The perspective of Pope Gregory I on Images/Icons.

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SebastianClinciuJJ

Puritan Board Freshman
I discovered this interesting opinion of Gregory I while reading from the History of the Byzantine Empire's take on the Iconoclastic Controversy.

This is what Vasilievsky wrote concerning Gregory I and the "Iconoclastic Controversy" of his day:
There were instances of attacks upon images and of the destruction of some icons in the seventh century. In western Europe the bishop of Massilia (Marseilles) at the end of the sixth century ordered that all icons be removed from the churches and destroyed. Pope Gregory I the Great wrote to him praising him for his zeal in advocating that nothing created by human hands should serve as an object of adoration

The view of Gregory I is clearly expressed in his Letter 105, from book IX of his Epistolarum libri:
Furthermore we notify to you that it has come to our ears that your Fraternity, seeing certain adorers of images [lat.: imaginum adoratores], broke and threw down these same images in Churches. And we commend you indeed for your zeal against anything made with hands being an object of adoration [lat.: ne quid manufactum adorari posset]; but we signify to you that you ought not to have broken these images. For pictorial representation is made use of in Churches for this reason; that such as are ignorant of letters may at least read by looking at the walls what they cannot read in books. Your Fraternity therefore should have both preserved the images and prohibited the people from adoration of them, to the end that both those who are ignorant of letters might have wherewith to gather a knowledge of the history, and that the people might by no means sin by adoration of a pictorial representation.
(Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 13. & MPL 77:1027-1028)

And also in Letter 13, from book XI of his Epistolarum libri:
For indeed it had been reported to us that, inflamed with inconsiderate zeal, you had broken images of saints, as though under the plea that they ought not to be adored . And indeed in that you forbade them to be adored, we altogether praise you [lat.: Et quidem quia eas adorari vetuisses, omnino laudavimus]; but we blame you for having broken them. Say, brother, what priest has ever been heard of as doing what you have done? If nothing else, should not even this thought have restrained you, so as not to despise other brethren, supposing yourself only to be holy and wise? For to adore a picture is one thing, but to learn through the story of a picture what is to be adored is another. For what writing presents to readers, this a picture presents to the unlearned who behold, since in it even the ignorant see what they ought to follow; in it the illiterate read. [...] And if any one should wish to make images, by no means prohibit him, but by all means forbid the adoration of images.
(Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 13. & MPL 77:1128-1130)

I know that Calvin rejected the view of Gregory I. So even though Gregory's perspective is non considered to be the best by Reformed thinkers, I think his example is a good one to show the development of the use of images in the Church and the weakness of the arguments of those who say that the veneration of images/icons is an Apostolic practice that has been universally accepted, since Luke was the first "icon painter"(a tradition used by some).

Now, I am sure some Catholic apologists can play around words (adorare/venerari etc.), but to me it seems very clear that Pope Gregory I's teaching is not in harmony with the teaching of the Second Council of Nicaea.

Greetings in Christ,
Sebastian
 
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Aco

Puritan Board Freshman
I would earnestly recommend you to read Leslie Brubaker's: Byzantium in the iconoclast era (c. 680-850).
This work has very good excerpts on the development of the theology of icons in the East. Now it is unrelated, I would say, to Gregory's stance on that issue, but there are also relations towards it's development in the West showed in this work. A thick work on just the iconoclast controversy.

Since I see that you read in the history of Byzantium, I would recommend you to read George Ostrogorsky's: History of the Byzantine State. It is a work from the sixties but it is still one of the best synthesis in one volume. There also some good arguments posited concerning the theological developments in eastern theology, even that Ostrogorsky was only a byzantologist and historian.
 

DTK

Puritan Board Junior
Here's another gloss of Gregory the Great on the concept of veneration, not so much of images, but of men, nonetheless the two are related.

Gregory the Great (Gregory I c. 540-603) commenting on John 8:52: It’s as if in venerating Abraham and the prophets they [i.e. the Jews] were placing them ahead even of Truth himself. We are shown that those who do not know God venerate his servants erroneously. See Dom David Hurst, trans., Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies, Homily 16 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990), p. 116.
 

SebastianClinciuJJ

Puritan Board Freshman
Here's another gloss of Gregory the Great on the concept of veneration, not so much of images, but of men, nonetheless the two are related.

Gregory the Great (Gregory I c. 540-603) commenting on John 8:52: It’s as if in venerating Abraham and the prophets they [i.e. the Jews] were placing them ahead even of Truth himself. We are shown that those who do not know God venerate his servants erroneously. See Dom David Hurst, trans., Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies, Homily 16 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990), p. 116.

I searched this passage in the PL and found it. It reads as follows:
Unde et ipsi Veritati eumdem Abraham et prophetas quasi venerantes praeferunt. Sed aperta nobis ratione ostenditur quia qui Deum nesciant Dei quoque famulos falso venerantur.
(PL 76:1152)

Thank you for pointing out this passage!
 

DTK

Puritan Board Junior
Yes, the homilies are numbered a little differently as they vary in editions. I went with the number that translation offered. I'm blessed to have nearly all the volumes of Migne's Patrologia Latina & Patrologia Graeca on my PC. It saves a lot of time having to run to a good theological library. But they can be found on the web as well.
 
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