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The Problem of Images in The Catholic Church

by

Pedro Rosario Barbosa

    This one article deals with one of the greatest gaps between Roman Catholics and Eastern Catholics, and the abyss between Roman Catholics and Protestants.  The debate centers on this passage of the Bible:

You shall have no other gods to rival me.

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).

I think there is no other passage in the Bible that has been quoted more frequently concerning this issue than this one.  Taken in itself it is clear in what it means.  In fact, it is due to this passage that the Catholic and Protestant paradigms are divided even concerning the ten commandments.  For the protestants this is a part of the second commandment, which is the way that the Jewish people took it to be.  However, in the case of the Catholic Church, at least according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (455-56), it contemplates the ten commandments this way:

Jewish-Protestant Paradigm
Roman Catholic Paradigm
(1) “I am Yahweh your god who bought you out of Egypt, where you lived as slaves. You shall have no other gods to rival me.
(1) You shall love god above all things.
(2) 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 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 and 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.
(3) You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses his name.
(2) You shall not take God's name in vain.
(4) Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath for Yahweh your God. You shall do no work that day, neither you nor your son your daughter nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals nor the alien living with you. [. . .]
(3) You shall sanctify holy days.
(5) Honour your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you.
(4) Give honor to your father and mother.
(6) You shall not kill.
(5) You shall not kill.
(7) You shall not commit adultery.
(6) You shall not commit impure acts.
(8) You shall not steal.
(7) You shall not steal.
(9) You shall not give false evidence against your neighbour.
(8) You shall not give false testimony, nor shall you lie.
(10) You shall not set heart on your neighbour's house. You shall not set your heart on your neighbour's spouse, or servant, man or woman, or ox, or donkey, or any of your neighbour's possessions.
(9) You shall not consent impure thoughts nor desires.

(10) You shall not want your neighbor's belongings.


As we see here in the Jewish-Protestant paradigm, the commandment about images is conceived as a separate commandment from the first, while in the Roman Catholic paradigm it is conceived as part of the first commandment, because the essence of what is being said about the images has to do with having other gods before the true God.  However, it is clear that, whichever the paradigm, prohibitions concerning the fabrication of images and their veneration or worship does indeed form part of the ten commandments.

   The question I wish to make in this article is how to take this commandment about images (and consequently the ten commandments in general).  Shall we take them as a kind of Kantian categorical imperative (i.e. laws that are universally valid, and have to be obeyed at its word independently of time, place or needs in history)?  or shall we take them within a historical context and not interpret them as fixed commandments, but flexible in certain ways according to different times, places and needs?  My answer to this problem will be the latter.  For this I shall review the historical context which these commandments were written, and how Christianity, and Roman Catholicism itself, have perfect authority to use images to serve the Gospel.


The Story Behind the Old Testament Commandments

    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.


A.   Historical Background

     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 Kings 14).
 
     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 Bible.

     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 the J 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 Tradition, which 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 the Temple.
 
     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 and P 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 and D

    Both the Priestly and Deuteronomist tradition agree on this commandment:
 
 
You shall have no other gods to rival me.
 
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 the D 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 Tradition, and 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.]


D.  Conclusion

    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 and E 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 and D 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 Beginnings

    Christianity 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 is evident.

St. Paul
St. 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).
So 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 2,14-18).
Do 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).
You believe in one God -- that is creditable enough, but even the demons have the same belief, and they tremble with fear (James 2,19).
 Then 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 you.

'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 Tradition (Gen. 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 those traditions.
 
     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:

No 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).
I 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 translation

    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 (Hoinacki 39-40).

And at the very end, when he reached Compostela he tells us the following:

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 likeness.


Works Cited
 
 Alarcón, Rafael H.  A la sombra de los templarios.  Barcelona:  Ediciones Martínez Roca, 1986.
 
 - - -.  La última Virgen negra del Temple.  Barcelona:  Ediciones Martínez Roca, 1991.
 
 Atienza, Juan G.  La ruta sagrada.  Barcelona:  Robin Book, 1992.
 
 - - -.  Santoral diabólico.  Barcelona:  Ediciones Martínez Roca, 1988.
 
 Boff, Leonardo.  Los sacramentos de la vida.  Santander:  Editorial "Sal Terrae", 1993.
 
 Castro Américo.  La realidad histórica de España.  1954.  México:  Editorial Porrúa, 1987.
 
 Friedman, Richard Elliott.  ¿Quién escribió la Biblia?  Trans.  Joseph M. Apfelbäume.  Barcelona:  Ediciones Martínez Roca, 1989.  Trans. from:  Who Wrote the Bible? 1997.
 
 Halpern, Baruch.  "Sectionalism and the Schism." Journal of Biblical Literature. 93 (1974):  519-532.
 
 Hoinacki, Lee.  El Camino:  Walking to Santiago de Compostela.  1996.  Pennsylvania:  The Pennsylvania 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 sobre las imágenes entre católicos y protestantes.  San Juan:  Centro de Servicios Pastorales.
 
 Schonfield, Hugh J.  El Nuevo Testamento original.  Barcelona:  Ediciones Martínez Roca, 1990.
 
 The New Jerusalem Bible.  New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland:  Doubleday, 1990.


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