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Church History discuss Tradition of Luke painting the "first icon"? in the The Church forums; To all the church history buffs (because I don't have time to track it down for myself!): I've found it common for Eastern Orthodox (and ...

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    wturri78's Avatar
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    Question Tradition of Luke painting the "first icon"?

    To all the church history buffs (because I don't have time to track it down for myself!): I've found it common for Eastern Orthodox (and others, sometimes) to claim that Luke created the first "icon" of Mary with Jesus. One or two articles claimed that this tradition was alluded to in some early church writings, including Esubius' history of the church.

    Any idea how/when this belief came into being, how widely it may have been believed, and whether there is any factual basis for it? Obviously uncovering factual basis for anything that old can be a challenge.

    Apparently though, iconography does show up pretty early in history, although from what little I've read, icons weren't widely used in public worship until the 4th or 5th century.
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    I've read that before, however, it has never been proven. It is all speculation from what I understand......although the Eastern Orthodox Church does hold to it. Personally, I doubt that the Apostle Luke would have painted such icons of Mary and Jesus because it would have violated the second commandment. But, that's just my personal opinion. Here is what I pulled from Wikipedia:

    "Another Christian tradition states that he [referring to the Apostle Luke] was the first iconographer, and painted pictures of the Virgin Mary (The Black Madonna of Częstochowa) and of Peter and Paul. Thus late medieval guilds of St Luke in the cities of Flanders, or the Accademia di San Luca ("Academy of St Luke") in Rome, imitated in many other European cities during the 16th century, gathered together and protected painters. There is no scientific evidence to support the tradition that Luke painted icons of Mary and Jesus, though it was widely believed in earlier centuries, particularly in Eastern Orthodoxy. The tradition also has support from the Saint Thomas Christians of India who claim to still have one of the Theotokos icons that St Luke painted and Thomas brought to India.[18]

    *I added the section in bold.
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    Thanks for the thoughts! Presuppositions abound in all attempts to discern history. I tend to agree with you, that Luke would not have painted an image of Christ due to the 2nd commandment--but on the other hand, that's only because of that interpretation of the 2nd commandment. I've read many arguments about iconography based on the incarnation, etc. and I have to say I straddle the line and am still quite undecided about images of Christ. At least the eastern artwork does not claim to attempt to actually portray what the person looked like. Catholic images, on the other hand, end up with Mary and Jesus looking awfully European! To say nothing of Hollywood...

    Boy, did I digress, or what?

    I guess this tradition belongs in the category with many more--things that were claimed and held by people (apparently) quite early in history, and we can never validate or disprove them. Perhaps things like these fall into the category of "myths and endless geneologies" that really don't matter much and should not be allowed to divide Christians. Although, they often touch on matters that can, have, and possibly should divide Christians.

    Still, a question that often is in my mind is this: if some early father or other figure who we would generally trust, and who holds to beliefs and perhaps traditions that we believe, also believes something like a tradition of St. Luke painting an icon, does that in any way lend credibility to that tradition?



    If anyone else knows anything more about this (like who first claimed it, how widely it was held, etc.) I'd be quite interested to know.
    Bill in Dayton, OH
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    Quote Originally Posted by wturri78 View Post
    Still, a question that often is in my mind is this: if some early father or other figure who we would generally trust, and who holds to beliefs and perhaps traditions that we believe, also believes something like a tradition of St. Luke painting an icon, does that in any way lend credibility to that tradition?



    If anyone else knows anything more about this (like who first claimed it, how widely it was held, etc.) I'd be quite interested to know.
    I stand to be corrected, but I doubt that Eusebius of Caesarea would have recorded any alleged account of Luke having painted a picture and/or image of Christ, especially since Eusebius was personally opposed to icons. But he did mention the following...
    Eusebius of Caesarea (d. 339): 1 Since I have mentioned this city I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. For they say that the woman with an issue of blood, who, as we learn from the sacred Gospel, received from our Saviour deliverance from her affliction, came from this place, and that her house is shown in the city, and that remarkable memorials of the kindness of the Saviour to her remain there. For there stands upon
    2 an elevated stone, by the gates of her house, a brazen image of a woman kneeling, with her hands stretched out, as if she were praying. Opposite this is another upright image of a man, made of the same material, clothed decently in a double cloak, and extending his hand toward the woman. At his feet, beside the statue itself, is a certain strange plant, which climbs up to the hem of the brazen cloak, and is a remedy for all kinds of diseases. They say that this statue is an image of
    3 Jesus. It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city. Nor is it strange that those
    4 of the Gentiles who, of old, were benefited by our Saviour, should have done such things, since we have learned also that the likenesses of his apostles Paul and Peter, and of Christ himself, are preserved in paintings,140 the ancients being accustomed, as it is likely, according to a habit of the Gentiles, to pay this kind of honor indiscriminately to those regarded by them as deliverers. NPNF2: Vol. I, The Church History of Eusebius, Book 7, Chapter 18.
    Irenaeus makes reference to a Gnostic tradition concerning an image of Christ alleged to have been "made" by Pilate...

    Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200): Others of them employ outward marks, branding their disciples inside the lobe of the right ear. From among these also arose Marcellina, who came to Rome under [the episcopate of] Anicetus, and, holding these doctrines, she led multitudes astray. They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honouring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles. ANF: Vol. I, Against Heresies, 1:25:6.
    DTK

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    Thanks, DTK. You are truly a goldmine of material that many of us wouldn't know to look for! I don't know whether Eseubius recorded the story of Luke--it's unclear from the following exerpt I read, written by a Coptic guy about the history of icons--he doesn't cite sources and it's unclear to me whether the bit about Luke is associated with Eseubius or not. The one that you quoted, about the woman with the flow of blood, is referenced here. Emphasis and bracketed comments are mine:

    Although Christianity prohibited the worship of idols, the use of icons in the
    proper way was not banned due to the reasons mentioned before. History relates
    that the use of icons in the Church has its Christian roots from the time of
    Christ. There is a number of historical documents for these. First, it is
    known that the Evangelist Luke was a talented painter [how is this "known?"]
    as well as a physician.
    He painted an icon presenting the Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus, which
    many churches all over the world later on copied. Also, in a reference
    mentioned that the historian "Van Celub" found an icon of the Archangel
    Michael during his visit to a Cathedral in Alexandria, that was made by the
    Apostle Luke. Second, an icon the Savior made without hands, goes back to the
    first century when king Abagar of Edessa (located between the two rivers,
    Euphrates and Tigris, an area in eastern Iraq) sent a message with his envoy
    Ananius to the Lord Jesus Christ to ask if He could visit the king to heal
    him. The king suffered from diseases and he wished to the Lord would come and
    live in his kingdom. Ananius the envoy was a talented artist, and tried to
    paint a picture of the Lord, however the glory and the perfect appearance of
    the Lord was so great that he was unable to do so. The story says that the
    envoy went back to the king with a piece of cloth that had an image of
    Christ's face. The image of the Holy Face of Christ healed the king of his
    diseases in the absence of Christ himself, the Holy image had power to effect
    the healing of the king. The legend is saying virtually the same as St Paul
    says "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass of the Lord, are
    changed into the same image from glory even as by the spirit of the Lord"
    [2-Cor 3:18]. This story and the two letters were copied word for word and
    published (in pages 56 and 57) in the book of "The History of the Church" by
    the early Christian historian Eusebius of Caesaria [264-340 A.D.].
    Third,
    another story of early icon use involves the woman in [Luke 8:43] that Jesus
    Christ healed from a twelve year bleeding. The woman had drawn on the door of
    her house (in village of Banias, near the source of the Jordan river) a
    representation of Christ and another of herself lying prostrate at his feet.
    The historian Eusebius of Caesaria has cited this in his book "The History of
    the Church" after he saw the image at the woman's house which was still intact
    at the time of his visit in the 3rd century.
    The source of the quote is here: http://www.coptic.net/articles/CopticIcons.txt

    In what you've cited, both make reference to the painting of pictures or making of statues as gentile practices, basically done to honor people of importance. Even if the use of various icons occurred early in church history, that doesn't necessarily mean that the whole mystical-sounding theology of "windows into heaven" was tied to them that early.
    Bill in Dayton, OH
    Member of Redeemer OPC

    "Show me Your ways, O LORD;
    Teach me Your paths.
    Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
    For You are the God of my salvation;
    On You I wait all the day." (Psalm 25:4-5)

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    Dear Bill,

    Thank you for your kind words.

    Blessings,
    DTK

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