Catholic use of Icons and Statues

One of the most common misconceptions among the Catholic teaching is the used of sacred images and statues. Most of our Protestant brothers would find it very hard to understand why we used such things when it comes to expressing our faith. Some believed that Catholics have acquired it from their predecessor -the once was pagan Rome and some would just say that Catholics are purely pagan hiding under the cloak of Christianity.

Are Catholics really pagans? Do Catholics have worship strange gods other than the One True God? Have they violated the commandment of God in Exodus 20:4-6 which states:

"You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."

If you ask a non-Catholic the answer would be a big "Yes, it is too obvious that Catholics worships images and statues like pagans do. You can see it in their Church, in their homes, the crucifix, the statues of saints and of Mary, and of Jesus and their image thereof."
This would have been a common notion as most of them believe that God have prohibited anything that will represent Him including images and statues (Exodus 20:4-6, Leviticus 26:1, Deuteronomy 27:15 and many others).

On the other side, I was once asks a Catholic man before the same context of question, why do you pray to idols and images? And why do you keep images at home? The answer he has given was "No, I never worship those only God deserves to be adored and worship and yes I keep images for it reminds me that God is real, for every time I woke up in the morning I see them and it inspires and supplement my understanding to the gospels and my faith in God."

Do Catholic Really Worship Images?

If we clearly observed how Catholics used images and statues in their Churches at homes and other religious events, we can definitely say that they are really worshiping the said object which would have been a clear violation of God's commandments about idols and images. But the question poses, are they worshipping it? The answer to that is NO. Why? Because the foundation from which the Catholic Church established Himself is of Jesus Christ. Idolatry is strictly prohibited in the Church Doctrines.

For a better and clearer understanding on how the Catholic Church Teaching on veneration of sacred images means we shall look into the Catechism of the Catholic Church about what it stands on it.

CCC states that:

The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it." The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone:
Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is. (CCC 2132)

Image worship as what our Protestant brothers would say is not what they think it is rather just pure respect of the images due to what it portrays. We do not worship the image rather the one inspired by it as in the Case of Jesus and we give veneration as in the case of the Mary and Saints.

Did God allow the use of statues for worship?

Another doctrinal issue within the Catholic Church teachings that raises the eyebrows of our brothers in different faith is the use of statues within our Church. Did God allow the use of it for worship? The answer is of course very clear in Exodus 20:4-5 which clearly indicates the restriction of worshiping any graven images or carved statues, which is also true to the Catholic teachings as indicated in our Catechism which states:

The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of "idols, (of) silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see." These empty idols make their worshippers empty: "Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them." God, however, is the "living God" who gives life and intervenes in history. (CCC 2112)

The Catholic stand on the use of statues is purely for religious purposes only as we believe that God did prohibit the worship of any form of statues as it leads to idolatry but in any case does not prohibit the religious use of it with the exclusion of worshipping such things.

Do the Catholic Teaching Regarding icons and statues have any Biblical Reference?

Of course, there are a lot passages that supports the use of images and statues which in turn support the Catholics' use of sacred images and statues. One fine example is in the bible passage of the Book of Numbers 21:8(NIV)

The Lord said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live."

Here is a vivid example of God using images for religious purposes, we all know that God forbids worshipping of images but in this passage clearly defines that He does not forbid the use of images for religious purposes. The question remains, if in the commandment in the book of Exodus about graven images taken on a strict observance, Is God contradicting Himself? God forbids the creation of images and yet in this passage He orders his servant Moses to create one.

God is definitely not contradicting any of His teaching even though He commanded us in avoiding the creation of graven images to be worshipped but He does not limit the use of images in religious matter.

Another example is the Ark of the Covenant, it has been designed by God and yet it is designed with Cherubim (Exodus 25: 17-22), people are even worshipping God here but are they worshipping the statues?.

There are other passages that we can see God commanded his people to create statues.
1 Kings 6:23-28, 1 Kings 7:23- 39



Zion said...

Personally, I don't really see what's wrong with religious worship using images. People have this attitude of to see is to believe and images/statues are probably the closest thing they could get to seeing an entity.