a BA in history from Grand Canyon University.”

            Me: I have a BA in Theology from Southern Nazarene University. That does not make me a great scholar, but it does mean I have spent four years studying Theology and the Scriptures in a formal academic environment. I was curious about your credentials because you have stated that other people in this discussion have a shallow understanding of Theology. I would suggest that you clock a few hours studying that subject yourself before jumping to any conclusions about others.

          • LOL. Fr. Let-Me-Get-a-Switch-From-Out-Back.

            I was waiting for the scolding to come. And, you did deliver.

            Too bad you remain horribly uninformed. What you don’t know about my undergraduate degree is that I have enough hours in Bible, NT Greek, German, and Theology to nearly have a second degree sufficient to calm your concerns.

            Furthermore, I was ordained in 1994 and have been discussing these and many other issues for many years within the context of church life and in a variety of other contexts.

            You might take a bit of your own medicine. Might do you some good.

            As for me being supposedly evasive about my theology…please. You want to know what I believe in the main? Go read the Heidelberg Catechism.

          • Kevin, you have been the one who has chosen repeatedly to go the ad hominem route rather than focus on the issues, and if you are going to question the theological acumen of other folks, it would probably good for you to have an actual theological degree rather than just a degree you think you have almost earned, and thus conferred upon yourself in your own imagination.

            As for your being ordained, you can get ordained online for less than $20 online:

            Become Ordained Today!

            And so the fact that you were ordained by some group or another and $5.00 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. The question is who ordained you.

            Now since your theological credentials do not raise you to some higher plane than the rest of us, how about sticking to the substance of the arguments here rather than making snarky comments about the intelligence of others, or their theological acumen.

            The Heidelberg Catechism is not a Church, or a Tradition. It is a Catechism. You cannot receive the sacraments from a Catechism. Which Church do you belong to, and what about that Church makes you want to avoid answering the question?

          • I haven’t *ever* said that I’m on a higher plane than anyone else here nor have I really done anything other than question the nature and purpose of this site, what it means to be a “convert” to Orthodoxy, and some of the conclusions made by those who have advocated certain positions.

            By way of contrast and through a height of hypocrisy that is certainly dizzying, you’ve embarked on an FBI-like investigation into my background and continually mocked it. I have no need to continue such a foolish conversation.

          • Canadian says:

            Kevin,
            Though I agree with Fr. John’s position, this was funny–albeit somewhat disrespectful :-)
            “LOL. Fr. Let-Me-Get-a-Switch-From-Out-Back.”

            Though it may feel a bit Inquisition-like, I think Fr. John is trying to get you to see that at times you
            have had a switch of your own hid behind your back:
            ” how about sticking to the substance of the arguments here rather than making snarky comments
            about the intelligence of others”

            Ahhh the sounds of men discussing theology :-)

          • robertar says:

            Folks,
            Kevin’s response this comment crossed the line and for that reason was unapproved. Kevin, I ask that you do not call your fellow discussant names.
            Everyone, I know we feel strongly about what we believe but as followers of Christ we are called to treat one another with charity and respect.
            Robert

          • Kevin Johnson wrote:

            “I haven’t *ever* said that I’m on a higher plane than anyone else here…”

            Me: You have repeatedly suggested it.

            KJ: “… nor have I really done anything other than question the nature and purpose of this site, what it means to be a “convert” to Orthodoxy, and some of the conclusions made by those who have advocated certain positions.”

            Me: People have been reading these discussions may judge for themselves.

            KJ: “By way of contrast and through a height of hypocrisy that is certainly dizzying, you’ve embarked on an FBI-like investigation into my background and continually mocked it. I have no need to continue such a foolish conversation.”

            Me: My investigation has been limited to your own comments and those of others in these discussions, it was prompted by your repeated dismissals of the statements of others with comments that said we did not know what you know, and that we assume all Protestants or all Reformed hold a particular view or tradition that differs from your own. Obviously when you keep dismissing what people say based on your own allegedly superior tradition, you have made your views, and your tradition a legitimate topic of discussion. And when you suggest time and time again that others are either uninformed, not very bright, or shallow in their understanding of theology, the question of why you feel your understanding and education to be superior is also a legitimate topic of discussion.

            You will note that while I have been disagreeing with Tim Enloe, those discussions have not gone down that road, and that is because Tim has generally stuck to the issues.

          • I should also add that it is very strange that you refuse to identify what Church you are currently a member of. If you are going to engage in a theological discussion, and appeal to your own tradition as superior to others under discussion, it would seem like you would be more than happy to answer that question.

        • Jnorm says:

          Reverend K. D. Johnson,
          I know Lutherans and Anglicans who refuse to call themselves protestant. I also know of other Lutherans and Anglicans who call themselves protestant but refuse to use the term for others that I might call “protestant”.

          To be honest, I really don’t understand why you are upset about Lutherans and high Anglicans being “exceptions”. Why do you want us to believe that they are the same as Presbyterians and Congregationalists?

          Would you prefer if we use the term “Reformed”?

    • Kevin,

      On the one hand, you’re right that Anglican churches have a long history of retaining and even venerating images. But this is contrary to Article 35 as represented in the Homily on Idolatry. Consequently such practice was retained in direct opposition to its official teaching, that came by way of influence from Vermigli, Zurich and Calvin, by its more catholic members. So it seems, ironically that the only way you can really make the point stick is by affirming that Anglicanism was more of a mixed bag than you usually do.

      As far as the Lutherans go, along with Anglicans, they certain aren’t now and for a long time the majority of Protestants. So even if remark is somewhat off, it is in general true.

      The Lutherans generally would agree that if the Reformation is to be measured by the Reformed tradition, then they are not of the Reformation, since they deny that the Reformed bodies consitute true visible churches, which is why they refuse intercommunion with them.

      On the other hand, if we wish to use Lutherans and Anglicans as you wish in their international numbers then we need to include the liberals as legitimate heirs of the reformation to make that stick. That seems like an unwanted consequence of your argument.

      • Perry,

        Protestant identity is not a matter of numbers and to assert such is to shortchange the history and the importance of the various traditions contained within it. As for the so-called “liberals” in the tradition — I really couldn’t care less whether you consider their contribution important and fundamental to the identity of Protestantism or not. Clearly, your definition of Protestantism is flawed. This reminds me very much, however, of a presentation by Phyllis Tickle on how non-Protestant the Anglican world supposedly is and has been. Say it all you like just like her and her emerging buddies–it just isn’t true. Never mind that ECUSA used to be called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. What are facts when you have history to revise at your command?

        I don’t mind that Protestantism is a variegated tradition that may even at times contain elements that are either less than Protestant or even devoid of the faith altogether. If I remember correctly, the early Church had such problems or we both couldn’t rejoice in Athanasius declaring his fidelity to the faith contra mundum. I don’t base my security in Christ on some authority structure or even on the fidelity of others to some external standard. Saying there are liberals in Protestantism doesn’t mean Protestantism in the main is somehow defective any more than the presence of KGB agents or their proxies posing as Orthodox priests in Russia invalidated the witness of the Orthodox church.

        • You have a problem with invalid analogies. Citing St. Athanasius’ struggle with the Arians would only work if you wished to argue that the Arians were a legitimate part of the “invisible” Church. Is that what you are arguing? And comparing individuals who collaborated with the communists to one extent or another because they had a gun to their heads, to the heads of their families, or to the heads of the flocks, with the massive number of entire Protestant denominations who have abandoned basic doctrines and morals of the Christian Faith is equally ridiculous.

          I once had occasion to listen to an old Russian priest who spoke of a priest in Russia who had been arrested by the communists, and was being tortured in an effort to get him to sign a denunciation of several people who were already in prison, but whom the communists apparently wanted some additional “evidence” on. After the first day of torture, he was told by the communists that he would sign the next day. The following day they brought in his young son, and began breaking his fingers, one by one. He signed. That made him a collaborator… a “KGB Agent” in a cassock.

          I don’t think you, or I or any one other than God is in any position to judge a man in that situation, and I don’t think that you or I have any basis of certainty that we would not have done the same thing or worse if we faced a similar set of circumstances.

          Now how exactly does the actions of this priest compare in any way to the PCUSA freely embracing the ordination of Homosexuals?

          • I don’t judge that man nor was that what I was referring to, thank you.

            The fact is that every church has wheat and tares and the Orthodox church is no exception. You seem to be arguing against a position that I haven’t advocated and I would just suggest if you want to continue this conversation that you quit making assumptions about my point of view.

          • The big difference is that you have entire denominations that represent a large chunk of Protestantism that have clearly embraced heresy and immorality, even by historic Protestant standards. That is not the same as having some individuals who fall short of the glory of God in your Church.

        • Kevin, If numbers were not relevant to the argument you made, then you must have some other thing in mind as to why one should take the Lutherans and the Anglicans as acting as counter evidence to the claims made. What did you have in mind?

          You claim that my definition of Protestantism is flawed, but I don’t think I offered a definition of it, so I find it difficult to see how you can critique something that is not on the table. Perhaps you can tease out your thinking here. And I’d think it’d be a bit of question begging to just assume liberals do not constitute a legitimate expression of Protestantism unless you’ve got in hand some unrevisable criteria of what constitutes Protestantism per se.

          Tarring me with Ms. Tickle is a red herring and a straw man. Talk about my position, not someone elses.

          I grant that TEC was so designated, but of course that was inside the 28 BCP, which had some decidedly Anglo-Catholic elements and for which the Articles of Religion were rather optional. That said, I need not give any other evidence than what you have given, that its practice of retaining images and permitting their veneration on a widespread basis. Anecdotally, I was raised in TEC and it was quite common on Good friday to pass around a large crucifix and kiss the wounds of Christ. That is certainly quite contrary to the Homily’s teaching on prohibiting images and their veneration. Hence again, the only way you can make your point stick is by taking these examples as legitimate expressions. Otherwise your counter example of Anglicanism falls flat since these would be abuses and not permitted expressions from which one may or may not participate. So I think here you’ve simply sidesteped the argument and given up your own counter example along the way and failed to actually engage the argument presented.

          The comparison with Athanasius is not apt. It is not apt becuse Athanasius’c omments, like Jerome’s made at the same time, were concerning the imperial church and the imperial policy which had turned Arian. Arianism had already been condemned by Nicea long before and the imperial policy while Arian did not overturn it, though they sought to do so. Hence the “mundum” is in reference to the imperium, not the institutional church per se, since that institution existed long before there was imperial favor towards the church.

          Furthermore, it is not apt because there has existed no longstandig practice among Anglicans of censuring such practice, even before the rise of liberalism, so as to put them in the category of heterodoxy and so something akin to Arianism. It is only your a priori assumption that Protestantism as you understand it is the faith of the CofE and so everything else is extraneous.

          While I am well aware of Soviet covert suppression in the Russian church, the analogy there is not apt either. First, their action was by a political body, not a rival theological tradition. Second, their actions were covert, where as broadchurchmen and high churchmen actions have been out in the open and practiced for centuries and tied to no political body or view per se.

      • Archpreist Joh W. Morris says:

        The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran group in the U.S. is in full communion with the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ, both Reformed bodies. The Evangelical Church of Germany is a federation of Lutheran and Calvinist Churches that dates back to the 1817 century Prussian Union of Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Prussia.

  2. Ansgar Olav says:

    ” ill-informed attacks against him.”

    How did you get that out of this article? I remember reading this as a Calvinist a few years ago and was struck by how irenic it was. Maybe it is “ill-informed” (you would have to prove that), but an “attack”?

  3. Canadian says:

    Kevin said:
    “As far as the presentation concerning Calvin, honestly, his concern wasn’t really involved terribly with the East and its contentions concerning icons. If you want to continue the proposition that this website is a site for mutual understanding, you might take the time to consider what Calvin valued regarding the Orthodox rather than continue to issue ill-informed attacks against him.”

    C’mon, Kevin. The post laid out Calvin’s “ill-informed” attacks against Orthodoxy and iconography, for example:
    “But we must note that a “likeness” no less than a “graven image” is forbidden. Thus is the foolish scruple of the Greek Christians refuted. For they consider that they have acquitted themselves beautifully if they do not make sculptures of God, while they wantonly indulge in pictures more than any other nation (1.11.4).”
    Calvin makes a raving statement and Robert responded, I see no ill-informed attack but a cogent and irenic response.

  4. David says:

    Before I’d read this article of Robert’s about a year ago, I did not take Orthodoxy seriously. It never dreamed Calvin could be touched in any way per Icons. Now I must admit that I am awaiting a cogent Reformed response — one that deals seriously with the arguments presented. After living in theological comfort within a decidedly Reformed “continuity of the covenants” a move to biblical theology has more recently championed the newness of the new covenant after Christ’s. So, the argument from the import of the Incarnation is compelling. I would love to hear/see a good Reformed rejoiner of substance, and in the same irenic Spirit. After this last reading I’m not as convinced it’s impossible. But please spare us all the empty bluster that rings so loud and hollow. Anyone know of a good article that takes on Orthodox Iconography with compelling arguments?

  5. Jonathan Bonomo says:

    Randall Zachman’s “Image and Word in the Theology of John Calvin” would be essential reading to properly deal with this issue. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time at the moment to engage in this discussion beyond simply mentioning the reference.

    • robertar says:

      Jonathan, Thank you for your suggestion! I placed an order for Zachman’s book and look forward to reading it. You are welcome to join the discussion any time!

    • Thanks for your contribution, Jonathan. I’d like to pick that up myself. Perhaps you and I can go and get a beer after all…I get together with Westminster guys weekly, and I have lived in Philly a year, and you and I still haven’t gotten together! :)

    • Canadian says:

      Jonathan,
      Wow, it’s a long time since your Ecclesial Awakening blog when you were a real encouragement to me. I remember one of your posts: “I NEED MORE SACRAMENTS!” :-)
      Well, about 5 years later and I am now an Orthodox catechumen heading for more sacraments. Good to see you here.

    • Jonathan, what specifically as a premise supporting the thesis of that work do you think would overturn or mitigate thea rgument of the post?

      The fact seems to me from Noble’s extended work on the Franks and 2nd Nicea as well as Giakalis’ analysis of the theology of the council that the Franks and the later Reformers generally did not even a decent grasp of the patristic material on this question-the same is even more true of 2nd Nicea.

      • Jonathan Bonomo says:

        Of course, Calvin opposed the use of images depicting Christ or the saints in worship, so I didn’t mention Zachman as disproving that obvious fact. But I do think a careful reading of Zachman would help balance out some common misunderstandings and overstatements.

        In this post, for instance, Robert says that:

        “In Book I of Calvin’s Institutes we see Calvin denying the possibility of knowing God through creation but affirming the possibility of knowing God through the Scriptures.”

        As it stands, without qualification, and in the context of this post, such a statement is misleading. The fact is that Calvin did not deny the possibility of knowing God through creation *full stop*. What he denied is that creation *alone* is adequate, given human finitude and corruption, to know and worship God rightly.

        What Zachman shows is that Calvin did in fact hold that we can see and know God through a variety of creational and redemptive “images,” understood, of course, in light of special revelation through Christ and his word. So, the issue isn’t with knowing God through outward signs/images *as such*, but rather what images specifically are lawful for use in the context of worship. To frame the discussion in such a way as to imply that Calvin rejected the possibility of knowing God *at all* through anything created and therefore implicitly denied the incarnation, while the Orthodox are the only ones who really like the incarnation and therefore like creation too, is little more than a chimera.

        • David says:

          Jonathan,

          I too thought Robert’s quote above about Calvin’s view a bit over-stated…and your correction better sets Calvins view of the limitations of natural revelation…

          That said, I do believe Perry’s question at least one of the kernels of focus…does Christ’s incarnation in material flesh and bone and taking on human nature fundamentally change how we are allowed to represent Creation and utilize such “sensible signs” in liturgical worship?

          • Jonathan Bonomo says:

            David,

            That question is a fine one to ask, and it’s worth exploring. My purpose wasn’t to invalidate the question, but rather to simply make it clear that the question isn’t about sensible signs v. no sensible signs, but rather, What sensible signs? Beyond that, I must unfortunately steer clear of devoting much time to this discussion, though I may check back in from time to time.

        • You’re right that the statement require qualification and a back story to explain the mechanics of Calvin’s thought, particularly on the relation between nature and grace.

          I’d suspect that part of Calvin’s problem turns on a different conception of causality and so a different conception of what constitutes an image and its nature.

          That said, Calvin does have problems with the Incarnation and this is something not generally noted by the Orthodox, but by Reformed writers themselves, whether Butin or Muller or some other figure.

        • robertar says:

          Jonathan, I’m looking forward to reading Zachman’s book but for now I’m going to rely on my research results.

          While I may have stated Calvin’s attitude about the revelational adequacy of creational images rather starkly, I would say that further on in my posting I tempered my remarks about Calvin’s appreciation of the visual arts. But having said, you are bringing up an important issue and that is the possibility that creational images can help us know God in light of special revelation. I look forward to seeing Zachman’s argument. This implies as you wrote that certain images are “lawful for use in the context of worship.” Can you give some examples of this?

          For now, I would note that Calvin likewise uses pretty stark language like: “God’s glory is corrupted by an impious falsehood whenever any form is attached to him.” The issue here seems to be what the Incarnation means for worship. Can we depict Christ in visual form as an aid to worship? Calvin evidently would reply in the negative. Would you agree with that? The reason being how he understood the significance of the Incarnation. I did not say that the Orthodox were the “only ones who really like the Incarnation.” That is not an unfair characterization. The point I’m trying to make is that there is a significant difference in the way Reformed and Orthodox Christians understand the significance of the Incarnation, especially in terms of the relation between Creation and the Uncreated Creator. I would say that Reformed Christians do appreciate the Incarnation but that they do not go far enough in their understanding of the implications of the Incarnation. To put it another way, if the Reformed understanding of the Incarnation is correct, then the Orthodox understanding is overextended. Would you agree that? –Thank you for your contribution to the conversation!

          • Robert,
            This assumes that the Reformed adhere to conciliar Christology and that is not only an unjustified assumption but one that is false. “Christ” for the Reformed is the product of the union which outpaces the person of the Logos.

          • robertar says:

            Perry,

            With respect to Reformed theology and the Ecumenical Councils, the Wikipedia entry for “Ecumenical Councils” states that Protestants who belong to the magisterial tradition accept the Seven Ecumenical Councils with reservations. More importantly, the Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter II teaches that the Reformers accept the teachings of the Greek and Latin Fathers, and the General Councils so long as they agree with Scripture. Also, in Institutes 4.9.8 Calvin mentions: Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus I, and Chalcedon, as councils he willingly “embrace and reverence.” So I believe your belief that the Reformers do not hold to conciliar Christology is unfounded.

            The language you used for describing “Christ” is rather unusual. I think the Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XI, provides a better definition: “We therefore acknowledge two natures or substances, the divine and the human, in one and the same Jesus Christ our Lord (Heb., ch. 2). And we say that these are bound and united with one another in such a way that they are not absorbed, or confused, or mixed, but are united or joined together in one person — the properties of the natures being unimpaired and permanent.” This is language that an Eastern Orthodox Christian would agree with. This is because conciliar Christology is one of the major areas of agreements between Reformed Christianity and Orthodoxy.

          • Robert,

            Wikipedia is hardly a reliable source and isn’t fine grained enough in its analysis to adjudicate the question. Take Ursinus’ teaching that the person of Christ is more than the person of the Logos in his commentary on the Heidlberg Catechism.

            “Objection 2. But, according to this the Word cannot be a person, because he is part of the person; and that which is only a part cannot be a person. Answer. That which is only part of a person (and such a part that is not of itself a person) is no person; or, that which is a part of a person, is not that person of which it is a part. And so it may be said of the Word, if it be properly understood, that he is not the whole person of the mediator, although he is in, and of himself, a whole and complete person in respect to the Godhead.”

            p. 210.

            Oh, so who/what is this extra person other than the eternal Son of God? A human person perhaps under the designation of “Christ?”
            You can see it also in Vermigli’s Two Dialogs on the Incarnation where he explicitly denies that the divine person dies and only the human nature does. That is just classic Nestorianism. He is explicit in his rejeciton and denial of Cyril’s teaching on this key point over against the Nestorians.

            Calvin also says in Inst 2.14.5 that the two natures constitute the one person. McCormack rightly notes that Calvin’s understanding of Chalcedon is substantially flawed.

            As for the second Helvectic confession, I’d suggest looking at the original Latin text, which has been edited in English translation. The original Latin indicates that Christ is two “hypostases”, which is highly problamatic to say the least. Then we have WCF 8.2 which says taht the *person* of Christ is both human and divine, but chalcedonian Christology has it that Christ is always and only a divine person. All of this is cataloged by Bruce McCormack, Richard Muller and other Reformed writers. You can see some of it documented here-> https://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2008/06/15/a-deformed-christ/

            So no, my claims are quite well founded. The problem is that the sources you are looking at are illinformed and/or not sufficiently fine grained to see the theological problem in Reformed Christology. The Lutherans have been rightly been complaining abot it for 500 years or so as documented by Martin Chemnitz’s The Two Natures in Christ.

            It isn’t sufficient to say that Christ is “one person.” Any Nestorian, and Nestorius did as well, could agree with that statement. Nestorius, Diodore, Theodoret and Co. all denied that Christ was two persons, because they took “Christ” to be one product or result of the union. “Person” was prosopa, one single manifestation or appearance produced by two natures/subjects. McGuckin lays it out fairly well here-> https://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2010/02/14/some-notes-on-the-christology-of-nestorius/

          • Robert,

            We could also add to the fact that depiste Calvin’s claims, he rejects Niceas doctrine about the divinity of the Son, and rather affirms that all three persons of the Trinity are autotheos. He also rejects the teaching of the councils you list concerning baptismal regeneration and other points as well. So it doesn’t really matter what Calvinsays he adheres to with respect to the council names. What matters is whether his theology maps theirs relative to their synodal definitions and canonical teachings.

          • robertar says:

            Perry,
            All I can say is that I’m completely dumbfounded by what you just said and don’t know how to respond to your remarks. I’m pretty sure I read Calvin and the Reformed creeds correctly.

          • Tim Enloe says:

            Right, Perry. Because logical consistency, 100% with all points, is what really counts. By that standard, we’re all screwed.

          • Tim, First, my initial comment is stuck in moderation.

            Second, you misread my remarks. I am talking about IDEAS, not being a receiver of GRACE. Your remarks depend on conflating these two. I am talking about Calvin’s IDEAS, since the CLAIM made by Cavlinists is that their IDEAS are the same IDEAS as the councils. But then I am supposedly not able to evaluate their claims because if I do, then we are all “screwed.” If that were so then the Reformers would have no initial or continuing leg to stand on, including you. So again, I think you misread my remarks.

          • Canadian says:

            Tim,
            You said:
            “Because logical consistency, 100% with all points, is what really counts. By that standard,
            we’re all screwed.”

            That’s not the point at all. The point is when someone spews out that they adhere to Nicea or
            Chalcedon but then you find that they only adhere to a rough framework of such, or single point here
            or there, or deny what they don’t like, or change concepts of original meanings….then they do not
            adhere to the Council. This is what it means to have authority, and the NT portrays the church has this kind
            of authority.

          • Robert,

            Also Classical Protestants or those of the magisterial tradition do not accept all seven. Anglicans per article 35, Homily 2, do not accept 2nd Nicea. The same is true for the Lutherans. And the Reformed certaintly reject it as well.

          • Jonathan Bonomo says:

            Robert,

            To your question: the primary images would be the sacraments, the cross, and the congregation. Beyond that, I’m open to liberty and discussion on certain things. I think a lot of the Reformed concern, in addition to the second commandment, has to do with a seeming covering over of those images the Lord has clearly ordained in his word.

            I admit Calvin makes stark statements. I’m not saying his view is compatible with Orthodoxy, because it’s not. I’m just saying that I think he was a little more balanced that what your post here allows. Further, as you know, he’s not the sole standard for the Reformed.

            Lastly, thank you for you charitable interpretation of the Reformed over against Perry. He and I have been down this road before, and he is utterly convinced beyond possibility of correction that the Reformed hold a full-blown Nestorian Christology. See, for instance, our interaction here: http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/shibboleth/

          • Jonathan, I am no more convinced than Reformed writers such ad McCormack, Muller and Barth, among others. It is hardly idiosyncratic. Spencer’s got the same reading of Owen as well in his recent work on Owen’s Christology.

            Second, your remarks leave the explicit evidence I cite here untouched. Ursinus obviously has a problem.

            Third, The Shibboleth post is directed against “Turetinfan” who seems to have a special devotion to Theodoret of Cyrus as well as a problem in his christology. The fact is that WCF 8.2 has a problem in the way it is formulated relative to Chalcedon. Again, I am not alone nor the first in saying so.

            So your denials really just leave my remarks and evidence in place. So unless you or anyone else can provide a reason for thinking the assessment given by Reformed and non-Reformed specialists along with my own is mistaken your insinuation that I am somehow biased is vaccuous.

          • Tim Enloe says:

            On the logical consistency point, Perry, I was thinking of it in terms of that old e-mail of yours I read (if you got my note on that). Your case is supremely logical, from what I can tell, but as a philosopher you know that logic isn’t everything. Logic only tests validity of arguments , not their truth.

            Just because the Reformation arguments violate your logical analysis of their coherence with classical Christology doesn’t mean they are false – you are assuming as your baseline that the classical arguments are entirely correct, and if your analysis of the Reformed sources are right, either they simply misunderstand the classical arguments or they don’t believe they are entirely true. That’s a factor I don’t see appearing in your analysis, and I think it’s because of your prior assumption of the “unrevisability” of the Councils.

            All that to say that *I* am not saying the Councils are wrong. I’m doing what I can to understand your arguments, but not having read most of what you’ve read, a good bit of the substance of your arguments is lost on me. I can see the flow of your logic, but since logic isn’t the sole criterion of truth, I can’t just accept what you say as being gospel truth. I’m glad you’re only talking about IDEAS and not reception of GRACE, but IDEAS aren’t everything.

          • Jnorm says:

            Robert,

            What Perry said about the Reformed is true. He is right about the Lutherans saying this(their Nestorian tendencies) about the Reformed for centuries, and in turn the Reformed called the Lutheran view “eutychian” for centuries. Perry is also right about the number of Reformed scholars who admit it.

            Yes, the Reformed claim to hold to some of the councils, but when you look at their interpretation, then you will see that the councils that they do accept are re-interpreted in light of their confessions.

            Also, their view about a number of issues aren’t exactly the view that the councils had in mind. They do this not only with the ecumenical councils, but they also do this with the Apostles Creed. For what is their interpretation of Christ descent into Hell/Hades? Do they really have the same interpretation as those who put that part into the creed? Also, in regards to the ecumenical councils, what is their interpretation of “one baptism for the remission of sins”, “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”…..etc.

            They have a totally different interpretation. What they believe about those things is not what those at the councils believed.

  6. Tim Enloe says:

    Actually, from what I can tell, this is a fairly balanced piece. Robert acknowledges the limitations of Calvin’s sources, the primarily anti-Romanist stance of his treatment of the issues, and also the very different theological starting points regarding the incarnation. It would be possible for Orthodox folks to take what Robert says here and get all polemical against Calvinism, but that doesn’t seem necessary from what he’s written.

    Icons are an issue that has interested me for several years. About 7 years ago I tried to study the issue out in some depth, but got bogged down in the literature and never completed my study. Also, Christology in terms of its practical effects on other loci of theology is not something I understand very well – again, for lack of proper time to study it out.

    • David says:

      Thanks Jonathan, I’ll try to find the article and get us all a link when I have more time to look…

      And thanks Tim for your comments. It’s certainly a bigger issue than just this article (though Robert handles Calvin fairly) and I’d be interested in what you find. Now reading Jaroslav Pelikan’s _The Spirit of Eastern Christendom Vol II (600-1700) on this very subject.

    • You might find this article, and the articles it links to useful:

      The Icon FAQ: Answers to common questions about icons

      • Tim Enloe says:

        Thanks. I’ll give it a look. For the record, I’m not completely ignorant of Christology. I think I understand the basic categories. It’s just tracing out the various claims of implication from the categories that I find difficult. I.e., how does Nestorianism relate to one’s doctrine of predestination, etc.

      • Eric says:

        Father John, Bless…
        Thank you father…that was a helpful article.

  7. David says:

    Here’s Randall Zachman’s “Image and Word in the Theology of John Calvin” book at Amazon:
    http://www.amazon.com/Image-Word-Theology-John-Calvin/dp/0268045003

  8. Ansgar Olav says:

    ***“I personally wish everyone would just stay put where God has placed them – it would make for a much more rich, honest, and diverse expression of Christianity.”***

    Should I have stayed in my Scofield Bible churches? Should my family have stayed in the Assemblies of God?

    • Yes, and I accidentally make this point above to Kevin. I know that he has been affiliated with CREC, SBC, and an Anglican church himself, in addition to his own church plant he had for awhile where he served as pastor, and I don’t believe it was affiliated with any of those groups.

      I have friends who are staying put where they are for reasons of conviction. And I admire that. But, like my friend Presbyterian pastor George Grant says, if you see it, you’re called to it. When I saw Orthodoxy as the Church, I was called. Period.

      • John the second says:

        So we shouldn’t try to find the fullness of the Christian Faith? We should just stick to whatever spot we’re at? And if I was raised JW or Mormon, I should stick there too? At what point do we draw the line between “stay where you are put” and “but not outside this designated line we arbitrarily place here”? Yes, covert if you are Mormon or JW but not if you are Oneness Pentecostal or Seventh Day Adventist (whom I’ve seen called a cult by more than a few Protestants from multiple denominations).

        This is all very confusing. If we are seeking Truth, we shouldn’t just “stay where we are put” (assuming that where we are put is the spot where God wants us to stay). That logic only goes so far before it becomes absurd.

        • John,
          I’m thinking of one friend in particular who is not convinced that Orthodoxy is the fullness of the faith. He has chosen to stay put in his Presbyterian Church and submit to the elders. If he were ever convinced otherwise, he would move on.

          I admire his obedience and steadfastness. I still think he should be Orthodox, but until his conscience on the matter changes, it would be dishonest for him to do anything else than stay put.

          That’s all I’m saying.
          Jamey

  9. “The starting point of Calvin’s Institutes is the question: How can we know God? In Book I of Calvin’s Institutes we see Calvin denying the possibility of knowing God through creation but affirming the possibility of knowing God through the Scriptures.

    We have taught that the knowledge of God, otherwise quite clearly set forth in the system of the universe and in all creatures, is nonetheless more intimately and also more vividly revealed in his Word (Institutes 1.10.1).”

    I’m an Orthodox Christian and I definitely appreciated this post. However, I don’t think Calvin was blatantly rejecting natural revelation here. It’s a matter of degrees – “more intimately and more vividly revealed.” Even as an Orthodox Christian, to some extent I would still make a small distinction between “the heavens declare the glory of God” and “thus saith the Lord.” Natural revelation is good and godly. We offer it back to God and God in turn gives us grace through matter. But the Holy Scriptures are, after all, the soil on which Tradition is planted, and both are the lens through which the entire revealed universe is beheld.

    That said, I certainly understand Calvin’s negative implications for icons and that the word made flesh just cannot measure up to sola scriptura in his theology. And so in the end I agree, I just wanted to highlight this minuscule detail.

    • Natural revelation and natural theology aren’t the same concepts.

      Also, Calvin’s view stems in part from his anthropology, particularly pre-lapsarian anthropology of something like “natural grace” where righteousness is a constituent of human nature. Consequently revelation of God qua grace is is natural. But since nature has been intrinsically altered, it must come through scripture.

      • Perry,
        Definitely hear you on this, and I can see why you distinguish natural revelation and natural theology.

        Still, I think Alison is onto something. Robert quotes Calvin saying “the knowledge of God [is] quite clearly set forth in the system of the universe and in all creatures,” but then Robert cites this as evidence of “Calvin denying the possibility of knowing God through creation.”

        Perhaps there is a better, more clear quote from Calvin on this issue that would demonstrate such a denial more clearly.

        Jamey

      • I suppose I’d have to go back and reread the Institutes to understand the larger context of this passage. It is my understanding that although natural theology and natural revelation are not the same concepts, they go hand in hand. It would appear that knowledge of God’s attributes through creation (natural revelation) would lead to actually knowing God (natural theology). For Calvin, natural revelation pretty much exists to condemn us as sinners, and so it makes sense that natural theology is not quite enough, either. Problem with Robert’s logic is really just a missing premise. But I still stand by my statement that Orthodoxy would not necessarily have a problem with the slight hierarchy, since the Holy Scriptures are the soil on which the Church is planted. I also saw that Jonathan Bonomo made a similar point.

  10. Kevin says:

    On what basis may the various ecclesial bodies pick and choose which of the Ecumenical Councils they will accept as “legitimate”. May we as individual Christians exercise that same discretion?

  11. drake says:

    “Calvin’s theological system rests on two major premises: (1) that God is utterly transcendent and unknowable, and (2) God’s transcendence is bridged by means of divine revelation, particularly the Bible as the Word of God. ..The Orthodox Church’s veneration of icons flows from the deep structure of patristic theology. The Orthodox theological system rests on two premises: (1) that God is a Triune Being utterly transcendent and unknowable, and (2) that God’s transcendence has been bridged through the Incarnation of the Son.”

    What the Eastern Church has done is just what the Liberals of the late 19th and early 20th century did. That is, they drive a wedge between words and The Word. Gordon Clark says,

    “According to the Apostle John and according to Jesus, the Word of God, the Logos, and the words, the propositions, the cognitive content, are identical; and this conceptual content is ‘the real thing. (pg. 69)…John 17:17 says, ‘Sanctify them by the truth; thy word, doctrine, argument, theory is truth.; Just a page or two back the logos-word and the rheema-word were seen to be identical. Thus the truth here that sanctifies is the message of the Scripture. Sanctification is basically an intellectual process. No doubt it eventuates in external conduct; but before one can act rightly, one must think rightly; and so we are sanctified by truth. The idea is repeated in verse 19: ‘I sanctify myself for them, in order that they may sanctify themselves by truth.” (The Johannine Logos pg. 71)

    Yet the East, the Liberals and confused Evangelicals object that this is Judaical and Pharisaical because the Pharisees knew much theology, but were not saved. Jesus said in John 5:46 “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. 47 “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” You see the Jews knew some theology but they did not believe it. Dr. Clark says,

    “One of the Pharisees’ sins was hypocrisy: they did not believe what they said they believed (pg. 76)…The fault of the Jews was not their honoring of the truth as such; if they believed that the truth saves they were right. Their sin was that what they honored and believed was not the truth. They did not believe Moses and the prophets. It was for this that Jesus condemned them. He did not condemn their alleged rationalism, intellectualism, or respect for the truth. The difference between the Jews and Jesus lay in the propositions believed.( The Johannine Logos , pg. 77)

    John 8:43 “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word[logos]. The Logos here refers to a logical and propositional argument in verse 42 not an experience or encounter. There is no separation between believing in someone and believing what that person says. Thus the following verses:

    John 4:21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

    John 8:31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;

    John 5: 46 “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. 47 “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

    The term logos refers to a proposition or a series of propositions in the scripture. The Logos in John 1 is the Second Person of the Trinity. The Logos is the Holy Wisdom of God. There is some similarity in the way Heraclitus used it, and Augustine asserted that it was the Logos himself directing the ancient Greek Philosophers to reason and away from their immoral and irrational pantheon of vice stricken gods and goddesses.

    Dr. Clark says,
    “Accordingly, there is no great gap between the propositions alluded to and Christ himself. The Platonic Ideas, as interpreted by Philo, and by him called Logos are the mind of God. Some of these Ideas are given to us in the words of John, or in the words of Christ recorded by John. This is how Christ communicates himself to us. Is it completely ridiculous to suggest that this is why John uses the term logos for these two superficially different purposes?” (pg. 119 What is Saving Faith?)

    John 2:22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
    Here the object of faith is a proposition.

    John 10:35 “If he called them gods, to whom the word [logos] of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken)

    John 12:48 “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings [rhēma], has one who judges him; the word [logos] I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.

    John 5:21 “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.22 “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son,23 so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
    Here the logos is identified with the rhemata or words as such. The Word is therefore not a silent experience or an energy or as Ignatius of Antioch says in his Letter to the Magnesians 8,

    “For this reason also they were persecuted. But they were inspired by his gracious gift, so that the disobedient became fully convinced that there is one God, who manifested himself through Jesus Christ his Son, who is his Word that came forth from silence, who was pleasing in every way to the one who sent him.” (The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 1, ed. Ehrman [Loeb Classical Library], pg. 249.)

    Ignatius was also known for his assertion that, “Silence is the language of heaven.” Language is therefore created on this view. In this case, language will ALWAYS be incapable of expressing the fullness of God. That is the anchoretic view of the Eastern Church. Yet Christ says to the Father , John 17:8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. Again, John 8:40 “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God.” The language that Jesus gives us is the language that was given to him by the Father. The idea that God’s realm is silent in the sense that there is no language is wrong There is also no modulation of the language necessary for language is eternal, uncreated and part of the thinking of God himself. Moreover, in John 6:63 Jesus refers to the fact that his words ARE SPIRIT! There is nothing terrestrial, carnal and mere about words. Dr. Clark says,

    “Rheemata in a very literal sense are the sounds that comes out of one’s mouth when one speaks. These are not thought; they are sounds in the air; they are the symbols of thoughts. When people belittle ‘mere words’ they confuse the thought with the symbol. A proposition is the thought symbolized; the sentence is the symbol. Es regnet, il pleut, and it is raining are three sentences; but they are one proposition.” (pg. 121 What is Saving Faith?)

    Some will object that this is too intellectual and leans Gnostic. They will complain that Christianity emphasizes faith, love and obedience not knowledge. Thus, 2 Peter 1:3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Here there is no dialectic between faith and knowledge. Clark says,

    “the knowledge of which the Gnostics boasted was a theory of cosmology, including highly imaginative accounts of what happened before Genesis 1:1…The Gnostics knew, or believed in, thirty eons, a docetic incarnation, and a pseudo-atonement. The Christians believed a different set of propositions.” (pg. 36, What is Saving Faith?)
    H.H. Price whom Dr. Clark deals with on pages 20-25 of What is Saving Faith, distinguishes between knowledge in and knowledge that which he calls a “propositional attitude.” This distinction emphasizes the object of belief to be a person and not what the person says. Yet we have already demonstrated that this dialectic is not scriptural and the opposite is the case.The same point is made in Calvin’s Institutes 1.9 where he refutes the idea that the word and the Spirit are separate.

  12. cynthia curran says:

    Some valid points here but early icons of Christ he is beardless. In fact I believe that from Justinian the second, the one with a slit nose emperor who had Christ on his coins that Christ was then always with a beard. Also, the Byzantine empire as everyone is aware fight over the issue I believe in the late 7th century to the early 9th century, so sometimes it wasn’t an easy issue.

    • robertar says:

      Cynthia, Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Thank you for your feedback. You’re right, the issue of icons was not an easy issue. The iconoclasm controversy which spanned the 7th and 8th centuries was a rather complex affair.

      Robert

  13. Pingback: On early christian art: a response to a protestant professor pt. 1 « Letters on Orthodoxy

  14. David Brent says:

    Hi Robert.

    I have referenced your post in a reply I made at One in Jesus.info.
    Hope you are well. May God continue to bless your work.

    http://oneinjesus.info/2012/07/atonement-2-0-investigating-the-orthodox-perspective/#comment-384957

    • robertar says:

      Hi David,

      I appreciate your mentioning the OrthodoxBridge at One in Jesus. Looks like there’s some interesting discussion going on there.

      Robert

  15. Tony Baxter says:

    Calvin was correct and I am sorry to say but most (many) churches are running as fast as they can back to where Calvin came for. The early Churches in the USA did not have pictures of the shepherd dude and crosses. And they sung the psalms of David and did not go shopping on the Lord’s Day. Also thanks for the work that you are doing here at the Orthodox Bridge, I am a Protestants, Protestants but I love learning about the Russian and Greek Orthodox Church. Peace

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