“You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow down to them or serve them” Exodus 20:4–5. This is the second of the Ten Commandments.
Despite this concise unambiguous statement in the Old Testament, images of God appear in specific religious contexts. Let the reader be the judge of these situations:
The Sistine Chapel is inside the residence of the Pope in Vatican City. On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are the famous frescos of Michelangelo completed in1512. Among these masterpieces is one clearly depicting God entitled “The Creation of Adam”.
God is an old man with a white beard giving life to a naked Adam as described in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him” Genesis 1:27.
The argument for the making of heavenly images quotes Exodus 25:18–20-and God said “you shall make two cherubim of gold of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat”. This is the best old testament argument to counter one of the Ten Commandments in Exodus20:4-5 and this refers to generic decorative cherubs.
I have found specific statues and paintings of Padre Eterno-God the Father- in Italy, Mexico, and Guatemala. There are likely many more statues of God throughout the world.
The Council of Nicaea 787 AD attempted to “legalize” the traditional religious art: “We therefor, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady, the Mother of God, of the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people. For by so much more frequently as they are seen in artistic representation, by so much more readily are men lifted up to the memory of their prototypes, and to a longing after them; and to these should be given due salutation and honorable reverence not indeed that true worship of faith which pertains alone to the divine nature; but to these, as to the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross and to the Book of the Gospels and to the other holy objects, incense and lights may be offered according to ancient pious custom. For the honor which is paid to the image passes on to that which the image represents, and he who reveres the image reveres in it the subject represented…”
In other words the feelings paid to the image passes on to what that image represents.If the image passes on–what reference or to what does it pass on to? The initial source must be the words of the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments.
Pope Gregory 604AD “What books are to those who can read, that is a picture to the ignorant who look at it; in a picture even the unlearned may see what example they should follow; in a picture they who know no letters may yet read. Hence, for barbarians especially a picture takes the place of a book”.
Thus if you cannot read then pictures and statues are substitutes for the Old Testament-what then is the role of the clergy?
St. Thomas Aquinas 1543, Counncil of Trent, “…images of Christ, the Virgin Mother of God, and other saints are to be held and kept especially in churches, that due honor and reverence are to be paid to them, not that any divinity or power is thought to be in them for the sake of which they may be worshipped, or that anything can be asked of them, or that any trust may be put in images, as was done by the heathen who put their trust in their idols, but because the honor shown to them is referred to the prototypes which they represent…”
Does this exclude images of God since God is not included in this statement? Most churches do not have images of God.
In order to be objective about the role of Santos we will review some of the prayers used to honor specific Saints:
To Saint Michael:
“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits…”
To the Virgin of Guadelupe:
“Dear Mother, we love you. We thank you for your promise to help us in our need. We trust in your love that dries our tears and comforts us. Teach us to find our peace in your Son, Jesus every day of our lives.
Help us to build a shrine in our hearts. Make it as beautiful as the one built for you on the Mount of Tepeyac. A shrine full of trust, hope, and love of Jesus growing stronger each day.
Mary, you have chosen to remain with us by giving us your most wonderful and holy self-image on Juan Diego’s cloak. May we feel your loving presence as we look upon your face. Like Juan, give us the courage to bring your message of hope to everyone.
You are our Mother and our inspiration. Hear our prayers and answer us.
To Saint Anthony:
“St. Anthony, gentlest of Saints, your love for God and charity for his creatures, made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited on your word, which you were ready to speak for those in trouble or anxiety. Encouraged by this thought, I ask you to obtain for me the favors that I seek (mention your request here).
The answer to my prayer may require a miracle, even so, you are the Saint of Miracles.
O gentle and loving St. Anthony, whose heart was full of sympathy, whisper my petition into the ears of the Infant Jesus, who loved to be held in your arms; and the gratitude of my heart will ever by yours. Amen.”
These prayers are specific requests to a specific resident of heaven to do specific things. These prayers are usually done in front of a Santo. Please remember St. Thomas Aquinas”… not that any divinity or power is thought to be in them
[santos] for the sake of which they may be worshipped, or that anything can be asked of them, or that any trust may be put in images…”
The iconoclasts in the eighth and ninth centuries, tried to remove from the church all religious art that represented God and the saints. Religious ideas to them were the essence of religion. However, the Church argued successfully that such art could be permitted and the main arguments are listed above. It is quite clear that a statue or painting cannot be God or a Saint.
However what is more important, rhetoric or behavior? What do you believe and what do you do?