It is very
important to notice that today it is very well known that Moses was not
the author of the first five books of the Bible. The Pentateuch
was the product of four traditions combined together: the Yahwist
Tradition (J), the Elohist
Tradition (E), the Priestly
Tradition (P), and the
Deuteronomist Tradition (D).
Each one of them composed its own text at different times and different
places. While the traditions J and P were written by the priests of the
kingdom of Judah, the traditions E
and D were written by the
Shilo priests of the kingdom of Israel. After the return from
Babylon, the Priest tradition took upon itself to combine these four
traditions into five books, called from then on "the Five Books of
Moses". It is important to see clearly who wrote the ten
commandments, and what role did they play in the historical moment that
they were written in. Few people take into account the way that
these traditions were developed in the Kingdom of Judah and in the
Kingdom of Israel. The issues of images in such development is
essential to understand what was going on at that time.
We know for a fact that Salomon planted the
seed for the division of the kingdom of Israel as one author clearly
states (Halpern). During most of the history of Israel, it was already
divided in two. However, King David though he belonged to the
largest and most powerful tribe in all of Israel in the South, Judah,
he tried every way to unify the north and the south. One of the
ways which he tried doing this is creating Jerusalem, which was near
the Israel and Judah border. Jerusalem was practically the
equivalent of Washington D.C. in the United States when it was created,
neither belonging to the north or to the south. Also transformed
Jerusalem into a religious center (2 Sam. 5,6-12; 6,1-23).
Another policy that he implanted was to appoint two High Priests at
Jerusalem, one of the north (Abiathar, a Shilo priest) and one of the
south (Zadoc, from Hebron) (2 Sam. 8,15-18). He married with
women of diverse regions of political importance, which facilitated to
create social links with each of those regions and the royal family (2
Sam. 5,13-15). Finally, he implanted a permanent professional
army. It included foreign military forces and they responded directly
to David and his general, appointed by David himself. This helped
unify, not only Israel, but also establish a very important link
between this kingdom and foreign countries (2 Sam. 8,1-16).
Salomon's policies changed all that. Salomon
was chosen to be king. Abiathar, the Shiloh priest of Israel, supported
Adonijah as king. Zadoc, the one priest of the south, supported
Salomon. When Salomon was chosen king, he executed Adonijah and
the general that supported him. Though he didn't kill Abiathar,
he expelled him from his kingdom to Anatoth, a little town near
Jerusalem (1 Kings 2,12-35). Needless to say that the north of
Israel didn't like this one bit.
What created more definite resentments of the north
of Israel against Salomon was the establishment of the "mas" policy or
in plural "mîssim" which consisted not only of paying for the
construction of the Temple, but also hard labor (1 Kings 5,27-32), and
appointed Adoram as the chief for this mîssim (1 Kings
5,28). Meanwhile, Salomon also made within the temple two big
images of Cherubims in the sanctuary which was made out of wood, but
covered with gold (1 Kings 6,23-30).
The consequences of these policies were not so
evident, until after the death of Salomon. The book of Kings
tells us the following event about the people of the north confronting
Rehoboam, Salomon's son and his successor as king:
Rehoboam then went to Shechem, all
Israel having come to Shechem to proclaim him king [. . .]. And
they spoke as follows to Rehoboam, 'Your father laid a cruel yoke
on us [the mîssim]; if you will lighten your father's cruel
slavery, that heavy yoke which he imposed on us, we are willing to
serve you.' He said to them, 'Go away for three days and then
come back to me.' And the people went away.
King Rehoboam then consulted his elders who had been in attendance of
his father Salomon while he was alive [. . .].
On the third day Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam in
obedience to the king's instructions: 'Come back to me in three
days' time.' And the king gave the people a harsh answer [. . .]
and speaking to them [. . .], 'My father made your yoke heavy, I shall
make it heavier still! My father controlled you with the whip,
but I shall apply a spiked lash!' [. . .]
When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, the people
answered the king thus:
What share have we in David?
-No heritage in the son of Jesse [David]!
Away to your tents, Israel!
Now look after your own House, David!
So Israel went home again. Rehoboam, however, reigned over those
Israelites who lived in the towns of Judah. When king Rehoboam
sent Adoram, who was in charge of forced labour, all Israel stoned him
to death, while King Rehoboam managed to mount his chariot and escape
to Jerusalem. And Israel has remained in rebellion against the
House of David from that day to this (1 Kings 12,1-19).
The north of Israel proclaimed Jeroboam as the king (1 Kings
12,20-25). He wanted to establish, instead of a cult in the
Temple of Jerusalem, its own cult to Yahweh, and chose two golden
calves as the symbols of Yahweh to establish this new cult, apparently
to make a parallel with the two Cherubims in the Temple:
Jeroboam thought of himself, 'As things
are, the kingdom will revert to the House of David. If this
people continues to go up to the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem to offer
sacrifices, the people's heart will turn back again to their lord,
Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will put me to death.' So the
king thought this over and then made two golden calves; he said to the
people, 'You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. Here is
your God, Israel, who brought you out of Egypt!' He set one up at
Bethel, and the people went in procession in front of the other one all
the way to Dan. In Israel this gave rise to sin, for people went
to Bethel to worship the one, and all the way to Dan to worship the
other (1 Kings 12,26-30).
In this new cult in the north of Israel, the northern priests of Shiloh
didn't participate, and was denounced by Ahijah the prophet of Shilo (1
So, this is the historical background that
produced the Pentateuch.
B. The Use of Images in the Pentateuch
This background, though seems unrelated to the
subject of images, is essential to this discussion, because it presents
us the circumstances by which these anti-image laws were written in the
It is clear that the Elohist Tradition was
written by the Shilo priests of the north, because in those passages
that refer to God as Elohim have passages that exclusively refer to
events of the north of Israel. For example, the E
Tradition refers to Peniel, where
Jacob had his vision (Gen. 32,25-31) and Peniel was the place Jeroboam
ordered to be constructed in Israel (1 Kings 12,25). It also
refers to all tribes except Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah (the first
three disappeared), the Kingdom of Israel was composed of all tribes
except Judah and Benjamin (Gen. 30,1-24). All of the tribes
mentioned, except few of them which didn't exist at the time, were all
from the North. There are many other indications about it, but to
not make this article long I will leave it at that.
In the case of the Yahwist tradition, it is
obvious that it developed in the South, in the Kingdom of Judah, since
all their stories refer somehow to the South. It is according to
Tradition that it stated
that Judah was the one that received Jacob's blessing (Gen. 49,8).
Judah is the one that saves Joseph selling him (Gen. 37,26-27), the
only one of Moses' spies to check on Jericho that remains faithful to
Moses was Caleb, and Caleb is a place to a territory on Judah.
Hebron is also a calebite territory, which was Judah's capital for many
years (Josh 14,13). The stories of Esau and Edom have to do with
Judah, because it shared borders with Edom.
Having cleared up these facts. Let's see
what the J
were made by Aaron's descendants, has to say about images:
You will not cast metal gods for
yourself (Exod. 34, 17).
This is very significant because this is the most ancient tradition of
the four, and this is the ONLY commandment against the use of images
that this tradition records. If one takes it into the context of
when it was written, one can see that the two golden calves made by
Jeroboam were "cast metal", this commandment seems to indicate a point
that this tradition had against the north. Look also to the fact
that the Cherubims in the Temple don't fall into this category, because
they are not made out of metal or gold. They are made of wood
painted with gold.
In the case of the E tradition of the north we have
only this commandment:
You must not make gods of silver to
rival me, nor must you make yourselves gods of gold (Exod. 20,23).
If we remember the fact that the Shilo priests wrote this down, it also
denounces the golden calves made by Jeroboam. But also the E
tradition tells us a story that seems to be very significant not only
against Jeroboam, but also to the cults made on the Temple in the
south, against Aaron's descendants.
When the people saw that Moses was a
long time before coming down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron
and said to him, 'Get to work, make us a god to go at our head; for
that Moses, the man who brought us here from Egypt -we do not know what
has become of him.' Aaron replied, 'Strip off the gold rings in
the ears of your wives and your sons and daughters, and bring them to
me.' The people all stripped off the gold rings from their ears
and brought them to Aaron. He received what they gave him, melted
it down in a mould and with it made the statue of a calf.
'Israel,' the people shouted, 'here is your god who brought you here
from Egypt!' Observing this, Aaron built an altar before the
statue and made this proclamation, 'Tomorrow will be a fest in Yahweh's
honour.' [. . .]
Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Go down at
once, for your people whom you brought here from Egypt have become
corrupt. [. . .] (Exod. 32,1-5.7)
Later when Moses descends from the mountain:
And there, as he approached the camp,
he saw the calf and the groups dancing. Moses blazed with
anger. He threw down the tablets he was holding, shattering them
at the foot of the mountain. he seized the calf they had made and
burned it, grinding it into [ashes] which he scattered on the water,
and made the Israelites drink it (Exod. 32,19-20).
The first thing we have to notice is the striking similarity
between Jeroboam's words when he created the golden calves, and the
words of the people of Israel when they made their golden calves:
|Here is your God who
brought you here from Egypt! (Exod. 32,4).
|Here is your God,
Israel, who brought you out of Egypt! (1 Kings 12,28).
And the more striking fact is that both sayings happen after the golden
calves were made. This can hardly be a coincidence. We have
to remember that the Shilo priests, who composed the E tradition, did
not participate in the cult made with the golden calves in the north of
Israel. This story is a way that the Shilo priests denounce
Jeroboam's cult to the golden calves.
Furthermore, what is more amazing in here is
that they make Aaron responsible for making the golden calf while Moses
was away. The Aaronide dynasty had nothing to do with the cult of
golden calves in the north of Israel. Perhaps the story would be
more comprehensible if we notice that when the golden calf, made purely
out of gold, is made to dust (or more accurately "ashes"). How
can an image made entirely out of gold make itself "ashes"? This
is a mystery in the story, but it is not a mystery at the time where
the Judah Aaronide priests had in their Temple images of Cherubims made
out of wood. The Shiloh priest writing this story is denouncing
both, the images made by Jeroboam and the images of the Cherubims at
So, at least, the two traditions were
denouncing the ways in which Yahweh was represented as golden calf, and
one of them denounces the presence of Cherubims in the Temple, not so
much because of the Cherubims themselves, but because they became
symbols of the Aaronide dynasty which was the only ones allowed in the
Temple at Jerusalem. The Temple itself was the symbol also of the
bad policies made by Salomon himself.
We have to point out that before this, the
veneration of images were clearly permissible in Israel. For
example, the Bible states clearly that the brass serpent made by Moses
(Num. 21,4-9) was venerated in the Temple to honor Yahweh (2 Kings
18,4), and which was destroyed by king Hezekiah (2 Kings 18,4).
Other images used were stellas, little monuments made with stone.
For a long they were accepted as signs of divine presence (Gen.
28,18.22; Jos. 24,26). Afterwards they were condemned by the D
traditions (Exod. 34,13; Deut.
7,5; 12,3; 16,22) because they were also symbols of Baal's
masculinity. Remember also the Cherubims of the Ark of the
Covenant (Exod. 25,18-22). Cherubims at that time, were images of
creatures with human heads, wings of an eagle, body of a lion, and legs
of a bull. These images were used before the Jewish civilization
by ancient Summer and Babylon.
C. The Commandment Forbidding all Kinds of Images in P
Both the Priestly and Deuteronomist tradition agree
on this commandment:
You shall have no other gods to rival
You shall not make yourself a carved
image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath
or in the waters under the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh your
God, am a jealous God and I punish a parent's fault in the children,
the grandchildren, an the great-grandchildren among those who hate me;
but I act with faithful love towards thousands of those who love me and
keep my commandments (Exod. 20,4-6; Deut. 5,7-10).
Why did they oppose so much to the
fabrications of images at the time? Well, for starters, the
periods of the kingdom of Hezekiah and Josiah were ones of constant
invasions from foreign countries. These kings wanted to get rid
of remnants of the use of images from the Jewish religion to prevent
the its assimilation with the invaders'. This is the reason why
Hezekiah (whom was very admired by the P
Tradition of the south) destroyed the brass serpent made by Moses
under God's instructions. Why did he try not to save such a
valuable relic? Because he wanted to avoid the assimilation of
Judah to Assyria, which was a country that DID worship the
serpent. Josiah, who was evidently very much admired by the D
Tradition, destroyed the altars of
Bethel and Dan made by Jeroboam, whom the Shilo priests despised (2
Kings 23, 4-20). So both, the Aaronide priests of the P
Tradition and the Shilo priests of
Tradition, looked at
these reforms with good eyes, and this approval was expressed in these
passages respectively Exod. 20,4-6; Deut. 5,7-10.
[Note: Contrary to what most scholars seem to hold, the P
Tradition was NOT written during
the exile of the Israelites in Babylon. Some people seem to hold
this because the prophet Ezekiel belonged to the Aaronide dynasty that
created the P
that there is a lot of the P
way of thinking in Ezekiel. However Avi Hurvitz, of the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem showed, that P
source was written in a Hebrew style that is previous to Ezekiel, and
therefore previous to the exile to Babylon. Richard Elliott
Friedman also points out that the D
Tradition, which all scholars agree was written before this exile,
replies to some of the statements made by P
(Friedman 146-156). Scholars are
right, on the other hand, in assuming that it was the Aaronide P
Tradition that compiled all
traditions together in the first five books of the Bible.]
So, this is the mere reason why this whole situation
of the images in the whole Old Testament has to do with historical
circumstances of the time. The reason why in the J
Traditions some images were
prohibited from the very beginning was because of political-religious
conflict between the kingdom of Israel (north) and the kingdom of Judah
(south). And the reason why P
rejected all kinds of
images were to prevent assimilation to foreign countries.
What does this imply theologically?
First of all, for most theologians, historical affairs are a way in
which God reveals himself. The way that historically God revealed
the idea that he doesn't want to be limited to a specific image, since
God transcends all images. Secondly, it is worthy of pointing out
the fact that these events made Israel a complete nation (integrating
the north and the south). This situation, however, changed
dramatically, ever since the beginnings of Christianity.
The Images on Christian History Since Its
established itself as nothing but a branch of Judaism, but then a man
called Saul of Tarsus, called Paul outside of Israel, gave it another
focus. Christianity is not just a religion for the Jews, but also
a religion for the Gentiles. This led to no few conflicts with
the Jews, specially over the issue of circumcision (Acts
15,1-2.7). Also this meant no few conflicts between James, Peter
and him (Gal 2,11-22).
We could add also that Saint Paul introduced
Christianity not only elements from mystical phariseism that he
preached, the Maaseth Bereshith (Schonfield 278), but also integrated
some elements of mysteric religions and elements of Platonism as
exposed by Philo of Alexandria (Middle Platonism). These Gentile
elements that came to play in Christianity arose resentment among
Jewish members. For example, one of these elements can be seen
clearly when Paul preached that the Christian doesn't have to follow
the law, because Jesus Christ overcame the law sending the Holy Spirit
to the Christians. Therefore it is faith, not the acts of the
law, which save the Christians. The debate between Paul and James
. .] As it is, scripture makes no exception when it says that sin is
master everywhere; so the promise can be given only by faith in Jesus
Christ to those who have this faith. But before faith came, we were
kept under guard by the Law, locked up to wait for the faith which
would eventually be revealed to us. So the Law was serving as a slave
to look after us, to lead us to Christ, so that we could be justified
by faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer under a slave
looking after us [. . .] (Gal. 3,22-25).
|Well, the right
thing to do is to keep the supreme Law of scripture: you will love your
neighbor as yourself; but as soon as you make class distinctions, you
are committing sin and under the condemnation for breaking the Law.
You see, anyone who keeps the
whole of the Law but trips up on a single point, is still guilty of
breaking it all. He who said, 'you must not commit adultery' said also,
'you must not kill.' Now if you commit murder, you need not commit
adultery as well to become a breaker of the Law. Talk and behave like
people who are going to be judged by the law of freedom. Whoever acts
without mercy will be judged without mercy but mercy can afford to
laugh at judgments (James 2,8-13).
what becomes of our boasts? There is no room for them. On what
principle – only actions count? No; that faith is what counts, since,
as we see it, a person is justified by faith and not by doing what the
Law tells him to do (Rom. 3,27-28).
How does it help, my brothers,
when someone who has never done a single good act claims to have faith?
Will that faith bring salvation? If one of the brothers of one of the
sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and
one of you says to them, 'I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat
plenty,' without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what
good is that? In the same way faith, if good deeds do not go with it,
it is quite dead.
But someone may say: So you
have faith and I have good deeds? Show me this faith of yours without
deeds, then! It is by my deeds that I will show you my faith (James
you think God is the God only of the Jews, and not of gentiles too?
Most certainly of gentiles too, since there is only one God; he will
justify the circumcised by their faith, and he will justify the
uncircumcised through their faith (Rom. 3,29-39).
believe in one God -- that is creditable enough, but even the demons
have the same belief, and they tremble with fear (James 2,19).
what do we say about Abraham, the ancestor from whom we are descended
physically? If Abraham had been justified because of what he had done,
then he would have had something to boast about. But not before god:
does not scripture say: Abraham put his faith in God and this was
reckoned to him as uprightness [Gen. 15,6]? Now, when someone works,
the wages for this are not considered in favour but as due, however,
when someone without working, puts faith in the one who justifies the
godless, it is this faith that is reckoned as uprightness (Rom 4,1-5).
|Fool! Would you not
like to know that faith without deeds is useless? Was not Abraham our
father justified by his deed, because he offered his son Isaac on the
altar? So you can see that his faith was working together with his
deeds; his faith became perfect by what he did. In this way the
Scripture was fulfilled: Abraham put his faith in God, and this was
considered as making him upright [Gen. 15,6]; and he received the name
'friend of God'.
You seen now that it is by deeds, and not only by believing, that
someone is justified (James 2,20-24).
One of the ways Paul would use a Gentile tool to
preach Christianity can clearly be seen in the book of Acts:
So Paul stood before the whole council
of the Areopagus and made this speech: 'Men of Athens, I have
seen for myself how extremely scrupulous you are in all religious
matters, because, as I strolled round looking at your sacred monuments,
I noticed among other things an altar inscribed: To an Unknown
God. In fact, the unknown God you revere is the one I proclaim to
'Since the God who made the world and everything in it is himself Lord
of heaven and earth, he does not make his home in shines made by human
hands. Nor is he in need of anything, that he should be served by
human hands; on the contrary, it is he who gives everything -including
life and breath- to everyone. From one single principle he not
only created the whole human race so that they would occupy the entire
earth, but he decreed the times and limits of their habitation.
And he did this so that they might seek the deity and, by feeling their
way towards him, succeed in finding him; and indeed he is not far from
any of us, since it is in him that we live, and move and exist, as
indeed some of your own writers have said: We are all his
children (Acts 17,22-28).
At least with this passage, a Catholic or any Christian can recognize
the legitimacy of the use of images to make a Christian teaching.
Due to Paul's intervention, and further
elaboration on the Gentile way of thinking that we can see reflected on
the Post-Pauline writings and in John's Gospel and letters, there was a
conflict between Christian Gentiles with Christian Jews. Because
of this, the historical framework which Christianity was at that time
was not the same one of the Jews many centuries before. As early
as the second and third centuries images in painting were used to
express those teachings of the Gospels.
Apparently, this was not enough for the number
of Christians to grow, even in the time that Christians were ceased to
be persecuted. For example, in Constantine's time, Christianity
was about 12% of the entire Roman Empire. In the Western
part of Christianity, which would later be Roman Catholic, there were
strong tendency to Christianize pagan devotions, which included images
of gods, with the purpose of integrating different cultural tendencies
to Christianity. Like Paul with the "Unknown God", Roman
Catholicism accepted the use of images to integrate itself in those
societies, and Christianized many of the gods, turned them to saints,
many of the images and feasts of the Mother Goddesses were integrated
to the devotions to the Virgin Mary.
This was precisely the reason why the Second
Council of Niscea (787 AD) defined as doctrine that images could be
exposed in all the Churches, but also it advised people to be careful,
since all images are representations and they should venerate
them, but never adore or worship them, not even images of Jesus Christ,
because they are not God, and only God deserves adoration and worship
(Ortega 25). This made possible for Christianity to be accepted
in all of Europe, and part of Asia.
Though Niscea II is so remarkably clear about
images not being adored, it is not surprising to find many areas
of Europe where they dedicated themselves to worship these images, like
the ancient gods before them. There was a funny incident that
illustrates this. At the time of European paganism, the mother
goddesses used to be represented along their son. To Christianize
them, all the Church had to do was to change the pagan purpose of the
rituals to Mother Goddesses and these images became the images of the
Virgin Mary. One of the most venerated images of the Virgin Mary
in Spain is in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Termes (Soria), and popular
devotion was then directed to that Virgin represented in that
image. One day, someone was aware that the Child Jesus was stolen
from the image and people were worried. One of them shouted: "So
sad that somebody took the Child away!", and the other one said:
"It is so good though that they left us the mother, and she will take
care of another baby!" (Alarcón 1991, 116, my translation).
But why wasn't the Church at that time worried
about religious education of its members. First because of the
thinking that Masses were enough to educate people, and secondly, since
it was the only powerful Christian religion in Europe, why spending
ecclesiastic money in that kind of education? This situation
changed with Guttenberg and Luther. Guttenberg took the Bible out
of the monasteries and Luther fomented the use of Bible for personal
and individual interpretation. Then with Luther and many other
Christian Protestant reformers a different paradigm emerged, which we
all know now, in which Protestant reject the use of images because of
what the Bible says in Exodus and Deuteronomy.
Why Do I Favor the Use of Images Anyway?
We have seen here
good and bad sides for the use of images. For example, it is
obvious that God used images for a long period of time, and it was
because of historical circumstances that they had to be
destroyed. However, these images, like the Cherubims, the Brass
Snake Nehustan, and the stellas are all symbols taken from Gentile
regions such as Assyria, Summer and Babylon were adapted to
Judaism. So, we can see here a parallel to Christianity, which
used pagan images and devotions and turned them to Christianity.
The circumstances throughout the history of Christianity were not the
same circumstances of Judaism centuries ago when it was invaded by
pagan countries, and that to protect the valuable part of Judaism it
had to get rid of graven images.
Though there are many studies of the parallels
between Catholic saints (specially the Virgin Mary) to the way ancient
pagan gods were represented (Atienza 1988), we know that the Catholic
saints officially represent only the Catholic saints, not the pagan
gods of ancient history. To say that the images of saints now
represent pagan gods of history is to confuse the symbol with that
which it is intended to represent. When visitors go to venerate
Our Lady of Candles in the Tenerife Island, they don't intend to adore
the Goddess Kybaba (X-IXth century BC) (Alarcón 1991, 95), but
to venerate the Virgin Mary.
Images are double-edged swords, they can be
used to take hearts away from God, but they can also be used to turn
hearts toward God, regardless of their origin. By their fruits
you shall know them (Matt. 7,20). I want to illustrate here with
an example of what I'm trying to say. The greatest devotion that
Spain has had since the Middle Ages is the Way of Santiago (St. James).
We know as a historical fact that St. James (the son of Zebedee) never
went to Spain, and it is obvious that the tradition of St. James going
there is more derived from pagan practices and devotions (Castro
259-294). Even there are those that state that the El Camino de
Santiago (The Way of St. James) existed long before it was called "El
Camino de Santiago": the place where this cult to St. James
culminated was in "Compostela" which means "Campus Stellae" (Field of
Stars), which is another name for the Milky Way (Alarcón 1986,
35-37), and that this way linked many key places in Spain where the
Celtics and other cults used to have as sacred (Atienza 1992,
15-33). We know today that this Way was made as a political,
economical and military need to reconquer from the Muslims (Mores) the
territories that Christianity lost in Spain. That's why the
figure of "Santiago Matamoros" (St James the Mores' Killer) was so
popular at that time. When the Christians were displaced during
the Moslem invasion, they used the cultural resources that were
available (specially the Celtic ones) to resist Moslem attacks.
During this time the body of St. James was supposedly found in
Compostela, and that then a story was discovered which says that his
body was transported there through a way that went from the Pyrenees up
to Compostela. This spiritual devotion became so popular, that
north of Spain became wealthy enough to rescue the Moslem territories
of Spain and put it under Christian rule.
Up to this point, all what we have seen is
that the Camino de Santiago was a originally a pagan cult and later
Christianized because of political, economical and military
purposes. If a Protestant objects to El Camino because it is just
a mere consequence of all of this, then by a matter of principle we
would have to reject the Bible too. Many of the stories portrayed
in the Bible have their origins in pagan countries at the time, as
extensive studies of this subject have shown. Also stories as
simple as the two versions of creation, the one of the P
Tradition (Gen. 1,1-2,4a), and the
one of the J
2,4bff), were supported by rival points of view, which included
military, political and economical rivalry. But, as Friedman
points out, all of these traditions that had so divergent views of
Yahweh enriched themselves at the very end in the Old Testament
(Friedman 196-221). I regard this spiritual richness as the Word
of God expressed through those traditions, regardless of the origin of
But there is one point that is missing in this
entire picture: el Camino de Santiago as a spiritual
journey. Even though we can trace its origin up to military,
political and economical considerations, and make all the historical
studies we want, we cannot ignore in any way the spiritual impact that
El Camino has. These are the words of a very anti-Catholic author
who writes about El Camino:
sé de nadie que haya recorrido la Ruta Jacobea con los ojos
abiertos, que no haya sufrido una transformación interior en
mayor o menor grado. Tampoco tengo noticia de nadie que, después
de haberla vivido, no haya sentido que algo se le removía en los
más profundo de su existir (Atienza 1992, 27).
know of nobody that has walked on the Way of St. James with open eyes,
that in more or less degree has not suffered an inner change. I neither
have knowledge of anybody that after living it, hasn't felt that
something moved in the most deep realm of his or her existence (my
This happened also to the Dominican ex-priest called
Lee Hoinacki, in which he tells about his spiritual journey when he
walked El Camino de Santiago:
After what has happened to me today, I
am ashamed to admit that I cannot recall how many years it has been
since I prayed the Rosary. I'm deeply embarrassed to find how
much I've fallen into modern superstitions, abandoning ancient truths
And at the very end, when he reached Compostela he tells us the
Slowly, as in a dream, I walk across
the enormous expanse of stone, hearing no sound except the regular tap
. . . tap . . . tap of my staff on the pavement. How should I
imagine the people who arrived here before me? Many English, who
often sailed to La Coruña, and walked from there; Polish
knights, since a pilgrimage to Compostela was considered part of the
ritual preparation for knighthood; royalty like Louis VII of France and
Countess Sofía of Holland; saints like Brigid of Sweden and
Francis of Assisi; and the thousands known only to God . . . Do I walk
in their footsteps? Do I know anything of the Interior Castle of
their spirit? Am I truly one of them? Am I moving in the
sacred time where they dwell? (Hoinacki 272).
I have learned something in these thirty-one
days of solitude and silence: that I'm not alone, that I don't
even exist as some kind of self-conscious individual, that I'm not an
autonomous self with some potential to realize. Rather, I exist
only to the extent that I participate in the innumerable practices that
collectively establish the living tradition that is my heritage, which
my parents and the pilgrims have given me. All the "inner"
experiences of these four weeks only occurred insofar as they had real
links with the experiences of the dead who accompanied me. I have
learned how to speak a truthful "we," a radically different act than
the spurious and aggrandizing "we" one so often hears today. The
relics I touch are they, their real presence. I have met,
embraced, and kissed them . . . and their lips were not cold.
Looking around me, I don't recognize any of them today; perhaps there
are a few hidden among the great throng of tourists. But most of
them are out there . . . on the camino, waiting to welcome today's
pilgrim. All my thought, all my intense longing, is to walk back
out there, and join them in their journey (Hoinacki 278-279).
So, as in the case of the Bible, El Camino can be also a very
significant spiritual journey, regardless of its ancient origin.
God reveals himself in many ways and in many manners. If He once
used images to reveal Himself (Cherubims, Snake, stellas), why can't he
use images now that would lead souls to Him, regardless of the origins
of their symbols? This is the beauty of images in Catholicism, it
lets you walk, touch, see, symbolize in frames, statues, paintings and
relics everything that is sacred, not because human did them because of
some historical circumstances, but because they all mean and point to
God, everything tells us something about God.
The same thing happens with voyages to the
Holy Land. Maybe Jesus was not born where people believe He was
born, or where the Church of the Nativity was built, or that he didn't
really resurrect in the cave people think he resurrected.
However, when one goes to the Holy Land one relives the steps of Jesus,
there is something that is not the same. We have participated in
something that is sacred. We walk, reflect, and we get closer to
God. This is what Rudolf Otto calls the encounter with the
Numinous one, or what Boff referred to as the human sacrament touched
by God Himself.
As every Catholic, I believe that the entire
truth for our salvation is in the Bible and Tradition (public
revelation); but this doesn't mean that God stopped manifesting Himself
showing us the depths of Himself as the Mystery. And the use of
images of saints in the Church is the remembrance or memory of those
prophets in these 2000 years that reminded us of God's love and
holiness. If one adds the fact that in the Catholic Church we
believe that the saints constantly pray for us in Heaven before God,
and that many of these prayers have been answered in so many ways
because of their intercession before Christ, then the spiritual
experience of the use of images is more than legitimate.
There is a second point I wish to make about
images. To inhibit ourselves to express our spiritual experience
through images is to renounce in part to our capacity as human beings
to create just as God creates, because we were made after his
likeness. To make images as expressions of love to God, and to
honor the saints is in no way sinful. Art expressed through these
images is part of an expressions humans, which is perfectly
legitimate. We should praise God with everything we are, and we
express humanly through images.
The reason for the differences between
Catholicism and Protestantism is that we have two different ways to see
and live a Christian life, which are completely legitimate.
Unfortunately the conflict has risen because of Exod. 20,4-6 which is
interpreted alone regardless of its historical context I exposed in
this article. It is my conviction that God is not against human
creativity, nor of images, nor of monuments, because He is not against
the expressions of those who were created at His image and after His
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la sombra de los
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Virgen negra del Temple
Barcelona: Ediciones Martínez Roca, 1991.
Atienza, Juan G. La ruta
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Ediciones Martínez Roca, 1988.
Boff, Leonardo. Los
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escribió la Biblia?
Trans. Joseph M.
Apfelbäume. Barcelona: Ediciones Martínez Roca,
1989. Trans. from: Who
Wrote the Bible?
Halpern, Baruch. "Sectionalism and the Schism." Journal of
93 (1974): 519-532.
Hoinacki, Lee. El
Camino: Walking to Santiago de
. 1996. Pennsylvania: The
State University Press, 1997.
Hurvitz, Avi. "The Evidence of Language in Dating the
Priestly Code." Revue Biblique
81 (1974): 24-56.
Ortega, C. M. Rafael. Controversia
imágenes entre católicos y protestantes
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Nuevo Testamento original
Barcelona: Ediciones Martínez Roca, 1990.
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Auckland: Doubleday, 1990.
©Copyright 2004, Pedro Rosario