Monday, September 24, 2007

Word and Image

Our world loves its pictures. Since I have to admit that I am often more at ease with pictures than words (I find TV 'easier' than books, for example), I was challenged by Dr. Calvin once again.

During the Reformation period, the image debate involved a discussion of images as 'books for the unlearned'. Pope Gregory had previously defended the use of images (Letters IX) as a helpful way to disciple the uneducated masses. Here is Calvin speaking to this issue from Institutes (I.11.7):

"What purpose did it serve for so many crosses -- of wood, stone, silver, and gold -- to be erected here and there in the churches, if this fact had been duly and faithfully taught: that Christ died on the cross to bear our curse [Gal.3:13], to expiate our sins by the sacrifice of his body [Heb. 10:10], to wash them by his blood [Rev. 1:15], in short to reconcile us to God the Father [Rom. 5:10]? From this one fact they could have learned more than from a thousand crosses of wood or stone."

To be sure, Calvin made allowances for images in private homes and the depiction of histories, etc... But here Calvin's argument was that the abundance of religious images was a byproduct of the Church's failure to preach faithfully the whole counsel of God. Rather than 'books for the unlearned', some saw images as unfortunate substitutes for sound teaching.

Later puritan biblicism and iconophobia were, in many ways, efforts to preserve the richness of the Gospel. Rather than images, the puritan mind saw The Bible as 'the book for the unlearned'. Where the uneducated were concerned, the remedy was to preach the Word, not to paint it.


Anonymous said...

AAhh....but those paintings they put in the Word were nice too!

Biblical Anglican

Bridges said...

Biblical Anglican,

Thanks for the comment!

Just so I understand, who are the 'they' you mention ('they' in general or a specific 'they')?

Anonymous said...

Many early Bibles had hand painted pictures in them. Also, the HOURS BOOK were repleat with illumined pictures. Good stuff.

Biblical Anglican


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